Letter #27: To Jane and Mariane Reynolds, 14 September 1817

Wow. What a letter. There is so much in this letter. Despite its amazing features, today’s letter is not particularly well known. The KLP thinks it’s fair to say that the letter is an overlooked one. But it really shouldn’t be! It’s got the funnies; it’s got Shakespeare; it’s got playful teasing; it’s got a letter-within-a-letter delivered by Endymion from the bottom of the sea! In short, it’s got it all. So prepare to be blown away.

As the KLP has been of late obsessing over the possible provenances of the letters Keats wrote to the Reynolds sisters, we ought to say a word or two thereon here. Yesterday we mentioned that today’s letter is the only one (of five) to Jane and/or Mariane which made its way into Milnes’s 1848 collection (although he publishes only excerpts, and without identifying the sisters by name). Milnes had access to the letter via John Taylor, Keats’s publisher, and, after the poet’s death, an effective collector and preserver of Keatsiana. Today’s MS was sold at auction in 1903 along with many other Keats-related materials, and then through Amy Lowell the letter became part of Harvard’s collection in 1925.

As befits a letter which features a fictional character from Keats’s poem delivering a scroll from Keats to the Reynolds sisters through submarine courier service… the actual MS letter took a circuitous path before finding its recipients. The letter was addressed to Little Hampton but was missent to Minchinhampton! We know this because of the postage marks visible on the fourth image included below. What that means is that the letter first traveled west from Oxford before the mistake was discovered, at which point the letter then traveled south toward Little Hampton. If we here at the KLP knew a bit more about postal routes in 1817 we could tell you more–but alas, we simply have not world enough, nor time, to figure that out right now!

To guide you along the winding mossy ways of today’s wonderful letter, we have a response from Rosie Whitcombe. In it she deftly catalogues Keats’s “epistolary thicket of alternate personae.” After reading the letter, make sure you follow Whitcombe to the bottom of the sea and back as well!

We often guide you to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition of Keats’s works for a readable and well-edited edition in the public domain, but in this case it appears that Forman had only Milnes’s excerpt of today’s letter as the basis for his text in 1883. However, by 1895, when Forman published a one volume edition of Keats’s letters, he appears to have accessed either the MS or the Woodhouse transcript of the letter (if you’re so inclined to compare Forman’s printed text to both the MS and Woodhouse’s transcript, please do so and let us know your conclusions!). So we direct you to that edition if you have yet to find the pure joy that comes from reading Keats’s letters in his own hand via digital reproductions of them. Otherwise, enjoy these images courtesy of Harvard (click the images for larger sizes, and to download).

Page 1 of Keats’s 14 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.11). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 14 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.11). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 14 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.11). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 14 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.11). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #26: To Jane Reynolds, September 1817

The fragmentary and odd letters just keep on coming as September rolls on! Today we have another letter to Jane Reynolds, and as with the letter from 4 September, this one shares space with Benjamin Bailey. Remember that Keats at this time was staying in Oxford with Bailey, and the two were “lead[ing] very industrious lives,” as Keats wrote to Fanny on 10 September. The nature of their industry seemed to include Bailey engaging in his studies (especially reading his beloved Jeremy Taylor), Keats making progress with Endymion, and both writing plenty of correspondence. Today’s fragment again demonstrates Keats’s playfulness, and it also points toward the extent to which he at times falls into a regular back-and-forth with his correspondents. Most of what Keats writes in this letter is either in response to something Jane had written previously, or it anticipates future responses from her. Keats also promises that he will write a longer letter soon (“I hope to attack you in a very short time–more at length–“), which we know he does on 14 September. More on that one on Thursday.

The provenance of today’s letter reveals relatively little. However, the KLP never hesitates to entertain a bit of wild surmise! Here’s what we know: the letter was owned by William Thomas Hildrup Howe, an American collector active in the early-20th century. After he died in 1939, his collection of manuscripts and books was acquired by Albert Berg (in 1940), who would go on to donate thousands of items to the New York Public Library (where today’s letter still resides). What we don’t know is how, um, Howe came into possession of it, nor do we know when he did, nor where he did. It had to have been before 1925, because the letter was first published in Amy Lowell’s biography of Keats published that year.

What sort of surmises might we make, wild or otherwise? As we learned from the 4 Sept letter, after Bailey’s courting of Mariane Reynolds went south, he asked for her to return the correspondence Bailey had had with her. Since today’s letter was addressed solely to Jane, it seems uncertain if it would have been among those returned letters. If it had been, it may have followed a similar path of sale as that we saw with the 4 Sept letter. It seems more likely, however, that today’s letter remained in Jane’s possession. Of the five extant letters to Jane Reynolds (one of which is also addressed to Mariane Reynolds), only one of them makes it into publication in Milnes’s 1848 volume. It did so because the letter was in the possession of John Taylor, and remained in his family until the early-20th century, when it and many other Keats papers were auctioned. The other four letters seem to have moved through private sellers in the mid-to-late-19th and early-20th centuries.

One final thought about the possibilities for how this letter might have circulated before arriving at its permanent home in the New York Public Library. In 1825 Jane Reynolds married Thomas Hood. The two were active in literary circles in London, and it seems plausible that at some point during their next two decades (Hood died in 1845, and Jane the year after) they would have shared with friends the letters sent to Jane by Keats, whose reputation during that period steadily grew and expanded beyond the bounds of his own circle of friends and supports. Perhaps at some point they gave the letters away as gifts. However it happened, the letters eventually passed on to other owners (either through sale or otherwise). And that’s all the KLP can say on the matter!

So end the wild surmises. But the fun continues with a special treat. For a response to this letter, the co-hosts of This Week in Keats (Brian Rejack and Mike Theune) are debuting a shorter-format video, appropriately titled “This Day in Keats.” Enjoy!

Keats’s letter to Jane Reynolds, courtesy Google Books.

Letter #25: To Fanny Keats, 10 September 1817

Another significant first for today: Keats’s first of many lovely letters written to his sister Fanny. Readers of the letters tend to agree that the Keats we see on display in his letters to his sister is one of the most caring and kind versions of the poet. Fanny was just 14 years old when Keats wrote her this first letter. His solicitude as the eldest of the Keats siblings looking out for his young sister clearly comes across. We daresay that Keats behaves in this letter (and later ones to Fanny) “in a way befitting a brother.”

In addition to his kindness, Keats’s playfulness shines through with great frequency in his letters to Fanny. Towards the end of this letter he bemoans the tendency in English education to privilege instruction in the French language (“perhaps the poorest one ever spoken since the jabbering in the Tower of Babel”) over that in Italian (a language “full of real Poetry and Romance”). Keats concludes with an image of youngsters having instruction in French “cramm’d down our Mouths, as if we were young Jack daws at the mercy of an overfeeding Schoolboy.” Maybe not Keats at his funniest (and the KLP begs to differ about the poetry and musicality of the French language), but it’s a good taste of the kind of jocular tone he tends to adopt when corresponding with Fanny.

Keats concludes this letter by suggesting that he and Fanny each save all their correspondence for posterity’s sake (“You will preserve all my Letters and I will secure yours”). Turns out Fanny took this advice. In 1826 she married Valentin Maria Llanos y Gutierrez. After living for a few years in England, she left England in 1833 and lived the rest of her life in Spain. During that time she kept her letters safe, and, after corresponding with Harry Buxton Forman regularly in the late 1870s and early 1880s, arranged for publication of the letters for the first time in Forman’s 1883 edition of Keats’s collected writings. After Fanny died in 1889, her daughter Rosa Keats de Llanos provided the letters (through the care of Forman) to the British Museum. Today they remain at the British Library–in all, 42 letters.

So here we are at letter number 1 to Fanny Keats! We’ll have many more over the next few years, in large part thanks to Fanny’s life-long impulse to preserve the letters and eventually ensure that they make their way into literary history. They now form one of the most significant parts of Keats’s epistolary legacy.

Letter #24: To John Hamilton Reynolds, September 1817

Today’s letter exists only in a fragmentary form. Presumably during one of the first few days of Keats’s visit to Benjamin Bailey at Oxford, Keats wrote to Reynolds to inform him of his arrival. In that letter he included these playful verses offering some initial observations on the place.

Keats’s verses on Oxford, from his letter to Reynolds.

This particular copy of the poem comes from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition of Keats’s complete writings. Forman got the text from a letter written by Charles Brown to his friend Henry Snook in March 1820. As you can see from the bit of the letter above the poem, Brown says he had just come across the lines for the first time in spring 1820, almost three years after they were first written. Brown may have seen them from the letter itself, probably then still in Reynolds’s possession, but to the KLP it seems more likely that he encountered another copy of the verses. Brown says nothing about the context on the poem provided in the letter.

So how do we know about this letter? Well, our indefatigable Keats-chronicler, Richard Woodhouse, made two transcriptions of the poem, and in his copies, he added Keats’s setup for the verses: “Wordsworth sometimes, though in a fine way, gives us sentences in the style of school exercises–for instance ‘The lake doth glitter / Small birds twitter’ &c. Now I think this is an excellent method of giving a very clear description of an interesting place such as Oxford is–”

One of Woodhouse’s two transcriptions, with the two-sentence setup for Keats’s poem.

Sadly for us, Woodhouse did not copy the entire letter. His transcripts are found not among his other copies of Keats’s letters, but in the two notebooks he used for Keats’s poems. Alas. At least we have these two sentences preserved from the letter. If we had only Brown’s letter as the source for the poem, the KLP would likely not be talking about the text as a letter.

Below you’ll find the two images of Woodhouse’s transcripts, courtesy of Harvard. For a response to this fragment of this letter, the co-hosts of This Week in Keats (Brian Rejack and Mike Theune) have been co-writing a poem in imitation of Keats’s imitation of Wordsworth, chronicling Rejack and Theune’s adventures in Oxford during a visit in summer 2015. The poem (and pictures!) will be forthcoming next week. Since the date of the letter is uncertain (and *not* because Brian and Mike are slow composers of poetry), we feel justified in delaying the response until next week. More soon!

Keats’s poem, as copied by Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.1). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Keats’s poem, as copied again by Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #23: To Jane and Mariane Reynolds, 4 September 1817

Today marks the beginning of a series of letters written by Keats during his stay at Oxford with Benjamin Bailey. Many of these letters are sent to members of the Reynolds family, including today’s letter, the first extent letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds, two of the sisters of John Hamilton Reynolds (the recipient of several letters we’ve encountered previously–see here, and here, and here). During the summer Keats had spent significant time with the Reynoldses, as he indicated in last week’s letter, and including a dinner engagement with them just a day or two before heading to Oxford. As Keats departed for Oxford, the Reynolds sisters also embarked on a journey: they would be doing a bit of late-summer seaside vacationing at Littlehampton.

As we at the KLP are wont to draw attention to firsts of various kinds, we should note that today’s letter is the first of Keats’s sent to female correspondents. Keats himself will regularly note his anxiety about women, as in a letter to Bailey in July 1818 where he writes, “I am certain I have not a right feeling towards Women.” Some of that “not right feeling” is on display in the letter to Jane and Mariane, which is at times affectionate and playful, but at others condescending and mean. That Keats condescends in a self-conscious, slightly self-deprecatory way, however, only highlights his own awareness of his anxiety. So at least he knows he’s being a jerk?? But come on–be nice, JK!

Now, one other factor that may influence his anxiety: Keats has a co-correspondent here. At the top of this letter are several lines written by Benjamin Bailey, and later crossed out rather rigorously. Bailey was at this time courting Mariane, although it seems Keats did not know as much just yet. One wonders what Bailey had to say in his opening half of the letter, and how it might have affected Keats’s own part in the correspondence.

As can be seen from the images of the letter, it’s likely that Bailey wrote not only the few lines at the top of the page which remains, but also filled the first two pages of an adjoining leaf. Recall that Keats’s letters (as would have been true of other letters during this period) were typically written on four sides of two conjugate leaves of paper (or think of it as one sheet folded in half to make a mini-booklet of four pages and two leaves). So, Bailey would have begun the letter, filled the front and back of the first leaf completely, and then finished his message on the top of the second leaf. Although the crossed out lines are almost completely illegible, it seems to the KLP that after Bailey’s struck-through signature, we have a brief post-script that concludes with “Keats.” Thus, Bailey probably wrote something like, “and now I’ll turn things over to Keats.”

The KLP’s educated guess: Bailey’s signature, then just below it to the left, “Keats,” and then Keats’s part of the letter clearly begins below.

“Ah!” you ask, “but what happened to that other leaf??” Well, here’s the KLP’s best guess on that one. In a letter to George and Georgiana in early 1819, Keats explains how the Bailey-Mariane Reynolds drama unfolded: Mariane had rejected a proposal from Bailey sometime in late 1817 or early 1818, but Bailey asked her to give it more thought and reconsider. Meanwhile, having left London after obtaining a curacy at Carlisle, Bailey proceeded to fall in love with a Miss Hamilton Gleig, the sister of one of Bailey’s Oxford classmates. He thereby withdrew his proposal to Mariane, returned her letters and asked for his from her. (Incidentally, Bailey’s conduct in this matter led to the end of his friendship with most of the circle around the Reynoldses. Way to go, Bailey.) Presumably this letter was one of those which Mariane did indeed return to Bailey. After Keats’s death, when Bailey provided much of his correspondence with Keats to John Taylor, he presumably removed the first leaf, crossed out the few lines on the top of the remaining leaf, and sent it on its way. Most of the papers in Taylor’s possession remained in the family until they were sold at auction in 1903 to Bernard Quaritch, soon thereafter purchased by Amy Lowell, and then ultimately bequeathed to Harvard. This letter, however, took a slightly different route, having entered into the possession of a Boston-based collector named William E. Benjamin sometime before March 1886, when he sold it to James R. Osgood. After a few more sales, it eventually wound up with Arthur Houghton, who presented the letter to Harvard.

A final intriguing tidbit: Hyder Edward Rollins notes in his edition of the letters that Bailey’s crossed out lines “fail to reveal their secret to ultra-violet photography.” First, how cool that he (or someone) tried to do so. Second, what additional tools exist now that might be brought to bear on revealing the secret to us? If any DH practitioners want to take a stab at it, please be our guest!

Ok, now comes our admission of guilt… the KLP is a bit “behind hand” with our correspondence right now, as Keats would be at various times. If Keats can fall behind, then we figure we’re allowed some wiggle room too. But fear not, an excellent response from Lauren Neefe is on the way! Once the KLP editorial team catches up again, we’ll have it posted for your reading pleasure. For now, see if you can figure out what Bailey crossed out! Here are the images, courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard.

Page 1 of Keats’s 4 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.10). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 4 Sept 1817 letter to Jane and Mariane Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.10). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #22: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, August 1817

Alas, it may seem now that warm days will never cease, but summer is indeed on its way out, ready to be replaced by autumn (which, we’re told, has its music too, so there’s that). Here at the KLP we’ve been on a bit of a summer break, thanks to a break in extant letters between June 10 and now. In that interval Keats had been hard at work on Endymion, of which he had completed about 2000 lines at this point. He’ll soon depart for Oxford to visit with Benjamin Bailey. During that time he’ll stay hard at work, proceeding through Book III. And unlike during the summer, we will now have a fairly steady stream of letters to keep us busy this fall!

One thing to note here at the KLP about the contingency of letter-writing and what remains of it for us to digest: there’s no doubt that Keats wrote far more letters than those that have survived in one form or another for 200 years. So although the KLP has been silent for a few months, Keats surely wasn’t in summer 1817. If the sole surviving letter from August gives us any hint, Keats was probably quite socially active while also working steadily on Endymion. So in the spirit of active sociability, for the response to today’s letter, we have for your viewing pleasure a new episode of This Week in Keats! We hope you enjoy the hilarity!

Quick details about this letter–we don’t know the exact date of it, but Hyder Edward Rollins suggests it was likely sent on 21 or 28 August 1817. We’re going with the latter date since we wouldn’t have been able to get the TWiK episode to you earlier (sorry!). In any case, in the spirit of accuracy and full transparency, we really only know for sure that the letter was written on “Thursday morning,” and 21 and 28 August are the best Thursday candidates.

Regarding this letter’s provenance, there are a few mysteries worth noting. First, the vast majority of Keats’s letters to Haydon come to us thanks to Haydon’s diligent habit of placing the letters into his diary, which passed down through his family until the early 20th century, when it was purchased by Maurice Buxton Forman. He then removed the Keats letters and sold them to Arthur Houghton, who presented them en masse to Harvard in 1952. A handful of extant letters to Haydon, however, followed different paths. Today’s letter is one of those. According to the Pierpont Morgan Library catalogue (where the MS still resides), the letter was purchased at auction in 1902, again in 1906, and then passed from Frank T. Sabin (a London-based collector) to J. P. Morgan that same year. The question that remains is what happened to the letter between its one-time place in Haydon’s journal in the 1830s-40s and its sale in 1902. The KLP remains agnostic for now.

Because the letter did not follow the same path as many other Haydon letters, which made their way into print in the 19th century, it was not first published until 1925, when Amy Lowell published it in her biography of the poet. Copyright laws being what they are (1923 is so close!), that means no public domain editions exist online. If Google is so kind as you provide a preview of the same pages of Rollins’s edition that it currently provides us, you should be able to read the letter by following this link. As an additional measure, here is a screenshot of the letter (the KLP legal team, to the best of its knowledge, believes such sharing to be within the purview of fair use).

Keats’s letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon, Aug 1817 (probably 21 or 28 Aug)

Letter #21: To John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey, 10 June 1817

Today we encounter another letter focused on money issues. And just as we saw a month back with Keats’s 16 May letter to Taylor and Hessey, Keats again broaches the topic with some awkward attempts at humor. Really, this 10 June letter is a weird one. The main weirdness springs from Keats’s odd conceit of being a “Maiden” on the topic of money matters, anxious about losing his “virginity” by requesting money from his new publishers. As David Sigler points out in his virtuosic, rollicking response to the letter, it’s perhaps not the most effective way of asking for a loan in these circumstances. If you don’t laugh out loud while following along as Sigler ponders what Keats was thinking in crafting his financial request, then you might just hate laughter. And as is befitting of the author of Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism, Sigler examines the structure of Keats’s desire in the letter, and in so doing, he suggests it offers a tantalizing (though disappointing) first draft of The Eve of St. Agnes (with Keats himself in the place of the virginal Madeline). From a short letter concerning anxieties over scarce resources, Sigler creates a wealth of delightful insights for us to enjoy as we read.

In the spirit of commemoration, we thought we should also point out some intriguing details about this letter’s provenance. As remarked upon before, the majority of the letters between Keats and his publishers were sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1903, and thereafter purchased by Amy Lowell, who bequeathed her Keats collection to Harvard in 1925. Well, since we’re talking about money, you might be interested to know that the Keats letters in Taylor’s possession (29 of them) were sold in one lot, to Bernard Quaritch, for the sum of £1070. Not too shabby! Using the MeasuringWorth calculator (thanks to David Sigler for bringing this tool to our attention in his post), that amount in 1903 would correspond to anywhere between £100,000 and £1,100,000 today (depending on what sort of estimate one uses). Come to think of it, I’d say that lot was a steal! The KLP would gladly pay that much for just one letter, let alone 29…

But what was that about commemoration, you ask? Well, today’s letter was sold on 8 or 9 June 1903, so almost exactly 86 years after it was first written. Another Keats treat did sell through Sotheby’s on 10 June: copies of all three of Keats’s books published in his lifetime. According to the advertisement in the Athenaeum of 6 June 1903, the “valuable Library of a Gentleman living in Yorkshire” went up for auction on 10 June, and it included Poems (1817), Endymion (1818), and Lamia, Isabella, and the Eve of St. Agnes (1820). We’ll forgive the Yorkshire gentleman for Poems and Lamia being still uncut when sold in 1903–even if he never read them, at least the books we’re effectively preserved. The books sold for £38, £30, and £60 respectively. Again, what a deal! Ah, to have been alive and moderately wealthy in 1903.

While the KLP pines away for Keatsiana sold long ago, we encourage you to forget any such troubles by reading Dr. Sigler’s response to cure whatever might ail you. The MS images, once again, come to us from Houghton Library at Harvard. And Forman’s 1883 edition once again supplies a decent public domain printed edition. Careful readers will note, however, that Forman excises the opening line for fear of his reader’s delicate sensibilities. And technically, since Forman didn’t have the MS, it’s really Milnes’s fault, since he made the excision in 1848, and Forman was just following Milnes’s text. No delicate sensibilities here! Keats begins with this opening: “I must endeavor to lose my Maidenhead with respect to money Matters as soon as possible–and I will to–So here goes.”


And one quick programming note before we go: there will be a bit of a letter hiatus after today. No more letters for summer until August! In the interim period, however, be on the lookout for other features, including a report on the Keats conference recently held at the Keats House in Hampstead, more pedagogy features, and another episode of This Week in Keats!