John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 75|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
As he sailed away the phantom of love found a freer privilege to haunt and torment the imagination. He thinks of death as a decree of absolute divorce. Yet there is a chivalrous thoughtfulness in the parting messages. From Yarmouth, ten days after leaving London, he wrote to Brown, "You think she has many faults—but for my sake think she has not one." He cherishes no hope of return, though desire burns with an intensity increasing with the distance. Already he is overwhelmed with the sense of a great darkness coming over him, and in this he sees "her figure eternally vanishing." In this gloom his hope flutters and craves, with blind eyes, a life beyond.
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The voyage had its adventures. After the two weeks of slow sailing and anchoring along the English coast, the vessel had to drive through a hard storm for three days in the Bay of Biscay. Off the Peninsula it was held up by a Portuguese man-of-war and searched. It was visited by the officers of an English cruiser and promised satisfaction for the indignity. Then came the imposing view of Gibraltar at daybreak. Keats watched the rock in impressive silence while Severn sketched it in colors. The rest of the passage was over smooth waters. At the end of six weeks they reached Naples. Keats first saw the harbor in the rising sun,—the islands, the white city, the vineyard slopes, Vesuvius smoking grimly in the radiance of ethereal sky.
Ill luck pursues him; the ship is quarantined. The stifling air of the cabin increases his WRETCHEDNESS—he writes the word large in a letter and then, overcome by the exertion, is unable to finish. There is another consumptive aboard; her haggard face is ever before him like an ironical spectre. Those in health about him deepen his feeling of detachment from life. Yet he struggles to retain his human interests. To "Toots," the little sister-in-law—never to be—he sends report of the luscious grapes brought in the fruit boats; to her brother he gives an account of the great catches of miniature fish. The sublimity of the scenery—a partial compensation for the quarantine—stirs an undercurrent of enthusiasm, but he is too feeble to give it expression.
Severn records that Keats' face had worn "a starved haunting expression." He was so reticent about his anguish that his comrade did not suspect the real cause. A letter to Mrs. Brawne, from shipboard, is restrained, cheerful, though it breaks nobly at the close. "O, what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints." He no longer feels he is in the world. Naples appears as a dream. There are references to precious keepsakes: a knife, a pocketbook, a locket of hair. To the mother's letters he adds a quiet heartrending postscript: "Good-by, Fanny. God bless you."
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