Letter #10: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 21 November 1816

As we saw yesterday, Keats sent Haydon his “Great Spirits” sonnet on 20 November 1816, the morning after the two spent an evening together talking poems and making puns while Haydon sketched Keats’s profile for his eventual inclusion in Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. Pretty remarkable how quickly Haydon took to Keats–they meet for the first time and then a couple weeks later, he’s like, “hey Keats, how ’bout I put you in my painting right behind Wordsworth?” The KLP is struck again and again in these early, heady days at the rapidity of Keats’s emergence as a poet in 1816. Back in September Keats was anxiously sharing his poetry with Charles Cowden Clarke for the first time–now in November Haydon is promising to forward Keats’s sonnet along to Wordsworth. No biggie.

In this second letter to Haydon, then, Keats praises the artist’s suggested revision to the poem (the ellipsis in line 13, about which Keats says, “I glory in it”). And he admits to being put “out of breath” at the thought of his poem making its way north to Wordsworth, “He of the Cloud, the Cataract, the Lake.” One can see the care with which Keats prepared this fair copy of the poem, on a sheet separate from and enclosed within his letter to Haydon. As Susan Wolfson noted yesterday, Haydon did not send the fair copy itself, choosing instead to keep that one for himself, and to send a transcript to Wordsworth (after delaying for a month or so). It now resides at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere. Haydon did not present the sonnet with near as much care, as you can see here from this photograph taken by KLP editor Brian Rejack, when he, along with another KLP editor, Mike Theune, visited in July 2015.

Haydon's letter to Wordsworth, including a transcript of the 'Great Spirits' sonnet. Getting the first two lines and then having to turn over the page--not exactly the best reading experience. Come on, Haydon!

Haydon’s letter to Wordsworth, including a transcript of the ‘Great Spirits’ sonnet. Getting the first two lines and then having to turn over the page–not exactly the best reading experience. Come on, Haydon!

In any case, Wordsworth seemed to like the sonnet well enough, although, as Austin Smith writes today, one begins to sense a bit of condescension from His Eminence, who by 1816 had been ensconsced for a few years in the, ahem, slightly-more-regal-than-Dove-Cottage setting of Rydal Mount. But Keats was not yet to lose any faith in Wordsworth. Surely he remained in November 1816 absolutely overjoyed at the thought of any connection with his poet-hero.

Keats also remained at that point firmly convinced that he himself had a shot at becoming another Great Spirit then on Earth sojourning. Austin Smith offers us a valuable suggestion for these early years of Keats’s bicentenary memorials–we would do well to momentarily put aside our knowledge of late Keats, with all the self-annihilating pessimism it brings. Smith writes that, to get there, Keats first “had to work through the desire to be known”; he had to revel in his hope that the sacred springs of Mount Helicon might deign to “spout a little streamlet o’er” his “sorry pages.” Did they ever, Keats. Did they ever.

All MS images from John Keats Collection, (MS Keats 1.4). Houghton Library, Harvard University. Click on each to see full size images.

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