Letter #12: To J. H. Reynolds, 9 March 1817

Today at the KLP we encounter for the first time two heroic figures in the story of Keats: John Hamilton Reynolds and Richard Woodhouse. The former is one of Keats’s great epistolary partners. The latter is one of Keats’s great preservationists, of both his poetry and his prose. Today’s letter we have thanks to them both. Of Keats’s 21 letters to Reynolds which still exist in whole or in part, only three exist via the original MS (19 Feb 1818 at Princeton, 24 Aug 1819 at the New York Public Library, and 28 Feb 1820 at the University of Texas). The other 18 exist via transcripts made by Woodhouse. He copied 57 of Keats’s letters (and many of his poems). Out of those 57 letters, 20 exist in no other source. For all you math fans out there, that means all but two of the letters for which Woodhouse’s transcripts are the sole source are letters to Reynolds. And what a loss it would have been had Woodhouse not copied these letters to Reynolds! The KLP editorial board might disagree on this assessment, but one or two of us subscribe to the argument that after Keats’s brothers, sisters (counting his sister-in-law), and Fanny Brawne, Reynolds is the most significant correspondent for Keats across his epistolary career.

Admittedly, however, the 9 Mar 1817 letter to Reynolds is not one of the most consequential sent to him by Keats. But as we’ve seen before at the KLP, even some of these short, seemingly throwaway letters still have moments of brilliance and fascination that our correspondents’ responses help to shine through. Tristram Wolff’s response for today’s letter is no exception in this regard. From this brief note in which Keats thanks Reynolds for the favorable review the latter had just published on the former’s recently published book (see This Week in Keats, Episode 2 for more on Keats’s first book!), Wolff helps us see flickers of William Hazlitt’s brilliance and the influence it will have on Keats. This letter marks the first recorded reference to Hazlitt by Keats, but as Wolff demonstrates, it testifies to a connection between the two that was by this point in 1817 already well established and firmly ingrained (at least in Keats’s mind). Wolff also shows us that at this early stage in Keats’s poetic career, the young poet is keenly attuned to the realm of literary reviewing, long before he becomes embroiled in it in more significant ways. So you should really go read his post–the KLP may be a bit biased in the matter, but we think it’s a pretty fantastic piece. Enjoy!


From Richard Woodhouse’s letter-book. John Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.


From Richard Woodhouse’s letter-book. John Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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