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[Leigh Hunt], [John Hamilton Reynolds]
The Quarterly Review. Mr. Keats.
The Examiner  No. 563  (11 October 1818)  648-49.
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No. 563. SUNDAY, OCT. 11, 1818.


No. 44.

A manly and judicious letter, signed J. S. appeared in the Morning Chronicle the other day, respecting the article in the Quarterly Review on the Endymion of the young poet Mr. Keats. It is one of several public animadversions, which that half-witted, half-hearted, Review has called indignantly forth on the occasion. “This is the hastily-written tribute,” says the writer, “of a stranger, who ventures to predict that Mr. K. is capable of producing a poem that shall challenge the admiration of every reader of true taste and feeling; nay, if he will give up his acquaintance with Mr. Leigh Hunt, and apostise in his friendships, his principles, and his politics (if he have any) he may even command the approbation of the Quarterly Review.”—We really believe so; but Mr. Keats is of a spirit which can afford to dispose with such approbation, and stand by his friend. We should have given the whole of this letter, but we have since met with another in the Alfred Exeter paper, which is more elaborate on the subject; and we have not room for both.


We have met with a singular instance, in the last number of the Quarterly Review, of that unfeeling arrogance, and cold ignorance, which so strangely marked the minds and hearts of Government sycophants and Government writers. The Poem of a young man of genius, which evinces more natural power than any other work of this day, is abused and cried down, in terms which would ill grace any other pens that those used in the defence of an Oliver or a Castles. We have read the poetic romance of Endymion (the book in question) with no little delight; and could hardly believe that it was written by so young a man as the preface infers. Mr. Keats, the author of it, is a genius of the highest order; and no one but a Lottery Commissioner and a Government Pensioner, (both of which, Mr. William Gifford, the Editor of the Quarterly Review, is) could, with a false and remorseless pen, have striven to frustrate hopes and aims, so youthful and so high as this young Poet nurses. The Monthly Reviewers, it will be remembered, endeavoured, some few years back, to crush the rising heart of Kirk White; and indeed they in part generated that melancholy which ultimately destroyed him; but the world saw the cruelty, and, with one voice, hailed the genius which malignity would have repressed, and lifted it to fame. Reviews are creatures that “stab men in the dark;"—young and enthusiastic spirits are their dearest prey. Our readers will not easily forget the brutality with which the Quarterly Review, in a late number of their ministerial book, commented on the work of an intelligent and patriotic woman, whose ardour and independence happened to be high enough to make them her enemies. The language used by these Government critics, was lower than men would dare to utter to female ears; but Party knows no distinctions,—no proprieties,—and a woman is the best of prey for its malignity, because it is the gentlest and the most undefended. We certainly think that criticism might chuse its objects from the vain, the dangerous, and the powerful, and not from the young and the unprotected.

“It should strike the hearts of age and care,
And spare the youthful and the fair.”

The cause of the unmerciful condemnation which has been passed on Mr. Keats, is pretty apparent to all who have watched the intrigues of literature, and the wily and unsparing contrivances of political parties. This young and powerful writer was noticed some little time back in the Examiner, and pointed out, by its Editor, as one who was likely to revive the early vigour of English poetry. Such a prediction was a fine but dangerous compliment to Mr. Keats: it exposed him instantly to the malice of the Quarterly Review. Certain it is, that hundreds of fashionable and flippant readers will henceforth set down this young poet as a pitiable and nonsensical writer, merely on the assertions of some single heartless critic, who has just energy enough to despise what is good, because it would militate against his pleasantry, if he were to praise it.

The genius of Mr. Keats is peculiarly classical; and, with the exception of a few faults, which are the natural followers of youth, his imagination and his language have a spirit and an intensity which we should in vain look for in half the popular poets of the day. Lord Byron is a splendid and noble egoist: he visits classical shores; roams over romantic lands, and wanders through magnificent forests; courses the dark and restless waves of the sea, and rocks his spirit on the midnight lakes; but no spot is conveyed to our minds that is not peopled by the gloomy and ghastly feelings of our proud and solitary man. It is as if he and the world were the only two things which the air clothed. His lines are majestic vanities;—his poetry always is marked with a haughty selfishness;—he writes loftily, because he is the spirit of an ancient family;—he is liked by most of his readers, because he is a Lord. If a common man were to dare to be as moody, as contemptuous, and as misanthropical, the world would laugh at him. There must be a coronet marked on all his little pieces of poetical insolence, or the world would not countenance them. Mr. Keats has none of this egotism—this daring selfishness, which is a stain on the robe of poesy. His feelings are full, earnest, and original, as those of the older writers were and are; they are made for all time, not for the drawing-room and the moment. Mr. Keats always speaks of, and describes nature, with an awe and a humility, but with a deep and almost breathless affection.—He knows that Nature is better and older than he is, and he does not put himself on an equality with her. You do not see him when you see her. The moon, and the mountainous foliage of the woods, and the azure sky, and the ruined and magic temple; the rock, the desart, and the sea; the leaf of the forest, and the embossed foam of the most living ocean, are the spirits of his poetry; but he does not bring them in his own hand, or obtrude his person before you, when you are looking at them. Poetry is a thing of generalities—a wanderer amid persons and things—not a pauser over one thing, or with one person. The mind of Mr Keats, like the minds of our older poets, goes round the universe in its speculations and its dreams. It does not set itself a task. The manners of the world, the fictions and the wonders other worlds, are its subjects; not the pleasures of hope, or the pleasures of memory. The true poet confines his imagination to no one thing—his soul is an invisible ode to the passions.—He does not make a home for his mind in one land—its productions are an universal story, not an eastern tale. The fancies of Moore are exquisitely beautiful, as fancies, but they are always of one colour;—his feelings are pathetic, but they are to be found in the reflections on things, not in the moods and miseries of one person. There is not one poet of the present day, that enjoys any popularity that will live; each writes for his booksellers and the ladies of fashion, and not for the voice of centuries. Time is a lover of old books, and he suffers few new ones to become old. Posterity is a difficult mark to hit; and few minds can rend the arrow full home. Wordsworth might have safely cleared the rapids in the stream of time, but he lost himself by looking at his own image in the waters. Coleridge stands bewildered in the cross-road of fame;—his
genius will commit suicide, and be buried in it.
Southey is Poet Laureate, “so there is no heed to be taken of him.” Campbell has relied on two stools, “The Pleasures of Hope,” and “Gertrude of Wyoming;” but he will come to the ground, after the fashion of the old proverb. The journey of fame is an endless one; and does Mr. Rogers think that pumps and silk stockings (which his genius wears) will last him the whole way? Poetry is the coyest creature that ever was wooed by man; she has something of the coquet in her; for she flirts with many, and seldom loves one.

Mr. Keats has certainly not perfects any thing yet; but he has the power, we think, within him, and it is in consequence of such an opinion that we have written these few hasty observations. If he should ever see this, he will not regret to find that all the country is not made up of Quarterly Reviewers. All that we wish is, that our readers would read the Poem, as we have done, before they assent to its condemnation. They will find passages of singular feeling, force, and pathos. We have the highest hopes of this young Poet. We are obscure men, it is true, and not gifted with that perilous power of mind, and truth of judgement, which are possessed by Mr. Croker, Mr. Canning, Mr. Barrow, or Mr. Gifford, (all “honourable men,” and writers in the Quarterly Review.) We live far from the world of letters,—out of the pale of fashionable criticism,—aloof from the atmosphere of a Court; but we are surrounded by a beautiful country, and love Poetry, which we read out of doors, as well as in. We think we see glimpses of a high mind in this young man, and surely the feeling is better that urges us to nourish its strength, than that which prompts the Quarterly Reviewer to crush it in its youth, and for ever. If however the mind of Mr. Keats be of the quality we think it to be of, it will not be cast down by this wanton and empty attack. Malice is a thing of the scorpion kind—it drives the sting into its own heart. The very passages which the Quarterly Review quotes as ridiculous, have in them the beauty that sent us to the Poem itself. We shall close these observations with a few extracts from the romance itself:—If our readers do not see the spirit and beauty in them to justify our remarks, we confess ourselves bad judges, and never more worthy to be trusted.

The following address to Sleep is full of repose and feeling:—

“O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hush’d and smooth! O unconfined
Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
Echoing grottos, full of tumbling waves
And moonlight!”

This is beautiful—but here is something finer:—

“——That men, who might have tower’d in the van
Of all the congregated world, to fan
And winnow from the coming step of time
All chaff of custom, wipe away all slime
Left by men slugs and human serpentry,
Have been content to let occasion die,
Whilst they did sleep in love’s elysium.
And, truly, I would rather be struck dumb,
Than speak against this ardent listlessness:
For I have ever thought that it might bless
The world with benefits unknowingly;
As does the nightingale, up-perched high,
And cloister’d among cool and bunched leaves,
She sings but to her love, nor e’er conceives
How tip-toe Night holds back her dark-grey hood.”

The turn of this is truly Shakesperian, which Mr. Keats will feel to be the highest compliment we can pay him, if we know any thing of his mind. We cannot refrain from giving the following short passage, which appears to us scarcely to be surpassed in the whole range of English Poetry. It has all the naked and solitary vigour of old sculpture, with all the energy and life of old poetry:—

“——At this, with madden’d stare,
And lifted hands, and trembling lips, he stood,
Like old Deucalion mounted o’er the flood,
Or blind Orion hungry for the morn.”

Again, we give some exquisitely classic lines, clear and reposing as a Grecian sky—soft and lovely as the waves of Ilyssus:—

“——Here is wine,
Alive with sparkles.—Never, I aver,
Since Ariadne was a vintager,
So cool a purple; taste these juicy pears,
Sent me by sad Vertumnus, when his fears
Were high about Pomona: here is cream,
Deepening to richness from a snowy gleam;
Sweeter than that nurse Amalthea skimm’d
For the boy Jupiter.”

This is the very fruit of poetry,—a melting repast for the imagination. We can only give one more extract—our limits are reached. Mr. Keats is speaking of the story of Endymion itself. Nothing can be more imaginative than what follows:—

“——Ye who have yearn’d
With too much passion, will here stay and pity,
For the mere sake of truth; as ’tis a ditty
Not of these days, but long ago ’twas told
By a cavern wind unto a forest old;
And then the forest told it in a dream
To a sleeping lake, whose cool and level gleam
A poet caught as he was journeying
To Phœbus’ shrine; and in it he did fling
His weary limbs, bathing an hour’s space,
And after, straight in that inspired place
He sang the story up into the air,
Giving it universal freedom.

We have no more room for extracts. Does the author of such poetry as this deserve to be made the sport of so servile a dolt as a Quarterly Reviewer?—No. Two things have struck us on the perusal of this singular poem. The first is, that Mr. Keats excels, in what Milton excelled—the power of putting a spirit of life and novelty into the Heathen Mythology. The second is, that in the structure of his verse, and the sinewy quality of his thoughts, Mr. Keats greatly resembles old Chapman, the nervous translator of Homer. His mind has “thews and limbs like to its ancestors.” Mr. Gifford, who knows something of the old dramatists, ought to have paused before he sanctioned the abuse of a spirit kindred with them. If he could not feel, he ought to know better.