Letter #67: To John Taylor, 24 April 1818

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students research individual letters and write introductory posts for the letters. Today’s post is the third of such posts scheduled to appear over the next few weeks. You can read previous ones here and here and here.

Daniel De La Cruz and Denzel Mitchem (Illinois State University)

Keats, in classic fashion, writes out another contemplative letter as he reflects on his newest book finally appearing in print. After having received an advanced copy of Endymion, Keats corresponds with his publisher John Taylor about some minor errata he’s identified in reading over the book. He also expresses his struggle to feel ready for his summer journey to the north, not because he lacks desire, but because he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and he worries he may not yet be ready to truly benefit from the experience.

The letter begins with Keats apologizing to Taylor for leaving him “all the trouble of Endymion.” One can understand why a publisher might want his author around while putting the final touches on the book. Keats excuses his behavior (i.e. leaving London for Teignmouth) by suggesting that at a young age people are so eager to get happiness that they feel entitled to it,  and treat any “unpleasant restraining” as something to avoid at all costs. Keats now seems to think it is better to greet this difficulties and troubles “as an habitual sensation, a pannier which is to weigh upon them through life.” It would appear that Keats had been “impatient” about the task of correcting his poem for publication, but now he decides to add some edits even though the task has been completed!

Following his thoughts gives a glimpse into how Keats could apply a perfectionist’s care to the publication of his work when he didn’t feel too impatient to do so. Note the precise way he explains what he calls “identical” and “related” speeches in the poem: “If we divide the speeches into identical and related: and to the former put merely one inverted comma at the beginning and another at the end; and to the latter inverted commas before every line, the book will be better understood at the first glance”. While it is slightly confusing to follow, it shows that Keats does take his time and purposely looks through his work to improve upon it, and these seemingly minor edits can nonetheless serve a large purpose in Keats’s delivery. As he mentions, he does carry the reader’s interpretation of his work in mind: “the book will be better understood at the first glance.”

In the following paragraph, Keats explains in vivid detail the fact that he wishes to travel over the summer, but that he worries about his lack of experience before undertaking the trip. He wants to gain knowledge not only for his own sake, but also to help him serve the world better. In the letter Keats writes, “I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world […] there is but one way for me–the road lies though application study and thought.” As much as Keats appreciates “delicious diligent indolence,” we also see his ability to approach a task with determination and an aim to help more than just himself. We thus see a Keats optimistic about the immediate future, and in overall good spirits thanks to his book’s appearance, his brother’s improving health, and his intentions to pursue “a love for Philosophy.”

The MS for today’s letter is at the Morgan Library (no images for us to provide at the moment). You can read text of the letter from Forman’s 1895 edition here. Images below come from Richard Woodhouse’s transcript (courtesy of Harvard). Coming up soon, a response to the letter from Sarah Sarai!

Page 1 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Woodhouse’s transcript of Keats’s 24 April 1818 letter to John Taylor. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 3.3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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