Today’s letter is one of the more recently discovered Keats manuscripts, having been first published in 1935. We’ve encountered its initial publisher before. Way back in the halcyon days of October 2016 we wrote about the fortuitous re-discovery of Keats’s 9 October 1816 letter to Charles Cowden Clarke. The same characters from that story–J. H. Birss and Louis Arthur Holman–return again with this letter to William Mayor. At this time we don’t have any information on how or where Birss came across the letter, but as with the 9 October 1816 letter, Birss went to Louis Arthur Holman to arrange its initial publication.
Holman you may also remember from the 25 March 1817 letter to Cowden Clarke, which Holman located in the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland in 1929. Those two letters to Clarke, along with a letter from November 1819 which we’ll return to later this year, Holman printed in his pamphlet Within the Compass of a Print Shop in 1932. Three years later, in October 1935, Holman issued a new number of the pamphlet which included today’s letter to Mayor. It also included Keats’s letter to the mother of Georgiana Wylie Keats from January 1819. All of this is to say, Holman has pride of place when it comes to the first publication of Keats letters during the first few decades of the twentieth century.
There isn’t too much we know about William Mayor, beyond his connection to Benjamin Robert Haydon. According to Maurice Buxton Forman, Mayor was a student of Haydon’s and later a collector of paintings. While it doesn’t seem that Keats was particularly close with Mayor (this is the only extant letter between them, and we don’t encounter any other mentions of Mayor in Keats’s correspondence), the note is a friendly one, and it includes an invitation for Mayor to come and stay with Keats and Brown at Wentworth Place. Also of note is that Keats sends his regards through Mayor to Charles Cowden Clarke. In the early days of Keats’s correspondence, Clarke was one of his most frequent addressees. The two seem to have grown apart a bit by this time in early 1819, but Keats wishes Mayor to express to Clarke, “the assurance of my constant idea of him–notwithstanding our long separation and my antipathy=indolentissimum to letter writing.” Well, we daresay that Keats did pretty good work on the letter writing thing as a whole, even if he felt like he neglected Clarke.
Images below show the letter as it was first published by Holman in 1935, and the manuscript courtesy of Houghton Library. Note that Holman got the date incorrect–the postmark is faint, but it does indeed read “CAMDEN TOWN / EV / 4 FE / 1819” (EV for evening, FE for February).