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After the Pilgrim in his wanderings,
To ask him where her Basil was; and why 'Twas hid from her : "For cruel 'tis,” said she, "To steal my Basil-pot away from me."
Imploring for her Basil to the last.
In pity of her love, so overcast.
From mouth to mouth through all the country pass'd : Still is the burthen sung—“O cruelty, "To steal my Basil-pot away from me!”
(LXII) Hunt says—“The passage about the tone of her voice,– the poor lost-witted coaxing,—the 'chuckle,' in which she asks after her Pilgrim and her Basil,—is as true and touching an instance of the effect of a happy familiar word, as any in all poetry.” It is difficult to imagine that these sentences of Hunt's were not somehow misprinted ; but, as the review occurs only in the original issue of The Indicator, one has no means of testing this passage by comparison with later editions. It can hardly be supposed that Hunt really thought the Pilgrim meant Lorenzo; and it ought not to be necessary to explain that the poor lost girl called after any pilgrim whom chance sent her way, enquiring of him where her Basil was.
69 [In a letter to George Keats and his wife dated the 14th of February (1819), Keats says that he took with him to Chichester, where he had been staying in January, “ some of the thin paper, and wrote on it a little poem called 'St. Agnes' Eve,' which you will have as it is, when I have finished the blank part of the rest for you.” Lord Houghton says the poem was begun on a visit in Hampshire, at the commencement of this year (1819), and finished on his return to Hampstead.” On the 5th of September 1819, Keats wrote to Taylor from Winchester that he was “occupied in revising St, Agnes' Eve,' and studying Italian.” The manuscript of The Eve of St. Agnes, wanting the first seven stanzas, is in the possession of Mr. Frederick Locker. It was among the relics which passed from the late Joseph Severn to a Dr. Valeriani, and which were afterwards bought and sold by Messrs. Sotheran of Piccadilly, This manuscript is written in double columns on both sides of very thin oblong paper, presumably that taken to Chichester, and shows abundant and extensive revisions and corrections. Nothing could be more interesting as a study of a great poet's way of work. It is a calamity that the opening stanzas are missing : it seems likely that they were separated to send to the publishers in connexion with Keats's complaint that a liberty had been taken with the seventh stanza. See the note to that stanza. I have collated the text with the manuscript and noted even variations of no great consequence in themselves, in order to give as complete an insight as possible into the composition of this deservedly much-prized poem. Leigh Hunt, in his London Journal for the 21st of January 1835, printed the whole poem with a delightful running commentary between the stanzas; and this I have transferred to the present edition in the shape of foot-notes, after collating it with the revision which has so prominent a place in Imagination and Fancy. I have not thought it necessary to omit whatever is left out of the revision ; but have adopted the later readings wherever it is clear that a change was made for the simple sake of improvement. Hunt opens his paper in the Journal thus :
“The reader should give us three pearls, instead of three halfpence, for this number of our Journal, for it presents him with the whole of Mr Keats's beautiful poem, entitled as above,-to say nothing of our loving commentary. We promised, some time ago, in giving quotations from Thomson's Castle of Indolence,' to read a small poem occasionally with the reader, after this fashion. Correspondents have more than once reminded us of the promise : we never lost sight of it, and here we redeem it; as we hope we often shall. To-day is the Eve of St. Agnes ; and we thought we
Fair reader, at the old tale take a glance,
For here, in truth, it doth not well belong To speak -0 turn thee to the very tale, And taste the music of that vision pale.
They cut away no formless monster's head,
With death, as life. The ancient harps have said, Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord :
If Love impersonate was ever dead, Pale Isabella kiss'd it, and low moan'd. 'Twas love; cold,-dead indeed, but not dethron'd.
And then the prize was all for Isabel :
And all around each eye's sepulchral cell
With tears, as chilly as a dripping well,
Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,
(XLIX) “The very tale” will be found in the Appendix for such as wish to "turn" to it.