This criticism is not, I think, exactly what Shelley called it in the Preface to Adonais—’savage:’ it is less savage than contemptuous, and is far indeed from competing with the abuse which was from time to time, and in various reviews, poured forth upon Shelley himself. It cannot be denied that some of the blemishes which it points out in Endymion are real blemishes, and very serious ones. The grounds on which one can fairly object to the criticism are that its tone is purposely ill-natured; its recognition of merits scanty out of all proportion to its censure of defects; and its spirit that of prepense disparagement founded not so much on the poetical errors of Keats as on the fact that he was a friend of Leigh Hunt, the literary and also the political antagonist of the Quarterly Review. The editor, Mr. Gifford, seems always to have been regarded as the author of this criticism—I presume, correctly so.
That Keats was a friend of Leigh Hunt in the earlier period of his own poetical career is a fact; but not long after the appearance of the Quarterly Review article he conceived a good deal of dislike and even animosity against this literary ally. Possibly the taunts of the Quarterly Review, and the alienation of Keats from Hunt, had some connexion as cause and effect. In a letter from John Keats to his brother George and his sister-in-law occurs the following passage, dated towards the end of 1818: ’Hunt has asked me to meet Tom Moore some day—so you shall hear of him. The night we went to Novello’s there was a complete set-to of Mozart and punning. I was so completely tired of it that, if I were to follow my own inclinations, I should never meet any one of that set again; not even Hunt, who is certainly a pleasant fellow in the main, when you are with him—but in reality he is vain, egotistical, and disgusting in matters of taste, and in morals. He understands many a beautiful thing; but then, instead of giving other minds credit for the same degree of perception as he himself professes, he begins an explanation in such a curious manner that our taste and self-love are offended continually. Hunt does one harm by making fine things petty, and beautiful things hateful. Through him I am indifferent to Mozart, I care not for white busts; and many a glorious thing, when associated with him, becomes a nothing. This distorts one’s mind—makes one’s thoughts bizarre—perplexes one in the standard of Beauty.’
For the text of Adonais in the present edition I naturally have recourse to the original Pisan edition, but without neglecting such alterations as have been properly introduced into later issues; these will be fully indicated and accounted for in my Notes. In the minor matters of punctuation, &c., I do not consider myself bound to reproduce the first or any other edition, but I follow the plan which appears to myself most reasonable and correct; any point worthy of discussion in these details will also receive attention in the Notes.