Letter #34: To the Dilkes, 5 or 12 November 1817

Today’s letter dates to either 5 or 12 November, and as is our wont, we’re going with the latter date for our post. It’s a seemingly inconsequential letter, but it is nonetheless significant for a few reasons. First, it’s a first! This letter is the first sent to Charles Dilke (and also addressed to Dilke’s wife Maria, and his brother William, or whoever will send Keats a book!). The Dilke family will become more and more significant to the Keats story, particularly after the second half of 1818, once Keats started to share Charles Brown’s half of the house in Hampstead which Brown and the Dilkes owned together. That house remains and is now the Keats House–if you haven’t made a pilgrimage there, then get to it! Among many other treasures, the MS of today’s letter is there (technically it’s probably at the London Metropolitan Archives, where most of the Keats Museum’s collection resides when not on display at the house itself).

The letter also shows Keats in one of his common epistolary modes: the mock formal. One wonders what other funny little notes like this one were dashed off in a hurry two hundred years ago only to disappear into obscurity like so many scattered leaves. Even in the moment of a mundane matter like requesting his friends send him a book we can see Keats’s humor and goodwill come through. As the KLP’s own Anne McCarthy writes in her response to the letter, one never knows how one’s words will persist and take on lives of their own. Despite its inconsequential subject matter, even this little scrap contributes to the Keatsian archive, and we celebrate it for surviving into the present.

John Keats to the Dilkes, 5 or 12 Nov 1817.

Letter #33: To Benjamin Bailey, 3 November 1817

And so the dark times begin… In today’s letter to Bailey, Keats briefly discusses the appearance of what he calls “a flaming attack upon Hunt in the Endinburgh Magazine.” That attack was, of course, the first battle in the notorious “Cockney School of Poetry” flamewars. After six months of a tepid debut, the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, edited by Thomas Pringle and James Cleghorn, was relaunched in October 1817 with William Blackwood, John Wilson, and John Gibson Lockhart leading the way in a more combative, playful, and sensationalist manner. Lockhart’s “Cockney School of Poetry No. I,” written under the sign of “Z,” became one of several incendiary pieces in that first issue which showed that the Blackwood’s crew was bringing artillery to a knife fight.

It’s a funny thing to reflect back on Blackwood’s from the perspective of 2017, when an insult like Z’s of Hunt, that “He talks indelicately like tea-sipping milliner girl,” seems tame in comparison to precisely 97.3% of all content on Twitter (*not an actual statistic*). But if the KLP might for a moment defend Blackwood’s and Twitter, as much as both might sometimes feel like cesspools of the worst human affects, they also contain their fair shares of brilliant wit, savvy self-reflexivity, and incisive cultural analysis. As Nicholas Mason writes in his response to today’s letter, it ought to be possible for us to appreciate both Blackwood’s and Keats, even as the former ends up treating the latter with such virulent nastiness.

That said, it is true that the Cockney School attacks cast a long shadow over the reception of Keats across the nineteenth century (and, arguably, continuing into today). With that in mind, the KLP shares Mason’s sense that it’s important to remember that Keats himself was much more upset by an injustice done to his friend Bailey–he spends the greater part of the letter on that topic–than by Z’s promise to place Keats in his cross-hairs next. He writes here, “I dont mind the thing much,” and in late 1818 after Cockney School No. IV does take up Keats in full, he makes his famous declaration to George and Georgiana, “This is a mere matter of the moment–I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death.” If Keats doesn’t feel too bad about Blackwood’s and Z, then perhaps we can move on as well. After all, Keats was right about being among the English Poets! Take that, Z!

As mentioned, today’s response comes from Nicholas Mason, who uses an appropriately-time sporting metaphor (the World Series having just concluded) to delve into the Blackwood’s context. Images of the letter come courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library (the letter is partially crossed, so have fun with that!). The reading edition from Harry Buxton Forman includes only a portion of the letter (the portion in which Keats discusses Blackwood’s). Bailey sent just one leaf of the letter to John Taylor in 1821, presumably keeping the other to himself since it concerned only Bailey’s personal matters. That portion of the letter remained in Bailey’s family (and, thus, must have traveled with him to Sri Lanka and remained there for many years–see the previous letter to Bailey). It was not until 1953 that the first leaf was reunited with the second when it was presented to Harvard.

Page 1 of Keats’s 3 Nov 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.16). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 3 Nov 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.16). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 3 Nov 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.16). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 3 Nov 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.16). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #32: To Jane Reynolds, 31 October 1817

While in the midst of writing his multi-day letter to Bailey, Keats dined with the Reynoldses on 29 October. As he told Bailey when he returned to letter later that evening, he had found Jane a bit under the weather. On 31 October, he decided to send her a bit of his latest from Endymion, with the hope of “helping away for you five Minutes of the day.” What a guy. And he’s doing this on his birthday! Which, by the way, happy birthday, Keats! On completing his 22nd year, Keats had one book of poetry published under his name, and he was only a few hundred lines from completing the poem that would become his second book. Quite the precocious little scamp.

The MS of today’s letter is at Yale’s Beinecke Library, where they have a few Keats letters. Sadly, the KLP has been derelict in its duty of requesting images of said MS. So we can’t share that with you yet, but we shall update this post should we manage to emerge from our indolence.

The letter as first published in Amy Lowell’s biography (1925). She had access to it through Frederick Holland Day, who owned the letter at the time, and who was, like Lowell, one of the Bostonian “Keats lovers” who did so much to preserve and advance Keats’s legacy around the turn of the century. Ann Rowland has been doing fantastic work on Keats’s American reception, and you can find her latest on the topic in the most recent issue of the Keats-Shelley Journal! We’re not sure how the letter ended up at Yale, although Rollins notes that someone named Mitchell Kennerley owned it after Holland Day did. Again, were we not indolent (and pressed for time!), the KLP could tell you more. But for now, that’s it–time to go trick-or-treating!

Keats’s 31 Oct 1817 letter to Jane Reynolds (from The Letters of John Keats, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.)

 

Letter #31: To Benjamin Bailey, 28-30 October 1817

Keats’s progress on Endymion continues to be steady, as he now heads toward completion of Book IV. In this multi-day letter to Bailey, Keats includes the opening lines of the poem’s final book. He’ll also quote the ‘Ode to Sorrow’– the little song or ’roundelay’ which the Indian Maid sings to Endymion at the opening of Book IV–in his next letter to Jane Reynolds, and then again to Bailey on 3 November. This letter to Bailey also includes some criticism of Wordsworth, via Hazlitt, which hints at the more full-throated criticism to come in spring 1818 (when Keats will decry poetry that has a “palpable design upon us”) and fall 1818 (when Keats will distinguish his notion of the “poetical Character” from that of “the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime”).

As you can see from the below images, this letter is one of Keats’s more difficult to read letters. The letter is crossed. Although the KLP could have sworn we’d already come across a crossed letter, it appears that today’s letter is the first example of such a thing from Keats. So, let’s explain what a crossed letter is. We have four pages: two leaves formed by folding one sheet. Typically the letter-writer writes on each of the four pages, leaving the proper space on the last page for folding and addressing. After writing on all of those spaces, the letter-writer would go back to page 1, rotate the paper 90 degrees, and write cross-wise over the original writing. It allows the writer to include twice as much writing on the same amount of paper. It also makes it a bit difficult to read!

Keats does some weird stuff, though, that makes it even harder to follow what’s happening in this letter. It appears that Keats wrote only on the first three pages, and then went back to page one, rotated the sheet, and started writing cross-wise. Things get tricky again on page two, because Keats had copied the lines from Book IV of Endymion, and Keats seemed to think that he ought not to write cross-wise over the lines of verse. As such, after writing cross-wise on page one, Keats then went to page 4 (which he had not yet written on at all), where he wrote the remainder of the letter on the wings (the top and bottom spaces which would be folded into the sheet before being addressed and sent).

But wait, there’s more! Keats crossed his writing on the wings, or at least part of the original writing, taking up enough space to get in his parting wishes for Bailey to find marital bliss (“with a little Peona Wife”). Then, not content to leave any blank spaces, Keats goes back to page two, and writes cross-wise in the space left available from the indented lines of verse and over the prose writing from the first go-through on the top half of the page. Then on page three he adds a little “x” at the bottom right corner which points toward another “x” in the blank space on the left side of the page where Keats writes one final little post-script.

All of this is to say, Keats sure is all over the place! One suspects that Bailey found himself a bit lost in this “sea of prose.” He kept the letter for several decades, however, taking it with him to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), where he became Archdeacon at Colombo. Richard Monckton Milnes, in 1848, incorrectly consigned Bailey to the grave, noting in his Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats that “Mr Bailey died soon after Keats.” In October of 1848, after having read of his own early demise, Bailey wrote a letter to Milnes explaining that he was in fact still alive and well. With his letter to Milnes, Bailey included the MS of the 28-30 October 1817 letter, and offered to let Milnes print the letter in any future editions of his life of Keats (he did so in the updated edition published in 1867). This particular letter, then, spent many years far from London and Oxford, between which it first traveled back in 1817. The letter remained in Milnes’s family collection and eventually found a home at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Courtesy of Harvard, here are images of the letter–good luck trying to track all of Keats’s scribblings! A print version of the letter can be found here, via Harry Buxton Forman, who used Milnes 1867 Life as his copy text. He follows Milnes in leaving out the Endymion extract and some other minor parts.

Page 1 of Keats’s 28-30 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.14). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 28-30 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.14). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 28-30 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.14). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 28-30 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.14). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #30: To Benjamin Bailey, 8 October 1817

Keats is now back in London, after his productive stay at Oxford with Benjamin Bailey for all of September 1817. Keats completed Book III of Endymion while there. Over the coming weeks he’d finish the poem, then start getting to the work of copying and revising as he readied the poem for publication with his new publishers, John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey.

One remarkable thing to note about these fall months is how quickly he and Bailey became friends. They had barely just met when Bailey invited Keats to stay with him in Oxford, and after a month together, they were thick as thieves. Bailey becomes a regular interlocutor for the rest of 1817 and well into 1818, after which they seemed to grow apart. But for now, in October and November of 1817, Keats finds in Bailey an indispensable epistolary confidant. At this important moment in Keats’s poetic career (nearing the conclusion of Endymion and starting to contemplate his next steps—no rest for the weary!), Bailey is on the receiving end of some of Keats’s most sustained thinking about poetry, to this point, expressed in epistolary form.

Today’s letter is no exception. Keats opines at length about the thinking behind his undertaking of Endymion. And Deven Parker’s response to the letter for today uses the occasion to explore how in Endymion Keats “casts poetic composition as manual labor and calls attention to the physical and formal constraints that mediate his process, inscribing the poem with the marks of its making.” Before you head over to read her brilliant post, one final thing to note about the letter and its history.

We know that the letters we have are only a small fraction of the letters Keats wrote. Sad but true. In some cases we have some knowledge about those lost letters (we’ll call them the “known unknown” letters). Today’s letter to Bailey includes a long extract from a letter which Keats says he “wrote to George in the Spring.” Back in London with his brothers, Keats clearly had that letter (and others) at hand, ready for him to reread, rethink, and then repeat to Bailey with some new framing and insight. It’s a fascinating piece of evidence testifying to the correspondence’s status, even just weeks or months after the moment of first composition and circulation, as artefacts to be revisited and recirculated. Here at the KLP we’re undertaking a sustained sitting down to read Keats’s letters again, 200 years on, but it’s worth noting with today’s letter that Keats himself was doing a bit of rereading himself. The ongoing lives of the letters seem to, like the poetry of the earth, never die.

Images of the letter courtesy of Harvard, once again. And for a 19-century reading edition, our good pal Harry Buxton Forman, as per usual.

*Programming note: some members of the KLP editorial team were attending the 2017 Romantic Bicentennials Curran Symposium at Fordham University, the topic of which was Keats’s Emergence as a Poet. It was a great day! But that also means internet access while traveling home today is a bit spotty (this post has gone live courtesy of United Airlines wifi—currently providing access somewhere over Ohio maybe?). Deven Parker’s post will go live later today when this editor returns to the surface of the Earth and its more widely available internet connections. And images to the current post will be added later as well. Airline wifi can’t handle much, it seems…

**Ok, the KLP has now left the sky. Here are the images of the letter, as promised.

Page 1 of Keats’s 8 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.13). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 8 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.13). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 8 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.13). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 8 Oct 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.13). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #29: To Benjamin Haydon, 28 September 1817

Keats’s Oxford stay is nearing its end, as he’ll be heading back to London in early October. But we have one final letter written during the trip: today’s is to Benjamin Robert Haydon, about whom we last heard back in August (check out the episode of This Week in Keats inspired by that letter). The primary topic of today’s letter is a young man named Charles Cripps. Haydon had asked Keats to inquire about Cripps (who was apparently studying at Magdalen College at the time) and to gauge Cripps’ interest in training as a painter under Haydon’s tutelage. Keats did so, and in this letter he reports back. He also offers some of his own thoughts on Cripps’ potential as a painter (“I have a great Idea that he will be a tolerable neat brush”).

Here at the KLP we often attend to the material details of Keats’s letters. One feature we have not yet discussed, however, is how the letters are sealed. Yes, we’ve discussed how the letters were folded (see here and here, for instance). But what about the wax seals? Well we have a nicely preserved one on today’s letter which gives us an occasion to discuss the matter a bit. It’s still a bit hard to make out in the image from Harvard, but you can sort of see the outlines of a head. That just so happens to be the head of Shakespeare, as designed by James Tassie (or William Tassie, James’s nephew who had taken over the business after his uncle’s death and who set up a fashionable shop on Leicester Square).

The seal from Keats’s 28 Sept 1817 letter to Haydon–an image of Shakespeare.

These “Tassie” gems were incredibly popular, and Keats owned several. In March 1819 he wrote to his sister Fanny about them, noting that he had recently passed through Leicester Square and thought about buying some for her (he did not, for fear of buying any she might already own).

Keats on Tassie gems in a 13 March 1819 letter to Fanny Keats.

Unsurprisingly, Keats enjoyed his Shakespeare seal. But perhaps his other favorite was the one depicting an image of a lyre, with the affixed motto, “Qui me néglige, me désole” (roughly, “whoever neglects me, saddens me”). The broken lyre will become, of course, an image associated with Keats after his death thanks to the gravestone design by Severn. But this particular lyre ought to serve as a reminder of how Keats’s thinking about classical culture was filtered through his own contemporary consumer culture. Psyche may have been “Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,” but Keats had plenty of lyres around him–they just happened to be markers of his own belatedness precisely because of their circulation as products of capitalist enterprise.

That’s all for now, but we’ll have more on Tassie gems in the future–always be on the lookout for those letters that feature well-preserved wax!

Images of the letter are courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard. For a good reading edition, we direct you again to Forman’s 1895 one-volume edition. Enjoy!

Page 1 of Keats’s 28 Sept 1817 letter to Benjamin Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.12). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 28 Sept 1817 letter to Benjamin Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.12). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 28 Sept 1817 letter to Benjamin Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.12). Houghton Library, Harvard University. Yeah, it’s blank, but you might be interested in it anyway!

Page 4 of Keats’s 28 Sept 1817 letter to Benjamin Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.12). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #28: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 21 September 1817

Lots of things of interest in this letter to Reynolds, all of which has been preserved in a transcript by Richard Woodhouse (unlike the earlier September letter to Reynolds from which we have only his comical verses on Oxford). Keats jokes about one of his favorite topics for comedy: debt. Faithful KLP readers will recall two earlier letters from 1817 which feature a primary focus on money issues: the 16 May letter to Taylor and Hessey, which we had illuminated for us by Alex Dick, and the 10 June letter to Taylor and Hessey, plumbed to its depths by David Sigler. Well, Keats keeps on honing his burgeoning stand-up routine on 19th-century money problems, starting off his letter to Reynolds with gems like “as I say to my Taylor send me Bills and I’ll never employ you more.” And there’s this amazing passage preceding that one-liner, which we feel compelled to quote in full:

So you are determined to be my mortal foe–draw a Sword at me, and I will forgive–Put a Bullet in my Brain, and I will shake it out as a dewdrop from the Lion’s Mane;–put me on a Gridiron and I will fry with great complancency–but, oh horror! to come upon me in the shape of a Dun!

Ah, good times. The KLP generally takes the position that if there is a chance Keats might be making a pun, then he’s definitely making a pun. So although the misspelling of “complacency” as “complancency” might be an error on the part of the transcriber and not Keats’s own, we choose to accept that Keats was indeed making a purposeful misspelling in order to lodge the sound of “complain” in “complacency,” thereby creating a new word, which really ought to exist in English, in order to name the phenomenon when someone claims to feel complacent about a situation while constantly (and perhaps passive aggressively) complaining about the very same situation. Even if you’re not convinced that Keats is punning, the image of frying with great complacency is quite lovely.

All that silly stuff aside, what this letter is perhaps best known for is one of Keats’s most forceful negative comments about women (describing the Bluestockings as “a set of Devils”), followed by his appreciation of the poetry of Katherine Philips. For a response to today’s letter, Rachel Schulkins offers a nuanced reading of Keats’s denouncing of the Bluestockings and the seemingly contradictory move of then expressing appreciation for Philips’s accomplishments. In Schulkins’s treatment, the two moments are less contradictory than they may at first seem.

For a public domain edition in which to read today’s letter, we direct you again to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 one-volume collection of the letters. Also below are the images of Woodhouse’s transcript, courtesy once again of Harvard’s Houghton Library. Ah, but one other thing before we go! At the end of Keats’s letter, he writes “I have left the doublings for Bailey.” The “doublings” refer to the spaces on the top and bottom of the back side of the letter’s second leaf, where the paper was folded (creating a doubling) to conceal the text written on it and turn the paper into its own little envelope with blank space (in between the doublings) for writing an address (if that all sounds confusing, just go back and look at the letter to Jane Reynolds from last time). Anyway, the final image below shows what Bailey wrote on the doublings. Thanks to Woodhouse for transcribing that bit too!

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 September 1817 letter to Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 September 1817 letter to Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 September 1817 letter to Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 September 1817 letter to Reynolds (featuring Bailey’s message written on the doublings). Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.