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Lines on seeing a Lock of Milton's Hair.
CHIEF of organic numbers!
Old Scholar of the Spheres!
But rolls about our ears,
O what a mad endeavour
Who to thy sacred and ennobled hearse
How heavenward thou soundest,
In a letter to his friend Bailey, dated the 23rd of January 1818 (Life, Letters &c., 1848), Keats says "I was at Hunt's the other day, and he surprised me with a real authenticated lock of Milton's hair. I know you would like what I wrote thereon, so here it isas they say of a Sheep in a Nursery Book." And after transcribing the poem he adds—“This I did at Hunt's, at his request. Perhaps I should have done something better alone and at home". In the folio Shakespeare in Sir Charles Dilke's possession these Lines are written in Keats's autograph, and there is another manuscript at the end of the copy of Endymion mentioned several times in these notes. The date given by Keats to the poem is the 21st of January VOL. II. S
Hymning and harmony
Of thee, and oft vris, nd of ty Be:
And mad with glimpses of fearity!
For many years my offering must be hush'd;
1818. I presume Lord Houghton gave the poem from the Bailey letter: the variations are considerable. Medwin records in his Life of Shelley Volume II. page to the belief that this poem had appeared in a periodical, though not at that time included in Keats's works. I have not come upon the poem in periodical literature ; but Medwin may be right For Leigh Hunt's sonnets on this subject, see Appendix.
(20, Lord Houghton reads thy for thine.
(22) This line, though in Lord Houghton's editions, is not in either of Sir Charles Dilke's manuscripts.
(23) The copy in Sir Charles Dilke's Endymion reads passion here as well as in line 25-presumably through oversight.
(32) Lord Houghton in 1848 and 1867 read wed for mad; but substituted mad in the Aldine edition of 1876, in accordance with Sir C. Diike's manuscripts. The copy in the folio Shakespeare reads at for of.
Even at the simplest vassal of thy power,—
Sudden it came,
And I was startled, when I caught thy name
Yet, at the moment, temperate was my blood.
(36) Cancelled manuscript reading, At the most simple. (37-8) These form one line in both manuscripts.
On sitting down to read King Lear once again.
GOLDEN tongued Romance, with serene lute !
Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay
This sonnet appears to have been written on the 22nd of January 1818, in the folio Shakespeare containing the manuscript of the preceding poem; but I think Keats must have drafted it before writing it in the Shakespeare; and there is a second manuscript in Sir Charles Dilke's copy of Endymion. A third may perhaps be presumed to be in America, as Keats, writing to his brothers on the 23rd of January 1818, transcribed the sonnet for them with the following remarks :
"I think a little change has taken place in my intellect lately; I cannot bear to be uninterested or unemployed, I, who for so long a time have been addicted to passiveness. Nothing is finer for the purposes of great productions than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers. As an instance of this-observe-I sat down yesterday to read 'King Lear' once again: the thing appeared to demand the prologue of a sonnet. I wrote it, and began to read. (I know you would like to see it.)"
A copy of the sonnet follows, and then the words, "So you see I am getting at it with a sort of determination and strength,..." So far as I have ascertained, the first appearance of the sonnet was with this letter, in the Life, Letters &c. (1848), Volume I, pages 96 and
Chief Poet! and ye clouds of Albion,
97; but Medwin, in his Life of Shelley (1847, Volume II, page 106) records the belief that the sonnet had already appeared in a periodical. Lord Houghton gave the title as above in 1848; and so it stands in both the manuscripts I have seen; but in the Aldine edition of 1876 it is Written before re-reading King Lear. There are several points in which the manuscripts vary from the text as previously printed; and the new readings adopted above are from these manuscripts. The first variation to note is in line 2, where previous versions stand thus
Fair plumed Syren! Queen! if far away!
Lord Houghton also reads volume for pages in line 4, Hell torment for damnation in line 6, drops the word humbly from line 7, and the hyphen between bitter and sweet in line 8, and gives line II thus
When I am through the old oak forest gone—
reading also with for in in line 13. In one of the manuscripts this is cancelled in favour of our in line 10.