Letter #45: To Benjamin Bailey, 23 January 1818

For his third letter of the day, Keats sat down to write to Benjamin Bailey. As we saw in the letter to George and Tom back on 13 and 19 January, Keats has been thinking fondly of Bailey in comparison to the antics of Reynolds and Haydon, and Hunt and Haydon (fighting over minor slights). And we see Keats returning to this theme as he addresses Bailey directly. The squabbles he refers to as things “of great Perplexity.” And, indeed, it does seem that Keats’s frustration was much more a product of his inability to understand why his friends wouldn’t simply get over themselves and make up (“Men should bear with each other”), than it was about him being upset about any particular individual’s behavior.

As Keats moves on to report on how their other mutual friends are doing, he tells of a recent visit to Leigh Hunt’s where they looked at a lock of Milton’s hair. Naturally, they had to write some poems about it. And the majority of the rest of the letter includes the poem and a few more words about it from Keats after he’s copied it. That poem–along with the hair of Milton, and of Keats–is the focus of the response to this letter, from Jayne Lewis (University of California Irvine). It’s a sharp and witty essay, which we think you’ll thoroughly enjoy whether you prefer Keats’s or Milton’s hair. Of course the KLP is partial to Keats’s locks, but we recognize that there’s plenty of room in the temple of fame for Milton’s tresses too.

The letter is at Harvard’s Houghton Library, which provides the images below. And Harry Buxton Forman’s 1895 edition offers a good reading text, just in case you’re not yet used to reading Keats’s handwriting (just takes a bit of practice!).

Page 1 of Keats’s 23 Jan 1818 letter to Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.20). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 23 Jan 1818 letter to Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.20). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 23 Jan 1818 letter to Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.20). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 23 Jan 1818 letter to Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.20). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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