Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine

It's my pleasure to welcome Mimi Matthews and the tale of Keats, Endymion, and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.


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Nearly 195 years after John Keats’ death, even the most non-poetic amongst us can still quote the first line of Endymion: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…


Yet, upon its release in 1818, Endymion was so harshly reviewed by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that Lord Byron was prompted to write that the sensitive Keats had been “snuffed out by an article.”

And what an article!  Between referencing the “imperturbable driveling idiocy of Endymion” and snidely referring to Keats as “Johnny” and “Mr. John,” John Gibson Lockhart (writing for Blackwood’s) took jabs at Keats’ education, his middle-class upbringing, and even his former career as a licensed apothecary.  According to Lockhart, Keats was an “ignorant, unsettled pretender” and an “uneducated and flimsy stripling…without logic enough to analyze a single idea, or imagination enough to form one original image.”  He closed his scathing critique with the following prediction:
We venture to make one small prophecy, that his bookseller will not a second time venture 50 quid upon anything he can write.  It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr. John, back to plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.
For a time, Keats considered doing just that, giving up his poetry and returning to Edinburgh to resume his medical studies.  Ultimately, with the support of a small circle of friends, he continued writing and, in spite of poor reviews and even poorer health, went on to produce some of his finest work, including such masterpieces as Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, and Bright Star.


Sadly, Keats career was not destined to last.  On February 23, 1821, just two and half years after the Blackwood’s article, he died in Rome of tuberculosis.  He was only twenty-five.  Convinced that the critics had hastened his demise, his friends, Joseph Severn and Charles Brown, added the following words above the brief epitaph that Keats had requested for himself:
This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water.
Did the critics drive John Keats to an early grave?  Some of his contemporaries certainly thought so.  Yet in the end, Keats was not killed off by one critique.  Nor was his name writ on water.  Instead, his work has immortalized him.  He lives on as one of the most beloved and well-known of the nineteenth-century English Romantic poets.

And John Gibson Lockhart?  Well, I would venture to guess that if it were not for his connection with John Keats, most of us would not even know who he was.

Author Biography:

Mimi Matthews is an author of contemporary and historical romance.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America and The Beau Monde and is currently under contract with a New York literary agency.  In her other life, she is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  She resides in Northern California with her family – which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.





Written content of this post copyright © Mimi Matthews, 2015.

16 comments:

Regencyresearcher said...

Thanks, Mimi. I knew about the criticism but didn't know the author or other details. Quite a few thought poetry was an occupation for aristocrats. Keats might have not have left a great output but it is like a cask of fine jewels..

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, at the time many did think poetry was solely the province of aristocrats like Lord Byron. That Keats had been an apothecary was a also a big strike against him. Love your comparison to a cask of fine jewels, by the way!

Carol Hedges said...

Poetry was considered the territory of the public school, classicly trained man. Keats, like John Clare, didn't fit into either the class nor the educative mould. The same thing happened in the Victorian period (my literary area) with female novelists, who were forced to adopt androgynous identities to get their work published. The same happens today with the snobbery over such genres as chicklit versus the ''literary novel''. Plus ca change

Regencyresearcher said...

Byron appreciated the 18th century poets like Pope. he tried to wrote in that style. He disliked the Lake Poets as well.
Keats didn't live long enough to have much biographical material for critics to play with unlike Shelley and Byron There is a movie, Bright Star that purports to be about his love for a Miss Brown. Not a high society costume drama so hasn't received much attention. I do not swear to its accuracy, but, then few movies or even biographies of people of the era are accurate. It is difficult to wring drama ( pathos yes, but not much drama) out of the life of a man who wrote beautiful poetry and died young. His poetry is eternal.

Catherine Curzon said...

A lovely way of looking at it!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for the fascinating post!

Catherine Curzon said...

Plus ca change indeed, the chicklit vs literary is a conversation I was having just yesterday!

Catherine Curzon said...

I haven't seen that film in too long; a re-watch is due!

Renee Reynolds said...

Sticks and stones are not the only things that hurt: words do have tremendous power to build up or tear down. Honest and unbiased reviews are necessary and helpful to the writer and reader alike, whether positive or negative, but disputes over personal preferences or prejudices are best dealt with in private. It is always important to me to separate reality from rhetoric, whether it's a review of a book, the platform of a political candidate, or the latest medical miracle advice. When a reviewer, candidate, or anyone strays from their purported subject and into the personal, they lose credibility with me. I've always thought Lockhart's review tells me much more about him than Keats' Endymion. Fantastic article, Mimi!

Anonymous said...

That is a lovely film--it's been said that Keats' struggle over his poetry was finally resolved when he fell in love with Fanny Brawn. Then he wrote Bright Star--the beloved Hyperion and Ode to a Grecian Urn following in its wake. Wasn't it Mr. Darcy who said that poetry cannot exist with love--or perhaps the other way around?

Catherine Curzon said...

Hear, hear!

Catherine Curzon said...

I believe he was quite right! ;-)

Marie Michlová said...

Don't you think that Lockhart's review and the humbug about it promoted Keats' poetry more than anything else? So all the Keats' fans should thank him :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the comment, Renee, and I totally agree! There is an old joke I heard when I was in law school: "When the facts are weak, argue the law. When the law is weak, argue the facts. When both are weak, call each other names." There is an element of truth in that, I feel, and whenever an article or review devolves into a personal attack, I become really suspicious about the validity of the criticism.

Anonymous said...

So true, Carol! And it is really a shame because genius and creativity in the arts come from all backgrounds and genders. Thank you for your comment!

Catherine Curzon said...

Indeed! ;-)