The few Letters and extracts which follow can do no more than illustrate partially the various aspects of Keats character. For the understanding of the man, the letters are more important almost than the poetry, for in them he speaks out as he expresses his hopes, his fears and his aspirations. In them we recognize him as the devoted brother, the affectionate friend, the morbid and exigeant lover, He unburdens his mind of his thoughts on poetry and art ; from them we know his personal likes, his ambition and his humour and what he thought of his friends and of earlier and contemporary poets.
(i) To Amy Lowell (November 22, 1817). “I am certain nothing but of the holiness of Heart’s affections and the truth of imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth whether it existed before or not. For I have the same idea of all our passions as of love ; they are all in their sublime, creative of essential beauty……The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream ; he awoke and found it truth. I am the more zealous in this affair, because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth ; by consecutive reasoning…… However it may be Or, for a life of sensation rather than of thought.”
(ii) To Amy Lowell (Feb. 3, 1818). “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us and if we do not agree, seems to put its comments in its breeches, pocket. Poetry should be great and unobstructive, a thing which enters into one’s soul and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject. How beautiful are the retired flowers : How they would lose their beauty, were they to throng into the high crying out, Admire me I am a violet’.-Dote on me, I am a primrose”.
(iii) To Taylor (Oct. 8, 1818). Praise or blame has but a momentry effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract make him a severe critic of his own works. My own domestic criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could possibly inflict .. I was never afraid of failure for I would sooner fail than not to be among the greatest”.
(iv) To Reynolds (3rd May 1818). “I compare human life to a large mansion of many apartments two of which I can only describe—the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me. The first we step into, we call the infant or thought-less chamber in which we remain as long as we do not think. Second chamber is the chamber of maiden thought. Then we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders and delaying these for delight. Third chamber, gentle one stored with the wine of love and the bread of friendship.
(v) Letter to Shelley (May, 1819). “Look at the poles and at the sands of Africa whirlpools and volcanoes. Let men exterminate them and I will say that they may arrive at earthly happiness. The point at which Man may arrive is as far as the parallel state in inanimate nature and no further. For instance, suppose a rose to have sensation, it blooms on a beautiful morning, it enjoys itself—but there comes cold wind, a hot sun ; it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyance. They are as native to the world as itself; no more can man be happy in spire, the wordly elements will prey upon his nature…call the world if you please—’The vale of soul making’.
(vi) To George and Georgiana Keats : (Friday, March, 19, 1819). “This morning I am in a sort of temper, indolent and supremely careless—I long after a stanza or two of Thomson’s castle of Indolence—my passions are all asleep, from my having slumbered till nearly eleven, and weakened the animal fibre all over me, to a delightful sensation, about three degrees on this side of faintness. If I had teeth of pearl and the breath of lillies I should call it langour, but as I am, I must call it laziness.
In this state of effiminacy the fibres of the brain are relaxed in common with the rest of the body, and to such a happy degree that pleasure has no show of enticement and pain no unbearable power. Neither Poetry, nor Ambition, nor love have any alertness of countenace as they pass by me ; they seem rather like figures on a Greek Vase—a man and two woman no one but myself could distinguish in their disguisement. This is the only happiness and is a rare instance of the advantage of the body over-powering the Mind”.