Keats was an undersized man, little more than five feet high. His face was handsome, ardent, and full of expression; the hair rich, brown, and curling; the hazel eyes ’mellow and glowing—large, dark, and sensitive.’ He was framed for enjoyment; but with that acuteness of feeling which turned even enjoyment into suffering, and then again extracted a luxury out of melancholy. He had vehemence and generosity, and the frankness which belongs to these qualities, not unmingled, however, with a strong dose of suspicion. Apart from the overmastering love of his closing years, his one ambition was to be a poet. His mind was little concerned either with the severe practicalities of life, or with the abstractions of religious faith.
His poems, consisting of three successive volumes, have been already referred to here. The first volume, the Poems of 1817, is mostly of a juvenile kind, containing only scattered suggestions of rich endowment and eventual excellence. Endymion is lavish and profuse, nervous and languid, the wealth of a prodigal scattered in largesse of baubles and of gems. The last volume—comprising the Hyperion—is the work of a noble poetic artist, powerful and brilliant both in imagination and in expression. Of the writings published since their author’s death, the only one of first-rate excellence is the fragmentary Eve of St. Mark. There is also the drama of Otho the Great, written in co-operation with Armitage Brown; and in Keats’s letters many admirable thoughts are admirably worded.
As to the relations between Shelley and Keats, I have to refer back to the preceding memoir of Shelley.
ITS COMPOSITION AND BIBLIOGRAPHY.
For nearly two months after the death of Keats, 23 February, 1821, Shelley appears to have remained in ignorance of the event: he knew it on or before 19 April. The precise date when he began his Elegy does not seem to be recorded: one may suppose it to have been in the latter half of May. On 5 June he wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne: ’I have been engaged these last days in composing a poem on the death of Keats, which will shortly be finished; and I anticipate the pleasure of reading it to you, as some of the very few persons who will be interested in it and understand it. It is a highly wrought piece of art, and perhaps better, in point of composition, than anything I have written.’
A letter to Mr. Ollier followed immediately afterwards.
’Pisa, June 8th, 1821,
’You may announce for publication a poem entitled Adonais. It is a lament on the death of poor Keats, with some interspersed stabs on the assassins of his peace and of his fame; and will be preceded by a criticism on Hyperion, asserting the due claims which that fragment gives him to the rank which I have assigned him. My poem is finished, and consists of about forty Spenser stanzas [fifty-five