Letter #108: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 20 December 1818

We know that Keats got himself in a bit of a sticky situation regarding Christmas invites (see his letter to Charlotte Reynolds from a few days back). Today’s letter involves another declined invitations, but it seems this one was rather easier for Keats to get out off. This letter to Haydon involves just a few lines in which Keats explains that he “had an engagement today,” and as such, he would not be able to dine with Haydon. He promises to do so the next day when, he tells Haydon, “we will hate the profane vulgar & make us Wings.” One hopes that they enjoyed their flights of fancy that day!

Text of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1901 edition of Keats’s complete works (where he has the letter dated as 2 January 1819). Images of the manuscript below come courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard.

Keats’s 20 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.42). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #107: To Fanny Keats, 18 December 1818

As we have occasionally remarked since encountering the first of Keats’s letters to Fanny, most of those manuscripts were given by her (through Harry Buxton Forman) to the British Museum towards the end of her life. Those forty-two letters now reside at the British Library. However, there are a few others that took different paths into public existence. Today’s letter is one of three such letters.

For background on these letters, we direct you to Maurice Buxton Forman’s piece in the Times Literary Supplement from 4 October 1934. The details of how Fanny kept these three letters in her possession is outlined as such:

From the Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1934.

The two letters “regard as of too sacred and personal a nature for publications during her lifetime” we’ll come to later this spring and in fall of 2020, respectively. But the third, as Forman notes, was written by Keats on the back of a letter written by Mrs. Dilke to Fanny on 18 December 1818. Keats appears to have added his brief note on that same day, although the letter was not posted until a few days later, 21 December (as indicated by the postage marks).

The content of Keats’s note is, much like other ones to Fanny around this time, mostly concerned with apologizing for not seeing her as often as he would have liked. He promises to come see her the following week. As we’ll see when we get into early 1819, obstacles continued to be placed in between the siblings, primarily by Fanny’s guardian Richard Abbey. But Keats would persist and write on an almost biweekly basis to his sister for much of 1819.

The brief note, along with additional contextual information, we reproduced below from Forman’s TLS article in 1934. This piece marked the first publication of all three letters from Keats to Fanny which had not made their way to the British Museum through the elder Forman a few decades prior.

From the Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1934.

Letter #106: To Richard Woodhouse, 18 December 1818

A fascinating letter from Keats to Woodhouse, not so much for the content of the letter as for the context it alludes to. Some background, then. Woodhouse had a cousin named Mary Frogley, whom the Keats brothers had known through their friendship with George Felton Mathew (and his cousins, Ann and Caroline). Earlier in 1818 Frogley had borrowed Woodhouse’s copy of Endymion. She and her future husband, Henry Neville, asked Woodhouse for more time with the book, explaining that their friends Jane Porter had seen the book on Neville’s table while visiting with him, and asked if she might borrow it from him. After she (and her sister Anna Maria) had read the poem and been pleased with it, the Porters asked if Neville knew the author and might be able to arrange an introduction with him. Through Woodhouse, Neville passed along a letter from Jane Porter in which she expressed this desire.

Keats’s letter to Woodhouse, then, is in response to Porter’s letter and Woodhouse’s offer of making the “introduction to a Class of society, from which you may possible derive advantage as well as gratification, if you think proper to avail yourself of it.” The Porter sisters were already well-established authors, each of them having published several books by this time in 1818. Keats, however, was not overly inclined to make new friends at the moment. We see an increasingly anti-social side of Keats over the next few months: he writes to George and Georgiana in January 1819 of Woodhouse’s offer, and in that same letter he also expresses his frustration with Leigh Hunt and his social circle. So part of Keats’s hesitancy surely results from his desire for a bit of solitude. He writes to Woodhouse, “I have a new leaf to turn over–I must work–I must read–I must write–I am unable to affrod time for new acquaintances–I am scarcely able to do my duty to those I have.”

There is, however, another factor likely at play here. As we’ve seen in the past, and as we’ll see on multiple occasions again in 1819, Keats had an anxious relationship with women writers. One senses his condensation in his letter to Woodhouse: “I must needs feel flattered by making an impression on a set of Ladies–I should be content to do so in meretricious romance verse if they alone and not Men were to judge.” Keats elsewhere associates women’s writing with popularity as against the seriousness of male discourse. One imagines that Keats’s disdain for popularity is in part a result of not achieving it. An easy defense mechanism for the little-read poet is to dismiss more popular writing (in this case, by women) as less significant, less consequential, less serious.

Keats’s disdain comes across more fully when he copies Porter’s letter to George and Georgiana, after which he offers this gloss on the invitation: “Now I feel more obliged than flattered by this–so obliged that I will not at present give you an extravaganza of a Lady Romancer. I will be introduced to them if it be merely for the pleasure of writing to you about it.” One hopes that if Keats had met the Porter sisters, he would have changed his attitude about “Lady Romancers.” Surely he had a thing or two to learn from them if he would have been willing to know them genuinely, and not just as fodder for ridicule.

The letter can be read via Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition here. Below are images of Keats’s letter, as well as Woodhouse’s transcript of the letter from Jane Porter to Henry Neville (both courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library).

Image of Keats's letter to Woodhouse.
Keats’s 18 December 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.41). Houghton Library, Harvard University. Note the signature was at some point cut away.
Image of Jane Porter's letter to Henry Neville as copied by Woodhouse.
Woodhouse’s transcript of Jane Porter’s 4 December 1818 letter to Henry Neville. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #105: To Charlotte Reynolds (née Cox), 15 December 1818

It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: awkward social interactions! We can certainly file today’s letter under that category. Here’s what happened. Keats initially thought he’d end up traveling to Chichester to spend Christmas with the Dilke family (and Charles Brown). Figuring as much, he appeared to have accepted two different invitations for Christmas dinner in London, one from the Reynoldses and one from the Brawnes. Hey, we’ve all been there. Someone asks if you want to do something, and to be polite and kind, you offer up some sort of non-committal, “oooh, that sounds lovely!” But then reality hits and you need to reckon with the impossibility of being in two places at once. Keats’s strategy for handling the situation appears not to have been all that wise.

He writes to Mrs. Reynolds (wife of George, mother of John Hamilton, Jane, Mariane, Eliza, and Charlotte) with this ill-conceived explanation: “When I left you yesterday, ‘t was with the conviction that you thought I had received no previous invitation for Christmas day: the truth is I had, and had accepted it under the conviction that I should be in Hampshire at the time: else believe me I should not have done so, but kept in Mind my old friends.” The problem is that it pits the Reynolds family against the Brawnes, and as we’ll see, the Reynolds sisters in particular ended up resenting Fanny Brawne as she and Keats became more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Keats himself also ended up seeing less and less of the Reynoldses, although his displeasure with them had already surfaced earlier. It’s possible, nay, likely, that Keats actually just preferred to spend Christmas with the Brawnes, and this letter was his attempt at making nice with the Reynoldses while also turning down their invitation. In any case, Keats does spend Christmas with the Brawnes, and, well, you know how things go from there! We’ll have plenty more to hear about young Miss Brawne in the coming months.

A quick note on the provenance of today’s letter. It appears that it remained in the Reynolds family for some time. The first printing of it was in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition, where he notes that he was personally in contact with the youngest sister, also Charlotte, who lived until 1884. Our best guess is that she still owned the letter in 1883 and lent it to Forman for use in his edition. Later the letter was owned by A. S. W. Rosenbach, a collector of rare books and manuscripts who owned a few other Keats items. One of his purchases–of a letter to Fanny Brawne–was memorialized in a cheeky poem by Christopher Morley.

From Chimneysmoke (1921), by Christopher Morley

But we do digress. Today’s letter was acquired by Robert H. Taylor, probably sometime around mid-century (perhaps after Rosenbach’s death in 1952). Taylor bequeathed his collection of materials to Princeton University (his alma mater), where it still resides. For a bit of info on Taylor’s collection and another of Keats’s letters housed within it, check out our post for Keats’s 15 April 1817 letter to George and Tom.

To read the text of the letter, we direct you to Forman’s 1883 edition, where, you’ll notice, he explains his knowledge of the letter coming directly from the younger Charlotte Reynolds.

Letter #104: To Fanny Keats, 30 November 1818

Today marks a sad day for the Keats family. On the morning of 1 December 1818, Tom Keats succumbed to the “family disease” (tuberculosis), which would also take John’s life a few years later, and George’s two decades after that. The only sibling to avoid the same fate was the recipient of today’s letter, Fanny Keats.

Tom’s illness had been progressively worsening since the summer, and Keats had been preparing his other siblings for the news. Back in October Keats wrote to George and Georgiana in America that “[Tom] is no better but much worse.” And his letters to Fanny during the autumn were likewise full of trepidation about their brother’s health. It’s unclear exactly when he wrote this last letter to Fanny before Tom’s death, but it seems clearly intended to prepare her for that eventual fate. He notes that “[Tom] is in a very dangerous state–I have scarce any hopes of him.”

The letter is postmarked at noon on 1 December 1818, which was a few hours after Tom’s death. Fanny Keats’s biographer, Marie Adami, makes the supposition that Keats wrote the letter at some point during the night or early hours of the morning, and then posted the letter on his way to inform Charles Brown of Tom’s passing. Brown took it upon himself to do the difficult work of informing Keats’s friends of the news. He wrote to Richard Woodhouse soon after Keats arrived at Wentworth Place, noting that “Mr Keats requests me to inform you his brother Thomas died this morning at 8 o’Clock quietly & without pain.”

While it may seem odd that after Tom’s death Keats would mail a letter to Fanny indicating that he had “scarce any hopes” of Tom’s recovery. But as Adami points out, the letter demonstrates that amidst his own grief, Keats was thinking of how he might mitigate Fanny’s by preparing her for the worst and planning to break the news to her soon after in person: “Perhaps nowhere so much as in the last words of this letter … are the tenderness of his care for her …. Waiting in the inaction which the last hours of unconsciousness bring to the watcher, he looked beyond them to Fanny, foreseeing her coming grief, bracing her against it. He gave her something to do, he gave her something to hold. Found and set down as they were, it would be hard to imagine words more moving.” One suspects that after dispatching his letter, Keats would have made the trip to Walthamstow to see Fanny, thereby reinforcing his wish that she would “repose entirely in / Your affectionate Brother / John.”

Keats’s life takes a significant turn from this point on. Soon he’ll be living in Wentworth Place with Brown, and soon after that he will begin his relationship with Fanny Brawne. And, of course, let’s not forget the poetry he will write over the next year: the majority of the poems which establish his literary fame as the century proceeds. But for now let’s recall the loss that preceded all those other things, and the moment of kindness Keats showed to his sister, hoping to do at least something to help make her grieving process less painful.

Text of the letter comes from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition (image below). Quick note on the dating of the letter: although Keats indicates “Tuesday morn,” which would have been 1 December, and although the postmark is also for that date, Rollins dates the letter as 30 November, following Adami’s suggestion that Keats wrote the letter the night before.

 

 

Letter #103: To Mrs. Burridge Davenport, November [?] 1818

This brief letter from Keats to the wife of Burridge Davenport (we’re unable to confirm her first name at this point) poses several tricky questions. First, as the question mark above suggests, there is the date. The letter appears to have been first published in the 1930s by Maurice Buxton Forman, but our access to some of those editions of Keats’s letters being now somewhat limited, we can’t say exactly when for sure. We take the date from Hyder Edward Rollins’s 1958 edition of the letters, where he makes an educated guess that the letter was written sometime in November 1818, given that Keats indicates Tom’s continuing ill health (“his Brother continues in the same state”). So we’ll go with that too.

Then there’s the question of who? That one’s a bit easier. Burridge Davenport (Rollins notes that he’s elsewhere referred to as “Benjamin” and “Burrage”) was a merchant who lived in Hampstead. In a letter from February 1820 to Fanny Keats, her brother mentions an invitation from “Mr. Davenport” and refers to him as “a gentleman of hampstead.” Keats clearly knew the Davenports by autumn 1818 when Mrs. Davenport had inquired about Tom’s health, thereby prompting Keats’s response with his letter.

What about the history of the letter itself? We lied up above when we said Rollins dates the letter November 1818 because of the context alone. There is also an endorsement, in “an unidentified hand,” which reads, “Nov 1818 / Jno Keats.” The letter appears to have been sent by messenger, since it has no postage marks on it. But we do not know anything else about who owned the letter after its initial delivery. (We will update after digging around some of the Forman editions from the early-20th century for more info.) According to Rollins in 1958, the letter was at the British Museum. It then follows that it should now be part of the British Library (which was part of the BM until 1973). However, as far as we can tell from searching the online catalogue, that does not appear to be the case. Where is the letter, then? We don’t know! We’d love to tell you more, but at this point it remains a mystery that needs further investigation.

Below is the letter as printed in Rollins’s edition. If you or anyone you know has any information about the current whereabouts of the letter, please drop us a line

The text of Keats's letter runs as follows: "Mr Keats's compliments to Mrs Daventorp and is sorry to say that his Brother continues in the same state. He and his Brother are extremely sensible of Mrs Davenport's kindness--"
From The Letters of John Keats, edited by Hyder Edward Rollins (Harvard UP, 1958).

Letter #102: To James Rice, 24 November 1818

In today’s letter to James Rice, we encounter a familiar topic of Keats’s correspondence: social awkwardness. The letter aims to clarify what Rice seems to have thought was a slight he aimed at Keats. We can gather from Keats’s response that the two had a bit of miscommunication. Keats dismisses its significance as such: “I am not at all sensible of any thing but that you were unfortunately engaged and I was unfortunately in a hurry.” The two likely had some sort of brief communication, and afterwards Rice reached out to Keats to apologize. Keats reassures his friend that it was nothing to worry about.

Also of interest here is that Keats takes the opportunity to reflect upon his own social failures with another friend (maybe two others?). Keats put the ol’ proverbial foot in his mouth by assuming in two different cases interested motives on the part of his interlocutor. In one case, Keats responded to a friend who noted plans to see the painter Joseph Severn, “‘Ah’ … ‘you want him to take your Portrait.'” In the other case, Keats responded to a question about when he’d next be in the city with the answer, “‘I will’ … ‘let you have the MSs next week.'” These “most unfortunate paralel slips” were, of course, minor matters, and Keats relays them to Rice in order to make his friend feel better about potentially having committed a similar slip with Keats. In short, Keats acknowledges his tendency to slip up now and then as a way to assure Rice that all is well. Pretty impressive–but not surprising–for Keats to think of Rice’s feelings amidst all that Keats himself was going through while caring for Tom.

The letter made its way from Rice to John Taylor (likely during the initial gathering of materials for a Keats biography soon after the poet’s death), and eventually to Harvard, via Amy Lowell, in the 1920s. Text of the letter can be accessed in Forman’s 1895 edition. Images below are courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 24 November 1818 letter to James Rice. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.40). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 2 of Keats’s 24 November 1818 letter to James Rice. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.40). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 3 of Keats’s 24 November 1818 letter to James Rice. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.40). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 4 of Keats’s 24 November 1818 letter to James Rice. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.40). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #101: To Fanny Keats, 5 November 1818

Like other letters to Fanny Keats from this period, today’s letter is a brief one explaining Keats’s ongoing dispute with Richard Abbey about visiting Fanny. (For other discussions of the topic, see these earlier posts.) Given what we know about Tom’s looming fate, it’s hard not to view Abbey in an even more villainous light than that in which he usually shines. As Tom’s health worsened throughout November 1818, the last month of his life, it became even harder for Keats to visit Fanny in Walthamstow. Not only was she kept from visiting her brothers at Well Walk; John could not come to her as well. At least we know that he kept his sister in mind and let her know of his solicitude via letter.

You can read today’s letter in Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters. Along with most of the other extant letters to Fanny Keats, today’s resides at the British Library.

Keats’s 5 November 1818 letter to Fanny Keats. Via Forman’s 1895 single-volume edition.

Letter #100: To George and Georgiana Keats, 14-31 October 1818

We’ve hit two milestones with our latest letter: number 100 (woo hoo!) and the first of the great journal letters sent to George and Georgiana in America. It wasn’t until early October that word from George and Georgiana had been received in London. As will be the case in most of the transatlantic letters, Keats comments in this one about the nature of that tenuous connection linking them by the post. We daresay it’s a remarkable feat that the letters ever arrived at their destinations!

Because of the great distance separating Keats from his brother and sister-in-law, he would typically write long letters over the space of weeks and months, as opposed to writing shorter letters every week or so. Reading these journal letters is thus a much different experience than reading the sort of letters we’re used to reading from Keats. Each letter spans more time, each letter covers more topical ground, and each letter allows for more extended ruminations. In the example from today, we cover just over two weeks, we learn of a variety of topics (current goings-on, Keats’s thoughts on American character, Tom’s ailing state), and we dive deeply into Keats’s attitudes toward women, matrimony and children. It’s on these last topics that our response for today focuses, from Ivana M. Krsmanović. Enjoy!

To read the letter, you can head over to H. B. Forman’s 1895 edition here. Or you can work your way through the many images below, courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 5 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 6 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 7 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 8 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 9 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 10 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 11 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 12 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 13 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 14 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 15 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 16 of Keats’s 14-31 October 1818 letter to George and Georgiana Keats. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.39). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #99: To Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818

Today’s letter is a big one! Well, not any physically bigger than is typical, but you get the drift. This is one of those letters that has its own nickname: the “camelion Poet” letter. Or perhaps the “poetical character” letter. Save for the negative capability letter, today’s is probably the most significant letter in which Keats theorizes the nature of poetry.

We won’t say too much ourselves by way of intro, since we have a few responses coming for you in the next few days. We shall let our contributors do their thing! To read the text of the letter, head over to Forman’s 1895 edition. The manuscript is at Harvard. Images below courtesy of Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 27 October 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 27 October 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 27 October 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 27 October 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.