It seems the constant rain in Devon leads Keats to summon up his fair share of jokes. He continues ragging on the county and its weather, telling Haydon, “I have blown up said County for its urinal qualifications.” He also includes two silly poems (“For there’s Bishop’s teign” and “Where be ye going you devon Maid”). And then there’s the letter’s final passage, which we include in full here:
It’s a wonderful notion, coming up with “fine things” that have been ruined for him by their association with people he’s not overly fond of. Here one imagines how well Keats might have done if he ever took up writing for periodical magazines, writing funny essays à la Charles Lamb’s Elia on a topic such as this one. (Or if Keats were alive today, coming up with examples of fine things damned by their connection with the wrong people would make for an ideal Buzzfeed listicle!)
Hazlitt, of course, would be another appropriate comparison along these lines. And an interesting shift happens in Keats’s list when he arrives at the prose stylist whom he so admired. The Hazlitt examples are obviously offered up ironically (“how durst the Man” ruin bigoted people for Keats?!). We suspect the shift happens because Hazlitt was known for his ability to damn with harsh criticism. In the language of today’s social media environment, one could imagine Hazlitt “eviscerating” his fair share of targets with his sick burns and vicious twitter clapbacks (claps back?). There’s some confusing about what Keats intended with his last thought. You’ll notice above that Forman has this: “if ever I am damn’d–damn me if I shouldn’t like him to damn me.” In the manuscript of the letter, which you can see below, the text read as “damn me if” has been scratched out. So is Keats wishing to be damned by Hazlitt, or to avoid that fate? Seems like he could probably go either way. If you’re gonna be damned, might as well be damned by the best!
To read the letter in full, you can head over to Forman’s 1895 edition (there dated 23 Mar, based on the postmark; Keats’s “Saturd–Morn,” at the letter’s opening, would have been 21 Mar). Or for the scripturally-inclined, feel free to read from the images of the MS, courtesy, as usual, of Harvard’s Houghton Library.