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MEMOIR OF JOHN KEATS.
RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES.
THE “Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats,” published in 1848, contain the biography of the Poet, mainly conveyed in the language of his own correspondence. The Editor had little more to do than to arrange and connect the letters freely supplied to him by kinsmen and friends, and leave them to tell as sad, and, at the same time, as ennobling a tale of life as ever engaged the pen of poetic fiction. But these volumes can scarcely be in the hands of all to whose hours of study or enjoyment the Poems of Keats may find ready access; and thus it has been desired that the Editor should transcribe into a few pages the characteristics of an existence in itself so short, but radiant with genius and rich in virtue.
The publication of three small volumes of verse, some earnest friendships, one profound passion, and a premature death, are the main incidents here to be recorded-ordinary indeed, and common to many men
whose names have passed, and are passing away, and here only notable, as illustrating the wonderful nature and progress of certain mental faculties, and as exhibiting a character which inspires the deepest human sympathy amidst all its demands on our admiration.
John Keats was born on the 29th of October, 1795, in the upper rank of the middle class, his mother possessing sufficient means to give her children an excellent education, when left a widow in 1804. She is reputed to have been a woman of saturnine demeanour, but on an occasion of illness, Jobn, then a child between four and five years old, remained for hours as a sentinel at her door, with a drawn sword, that she might not be disturbed : and at ber death, which occurred when he was at Mr. Clarke's school at Enfield, he hid himself for sever days in a nook under the master's desk, passionately inconsolabletraits of disposition that illustrate his character as a boy, energetic, ardent, and popular. “He combined,” writes one of his school-fellows, “a terrier-like resoluteness with the most noble placability;” and another mentions that his singular animation and ability in all exercises of skill and courage, impressed them with a conviction of his future greatness,“ but rather in a military or some such active sphere of life, than in the peaceful arena of literature.” This impression was assisted by the rare vivacity of his countenance and much beauty of feature : his eyes were large and sensitive, flashing with strong emotion or suffused with tender sympathies ; his hair hung in
* Mr. E. Holmes, author of the “ Life of Mozart,' &c.
thick brown ringlets round a head diminutive for the breadth of the shoulders below, while the smallness of the lower limbs, which in later life marred the proportion of his person, was not then apparent, any more than the undue prominence of the lower lip, which afterwards gave his too pugpacious a character to be entirely pleasing, but at that time only completed such an image as the ancients had of Achilles—of joyous and glorious youth everlastingly striving.
Careless of an ordinary school-reputation, his zeal for the studies themselves led him frequently to spend his holidays over Virgil or Fenelon, and when his master forced him into the open air for his health, he would be found walking with a book in his hand. The scholarship of the establishment had no peculiar pretensions, and the boy's learning was limited to the elements of a liberal education. He was never taught Greek, and he took his mythology from Tooke's Pantheon and Lemprière's Dictionary, making the affiliation of his mind with the old Hellenic world the inore marvellous and interesting. It is doubtful whether at any time his information exceeded these scanty limits, and it is a curious speculation whether deeper and more regular classical studies would have checked or encouraged the natural consanguinity, so to say, of his fancy with the ideal life of ancient Greece, and whether a more distinct knowledge of what the old mythology really meant, would, or would not, have hindered that reconstruction of forms
“Not yet dead,