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?

Letter #71: To Benjamin Bailey, 21 and 25 May 1818

As he starts this letter to Bailey, Keats finds himself in a predicament which we’re sure no other writers ever find themselves in: feeling obligated to write but unable to do so. Here’s what Keats has to say on the matter: “I have this morning such a Lethargy that I cannot write–the reason of my delaying is oftentimes from this feeling–I wait for a proper temper–Now you ask for an immediate answer I do not like to wait even till tomorrow–However I am now so depressed that I have not an Idea to put to paper–my hand feels like lead–and yet it is and unpleasant numbness it does not take away the pain of existence–I don’t know what to write.”

After that portion of the letter, Keats doesn’t return to it for another four days! So he wasn’t kidding about not being in the proper temper. He had a pretty good excuse, though, which is more than the KLP can say for its delinquency in posting this response. Oh sure, we might try to fool you by backdating the post, but we know that you’ll see through that ruse. Ok, we admit it! It’s June and we were suffering from “a Lethargy” when this letter’s 200-year anniversary came around. If Keats can do it, so can we.

Now back to Keats’s reason for his depressed mood: it’s now official that his brother George will be emigrating to America. Keats understands his brother’s wish to seek out a better life. He notes that George “is of too independant and liberal a Mind to get on in trade in this Country–in which a generous Man with a scanty resource must be ruined. I would sooner he should till the ground than bow to a Customer.” George didn’t end up becoming a farmer, but he certainly succeeded in becoming an independent business man, and pillar of the community, in Louisville, Kentucky. One can understand why Keats would be anxious about his younger brother, however. Particularly as Tom’s health remained uncertain, the prospect of George’s departure had to be somewhat bittersweet. The three brothers had lived together almost uninterruptedly for the last few years, but now they have only a month left together. George would never again see Tom. And John would see George just one more time (for several weeks in January 1820) before his own death.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Keats tells Bailey on 25 May that his depression continues unabated. Indeed, it seems even worse than when he cut off the letter four days earlier. Keats offers what will become an oft-cited example of his tendency toward “melancholy fit[s]”: “I am in that temper that if I were under Water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.” He adds, “I feel no spur at my Brothers going to America and am almost stony-hearted about his wedding.” But even amidst the depression, Keats still maintains some optimism: “All this will blow over.”

And it certainly will, as Keats summons his energy to trek across Northern England and Scotland from late June to early August, and he writes some amazing letters during that trip. We also know that even if he was “stony-hearted” about George’s wedding, Keats was extremely fond of George’s wife, Georgiana Wylie Keats. The letters Keats sends to George and Georgiana in America contain some of his best epistolary writing, but also some of his most heartfelt expressions of familial love.

In any case, Keats makes his best effort to write something to Bailey despite his despondence. And in the process he devises a lovely metaphor for how the help of one’s friends buoy the spirit in times of trouble. Here it is: “There is a comfort in throwing oneself on the charity of ones friends–‘t is like the albatros sleeping on its wings.” And we’ll just leave it at that.

Text of the letter can be read in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition (although beware–his dates are wrong). Images courtesy of Harvard below.

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 and 25 May 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.28). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 and 25 May 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.28). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 and 25 May 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.28). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 and 25 May 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.28). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #69: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 3 May 1818

There are many letters that we wish still existed in their original manuscripts–here’s looking at you, negative capability–but today’s letter surely ranks pretty highly on the list. In this case the reason is different that it is with the negative capability letter, which we have only via John Jeffrey’s unreliable transcript (curse you, John Jeffrey! But also, thanks for trying at least). Today’s letter to Reynolds comes to us from a transcript by Richard Woodhouse, whose work can be trusted much more than that of Jeffrey. What we miss out on with this letter is Keats making a visual pun as he crosses his letter! We know it exists because Woodhouse makes a note explaining it. But oh my, it’d be great to see precisely how it looked in that original manuscript.

If you’re new here, you might not know what a “crossed letter” is. So here’s a primer for you. They are “fun” to read. Not the easiest task, that’s for sure. It’s a good thing Woodhouse possessed such a diligent bureaucratic sensibility, which is really put to the test with a letter like this one. And actually, it’s long past time that we recognize the heroic efforts of Woodhouse’s clerks. They actually did the majority of the transcribing, after which Woodhouse would look over their work and offer corrections where he identified them. As far as we know here at the KLP, no one has ever attempted to do any research into who those clerks might have been. But they’re important, too. Woodhouse shouldn’t get to hog all the credit!

But back to Keats. Here’s the bit when he makes his joke with the crossing:

Have you not seen a Gull, an ord, a sea Mew, or any thing to bring this Line to a proper length, and also fill up this clear part; that like the Gull I may  dip–I hope, not out of sight–and also, like a Gull, I hope to be lucky in a good sized fish–This crossing a letter is not without its association–for chequer work leads us naturally to a Milkmaid, a Milkmaid to Hogarth Hogarth to Shakespeare Shakespear to Hazlitt–Hazlitt to Shakespeare and thus by merely pulling as apron string we set a pretty peal of Chimes at work–Let them chime on while, with your patience,–I will return to Wordsworth

Let’s unpack what’s going on here. Again, we only know what’s going on because Woodhouse (and here it is Woodhouse, not his clerk) offers this note of explanation: “(Here the first page of the letter is crossed–and the 2 first lines to this mark  are written in the clear space left as a margin –& the word “dip” is the first word that dips into the former writing–.”

Woodhouse’s note explaining Keats’s crossing of the letter.

Here it’s useful to return again to how crossing works. Keats would have turned back to the first page of his letter, turned the paper 90 degrees, and written perpendicularly in relation to the written text from earlier in the letter. Because there would have been a bit of a margin on the left side (now the top of the page after being turned 90 degrees) which is “this clear part.” It seems possible that the sentence begins (“Have you not seen…”) on the fourth page and concludes there with “bring this Line to a proper length,” at which point the remaining text (“and also fill up this clear part; that like the Gull I may dip”) would fit in the margin of page one before dipping into the original next. But Woodhouse’s note implies that all of the two sentences appear cross-wise on page one. So who knows. This is why we need to see the original MS!

Another reason we might want to the original MS is to know where underlining actually occurs in Keats’s text and which instances of underlining are added by Woodhouse and clerks. (Regular readers will recall that Keats and underlining is a favorite arcane topic of the KLP’s Brian Rejack.) Is the “dip” underlined by Keats in order to emphasize his play on the dip into the letter’s earlier “sea of prose”? If it is, what about this more famous bit: “We see not the ballance of good and evil. We are in a Mist–We are now in that state–We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery.'” Did Keats underline that third “We” to distinguish between the inclusive “We” of the first two phrases and his shift toward an inclusive we (i.e. Keats and Reynolds)? What if he underlined it because that particular “We” was right in the middle of another word? Remember it’s a crossed letter, so it could certainly be the case that the word We is in a Mist because it can’t be seen very easily (remember earlier, Keats’s words dip “I hope, not out of sight”). Or what if a clerk mistook a stroke of the pen from one of the perpendicular words for an underlining of that third “We“? These are the kinds of questions that we need to have answered! One last thing and then we’ll move on–this is a long letter! Of course, it’s crossed, so there’s that. But still, it’s really long. One wonders if Keats was using larger paper than the typical 23 X 18 cm (approximately) sheets of most of his letter from earlier in 1818. Perhaps he had by this point purchased some of the 33 x 21 cm (approximately) sheets he’d use during his Northern Tour in June and July. Again, crucial questions!

If you’re less interested in the textual details like these, perhaps you’d rather hear about what makes this letter so remarkable. Yes, let’s talk about the “Mansion of Many Apartments.” This is Keats’s “simile of human life,” which begins in “the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think–We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it.” Notice the continuing attention to vision and light, which Keats began with respect to hoping that Reynolds would be able to see the crossed writing. Maybe the idea that Keats would play with the crossing and “We” being in a mist isn’t all that crazy?? But to return, we arrive at the second chamber, or “the Chamber of Maiden-Thought,” where “we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight.” Here think of a youthful Keats writing poems in which he’s in awe of flowers, rolling around in the grass, pining for the moon, etc. That intoxicating “atmosphere” soon produces a different kind of experience of this chamber:

However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one’s vision into the heart and nature of Man–of convincing ones nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression–whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open–but all dark–all leading to dark passages–We see not the ballance of good and evil. We are in a Mist–We are now in that state–We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery,’ To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive when he wrote ‘Tintern Abbey’ and it seems to me that his Genius is explorative of those dark Passages. Now if we live, and go on thinking, we too shall explore them.

Of course, Keats did live (though only a few more years), and we daresay he did some high quality exploring of those dark passages. Even here, though, at the end of the letter Keats gives a hint of what might be found at the end of those corridors leading to further chambers. It’s a lovely sentiment, and one that we think Keats puts in practice in his life and work: “Tom has spit a leetle blood this afternoon, and that is rather a damper–but I know–the truth is there is something real in the World Your third Chamber of Life shall be a lucky and a gentle one–stored with the wine of love–and the Bread of Friendship.” As Keats himself writes earlier in this same letter, “axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses.” So let’s strive to bring the wine of love and the bread of friendship into this world of “Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression.”

To read the rest of this remarkable letter, you can view images from Woodhouse (and clerk) below, courtesy of Harvard. Or read the text from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition here.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 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 3 May 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 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 5 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 6 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 7 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #68: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 27 April 1818

Keats’s spring stay in Teignmouth is fast coming to an end. Today’s letter is the penultimate one sent during the visit, the last one coming on 3 May, a day or two before he and Tom head back to London. His vacay has been a bit of a mixed bag. Keats put the finishing touches on Endymion during his stay. As we’ve seen again and again, Keats certainly didn’t enjoy being confined indoors thanks to the constant rainy weather since arrival at the beginning of March. But at least that meant he had time to get some writing done! In today’s letter we hear for the first time about one of the three narrative poems that will lend their names to Keats’s final volume of poetry: Isabella, or, as Keats refers to it here, “my ‘Pot of Basil.'” Reynolds and Keats had originally planned to each write poems based on stories from Boccaccio and publish them together. Reynolds, though, urged Keats to forge ahead without him. Reynolds did publish two poems based on Boccaccio in his book The Garden of Florence (1821).

Keats is a bit reluctant to hurry Reynolds along since his friend had been in ill health for much of the spring. He writes today that “you must not think of it [i.e. Reynolds’s Boccaccio poetry] till many months after you are quite well:–then put your passion to it,–and I shall be bound up with you in the shadows of mind, as we are in our matters of human life.” And indeed today they are still bound up in the minds of posterity (though their poems were not bound together in a book as they had intended), with Reynolds’s fame typically being associated with his friendship with Keats.

Also on Keats’s mind is Tom’s health, which has been up and down throughout the spring. In this letter Keats notes that Tom has “taken a fancy to a Physician here, Dr Turton, and I think is getting better.” Alas, the Keats brothers’ days of being nearly almost always all together are coming to an end. John will soon venture out for his Northern tour, George will get married and leave for America, and Tom will be beyond the reach of any physician’s help. Poor Tom.

It’s perhaps with some sense of the impending sufferings he will face that Keats continues his quest in what he called in his letter to Taylor on 24 April, “a love for philosophy.” Today he notes his intention to learn Greek and Italian, and to seek, with the help of William Hazlitt’s advice, “the best metaphysical road I can take.” He would start to learn some Italian with his reading of Dante over the next two years, and one can’t help but think that such study would have offered some insightful “metaphysical roads” to travel. If nothing else it led to the wonderfully strange dream vision that is The Fall of Hyperion. So cheers, Dante!

And one final bit of humor regarding this afterlife with which to conclude (although Keats does so at the letter’s opening). He apologizes to Reynolds for his delinquency in writing, and notes:

I hope I may not be punished, when I see you well, and so anxious as you always are for me, with the remembrance of my so seldom writing when you were so horribly confined–the most unhappy hours in our lives are those in which we recollect times past to our own blushing–If we are immortal that must be the Hell.

The KLP wholeheartedly agrees–embarrassment lingers in the memory pretty darn effectively, and an eternity of reflecting upon one’s failures seems like a pretty good approach to eternal torture! Dante must have come up with that in some circle, no?

Text of today’s letter comes from a transcript by Richard Woodhouse. It can be read in Forman’s 1895 here. Images below come courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 27 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 27 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #67: To John Taylor, 24 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 and here.

Daniel De La Cruz and Denzel Mitchem (Illinois State University)

Keats, in classic fashion, writes out another contemplative letter as he reflects on his newest book finally appearing in print. After having received an advanced copy of Endymion, Keats corresponds with his publisher John Taylor about some minor errata he’s identified in reading over the book. He also expresses his struggle to feel ready for his summer journey to the north, not because he lacks desire, but because he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and he worries he may not yet be ready to truly benefit from the experience.

The letter begins with Keats apologizing to Taylor for leaving him “all the trouble of Endymion.” One can understand why a publisher might want his author around while putting the final touches on the book. Keats excuses his behavior (i.e. leaving London for Teignmouth) by suggesting that at a young age people are so eager to get happiness that they feel entitled to it,  and treat any “unpleasant restraining” as something to avoid at all costs. Keats now seems to think it is better to greet this difficulties and troubles “as an habitual sensation, a pannier which is to weigh upon them through life.” It would appear that Keats had been “impatient” about the task of correcting his poem for publication, but now he decides to add some edits even though the task has been completed!

Following his thoughts gives a glimpse into how Keats could apply a perfectionist’s care to the publication of his work when he didn’t feel too impatient to do so. Note the precise way he explains what he calls “identical” and “related” speeches in the poem: “If we divide the speeches into identical and related: and to the former put merely one inverted comma at the beginning and another at the end; and to the latter inverted commas before every line, the book will be better understood at the first glance”. While it is slightly confusing to follow, it shows that Keats does take his time and purposely looks through his work to improve upon it, and these seemingly minor edits can nonetheless serve a large purpose in Keats’s delivery. As he mentions, he does carry the reader’s interpretation of his work in mind: “the book will be better understood at the first glance.”

In the following paragraph, Keats explains in vivid detail the fact that he wishes to travel over the summer, but that he worries about his lack of experience before undertaking the trip. He wants to gain knowledge not only for his own sake, but also to help him serve the world better. In the letter Keats writes, “I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world […] there is but one way for me–the road lies though application study and thought.” As much as Keats appreciates “delicious diligent indolence,” we also see his ability to approach a task with determination and an aim to help more than just himself. We thus see a Keats optimistic about the immediate future, and in overall good spirits thanks to his book’s appearance, his brother’s improving health, and his intentions to pursue “a love for Philosophy.”

The MS for today’s letter is at the Morgan Library (no images for us to provide at the moment). You can read text of the letter from Forman’s 1895 edition here. Images below come from Richard Woodhouse’s transcript (courtesy of Harvard). Coming up soon, a response to the letter from Sarah Sarai!

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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.