1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Keats

Allan Cunningham, in "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the last Fifty Years" in The Athenaeum (16 November 1833) 772.



Of John Keats no memoir has been written — which is mentioned to the reproach of good friends and gifted ones, who survive him. He was a native of London, and was born in 1796: he received a good education, and when young, chose the profession of a surgeon, which induced critics to reproach him with walking the hospitals. He gave early indications of courting the muse, and when under twenty, published a singular poem called Endymion, which his admirers describe as filled with noble fancies, and dreamy and delightful. His Hyperion and other works are less mystical; but they have all more or less of the obscure and the dark, save a remarkably fine fragment, called The Eve of Saint Agnes, founded on an inland tradition, which says, he that dares to stand at the church-yard gate on that eve, will see all the individuals who are in the following year to die, come trooping to the burial ground, in the order in which they will be buried. The Editor of the Quarterly Review happened to be looking out for a victim, when the works of Keats appeared: the stern son of Crispin forgot the arts which caused himself to rise, and, what was worse, overlooked the manifold beauties of the poems — he saw nothing but folly and fine words. To such a review, there was no other mode of reply but a horsewhip or a brace of pistols; and Keats had courage fit for anything: but long before the review appeared, a consumption had begun to sap the functions of life, and the young poet had, in the homely but expressive phrase, "taken death to him." A warmer climate was recommended, and he went to Italy; but the sunshine and balmy air of that land, which continues health to the slavish and the undeserving, wrought no change in Keats: he drooped and died, and was buried in the stranger's ground, as consecrated earth must not be polluted with the dust of a heretic.