Letter #120: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 18 (?) February 1819

The date of today’s letter is a bit uncertain, but a few hints suggest that the 18th is about right. First, we hear from Keats again about his latest struggle with Richard Abbey over the question of seeing and corresponding with Fanny Keats on a regular basis. On 14 February Keats had explained the situation to George and Georgiana as such: “I have had a little business with Mr Abbey–From time to time he has behaved to me with a little Brusquerie–this hurt me a little especially wheen I knew him to be the only Man in England who dared to say a thing to me I did not approve of without its being resented or at least noticed–so I wrote him about it and have made an alteration in my favor–I expect from this to see more of Fanny–who has been quite shut out from me.” To Haydon Keats writes that he’d “had several interviews with my guardian–have written him a rather plain spoken Letter–which has had its effect.” Take that, Abbey!

Now, the topic of interest to Haydon was not Keats’s right to see Fanny, but rather Keats’s right to his money. The Keats family inheritance woes were well nigh Jarndycean, and we don’t have the time (or insight) to lay them out in all their complexities here. But in this particular instance, at least according to Keats, the question being pursued with Abbey was the fate of Tom’s portion of their inheritance. As he notes to Haydon, Keats was worried that those monies would remain under Abbey’s guardianship until Fanny came of age (in 1824). Unfortunately, back in December Keats had made a promise to loan Haydon money. As it became clearer in the next months that Keats’s financial prospects were not quite as favorable as he’d hoped, the tension with Haydon would increase.

Here today, though, we see Keats still feeling pretty good about his financial future. He’s confident, almost gloating, about his dealings with Abbey, and he concludes by remarking that he’ll either get money soon or be forced to “incontinently take to Corderoy Trowsers.” He expresses his optimism once again, concluding that “I am nearly confident ‘t is all a Bam.” For those of you not fluent in Regency slang, “Bam,” according to Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, meant more or less the same thing as “humbug.” Unfortunately for the Keats siblings, Abbey’s handling of their finances was not a bam after all. More of a bummer. As we’d say in the US, it’s all about the Benjamins (and not just Haydon). Or, according to Grose once again, it’s all about the Balsam.

From Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Ok, enough lame jokes for now! Text of the letter to Haydon can be read via Forman’s 1901 edition (where he dates it to January 1819). The image of the manuscript below comes courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Keats’s 18 (?) February 1819 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.49). Houghton Library, Harvard University.