Today’s letter marks a first that we here at the KLP are very excited about: the first mention of Keats’s summer plans! That’s right, we’re getting close to the Northern Tour of 1818. It was a big deal for Keats in many ways, and, lucky for all of us, it produced some amazing letters. We’ve got these gems to anticipate: the account of Keats’s visit to Stock Ghyll Force in Ambleside, Keats’s thoughts on Wordsworth campaigning for the Tory MP William Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale), drinking “whuskey” at the birthplace of Robert Burns, going up Ben Nevis (and “N.B. [coming] down again”), other sights like Ailsa Rock and Fingal’s Cave, and LOTS of opinions on “the cursed Oatcake.” So get your walking shoes ready!
Keats gives some idea of his intentions on undertaking the trip as he informs Haydon of the plan. Here’s that passage:
I purpose within a Month to put my knapsack at my back and make a pedestrian tour through the North of England, and part of Scotland–to make a sort of Prologue to the Life I intend to pursue–that is to write, to study and to see all Europe at the lowest expence. I will clamber through the Clouds and exist. I will get such an accumulation of stupendous recollolections that as I walk through the suburbs of London I may not see them–I will stand upon Mont Blanc and remember this coming Summer when I intend to straddle ben Lomond–with my Soul!–galligaskins are out of the Question.
No word on the fate of the galligaskins, but we get a pretty good sense of Keats’s other planning priorities. After the (disappointing) completion of Endymion, Keats felt the need to gain a new set of experiences which could serve as poetic “full-ripened grains” to be stored for later use. Given that the poems most associated with Keats’s legacy are written after summer 1818, it seems like the tour must have done something good!
In the rest of the letter Keats does a fair bit of quoting and referencing Shakespeare, as he so often does when writing Haydon (and because Haydon had mentioned a favorite passage from All’s Well That Ends Well in the previous letter to which Keats was responding–the 10/11 May 1817 letter to Haydon is another Shakespeare-filled bit of their correspondence). We also see a continuation of Keats’s displeasure with Wordsworth, which had been growing since meeting him back in December 1817. Here is what he has to say to Haydon in today’s letter: “I am affraid Wordsworth went rather huff’d out of Town–I am sorry for it. he cannot expect his fireside Divan to be infallible he cannot expect but that every Man of worth is as proud as himself.” This frustration is part of Keats’s broader wariness of literary London at this point, which is another reason he cites for wanting to venture North in the summer. We’ll see more thoughts on Wordsworth once Keats ends up in the elder poet’s backyard!
Text of the letter comes from the MS housed at Harvard (images below). As is our wont, we recommend Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters for a good public domain version of the text.