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!