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.


Letter #59: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 14 March 1818

Reading today’s letter to Reynolds, one can’t help but wish that Keats had written a long prose work in the comic tradition of Sterne and Smollett. We daresay Keats had the chops to rival Tristram Shandy, a work which he seems to have in mind as he playfully (à la Toby) trots out a variety of military terms (glacis, small-shot, cannondale, cavalry, etc.). This letter deserves the kind of treatment Keats says we ought to devote to a “Page of full Poesy or distilled Prose.” So spend some time with, wander with it, muse upon it, bring home to it, prophesy upon it–whatever it takes! Read this letter and glory in Keats’s humor.

He addresses some of the same issues from yesterday’s letter to Bailey, in particular the weather that has kept him indoors and apparently led to a bit of stir-craziness. Here’s a sample: “The green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious–mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Muscles do for the Tide.” We also hear about Keats’s plan to “cut sickness–a fellow to whom I have a complete aversion.” On a grim note, the list of friends acquainted with this fellow includes Tom, who would only worsen from this point forward (“he [sickness] is sitting now quite impudent between me and Tom”). But the melancholy turn doesn’t last for long, as Keats proceeds to tell Reynolds of a recent visit to the theatre at which Keats “got insulted.” He explains that he “forgot to tell George,” and that he “ought to remember to forget to tell any Body,” given that he “did not fight, and as yet have had no redress.”

We have TWO responses to today’s letter, since it is so filled to the brim with goodness. First up is Laura Kremmel’s “Keats Goes Gothic,” which focuses on the list of scenery descriptions Keats connects with “Damosel Radcliffe.” And tomorrow we will have Johannes Göransson’s phantasmagoric rewriting of the letter, taking Keats’s language and concerns and filtering them through a sort of dream-vision of 2018.

You can read the letter in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition, and via the images below of Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of the letter (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 14 March 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 14 March 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 14 March 1818 letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #58: To Benjamin Bailey, 13 March 1818

Today’s letter to Bailey includes a wealth of intriguing things–which our contributor Renee Harris picks up on and runs with by following Keats’s grouping of threes in the letter–and this should come as no surprise for regular readers. Keats seems to have a particular affinity for sharing lots of thoughts with Bailey. Three of the last four letters to Bailey (28-30 Oct 1817, 3 Nov 1817, and 22 Nov 1817) were at least in part crossed, and the one letter to Bailey that Keats did not cross (23 Jan 1818) was still filled to the brim. Nary a short letter to Bailey, it seems, for today’s letter is crossed on three of its four pages. Brian Rejack and Michael Theune discussed some theories about why Keats might find Bailey to be a receptive correspondent for extensive and speculative thoughts back in Episode 4 of This Week in Keats, but today we offer another possibility (if an admittedly a silly one).

Bailey had notoriously bad penmanship. Keats mentioned it back in Nov 1817, when he wrote to Reynolds, “Bailey writes so abominable a hand, to give his Letter a fair reading requires a little time.” Writing to Richard Monckton Milnes in October 1848 (to let Milnes know that he had erroneously killed off Bailey in Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats), Bailey himself owned up to the defects in his “Kaligraphy“:

I meditate drawing up a paper for your information, and if needful for your use in a future edition, upon poor Keats: and I will borrow my daughter’s hand to copy my Kaligraphy, to which, among my “good works,” I see you have given your imprimatur, on the authority of poor Keats, 30 years ago [i.e. Milnes’s edition included Keats’s “abominable hand” comment quoted above]. It required not that attestation of its badness: and I fear that “years which bring the philosophic mind” will not have mended my handwriting.

In a footnote to this letter from Bailey to Milnes, Hyder Edward Rollins expresses his displeasure with Bailey as well: “Bailey’s hand is exceptionally villainous in this letter.” We feel you, Rollins. Thank you for your assiduous attention to Bailey’s villainy, as painful as it may have been!

So here is our theory: perhaps Keats, slowed down and a bit miffed by Bailey’s villainous handwriting, decided he would match Bailey penstroke for penstroke in the way he best could: by crossing his letters! Take that, Bailey! Keats’s hand, we venture to say, is actually quite neat, legible, and even downright pretty, despite what that dastardly John Jeffrey may have thought back in 1845–curse you, John Jeffrey! But also thanks for transcribing stuff, badly as you may have done it…. Apologies, we do digress. To return. Since Keats’s hand is so lovely, it’s rather difficult to transform it to villainous levels of illegibility. The best way to do so: cross the letter. Just look at the images below to get a sense of how difficult it is to read such a letter.

Of course we don’t actually think Keats intended to stymie Bailey’s efforts to read his letters in retaliation for Bailey inflicting that challenge on him… but then again, Keats does playing the trickster.

With that thought, then, we will leave you in the capable hands of Renee Harris, who deftly analyzes several of the topics Keats covers. Enjoy!

Text of the letter can be read in Forman’s 1895 edition via HathiTrust, or, for the optically adventurous, via the images below, courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 13 March 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.23). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #57: To John Taylor, 27 February 1818

Today’s letter to Taylor is a significant one, particularly for the “Axioms” in poetry which Keats shares with his publisher. It might not be the “FINEST LETTER of Keats Extant,” as “some enthusiast” (so deemed by Hyder Edward Rollins) wrote on the top of the manuscript. But it’s pretty dang good. What are these axioms, you say? Well hold on a sec. We’re getting there.

First it’s worth asking why Keats feels compelled to offer up these axioms in the first place. Of course, we don’t have Taylor’s letter to which Keats was responding. But Keats writes these sentences before getting to those axioms:

It is a sorry thing for me that any one should have to overcome Prejudices in reading my Verses–that affects me more than any hypercriticism on any particular Passage. In Endymion I have most likely but moved into the Go-cart from the leading strings. In Poetry I have a few Axioms, and you will see how far I am from their Centre.

In short, it seems Taylor attempted to politely dampen Keats’s expectations for the poem’s success by noting that it might not be exactly to the public’s taste. One thinks here of the rhetorical gymnastics performed by Wordsworth and Coleridge in the “Advertisement” to Lyrical Ballads, in which they 1) deny that critics know anything about poetry, 2) note that their poems are really just experiments (so NBD if they don’t work), 3) that readers might not even think they are poems at all, so don’t call them poems you jerks!–and 4) that readers should just erase their “pre-established codes of decision” and think only of whether these experimental not-poems give them pleasure or no. One imagines Taylor writing something like, “Keats, loving Endymion, my man. But, you know, it’s got some moments that people will probably find a bit, um, challenging? Because they just don’t get your genius like I do! Anyway, yeah–some turkeys who don’t know what’s what will probably feel a bit prejudiced against your poems because they are stuck in their old fuddy-duddy ways.” (Ok, Taylor probably didn’t write exactly like that.)

What Keats’s response shows is that he continues to be eager to move beyond Endymion. As he writes toward the end of this letter, he is ready to “get Endymion printed that I may forget it and proceed.” In his metaphors of the “go-Cart” and the “leading strings,” we see another indication of his judgment of the poem as a trial of invention that is merely a stepping-stone to something else. The “go-Cart” is what we would now call a baby walker; “leading strings” were devices used to help children learn to walk (essentially by having an adult hold strings attached to the infant). So, yes, Keats is but a child learning to “not trip up my Heels” in the realm of poetic walking. We’ll see a similar formulation in his Preface to Endymion, where he situates the poem as in between the imagination of a boy and of a man: “thence proceeds mawkishness.” Well we daresay that even in Endymion Keats was well beyond the baby-walker stage of managing poetic feet. Teenager overly excited about poetry and desire?? Yeah, that sounds about right. (Still, we maintain Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review assessment of Endymion: “It is, in truth, at least as full of genius as of absurdity.”)

To the axioms, then. Here they are:

1st I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity–it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance–2nd Its touches of Beauty should never be half way therby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural natural too him–shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the Luxury of twilight–but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it–and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.

One thought on the poetry coming naturally as the leaves to the tree bit. I’ve–and here I’m breaking from the traditional KLP editoral we–Brian Rejack, here, hiya–long pushed back against this notion thinking that Keats is just being ideological. Of course Keats knows that poetry involve labor, study, time, revision, etc. But I had a realization while discussing this letter with my students today (beneath some trees that haven’t just yet begun budding, incidentally). Just because Keats claims that poetry should come as “naturally as the Leaves to a tree,” it doesn’t mean he intends that poetry must be instantaneous. Leaves actually take a good long while to fully come to the tree. And they require labor, patience, and devotion (albeit the devotion of sun to tree, water to soil, soil to root, etc.). So perhaps Keats merely intends that poetry requires careful cultivation by placing the poetic impulse in an environment in which poetry can thrive. That could still certainly mean intense labor and practice, working and reworking.

We’ll have more about these axioms with a response to come later this week (or the next). But for now, some final things to say about the manuscript of this letter. Like many of the letters sent to Taylor, this one remained in his possession for a long time, and after his death remained in the family. In the 1840s he made his materials available to Richard Monckton Milnes for use in Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats (1848; 2nd edition, 1867). The next significant editor of the letters was Harry Buxton Forman, who made a name for himself in 1878 by publishing, to great controversy, the letters Keats sent to Fanny Brawne. In 1883 Forman published a complete edition of Keats’s poetry and prose. In that edition, the letters to Taylor are typically (if not all–apologies for not checking all of them yet) based on Milnes’s text. Milnes was much more likely to excise sensitive passages than was Forman. One can witness this fact in the 1895 single-volume edition of the letters (the KLP’s favorite 19th-century edition of the letters). It appears that at some point between 1883 and 1895, Forman got his hands on the manuscripts in possession of Taylor’s family. And when he found in those manuscripts some of the naughty bits that Milnes left out, Forman obliged by printing them for all to see and enjoy.

Take, for instance, the 10 June 1817 letter to Taylor and Hessey (dated 10 July by Milnes and Forman). In Milnes (1848, 1867) and in Forman (1883, 1889), the first sentence is removed (“I must endeavor to lose my Maidenhead with respect to money Matters as soon as possible–and I will to–so here goes”–by the way, read David Sigler’s response to the letter, which is fantastic). In Forman’s 1895 edition, the first sentence appears! Conclusion: for his earlier editions Forman used Milnes’s text, and for the 1895 edition he must have had access to the letter. Now, this letter remains in the Taylor family and is sold in 1903 to Amy Lowell (through Bernard Quaritch). So that means Forman had access to the letter, and that the access was granted by the Taylor family, as opposed to some other owner of the letter. Some of the letters once owned by Taylor were sold prior to 1903, including the 23 Jan 1818 letter. That one was sold in New York in 1897, and since Forman’s 1895 version of the text is based not on the manuscript, but again on Milnes’s text, that letter must have left the Taylor family’s possession before Forman got access to those materials.

Ok, we’re in the weeds. But hang on. Back to today’s letter. Forman’s 1895 edition was clearly based on the manuscript, whereas his 1883 and 1889 editions were based on Milnes’s texts. But today’s letter was not sold at the Taylor family auction in 1903! (CAVEAT–WE’RE NOT ENTIRELY SURE YET THAT THIS FACT IS CORRECT. PRETTY SURE, THOUGH.) It was sold in 1912 by the firm of J. Pearson & Co. The buyer was J. Pierpont Morgan. What happened to this letter between 1895(ish) and 1903? We don’t yet know. But presumably it passed out of the Taylor family and into private hands who eventually led it back into the market in 1912. Those hands may well have been those of John Pearson or his partner Charles Edward Shepheard, both of whom actively sought out valuable letters and manuscripts. In any case, thanks to the catalogue for their sale in 1912, we have a facsimile of the MS to present to you. Sadly, it includes just two of the letter’s three pages. Still, better than nothing.

Now if you’re still here and want to read the entire letter, you know now that the text in Forman’s 1895 edition was based on the manuscript, so you can trust that one. And images below are from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co. Stay tuned for more details on the letter’s provenance as it comes in!

Facsimile of page 1 of Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor. From the 1912 catalogue of items for sale by J. Pearson & Co.

The listing for Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor, from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co.

The listing for Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor (featuring text of the letter), from the 1912 catalogue for J. Pearson & Co.

Facsimile of page 3 of Keats’s 27 Feb 1818 letter to John Taylor. From the 1912 catalogue of items for sale by J. Pearson & Co.

Letter #56: To George and Tom Keats, 21 February 1818

Today’s letter finds Keats getting encouragement from the “Thrushes and Blackbirds,” which “have been singing [him] into an idea it was spring.” Well, if you’re in the eastern part of the US today, you might be having a similar thought, given that it’s over 70 degrees throughout much of the Northeast and New England. And yes, it’s February 21st. The birds may have encouraged Keats to have spring in his mind, but the weather that day in 1818 certainly didn’t help the cause. Here’s what the Literary Gazette reported in the 28 February issue.

That drop from “30” to “6” would make you think it was not much of a spring-hearkening day, right? Well, that’s actually a printing error. For those of you with an interest in historical weather data from London in 1818, here’s a great resource for you: The Annals of Philosophy, published monthly, now available on Hathitrust, and with Luke Howard’s meteorological journal included at the end of each issue (about two months behind–so the data for February are in the April issue). You may know Luke Howard for devising the cloud classification still in use today. Go to paragraph 13 in this essay and you can learn a bit about him, and about how much Geothe loved him for coming up with the whole cloud thing. (Sorry for the shameless plug–the essay is by the KLP’s Brian Rejack, that dastardly braggart.) Anyway, here’s what Howard recorded for Feb 1818.

He had 45 degrees for a high on 21 February, recording his measurements in Tottenham. So the Literary Gazette must have just forgotten the “4” before that “6.” (Their measurements were from Edmonton, so let’s not rush to slag off anyone’s instruments–the temp could have been different in the two places, even if just a mile apart or so.) All of this comports with what Keats has to say about the weather: “The Weather, although boisterous to day has been very much milder.” Howard notes of 21 February, “Much wind, a.m. with clouds driving high and close,” so there’s your boisterousness. And the 34 degree morning was a few degrees warmer than the last two days, so we’ll give Keats the “much milder.” Incidentally, the weather in London today was pretty similar to this day 200 years ago. High of 44, low of 33, bit of wind. So obviously the climate is ok. Problem solved!

Now that we’ve given you far more background on Keats’s weather than you could have ever wished for, what else was he up to? He tells George and Tom that the immediate occasion for writing was a letter from one “Miss Wylie” intended for George, and which Keats enclosed in his letter. This is the first mention in the letters of Georgiana Wylie, who, experienced Keats devotees will already know, becomes Georgiana Keats. She and George actually wed not that far from the time of this letter exchange. They marry in June 1818, and then leave for America just weeks later. After that point Keats would never see Georgiana again, and he would see George again just for one month in January 1820 when George returned briefly to settle his financial affairs. And Poor Tom would not live to see either of them again.

But at this point, George is still just a bachelor receiving a note from his lady friend (or special lady, if you prefer). We say it all the time here at the KLP, but we so often encounter moments like this one when it’s revealed just how quickly and regularly the big, life-changing events in the story of the Keats family happen.

Keats touches on some other topics of interest: his visit to the British Gallery and some of the paintings he saw, the poor health of his friend Reynolds, his attendance at more of Hazlitt’s lectures, Shelley’s recent poem (Laon and Cythna, published Dec 1817; revised and republished because of controversy as The Revolt of Islam in Jan 1818) and its likely absence at the “Teignmouth Libraries,” and the egotism of Wordsworth. On this last topic Keats writes, “I am sorry Wordsworth has left a bad impression wherever he visited in Town–by his egotism, Vanity and bigotry–yet he is a great Poet if not a Philosopher.” This opinion of Wordsworth will continue to solidify as the year goes by, particularly in the summer when Keats attempts to visit Wordsworth at Rydal Mount and misses him because the elder poet is out campaigning for the Tory politician William Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale (Keats, doing his best Trump impression, writes, “Sad–sad–sad”).

Oh and the thrushes make a return! It’s rather lovely to have this moment of Keats melding the birdsong into the moment of his writing: “The Thrushes are singing now–af it [presumably “as if”] they would speak to the Winds because their big brother Jack, the spring was’nt far off.” Some confusion arises here regarding what species of birds Keats is actually referring to. Remember that first he mentions “Thrushes and Blackbirds.” So is this “big brother Jack” one of the blackbirds? Perhaps Keats has confused the common blackbird with the Jackdaw, which is indeed a black-colored bird (but actually part of the crow family). What seems more likely is that Keats has in mind this nursery rhyme: “Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill / One named Jack and one named Jill” (or similar variations thereof). We are no experts in the history of nursery rhymes, but given this one’s existence in books from the middle of the nineteenth century, it seems plausible that it would have been in circulation in 1818. The other hint here is the “big brother.” The Common Blackbird (like other old world blackbirds) is actually a kind of thrush, from the genus TurdusTurdus merula, the Common Blackbird, is bigger (~25 cm) than Turdus philomelos, the Song Thrush (~23 cm), which is probably what Keats had in mind with “thrush.” He could also have meant Turdus viscivorus, the Mistle Thrush, another common bird in the UK. Confusing things further, in 1818 the Song Thrush was still classified as Turdus musicus, which then later gets wrongly associated as a former name for Turdus iliacus (the Redwing). It did not acquire the Greek-mythology-inspired name philomelos until 1831 (and we won’t quibble about Philomela turning into a nightingale or a thrush or some other singing bird). So anyway–we don’t really know for sure what kind of birdsong Keats was hearing, but we know what he heard was getting him in the mood for spring. Now here are some pictures of birds and some recordings of their song for you to enjoy!

The Common Blackbird, enjoying a snack.

The Mistle Thrush. Probably not what Keats meant.

The Redwing. Almost definitely not what Keats meant. But still pretty.

And finally, Turdus philomelos, formerly known as Turdus musicus. Probably what Keats was hearing. You can call him Song Thrush. Or just thrush, or throstle, or mavis. They really have lots of names.

To hear some samples of their songs, head over to Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Song Thrush.

Oh, and if you’d like to read the letter, you can read a slightly truncated version of it in Forman’s 1895 edition (based on Milnes, from Jeffrey’s transcript). Or read the whole thing in Keats’s hand below. Interestingly, this manuscript was acquired by Arthur Houghton in 1951, and presented to Harvard some years later. The KLP does not know any more about its provenance, but we’re intrigued by a letter that was not in the possession of one of the typical Keats stewards until so late in the 20th century. We shall find out more when we have time.

Page 1 of Keats’s 21 February 1818 letter to George and Tom. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.22). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 21 February 1818 letter to George and Tom. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.22). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 21 February 1818 letter to George and Tom. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.22). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 21 February 1818 letter to George and Tom. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.22). Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Letter #55: To Horace Smith, 19 February 1818

The second letter for today is to Horace Smith, about whom we’ve heard a bit before. Back at the end of January, he was making fun of another Horace (Twiss) with some bawdy lines Keats shared with Tom and George. Arden Hegele had a great reading of the letter and Keats’s ambiguous feelings about masculinity, the body, and sex. We also heard about Smith in the 14 February letter to George and Tom, in which Keats mentions Smith’s poem “Nehemiah Muggs” and shares some extracts from it. (See also the latest This Week on Keats for a shallow dive into early nineteenth-century attitudes toward Methodism, among other topics). And now we have a letter to Smith himself, with Keats mildly praising “Nehemiah Muggs” as having “a full leven of Wit and imaginative fun.” (Remember that back in the negative capability letter Keats’s disdain for wit and preference for humour was formulated after a dinner with Smith as host.)

But we’ll cut things short here and let you get to Anne McCarthy’s wonderful response, which situates Smith as a minor but nonetheless significant figure in 2nd-generation Romantic circles, even if Keats never warmed to him in the way he did with some other folks.

The letter can be read in Harry Buxton Forman’s updated 1901 edition of the complete works (we believe this edition was the letter’s first time in print). And it’s short, so here’s an image of the letter as well.

Keats’s 19 Feb 1818 letter to Horace Smith. From Harry Buxton Forman’s 1901 collected edition of Keats’s writings.