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We talked of the king's coming to see Goldsmith's new play: -"I wish he would," said Goldsmith: adding however, with an affected indifference, "Not that it would do me the least good." -JOHNSON. Well, then, sir, let us say it would do him good (laughing). No, sir, this affectation will not pass;-it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours, who would not wish to please the chief magistrate?"-GOLDSMITH. I do wish to please him. I remember a line in Dryden,
'And every poet is the monarch's friend.'
* * * *
It ought to be reversed:"
I spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man, and in particular of an eminent Grecian.-JOHNSON. "I am not sure of that. His friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his friends are able to judge of it."-GOLDSMITH. He is what is much better: he is a worthy, humane man."-JOHNSON. "Nay, sir, that is not to the purpose of our argument: that will as much prove that he can play upon the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian."-GOLDSMITH. The greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above seven hundred a year."-JOHNSON. "That is indeed but little for a man to get, who does best that which so many endeavor to do. There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much, as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and a fiddlestick, and he can do nothing."
354.-CHARACTER OF KEATS.
[MR. R. MONCTON MILNES, himself no mean poet, has recently published a delightful Life of John Keats. It is a charming contribution to literary biography, and unquestionably tends to raise the general appreciation of the character of that most original poet. We find from his letters that Keats stood up manfully against neglect and abuse; that he had a noble confidence in his own powers to accomplish something excellent; that his poetical capacity was, not an immature thing, but was gradually nourished and enlarged by earnest thought and patient study. But, with all his calm endurance, we can scarcely bring ourselves to agree with his accomplished biographer, that the ungenerous attacks upon him did not deeply trouble his spirit. Great minds have the same loathing as Coriolanus of a display of their wounds. It is delightful, at any rate, to know that such oppression did not enfeeble his mental energy, and that the poetical temperament in his case, and hundreds of others, has been proved to possess the best courage-that of patience and fortitude.]
The last few pages have attempted to awaken a personal interest in the story of Keats almost apart from his literary character -a personal interest founded on events that might easily have occurred to a man of inferior ability, and rather affecting from their moral than intellectual bearing. But now
"He has outsoar'd the shadow of our night;
and, ere we close altogether these memorials of his short earthly being, let us revert to the great distinctive peculiarities which singled him out from his fellow-men, and gave him his rightful place among "the inheritors of unfulfilled renown."
Let any man of literary accomplishment, though without the habit of writing poetry, or even much taste for reading it, open
Endymion' at random (to say nothing of the later and more perfect poems), and examine the characteristics of the page before him, and I shall be surprised if he does not feel that the whole range of literature hardly supplies a parallel phenomenon. As a psychological curiosity, perhaps Chatterton is more wonderful: but in him the immediate ability displayed is rather the full comprehension of, and identification with, the old model, than the effluence of creative genius. In Keats, on the contrary, the originality in the use of his scanty materials, his expansion of them to the proportions of his own imagination, and, above all, his field of diction and expression extending so far beyond his knowledge of literature, is quite inexplicable to any of the ordinary processes of mental education. If his classical learning had been deeper, his seizure of the full spirit of Grecian beauty would have been less surprising; if his English reading had been more extensive, his inexhaustible vocabulary of picturesque and memetic words could more easily be accounted for; but here is a surgeon's apprentice, with the ordinary culture of the middle classés, rivalling, in æsthetic perceptions of antique life and thought, the most careful scholars of his time and country, and reproducing these impressions in a phraseology as complete and unconventional as if he had mastered the whole history and the frequent variations of the English tongue, and elaborated a mode of utterance commensurate with his vast ideas.
The artistic absence of moral purpose may offend many readers, and the just harmony of the coloring may appear to others a displeasing monotony; but I think it impossible to lay the book down without feeling that almost every line of it contains solid gold enough to be beaten out, by common literary manufacturers, into a poem of itself. Concentration of imagery, the hitting off a picture at a stroke, the clear, decisive word that brings the thing before you and will not let it go, are the rarest distinction of the early exercise of the faculties. So much more is usually known than digested by sensitive youth, so much more felt than understood, so much more perceived than methodised, that diffusion is fairly permitted in the earlier stages of authorship; and it is held to be one of the advantages, amid some losses, of maturer intelligence, that it learns to fix and hold the beauty it apprehends, and
to crystalize the dew of its morning. Such examples to the con trary, as the Windsor Forest' of Pope, are rather scholastic exercises of men who afterwards became great, than the first-fruits of such genius, while all Keats's poems are early productions, and there is nothing beyond them but the thought of what he might have become. Truncated as is this intellectual life, it is still a substantive whole, and the complete statue, of which such a frag. ment is revealed to us, stands perhaps solely in the temple of the imagination. There is, indeed, progress, continual and visible, in the works of Keats, but it is towards his own ideal of a poet, not towards any defined and tangible model. All that we can do is to transfer that ideal to ourselves, and to believe that, if Keats had lived, that is what he would have been.
Contrary to the expectation of Mr. Shelley, the appreciation of Keats, by men of thought and sensibility gradually rose after his death, until he attained the place he now holds among the poets of his country. By his side, too, the fame of this his friend and culogist ascended, and now they rest together, associated in the history of the achievments of the human imagination; twin stars, very cheering to the mental mariner tost on the rough ocean of practical life and blown about by the gusts of calumny and misrepresentation; but who, remembering what they have undergone, forgets not that he also is divine.
Nor has Keats been without his direct influence on the poetical literature that succeeded him. The most noted, and perhaps the most original, of present poets, bears more analogy to him than to any other writer, and their brotherhood has been well recognised, in the words of a critic, himself a man of redundant fancy, and of the widest perception of what is true and beautiful, lately cut off from life by a destiny as mysterious as that which has been here recounted. Mr. Sterling writes:-"Lately I have been reading again some of Alfred Tennyson's second volume, and with pro found admiration of his truly lyric and idyllic genius. There seems to me to have been more epic power in Keats, that fiery, beautiful meteor; but they are two most true and great poets. When we think of the amount of recognition they have received, one may well bless God that poetry is in itself strength and joy
whether it be crowned by all mankind or left alone in its own magic hermitage."
And this is in truth the moral of the tale. In the life which here lies before us, as plainly as a child's, the action of the poetic faculty is most clearly visible: it long sustains in vigor and delight a temperament naturally melancholy, and which, under such adverse circumstances, might well have degenerated into angry discontent. It imparts a wise temper and a courageous hope to a physical constitution doomed to early decay; and it confines within manly affections and generous passion a nature so impressible that sensual pleasures and sentimental tenderness might easily have enervated and debased it. There is no defect in the picture which the exercise of this power does not go far to remedy, and no excellence which it does not elevate and extend.
One still graver lesson remains to be noted. Let no man, who is anything above his fellows, claim, as of right, to be valued or understood: the vulgar great are comprehended and adored, because they are in reality in the same moral plane with those who admire; but he who deserves the higher reverence must himself convert the worshipper. The pure and lofty life; the generous and tender use of the rare creative faculty; the brave endurance of neglect and ridicule; the strange and cruel end of so much genius and so much virtue; these are the lessons by which the sympathies of mankind must be interested, and their faculties educated, up to the love of such a character and the comprehension of such an intelligence. Still the lovers and scholars will be few: still the rewards of fame will be scanty and ill-proportioned: no accumulation of knowledge or series of experiences can teach the meaning of genius to those who look for it in additions and results, any more than the numbers studded round a planet's orbit could approach nearer infinity than a single unit. The world of thought must remain apart from the world of action; for, if they once coincided, the problem of Life would be solved, and the hope, which we call heaven, would be realized on earth. And therefore men
"Are cradled into poetry by wrong:
They learn in suffering what they teach in song.”
* Sterlings's Essays and Tales, p. 168.