Letter #44: To John Taylor, 23 January 1818

The second of the day’s letters concerns the same topic as the first: the possibility that Haydon might provide an image to be engraved for Endymion. Keats here informs Taylor of Haydon’s hesitation about illustrating a scene from the poem. Quoting Haydon’s letter, Keats explains the reasoning for Haydon’s reluctance: “to hurry up a sketch for the season won’t do.” Haydon also suggests, however, that he could offer one of his chalk drawings of Keats’s head (done as study for including Keats in Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem). He even specifies that he would agree to put his name to the drawing if Taylor were to have it engraved for the book. One suspects that Taylor is thinking strategically, and that Haydon gets the idea too. Keats’s first book was not exactly a smash hit. And Haydon has a name that carries more weight at this point, so he’s offering to help out his friend in whom he sincerely believes, but it seems he also understands that to put his name to a frontispiece might help Taylor’s (and Keats’s) financial interests as well.

To learn more about this topic, we hope you’ll check out the first KLP Interview, with Thora Brylowe (University of Colorado, Boulder). She and KLP co-editor Brian Rejack chat about this letter to Taylor and the one to Haydon that proceeded it, and Thora explains some of the bigger issues at work in the relationships between painters, authors, engravers and publishers during the period (which she explores in more depth in her forthcoming book from Cambridge UP, Romantic Art in Practice: Cultural Work and the Sister Arts, 1760–1820). We hope you enjoy it!

The letter comes to us from Harvard, but it has some intriguing details regarding its travels before resting there. The vast majority of the letters to Taylor remained in his family until they were sold at auction in 1903 and then acquired by Amy Lowell, who bequeathed them to Harvard. This letter to Taylor, however, was sold at the Bangs & Co. auction house in New York in 1897. The collector William Harris Arnold snagged the letter then. After he died in 1923, his collection of over one thousand manuscripts and books was auctioned off at the Anderson Galleries (which had absorbed Bangs & Co. in 1903) in New York in November 1924. One person who did pretty well at the auction was Amy Lowell, who purchased four Keats manuscripts: the verse epistle to George from 1816, two different sheets from the Feb-May 1819 journal letter to George and Georgiana, and a portion of The Cap and Bells / The Jealousies–namely, the best portion: that containing “This living hand”. (If we trust the annotations in the margins of the University of California’s copy of the Arnold sale catalogue, Lowell spent just over $7000 for the four items–about $100K in 2017 dollars.)

There were six Keats manuscripts for sale, though, so what happened to the two others? One went to Owen D. Young, another collector like Lowell–Young’s books and manuscripts would go on to form a significant portion of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. So that leaves today’s letter to Taylor–it went to Edith Lindsley Reynolds (1883-1964). It seems that she was not invested in collecting in the way that Lowell and Young were. We imagine she was simply a true Friend of Keats. Reynolds was the daughter of a wealthy banker in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, so she apparently had the funds to spend $1275 on the letter. Her diary, written from 1898-1901, is at Special Collections at Penn State–perhaps it may hold some clues about her thoughts on Keats and why she might have wanted to own an item from his hand. In any case, we’re glad she had the pleasure of owning the letter, which she eventually bequeathed to the Osterhout Free Public Library in Wilkes-Barre. Arthur Houghton acquired it at some point later on and presented it to Harvard.

Reynolds also seems to have studied art with the painter Robert Henri, who also painted her in at least two versions. One of those is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. (but not currently on display). The other, which we include below, is at the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Miss Edith Reynolds, by Robert Henri, 1908. Everhart Museum.

Oh, right–the letter! You can read the text of it via the catalogue for the Arnold sale here (it also includes a facsimile of the manuscript). And the image below comes courtesy of Harvard, and, indirectly but importantly, courtesy of Edith Lindsley Reynolds.

Keats’s 23 Jan 1818 letter to Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.19). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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