Letter #74: To Benjamin Bailey, 10 June 1818

In case you may have forgotten, Keats did just publish his second book sometime around the end of April or beginning of May. NBD. But once Endymion is behind him, Keats doesn’t spend much time dwelling on it. Instead he’s on to the next thing. By this point in early June he’s already finished Isabella, one of the three long narrative poems which will be featured in the title of his 1820 volume. And he’s about to set off for his walking tour of the north, which he envisions as a way for him to strengthen his poetic powers as he continues to take on new projects. Although Keats has moved on from Endymion, his critics are just getting started… [INSERT OMINOUS MUSIC]

But Keats has his friends too, and as he wrote in hisĀ previous letter to Bailey, those friends could buoy him when necessary: “There is a comfort in throwing oneself on the charity of ones friends–‘t is like the albatros sleeping on its wings.” Turns out Bailey is a solid wing-man (see what we did there??). For in the 30 May and 6 June issues of the Oxford University and City Herald there are two small notices praising the author of Endymion. The correspondent, who signs as “N. Y.”, urges the editors of the paper to take notice of the new volume and its author. It gets pretty impassioned: “I call upon the age to countenance and encourage this rising genius, and not to let him pine away in neglect, lest his memory to after ages speak trumpet-tongued the disgrace of this.” Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Bailey’s achingly genuine paean to Keats’s brilliance.

So, yeah, Bailey was “N. Y.” And Keats writes to his friend expressing thanks for the praise, but also a bit of trepidation. Keats recognizes that Bailey is too simple and decent for the world of Regency literary reviewing. Bailey even tries to claim his simplicity and decency his letter to the editor: “I am no bookseller’s tool; I am no pandar to poetical vanity; but I would not for worlds witness the insensibility of Old England to her own glory, in the neglect of the vernal genius of her sons.” Keats realizes that such an attempt at candour simply will not do in the climate of periodicals of 1818. Bailey is like someone on twitter trying to claim they’re not a bot. In 2018, we’re all bots. Just accept it.

Who might Keats have in mind when thinking of reviewers who’d refuse to play by the rules of decency and kindness like Bailey does? Hmm, could it be… Blackwood’s? (Shout out to the Church Lady.) Why yes, yes it could be. Although in this letter Keats refers to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine as “the Endinburgh Magasine,” and they would do their best to end Keats. In the May issue of the magazine, the latest “blow up against Hunt,” which is titled “Letter from Z. to Leigh Hunt, King of the Cockneys,” features two jabs directed at Keats. They are hints of what’s to come, and Keats seems to know it. Z even quotes a bit from Keats’s “Great Spirits” sonnet and alludes to “Sleep and Poetry,” so it’s clear he’s been doing some reading of the 1817 volume (which will be reviewed along with Endymion in the August 1818 issue). For now, though, Keats (and we with him) will leave behind any concerns about such things as he prepares to venture north.

There’s more to be said about this letter, but we’ll leave it here for now. If you’d like to read all of Z’s nastly letter to Leigh Hunt (in the parlance of our times, one might say “Z Eviscerates Leigh Hunt”), you can find it here. Boy, John Gibson Lockhart really, really hated Hunt’s Story of Rimini. For Keats’s letter, head over to Forman’s 1895 edition, or read the images below (courtesy of Harvard).

Page 1 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 2 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 3 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Page 4 of Keats’s 10 June 1818 letter to Benjamin Bailey. Keats Collection, 1814-1891 (MS Keats 1.30). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

 

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