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John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 33
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).

XV

THE ATTACKS OF THE REVIEWS

Keats arrived in London on August 18, 1818. Worn out, broken in health, he had to stand up immediately against the onslaught of rabid enemies. The article by the anonymous "Z" had just appeared in "Blackwood's"; that by Gifford in the "Quarterly" came out in September.

Every progressive study of Keats must include their story of the reviews. The attack of the Tory critics was the storm centre of his life. The evidence of the effect seems conflicting, and the last word has not been said on the matter. He has been seen long enough through an atmosphere of pathos. It is time to end this sentimental pity, for it obscures the man. In "Sleep and Poetry," after wishing for experience in the pleasures of life, he continued:—

And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
Where I may find the agonies, the strife
Of human hearts.


He got exactly what he then desired, the agony and the stiffening of the fibre. Read the full story and pity will place to admiration.

Keats suffered, no doubt. The blows of the critics had the mass power of public opinion. "I have the advantage," wrote the enemy in a previous article against Hunt. "I have the established sentiments of national honor on my side. There is not a man or woman around us who venerates the memory of respectable ancestry or the interests of a yet unpolluted progeny that will not rejoice to see your poison neutralized by the wholesome chemistry of "Z." He next declared that he purposed to relieve the main attack against Hunt by diversions against "the Keatses, the Shellys, the Webbes." In crushing "the Cockney School" the writer, voicing the triumphant forces of reaction, was suppressing the last vestiges of "the Encyclopædists in religion and the Jacobins in politics." This must not be regarded as literary criticism. It was a cry of "no quarter" and a slaughter of the survivors of the Revolution.

Politics caused the malevolence. Hunt was still fighting for liberalism. Since his party was down and under, he had to force that fighting. He did this with a free use of the technical terms of the day. He called Gifford "a servile court tool"; Southey "canting hypocrite"; Coleridge "the wandering Jew of literature"; and his pen sketch of the Regent was pronounced lèse majesté by the court. Those in authority did not fail to use their advantage. They had monarchy and the church to defend. One highflier went so far as to demand obedience to the sovereign, even though he were a Nero. The spirit of reform, during the decade after Waterloo, was still regarded as treason.

Keats, though liberal in opinion, was quiescent and politically harmless. But his attachment to Hunt gave him the black brand. His fortunes as a poet were thus allied with the fortunes of Hunt as a politician. The criticism of his verse was made in the midst of a larger conflict where hate and the destructive zeal of battle ignored the artistic issue. Keats had to drink his own cup of wormwood and also the gall delivered to Hunt.


PAGE 33 OF 81.

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