John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 37|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
He was bruised in his dignity; he was stung in his acute sensibilities; he was driven into temporary moods of self-distrust. For a time he considered abandoning poetry and turning again to medicine or emigrating to America. The suffering was in the morbid brooding of the imagination. Poets are especially subject to it. The faculty that creates is a faculty that suffers. The imagination is the poet's rack of anguish as well as his chamber of joy. The test of Keats' character is not the pain, but the reaction from the blows. Criticism did not break or even bend his will. Criticism made him more cautious, more independent. He became a spiritual anchorite. He was drawn into a closer communion with that invisible company which was always the highest source of his inspiration, "the eternal Being, the Principle of Beauty and the Memory of Great Men." With these he lost his eagerness for fame and put aside the vainglory of the world. "My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk."
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Evidence that is recorded without any thought of future use is the best evidence. The letters that Keats wrote to his friends (not for publication or posterity) reveals the truth. Consider some of these and see what was happening in the depths of his nature while the reviews were supposed to be driving him insane. The attacks came in August and September; these are the reactions from the blows.
September 21st. "I wish I could say Tom was any better. His identity presses upon me so all day that I am obliged to go out—and although I intended to have given some time to study alone, I am obliged to write and plunge into abstract images to ease myself of his countenance, his voice and his feebleness—so that I live now in a continual fever."
September 22nd. "I never was in love—yet the voice and shape of a Woman has haunted me these two days. . . . There is an awful warmth about my heart like a load of Immortality. Poor Tom—that woman—and Poetry were ringing changes in my senses."
October 9th. "I begin to get a little acquainted with my own strength and weakness—praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own Works. My own domestic criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what 'Blackwood's' or the 'Quarterly' could possibly inflict. . . . I will write independently—I have written independently without judgment. I may write independently, and with judgment, hereafter. The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: it cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. . . . I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."
October 14th. "I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death."
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