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.