Letter #41: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 10 January 1818

In the introductory post for the first of today’s two letters, we noted that Keats devotes most of his space to apologizing in both of them. He has to excuse himself for not calling on his publisher John Taylor sooner because he hadn’t finished copying Book I of Endymion yet. And now to Haydon he has to apologize for bailing on the painter on multiple occasions. As a side note, we feel compelled to express sympathy for Keats’s predicament here. He begins his two letters today with “Several things have kept me from you lately” (to Taylor) and “I should have seen you ere this” (to Haydon). This humble KLP editor has been known to begin an email or two with a phrase like “Apologies for not getting back to you sooner.” Alas, we feel your pain, Keats.

But to the letter itself. As in the letter to Taylor, Keats here apologizes for being less available because of his busy dining-out schedule. He also notes that he’s had to call on his sister Fanny, it being the holiday season and all, and Fanny’s guardian Richard Abbey being an unpleasant, domineering sort who made it hard for the Keats brothers to see their sister on a more regular basis. We can detect some of Haydon’s pique about being snubbed in his reply to Keats sent on the next day, where he praises Keats and speaks confidently of what he believes will be an eternal friendship, but then also passive-aggressively suggests that Keats better give him notice if he ever plans to bail on Haydon. It comes off weirdly as a bit of a threat: “and now you know my peculiar feelings in wishing to have a notice when you cannot keep an engagement with me; there can never be as long as we live any ground of dispute between us.” In other words, “I really appreciate you as a friend so don’t give me any reasons to cut you loose!”

Also of interest at the end of today’s letter is Keats’s claim that “there are three things to rejoice at in this Age–The Excursion Your Pictures, and Hazlitt’s depth of Taste.” Even if Haydon was a bit miffed about Keats’s flexible social calendar, he clearly wasn’t bothered enough to turn down a compliment. And he returned the favor in his reply by noting “a fourth to be proud of–John Keats’ genius!” We concur, Haydon. We concur.

The text of the letter comes from the still extant manuscript, which Haydon preserved in his diary for decades. The diary was passed down through Haydon’s family for decades, until it was purchased by Maurice Buxton Forman in 1932. The Keats letters kept in the diary were purchased by Arthur Houghton and given to Harvard in 1952. For a reading text of the letter, we point you again to the 1895 volume edited by Harry Buxton Forman (father of Maurice). Images of the original manuscript below, courtesy of Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Page 1 of Keats’s 10 Jan 1818 letter to Haydon.
Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.18). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 10 Jan 1818 letter to Haydon.
Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.18). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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