Lots of things of interest in this letter to Reynolds, all of which has been preserved in a transcript by Richard Woodhouse (unlike the earlier September letter to Reynolds from which we have only his comical verses on Oxford). Keats jokes about one of his favorite topics for comedy: debt. Faithful KLP readers will recall two earlier letters from 1817 which feature a primary focus on money issues: the 16 May letter to Taylor and Hessey, which we had illuminated for us by Alex Dick, and the 10 June letter to Taylor and Hessey, plumbed to its depths by David Sigler. Well, Keats keeps on honing his burgeoning stand-up routine on 19th-century money problems, starting off his letter to Reynolds with gems like “as I say to my Taylor send me Bills and I’ll never employ you more.” And there’s this amazing passage preceding that one-liner, which we feel compelled to quote in full:
So you are determined to be my mortal foe–draw a Sword at me, and I will forgive–Put a Bullet in my Brain, and I will shake it out as a dewdrop from the Lion’s Mane;–put me on a Gridiron and I will fry with great complancency–but, oh horror! to come upon me in the shape of a Dun!
Ah, good times. The KLP generally takes the position that if there is a chance Keats might be making a pun, then he’s definitely making a pun. So although the misspelling of “complacency” as “complancency” might be an error on the part of the transcriber and not Keats’s own, we choose to accept that Keats was indeed making a purposeful misspelling in order to lodge the sound of “complain” in “complacency,” thereby creating a new word, which really ought to exist in English, in order to name the phenomenon when someone claims to feel complacent about a situation while constantly (and perhaps passive aggressively) complaining about the very same situation. Even if you’re not convinced that Keats is punning, the image of frying with great complacency is quite lovely.
All that silly stuff aside, what this letter is perhaps best known for is one of Keats’s most forceful negative comments about women (describing the Bluestockings as “a set of Devils”), followed by his appreciation of the poetry of Katherine Philips. For a response to today’s letter, Rachel Schulkins offers a nuanced reading of Keats’s denouncing of the Bluestockings and the seemingly contradictory move of then expressing appreciation for Philips’s accomplishments. In Schulkins’s treatment, the two moments are less contradictory than they may at first seem.
For a public domain edition in which to read today’s letter, we direct you again to Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 one-volume collection of the letters. Also below are the images of Woodhouse’s transcript, courtesy once again of Harvard’s Houghton Library. Ah, but one other thing before we go! At the end of Keats’s letter, he writes “I have left the doublings for Bailey.” The “doublings” refer to the spaces on the top and bottom of the back side of the letter’s second leaf, where the paper was folded (creating a doubling) to conceal the text written on it and turn the paper into its own little envelope with blank space (in between the doublings) for writing an address (if that all sounds confusing, just go back and look at the letter to Jane Reynolds from last time). Anyway, the final image below shows what Bailey wrote on the doublings. Thanks to Woodhouse for transcribing that bit too!
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