Letter #76: To Thomas Monkhouse, 21 June 1818

The second letter from today is to Thomas Monkhouse, whose primary claim to fame within the Keats world is his attendance at the “Immortal Dinner.” He was there through his connection to Wordsworth, whose wife Mary Hutchinson was a cousin of Monkhouse. Side note: Mary’s brother Thomas Hutchinson married Mary Monkhouse and had a daughter named Sara Hutchinson, which was also the name of Mary and Thomas Hutchinson’s sister Sara. Very confusing stuff. We’ll try to get you a family tree to sort it all out.

In any case, Thomas Monkhouse–not to be confused with his cousin Thomas Hutchinson who married his cousin Mary Monkhouse, who was Thomas Monkhouse’s sister–had apparently been reading Endymion and enjoying it. He’d called on Keats sometime in the previous few days, when Keats happened not to be at home. So in this letter Keats apologizes for missing him, and expresses his gratitude “in hearing from Haydon that you so great a Lover of Wordsworth should be pleased with any part of my Poem.” Wordsworth, it should be noted, will be on Keats’s mind for much of the early parts of his Northern Tour. He is romping around in the Lake District after all. As we’ll see from future letters, Keats’s attempts to visit Wordsworth go a bit awry. But here we gather a sense of eager anticipation as he mentions to Monkhouse his planned “visit to Rydal.”

This letter still exists thanks to the descendants of the Hutchinsons and Monkhouses, including that elder Sara Hutchinson who is not as famous as her namesake and aunt. But we have to gripe for just one more moment about all of these names! Thomas Monkhouse named his daughter Mary, which was also his sister’s name. And Thomas and Mary Hutchinson, who had the second Sara Hutchinson, also had a daughter named Mary! Ok, so they also had an Elizabeth and a George, mixing things up a bit. But they also added another Thomas in there! Really making the genealogical work a bit tricky here… (Also, it makes total sense to name children after other family members–just that with the cousins marrying each other and all the repeated surnames and given names, the brain starts to hurt a bit trying to figure things out.)

All right, rant over. It’s Elizabeth Hutchinson (1820-1905), daughter of Thomas and Mary, who appears to have been the first guardian of this letter. Really, though, Keats’s letter was likely just a minor piece (from the family’s perspective) of a much larger and more significant collection of letters by the elder Sara Hutchinson, which were edited and published in 1954 by Kathleen Coburn (renowned for her indefatigable work editing Coleridge’s notebooks). The then guardian of the letters was Joanna Hutchinson, who had the unenviable task of protecting them during the bombings of London during WWII (according to Coburn, Hutchinson had them stored in a suitcase under her bed in case she needed to flee hastily). But protect them she did, and in 1958, when Rollins published his edition of Keats’s letters, the manuscript of this one to Monkhouse was still in her possession. It appears that between now and then it was loaned to the British Library in order for them to make photocopies of it, but the whereabouts of the original elude us in our current efforts at sleuthing. If the current owner wants to be relieved of the heavy burden of owning the letter, the KLP would be happy to take over for you. Just saying.

Text of the letter can be read below via the Times Literary Supplement, where it was first published in 1937 thanks to Ernest de Selincourt.

“Keats and Monkhouse.” From the Times Literary Supplement, 23 October 1937.

Letter #75: To John Taylor, 21 June 1818

Today’s letters (this one to Taylor, and another to Thomas Monkhouse) come as Keats, Charles Brown, and the newlyweds George and Georgiana Keats prepare to set out on a pair of exciting adventures. Keats and Brown would be traipsing through the north of England and Scotland (with a brief stop in Ireland) for the next few months, while George and Georgiana would depart for America. The quartet traveled together by coach for Liverpool on the morning of June 22. But on June 21, Keats was busy tying up some loose ends before departure!

His letter to Taylor is a “catalogue” of requests (he apologizes for not having time to say more than his list of demands). First he asks that Taylor lend Tom some books, since Keats worries that his ailing brother will be bored and lonely. He also requests a bound copy of Endymion for Tom, as well as one for Mrs. Reynolds. He even writes an inscription for Mrs. Reynolds on the letter (see image three below) and instructs Taylor to paste it into her book. Seems like Taylor failed on that one!

Two bits of humor close out the letter. First, Keats puns on the name of Henry Cary, the translator of Dante with whom Taylor and Hessey were negotiating for a second edition of his work: “Remember me to Hessey saying I hope he’ll Carey his point.” And then Keats signs the letter as “John O’Grots,” playing on the name of the village at the northern tip of Scotland. Clearly Keats was in a jovial mood as he got ready to venture north!

Our usual sources for the letter today: images from Harvard, and print text from Forman’s 1895 edition. Get ready for the Northern Tour and its letters starting next week!

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 June 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.31). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 June 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.31). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 June 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.31). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 June 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.31). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #74: To Benjamin Bailey, 10 June 1818

In case you may have forgotten, Keats did just publish his second book sometime around the end of April or beginning of May. NBD. But once Endymion is behind him, Keats doesn’t spend much time dwelling on it. Instead he’s on to the next thing. By this point in early June he’s already finished Isabella, one of the three long narrative poems which will be featured in the title of his 1820 volume. And he’s about to set off for his walking tour of the north, which he envisions as a way for him to strengthen his poetic powers as he continues to take on new projects. Although Keats has moved on from Endymion, his critics are just getting started… [INSERT OMINOUS MUSIC]

But Keats has his friends too, and as he wrote in his previous letter to Bailey, those friends could buoy him when necessary: “There is a comfort in throwing oneself on the charity of ones friends–‘t is like the albatros sleeping on its wings.” Turns out Bailey is a solid wing-man (see what we did there??). For in the 30 May and 6 June issues of the Oxford University and City Herald there are two small notices praising the author of Endymion. The correspondent, who signs as “N. Y.”, urges the editors of the paper to take notice of the new volume and its author. It gets pretty impassioned: “I call upon the age to countenance and encourage this rising genius, and not to let him pine away in neglect, lest his memory to after ages speak trumpet-tongued the disgrace of this.” Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Bailey’s achingly genuine paean to Keats’s brilliance.

So, yeah, Bailey was “N. Y.” And Keats writes to his friend expressing thanks for the praise, but also a bit of trepidation. Keats recognizes that Bailey is too simple and decent for the world of Regency literary reviewing. Bailey even tries to claim his simplicity and decency his letter to the editor: “I am no bookseller’s tool; I am no pandar to poetical vanity; but I would not for worlds witness the insensibility of Old England to her own glory, in the neglect of the vernal genius of her sons.” Keats realizes that such an attempt at candour simply will not do in the climate of periodicals of 1818. Bailey is like someone on twitter trying to claim they’re not a bot. In 2018, we’re all bots. Just accept it.

Who might Keats have in mind when thinking of reviewers who’d refuse to play by the rules of decency and kindness like Bailey does? Hmm, could it be… Blackwood’s? (Shout out to the Church Lady.) Why yes, yes it could be. Although in this letter Keats refers to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine as “the Endinburgh Magasine,” and they would do their best to end Keats. In the May issue of the magazine, the latest “blow up against Hunt,” which is titled “Letter from Z. to Leigh Hunt, King of the Cockneys,” features two jabs directed at Keats. They are hints of what’s to come, and Keats seems to know it. Z even quotes a bit from Keats’s “Great Spirits” sonnet and alludes to “Sleep and Poetry,” so it’s clear he’s been doing some reading of the 1817 volume (which will be reviewed along with Endymion in the August 1818 issue). For now, though, Keats (and we with him) will leave behind any concerns about such things as he prepares to venture north.

There’s more to be said about this letter, but we’ll leave it here for now. If you’d like to read all of Z’s nastly letter to Leigh Hunt (in the parlance of our times, one might say “Z Eviscerates Leigh Hunt”), you can find it here. Boy, John Gibson Lockhart really, really hated Hunt’s Story of Rimini. For Keats’s letter, head over to Forman’s 1895 edition, or read the images below (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Letter #73: To Joseph Severn, 6 June 1818

Today’s letter is one of Keats’s shortest, at just thirty-six words in two sentences. He writes Severn to inform him that the doctor has ordered Keats to stay at home, and Keats refuses to even entertain Severn with a sonnet or a pun–what a monster!

Two quick things to note about this letter. First, that it survives shows how much Severn valued his relationship with Keats. Even this brief little scrap stays with him for the rest of his life. Second, this letter is one of the rare ones that appears not to have made it into an archive. The letter was likely given to someone in Rome towards the end of Severn’s life, given that someone wrote on it, “Addressed to Mr Consul Severn.” Severn served as the British Consul in Rome from 1861 to 1872, and he would have retained the honorific after that. Between Severn’s death in 1879 and 1918 the letter’s whereabouts are unknown. It was sold at auction in August of 1918. By 1952, according to Maurice Buxton Forman’s edition of the letters published in that year, the letter was owned by someone named Howard Eric. And that’s all we can tell you for now! Some initial efforts to track down the letter’s movements since then have been fruitless. So if anyone knows where the letter is, let us know!

Keats’s 6 June 1818 letter to Severn (from Rollins’s edition).

Letter #72: To Marian and Sarah Jeffrey, 4 June 1818

When Keats left Teignmouth back at the beginning of May, he and Tom were (most likely) accompanied on the first part of their trip by Sarah Jeffrey, one of the daughters of Margaret Jeffrey, to whom Keats sent a polite note assuring her that the beginning of their journey had gone well and that Tom’s health was stable. As explained in our post about that letter, the Keats brothers had become friendly with the Jeffreys during their stay. After their departure, they would send a few letters to them over the next year or so. Tom was the first to do so, on 18 May. At the end of that letter he wrote that “John will write to you shortly.” Well, as we say in his most recent letter to Bailey, Keats was not exactly on top of his correspondence at this time. So it took him a little over two weeks to get around to his letter. Give the guy a break!

Anyway, once Keats did get around to writing his letter to Marian/Marianne/Mary Ann and Sarah, he seems to have found some good humor. The letter is a pretty darn funny one. He begins by apologizing for his delay in writing, and then quickly turns playful: “I am a fool in delay for the idea of neglect is an everlasting knapsack which even now I have scarce power to hoist off–by the bye talking of everlasting knapsacks I intend to make my fortune by them in case of a War (which you must consequently pray for) by contracting with Government for said materials to the economy of one branch of the Revenue. At all events a Tax which is taken from the people and shoulder’d upon the Military ought not to be snubb’d at.” Who doesn’t love a good war profiteering joke? His next bit of whimsy involves a plan to clean St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had apparently turned black “on the tolling of the great Bell for the aimable and tea-table-lamented Princess [i.e. Charlotte, whose death following childbirth in 1817 had set off intense national mourning, the genuineness of which Keats questions a bit here). That idea of “sympathy in inanimate objects” leads to another illustration of the principle from one of the “veal-thigh Aldermen” reputedly discussing the plan to clean St. Paul’s. By the by, jokes about the London Aldermen as idle gourmands were commonplace in the early-19th century. Not sure if they still have that reputation. So this Alderman who suggested St. Paul’s darkened to mourn Princess Charlotte tells the story of Robert Waithman, then MP and later Lord Mayor of London, quoting Peter Pindar, at which point “the head of George the third although in hard marble squinted over the Mayor’s seat at the honerable speaker so oddly that he was obliged to sit down.”

The laugh riot continues as Keats interrupts his writing for a snuff break: “You see how badly I have written these last three lines so I will remain here and take a pinch of snuff every five Minutes until my head becomes fit and proper and legetimately inclined to scribble.” Regular readers (and regular viewers of This Week in Keats) will recall Keats spelling legitimate in this same manner all the way back in December 1816. You can see what Mike Theune and Brian Rejack had to say about the spelling in December 2016 (in the very first episode of This Week in Keats!). They still do not agree.

Keats seems to have been successful with his snuff inspiration (to use snuff one breathes it in–see what we did there???). The rest of the letter certainly feels a bit influenced by a stimulant. As is proper when one has been inspired, Keats first praises his muse: “Oh! there’s nothing like a pinch of snuff except perhaps a few trifles almost beneath a philosophers dignity, such as a ripe Peach or a kiss that one takes on a lease of 91 moments,–on a building lease.” Here we encounter the limitations of HTML to effectively present Keats’s pun on building/billing lease. Notice in the image below that he crosses our the u and the d in “building” and adds an l above the crossed-out d.

Keats’s ode to snuff, which he enjoys almost as much as a kiss taken on a building/billing lease.

Lots of possibilities regarding what Keats is hinting at here, but it certainly seems to be the case that he’s being a bit flirtatious with the Jeffrey sisters. There’s been lots of speculation about the Keats brothers’ relationships with these young women. Albert Forbes Sieveking, who first published the letters, notes that Keats writes “in terms of such warm intimacy and friendship.” Harry Buxton Forman in 1901 noted the tradition, apparently still believed in Teignmouth at that time, that Marian had been in love with Keats. More recently Angus Graham-Campbell (in the Keats-Shelley Journal in 1984) entertained the possibility by turning to Marian’s poetry.

Yes, in 1830, then recently married to Isaac Sparke Prowse, Marian published a volume, titled simply Poems, just like the first volume published by Keats, under the name Mrs. I. S. Prowse. You can read the book here. According to Rollins, the “effusions” are “up to the low standard of the 1830’s,” which, although it is a sick burn on both Marian and the 1830s, is also not that nice. And more importantly it’s also rooted in masculinist and misogynistc assumptions about canonicity. So nuts to that! We suggest you read Graham-Campbell’s much more detailed and fair assessment of the work, and of the question of what sort of relationship existed between Keats and Marian Jeffrey. The sense we gather from this letter and the two later ones to Marian is that Keats had a great fondness for the sisters, and that he also respected and valued Marian’s intellect and friendship. And while he seems not to have developed any serious romantic feelings, Keats certainly displays a bit of coy flirtation in this letter.

We’ll conclude with one of the poems from Marian Jeffrey’s 1830 volume. In the spirit of her affection for and appreciation of Keats, we’re going with “To Autumn.”

“To Autumn,” from Poems by Mrs. I. S. Prowse (Marian Prowse, née Jeffrey)

“To Autumn,” from Poems by Mrs. I. S. Prowse (Marian Prowse, née Jeffrey)

For the text of Keats’s letter we direct you to Forman’s 1895 edition. Or go ahead and practice reading Keats’s hand via the images below (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Keats’s 4 June 1818 letter to Marian and Sarah Jeffrey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.29). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 4 June 1818 letter to Marian and Sarah Jeffrey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.29). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 4 June 1818 letter to Marian and Sarah Jeffrey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.29). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 4 June 1818 letter to Marian and Sarah Jeffrey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.29). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

P. S. Keats has a funny post-script in his letter about other possibilities that P. S. might stand for. One sample: “Upon a Garter Pretty Secret.” See, Keats being playful, saucy, flirtatious, what have you.

P. P. S. How did this letter get delivered? You’ll notice that there are no postage marks, and no address. One possibility: in his letter two weeks prior Tom mentioned a “Mrs. Atkins” who had come to London bearing a letter from Mrs. Jeffrey. He claimed that he was thinking about sending his letter back with her, but instead he posted it. So perhaps she stuck around in London until after June 4 and then took John’s letter back to the Jeffreys? One other connection: Keats mentions “Atkins the Coachman” in his 14 March letter to Reynolds. Perhaps Mrs. Atkins was his wife?