This brief letter from Keats to the wife of Burridge Davenport (we’re unable to confirm her first name at this point) poses several tricky questions. First, as the question mark above suggests, there is the date. The letter appears to have been first published in the 1930s by Maurice Buxton Forman, but our access to some of those editions of Keats’s letters being now somewhat limited, we can’t say exactly when for sure. We take the date from Hyder Edward Rollins’s 1958 edition of the letters, where he makes an educated guess that the letter was written sometime in November 1818, given that Keats indicates Tom’s continuing ill health (“his Brother continues in the same state”). So we’ll go with that too.
Then there’s the question of who? That one’s a bit easier. Burridge Davenport (Rollins notes that he’s elsewhere referred to as “Benjamin” and “Burrage”) was a merchant who lived in Hampstead. In a letter from February 1820 to Fanny Keats, her brother mentions an invitation from “Mr. Davenport” and refers to him as “a gentleman of hampstead.” Keats clearly knew the Davenports by autumn 1818 when Mrs. Davenport had inquired about Tom’s health, thereby prompting Keats’s response with his letter.
What about the history of the letter itself? We lied up above when we said Rollins dates the letter November 1818 because of the context alone. There is also an endorsement, in “an unidentified hand,” which reads, “Nov 1818 / Jno Keats.” The letter appears to have been sent by messenger, since it has no postage marks on it. But we do not know anything else about who owned the letter after its initial delivery. (We will update after digging around some of the Forman editions from the early-20th century for more info.) According to Rollins in 1958, the letter was at the British Museum. It then follows that it should now be part of the British Library (which was part of the BM until 1973). However, as far as we can tell from searching the online catalogue, that does not appear to be the case. Where is the letter, then? We don’t know! We’d love to tell you more, but at this point it remains a mystery that needs further investigation.
Below is the letter as printed in Rollins’s edition. If you or anyone you know has any information about the current whereabouts of the letter, please drop us a line