John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 81|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
Keats' possible performance, if he had lived, is a fascinating topic for speculation. One man declares he had run his course; another that he had just begun. Under the stress of enthusiasm it is easy to speculate rashly, to predict a rival for Shakespeare. He had, as Arnold stated, the Shakespearean faculty for natural magic. He might have vied with him in copious wealth of imagery. But that he ever could have measured with him in length and breadth and depth of substance is wholly improbable. Keats was a genius with a strong instinctive bias. When such a bias persists, strengthens and perfects itself, as it did with Keats, it is unlikely ever to develop into the free adaptability of the all-inclusive nature. If Keats had acquired wisdom, it would have been dyed by an intense individual temperament. He would still have viewed the world from a fixed point of view. A shift from this would have resulted in a loss of power. Recollect his drama and his satire. The mind that sees life large was not his portion. Let him dwell in his own temple of delight; not Shakespeare's hurly-burly. He may become a universal poet; he could never have become a poet of the universal. His type of genius is minor, profound, permanent.
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In the quantitative sense, by his early death the world lost much exalting enjoyment—the unwritten poems. Nevertheless the man revealed himself; delivered his message; left fulfillment to his followers. He was a germinal mind. A genius, after all, can only fling off fragments of himself. Socrates did no more; nor, relatively speaking, did Michelangelo. Posterity lacks the treatise on knowledge and the majestic tomb of a pope. It has the stature of the men—the dynamic impulses of their spirits. We have lost, perhaps, the pleasure of a completed epic or two; we have not lost Keats. The archetype of the man is forever ours.
The soul of Adonais like a star
Beacons from the above where the eternal are.
The absolute critic has the schoolmaster's zeal for gradations and place. Mindful of the rebuke of the Master when the disciples were disputing about rank in the kingdom of heaven, the lover of Keats will spare him the contentions of absolute criticism. The disparity between performance and promise should grant him exemption. Let us hold him in memory as he held himself on earth—in isolation.
The Keats that Hunt and Brown and Severn knew was a gifted young man who jested, drank claret, cut cards for half guineas, accompanied them to the theatre. Usually he was gracious and sweet-tempered, sometimes tempestuous. Occasionally he went off by himself and wrote verses. He died early, deeply mourned, and passed into oblivion. To them he was very real. Keats can never be so real to us. He is far too vital for such physical reality. His figure is set in a mystical haze, luminous in the flooding light of his fame. He stands somewhere in remote space delivering oracular messages of beauty; an intermediary between us and the invisible beyond. Through him we get faint hints of the mysterious agencies at work behind the veil. The powers have been at play around him; the eternal powers and the forces of evil—momentarily victorious—that seek to foil and destroy. But here evil has been vanquished and the beneficent agencies have emerged in triumph to justify our faltering faith that the truth, crushed to earth, shall arise, and that the power of truth shall deliver judgment and justice even at the end of the world.
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