AN ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF JOHN KEATS,
AUTHOR OF ENDYMION, HYPERION, ETC.
Aster prin men elampes eni zooisin Eoos
nun de thanon lampeis Esperos en phthimenois.--PLATO.
["Adonais" was composed at Pisa during the early days of June, 1821,]
and printed, with the author's name, at Pisa, 'with the types of
Didot,' by July 13, 1821. Part of the impression was sent to the
brothers Ollier for sale in London. An exact reprint of this Pisa
edition (a few typographical errors only being corrected) was issued
in 1829 by Gee & Bridges, Cambridge, at the instance of Arthur Hallam
and Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton). The poem was included in
Galignani's edition of "Coleridge, Shelley and Keats", Paris, 1829,
and by Mrs. Shelley in the "Poetical Works" of 1839. Mrs. Shelley's
text presents three important variations from that of the editio
princeps. In 1876 an edition of the "Adonais", with Introduction and
Notes, was printed for private circulation by Mr. H. Buxton Forman,
C.B. Ten years later a reprint 'in exact facsimile' of the Pisa
edition was edited with a Bibliographical Introduction by Mr. T.J.
Wise ("Shelley Society Publications", 2nd Series, No. 1, Reeves &
Turner, London, 1886). Our text is that of the editio princeps, Pisa,
1821, modified by Mrs. Shelley's text of 1839. The readings of the
editio princeps, wherever superseded, are recorded in the footnotes.
The Editor's Notes at the end of the Volume 3 should be consulted.
Pharmakon elthe, Bion, poti son stoma, pharmakon eides.
pos ten tois cheilessi potesrame, kouk eglukanthe;
tis de Brotos tossouton anameros, e kerasai toi,
e dounai laleonti to pharmakon; ekphugen odan.
--MOSCHUS, EPITAPH. BION.
It is my intention to subjoin to the London edition of this poem a
criticism upon the claims of its lamented object to be classed among
the writers of the highest genius who have adorned our age. My known
repugnance to the narrow principles of taste on which several of his
earlier compositions were modelled prove at least that I am an
impartial judge. I consider the fragment of "Hyperion" as second to
nothing that was ever produced by a writer of the same years.
John Keats died at Rome of a consumption, in his twenty-fourth year,
on the -- of -- 1821; and was buried in the romantic and lonely
cemetery of the Protestants in that city, under the pyramid which is
the tomb of Cestius, and the massy walls and towers, now mouldering
and desolate, which formed the circuit of ancient Rome. The cemetery
is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and
daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one
should be buried in so sweet a place.
The genius of the lamented person to whose memory I have dedicated
these unworthy verses was not less delicate and fragile than it was
beautiful; and where cankerworms abound, what wonder if its young
flower was blighted in the bud? The savage criticism on his
"Endymion", which appeared in the "Quarterly Review", produced the
most violent effect on his susceptible mind; the agitation thus
originated ended in the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs; a
rapid consumption ensued, and the succeeding acknowledgements from
more candid critics of the true greatness of his powers were
ineffectual to heal the wound thus wantonly inflicted.
It may be well said that these wretched men know not what they do.
They scatter their insults and their slanders without heed as to
whether the poisoned shaft lights on a heart made callous by many
blows or one like Keats's composed of more penetrable stuff. One of
their associates is, to my knowledge, a most base and unprincipled
calumniator. As to "Endymion", was it a poem, whatever might be its
defects, to be treated contemptuously by those who had celebrated,
with various degrees of complacency and panegyric, "Paris", and
"Woman", and a "Syrian Tale", and Mrs. Lefanu, and Mr. Barrett, and
Mr. Howard Payne, and a long list of the illustrious obscure? Are
these the men who in their venal good nature presumed to draw a
parallel between the Reverend Mr. Milman and Lord Byron? What gnat did
they strain at here, after having swallowed all those camels? Against
what woman taken in adultery dares the foremost of these literary
prostitutes to cast his opprobrious stone? Miserable man! you, one of
the meanest, have wantonly defaced one of the noblest specimens of the
workmanship of God. Nor shall it be your excuse, that, murderer as you
are, you have spoken daggers, but used none.
The circumstances of the closing scene of poor Keats's life were not
made known to me until the "Elegy" was ready for the press. I am given
to understand that the wound which his sensitive spirit had received
from the criticism of "Endymion" was exasperated by the bitter sense
of unrequited benefits; the poor fellow seems to have been hooted from
the stage of life, no less by those on whom he had wasted the promise
of his genius, than those on whom he had lavished his fortune and his
care. He was accompanied to Rome, and attended in his last illness by
Mr. Severn, a young artist of the highest promise, who, I have been
informed, 'almost risked his own life, and sacrificed every prospect
to unwearied attendance upon his dying friend.' Had I known these
circumstances before the completion of my poem, I should have been
tempted to add my feeble tribute of applause to the more solid
recompense which the virtuous man finds in the recollection of his own
motives. Mr. Severn can dispense with a reward from 'such stuff as
dreams are made of.' His conduct is a golden augury of the success of
his future career--may the unextinguished Spirit of his illustrious
friend animate the creations of his pencil, and plead against Oblivion
for his name!