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.