Is Criticism a true thing?
written by Keats in his copy of Dr Johnson’s
critical study of As You Like It
But it is easier to think what poetry should be, than to write it.
Keats in a letter to his publisher John Taylor, 1818
The early critical opinion of Keats’s poetry was not favorable, with the notable exceptions of his close friends and the exiled Percy Shelley. It is to Keats’s credit that he understood the political purpose of the attacks and continued his work with increasing confidence in his own talent. At this site, I have collected some of those early reviews as well as later commentary on his poems.
Leigh Hunt, from The Examiner – 1st December 1816
Hunt reviews Keats’s first volume of poetry. Their friendship inevitably linked Keats to Hunt’s politics, an association which angered the poet.
John Wilson Croker, from The Quarterly Review – April 1818
Croker’s review of Keats’s first volume of poems is mostly concerned with attacking Leigh Hunt’s poetry. He also admits that he didn’t bother reading most of Endymion before writing the review.
‘He [Keats] cannot indeed write a sentence, but perhaps he may be able to spin a line,’ writes Croker.
John Gibson Lockhart, from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine – August 1818
‘It is a better and 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,” &c.’, Lockhart writes, and he also attacks Keats’s choice of companions.
This vituperative review was originally published under the pseudonym ‘Z’.
What did Keats think of the Quarterly and Edinburgh?
On 8 October 1818, Keats referred to the savage reviews of Endymion in a letter to his publisher, James Hessey:
‘Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own Works. My own domestic criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could possibly inflict.’
And here are two excerpts from letters he wrote to his brother George in 1819:
‘I have no doubt of success in a course of years if I persevere – but it must be patience – for the Reviews have enervated and made indolent mens minds – few think for themselves – These Reviews too are getting more and more powerful and especially the Quarterly – They are like a superstition which the more it prostrates the Crowd and the longer it continues the more powerful it becomes just in proportion to their increasing weakness – I was in hopes that when people saw, as they must do now, all the trickery and iniquity of these Plagues they would scout them, but no they are like the spectators at the Westminster cock-pit – they like the battle and do not care who wins or who loses – ‘ (February 1819)
‘The Edinburgh review are afraid to touch upon my Poem – They do not know what to make of it – they do not like to condemn it and they will not p[r]aise it for fear – They are as shy of it as I should be of wearing a Quaker’s hat – The fact is they have no real taste – they dare not compromise their Judgements on so puzzling a Question – If on my next Publication they should praise me and so lug in Endymion – I will address [them] in a manner they will not at all relish – The Cowardliness of the Edinburgh is worse than the abuse of the Quarterly.’ (September 1819)