John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 69|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
Keats was all poet; these letters are the final proof. The same current of imaginative creation which flowed into his poetry now enters his personal life. He is face to face with a woman whose attraction is fraught with dire possibilities. At first the artist stands off and studies her with analytic eyes. Hitherto the roaring of the wind has been his wife, the stars his children; the idea of beauty in the abstract has suppressed the domestic cravings of the natural man. He has forsworn earthly love for poetry. Then the fateful moment comes; a daughter of Eve appears in the guise of a "minx." The celibate artist is repelled, attracted and puzzled. "Shall I give you Miss Brawne?" he writes his brother George. "She is about my height—with a fine style of countenance of the lengthened sort—she wants sentiment in every feature—she manages to make her hair look well—her nostrils are fine—though a little painful—her mouth is bad and good—her Profile is better than her full face which indeed is not full, but pale and thin without showing any bone. Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements—her arms are good—her hands baddish—her feet tolerable. She is not seventeen—but she is ignorant—monstrous in her behavior, flying out in all directions, calling people such names that I was forced lately to make use of the term Minx—this I think not from any innate vice but from a penchant she has for acting stylishly—I am however tired of such style and shall decline any more of it."
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Fatal delusion! While the eyes are scrutinizing and the will is holding him aloof, some indefinable power in the feminine strikes into his imagination; something flashes up, tyrannizes, yields, returns in full power, and ultimately dominates like an obsession. Struggle for release as he may, with the artist's instinct for self-preservation, he is, when not finding a refuge in poetry, a vassal of enchantment. Here is a notable instance of beauty drawing by a single hair.
It fluctuates, this power of fascination. If we watch the changes, we shall see the sincerity, the almost brutal sincerity of these letters. By the summer of 1819 he was already betrothed. On August 23 of that year he wrote to Taylor, his publisher: "I equally dislike the favor of the public with the love of a woman. They are both cloying treacle to the wings of Independence." An astonishing thing for a betrothed lover to write! It wold seem at first a case of rank treason. Now compare these words with the letter he had previously written in the same week to Miss Brawne and you will probe the mystery of this attachment. He is at Winchester, with the phantoms of "Otho" surging hot in the brain.
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