Letter #40: To John Taylor, 10 January 1818

Two letters from Keats on this day two hundred years ago: both brief ones, and both ones in which Keats has to apologize for his recipients. First up is the letter to John Taylor, Keats’s publisher. Keats had finished his draft of Endymion back at the end of November 1817, but by this point in early January 1818 he’d just barely begun to make progress in revising and making a fair copy of the poem. So, to Taylor, Keats has to apologize for dropping off the radar a bit. He comes up with a few excuses for his absence, including first, his “vow not to call again without [his] first book [of Endymion].” There’s also the tendency we’ve seen a lot of from material on the KLP over the past month and a half or so: Keats continues his active social life. He notes to Taylor that he had been “racketing too much” and as a result “[does] not feel over well.” It seems the effects of the Immortal Dinner, not to mention the Mortal Dinner (as the KLP has decided the George Reddell dinner ought to be called), had begun to catch up with the young gadabout.

The other excuse Keats offers is that Taylor “had got into a little hell, which [Keats] was not anxious to reconnoitre.” This “little hell,” according to Hyder Edward Rollins’s footnote, was a dispute Taylor and Hessey (Taylor’s business partner) had with Leigh Hunt over the transfer of profits from Hunt’s The Story of Rimini, which was first published by John Murray in 1816, and then reprinted in 1817 by Taylor and Hessey. We draw your attention to this detail because it continues with a theme we just began to see in late 1817 and which will recur frequently in the letters of 1818: Keats’s frustration with quarrels between members of his circle. The most direct statement of his discontent comes from the 8 October 1817 letter to Benjamin Bailey, in which Keats claims, “I am quite disgusted with literary Men and will never know another except Wordsworth–no not even Byron–Here is an instance of the friendships of such.” He then goes on to detail a dispute between Haydon and Hunt. Well, we get just a hint of another such dispute here, and we’ll see more from Keats on this matter over the next year. Indeed, we see some of it on display in the next letter from today, written to none other than Haydon!

But before getting to that, you can read the text of Keats’s letter to Taylor in the one-volume Forman edition from 1895. The original letter is now lost, but it exists thanks to a transcript made by Richard Woodhouse, an image of which you can see below courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Richard Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 10 January 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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