John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 65|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
And is not this the ideal, at an infinite remove, toward which the human soul is rising? There is physical instinct in the brute and spiritual impulse in the divine being. Midway between stands man, wrought upon by both and conquering his way up with conscience as the means of ascent,—conquering slowly until he shall attain that perfection which is so self-secure that it requires no weapon of defense.
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This spontaneous spiritual impulse is superior to the calculating obligations of conscience. Put it to the practical proof. The man who is good from cold conscience-driven duty is commendable. He who is good from warm spontaneous impulse is lovable. Ponder the meaning in Lowell's "Vision of Sir Launfal." It is the rich abundance of the impulsive quality in Shelley which makes us look up to him as a superior nature, which causes one of his harshest critics to call him "a beautiful angel." And Shelley's essential nature is beautiful—like the Venus of Milos. The Venus of Milos has a moral code different from ours; so had the "Cor Cordium" of Shelley. Yet we recognize in each a beauty that supersedes our ephemeral moral standards and that reveals a closer kinship than we possess with the divine.
The progress of civilization exhibits man passing out of the brute and rising by conquering the higher life with a conscience; and rising still higher toward divinity, where the possession of the spontaneous spiritual impulse liberates him, more and more, from the exacting scrutiny of conscience. Take an illustration. In primeval times the brute instinct of man was to kill a stranger. Ethics educated him and imposed duties. Nowadays we grant a stranger life and accord him rights. And often we do more than that: we give him a hearty welcome. This does not come from conscience-driven obligation, but from the spontaneous feeling of brotherhood. The imperative duty has been transformed into joy. When, in the millennium, virtue has become in all men an irrepressible impulse, ethics will cease to be an important factor in life. The triune division of philosophy into the true, the beautiful and the good will be reduced to two. And when ultimate truth shall be manifest, it will be dissolved in beauty. Then truth will be beauty and beauty truth, and that will be all men know or need to know.
"Taste," says Ruskin, "is not only a part and index of mortality; it is the only morality." This is the doctrine of Keats. He would regulate life by æsthetic taste. Shelley believed that men could be controlled by the persuasiveness of reason. And in his most characteristic poem, the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," he conceived of the divine unseen power as an "awful loveliness" of mind. Keats went still further in his metaphysics. He subordinated intellect—it lacked personality—and conceived of this power as pure loveliness.
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