Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 629 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

When seventeen, he walked some distance to borrow a copy of Spenser’s Faerie Queene.  A friend says:  “Keats ramped through the scenes of the romance like a young horse turned into a spring meadow.”  His study of Grecian mythology and Elizabethan poetry exerted a stronger influence over him than his medical instructor.  One day when Keats should have been listening to a surgical lecture, “there came,” he says, “a sunbeam into the room and with it a whole troop of creatures floating in the ray:  and I was off with them to Oberon and fairy land.”

He made a moderately good surgeon; but finding that his heart was constantly with “Oberon and the fairy land” of poesy, he gave up his profession in 1817 and began to study hard, preparatory to a literary career.

His short life was a brave struggle against disease, poverty, and unfriendly criticism; but he accomplished more than any other English author in the first twenty-five years of life.  Success under such conditions would have been impossible unless he had had “flint and iron in him.”  He wrote:—­

  “I must think that difficulties nerve the spirit of a man.  They make
  his Prime Objects a Refuge as well as a Passion.”

Late in 1818, after he had published his first volume of verse, he met Fanny Brawne, a girl of eighteen, and soon fell desperately in love with her.  The next six months were the happiest and the most productive period of his life.  His health was then such that he could take long walks with her.  In the first spring after he had met her, he wrote in less than three hours his wonderful Ode to a Nightingale, while he was sitting in the garden of his home at Wentworth Place, Hampstead, near London, listening to the song of the bird.  Most of his famous poems were written in the year after meeting her.

In February, 1820, his health began to decline so rapidly that he knew that his days were numbered.  His mother and one of his brothers had died of consumption, and he had been for some time threatened with the disease.  He offered to release Miss Brawne from her engagement, but she would not listen to the suggestion.  She and her mother tried to nurse him back to health.  Few events in the history of English authors are tinged with a deeper pathos than his engagement to Miss Brawne.  Some of the letters that he wrote to her or about her are almost tragic.  After he had taken his last leave of her he wrote, “I can bear to die—­I cannot bear to leave her.”


Acting on insistent medical advice, Keats sailed for Italy in September, 1820, accompanied by a stanch friend, the artist Joseph Severn.  On this voyage, Keats wrote a sonnet which proved to be his swan song:—­

  “Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—­
    Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
  And watching, with eternal lids apart,
    Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
  The moving waters at their priestlike task
  Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores.”

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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