Letter #52: To John Taylor, 5 February 1818

Keats continues his work on copying Endymion and delivering it book by book to Taylor and the printers. Today we see him apologizing to Taylor for delaying a bit with Book II. The cause is that, although he’s finished copying it, he wants another day to look it over again, and he’s busy this day with “the affair of Cripps.” Cripps refers to Charles Cripps, a student at Oxford and friend of Benjamin Bailey, for whom Keats had served as an intermediary with Benjamin Haydon. Haydon asked back in October 1817 if Keats would suss out Cripps to see if Haydon ought to take him on as a student. What Keats refers to here is likely his efforts to raise some money from among his circle to help Cripps pay for his study with Haydon.

Not much else of significance to note here, which means it’s time to delve into the realm of insignificance! Yes, it’s time to discuss Keats’s penmanship. Take a look at the word below and see if you can figure out what it is.

Hieppap? Come on, Keats! Help us out!

If you guessed “tresspass,” then you’d be correct! And yes, that extra s is necessary. You might alternatively want to transcribe the word as “trespas,” and your impulse would be a good one. But that long vertical stroke preceding the cursive s is how Keats typically writes out a double s. It looks an awful lot like his p, right? Why, you ask, does the KLP know about this fact, let alone care about it? Well, we just so happen to be stuck in an airport trying to make it through a 3+ hour delay, and what else would you have us do but look at Keats’s handwriting?? Ok, we confess, it’s actually because one of the KLP co-editors, Brian Rejack (who may or may not be the one of the editorial We currently stuck in said airport), has written about Keats’s orthography with respect to negative capability. He’s suggested that one possible mistake John Jeffrey may have made in transcribing the word has to do with the uncanny similarity between how Keats writes p and ss. It’d be really nice if cassability were a word… Anyway, if you ever do work with Keats’s handwriting, now you know to be on the lookout for the p and ss uncanny valley. Otherwise you might end up wondering what “hieppap” means.

You can read today’s letter from Forman’s 1895 edition, although he was working from Woodhouse’s transcript (which you can tell because he has “2nd” instead of “second,” which is what Keats has in the MS. You can see the image of Keats’s letter below.

Page 1 of Keats’s 5 February 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.21). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The address and postmarks from Keats’s 5 February 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.21). Houghton Library, Harvard University.