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Studies in Letters and Life: On the Promise of Keats, Page 2
by George Edward Woodberry (1890).

Such quick susceptibility to sensuous impressions of every kind may be plentifully illustrated by opening almost at random in his works. But the characteristics that mark the real sensualist—the content that the lotus-leaf vapors forth, the fierceness of the centaur's pursuit, the struggle of the faun's transformation—are nowhere to be found in the letters or the poems; before his illness, at least, there is no debility, irresolution, or mastery of the instincts over the mind. In fact, without any revolution of his nature, without the slightest effort, by mere growth it would seem, he passed on into the "Chamber of Maiden Thought," as he phrased it, and became absorbed as deeply in his reflections as previously in his impulses. At no time, indeed, was he wholly unthoughtful. The passages that have been given above are parenthetical, and should be read in connection with such as these, of the opposite tenor:—

"I must think that difficulties nerve the spirit of a man; they make our prime objects a refuge as well as a passion."

"I am becoming accustomed to the privations of the pleasures of sense. In the midst of the world, I live like a hermit. I have forgot how to lay plans for the enjoyment of any pleasure. I feel I can bear anything,—any misery, even imprisonment,—so long as I have neither wife nor child."

"Women must want imagination, and they may thank God for it; and so may we, that a delicate being can feel happy without any sense of crime."

"Scenery is fine, but human nature is finer; the sward is richer for the tread of a real nervous English foot; the eagle's nest is finer for the mountaineer having looked into it."

Many a remark, based like these immediately upon his own experience, shows that Keats had an insight into his own life and an outlook on the world inconsistent with the portrayal of him as merely impassioned with sensuous beauty.

So far, in fact, was Keats from being either lapped in Lydian airs or fed on food of sweetest melancholy that he was sometimes a disagreeably unhappy person, if his brother George's description of him be entirely true, since his moodiness was vented in complaints, irritable jealousies, and like ways. However exceptional such occasions were in the intercourse of the brothers, this exposure, taken together with some of the upbraidings in the letters to Fanny Brawne, is very significant. Keats himself refers to the strain of morbidity in him, and, although from time to time he felt the strong awakening of the philanthropic instinct, frequently expresses his distaste for society, his misanthropy, his indifference to the public, his wish to live withdrawn, free from human relations, engaged in poetizing for his own sake. Toward women especially he had a bitter tongue, before he fell in love with Fanny Brawne.

"When I was a schoolboy, I thought a fair woman was a pure goddess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not. . . . When I am among women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen; I cannot speak or be silent; I am full of suspicions, and therefore listen to nothing; I am in a hurry to be gone. You must be charitable, and put all this perversity to my being disappointed since my boyhood. Yet with such feelings I am happier alone, among crowds of men, by myself, or with a friend or two."


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