Letter #117: To Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819 (with Charles Brown)

Today’s letter is a rollicking pun-fest featuring the collaborative comedy team of Keats and Charles Brown. Brown had been visiting with Dilke’s parents during the Christmas season, and Keats joined them in Chichester on the 18th or 19th of January. The day before writing this letter together, Brown and Keats walked from Chichester to Bedhampton, where they stayed with John Snook (who was connected to the Dilkes through his marriage to Letitia Dilke, sister of Charles). Brown and Keats relay news concerning the Dilkes’ relatives as well as the goings-on in Chichester and Bedhampton. We can particularly relate to Brown’s comment that “Mrs Dilke [i.e. Charles’ mother] is remarkably well for Mrs Dilke in winter.” Curse you, winter!

The playful spirit of the letter comes across right from the opening. Brown first addresses Charles as such: “This letter is Wife, and if you are a Gentleman, you will deliver it to her, without reading one word further.” It appears that Brown then made a dotted line across the page underneath this section and then began his letter to Maria Dilke. We say “it appears” because it seems likely that the additional text above that dotted line was added later, given that it is squeezed in above the line rather tightly. Keats wrote here “‘read thou Squire,” which was then followed by Brown writing “There is a depending on this.” What that all means is not entirely to us, but Keats’s phrase does appear in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Perhaps the wager was simply whether Dilke would read the letter or behave like a gentleman and deliver it direct to his wife, or perhaps it had something to do with Keats’s allusion? We don’t know. Moving on!

There’s a decent amount of punning, but things really get out of control on the letter’s third page, where Keats takes over and unleashes a string of playful sentences. The jokes continue as Brown returns claiming, “This is abominable! I did but go up stairs to put on a clean & starched hand-kerchief, & that over weening rogue read my letter & scrawled over one of my sheets.” Brown and Keats–just a couple of jokers!

We’ll leave you with just one more bit of wordplay, which Keats adds cross-wise on the letter’s first page: “N. B. I beg leaf to withdraw all my Puns–they are all wash, an base uns–” Zing!

To read the rest of the letter you can find it in The Keats Letters, Papers, and Other Relics Forming the Dilke Bequest in the Hampstead Public Library. Those materials are now in possession of the Keats House Museum in Hampstead. Facsimile images of the manuscript come from the book linked above.

Image of the first page of the manuscript of Brown and Keats's letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Page 1 of Brown and Keats’s letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Image of the second page of the manuscript of Brown and Keats's letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Page 2 of Brown and Keats’s letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Image of the third page of the manuscript of Brown and Keats's letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Page 3 of Brown and Keats’s letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Image of the fourth page of the manuscript of Brown and Keats's letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.
Page 4 of Brown and Keats’s letter to Charles and Maria Dilke, 24 January 1819.

Letter #113: To George and Georgiana Keats, 16 December 1818–4 January 1819

Today we encounter the second of Keats’s great “journal letters” to George and Georgiana in America. Readers will recall the first of these from back in October 1818. Between that letter and this one, Keats had not heard any further news from George and Georgiana, nor would he until several months into 1819. This was also the first letter Keats sent to America after Tom’s death, although it seems that, according to Keats’s opening, William Haslam had sent notice to George and Georgiana sometime between Tom’s death on 1 December and when Keats began the letter on the 16th.

As is typically the case with these journal letters, written over weeks and even months, this one ranges widely in terms of its topics. There is the discussion of Tom’s final illness and the ensuing grief, but also more hopeful and light topics such as Keats’s first impressions of Fanny Brawne and the receipt of a laudatory sonnet enclosed with a £25 note. There is also the inclusion of two poems which will end up in Keats’s 1820 volume: “Fancy” and “Bards of Passion and of Mirth.” So go ahead and read the whole letter. It’s well worth your time! Forman’s 1901 edition includes the text of the letter based on John Jeffrey’s transcript, which, in Jeffrey’s defense, is one of his more accurate and comprehensive ones. The entire manuscript can be viewed via Houghton Library at Harvard

And for your additional pleasure and delight, we have two posts in response to this journal letter. First is “Improper Time” from Kamran Javadizadeh (Villanova), who focuses on the temporal oddities that occur when writing letters across the ocean in 1818-19. And then we have a set of paired responses by Kathleen Béres Rogers (College of Charleston) and Brittany Pladek (Marquette), both of whom focus on Keats’s reflections on illness and death in their piece “Sensation and Immortality.” Enjoy!

Letter #112: To Ann Griffin Wylie, 1 January (?) 1819

The first letter of 1819 may have actually been the last letter of 1818, but we’ll go with Hyder Edward Rollins’s guess at the date. Keats is writing to Mrs. Wylie, the mother of Georgiana Wylie Keats, who would have then been nearing her first anniversary of her marriage to George Keats. Since the letter was delivered by messenger, we have not postage marks to help us with the date. But Keats does mention a sore throat, which he had also mentioned to Fanny Keats on 30 December 1818. And we know that he will indeed send off his second journal letter to George and Georgiana on 4 January 1819, so the reference to the ship bound for Philadelphia fits in that time frame as well.

The first/last letter of 1819/1818 has another distinctive honor: it is one of the few letters to have been rediscovered in the past century. As regular KLPers may remember, we’ve encountered some relatively recently uncovered letters before. One of them was in fact first published by the same figure who is responsible for bringing today’s letter to light: Louis Arthur Holman. We last heard from him back on March 25, 2017, when we wrote about his first publishing of a letter to Charles Cowden Clarke written on that date in 1817. Today’s letter Holman came across in the holdings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and he published the letter in his pamphlet, Within the Compass of a Print Shop in October 1935. Below we reproduce the letter via image from Rollins’s edition, and from Holman’s original publication! KLP co-editor Brian Rejack was lucky enough to find a copy of Holman’s pamphlet for purchase on the interwebs a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

From Hyder Edward Rollins’s The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821 (Harvard UP, 1958). Screenshot via Google Books
The letter as it was first published in Louis Arthur Holman’s Within the Compass of a Print Shop, October 1935. Image via Brian Rejack’s personal copy.

Letter #111: To Fanny Keats, 30 December 1818

Keats writes to Fanny today to explain that a sore throat is keeping him “confined at Hampstead,” and that he won’t be able to visit her for at least a few days. He also recognizes that he has sometimes been careless of his health and vows to be a bit more careful: “I intended to have been in Town yesterday but feel obliged to be careful a little while–I am in general so careless of these trifles, that they tease me for Months, when a few days care is all that is necessary.” If only that had been true for Keats for longer…

And with that we leave 1818 behind! Another milestone, if you’ve been following along with your trusty copy of Hyder Edward Rollins’s scholarly edition of the letters: we’re now embarking on volume 2! A halfway point of sorts, then. The KLP is pleased to have you along for the next stage!

Text of the letter can be accessed via Harry Buxton Forman’s 1901 edition of the letters, courtesy of HathiTrust.

Letter #110: To John Taylor, 24 December 1818

Just a brief note from Keats to Taylor, and really only one main purpose for sending it: money money money! Keats has really come a long way regarding his anxiety about money matters. Just compares today’s note to the one Keats sent to his publishers Taylor and Hessey back in June 1817 (and while you’re at it, read David Sigler’s insightful and hilarious analysis of the letter). Whereas Keats bent over backwards to excuse his request for a loan 18 months ago, here he simply begins the letter by asking for the cash outright! Good for you, Keats.

The manuscript of the letter resides at Houghton Library at Harvard. You can view the images below, courtesy of their online resource.

Page 1 of Keats’s 24 December 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.44). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 4 of Keats’s 24 December 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.44). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #109: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 22 December 1818

As we saw two days ago, Keats had canceled on a dinner engagement with Haydon on 20 December, but the two got together for the day of 21 December. It appears that Haydon the next day had sent a message to Keats apologizing for his “going out of the room” before they sat down to their meal. Keats writes back explaining that he was not offended at all. In other words, typical stuff for Keats’s correspondence! Particularly with Haydon, who was rather sensitive and quick to worry about having offended his friends (and quick to be offended by them himself), we often find letters like these which aim to smooth over any potential hurt feelings. It’s safe to say Haydon would have empathized with the members of Flight of the Conchords.

But we do digress. Another topic of importance comes towards the end of the letter. Keats offers to help Haydon financially, but also asks that Haydon first apply for assistance from “the rich lovers of art.” As we’ve seen in other letters by Keats, and as probably all of us know from experience, money issues can certainly lead to some hurt feelings! Over the next two years, of course, financial woes become more and more pressing for Keats. At this point, though, he seems to have been pretty sanguine about his prospects.

Another significant moment, which our contributor for today has much more to say about, is Keats’s mention of “all the vices of a Poet,” especially that of “irritability.” As Jeanne Britton writes in her piece, irritability signifies in several interrelated ways for Keats. Read the whole post to find out more!

Text of the letter to Haydon can be read via Forman’s 1901 edition here. Images below come courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Page 1 of Keats’s 22 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.43). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 2 of Keats’s 22 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.43). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 3 of Keats’s 22 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.43). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Page 4 of Keats’s 22 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.43). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #108: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 20 December 1818

We know that Keats got himself in a bit of a sticky situation regarding Christmas invites (see his letter to Charlotte Reynolds from a few days back). Today’s letter involves another declined invitations, but it seems this one was rather easier for Keats to get out off. This letter to Haydon involves just a few lines in which Keats explains that he “had an engagement today,” and as such, he would not be able to dine with Haydon. He promises to do so the next day when, he tells Haydon, “we will hate the profane vulgar & make us Wings.” One hopes that they enjoyed their flights of fancy that day!

Text of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1901 edition of Keats’s complete works (where he has the letter dated as 2 January 1819). Images of the manuscript below come courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard.

Keats’s 20 December 1818 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.42). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #107: To Fanny Keats, 18 December 1818

As we have occasionally remarked since encountering the first of Keats’s letters to Fanny, most of those manuscripts were given by her (through Harry Buxton Forman) to the British Museum towards the end of her life. Those forty-two letters now reside at the British Library. However, there are a few others that took different paths into public existence. Today’s letter is one of three such letters.

For background on these letters, we direct you to Maurice Buxton Forman’s piece in the Times Literary Supplement from 4 October 1934. The details of how Fanny kept these three letters in her possession is outlined as such:

From the Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1934.

The two letters “regard as of too sacred and personal a nature for publications during her lifetime” we’ll come to later this spring and in fall of 2020, respectively. But the third, as Forman notes, was written by Keats on the back of a letter written by Mrs. Dilke to Fanny on 18 December 1818. Keats appears to have added his brief note on that same day, although the letter was not posted until a few days later, 21 December (as indicated by the postage marks).

The content of Keats’s note is, much like other ones to Fanny around this time, mostly concerned with apologizing for not seeing her as often as he would have liked. He promises to come see her the following week. As we’ll see when we get into early 1819, obstacles continued to be placed in between the siblings, primarily by Fanny’s guardian Richard Abbey. But Keats would persist and write on an almost biweekly basis to his sister for much of 1819.

The brief note, along with additional contextual information, we reproduced below from Forman’s TLS article in 1934. This piece marked the first publication of all three letters from Keats to Fanny which had not made their way to the British Museum through the elder Forman a few decades prior.

From the Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1934.

Letter #106: To Richard Woodhouse, 18 December 1818

A fascinating letter from Keats to Woodhouse, not so much for the content of the letter as for the context it alludes to. Some background, then. Woodhouse had a cousin named Mary Frogley, whom the Keats brothers had known through their friendship with George Felton Mathew (and his cousins, Ann and Caroline). Earlier in 1818 Frogley had borrowed Woodhouse’s copy of Endymion. She and her future husband, Henry Neville, asked Woodhouse for more time with the book, explaining that their friends Jane Porter had seen the book on Neville’s table while visiting with him, and asked if she might borrow it from him. After she (and her sister Anna Maria) had read the poem and been pleased with it, the Porters asked if Neville knew the author and might be able to arrange an introduction with him. Through Woodhouse, Neville passed along a letter from Jane Porter in which she expressed this desire.

Keats’s letter to Woodhouse, then, is in response to Porter’s letter and Woodhouse’s offer of making the “introduction to a Class of society, from which you may possible derive advantage as well as gratification, if you think proper to avail yourself of it.” The Porter sisters were already well-established authors, each of them having published several books by this time in 1818. Keats, however, was not overly inclined to make new friends at the moment. We see an increasingly anti-social side of Keats over the next few months: he writes to George and Georgiana in January 1819 of Woodhouse’s offer, and in that same letter he also expresses his frustration with Leigh Hunt and his social circle. So part of Keats’s hesitancy surely results from his desire for a bit of solitude. He writes to Woodhouse, “I have a new leaf to turn over–I must work–I must read–I must write–I am unable to affrod time for new acquaintances–I am scarcely able to do my duty to those I have.”

There is, however, another factor likely at play here. As we’ve seen in the past, and as we’ll see on multiple occasions again in 1819, Keats had an anxious relationship with women writers. One senses his condensation in his letter to Woodhouse: “I must needs feel flattered by making an impression on a set of Ladies–I should be content to do so in meretricious romance verse if they alone and not Men were to judge.” Keats elsewhere associates women’s writing with popularity as against the seriousness of male discourse. One imagines that Keats’s disdain for popularity is in part a result of not achieving it. An easy defense mechanism for the little-read poet is to dismiss more popular writing (in this case, by women) as less significant, less consequential, less serious.

Keats’s disdain comes across more fully when he copies Porter’s letter to George and Georgiana, after which he offers this gloss on the invitation: “Now I feel more obliged than flattered by this–so obliged that I will not at present give you an extravaganza of a Lady Romancer. I will be introduced to them if it be merely for the pleasure of writing to you about it.” One hopes that if Keats had met the Porter sisters, he would have changed his attitude about “Lady Romancers.” Surely he had a thing or two to learn from them if he would have been willing to know them genuinely, and not just as fodder for ridicule.

The letter can be read via Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition here. Below are images of Keats’s letter, as well as Woodhouse’s transcript of the letter from Jane Porter to Henry Neville (both courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library).

Image of Keats's letter to Woodhouse.
Keats’s 18 December 1818 letter to Richard Woodhouse. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.41). Houghton Library, Harvard University. Note the signature was at some point cut away.
Image of Jane Porter's letter to Henry Neville as copied by Woodhouse.
Woodhouse’s transcript of Jane Porter’s 4 December 1818 letter to Henry Neville. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Letter #105: To Charlotte Reynolds (née Cox), 15 December 1818

It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: awkward social interactions! We can certainly file today’s letter under that category. Here’s what happened. Keats initially thought he’d end up traveling to Chichester to spend Christmas with the Dilke family (and Charles Brown). Figuring as much, he appeared to have accepted two different invitations for Christmas dinner in London, one from the Reynoldses and one from the Brawnes. Hey, we’ve all been there. Someone asks if you want to do something, and to be polite and kind, you offer up some sort of non-committal, “oooh, that sounds lovely!” But then reality hits and you need to reckon with the impossibility of being in two places at once. Keats’s strategy for handling the situation appears not to have been all that wise.

He writes to Mrs. Reynolds (wife of George, mother of John Hamilton, Jane, Mariane, Eliza, and Charlotte) with this ill-conceived explanation: “When I left you yesterday, ‘t was with the conviction that you thought I had received no previous invitation for Christmas day: the truth is I had, and had accepted it under the conviction that I should be in Hampshire at the time: else believe me I should not have done so, but kept in Mind my old friends.” The problem is that it pits the Reynolds family against the Brawnes, and as we’ll see, the Reynolds sisters in particular ended up resenting Fanny Brawne as she and Keats became more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Keats himself also ended up seeing less and less of the Reynoldses, although his displeasure with them had already surfaced earlier. It’s possible, nay, likely, that Keats actually just preferred to spend Christmas with the Brawnes, and this letter was his attempt at making nice with the Reynoldses while also turning down their invitation. In any case, Keats does spend Christmas with the Brawnes, and, well, you know how things go from there! We’ll have plenty more to hear about young Miss Brawne in the coming months.

A quick note on the provenance of today’s letter. It appears that it remained in the Reynolds family for some time. The first printing of it was in Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition, where he notes that he was personally in contact with the youngest sister, also Charlotte, who lived until 1884. Our best guess is that she still owned the letter in 1883 and lent it to Forman for use in his edition. Later the letter was owned by A. S. W. Rosenbach, a collector of rare books and manuscripts who owned a few other Keats items. One of his purchases–of a letter to Fanny Brawne–was memorialized in a cheeky poem by Christopher Morley.

From Chimneysmoke (1921), by Christopher Morley

But we do digress. Today’s letter was acquired by Robert H. Taylor, probably sometime around mid-century (perhaps after Rosenbach’s death in 1952). Taylor bequeathed his collection of materials to Princeton University (his alma mater), where it still resides. For a bit of info on Taylor’s collection and another of Keats’s letters housed within it, check out our post for Keats’s 15 April 1817 letter to George and Tom.

To read the text of the letter, we direct you to Forman’s 1883 edition, where, you’ll notice, he explains his knowledge of the letter coming directly from the younger Charlotte Reynolds.