John Wilson Croker, from The Quarterly Review
Reviewers have been sometimes accused of not reading the works which they affected to criticise. On the present occasion we shall anticipate the author’s complaint, and honestly confess that we have not read [Endymion: A Poetic Romance]. Not that we have been wanting in our duty – far from it – indeed, we have made efforts almost as superhuman as the story itself appears to be, to get through it; but with the fullest stretch of our perseverance, we are forced to confess that we have not been able to struggle beyond the first of the four books of which this Poetic Romance consists. We should extremely lament this want of energy, or whatever it may be, on our parts, were it not for one consolation – namely, that we are no better acquainted with the meaning of the book through which we have so painfully toiled, than we are with that of the three which we have not looked into.
It is not that Mr Keats, (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his sense would put his real name to such a rhapsody,) it is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius – he has all these; but he is unhappily a disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere called Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language….
[Mr Keats] is a copyist of Mr Hunt; but he is more unintelligible, almost as rugged, twice as diffuse, and ten times more tiresome and absurd than his prototype, who, though he impudently presumed to seat himself in the chair of criticism, and to measure his own poetry by his own standard, yet generally had a meaning. But Mr Keats had advanced no dogmas which he was bound to support by examples: his nonsense therefore is quite gratuitous; he writes it for its own sake, and, being bitten by Mr Leigh Hunt’s insane criticism, more than rivals the insanity of his poetry….
Of the story we have been able to make out but little it seems to be mythological, and probably relates to the loves of Diana and Endymion; but of this, as the scope of the work has altogether escaped us, we cannot speak with any degree of certainty; and must therefore content ourselves with giving some instances of its diction and versification: – and here again we are perplexed and puzzled. – At first it appeared to us, that Mr Keats had been amusing himself and wearying his readers with an immeasurable game at boutsrimes [a game in which the player improvises a poem from rhyme words that have been supplied]; but, if we recollect rightly, it is an indispensable condition at this play, that the rhymes when filled up shall have a meaning; and our author, as we have already hinted, has no meaning. He seems to use to write a line at random, and then he follows not the thought excited by this line, but that suggested by the rhyme with which it concludes. There is hardly a complete couplet inclosing a complete idea in the whole book. He wanders from one subject to another, from the association, not of ideas but of sounds, and the work is composed of hemistichs which, it is quite evident, have forced themselves upon the author by the mere force of the catchwords on which they turn.
We shall select, not as the most striking instance, but as that least liable to suspicion, a passage from the opening of the poem:
Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season: the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead; &c, &c. …
Here it is clear that the word, and not the idea, moon produced the simple sheep and their shady boon, and that ‘the dooms of the mighty dead’ would never have intruded themselves but for the ‘fair musk-rose blooms’….
We come now to the author’s taste in versification. He cannot indeed write a sentence, but perhaps he may be able to spin a line. Let us see. The following are specimens of his prosodial notions of our English Heroic metre.
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite….
So plenteously all weed-hidden roots….
Of some strange history, potent to send….
Before the deep intoxication….
Her scarf into a fluttering pavilion….
By this time our readers must be pretty well satisfied as to the meaning of his sentences and the structure of his lines: we now present them with some of the new words with which, in imitation of Mr Leigh Hunt, he adorns our language.
We are told that ‘turtles passion their voices,’….; that ‘an arbour was nested,’….; and a lady’s locks ‘gordian’d up,;….; and to supply the place of the nouns thus verbalized Mr Keats, with great fecundity, spawns new ones; such as ‘men-slugs and human serpentry’….
But enough of Mr Leigh Hunt and his simple neophyte. – If any one should be bold enough to purchase this ‘Poetic Romance,’ and so much more patient, than ourselves, as to get beyond the first book, and so much more fortunate as to find a meaning, we entreat him to make us acquainted with his success; we shall then return to the task which we now abandon in despair, and endeavour to make all due amends to Mr Keats and to our readers.