Letter #66: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 17 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the third of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read previous ones here and here.

Taylor Edwards and Hannah Henley (Illinois State University)

A rather short letter for today, and once again it is to one of Keats’s regular correspondents, John Hamilton Reynolds. As you may recall, in the last letter to Reynolds (9 April), Keats responded to Reynolds’s objections about the preface to Endymion. His submission of the original preface was on 21 March, and now, almost a month later, the debate finally concludes. In today’s letter to Reynolds it is apparent that Keats still feels ambivalent about the preface, even going as far to say that he “had an idea of giving no preface.” But then he reluctantly relents, declaring finally that “one should not be too timid—of committing faults.”

After discussing the topic of the preface, Keats goes on to mention the climate and surroundings of his current locale. At this time Keats is still in Teignmouth as he awaits the publishing of Endymion. The constant wet weather continues to disappoint, leading to Tom being “quite low spirited.” Keats nonetheless offers some humor by unfavorably comparing his native England and its climate to that of Italy: “It is impossible to live in a country which is continually under hatches. Who would live in a region of Mists, Game Laws, indemnity Bills, etc., when there is such a place as Italy?” These sentiments arrive as Keats continues to plan for his Northern Tour, which will not quite match the climate of Italy!

Keats then apologizes to Reynolds by mentioning that he intended to send him “songs written in your favorite Devon.” This demonstrates that he had intended to write more, but thanks to the weather he lacked the impetus to do so. By this point in 1818 it seems Keats is almost required to dwell on the weather, most particularly the “Rain! Rain! Rain!” Ever since his arrival in Teignmouth in early March, his displeasure with the constant rain has been a common topic in his letters to Reynolds. He appears to have enjoyed at least once nice day on 16 April, as he writes: “What a spite it is one cannot get out the like way I went yesterday I found a lane bank’d on each side with store of Primroses.” His pleasure at the rare good weather emphasizes his clear annoyance with the more consistent bad weather, which certainly has a great effect on him.

Notable history of this letter includes that this it was for a long time wrongly dated. The manuscript was a late acquisition of Arthur Houghton, and as such, editions including Rollins’s had relied on a transcript by Richard Woodhouse, which incorrectly dated it to 10 April. So good thing we have the manuscript now!

The text of the letter (based on the Woodhouse transcript) can be found in Forman’s 1895 edition. Images of the manuscript and the transcript are below. A few small discrepancies exist–see if you can spot them all…

Page 1 of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.27). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.27). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #65: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 9 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the second of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read the first of them here.

Rachel Adams, Alisa Christensen, & Rachel Mackey (Illinois State University)

For today’s letter, we see Keats writing again to one of his typical correspondents in spring 1818, John Hamilton Reynolds. After delivering his preface to Endymion back on 21 March, we now gain insight into Keats’s thought process about it in response to his friends’ rejection of it. Keats opens the letter by remarking, “Since you all agree that the thing is bad, it must be so.” His publishers and Reynolds concurred that the tone of Keats’s first preface was far too apologetic and self-negating. Keats provides a lengthy explanation as to why it may have come across this way, and he confesses to Reynolds that he views the public as “a thing I cannot help looking upon as an Enemy.” He loathes the idea of being subordinate to the public, and that if he were to “write a Preface in a supple or subdued style, it [would] not be in character with [him] as a public speaker”. In this hostility towards the public, however, Keats’s appreciation for his friends is further highlighted in a rather touching moment. He emphasizes to Reynolds that such hostility and fear of vulnerability does not extend to his closest companions, as he “could not live without the love of [his] friends.” Thus, while Keats feels animosity toward the idea of the public, it’s clear just how much he valued the friendly relationships in his life.

After this moment of vulnerability, Keats further contemplates his attitudes toward the public and how he feels about his own public image. Keats states “I would jump down Ætna for any great Public Good,” a somewhat paradoxical statement when the context behind the phrase is examined. The reference is to the pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles, who believed he was a divine being of sorts, and thus (allegedly) leapt into the volcanic crater of Etna hoping to be apotheosized after death. So although Keats claims he is willing to sacrifice himself to do some good in the world, his reference also suggests that he considers himself a divine being above the public, while they are merely his followers. It’s Keats being a bit pretentious even as he’s claiming to not care about an audience.

That tension continues throughout this section. He wants to “daunt and dazzle the thousand jabberers about Pictures and Books” (i.e. the Public), but he “cannot be subdued before them.” His next image suggests that he’s thinking here specifically about reviewers, describing these “jabberers” as “swarms of Porcupines” who await Endymion with “their Quills erect.” Keats wants to “fright ‘em away with a torch” and (presumably) discourage them from even reading Endymion. The torch in this metaphor is his preface, but he acknowledges to Reynolds that perhaps it “is not much of a torch.” He eventually concedes that his original preface may have been too disrespectful towards his audience, but for now he remains indecisive about whether to rewrite it, and even suggests to Reynolds that if he has not reached a decision in four to five days to “tell Taylor to publish it without a preface.” Seemingly ready to leave the topic behind, Keats abruptly changes topics away from the issues with the preface, and towards Reynold’s health (a frequent subject with the two friends). Another regular topic we’ve encountered this spring surfaces next: the near constant rainy weather in Devon. Keats is clearly fed up with it, as he claims the sound of raindrops against his window “give [him] the same sensation as a quart of cold water offered to revive a half drowned devil.”

From this point on, Keats continues to write conversationally to Reynolds and does not return to Endymion again. Instead he tells Reynolds that he hopes “soon to be writing to you about the things of the north, purposing to wayfare all over those parts,” referring to his “Northern Tour” that he will undertake with friend and fellow poet Charles Brown beginning in late June (as Keats mentioned to Haydon in yesterday’s letter). Keats states “I have settled my accoutrements in my own mind,” but goes on to say that he still wants to have some time with Reynolds before he leaves. Keats then lists his many reasons for “going wonder-ways.” The reasons he lists to Reynolds are what you might expect: he wants to “enlarge [his] vision” and “escape disquisitions on Poetry.” These sound like excellent reasons to go on a months-long walking tour! Keats ends the letter with a few optimistic phrases that are actually pretty sad for the modern reader. While still writing about his summer plans, he writes “thus will I take all Europe in turn, and see the Kingdoms of the Earth and the glory of them.” Although Keats seems very excited about travel in this letter, we know that he dies before he is able to visit any more “Kingdoms of the Earth.” In fact, the next (and only) time that Keats travels out of the country is when he travels to Italy in 1820 in the vain hope of recuperating from his illness. Next, Keats writes that “Tom is getting better he hopes you may meet him at the top o’ the hill.” Unfortunately, even if Tom was showing improvement at the time Keats wrote this letter, it would have been short-lived as he died in December 1818. At least on 9 April 1818, though, Keats was feeling hopeful about the future.

As with most letters to Reynolds, the manuscript is lost, so the Woodhouse transcript is our only source for the text. Images of the transcript are included below courtesy of Harvard. Text of the letter from the 1895 Forman edition can be accessed here.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #64: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 8 April 1818

Today’s letter marks a first that we here at the KLP are very excited about: the first mention of Keats’s summer plans! That’s right, we’re getting close to the Northern Tour of 1818. It was a big deal for Keats in many ways, and, lucky for all of us, it produced some amazing letters. We’ve got these gems to anticipate: the account of Keats’s visit to Stock Ghyll Force in Ambleside, Keats’s thoughts on Wordsworth campaigning for the Tory MP William Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale), drinking “whuskey” at the birthplace of Robert Burns, going up Ben Nevis (and “N.B. [coming] down again”), other sights like Ailsa Rock and Fingal’s Cave, and LOTS of opinions on “the cursed Oatcake.” So get your walking shoes ready!

Keats gives some idea of his intentions on undertaking the trip as he informs Haydon of the plan. Here’s that passage:

I purpose within a Month to put my knapsack at my back and make a pedestrian tour through the North of England, and part of Scotland–to make a sort of Prologue to the Life I intend to pursue–that is to write, to study and to see all Europe at the lowest expence. I will clamber through the Clouds and exist. I will get such an accumulation of stupendous recollolections that as I walk through the suburbs of London I may not see them–I will stand upon Mont Blanc and remember this coming Summer when I intend to straddle ben Lomond–with my Soul!–galligaskins are out of the Question.

No word on the fate of the galligaskins, but we get a pretty good sense of Keats’s other planning priorities. After the (disappointing) completion of Endymion, Keats felt the need to gain a new set of experiences which could serve as poetic “full-ripened grains” to be stored for later use. Given that the poems most associated with Keats’s legacy are written after summer 1818, it seems like the tour must have done something good!

In the rest of the letter Keats does a fair bit of quoting and referencing Shakespeare, as he so often does when writing Haydon (and because Haydon had mentioned a favorite passage from All’s Well That Ends Well in the previous letter to which Keats was responding–the 10/11 May 1817 letter to Haydon is another Shakespeare-filled bit of their correspondence). We also see a continuation of Keats’s displeasure with Wordsworth, which had been growing since meeting him back in December 1817. Here is what he has to say to Haydon in today’s letter: “I am affraid Wordsworth went rather huff’d out of Town–I am sorry for it. he cannot expect his fireside Divan to be infallible he cannot expect but that every Man of worth is as proud as himself.” This frustration is part of Keats’s broader wariness of literary London at this point, which is another reason he cites for wanting to venture North in the summer. We’ll see more thoughts on Wordsworth once Keats ends up in the elder poet’s backyard!

Text of the letter comes from the MS housed at Harvard (images below). As is our wont, we recommend Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters for a good public domain version of the text.

Page 1 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #63: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 25 March 1818

Today’s letter consists mostly of Keats’s poem, “Dear Reynolds, as last night I lay in bed.” As such, we’ll let the poem speak mostly for itself! There are plenty of places where you can find it. Harry Buxton Forman prints it in his 1895 edition of the letters (as well as in his editions of the poems, such as the 1883 here). Included below you can find Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of the poem and the bit of prose that follows it. (Note that one sentence at the end of the prose section is written in shorthand!)

Page 1 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #62: To James Rice, 24 March 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today, the first of five such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks comes from ISU students Amanda Peters and Ricky King. Enjoy!

Amanda Peters & Ricky King (Illinois State University)

Regular readers of the KLP will know we love firsts. The recipient of today’s letter is not one of the more frequent correspondents, such as John Hamilton Reynolds, or George and Tom Keats. Nope, today we have instead the first letter to James Rice. It is not surprising that Keats would write a letter to Rice, given that they were quite good friends. What is surprising is that more letters weren’t written to Rice, given the nature of their friendship. Only four total letters to Rice exist. One more will come up later this year, in late November just one week before Tom’s death. The two others to Rice appear in December of 1819 and February 1820.

It was well before this point when Keats was first introduced to James Rice. He was a lawyer, like Reynolds, the mutual friend who brought Rice and Keats together. Rice was also a member of the literary society known as the Zetosophian Society, in which Reynolds and Benjamin Bailey were also involved. Although it comes long after the writing of today’s letter, we can gather an idea of the high esteem in which Keats held Rice from the long journal letter to George and Georgiana from 17-27 September 1819, written after Keats had spent a month with Rice on the Isle of Wight in July. Keats tells of visiting Rice in London soon after their stay in Shanklin:

I was out and every body was out. I walk’d about the Streets as in a strange land–Rice was the only one at home–I pass’d some time with him. I know him better since we have liv’d a month together in the isle of Wight. He is the most sensible, and even wise Man I know–he has a few John Bull prejudices; but they improve him. His illness is at times alarming. We are great friends, and there is no one I like to pass a day with better.

Although they may not have exchanged many letters, it seems as though Keats nonetheless relished the company and companionship of his sensible friend. Indeed, it seems that just a few weeks after today’s letter, Rice joined Keats in Teignmouth, because he gave Keats a copy of Mateo Aleman’s picaresque tale, Guzman de Alfarache. Rice inscribed the book with this message: “John Keats / From his Friend / Js Rxxx / 20th April 1818.” Like so many Keats materials, this gift from Rice now resides at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

An image Guzman de Alfarache from EEBO. The EEBO book scanned was Lowell’s copy of the book. She purchased it so that she could copy all the annotations that were present in the copy owned by Keats. Notice Lowell’s note in the top left indicating the inscription was Rice’s: “[In Rice’s handwriting]”

With regards to the provenance of this letter, it’s one we’ve covered before. The estate of Keats’s publisher, John Taylor, was sold at Sotheby’s in 1903. Many of the Keats-related items were purchased by Bernard Quaritch on behalf of Amy Lowell. Bernard Alexander Christian Quaritch was a German-born bookseller and collector. He relocated to London in 1840s to pursue bookselling and ultimately began a business in the same decade. Following his death towards the end of the nineteenth century, his son, Bernard Alfred Quaritch, continued the bookselling legacy, eventually collecting some of Keats’s letters. Quaritch, it seems, acted as a purchaser on behalf of Amy Lowell at the sale of the Taylor estate in 1903. (The Quaritch business still exists today– you can read about the company and its history here: https://www.quaritch.com/about/our-history/.)

While we’ve mentioned Amy Lowell before, let’s devote a bit more space to her today, given that she was and forever will be a true Friend of Keats. She was a poet herself, who, like many poets of the latter half of the nineteenth century, looked to the English Romantics for inspiration and guidance. She happened to gain an affinity towards Keats, and over the course of many years she managed to acquire a pretty sizable collection of manuscripts of Keats’s letters and poems (including today’s letter to Rice). Her writing career was bookended in a way by Keats: her first volume of poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, took its title from Shelley’s elegy for Keats, Adonais; and one of Lowell’s last works was her biography of Keats, published in 1925.

But to the letter itself. It takes some interesting turns as Keats discusses Milton. Apparently Milton “came into these parts” around the time he wrote “his Answer to Salmasius” (also know as Defensio pro Populo Anglicano, published in 1651). Keats hears about a meadow in which Milton “rolled himself, for three whole hours.” As a result, “in all the seven acres for seven years,” according to Keats’s informant, “not a nettle sprang up.” However, Milton’s rolling was said to have created “a new sort of plant,” a “white thorn” that is “of a thornless nature”. These white thorns are used by “the Bucks of the present to rap their Boots withall.” The Oxford English Dictionary helps us by explaining that at the time Keats wrote this letter a “Buck” would refer to “A gay, dashing fellow; a dandy, fop, ‘fast’ man.” Keats is himself being a bit of a gay and dashing fellow with his playful speculations on Milton’s long-lasting effects on a meadow in Devon.

Keats turns a bit more serious as he goes into a discussion of the scholarly debate between Milton and Salmasius, which then leads him into a broader contemplation about the difficulty of intellectual labor. The struggle he identifies is that the our thoughts are always restless. He writes, “What a happy thing it would be if we could settle our thoughts, make up our minds on any matter in five minutes and remain content.” Keats continues to compare the disharmony caused by a restless mind and whether or not it is better than having a rested (but limited) mind, using a wonderful extended metaphor of the mind as a “mental Cottage.” Eventually he arrives at the necessity of unsettled thoughts, as Keats discusses how he cannot rest his mind because of his attraction to the “Loadstone Concatenation.” This magnetic force does not allow Keats to cannot rest his mind because he can’t ignore his thoughts, which are endlessly led on in an unbroken and unending chain of associations.

Keats’s concatenation of thoughts continues as he ponders the question, “‘Did Milton do more good or ha[r]m to the World?”. His joke revolves around the idea that just as the vastness of our universe is composed of “the same quantity of matter,” there must have been “a certain portion of intellect” assigned to the universe at creation. But Milton, with all his impressive intellectual “gormandizing,” might not have left anything for the rest of us to eat! Oh well. We daresay Keats’s own intellectual playfulness, here and elsewhere, proves that a few scraps were leftover after Milton had his feast.

Letter #61: To Taylor and Hessey, 21 March 1818

Back on 18 March, Keats received a letter from George, who’d now been back in London for a week or so. George informed John that the publishers of Endymion, John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey, had made good progress in printing the poem. According to George, Charles Brown had also conveyed the message that they needed more fair copy to keep up their progress: “Brown has I understand written to you and given you the pleasant information that the printer’s are in immediate want of the Fourth book and preface–By the time you have received this I have no doubt but T & H will have received them.” George wasn’t quite correct with that last prediction, even though Keats had finished copying Book IV by at least 14 March, and he had written his preface on 19 March. It seems George’s letter was the final prod he needed to get his act together.

So it was that the MS of Keats’s fourth book of Endymion traveled by mail coach from Teignmouth to Exeter and on to London. If you’d like a sense of the route it may have taken, there’s lots of good information in Richard Marggraf Turley’s piece from last April, “Keats Underway.” If you really want to get in the weeds, you can study Cary’s New Itinerary (1819), which provides, as its title page says, “An Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, Both Direct and Cross throughout England and Wales.” The images below come from a similar guide, A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales, by Daniel Paterson. They give some sense of the general path Endymion followed. Good thing the coach arrived safely with its precious cargo!

 

The route from London to Exeter–more or less how Keats’s letter and his separate packet containing Endymion Book IV would have traveled.

From A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales, by Daniel Paterson.

As usual, the letter can be read from Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters. The manuscript is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum. No images as of yet–sorry ’bout that!

Letter #60: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 21 March 1818

It seems the constant rain in Devon leads Keats to summon up his fair share of jokes. He continues ragging on the county and its weather, telling Haydon, “I have blown up said County for its urinal qualifications.” He also includes two silly poems (“For there’s Bishop’s teign” and “Where be ye going you devon Maid”). And then there’s the letter’s final passage, which we include in full here:

The last section of Keats’s 21 Mar 1818 letter to Haydon (from Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters).

It’s a wonderful notion, coming up with “fine things” that have been ruined for him by their association with people he’s not overly fond of. Here one imagines how well Keats might have done if he ever took up writing for periodical magazines, writing funny essays à la Charles Lamb’s Elia on a topic such as this one. (Or if Keats were alive today, coming up with examples of fine things damned by their connection with the wrong people would make for an ideal Buzzfeed listicle!)

Hazlitt, of course, would be another appropriate comparison along these lines. And an interesting shift happens in Keats’s list when he arrives at the prose stylist whom he so admired. The Hazlitt examples are obviously offered up ironically (“how durst the Man” ruin bigoted people for Keats?!). We suspect the shift happens because Hazlitt was known for his ability to damn with harsh criticism. In the language of today’s social media environment, one could imagine Hazlitt “eviscerating” his fair share of targets with his sick burns and vicious twitter clapbacks (claps back?). There’s some confusing about what Keats intended with his last thought. You’ll notice above that Forman has this: “if ever I am damn’d–damn me if I shouldn’t like him to damn me.” In the manuscript of the letter, which you can see below, the text read as “damn me if” has been scratched out. So is Keats wishing to be damned by Hazlitt, or to avoid that fate? Seems like he could probably go either way. If you’re gonna be damned, might as well be damned by the best!

To read the letter in full, you can head over to Forman’s 1895 edition (there dated 23 Mar, based on the postmark; Keats’s “Saturd–Morn,” at the letter’s opening, would have been 21 Mar). Or for the scripturally-inclined, feel free to read from the images of the MS, courtesy, as usual, of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

Letter #59: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 14 March 1818

Reading today’s letter to Reynolds, one can’t help but wish that Keats had written a long prose work in the comic tradition of Sterne and Smollett. We daresay Keats had the chops to rival Tristram Shandy, a work which he seems to have in mind as he playfully (à la Toby) trots out a variety of military terms (glacis, small-shot, cannondale, cavalry, etc.). This letter deserves the kind of treatment Keats says we ought to devote to a “Page of full Poesy or distilled Prose.” So spend some time with, wander with it, muse upon it, bring home to it, prophesy upon it–whatever it takes! Read this letter and glory in Keats’s humor.

He addresses some of the same issues from yesterday’s letter to Bailey, in particular the weather that has kept him indoors and apparently led to a bit of stir-craziness. Here’s a sample: “The green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious–mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Muscles do for the Tide.” We also hear about Keats’s plan to “cut sickness–a fellow to whom I have a complete aversion.” On a grim note, the list of friends acquainted with this fellow includes Tom, who would only worsen from this point forward (“he [sickness] is sitting now quite impudent between me and Tom”). But the melancholy turn doesn’t last for long, as Keats proceeds to tell Reynolds of a recent visit to the theatre at which Keats “got insulted.” He explains that he “forgot to tell George,” and that he “ought to remember to forget to tell any Body,” given that he “did not fight, and as yet have had no redress.”

We have TWO responses to today’s letter, since it is so filled to the brim with goodness. First up is Laura Kremmel’s “Keats Goes Gothic,” which focuses on the list of scenery descriptions Keats connects with “Damosel Radcliffe.” And tomorrow we will have Johannes Göransson’s phantasmagoric rewriting of the letter, taking Keats’s language and concerns and filtering them through a sort of dream-vision of 2018.

You can read the letter in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition, and via the images below of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of the letter (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #58: To Benjamin Bailey, 13 March 1818

Today’s letter to Bailey includes a wealth of intriguing things–which our contributor Renee Harris picks up on and runs with by following Keats’s grouping of threes in the letter–and this should come as no surprise for regular readers. Keats seems to have a particular affinity for sharing lots of thoughts with Bailey. Three of the last four letters to Bailey (28-30 Oct 1817, 3 Nov 1817, and 22 Nov 1817) were at least in part crossed, and the one letter to Bailey that Keats did not cross (23 Jan 1818) was still filled to the brim. Nary a short letter to Bailey, it seems, for today’s letter is crossed on three of its four pages. Brian Rejack and Michael Theune discussed some theories about why Keats might find Bailey to be a receptive correspondent for extensive and speculative thoughts back in Episode 4 of This Week in Keats, but today we offer another possibility (if an admittedly a silly one).

Bailey had notoriously bad penmanship. Keats mentioned it back in Nov 1817, when he wrote to Reynolds, “Bailey writes so abominable a hand, to give his Letter a fair reading requires a little time.” Writing to Richard Monckton Milnes in October 1848 (to let Milnes know that he had erroneously killed off Bailey in Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats), Bailey himself owned up to the defects in his “Kaligraphy“:

I meditate drawing up a paper for your information, and if needful for your use in a future edition, upon poor Keats: and I will borrow my daughter’s hand to copy my Kaligraphy, to which, among my “good works,” I see you have given your imprimatur, on the authority of poor Keats, 30 years ago [i.e. Milnes’s edition included Keats’s “abominable hand” comment quoted above]. It required not that attestation of its badness: and I fear that “years which bring the philosophic mind” will not have mended my handwriting.

In a footnote to this letter from Bailey to Milnes, Hyder Edward Rollins expresses his displeasure with Bailey as well: “Bailey’s hand is exceptionally villainous in this letter.” We feel you, Rollins. Thank you for your assiduous attention to Bailey’s villainy, as painful as it may have been!

So here is our theory: perhaps Keats, slowed down and a bit miffed by Bailey’s villainous handwriting, decided he would match Bailey penstroke for penstroke in the way he best could: by crossing his letters! Take that, Bailey! Keats’s hand, we venture to say, is actually quite neat, legible, and even downright pretty, despite what that dastardly John Jeffrey may have thought back in 1845–curse you, John Jeffrey! But also thanks for transcribing stuff, badly as you may have done it…. Apologies, we do digress. To return. Since Keats’s hand is so lovely, it’s rather difficult to transform it to villainous levels of illegibility. The best way to do so: cross the letter. Just look at the images below to get a sense of how difficult it is to read such a letter.

Of course we don’t actually think Keats intended to stymie Bailey’s efforts to read his letters in retaliation for Bailey inflicting that challenge on him… but then again, Keats does enjoy playing the trickster.

With that thought, then, we will leave you in the capable hands of Renee Harris, who deftly analyzes several of the topics Keats covers. Enjoy!

Text of the letter can be read in Forman’s 1895 edition via HathiTrust, or, for the optically adventurous, via the images below, courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #57: To John Taylor, 27 February 1818

Today’s letter to Taylor is a significant one, particularly for the “Axioms” in poetry which Keats shares with his publisher. It might not be the “FINEST LETTER of Keats Extant,” as “some enthusiast” (so deemed by Hyder Edward Rollins) wrote on the top of the manuscript. But it’s pretty dang good. What are these axioms, you say? Well hold on a sec. We’re getting there.

First it’s worth asking why Keats feels compelled to offer up these axioms in the first place. Of course, we don’t have Taylor’s letter to which Keats was responding. But Keats writes these sentences before getting to those axioms:

It is a sorry thing for me that any one should have to overcome Prejudices in reading my Verses–that affects me more than any hypercriticism on any particular Passage. In Endymion I have most likely but moved into the Go-cart from the leading strings. In Poetry I have a few Axioms, and you will see how far I am from their Centre.

In short, it seems Taylor attempted to politely dampen Keats’s expectations for the poem’s success by noting that it might not be exactly to the public’s taste. One thinks here of the rhetorical gymnastics performed by Wordsworth and Coleridge in the “Advertisement” to Lyrical Ballads, in which they 1) deny that critics know anything about poetry, 2) note that their poems are really just experiments (so NBD if they don’t work), 3) that readers might not even think they are poems at all, so don’t call them poems you jerks!–and 4) that readers should just erase their “pre-established codes of decision” and think only of whether these experimental not-poems give them pleasure or no. One imagines Taylor writing something like, “Keats, loving Endymion, my man. But, you know, it’s got some moments that people will probably find a bit, um, challenging? Because they just don’t get your genius like I do! Anyway, yeah–some turkeys who don’t know what’s what will probably feel a bit prejudiced against your poems because they are stuck in their old fuddy-duddy ways.” (Ok, Taylor probably didn’t write exactly like that.)

What Keats’s response shows is that he continues to be eager to move beyond Endymion. As he writes toward the end of this letter, he is ready to “get Endymion printed that I may forget it and proceed.” In his metaphors of the “go-Cart” and the “leading strings,” we see another indication of his judgment of the poem as a trial of invention that is merely a stepping-stone to something else. The “go-Cart” is what we would now call a baby walker; “leading strings” were devices used to help children learn to walk (essentially by having an adult hold strings attached to the infant). So, yes, Keats is but a child learning to “not trip up my Heels” in the realm of poetic walking. We’ll see a similar formulation in his Preface to Endymion, where he situates the poem as in between the imagination of a boy and of a man: “thence proceeds mawkishness.” Well we daresay that even in Endymion Keats was well beyond the baby-walker stage of managing poetic feet. Teenager overly excited about poetry and desire?? Yeah, that sounds about right. (Still, we maintain Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review assessment of Endymion: “It is, in truth, at least as full of genius as of absurdity.”)

To the axioms, then. Here they are:

1st I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity–it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance–2nd Its touches of Beauty should never be half way therby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural natural too him–shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the Luxury of twilight–but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it–and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.

One thought on the poetry coming naturally as the leaves to the tree bit. I’ve–and here I’m breaking from the traditional KLP editoral we–Brian Rejack, here, hiya–long pushed back against this notion thinking that Keats is just being ideological. Of course Keats knows that poetry involve labor, study, time, revision, etc. But I had a realization while discussing this letter with my students today (beneath some trees that haven’t just yet begun budding, incidentally). Just because Keats claims that poetry should come as “naturally as the Leaves to a tree,” it doesn’t mean he intends that poetry must be instantaneous. Leaves actually take a good long while to fully come to the tree. And they require labor, patience, and devotion (albeit the devotion of sun to tree, water to soil, soil to root, etc.). So perhaps Keats merely intends that poetry requires careful cultivation by placing the poetic impulse in an environment in which poetry can thrive. That could still certainly mean intense labor and practice, working and reworking.

We’ll have more about these axioms with a response to come later this week (or the next). But for now, some final things to say about the manuscript of this letter. Like many of the letters sent to Taylor, this one remained in his possession for a long time, and after his death remained in the family. In the 1840s he made his materials available to Richard Monckton Milnes for use in Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats (1848; 2nd edition, 1867). The next significant editor of the letters was Harry Buxton Forman, who made a name for himself in 1878 by publishing, to great controversy, the letters Keats sent to Fanny Brawne. In 1883 Forman published a complete edition of Keats’s poetry and prose. In that edition, the letters to Taylor are typically (if not all–apologies for not checking all of them yet) based on Milnes’s text. Milnes was much more likely to excise sensitive passages than was Forman. One can witness this fact in the 1895 single-volume edition of the letters (the KLP’s favorite 19th-century edition of the letters). It appears that at some point between 1883 and 1895, Forman got his hands on the manuscripts in possession of Taylor’s family. And when he found in those manuscripts some of the naughty bits that Milnes left out, Forman obliged by printing them for all to see and enjoy.

Take, for instance, the 10 June 1817 letter to Taylor and Hessey (dated 10 July by Milnes and Forman). In Milnes (1848, 1867) and in Forman (1883, 1889), the first sentence is removed (“I must endeavor to lose my Maidenhead with respect to money Matters as soon as possible–and I will to–so here goes”–by the way, read David Sigler’s response to the letter, which is fantastic). In Forman’s 1895 edition, the first sentence appears! Conclusion: for his earlier editions Forman used Milnes’s text, and for the 1895 edition he must have had access to the letter. Now, this letter remains in the Taylor family and is sold in 1903 to Amy Lowell (through Bernard Quaritch). So that means Forman had access to the letter, and that the access was granted by the Taylor family, as opposed to some other owner of the letter. Some of the letters once owned by Taylor were sold prior to 1903, including the 23 Jan 1818 letter. That one was sold in New York in 1897, and since Forman’s 1895 version of the text is based not on the manuscript, but again on Milnes’s text, that letter must have left the Taylor family’s possession before Forman got access to those materials.

Ok, we’re in the weeds. But hang on. Back to today’s letter. Forman’s 1895 edition was clearly based on the manuscript, whereas his 1883 and 1889 editions were based on Milnes’s texts. But today’s letter was not sold at the Taylor family auction in 1903! (CAVEAT–WE’RE NOT ENTIRELY SURE YET THAT THIS FACT IS CORRECT. PRETTY SURE, THOUGH.) It was sold in 1912 by the firm of J. Pearson & Co. The buyer was J. Pierpont Morgan. What happened to this letter between 1895(ish) and 1903? We don’t yet know. But presumably it passed out of the Taylor family and into private hands who eventually led it back into the market in 1912. Those hands may well have been those of John Pearson or his partner Charles Edward Shepheard, both of whom actively sought out valuable letters and manuscripts. In any case, thanks to the catalogue for their sale in 1912, we have a facsimile of the MS to present to you. Sadly, it includes just two of the letter’s three pages. Still, better than nothing.

Now if you’re still here and want to read the entire letter, you know now that the text in Forman’s 1895 edition was based on the manuscript, so you can trust that one. And images below are from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co. Stay tuned for more details on the letter’s provenance as it comes in!

Facsimile of page 1 of Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor. From the 1912 catalogue of items for sale by J. Pearson & Co.

The listing for Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor, from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co.

The listing for Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor (featuring text of the letter), from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co.

Facsimile of page 3 of Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor. From the 1912 catalogue of items for sale by J. Pearson & Co.