The Letters of John Keats

By Maurice Buxton Forman; John Keats | Go to book overview

PREFACE

WHAT manner of man was John Keats, and how did he live the life poetic?

The answer to these questions lies, it seems to me, within the pages of this volume of his letters. These letters provide the main source from which any adequate record of those few short years of poetic production and any sound appreciation of his personality must derive, and if it be contended that they give a one-sided view of his nature, it may fairly be claimed that he himself was the only person properly equipped to offer the material for a just estimate of his character. But Keats himself was making no such offer to the public--'a thing I cannot help looking upon as an Enemy, and which I cannot address without feelings of Hostility' he says in a letter to Reynolds--he was writing freely and frankly to his kinsfolk and his friends, and without restraint to the girl he passionately loved, and nowhere in his correspondence can be found any suggestion of a pose to discount the value of his own unwitting evidence. To hold this view of the biographical importance of the letters is not to detract in any way from the achievements of his biographers. Sir Sidney Colvin and Amy Lowell produced lives of the poet of inestimable moment, and Mr. Middleton Murry in his 'Keats and Shakespeare' has perhaps plumbed greater depths than they in the mind and soul of Keats. Lord Houghton, in whose debt students of literature must ever remain, came nearest to Keats in point of time, having been born when Keats was in his fourteenth year, and he had the advantage of acquaintance with, and assistance from, the poet's friends and contemporaries; yet the stronger of the lights his pages shed upon the life of his subject emanate from the letters he presented rather than from the biographical apparatus in which they are set.

To Harry Buxton Forman in the first place, and then to Sir Sidney Colvin, is due the credit of gathering and arranging the mass of Keats's correspondence. Neither of

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