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John Keats: The Apothecary Poet, Page 6
by Sir William Osler (1908).

Lowell, speaking of his wonderful power in the choice of words, says:

'Men's thoughts and opinions are in a great degree the vassals of him who invents a new phrase or re-applies an old one. The thought or feeling a thousand times repeated becomes his at last who utters it best. . . . As soon as we have discovered the word for our joy or our sorrow we are no longer its serfs, but its lords. We reward the discoverer of an anaesthetic for the body and make him a member of all the societies, but him who finds a nepenthe for the soul we elect into the small Academy of the Immortals.'

And I will add a criticism on the letters by Edward Fitzgerald:

'Talking of Keats, do not forget to read Lord Houghton's Life and Letters of him; in which you will find what you may not have guessed from his poetry (though almost unfathomably deep in that also), the strong masculine sense and humour, etc., of the man; more akin to Shakespeare, I am tempted to think, in a perfect circle of poetic faculties, than any poet since.'


IV

Very few indications of his professional training are to be found in Keats's letters; fewer still in the poems. Referring to his studies, he says, in one of the early poems (the epistle to George Felton Mathew), 'far different cares beckon me sternly from soft Lydian airs.' During the four years from 1817 to 1820 he made fitful efforts to bestir himself into action, and on several occasions his thoughts turned towards his calling. In a letter to his brother, written in February, 1819, he says, 'I have been at different times turning it in my head whether I should go to Edinburgh and study for a physician; I am afraid I should not take kindly to it; I am sure I could not take fees—and yet I should like to do so; it is not worse than writing poems and hanging them up to be fly-blown on the Review shambles.' In 1818 he wrote to his friend Reynolds, 'Were I to study physic, or rather medicine, again, I feel it would not make the least difference in my poetry; when the mind is in its infancy a bias is in reality a bias, but when we acquire more strength, a bias becomes no bias,' adding that he is glad he had not given away his medical books, 'which I shall again look over, to keep alive the little I know thitherwards.' In May, 1820, when convalescent from the first attack of haemoptysis, he wrote to Dilke, 'I have my choice of three things—or at least two—South America or surgeon to an Indiaman, which last will be my fate.' A year before, in a letter to Miss Jeffreys, he spoke of voyaging to and from India for a few years, but in June, 1819, he tells his sister that he has given up the idea of an Indiaman, and that he 'was preparing to enquire for a situation with an apothecary'. Allusions to or analogies drawn from medical subjects are rare in his letters. In one place, in writing from Devonshire, he says, 'When I think of Wordsworth's sonnet, "Vanguard of Liberty! Ye men of Kent!" (in Wordsworth at all events) the degraded race about me are pulvis ipecac, simplex—a strong dose.'

PAGE 6 OF 10.

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