Letter #16: To George and Tom Keats, 15 April 1817

One supposes that at some point we’ll run out of firsts to commemorate, but today is certainly not that day. Keats’s letter sent two hundred years ago today is the first extant letter sent to his brothers George and Tom (we’ve already encountered his epistle to George, but this letter is the first one we have that was addressed to both brothers). Looking forward a bit, the second extant letter to George and Tom comes in December of this year, and… wait for it… it is none other than the negative capability letter! Mark your calendars for December 21-27–the KLP will have plenty of negatively capable action on the docket for that week.

Today’s letter is another breezy one, though much longer than the note to Taylor and Hessey from a few days back. As he was in that letter, Keats is on the move and in a hurry today. He manages a breathless account of the many sites encountered on his journey from London to Southampton, from which he sends his letter before departing on a ferry to the Isle of Wight. Richard Marggraf Turley’s response matches the energy and wit of Keats’s letter point for point. With remarkable detail, precision, and insight, Marggraf Turley reveals a great deal about the landscape Keats traversed on his journey, and also about the rapidity with which Keats was indeed, literally and figuratively, “going places.” We daresay Marggraf Turley’s essay will both instruct and delight!

We present the images of the original MS courtesy of Princeton University Library, which acquired the letter relatively recently: in 1972 as part of the Robert H. Taylor Collection. Taylor amassed a collection of some 7000 items, among which were six of Keats’s letters. A small curious detail which may be of interest only to the most arcane of KLP readers: for his 1958 edition of Keats’s letters, Hyder Edward Rollins printed four of these six letters with the MSS as his copy texts, but not the other two, which included today’s letter to George and Tom, and a March 1820 letter to Fanny Brawne. That is to say, Rollins certainly knew Taylor owned four of the six–did Rollins not know of the other two in Taylor’s possession? Or perhaps Taylor came into possession of today’s letter and the Fanny Brawne letter sometime after the 1958 publication of Rollins’s edition? Perhaps Taylor just wanted to keep two of his letters secret from Rollins?? Hard to say. In any case, today’s letter was printed by Rollins using Harry Buxton Forman’s 1883 edition as the copy text. And it turns out Forman did a solid job of editing–feel free to compare Forman’s edition against the images, which we present for your viewing pleasure below.

Of course, we were just kidding about Taylor hiding two of the manuscripts from Rollins. Now we can confirm that Taylor acquired this letter quite late: in late 1976 or early 1977. The Princeton University Library Chronicle for Winter-Spring 1977 features essays dedicated to Robert H. Taylor and the collection named after him. In the issues opening essay, the volume editor Robert J. Wickenheiser informs us that Taylor continues to actively collect. Among the list of his most recent acquisitions (“within the past six months”) is Keats 15 April 1817 letter to George and Tom. The question remains, however: from whom did Taylor acquire it? We know that Rollins in 1958 explained that the MS “was owned by MBF [Maurice Buxton Forman].” For how long and when he owned it is unclear. But the letter was once pasted into Haydon’s diary (likely given to him later in 1817). MBF bought Haydon’s diary in 1932 and removed the Keats letters which were still pasted in it. He seems to have sold some if not all of those. For now, then, that’s all the info we’ve got.


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