Letter #76: To Thomas Monkhouse, 21 June 1818

The second letter from today is to Thomas Monkhouse, whose primary claim to fame within the Keats world is his attendance at the “Immortal Dinner.” He was there through his connection to Wordsworth, whose wife Mary Hutchinson was a cousin of Monkhouse. Side note: Mary’s brother Thomas Hutchinson married Mary Monkhouse and had a daughter named Sara Hutchinson, which was also the name of Mary and Thomas Hutchinson’s sister Sara. Very confusing stuff. We’ll try to get you a family tree to sort it all out.

In any case, Thomas Monkhouse–not to be confused with his cousin Thomas Hutchinson who married his cousin Mary Monkhouse, who was Thomas Monkhouse’s sister–had apparently been reading Endymion and enjoying it. He’d called on Keats sometime in the previous few days, when Keats happened not to be at home. So in this letter Keats apologizes for missing him, and expresses his gratitude “in hearing from Haydon that you so great a Lover of Wordsworth should be pleased with any part of my Poem.” Wordsworth, it should be noted, will be on Keats’s mind for much of the early parts of his Northern Tour. He is romping around in the Lake District after all. As we’ll see from future letters, Keats’s attempts to visit Wordsworth go a bit awry. But here we gather a sense of eager anticipation as he mentions to Monkhouse his planned “visit to Rydal.”

This letter still exists thanks to the descendants of the Hutchinsons and Monkhouses, including that elder Sara Hutchinson who is not as famous as her namesake and aunt. But we have to gripe for just one more moment about all of these names! Thomas Monkhouse named his daughter Mary, which was also his sister’s name. And Thomas and Mary Hutchinson, who had the second Sara Hutchinson, also had a daughter named Mary! Ok, so they also had an Elizabeth and a George, mixing things up a bit. But they also added another Thomas in there! Really making the genealogical work a bit tricky here… (Also, it makes total sense to name children after other family members–just that with the cousins marrying each other and all the repeated surnames and given names, the brain starts to hurt a bit trying to figure things out.)

All right, rant over. It’s Elizabeth Hutchinson (1820-1905), daughter of Thomas and Mary, who appears to have been the first guardian of this letter. Really, though, Keats’s letter was likely just a minor piece (from the family’s perspective) of a much larger and more significant collection of letters by the elder Sara Hutchinson, which were edited and published in 1954 by Kathleen Coburn (renowned for her indefatigable work editing Coleridge’s notebooks). The then guardian of the letters was Joanna Hutchinson, who had the unenviable task of protecting them during the bombings of London during WWII (according to Coburn, Hutchinson had them stored in a suitcase under her bed in case she needed to flee hastily). But protect them she did, and in 1958, when Rollins published his edition of Keats’s letters, the manuscript of this one to Monkhouse was still in her possession. It appears that between now and then it was loaned to the British Library in order for them to make photocopies of it, but the whereabouts of the original elude us in our current efforts at sleuthing. If the current owner wants to be relieved of the heavy burden of owning the letter, the KLP would be happy to take over for you. Just saying.

Text of the letter can be read below via the Times Literary Supplement, where it was first published in 1937 thanks to Ernest de Selincourt.

“Keats and Monkhouse.” From the Times Literary Supplement, 23 October 1937.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *