John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 41|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The tradition has been perpetuated by several English writers that Keats had a taint of offensive Cockney manners. Mr. William Watson—who takes virtue unto himself for not reading the Brawne letters—says that the other letters are "near Cockney vulgarity always." And he smartly summarizes his opinions in this epigram: "It is Apollo with an unmistakable dash of 'Arry."
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The survival of this tradition is no doubt due to the aristocratic contempt of humble birth and to the English lust for class distinctions. But to some of us on the other side of the Atlantic this insistence on Keats' Cockneyism seems like the self-infatuation of a Malvolio. The original meaning of Cockney is "an effeminate spoilt child." It is inoffensively applied also, we understand, to one who has always lived within the sound of Bow-bells. The "Blackwood's" reviewer, who foamed with rage because Hunt once addressed a nobleman as "My dear Byron," used this word as a synonym of underbred familiarity. These later critics of Keats, if they do not use it in this sense strictly, certainly imply the stigma of inferior class and manners. Three thousand miles from London, with only the printed letters and the testimony of his friends, this last application of Cockney to Keats is quite incomprehensible. For the sake of unprejudiced truth, will some of these superior critics present the specific cases which support the statement that Keats had the taint of the Cockney and that his letters are "near Cockney vulgarity always"? We will accept any definition of a gentleman that does not deny the right of a man to stand on his own feet, to speak according to the weight of his wisdom and to act by the rule which harmonizes self-respect with courtesy. If, perchance, some lapses of gentility be discovered in these letters of Keats, for every instance—unless it be argued that a king can do no wrong—we offer to furnish two such lapses from the letters of Lord Byron.
We suspect that the original shadow of slander has never been wholly lifted from Keats in his own country. Yet what does it matter! He has gone where he is no longer troubled by social discriminations. Contemporary England was stone-blind to his gifts. The few loyal friends who loved him as "Junkets" only faintly foresaw his fame. And those who now see cannot mar it with their epigrams about 'Arry. Nevertheless those who would know the man truly must detach him from this artificial English environment and follow him to that dignified isolation into which he retired.
"I value more the privilege of seeing great things in loneliness than the fame of a great prophet."
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