Letter #91: To Jane Reynolds, 1 September 1818

A very brief note today, thanking Jane Reynolds for her “Solicitude” concerning Tom’s health. Keats was responding to her letter, which he notes “would rather refresh than trouble,” suggesting that Jane had expressed some concern in her letter that she might merely increase Keats’s anxiety by inquiring about Tom’s health. Such polite people!

We also hear news of Jane’s brother John. He had recently emerged uninjured from a carriage accident. James Hessey wrote to his publishing partner John Taylor that Reynolds “had the happiness to be overturned just opposite his friend Hunts old residence in Horsemonger Lane–no one was materially hurt.” The joke there about “Hunts old residence” refers to the jail in which Leigh and John Hunt were held between 1813 and 1815 for their publication of a libel against the Prince Regent. We’re glad that all the Hunts and Reynolds emerged from Horsemonger Lane more-or-less ok.

One other detail of note from today’s letter: Keats mentions “some business with my guardian ‘as was.'” That would be the dastardly Richard Abbey. The business likely concerned Keats’s desire to have Abbey let Fanny Keats visit her brothers in Hampstead. As we wrote with respect to this issue last week, Abbey did relent and allow the visits for a time. But we’ll hear more from him and his villainy! Sorry–we’re not big fans of Abbey here at the KLP. But he makes it so easy to see him as a villain…

Text of today’s letter can be read from Forman’s 1895 edition. The manuscript image below is courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard.

Page 1 of Keats’s 1 September 1818 letter to Jane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.37). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #90: To Fanny Keats, 25 August 1818

Keats writes to Fanny just a brief letter today, with the main goal of letting her know that he’s hoping to see her soon. The problem is that Keats finds it difficult to get to Walthamstow to visit her (because of his own “little Indisposition” as well as Tom’s more serious illness), and Fanny’s guardian Richard Abbey is not too keen on having Fanny go to Hampstead to visit them. Keats did manage to convince Abbey, though, and Fanny visited with John and Tom in Hampstead several times between the end of August and early October. Two things conspired to bring those visits to an end: Tom’s health continued to worsen after the first week of October, and Abbey decided that the influence of the Keats brothers and their friends were not good for Fanny. During one of her visits to Hampstead, Keats brought Fanny to see some of his friends (probably at Wentworth Place). Abbey essentially cut off the visits after that point, which also coincided with Tom’s more dire condition. Marie Adami, Fanny’s biographer, deduces that Fanny’s last visit with Tom “cannot have been later than the first few days of October.”

We’ll see plenty more of the conflict between Abbey and Keats. Today’s letter represents the clearest suggestion yet that Abbey will take actions to limit Fanny’s contact with her siblings. Not cool, Abbey. Not cool.

Lastly, we hear again about Keats’s intention to buy Fanny a flageolet as a present, which he says he’ll have ready for her by the time she visits Hampstead. So the big question is: did Fanny ever get her flageolet? And did she help to soothe Tom and John’s spirits by piping a few ditties while the three siblings sat together during those autumn days? One hopes so.

Text of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1895 edition. The manuscript, along with most of the letters to Fanny Keats, is at the British Library. We’ll try to get images eventually!

Letter #89: To Fanny Keats, 19 August 1818

Keats arrived back in London on the evening of 18 August 1818, via the George, which departed Cromarty on 8 August. He arrived at the Dilkes’ at Wentworth Place looking, according to Mrs. Dilke, “as brown and as shabby as you can imagine; scarcely any shoes left, his jacket all torn at the back, a fur cap, a great plaid, and his knapsack.” Well, who can blame him. It’d been quite the journey!

At some point the next day he sat down to write of his return to his sister Fanny. He begins by apologizing for not answering her last letter, which she had sent on 12 June. Since the letter had to follow Keats around Scotland, it didn’t reach him in Inverness until the time he was about to depart for London. So we’ll let his delinquency slide this time. For the rest of 1818 Fanny will receive much more regular correspondence from her eldest brother. In part this is because of Tom’s continued decline and his death at the beginning of December. One suspects that Keats not only wanted to comfort his sister, but also would have himself needed the correspondence with her to help his grieving. After December, John and Fanny are the only two Keats siblings who are not separated by an ocean or by mortality.

In today’s letter it appears that Keats is mostly catching Fanny up on the latest. He tells her of the stories he’ll soon share with her about his travels. And he responds to a number of things she must have written to him in her last. He advises against playing the flageolet, but he says he’ll get one for her if she insists. He promises to get her a copy of Endymion, and another copy of his 1817 volume. He promises as well to speak with Richard Abbey (her guardian) about some situation at her school (“what you say concerning school”). And he notes, “I am sorry for your poor Canary.” Poor canary indeed! We hope Fanny got another pet to comfort her.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Keats mentions his own health as well as Tom’s. He tells Fanny of the “bad sore throat” that led him to cut his trip short, and he also mentions “a confounded tooth ache” that is keeping him from doing much writing and from visiting her in Walthamstow. It’s tempting to see nothing but doom-and-gloom when it comes to Keats’s health from here on out. But let’s resist that temptation and remember that Keats isn’t quite at death’s door just yet. There’s plenty of vitality that he’ll display in the letters to come over the next two years, so we don’t want to overemphasize the significance of the “sore throat” too much just because we know how the story ends. Much remains possible as Keats embarks on his last phase of writing as 1818 begins to approach its end.

Text of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1895 edition. The manuscript, along with most of the letters to Fanny Keats, is at the British Library. No images for you yet–sorry!

Letter #88: To Mrs. Wylie, 6 August 1818

The last extant letter from Keats’s northern tour is written to George Keats’s mother-in-law, Ann Amelia Wylie (neé Griffin). You’ll perhaps recall that the tour began at the same time that George and Georgiana Wylie Keats left for America. It’s no surprise, then, that Keats would want to keep in touch with Mrs. Wylie while she was cut off from communication with her daughter and new son-in-law. (It wasn’t until the middle of October that a letter from the Keatses sent from America arrived in London.) As he writes here, “I wish above all things, to say a word of Comfort to you.” As Keats is so often wont to do, he also recognizes the inherent limitations of the epistolary medium. Of his wish to “say a word of Comfort,” he adds that: “I know not how.  It is impossible to prove that black is white, It is impossible to make out, that sorrow is joy or joy is sorrow.” And yet he proceeds to try to offer that comfort anyway.

His primary method of conveying comfort: humor! Today’s letter is Keats at his comedic best. And it’s really too bad that the only source we have for the letter is John Jeffrey. If you don’t find Keats funny here, then you should probably blame it on Jeffrey for not transcribing correctly. But if you do find it funny, well then Jeffrey did a fine job! Anyway, read the letter and see for yourself. And then go read the KLP’s own Michael Theune’s response to the letter. It was initially published on Voltage Poetry almost five years ago, which demonstrates that Theune has for a long time been an acolyte of comedic Keats. Enjoy!

You can read text of the letter from the original post as it appeared on Voltage Poetry, or you can find it here via Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters. Images below (from Jeffrey’s transcript) are courtesy Houghton Library at Harvard.

Page 1 of Jeffrey’s transcript of Keats’s 6 August 1818 letter to Mrs. Wylie. MS Keats 3.9 (Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Page 2 of Jeffrey’s transcript of Keats’s 6 August 1818 letter to Mrs. Wylie. MS Keats 3.9 (Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Page 3 of Jeffrey’s transcript of Keats’s 6 August 1818 letter to Mrs. Wylie. MS Keats 3.9 (Houghton Library, Harvard University).

Letter #87: To Tom Keats, 3-6 August 1818

And so Keats comes to the end of his Northern Tour. It’s been quite the adventure. 600+ miles of walking over the course of about five weeks isn’t too shabby. Turns out some of the hardest miles came towards the end. Today’s letter to Tom focuses primarily on Keats and Brown’s ascent of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. The description that “it is almost like a fly crawling up a wainscoat” pretty well captures the magnitude of the task. Despite the difficulty, Keats seems in good spirits recounting the climb. This letter is a regular laugh right (as is another he writes to Mrs Wylie, the mother of Georgiana Keats, later in the day). So we’ll just let you get right to the letter! And then stay tuned for an essay from KLP co-founder Anne McCarthy on Keats’s relationship with “Ah mio Ben.”

“Ah mio Ben.” Looks like a walk in the park!

The manuscript of the letter resides at Harvard. Images courtesy of Houghton Library below. For a print version of the letter, head over to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition.

Page 1 of Keats’s 3, 6 August 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.36). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 3, 6 August 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.36). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 3, 6 August 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.36). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 3, 6 August 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.36). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #86: To Tom Keats, 23-26 July 1818

Today’s letter finds Keats and Brown heading to the Isle of Mull, Iona, Staffa, and eventually back again to Oban. We are treated to Keats’s extensive description of Fingal’s Cave, which he describes as such, and which we include at length, since it’s pretty fantastic:

it is entirely a hollowing out of Basalt Pillars. Suppose now the Giants who rebelled against Jove had taken a whole Mass of black Columns and bound them together like bunches of matches–and then with immense Axes had made a cavern in the body of these columns–of course the roof and floor must be composed of the broken ends of the Columns–such is Fingal’s Cave except that the Sea has done the work of excavations and is continually dashing there–so that we walk along the sides of the cave on the pillars which are left as if for convenient Stairs–the roof is arched somewhat gothic wise and the length of some of the entire side pillars is 50 feet–About the island you might seat an army of Men each on a pillar–The length of the Cave is 120 feet and from its extremity the view into the sea through the large Arch at the entrance–the colour of the colums is a sort of black with a lurking gloom of purple therin–For solemnity and grandeur it far surpasses the finest Cathedrall–

After the long prose description, we also find Keats venturing into a bit of verse. While Keats apologizes for it (“I am sorry I am so indolent as to write such stuff as this”), this particular KLP editor finds its rather intriguing. Like much of the poetry written during the tour, it’s an odd mix of Keats’s typical subject matter (poetry, fame, literary predecessors) with a comic tone that he seemed not to quite perfect. The premise, though, is actually quite funny: Lycidas, “Fam’d in funeral Minstrelsey” has appointed himself “Pontif Priest” of the place, where “Finny palmer’s great and small / Come to pay devotion due”–but now Lycidas has decided to depart because the place has been spoiled by all those dastardly tourists! Before diving into the water, he laments that “‘T is now free to stupid face / To cutters and to fashion boats / To cravats and to Petticoats.” Ok, we’ve now decided that the poem is actually a fantastic comic success.

Amidst his playful indolence, Keats also seems to feel ready to head home. Towards the end of the letter, he tells Tom, “I assure you I often long for a seat and a Cup o’ tea at well Walk–especially now that mountains, castles and Lakes are becoming common to me.” Just two more letters to come before Keats will choose to make his way back toward Well Walk. And stay tuned for a response from Karin Murray-Bergquist which parallels some of her recent travels in Scotland with Keats’s own reflections in this letter to Tom!

Images of the letter are below courtesy of Harvard. And for a print version we direct you once again to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 single-volume edition.

Page 1 of Keats’s 23, 26 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.35). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 23, 26 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.35). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 23, 26 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.35). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 23, 26 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.35). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #85: To Benjamin Bailey, 18-22 July 1818

It’s tempting to attribute great significance to every word written in Keats’s correspondence–some may go so far as to create an entire website dedicated to chronicling each and every letter as they hit their bicentennials! What fools or knaves would do such a thing?? Anyway, we every once in a while get a reminder from Keats himself that these documents are product of a particular moment, and the sentiments contained therein might have persisted in their author only as long as it took to write them out. One such reminder comes in today’s letter to Benjamin Bailey.

If you look back at the previous two letters to Bailey (21, 25 May and 10 June), you’ll notice that Keats was a bit down in the dumps when writing them. Heck, if you take everything Keats says in those letters with utmost seriousness, you’d probably conclude that Keats was in the midst of a deep depression. And perhaps he was. But it’s worth viewing his statements like “I am in that temper that if I were under Water I would scarcely kick to come to the top” and “now I am never alone without rejoicing that there is such a thing as death” in the context of his epistolary habits as a whole and his habits in letters to Bailey specifically. When writing to Bailey, Keats often ventures into his most serious philosophical ruminations. As he writes again and again, though–both to Bailey and to others–Keats conceived of himself as a playful, speculative, and inconsistent thinker. Here’s what he says on the matter in today’s letter: “I carry all matters to an extreme–so that when I have any little vexation it grows in five Minutes into a theme for Sophocles–then and in that temper if I write to any friend I have so little selfpossession that I give him matter for grieving at the very time perhaps when I am laughing at a Pun.” This conundrum is endemic to letter-writing. It’s what Charles Lamb, as Elia, will call the “solecism of two presents.” Letters are written in one moment and read in another. Keats may write while in the depths of despair, but by the time Bailey reads the letter, Keats has moved on to laughing at a pun! Let’s keep Keats’s caution in mind, then: “I know my own disposition so well that I am certain of writing many times hereafter in the same strain to you–now you know how far to believe in them.”

Which brings us to the main subject of Keats’s letter: his sense that he has “not a right feeling towards Women.” We’ve come across the topic before, but today’s comment is the most extensive offered thus far in the correspondence. Keats claims that “When I am among Women I have evil thoughts, malice spleen–I cannot speak or be silent–I am full of Suspicions and therefore listen to no thing–I am in a hurry to be gone.” Why does he feel this way in the company of women? Is it just your garden-variety nineteenth-century misogyny? Well, surely that’s some part of it, but Keats does show some level of self-awareness about the origin of his feelings, and the unfairness of his having them. First, he ponders if his “suspicions” emerge from being acculturated in a particular way since youth–namely, the notion that “a fair Woman” is “a pure Goddess,” which leads him to “expect more than their reality.” Keats recognizes that he has “no right” to such an expectation. But nonetheless, he feels malice and spleen when in the company of real women who “fall so far beneath [his] Boyish imagination.” To his credit, he at least recognizes that he “must absolutely get over this.”

The question to which he does not yet have an answer is how to get over it. As he notes, “an obstinate Prejudice can seldom be produced but from a gordian complication of feelings, which must take time to unravell and care to keep unravelled.” To what extent Keats succeeded in so doing can perhaps be gleaned from continuing with his letters over the next several years. Of course, the letters to Fanny Brawne are notable for exactly the kind of “obstinate Prejudice” he’s already aware of here in summer 1818, several months before meeting Fanny. So maybe the gordian knot remained a bit tangled. And maybe after writing this letter he changed his thinking on the matter completely, as he claims he is wont to do. The commingling of seriousness and play is already there in the letter itself, after all. As we so often find with Keats, there’s a moment of levity to accompany his serious contemplations: “I do think better of Womankind than to suppose they care whether Mister John Keats five feet hight likes them or not.”

In terms of the tour with Brown and how it proceeds, Keats actually connects their travels with the desire to rid himself of prejudice: “I should not have consented to myself these four Months tramping in the highlands but that I thought it would give me more experience, rub off more Prejudice, use [me] to more hardship, identify finer scenes load me with grander Mountains, and strengthen my reach in Poetry, than would stopping at home among Books even though I should reach Homer.” As he and Brown approached the end of their journey, it certainly seems that Keats had become accustomed to hardship. And if his poetry of the next year is any indication, his reach in it was extended just a wee bit.

The letter currently resides at Harvard. Images below courtesy of Houghton Library. A print version of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1895 edition.

Page 1 of Keats’s 18, 22 July 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.34). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 18, 22 July 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.34). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 18, 22 July 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.34). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 18, 22 July 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.34). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #84: To Tom Keats, 17-21 July 1818

It’s fairly common for chroniclers of Keats’s life to point toward summer and fall of 1818 as the true beginning of the tragic phase that will end with Keats’s death in February 1821. Yes, he soon comes down with a sore throat that will force him to cut short his trip with Brown, and he will return to find Tom’s health at its worst yet, and we’ll soon enter the “living year” during which Keats will write the majority of his great poems, many of which are pitched in at least a somewhat tragic key. And yet, despite all the stress and suffering attendant to their travels in the north, Keats and Brown seem to be having a lot of fun. So let’s not don permanently the tragedy mask–comedy is alive and well here in summer 1818!

The opening bit of playfulness finds Keats (allegedly with Brown’s wit driving him) engaged in one of his more ribald moments. Many editors have blushed at or shown themselves a bit too innocent to fully pick up on what Keats and Brown are putting down. Forman in 1895 chooses to cut most of the place-name puns while adding this note: “The passages omitted consist of somewhat incoherent strings of place-names arranged apparently with an ulterior view to puns; [that’s one way of putting it!] but the intention is not quite clear, and the sentence ends abruptly without any construction as far as I can make out.” Rollins in 1958 tries his best, but we’ll go with Jon Mee’s suggestion that “Corry stone Water” out to be “Cony stone Water,” playing on Coniston Water in the Lake District, as opposed to Corrystone in Scotland. The boyish imagination appears to have been going strong the day before Keats would coin that term in his letter to Bailey.

Keats’s opening passage of ribaldry, with help (apparently) from Brown.

Jon Mee’s note about the passage, from his Selected Letters (Oxford, 2002), including his thoughts on the embarrassment of previous editors.

As the letter continues over the course of five days, Keats’s good humor continues. It is interspersed with some moments of complaint, but on the whole, we’d say the comedy mask wins out in the end. Two comic poems are included here, one on the gadfly, which Keats says has “been at me ever since I left the Swan and two necks” (i.e. since leaving London at the end of June). The second poem is a sonnet mulling the “dainty” sound of the bagpipes. Remember, then, when you’re tempted to ascribe to Keats intimations of his own early death and all the other tragic things that will befall him, in the moment he was living his life and often having a jolly time so doing. It’s all fine and good to talk about Keats’s commingling of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, life and death–but all too often, in our humble opinion, we end up more than half in love with the latter elements at the expense of the former ones.

And now we will descend from our hobby horse and present you with Keats’s letter, via Forman’s 1895 edition (minus some of the bawdier puns). You’ll notice that Forman provides a facsimile of Keats’s sketch of Loch Lomond from early in the letter. Not a bad little drawing! Once you’ve read the letter, check out Evan Gottlieb’s response to it, which emphasizes and explores some of Keats’s humor, while also drawing some parallels to Gottlieb’s own experiences traveling around Europe here in anno Domini 2018.

Keats’s sketch of Loch Lomond, reproduced in Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters.

Letter #83: To Tom Keats, 10-14 July 1818

Keats and Brown continue to cover lots of ground, making their way from Ballantrae on 10 July to Glasgow by the evening of the 13th. That’s about 70 miles over four days, so not too shabby! As we learned from yesterday’s letter and Daniel Cook’s response to it, that journey passed through the “Bardies Country,” where our travelers made a pilgrimage to Burns’s cottage and other sites connected with the poet. Today’s letter to Tom describes the visit in less detail, while also offering more thoughts on the surrounding country, the characters of the Irish and the Scottish people, and the experience of being greeted upon entering Glasgow by a drunk man who needs to be scared off with threats of alerting the authorities.

As Kerri Andrews details in her response, we can gather a good sense of Keats’s complicated relationship to Scotland from this letter to Tom. He opens the letter with an attempt at mimicking a folk ballad; he spends lots of time describing the natural environs (including his sonnet on Ailsa Rock); and, of course, he wrestles with his feelings about Burns’s legacy after the disappointing visit to Burns’s cottage and the disappointing sonnet Keats felt compelled to write there (but disliked it so much that he didn’t even both to copy it out for Tom).

There’s a bit of a break in Keats’s correspondence over the next few days: he begins his next letter to Tom on 17 July, and doesn’t send it until the 21st. Was there perhaps another letter written in the interval but which has not survived? Alas, the other letters do not provide any clues. But we do have today’s letter to Tom, which is held at the British Library, having made its way there via Benjamin Robert Haydon, who kept it in his diary along with several other Keats letters. The diary was purchased by Maurice Buxton Forman in 1932. He sold some of the letters that were in Haydon’s diary, but this letter to Tom he presented to the British Library in 1939. His father, Harry Buxton Forman, was the first to publish the Keats materials from Haydon’s diary, in his 1883 edition of Keats’s complete works. You can read today’s letter to Tom via the elder Forman’s 1895 edition here. Images of the letter come from the British Library, and can also be accessed here.

Page 1 of Keats’s 10-14 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Courtesy of the British Library.

Page 2 of Keats’s 10-14 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Courtesy of the British Library.

Page 3 of Keats’s 10-14 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Courtesy of the British Library.

Page 4 of Keats’s 10-14 July 1818 letter to Tom Keats. Courtesy of the British Library.

Letter #82: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 11-13 July 1818

Keats’s encounters with the legacy of Robert Burns continue as he moves through “the Bardies Country.” He begins this letter to Reynolds by first holding back on the detailed descriptions he’s become accustomed to giving his other correspondents, and of which he ‘s grown tired of writing. Instead he gives the beginning of the journey in the manner of the “Laputan printing press”: a bunch of words stitched together, and now Reynolds has their “journey thus far”!

The main focus of today’s letter is the visit to Burns’s cottage, a visit which is not exactly what Keats had in mind, it seems. As Daniel Cook writes in response to the letter, even though Keats wasn’t pleased with the sonnet he wrote while at the cottage, he was nonetheless significantly affected by his travels through Scotland, and his time spent contemplating one of his poetic idols. So with that we’ll turn it over to Daniel Cook, who goes into much more detail about Keats, Burns, and “the Bardies Country.”

The letter, as with most letters to Reynolds, exists only via a Richard Woodhouse transcript, which you can view in the images below (courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library). A print version of the letter can be found here, in Forman’s 1895 edition.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 11, 13 July 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 11, 13 July 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 11, 13 July 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 11, 13 July 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.