Memoir of John Keats, Page 1|
by Cyrus Redding (1829).
The short career of JOHN KEATS was marked by development of powers which have been rarely exhibited in one at so immatured an age. He had but just completed his twenty-fourth year when he was snatched away from the world, and an end put for ever to a genius of a lofty and novel order. Certain party critics, who made it their object to lacerate the feelings, and endeavor to put down by vituperation and misplaced ridicule every effort which emanated not from their own servile dependents or followers, furiously attacked the writings of Keats on their appearance. Their promise of greater excellence was unquestionable, their beauties were obvious,—but so also were defects, which might easily be made available for an attack upon the author; and which certain writers of the Quarterly Review instantly seized upon to gratify party malice,—not against the author so much as against his friends. The unmerited abuse poured upon Keats by this periodical work is supposed to have hastened his end, which was slowly approaching when the criticism before-mentioned appeared.
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This original and singular example of poetical genius was of humble descent, and was born in Moorfields, London, October 29, 1796, at a livery-stables which had belonged to his grandfather. He received a classical education at Enfield, under a Mr. Clarke, and was apprenticed to Mr. Hammond, a surgeon at Edmonton. The son of his schoolmaster Clarke encouraged the first germs of the poetical faculty which he early observed in the young poet, and introduced him to Mr. Leigh Hunt, who is reported to have been the means of his introduction to the public. Keats was an individual of extreme sensitiveness, so that he would betray emotion even to tears on hearing a noble action recited, or at the mention of a glowing thought or one of deep pathos: yet both his moral and personal courage were above all suspicion. His health was always delicate, for he had been a seven months' child; and it appears that the symptoms of premature decay, or rather of fragile vitality, were long indicated by his organization, before consumption decidedly displayed itself.
The juvenile productions of Keats were published in 1817, the author being at that time in his twenty-first year. His favourite sojourn appears to have been Hampstead, the localities of which village were the scenes of his earliest abstractions, and the prompters of many of his best poetical productions; most of his personal friends, too, resided in the neighbourhood. His first published volume, though the greater part of it was not above mediocrity, contained passages and lines of rare beauty. His political sentiments differing from those of the Quarterly Review, being manly and independent, were sins never to be forgiven; and as in that party work literary judgment was always dealt out according to political congeniality of feeling, with the known servility of its writers, an author like Keats had no chance of being judged fairly. He was friendless and unknown, and could not even attract notice to a just complaint if he appealed to the public, from his being yet obscure as an author. This Gifford, the editor of the Quarterly, well knew, and poured his malignity upon his unoffending victim in proportion as he was conscious of the want of power in the object of his attack to resist it. A scion of nobility might have scribbled nonsense and been certain of applause; but a singular genius springing up by its own vitality in an obscure corner, was by all means to be crushed.—Gifford had been a cobbler, and the son of a livery-stable-keeper was not worthy of his critical toleration! Thus it always is with those narrow-minded persons who rise by the force of accident from vulgar obscurity: they cannot tolerate a brother, much less superior power or genius in that brother. On the publication of Keats's next work, "Endymion," Gifford attacked it with all the bitterness of which his pen was capable, and did not hesitate, before he saw the work, to announce his intention of doing so to the publisher. Keats had endeavored, as much as was consistent with independent feeling, to conciliate the critics at large, as may be observed in his preface to that poem. He merited to be treated with indulgence, not wounded by the envenomed shafts of political animosity for literary errors. His book abounded in passages of true poetry, which were of course passed over; and it is difficult to decide whether the cowardice or the cruelty of the attack upon it, most deserve execration. Of great sensitiveness, as already observed, and his frame already touched by a mortal distemper, he felt his hopes withered, and his attempts to obtain honorable public notice in his own scantily allotted days frustrated.
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