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)