John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 31|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
THE SCOTCH TOUR
The radius of Keats' movements has been extremely short. He made frequent changes of place, yet always within the limits of cultivated nature. He lived practically in a garden with occasional glimpses of the sea. He had never beheld nature beyond the dominion of man, austere, sublime in solitude. It was Wordsworth's poetry, doubtless, that awoke his desire for the mountains and the mystery of the wilds. By the northern tour he hoped to get new strength and a wider range of poetic imagination.
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Charles Armitage Brown, now his chief friend and housemate, went with him. Brown was nine years older, bald, bearded, corpulent, with conspicuous spectacles. He had lived in Russia, possessed a small income and dabbled in literature. Keats declared that his muse was the devil. He was a man of the world, something of a sybarite and a ribald. Though he could not touch the genius of the poet, he loved the man loyally and aided him, like Bailey, in acquiring poise and common-sense.
At Liverpool Keats bade farewell to his brother George and his wife, who were about to emigrate to Kentucky. The two travelers then started for a tramp of the Lake country. They called it Rydal Mount, but found Wordsworth absent, electioneering for the Conservatives. Bad weather prevented the ascent of Helvellyn. They climbed Skiddaw, visited Derwentwater and the cataract of Lodore. At the cataract Keats saw the rocks "fledged" with trees which gave the suggestion for the lines in the "Ode to Psyche," so enthusiastically praised by Ruskin. At Penrith he found the Druid stones, afterward a powerful figure for the defeated Titans in "Hyperion." The tourists crossed to Ireland. There Keats' most vivid memory was a squalid beldame, smoking a pipe, in a "dog-kennel" sedan chair. They soon returned to Scotland and the Burns country. Ailsa Rock, beheld offshore in a drizzle, brought a dramatic, almost alarming impression of the deluge. Ayrshire filled Keats with delight. "The bonny Doon is the sweetest river I ever saw," he wrote Tom. The mountains of Arran caused him to wonder why they did not incite "the bardic" to produce an epic. He approached the home of Burns in a mood of self-annihilation. But reverence was disenchanted by vulgar realism. "Oh, the flummery of a birthplace! Cant! Cant! Cant!" There was "a mahogany-faced old jackass" hanging around who had known the poet, and "his gab hindered my sublimity." It was the misery of Burns among such banal countrymen that filled Keats with the deepest emotion. Loch Lomond and Loch Awe gave the pedestrians some sensations of grandeur. The trip across the island of Mull was a severe strain of endurance. They tramped, stockings in hand, over miles of bog. Keats began to suffer from an inflamed throat. They sailed to Iona, beheld the ruins of St. Columba and the graves of the sixty-one kings. Thence to Fingal's Cave. "It far surpasses the finest cathedral," Keats records. And in some verses by the way he declares that it surpasses the vision of St. John on Patmos. Fingal's Cave supplied another fine image for "Hyperion," in which Saturn and Thea sit—
Like natural sculpture in cathedral cavern.
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