Keats is now back in London, after his productive stay at Oxford with Benjamin Bailey for all of September 1817. Keats completed Book III of Endymion while there. Over the coming weeks he’d finish the poem, then start getting to the work of copying and revising as he readied the poem for publication with his new publishers, John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey.
One remarkable thing to note about these fall months is how quickly he and Bailey became friends. They had barely just met when Bailey invited Keats to stay with him in Oxford, and after a month together, they were thick as thieves. Bailey becomes a regular interlocutor for the rest of 1817 and well into 1818, after which they seemed to grow apart. But for now, in October and November of 1817, Keats finds in Bailey an indispensable epistolary confidant. At this important moment in Keats’s poetic career (nearing the conclusion of Endymion and starting to contemplate his next steps—no rest for the weary!), Bailey is on the receiving end of some of Keats’s most sustained thinking about poetry, to this point, expressed in epistolary form.
Today’s letter is no exception. Keats opines at length about the thinking behind his undertaking of Endymion. And Deven Parker’s response to the letter for today uses the occasion to explore how in Endymion Keats “casts poetic composition as manual labor and calls attention to the physical and formal constraints that mediate his process, inscribing the poem with the marks of its making.” Before you head over to read her brilliant post, one final thing to note about the letter and its history.
We know that the letters we have are only a small fraction of the letters Keats wrote. Sad but true. In some cases we have some knowledge about those lost letters (we’ll call them the “known unknown” letters). Today’s letter to Bailey includes a long extract from a letter which Keats says he “wrote to George in the Spring.” Back in London with his brothers, Keats clearly had that letter (and others) at hand, ready for him to reread, rethink, and then repeat to Bailey with some new framing and insight. It’s a fascinating piece of evidence testifying to the correspondence’s status, even just weeks or months after the moment of first composition and circulation, as artefacts to be revisited and recirculated. Here at the KLP we’re undertaking a sustained sitting down to read Keats’s letters again, 200 years on, but it’s worth noting with today’s letter that Keats himself was doing a bit of rereading himself. The ongoing lives of the letters seem to, like the poetry of the earth, never die.
Images of the letter courtesy of Harvard, once again. And for a 19-century reading edition, our good pal Harry Buxton Forman, as per usual.
*Programming note: some members of the KLP editorial team were attending the 2017 Romantic Bicentennials Curran Symposium at Fordham University, the topic of which was Keats’s Emergence as a Poet. It was a great day! But that also means internet access while traveling home today is a bit spotty (this post has gone live courtesy of United Airlines wifi—currently providing access somewhere over Ohio maybe?). Deven Parker’s post will go live later today when this editor returns to the surface of the Earth and its more widely available internet connections. And images to the current post will be added later as well. Airline wifi can’t handle much, it seems…
**Ok, the KLP has now left the sky. Here are the images of the letter, as promised.