1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Keats

Bryan Waller Procter, "Death of Mr. John Keats" London Magazine 3 (April 1821) 426-27.



We commence our article this month with but a melancholy subject — the death of Mr. John Keats. — It is, perhaps, an unfit topic to be discussed under this head, but we knew not where else to place it, and we could not reconcile ourselves to the idea of letting a poet's death pass by in the common obituary. He died on the 23d of February 1821, at Rome, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health. His complaint was a consumption, under which he had languished for some time, but his death was accelerated by a cold caught in his voyage to Italy.

Mr. Keats was, in the truest sense of the word, A POET. — There is but a small portion of the public acquainted with the writings of this young man; yet they were full of high imagination and delicate fancy, and his images were beautiful and more entirely his own, perhaps, than those of any living writer whatever. He had a fine ear, a tender heart, and at times great force and originality of expression; and notwithstanding all this, he has been suffered to rise and pass away almost without a notice: the laurel, has been awarded (for the present) to other brows: the bolder aspirants have been allowed to take their station on the slippery steps of the temple of fame, while he has been nearly hidden among the crowd during his life, and has at last died, solitary and in sorrow, in a foreign land.

It is at all times difficult, if not impossible, to argue others into a love of poets and poetry: it is altogether a matter of feeling, and we must leave to time (while it hallows his memory) to do justice to the reputation of Keats. There were many, however, even among the critics living, who held his powers in high estimation; and it was well observed by the Editor of the Edinburgh Review, that there was no other Author whatever, whose writings would form so good a test by which to try the love which any professed to bear towards poetry.

When Keats left England, he had a presentiment that he should not return: that this has been too sadly realized the reader already knows. — After his arrival in Italy, he revived for a brief period, but soon afterwards declined, and sunk gradually into his grave. He was one of three English poets who had been compelled by circumstances to adopt a foreign country as their own. He was the youngest, but the first to leave us. His sad and beautiful wish is at last accomplished: It was that he might drink "of the warm south," and "leave the world unseen," — and — (he is addressing the nightingale) — "And with thee fade away into the forest dim":

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou amongst the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.

A few weeks before he died, a gentleman who was sitting by his bed-side, spoke of an inscription to his memory, but he declined this altogether, — desiring that there should be no mention of his name or country; "or if any," said he, "let it be — Here lies the body of one whose name was writ in water!" — There is something in this to us most painfully affecting; indeed the whole story of his later days is well calculated to make a deep impression. — It is to be hoped that his biography will be given to the world, and also whatever he may have left (whether in poetry or prose) behind him. The public is fond of patronizing poets: they are considered in the light of an almost helpless race: they are bright as stars, but like meteors, "Short-lived and self-consuming."

We do not claim the patronage of the public for Mr. Keats, but we hope that it will now cast aside every little and unworthy prejudice, and do justice to the high memory of a young but undoubted poet.

L.