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John Keats (1795–1821). Poetical Works. 1884.

An Introduction

            Quae Tibi, quae tali reddam pro carmine dona?
            nam neque me tantum venientis sibilus austri,
            nec percussa iuvant fluctu tam litora, nec quae
            saxosas inter decurrunt flumina valles.
COPIOUSNESS in exquisite detail, perpetual freshness of phrase, characterize all the poetry of Keats, and in the work of his earlier days are generally more conspicuous than unity of interest or perfection of form;—qualities which, (as, perhaps, with Shakespeare), his imaginative wealth of mind,—aurea facilitas,—prevented him from acquiring until first youth was over. Keats is hence a poet especially fit to be read, as the bee tastes the flower, a little at a time, and in those pleasant places which he loves and describes so well:—He is a companion for the fortunate moments of travel or the country:—the          latis otia fundis,
speluncae vivique lacus,are his natural landscape, the stage and the scenery in presence of which he, in the fullest measure, adds happiness to happiness. And it is for such times, and such sympathetic readers, that this little volume has been planned; no edition handy for the purpose being at present easily attainable.
  Keats was not only among the most spontaneous of our poets; in his regard for his own art, for its own art’s sake, he appears also to have been eminent. He certainly revised his three little volumes, (not reprinted till long after his death), with great care, following certain rules of his own, as every finely-gifted Poet will, in order to express and aid his rhythm by his punctuation and arrangement. On this ground, therefore, it seemed to me worth while to reproduce exactly the rare original texts; and also, as a little tribute of affectionate honour to one, who, through the story of his brief life, and the character revealed in his poems and letters, is invested with a personal interest and attraction perhaps beyond any in the noble army of our Poets. Every line has therefore been thrice collated with the primary issues; My printers have aided with their well-known accuracy:—the fault is probably with me, if the reproduction be, anywhere, imperfect. And, as such a facsimile has also a bibliographical interest, variations in spelling,—even a few trifling errors or omissions,—have been strictly followed.   2
  If, however, the text here given is, on this last account, not absolutely what Keats, had he lived, might have finally left us, it is incomparably nearer to his Autotype than that which, in the ordinary editions, has hitherto been accepted. So vast a number of deviations, great and small, and (in the large majority of instances) injurious, from the Author’s own published words, was brought before me in the process of collation, that Keats, I may without exaggeration say, cannot be truly read, as he has, hitherto, been generally accessible.   3
  My scheme being to reprint the poetry which bore the sanction of the poet’s own imprimatur, it may be asked on what principle a few pieces, left in manuscript, (but the absence of which most readers, I think, would have regretted), have been here diffidently added? No rigid law can be laid down, perhaps, upon this difficult problem, except that it is treason to the dead to publish, (unless for purposes of historical truth), anything discreditable to the living man. The rule which, ordinarily, seems to me the safest and best,—to insert only what is altogether, or fairly, on a level with the Poet’s best work,—I have here endeavoured to follow. And, in the case of Keats, it is in favour of this canon that his hasty, tentative, or simply personal verse is, generally, much inferior, (except in those isolated phrases which so great a genius could not, as it were, escape), to his finished efforts;—and that we have, also, reasonable grounds to infer that he himself printed what he thought worthy of publication.   4
  In the Notes, beside a few simply exegetical, my wish has been, avoiding the ambitious attempt at an Essay on Keats, to elucidate the rapid, yet gradual, development of his powers. Here, by frequent reference to his beautiful Letters, I have endeavoured to make the Poet his own interpreter:—and I allow myself the hope, that few readers will find these quotations too lengthy. For the rest, in so small a volume, I have thought it wisest to consult little and use less of what has been supplied by previous commentaries and essays upon Keats;—including here two recent critical editions, announced and published after I had framed the plan of this book. And, as its object is different, mine will, I hope, be found to compete only in the common aim of extending the high permanent pleasure and profit, which it is the peculiar privilege of Poetry such as this to confer upon mankind.   5
  A drawing by the great and tender-souled Flaxman, illustrative of the Oedipus at Colonos of Sophocles, has been reproduced for the Vignette:—the motive, though not wholly identical with that of the magnificent introduction to Hyperion, appearing sufficiently near it to enable me to please myself by prefacing Keats with a design which is so much in harmony with his own art, in point of grandeur and of beauty.

F. T. P.
    August, 1884.