John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 35|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
But the anonymous "Z" in Blackwood's,"—and the truth about Scott's part in the affair is that he was a mere spectator who advised abstinence, relished the wit and made light of the brutality, [This, I believe, is a fair statement of Scott's rôle in the imbroglio. The "old incredible suspicion," as Mr. Lang puts it, of his active complicity was based on Hunt's imagination and confirmed, seemingly, by Severn's story of Scott's remorse in Rome. Mr. Lang, in his Life of Lockhart, i, 150-155 and 193-200, has proved that Scott was not a coadjutor in the attack. Lockhart first met Scott personally in June, 1818. They became intimate during the summer. On the 8th of October, at Abbotsford, Scott, introducing Lockhart to Lord Melville, remarked, referring to Blackwood, "I trust you have had enough of certain pranks with your friend Ebony." The allusion must have included the Keats article which had recently appeared. Lockhart records that Scott "disapproved (though he chuckled over it) the reckless extravagance of juvenile satire." One writer says, in this connection, that "a chuckle from Scott, in the blaze of his reputation, was all that men needed to instigate them." The matter evidently weighed heavily on Scott's mind. in 1820 he wrote Lockhart a long letter. In it he condones what has been done as "a frolic of young men" and says, "'The gambol has been shown'—let it suffice." This attitude of tolerance where he should have been indignant probably accounts for his agitation when Severn unwittingly showed him Keats' picture in Rome. The fine grain in Scott's manliness, made him more sensitive by Keats' tragic death and by the mistaken notion that the reviews had killed him, doubtless caused him twinges of conscience; for he had thoughtlessly minimized brutality into a prank and had given to cruelty the sanction of a smile.]—the anonymous "Z" was scurrilous. He wrote out of a heart of hate. Keats was classed with farm servants, footmen and governesses who had been infected with the poetic "malady" by the success of Burns and Joanna Baillie. The "phrensy" of the first volume was bad, though not so bad as "the calm settled imperturbable driveling idiocy of 'Endymion.'" "Good Johnny Keats" had been induced by Hunt to quit his gallipots, and he had written "prurient and vulgar lines, evidently for some young lady east of Temple Bar." As a surgeon he might have made an excellent citizen. "It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet. So back to thy shop, Mr. John; stick to plasters, pills and ointment boxes. But for Heaven's sake be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than you have been in your poetry." The chemical reagent of "Z" was vitriol flung at the face. And the general public, as one article came out after another, watched him fling it with tacit approval.
PAGE 35 OF 81.
How far was Keats vulnerable?
Three things, especially, established a fiction that Keats died crushed by the reviews: Shelley's "Adonais"; the unwarranted inscription on the tomb; Byron's flippant doggerel:—
"Who kill'd John Keats?"
"I," says the Quarterly,
So savage and Tartarly;
"'T was one of my feats."
It required a long time to destroy that fiction, and its ghost is not yet wholly laid. A few years ago a critic of discretion considered the case as still open to argument.
Why should Keats break under such abuse when Hunt, a much weaker man, stood up against far worse? The answer is that he did not break, but that undeniably he did suffer more. The reason is found in the two different natures. The "sweet Master Shallow" who took prison life so airily with his piano and kid-glove promenades lacked the capacity to feel deeply. Keats was a soul of intensity. His finer profounder nature had a far greater capacity for pain. He was therefore more vulnerable.
In estimating this vulnerability, however, a distinction must be made between the effect on the sensibilities and the effect on the will. Therein lies the vital point on the whole matter, the test of the man. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were both subject to terrifying hallucinations. Under the strain the mind of the woman was shattered, while the man became resolute, executive. Keats had a combination of feminine sensibilities and masculine will. In his mobile imagination he was fearfully shaken and driven often into moods of self-distrust and despair. It could not be otherwise with such a fine-grained sensitive nature. He suffered agonies. Nevertheless the evidence is quite conclusive that his will was stimulated into greater self-sufficiency and strength. He actually drank the delight of battle. For him the attack of the reviews was what Carlyle calls "The Baphometic Fire-Baptism." Hitherto Keats, although growing into wisdom, had been floundering about trying to find his stable equilibrium. His artistic temperament has been in an amorphous state. Hostile criticism was the crucible in which this temperament was fused and transformed into a crystallized character.
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