Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/838

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breathed; almost all his great contemporaries—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron among the number—were more or less drawn into the eddying current of change; but Keats remained an outsider and an alien. He felt no thrill of enthusiasm for the development of knowledge and the march of the race, no young man's interest in the world's travail and hope. He never troubled himself to ask what direction the thought of the time was taking. He only knew and only cared to know that it was drifting in some direction away from the old landmarks that he loved so well, and he persistently resented the change, without, perhaps, even realizing what it actually meant. There was nothing, therefore, left for him, as he felt, but to emulate the "negative capacity" of the Elizabethans—to live in the midst of all this ferment without being touched by it.[1] So he built for himself a palace of art—"a lordly pleasure house"—and escaped through the imagination from the pressure of a world in which he had no part.

For Keats, then, knowledge emphatically meant disillusion. Reality, romance—these were essentially contradictory terms. To explain the processes of Nature was to remove them once and for all from the soft twilight of poetry, through which they loomed dim but beautiful, into the lurid white glare of actuality, where they stood out gaunt, naked, revolting. The sense of real things constantly present to break in upon his sweetest fancies, he could liken only to a muddy stream, the turbid current of which was forever sweeping his mind back to darkness and nothingness. In the well-known passage in Lamia about the rainbow, with its emphatic protest against philosophy, we have the man's horror of science, so frequently revealed elsewhere in his work by implication, set forth in a kind of formal declaration. Such an outburst inevitably reminds us of the diatribes in Mr. Ruskin's Eagle's Nest against physiology and what he calls Darwinism—perhaps the foolishest utterances to be found anywhere in his voluminous writings, which is itself saying a good deal. But, after all, perhaps the best commentary on the lines in question is Haydon's statement that, three years before Lamia saw the light, Keats and Lamb, while dining with him (Haydon), had agreed together that "Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colors." We may imagine how these two sage critics would have laid their heads together over the more modern legend of the cynical chemist who is said to have remarked that a woman's tears had no longer any kind of power over him, since he knew their precise constituent elements—muriate of soda and solution of phosphate! Clearly, the æs-

  1. See his remarkable letter to his brother, on Shakespeare's "negative capacity," in Forman's edition of Keats's works, vol. iii, pp. 99, 100.