Thursday, 27 August 2009
Keats and Chekhov - Mentshn
When I set out for the Surrey hills on the day commemorated in this post, I found myself with a bag quite heavily laden - what with inordinate quantities of drinking water (I am always thirsty), binoculars, sandwiches, the indispensable Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by J.A. Thomas, etc - so I needed to keep my reading matter compact and lightweight. I took down my little blue clothbound OUP Selected Letters of John Keats from the shelf... Needless to say, I am now completely hooked again by this greatest, most vivid, fresh, profound, spontaneous, funny, generous and lovable of all letter writers, and the volume has become my daily reading. It is almost a truism that Chekhov is the only great writer who can unequivocally be called a good man, a thoroughgoing mensch. Is this not also true of Keats, who is so endlessly unselfish, resourceful, tough and practically caring (the hardest kind), so cordially concerned about others, so firmly connected to the world by the ties of human affection and obligation, and so careless of himself and his art when those ties take precedence? Surely he too is that rare combination of good man and great artist. Is it coincidence that both he and Chekhov had medical training? I think it probably is - medicine is not a profession noted for the production of good, or even nice, men - though his medical grounding might explain why Keats, even in his airiest flights of fancy, is always intensely - sensuously and tragically - aware of earthy physical reality.