I. The Alexander fragment (page 33). Here is the text:—
Whenne Alexandre the Conqueroure was wayfayringe in y^e londe of Inde, there mette hym a damoselle of marveillouse beautie slepynge uponne the herbys and flourys. He colde ne loke uponne her withouten grete plesance, and he was welle nighe loste in wondrement. Her forme was everyche whytte lyke y^e fayrest carvynge of Quene Cythere, onlie thatte y^t was swellyd and blushyd wyth warmthe and lyffe wythalle.
Her forhed was as whytte as ys the snowe whyche y^e talle hed of a Norwegian pyne stelythe from y^e northerne wynde. One of her fayre hondes was yplaced thereonne, and thus whytte wyth whytte was ymyngld as y^e gode Arthure saythe, lyke whytest lylys yspredde on whyttest snowe; and her bryght eyne whenne she them oped, sparklyd lyke Hesperus through an evenynge cloude.
Theye were yclosyd yn slepe, save that two slauntynge raies shotte to her mouthe, and were theyre bathyd yn sweetenesse, as whenne by chaunce y^e moone fyndeth a banke of violettes and droppethe thereonne y^e silverie dewe.
The authoure was goynge onne withouthen descrybynge y^e ladye’s breste, whenne lo, a genyus appearyd—‘Cuthberte,’ sayeth he, ‘an thou canst not descrybe y^e ladye’s breste, and fynde a simile thereunto, I forbyde thee to proceede yn thy romaunt.’ Thys, I kennd fulle welle, far surpassyd my feble powres, and forthwythe I was fayne to droppe my quille.
This queer youthful passage in a would-be Caxton or Wynkyn de Worde spelling seems scarcely worth taking trouble about, but I thought it worth while to try and trace what reading Keats must have been fresh from when he wrote it, and consulted both Prof. Israel Gollancz and Mr Henry Bradley, with the result stated briefly in the text. At first I had thought Keats must have drawn his idea from some one of the many versions of the great mediæval Alexander romance—especially considering that in all forms of that romance a flight into the skies and a trip under the sea are regular incidents, and might later have suggested the parallel incidents in Endymion. But neither in the version which Keats is most likely to have known, the English Alisaunder as published in Weber’s collection of metrical romances, 1810, nor indeed, I believe, in any other, is there any incident closely parallel to this of the Indian maiden; although love and marriage generally come into the story towards the close. In the English version there is a beautiful Candace who declares her passion for the hero: he puts her off for the time being, but goes disguised as an ambassador to her court, where he is recognized and imprisoned. Among things derived from the main mediæval cycle, the nearest approach to such an idea as Keats was working on is to be found in the Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo, book ii, canto i, stanzas 6, 21-29; but here the beauty is a lady of Egypt whom Boiardo calls Elidonia. His description of the great painted hall of the giant Agramante at Biserta, adorned with pictures of the life and deeds of Alexander, closes with the following: —
In somma, ogni sua guerra ivi è dipinta
Con gran richezza e bella a riguardare.
Poscia che fu la terra da lui vinta,
A due grifon nel ciel si fè portare,
Col scudo in braccia e con la spada cinta;
Poi dentro un vetro si cala nel mare,
E vede le balene e ogni gran pesce
E campa e ancor quivi di fuor n’esce.
Da poi che vinto egli ha ben ogni cosa,
Vedesi lui che vinto è dall’ amore,
Perchè Elidonia, quella graziosa,
Co’ suoi begli occhi gli ha passato il core—
And then ensues the history of their loves and of the hero’s death.
But Keats in his hospital days knew no Italian, and could only have heard of such a passage in Boiardo through Leigh Hunt. So I think the derivation of his fragment from any of the regular Alexander romances must be given up, and the source indicated in the text be accepted, namely the popular fabliau of the Lai d’Aristote (probably in Way’s rimed version), where the thing happens exactly as Keats tells it, and whence the idea of the sudden encounter with an Indian maiden probably lingered in his mind till he revived it in Endymion. As for the sources of the attempt at voluptuous description, it is a little surprising to find Milton’s ‘tallest pine hewn on Norwegian hills’ remembered in such a connexion: other things are an easily recognizable farrago from Cymbeline,—
How bravely thou becomest thy bed, fresh lily,
And whiter than the sheets!’
from Venus and Adonis,—
‘A lily prison’d in a gaol of snow;’
‘Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white;’
—‘the morning’s silver-melting dew;’
from Twelfth Night,
—‘like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets;’
and so forth. Prof. Gollancz suggests that ‘Cuthberte’ as the name of the author is a reminiscence from the ‘Cuddie’ of Spenser’s Shepheard’s Calendar, and that the ‘good Arthure’ may also be some kind of Spenserian reference: but I suspect ‘Arthure’ here to be a mis-transcription (we have no autograph) for ‘authoure.’
II. Verses written by Brown and Keats after visiting Beauly Abbey (p. 295).—The text, of which there exist two separate transcripts, is as follows. I have printed in italics the lines which Keats, as he told Woodhouse, contributed to the joint work.
On Some Skulls in Beauly Abbey, near Inverness
I shed no tears;
Deep thought or awful vision, I had none
By thousand petty fancies I was crossed.
And mocked the dead bones that lay scattered by.
In silent barren Synod met
Within these roofless walls, where yet
The shafted arch and carved fret
Cling to the Ruin
The Brethren’s Skulls mourn, dewy wet,
Their Creed’s undoing.
The mitred ones of Nice and Trent
Were not so tongue-tied,—no, they went
Hot to their Councils, scarce content
But ye, poor tongueless things, were meant
To speak by proxy.
Your Chronicles no more exist
Since Knox, the Revolutionist
Destroy’d the work of every fist
That scrawl’d black letter
Well! I’m a Craniologist
And may do better.
This skull-cap won the cowl from sloth
Or discontent, perhaps from both
And yet one day, against his oath
He tried escaping
For men, tho’ idle may be loth
To live on gaping.
A Toper this! he plied his glass
More strictly than he said the Mass
And lov’d to see a tempting lass
Come to Confession
Letting her absolution pass
O’er fresh transgression.
This crawl’d thro’ life in feebleness
Boasting he never knew excess
Cursing those crimes he scarce could guess
Or feel but faintly
With prayer that Heaven would cease to bless
Men so unsaintly.
Here’s a true Churchman! he’d affect
Much charity and ne’r neglect
To pray for Mercy on th’ elect
But thought no evil
In sending Heathen, Turk and Scot
All to the Devil!
Poor Skull! Thy fingers set ablaze,
With silver saint in golden rays,
The Holy Missal, thou didst craze
‘Mid bead and spangle
While others passed their idle days
In coil and wrangle.
Long time this sconce a helmet wore,
But sickness smites the conscience sore,
He broke his sword and hither bore
His gear and plunder
Took to the cowl—then rav’d and swore
At his damn’d blunder!
This lily-coloured skull with all
The teeth complete, so white and small
Belonged to one whose early pall
A lover shaded.
He died ere Superstition’s gall
His heart invaded.
Ha! here is ‘undivulged crime!’
Despair forbad his soul to climb
Beyond this world, this mortal time
Of fever’d badness
Until this Monkish Pantomime
Dazzled his madness!
A younger brother this! a man
Aspiring as a Tartar Khan
But, curb’d and baffl’d he began
The trade of frightening
It smack’d of power! and how he ran
To deal Heaven’s lightning!
This idiot-skull belonged to one,
A buried miser’s only son
Who, penitent ere he’d begun
To taste of pleasure
And hoping Heaven’s dread wrath to shun
Gave Hell his treasure.
Here is the forehead of an Ape
A robber’s mask—and near the nape
That bone—fie on’t, bears just the shape
Of carnal passion
Ah! he was one for theft and rape
In Monkish fashion!
This was the Porter!—he could sing
Or dance, or play—do anything
And what the Friars bade him bring
They ne’er were balked of;
Matters not worth remembering
And seldom talk’d of.
Enough! why need I further pore?
This corner holds at least a score,
And yonder twice as many more
Of Reverend Brothers,
’Tis the same story o’er and o’er
They’re like the others!
III. List of Books in Keats’s Library compiled by Richard Woodhouse.—This list, of great interest to all students of Keats, is in the possession of Mr J.P. Morgan, to whom I am much indebted for allowing it to be transcribed for my use. I give it verbatim, without attempting (though it would be an attractive bibliographical exercise) to identify particular editions.