Letter #69: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 3 May 1818

There are many letters that we wish still existed in their original manuscripts–here’s looking at you, negative capability–but today’s letter surely ranks pretty highly on the list. In this case the reason is different that it is with the negative capability letter, which we have only via John Jeffrey’s unreliable transcript (curse you, John Jeffrey! But also, thanks for trying at least). Today’s letter to Reynolds comes to us from a transcript by Richard Woodhouse, whose work can be trusted much more than that of Jeffrey. What we miss out on with this letter is Keats making a visual pun as he crosses his letter! We know it exists because Woodhouse makes a note explaining it. But oh my, it’d be great to see precisely how it looked in that original manuscript.

If you’re new here, you might not know what a “crossed letter” is. So here’s a primer for you. They are “fun” to read. Not the easiest task, that’s for sure. It’s a good thing Woodhouse possessed such a diligent bureaucratic sensibility, which is really put to the test with a letter like this one. And actually, it’s long past time that we recognize the heroic efforts of Woodhouse’s clerks. They actually did the majority of the transcribing, after which Woodhouse would look over their work and offer corrections where he identified them. As far as we know here at the KLP, no one has ever attempted to do any research into who those clerks might have been. But they’re important, too. Woodhouse shouldn’t get to hog all the credit!

But back to Keats. Here’s the bit when he makes his joke with the crossing:

Have you not seen a Gull, an ord, a sea Mew, or any thing to bring this Line to a proper length, and also fill up this clear part; that like the Gull I may  dip–I hope, not out of sight–and also, like a Gull, I hope to be lucky in a good sized fish–This crossing a letter is not without its association–for chequer work leads us naturally to a Milkmaid, a Milkmaid to Hogarth Hogarth to Shakespeare Shakespear to Hazlitt–Hazlitt to Shakespeare and thus by merely pulling as apron string we set a pretty peal of Chimes at work–Let them chime on while, with your patience,–I will return to Wordsworth

Let’s unpack what’s going on here. Again, we only know what’s going on because Woodhouse (and here it is Woodhouse, not his clerk) offers this note of explanation: “(Here the first page of the letter is crossed–and the 2 first lines to this mark  are written in the clear space left as a margin –& the word “dip” is the first word that dips into the former writing–.”

Woodhouse’s note explaining Keats’s crossing of the letter.

Here it’s useful to return again to how crossing works. Keats would have turned back to the first page of his letter, turned the paper 90 degrees, and written perpendicularly in relation to the written text from earlier in the letter. Because there would have been a bit of a margin on the left side (now the top of the page after being turned 90 degrees) which is “this clear part.” It seems possible that the sentence begins (“Have you not seen…”) on the fourth page and concludes there with “bring this Line to a proper length,” at which point the remaining text (“and also fill up this clear part; that like the Gull I may dip”) would fit in the margin of page one before dipping into the original next. But Woodhouse’s note implies that all of the two sentences appear cross-wise on page one. So who knows. This is why we need to see the original MS!

Another reason we might want to the original MS is to know where underlining actually occurs in Keats’s text and which instances of underlining are added by Woodhouse and clerks. (Regular readers will recall that Keats and underlining is a favorite arcane topic of the KLP’s Brian Rejack.) Is the “dip” underlined by Keats in order to emphasize his play on the dip into the letter’s earlier “sea of prose”? If it is, what about this more famous bit: “We see not the ballance of good and evil. We are in a Mist–We are now in that state–We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery.'” Did Keats underline that third “We” to distinguish between the inclusive “We” of the first two phrases and his shift toward an inclusive we (i.e. Keats and Reynolds)? What if he underlined it because that particular “We” was right in the middle of another word? Remember it’s a crossed letter, so it could certainly be the case that the word We is in a Mist because it can’t be seen very easily (remember earlier, Keats’s words dip “I hope, not out of sight”). Or what if a clerk mistook a stroke of the pen from one of the perpendicular words for an underlining of that third “We“? These are the kinds of questions that we need to have answered! One last thing and then we’ll move on–this is a long letter! Of course, it’s crossed, so there’s that. But still, it’s really long. One wonders if Keats was using larger paper than the typical 23 X 18 cm (approximately) sheets of most of his letter from earlier in 1818. Perhaps he had by this point purchased some of the 33 x 21 cm (approximately) sheets he’d use during his Northern Tour in June and July. Again, crucial questions!

If you’re less interested in the textual details like these, perhaps you’d rather hear about what makes this letter so remarkable. Yes, let’s talk about the “Mansion of Many Apartments.” This is Keats’s “simile of human life,” which begins in “the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think–We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it.” Notice the continuing attention to vision and light, which Keats began with respect to hoping that Reynolds would be able to see the crossed writing. Maybe the idea that Keats would play with the crossing and “We” being in a mist isn’t all that crazy?? But to return, we arrive at the second chamber, or “the Chamber of Maiden-Thought,” where “we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight.” Here think of a youthful Keats writing poems in which he’s in awe of flowers, rolling around in the grass, pining for the moon, etc. That intoxicating “atmosphere” soon produces a different kind of experience of this chamber:

However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one’s vision into the heart and nature of Man–of convincing ones nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression–whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open–but all dark–all leading to dark passages–We see not the ballance of good and evil. We are in a Mist–We are now in that state–We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery,’ To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive when he wrote ‘Tintern Abbey’ and it seems to me that his Genius is explorative of those dark Passages. Now if we live, and go on thinking, we too shall explore them.

Of course, Keats did live (though only a few more years), and we daresay he did some high quality exploring of those dark passages. Even here, though, at the end of the letter Keats gives a hint of what might be found at the end of those corridors leading to further chambers. It’s a lovely sentiment, and one that we think Keats puts in practice in his life and work: “Tom has spit a leetle blood this afternoon, and that is rather a damper–but I know–the truth is there is something real in the World Your third Chamber of Life shall be a lucky and a gentle one–stored with the wine of love–and the Bread of Friendship.” As Keats himself writes earlier in this same letter, “axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses.” So let’s strive to bring the wine of love and the bread of friendship into this world of “Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression.”

To read the rest of this remarkable letter, you can view images from Woodhouse (and clerk) below, courtesy of Harvard. Or read the text from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition here.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 5 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 6 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 7 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 3 May 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #68: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 27 April 1818

Keats’s spring stay in Teignmouth is fast coming to an end. Today’s letter is the penultimate one sent during the visit, the last one coming on 3 May, a day or two before he and Tom head back to London. His vacay has been a bit of a mixed bag. Keats put the finishing touches on Endymion during his stay. As we’ve seen again and again, Keats certainly didn’t enjoy being confined indoors thanks to the constant rainy weather since arrival at the beginning of March. But at least that meant he had time to get some writing done! In today’s letter we hear for the first time about one of the three narrative poems that will lend their names to Keats’s final volume of poetry: Isabella, or, as Keats refers to it here, “my ‘Pot of Basil.'” Reynolds and Keats had originally planned to each write poems based on stories from Boccaccio and publish them together. Reynolds, though, urged Keats to forge ahead without him. Reynolds did publish two poems based on Boccaccio in his book The Garden of Florence (1821).

Keats is a bit reluctant to hurry Reynolds along since his friend had been in ill health for much of the spring. He writes today that “you must not think of it [i.e. Reynolds’s Boccaccio poetry] till many months after you are quite well:–then put your passion to it,–and I shall be bound up with you in the shadows of mind, as we are in our matters of human life.” And indeed today they are still bound up in the minds of posterity (though their poems were not bound together in a book as they had intended), with Reynolds’s fame typically being associated with his friendship with Keats.

Also on Keats’s mind is Tom’s health, which has been up and down throughout the spring. In this letter Keats notes that Tom has “taken a fancy to a Physician here, Dr Turton, and I think is getting better.” Alas, the Keats brothers’ days of being nearly almost always all together are coming to an end. John will soon venture out for his Northern tour, George will get married and leave for America, and Tom will be beyond the reach of any physician’s help. Poor Tom.

It’s perhaps with some sense of the impending sufferings he will face that Keats continues his quest in what he called in his letter to Taylor on 24 April, “a love for philosophy.” Today he notes his intention to learn Greek and Italian, and to seek, with the help of William Hazlitt’s advice, “the best metaphysical road I can take.” He would start to learn some Italian with his reading of Dante over the next two years, and one can’t help but think that such study would have offered some insightful “metaphysical roads” to travel. If nothing else it led to the wonderfully strange dream vision that is The Fall of Hyperion. So cheers, Dante!

And one final bit of humor regarding this afterlife with which to conclude (although Keats does so at the letter’s opening). He apologizes to Reynolds for his delinquency in writing, and notes:

I hope I may not be punished, when I see you well, and so anxious as you always are for me, with the remembrance of my so seldom writing when you were so horribly confined–the most unhappy hours in our lives are those in which we recollect times past to our own blushing–If we are immortal that must be the Hell.

The KLP wholeheartedly agrees–embarrassment lingers in the memory pretty darn effectively, and an eternity of reflecting upon one’s failures seems like a pretty good approach to eternal torture! Dante must have come up with that in some circle, no?

Text of today’s letter comes from a transcript by Richard Woodhouse. It can be read in Forman’s 1895 here. Images below come courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 27 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 27 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #67: To John Taylor, 24 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the third of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read previous ones here and here and here.

Daniel De La Cruz and Denzel Mitchem (Illinois State University)

Keats, in classic fashion, writes out another contemplative letter as he reflects on his newest book finally appearing in print. After having received an advanced copy of Endymion, Keats corresponds with his publisher John Taylor about some minor errata he’s identified in reading over the book. He also expresses his struggle to feel ready for his summer journey to the north, not because he lacks desire, but because he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and he worries he may not yet be ready to truly benefit from the experience.

The letter begins with Keats apologizing to Taylor for leaving him “all the trouble of Endymion.” One can understand why a publisher might want his author around while putting the final touches on the book. Keats excuses his behavior (i.e. leaving London for Teignmouth) by suggesting that at a young age people are so eager to get happiness that they feel entitled to it,  and treat any “unpleasant restraining” as something to avoid at all costs. Keats now seems to think it is better to greet this difficulties and troubles “as an habitual sensation, a pannier which is to weigh upon them through life.” It would appear that Keats had been “impatient” about the task of correcting his poem for publication, but now he decides to add some edits even though the task has been completed!

Following his thoughts gives a glimpse into how Keats could apply a perfectionist’s care to the publication of his work when he didn’t feel too impatient to do so. Note the precise way he explains what he calls “identical” and “related” speeches in the poem: “If we divide the speeches into identical and related: and to the former put merely one inverted comma at the beginning and another at the end; and to the latter inverted commas before every line, the book will be better understood at the first glance”. While it is slightly confusing to follow, it shows that Keats does take his time and purposely looks through his work to improve upon it, and these seemingly minor edits can nonetheless serve a large purpose in Keats’s delivery. As he mentions, he does carry the reader’s interpretation of his work in mind: “the book will be better understood at the first glance.”

In the following paragraph, Keats explains in vivid detail the fact that he wishes to travel over the summer, but that he worries about his lack of experience before undertaking the trip. He wants to gain knowledge not only for his own sake, but also to help him serve the world better. In the letter Keats writes, “I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world […] there is but one way for me–the road lies though application study and thought.” As much as Keats appreciates “delicious diligent indolence,” we also see his ability to approach a task with determination and an aim to help more than just himself. We thus see a Keats optimistic about the immediate future, and in overall good spirits thanks to his book’s appearance, his brother’s improving health, and his intentions to pursue “a love for Philosophy.”

The MS for today’s letter is at the Morgan Library (no images for us to provide at the moment). You can read text of the letter from Forman’s 1895 edition here. Images below come from Richard Woodhouse’s transcript (courtesy of Harvard). Coming up soon, a response to the letter from Sarah Sarai!

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #66: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 17 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the third of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read previous ones here and here.

Taylor Edwards and Hannah Henley (Illinois State University)

A rather short letter for today, and once again it is to one of Keats’s regular correspondents, John Hamilton Reynolds. As you may recall, in the last letter to Reynolds (9 April), Keats responded to Reynolds’s objections about the preface to Endymion. His submission of the original preface was on 21 March, and now, almost a month later, the debate finally concludes. In today’s letter to Reynolds it is apparent that Keats still feels ambivalent about the preface, even going as far to say that he “had an idea of giving no preface.” But then he reluctantly relents, declaring finally that “one should not be too timid—of committing faults.”

After discussing the topic of the preface, Keats goes on to mention the climate and surroundings of his current locale. At this time Keats is still in Teignmouth as he awaits the publishing of Endymion. The constant wet weather continues to disappoint, leading to Tom being “quite low spirited.” Keats nonetheless offers some humor by unfavorably comparing his native England and its climate to that of Italy: “It is impossible to live in a country which is continually under hatches. Who would live in a region of Mists, Game Laws, indemnity Bills, etc., when there is such a place as Italy?” These sentiments arrive as Keats continues to plan for his Northern Tour, which will not quite match the climate of Italy!

Keats then apologizes to Reynolds by mentioning that he intended to send him “songs written in your favorite Devon.” This demonstrates that he had intended to write more, but thanks to the weather he lacked the impetus to do so. By this point in 1818 it seems Keats is almost required to dwell on the weather, most particularly the “Rain! Rain! Rain!” Ever since his arrival in Teignmouth in early March, his displeasure with the constant rain has been a common topic in his letters to Reynolds. He appears to have enjoyed at least once nice day on 16 April, as he writes: “What a spite it is one cannot get out the like way I went yesterday I found a lane bank’d on each side with store of Primroses.” His pleasure at the rare good weather emphasizes his clear annoyance with the more consistent bad weather, which certainly has a great effect on him.

Notable history of this letter includes that this it was for a long time wrongly dated. The manuscript was a late acquisition of Arthur Houghton, and as such, editions including Rollins’s had relied on a transcript by Richard Woodhouse, which incorrectly dated it to 10 April. So good thing we have the manuscript now!

The text of the letter (based on the Woodhouse transcript) can be found in Forman’s 1895 edition. Images of the manuscript and the transcript are below. A few small discrepancies exist–see if you can spot them all…

Page 1 of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.27). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.27). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 17 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #65: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 9 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the second of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read the first of them here.

Rachel Adams, Alisa Christensen, & Rachel Mackey (Illinois State University)

For today’s letter, we see Keats writing again to one of his typical correspondents in spring 1818, John Hamilton Reynolds. After delivering his preface to Endymion back on 21 March, we now gain insight into Keats’s thought process about it in response to his friends’ rejection of it. Keats opens the letter by remarking, “Since you all agree that the thing is bad, it must be so.” His publishers and Reynolds concurred that the tone of Keats’s first preface was far too apologetic and self-negating. Keats provides a lengthy explanation as to why it may have come across this way, and he confesses to Reynolds that he views the public as “a thing I cannot help looking upon as an Enemy.” He loathes the idea of being subordinate to the public, and that if he were to “write a Preface in a supple or subdued style, it [would] not be in character with [him] as a public speaker”. In this hostility towards the public, however, Keats’s appreciation for his friends is further highlighted in a rather touching moment. He emphasizes to Reynolds that such hostility and fear of vulnerability does not extend to his closest companions, as he “could not live without the love of [his] friends.” Thus, while Keats feels animosity toward the idea of the public, it’s clear just how much he valued the friendly relationships in his life.

After this moment of vulnerability, Keats further contemplates his attitudes toward the public and how he feels about his own public image. Keats states “I would jump down Ætna for any great Public Good,” a somewhat paradoxical statement when the context behind the phrase is examined. The reference is to the pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles, who believed he was a divine being of sorts, and thus (allegedly) leapt into the volcanic crater of Etna hoping to be apotheosized after death. So although Keats claims he is willing to sacrifice himself to do some good in the world, his reference also suggests that he considers himself a divine being above the public, while they are merely his followers. It’s Keats being a bit pretentious even as he’s claiming to not care about an audience.

That tension continues throughout this section. He wants to “daunt and dazzle the thousand jabberers about Pictures and Books” (i.e. the Public), but he “cannot be subdued before them.” His next image suggests that he’s thinking here specifically about reviewers, describing these “jabberers” as “swarms of Porcupines” who await Endymion with “their Quills erect.” Keats wants to “fright ‘em away with a torch” and (presumably) discourage them from even reading Endymion. The torch in this metaphor is his preface, but he acknowledges to Reynolds that perhaps it “is not much of a torch.” He eventually concedes that his original preface may have been too disrespectful towards his audience, but for now he remains indecisive about whether to rewrite it, and even suggests to Reynolds that if he has not reached a decision in four to five days to “tell Taylor to publish it without a preface.” Seemingly ready to leave the topic behind, Keats abruptly changes topics away from the issues with the preface, and towards Reynold’s health (a frequent subject with the two friends). Another regular topic we’ve encountered this spring surfaces next: the near constant rainy weather in Devon. Keats is clearly fed up with it, as he claims the sound of raindrops against his window “give [him] the same sensation as a quart of cold water offered to revive a half drowned devil.”

From this point on, Keats continues to write conversationally to Reynolds and does not return to Endymion again. Instead he tells Reynolds that he hopes “soon to be writing to you about the things of the north, purposing to wayfare all over those parts,” referring to his “Northern Tour” that he will undertake with friend and fellow poet Charles Brown beginning in late June (as Keats mentioned to Haydon in yesterday’s letter). Keats states “I have settled my accoutrements in my own mind,” but goes on to say that he still wants to have some time with Reynolds before he leaves. Keats then lists his many reasons for “going wonder-ways.” The reasons he lists to Reynolds are what you might expect: he wants to “enlarge [his] vision” and “escape disquisitions on Poetry.” These sound like excellent reasons to go on a months-long walking tour! Keats ends the letter with a few optimistic phrases that are actually pretty sad for the modern reader. While still writing about his summer plans, he writes “thus will I take all Europe in turn, and see the Kingdoms of the Earth and the glory of them.” Although Keats seems very excited about travel in this letter, we know that he dies before he is able to visit any more “Kingdoms of the Earth.” In fact, the next (and only) time that Keats travels out of the country is when he travels to Italy in 1820 in the vain hope of recuperating from his illness. Next, Keats writes that “Tom is getting better he hopes you may meet him at the top o’ the hill.” Unfortunately, even if Tom was showing improvement at the time Keats wrote this letter, it would have been short-lived as he died in December 1818. At least on 9 April 1818, though, Keats was feeling hopeful about the future.

As with most letters to Reynolds, the manuscript is lost, so the Woodhouse transcript is our only source for the text. Images of the transcript are included below courtesy of Harvard. Text of the letter from the 1895 Forman edition can be accessed here.

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 9 April 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #64: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 8 April 1818

Today’s letter marks a first that we here at the KLP are very excited about: the first mention of Keats’s summer plans! That’s right, we’re getting close to the Northern Tour of 1818. It was a big deal for Keats in many ways, and, lucky for all of us, it produced some amazing letters. We’ve got these gems to anticipate: the account of Keats’s visit to Stock Ghyll Force in Ambleside, Keats’s thoughts on Wordsworth campaigning for the Tory MP William Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale), drinking “whuskey” at the birthplace of Robert Burns, going up Ben Nevis (and “N.B. [coming] down again”), other sights like Ailsa Rock and Fingal’s Cave, and LOTS of opinions on “the cursed Oatcake.” So get your walking shoes ready!

Keats gives some idea of his intentions on undertaking the trip as he informs Haydon of the plan. Here’s that passage:

I purpose within a Month to put my knapsack at my back and make a pedestrian tour through the North of England, and part of Scotland–to make a sort of Prologue to the Life I intend to pursue–that is to write, to study and to see all Europe at the lowest expence. I will clamber through the Clouds and exist. I will get such an accumulation of stupendous recollolections that as I walk through the suburbs of London I may not see them–I will stand upon Mont Blanc and remember this coming Summer when I intend to straddle ben Lomond–with my Soul!–galligaskins are out of the Question.

No word on the fate of the galligaskins, but we get a pretty good sense of Keats’s other planning priorities. After the (disappointing) completion of Endymion, Keats felt the need to gain a new set of experiences which could serve as poetic “full-ripened grains” to be stored for later use. Given that the poems most associated with Keats’s legacy are written after summer 1818, it seems like the tour must have done something good!

In the rest of the letter Keats does a fair bit of quoting and referencing Shakespeare, as he so often does when writing Haydon (and because Haydon had mentioned a favorite passage from All’s Well That Ends Well in the previous letter to which Keats was responding–the 10/11 May 1817 letter to Haydon is another Shakespeare-filled bit of their correspondence). We also see a continuation of Keats’s displeasure with Wordsworth, which had been growing since meeting him back in December 1817. Here is what he has to say to Haydon in today’s letter: “I am affraid Wordsworth went rather huff’d out of Town–I am sorry for it. he cannot expect his fireside Divan to be infallible he cannot expect but that every Man of worth is as proud as himself.” This frustration is part of Keats’s broader wariness of literary London at this point, which is another reason he cites for wanting to venture North in the summer. We’ll see more thoughts on Wordsworth once Keats ends up in the elder poet’s backyard!

Text of the letter comes from the MS housed at Harvard (images below). As is our wont, we recommend Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters for a good public domain version of the text.

Page 1 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 8 April 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.26). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #63: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 25 March 1818

Today’s letter consists mostly of Keats’s poem, “Dear Reynolds, as last night I lay in bed.” As such, we’ll let the poem speak mostly for itself! There are plenty of places where you can find it. Harry Buxton Forman prints it in his 1895 edition of the letters (as well as in his editions of the poems, such as the 1883 here). Included below you can find Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of the poem and the bit of prose that follows it. (Note that one sentence at the end of the prose section is written in shorthand!)

Page 1 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s poem and letter to Reynolds, 25 Mar 1818. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.2). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #62: To James Rice, 24 March 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today, the first of five such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks comes from ISU students Amanda Peters and Ricky King. Enjoy!

Amanda Peters & Ricky King (Illinois State University)

Regular readers of the KLP will know we love firsts. The recipient of today’s letter is not one of the more frequent correspondents, such as John Hamilton Reynolds, or George and Tom Keats. Nope, today we have instead the first letter to James Rice. It is not surprising that Keats would write a letter to Rice, given that they were quite good friends. What is surprising is that more letters weren’t written to Rice, given the nature of their friendship. Only four total letters to Rice exist. One more will come up later this year, in late November just one week before Tom’s death. The two others to Rice appear in December of 1819 and February 1820.

It was well before this point when Keats was first introduced to James Rice. He was a lawyer, like Reynolds, the mutual friend who brought Rice and Keats together. Rice was also a member of the literary society known as the Zetosophian Society, in which Reynolds and Benjamin Bailey were also involved. Although it comes long after the writing of today’s letter, we can gather an idea of the high esteem in which Keats held Rice from the long journal letter to George and Georgiana from 17-27 September 1819, written after Keats had spent a month with Rice on the Isle of Wight in July. Keats tells of visiting Rice in London soon after their stay in Shanklin:

I was out and every body was out. I walk’d about the Streets as in a strange land–Rice was the only one at home–I pass’d some time with him. I know him better since we have liv’d a month together in the isle of Wight. He is the most sensible, and even wise Man I know–he has a few John Bull prejudices; but they improve him. His illness is at times alarming. We are great friends, and there is no one I like to pass a day with better.

Although they may not have exchanged many letters, it seems as though Keats nonetheless relished the company and companionship of his sensible friend. Indeed, it seems that just a few weeks after today’s letter, Rice joined Keats in Teignmouth, because he gave Keats a copy of Mateo Aleman’s picaresque tale, Guzman de Alfarache. Rice inscribed the book with this message: “John Keats / From his Friend / Js Rxxx / 20th April 1818.” Like so many Keats materials, this gift from Rice now resides at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

An image Guzman de Alfarache from EEBO. The EEBO book scanned was Lowell’s copy of the book. She purchased it so that she could copy all the annotations that were present in the copy owned by Keats. Notice Lowell’s note in the top left indicating the inscription was Rice’s: “[In Rice’s handwriting]”

With regards to the provenance of this letter, it’s one we’ve covered before. The estate of Keats’s publisher, John Taylor, was sold at Sotheby’s in 1903. Many of the Keats-related items were purchased by Bernard Quaritch on behalf of Amy Lowell. Bernard Alexander Christian Quaritch was a German-born bookseller and collector. He relocated to London in 1840s to pursue bookselling and ultimately began a business in the same decade. Following his death towards the end of the nineteenth century, his son, Bernard Alfred Quaritch, continued the bookselling legacy, eventually collecting some of Keats’s letters. Quaritch, it seems, acted as a purchaser on behalf of Amy Lowell at the sale of the Taylor estate in 1903. (The Quaritch business still exists today– you can read about the company and its history here: https://www.quaritch.com/about/our-history/.)

While we’ve mentioned Amy Lowell before, let’s devote a bit more space to her today, given that she was and forever will be a true Friend of Keats. She was a poet herself, who, like many poets of the latter half of the nineteenth century, looked to the English Romantics for inspiration and guidance. She happened to gain an affinity towards Keats, and over the course of many years she managed to acquire a pretty sizable collection of manuscripts of Keats’s letters and poems (including today’s letter to Rice). Her writing career was bookended in a way by Keats: her first volume of poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, took its title from Shelley’s elegy for Keats, Adonais; and one of Lowell’s last works was her biography of Keats, published in 1925.

But to the letter itself. It takes some interesting turns as Keats discusses Milton. Apparently Milton “came into these parts” around the time he wrote “his Answer to Salmasius” (also know as Defensio pro Populo Anglicano, published in 1651). Keats hears about a meadow in which Milton “rolled himself, for three whole hours.” As a result, “in all the seven acres for seven years,” according to Keats’s informant, “not a nettle sprang up.” However, Milton’s rolling was said to have created “a new sort of plant,” a “white thorn” that is “of a thornless nature”. These white thorns are used by “the Bucks of the present to rap their Boots withall.” The Oxford English Dictionary helps us by explaining that at the time Keats wrote this letter a “Buck” would refer to “A gay, dashing fellow; a dandy, fop, ‘fast’ man.” Keats is himself being a bit of a gay and dashing fellow with his playful speculations on Milton’s long-lasting effects on a meadow in Devon.

Keats turns a bit more serious as he goes into a discussion of the scholarly debate between Milton and Salmasius, which then leads him into a broader contemplation about the difficulty of intellectual labor. The struggle he identifies is that the our thoughts are always restless. He writes, “What a happy thing it would be if we could settle our thoughts, make up our minds on any matter in five minutes and remain content.” Keats continues to compare the disharmony caused by a restless mind and whether or not it is better than having a rested (but limited) mind, using a wonderful extended metaphor of the mind as a “mental Cottage.” Eventually he arrives at the necessity of unsettled thoughts, as Keats discusses how he cannot rest his mind because of his attraction to the “Loadstone Concatenation.” This magnetic force does not allow Keats to cannot rest his mind because he can’t ignore his thoughts, which are endlessly led on in an unbroken and unending chain of associations.

Keats’s concatenation of thoughts continues as he ponders the question, “‘Did Milton do more good or ha[r]m to the World?”. His joke revolves around the idea that just as the vastness of our universe is composed of “the same quantity of matter,” there must have been “a certain portion of intellect” assigned to the universe at creation. But Milton, with all his impressive intellectual “gormandizing,” might not have left anything for the rest of us to eat! Oh well. We daresay Keats’s own intellectual playfulness, here and elsewhere, proves that a few scraps were leftover after Milton had his feast.

Letter #61: To Taylor and Hessey, 21 March 1818

Back on 18 March, Keats received a letter from George, who’d now been back in London for a week or so. George informed John that the publishers of Endymion, John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey, had made good progress in printing the poem. According to George, Charles Brown had also conveyed the message that they needed more fair copy to keep up their progress: “Brown has I understand written to you and given you the pleasant information that the printer’s are in immediate want of the Fourth book and preface–By the time you have received this I have no doubt but T & H will have received them.” George wasn’t quite correct with that last prediction, even though Keats had finished copying Book IV by at least 14 March, and he had written his preface on 19 March. It seems George’s letter was the final prod he needed to get his act together.

So it was that the MS of Keats’s fourth book of Endymion traveled by mail coach from Teignmouth to Exeter and on to London. If you’d like a sense of the route it may have taken, there’s lots of good information in Richard Marggraf Turley’s piece from last April, “Keats Underway.” If you really want to get in the weeds, you can study Cary’s New Itinerary (1819), which provides, as its title page says, “An Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, Both Direct and Cross throughout England and Wales.” The images below come from a similar guide, A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales, by Daniel Paterson. They give some sense of the general path Endymion followed. Good thing the coach arrived safely with its precious cargo!

 

The route from London to Exeter–more or less how Keats’s letter and his separate packet containing Endymion Book IV would have traveled.

From A New and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales, by Daniel Paterson.

As usual, the letter can be read from Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters. The manuscript is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum. No images as of yet–sorry ’bout that!

Letter #60: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 21 March 1818

It seems the constant rain in Devon leads Keats to summon up his fair share of jokes. He continues ragging on the county and its weather, telling Haydon, “I have blown up said County for its urinal qualifications.” He also includes two silly poems (“For there’s Bishop’s teign” and “Where be ye going you devon Maid”). And then there’s the letter’s final passage, which we include in full here:

The last section of Keats’s 21 Mar 1818 letter to Haydon (from Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters).

It’s a wonderful notion, coming up with “fine things” that have been ruined for him by their association with people he’s not overly fond of. Here one imagines how well Keats might have done if he ever took up writing for periodical magazines, writing funny essays à la Charles Lamb’s Elia on a topic such as this one. (Or if Keats were alive today, coming up with examples of fine things damned by their connection with the wrong people would make for an ideal Buzzfeed listicle!)

Hazlitt, of course, would be another appropriate comparison along these lines. And an interesting shift happens in Keats’s list when he arrives at the prose stylist whom he so admired. The Hazlitt examples are obviously offered up ironically (“how durst the Man” ruin bigoted people for Keats?!). We suspect the shift happens because Hazlitt was known for his ability to damn with harsh criticism. In the language of today’s social media environment, one could imagine Hazlitt “eviscerating” his fair share of targets with his sick burns and vicious twitter clapbacks (claps back?). There’s some confusing about what Keats intended with his last thought. You’ll notice above that Forman has this: “if ever I am damn’d–damn me if I shouldn’t like him to damn me.” In the manuscript of the letter, which you can see below, the text read as “damn me if” has been scratched out. So is Keats wishing to be damned by Hazlitt, or to avoid that fate? Seems like he could probably go either way. If you’re gonna be damned, might as well be damned by the best!

To read the letter in full, you can head over to Forman’s 1895 edition (there dated 23 Mar, based on the postmark; Keats’s “Saturd–Morn,” at the letter’s opening, would have been 21 Mar). Or for the scripturally-inclined, feel free to read from the images of the MS, courtesy, as usual, of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.24). Houghton Library, Harvard University.