Louis Esterhuizen. Die resensies wat John Keats se dood verhaas het

John Keats

John Keats

Via ‘n skakel by The Poetry Foundation beland ek op die webblad Slate waar Robert Pinsky die resensie wat allerweë beskou word as een van die mees vernietigende resensies ooit – en die een wat John Keats se dood enkele maande later verhaas het – bespreek. Dié resensie van Keats se beroemde gedig “Endymion“, is deur  die Ierse akademikus  John Wilson Croker geskryf en het in September 1818 in die Quarterly Review verskyn.

Die inleidende paragrawe van die resensie lees soos volg:

“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 his work. 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 …”

‘n Maand later is hierdie resensie gevolg deur nóg ‘n verpletterende resensie, deur ene John Gibson Lockhart, wat in die Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine verskyn het. Volgens Pinsky het Lockhart die pen selfs nog dieper as Wilson Croker in die gifpot gesteek. Gibson Lockhart het byvoorbeeld sy resensie begin met ‘n opmerking dat Keats ly aan “the writing mania that has afflicted farm-servants and unmarried ladies … our very footmen who compose tragedies.”

Daarna vervolg hy met die volgende:

“To witness the disease of any human understanding, however feeble, is distressing; but the spectacle of an able mind reduced to a state of insanity is of course ten times more afflicting. It is with such sorrow as this that we have contemplated the case of Mr. John Keats. This young man appears to have received from nature talents of an excellent, perhaps even of a superior order- talents which, devoted to the purposes of any useful profession, must have rendered him a respectable, if not an eminent citizen. His friends, we understand, destined him to the career of medicine, and he was bound apprentice some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town. But all has been undone by a sudden attack of the malady. … Whether Mr. John had been sent home with a diuretic or composing draught to some patient far gone in the poetical mania, we have not heard. This much is certain, that he has caught the infection, and that thoroughly.”

Nou ja, toe. Die ironie is natuurlik dat Keats vandag een van die mees beroemde klassieke digters in die Britse letterkunde is; met “Endymion” waarskynlik die kroonjuweel in oeuvre.

Watter les hieruit geleer kan word?

Wel, wees in jou pasoppens vir resensente met dubbelloopvanne soos “Wilson Croker” en “Gibson Lockhart”.

As leestoegif volg die eerste strofe uit Keats se klassieke vers hieronder.


Endymion, Part 1


A THING of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways 

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.

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;

All lovely tales that we have heard or read:

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.


© John  Keats (“Endymion”, Uit: The Poetical Works of John Keats.  1884.)


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