John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 68|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The censor says that this letter shows lack of restraint. Who is to determine the measure of a lover's restraint—his betrothed or his literary diagnosticians? Here, doubtless, Miss Brawne should have precedence over the professional specialist. She was not ashamed of that fervor. She preserved those letters and bequeathed them to posterity. That love must therefore have had her sanction. It seems to us that, in sitting in judgment on this point, the gifted critic of the Barbarians, Philistines and Populace has passed beyond the proper jurisdiction of his court. This is a private, not a public concern. Moreover, he has acted like an advocate for the prosecution. For what does he say of the restraint—that mania for reticence—which made Keats secrete his love affairs so rigorously from his friends? Severn even tells us he was unaware that Keats' last agonies were due to love.
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The censor refers this letter to a surgeon's apprentice and a breach of promise case. And to what would he refer the "Vita Nuova" of Dante? Dante fell into "so frail and feeble" a condition over Beatrice that his friends asked him what was "wasting" his life. He bathed the earth with bitter tears. He lapsed into "distraction like a person in frenzy." The author of the "Vita Nuova" wrote: "Ofttimes love assailed me with such force that naught remained alive in me save one thought which spake of my lady." There is a difference of style, to be sure. Dante wrote with finished formal art for the public. Keats, little suspecting that an apostle of "high seriousness" would ever scan his words, wrote these artless outpourings from his heart for two hallowed eyes only. The experience, however, is precisely the same, the complete submission of the mind to love. It robbed neither poet of his capacity for doing his work.
If we observe the rule of decency for a dead man's love letters, Arnold's contention must shift to this: that Keats had no right to feel such intense emotion for a woman. He can indulge his raptures in poetry,—
Ethereal, flushed, and like a throbbing star—
we will praise him for these; but when it comes to real life he must observe the properties as laid down by the excellent Sir Charles Grandison. Keats must divorce the emotions of poetry from the emotions of life, else we shall call him a surgeon's apprentice and file his letters in a breach of promise case. Such, indeed, is the reductio ad absurdum of the critic of the academic gown. Keats' love for Fanny Brawne has its defects; they are not on the level of cheap scandal. ["This morning before breakfast I went to the English burying-ground by the pyramid of Cestius and saw the graves of Shelley and Keats, and—what interested me more—that of Goethe's only son." Letters of Matthew Arnold, i, 321.]
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