28 August 2017

Negative Capability

John Keats, letter to George and Thomas Keats (December 22, 1817), Letters of John Keats to his Family and Friends, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), p. 48:
I had not a dispute, but a disquisition, with Dilke upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakspeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium* of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
*A footnote reads: "An admirable phrase! — if only penetralium were Latin."

Medallion of Keats by Guiseppe Girometti, c. 1832