Imágenes de páginas

gives us indications by which to judge of the true nature hidden below. Every man has his block given him, and the figure he cuts will depend very much upon the shape of that - upon the knots and twists which existed in it from the beginning. We were designed in the cradle, perhaps earlier, and it is in finding out this design, and shaping ourselves to it, that our years are spent wisely. It is the vain endeavor to make ourselves what we are not that has strewn history with so many broken purposes and lives left in the rough.

Keats hardly lived long enough to develop a well-outlined character, for that results commonly from the resistance made by temperament to the many influences by which the world, as it may happen then to be, endeavors to mould every one in its own image. What his temperament was we can see clearly, and also that it subordinated itself more and more to the discipline of art.

JOHN KEATS, the second of four children, like Chaucer, was a Londoner, but unlike Chaucer, he was certainly not of gentle blood. Mr. Monckton Milnes, who seems to have had a kindly wish to create him gentleman by brevet, says that he "born in the upper ranks of the middle This shows a commendable tenderness for the nerves of English society, and reminds



one of Northcote's story of the violin-player who, wishing to compliment his pupil, George III., divided all fiddlers into three classes, those who could not play at all, those who played very badly, and those who played very well, assuring his majesty that he had made such commendable progress as to have already reached the second rank. The American public will perhaps not be disturbed by knowing that the father of Keats (as Mr. Milnes had told us in an earlier biography)" was employed in the establishment of Mr. Jennings, the proprietor of large livery-stables on the Pavement in Moorfields, nearly opposite the entrance into Finsbury Circus." So that, after all, it was not so bad; for, first, Mr. Jennings was a proprietor; second, he was the proprietor of an establishment; third, he was the proprietor of a large establishment; and fourth, this large establishment was nearly opposite Finsbury Circus,— a name which vaguely dilates the imagination with all sorts of conjectured grandeurs. It is true, Leigh Hunt asserts that Keats "was a little too sensitive on the score of his origin," but we can find no trace of such a feeling either in his poetry, or in such of his letters as have been printed. We suspect the fact to have been that he resented with becoming pride the vulgar Blackwood and Quarterly standard which measured genius

*Hunt's Autobiography, (American edition,) vol. ii., p. 36.

by genealogies. It is enough that his poetical pedigree is of the best, tracing through Spenser to Chaucer, and that Pegasus does not stand at livery even in the largest establishments in Moorfields.

As well as we can make out, then, the father of Keats was a groom in the service of Mr. Jennings, and married the daughter of his master. Thus, on the mother's side, at least, we find a grandfather; on the father's there is no hint of such an ancestor, and we must charitably take him for granted. It is of more importance that the elder Keats was a man of sense and energy, and that his wife was a lively and intelligent woman, who hastened the birth of the poet by her passionate devotion to amusement, bringing him into the world, a seven months' child, on the 29th October, 1795, instead of the 29th December as would have been conventionally proper. Mr. Milnes describes her as "tall, with a large oval face, and a somewhat saturnine demeanor.* This last circumstance does not agree very well with what he had just before told us of her liveliness, but he consoles us by adding that "she succeeded, however, in inspiring her children with the profoundest affection." This was particularly true of John, who once, when between four and five years old, mounted guard at her chamber-door

Milnes' Life of Keats, (American edition,) p. 15.

with an old sword, when she was ill and the doctor had ordered her not to be disturbed.*

In 1804, Keats being in his ninth year, his father was killed by a fall from his horse. His mother seems to have been ambitious for her children, and there was some talk of sending John to Harrow. Fortunately this plan was thought too expensive, and he was sent instead to the School of Mr. Clarke at Enfield with his brothers. A maternal uncle, who had distinguished himself by his courage under Duncan at Camperdown, was the hero of his nephews, and they went to school resolved to maintain the family reputation for courage. John was always fighting, and was chiefly noted among his schoolfellows as a strange compound of pluck and sensibility. He attacked an usher who had boxed his brother's ears, and when his mother died, in 1810, was moodily inconsolable, (in spite, it seems, of her "saturnine demeanor,") hiding himself for several days in a nook under the master's desk, and refusing all comfort from teacher or friend.

He was popular at school, as boys of spirit always are, and impressed his companions with a sense of his power. They thought he would one day be a famous soldier. This may have been owing to the stories he told them of the heroic

* Haydon tells the story differently, but we think Mr. Milnes's version the best.

uncle, whose deeds, we may be sure, were properly famoused by the boy Homer, and whom they probably took for an admiral at the least, as it would have been well for Keats's literary prosperity if he had been. At any rate, they thought John would be a great man, which is the main thing, for the public opinion of the playground is truer and more discerning than that of the world, and if you tell us what the boy was, we will tell you what the man longs to be, however he may be repressed by necessity or fear of the police reports.

Mr. Milnes has failed to discover any thing else especially worthy of record in the school-life of Keats. He translated the twelve books of the Eneid, read Robinson Crusoe and the Incas of Peru, and looked into Shakspeare. He left school in 1810, with little Latin and no Greek, but he had studied Spence's Polymetis, Tooke's Pantheon, and Lempriere's Dictionary, and knew gods, 'nymphs, and heroes, which were quite as good company as aorists and aspirates. It is pleasant to fancy the horror of those respectable writers if their pages could suddenly have become alive under their pens with all that the young poet saw in them.*

There is always some one willing to make himself a sort of accessary after the fact in any success; always an old woman or two, ready to remember omens of all quantities and qualities in the childhood of persons who have become dis

« AnteriorContinuar »