Letter #92: To Charles Dilke, 20-21 September 1818

Although the Dilkes figured largely in Keats’s life (among other things, they co-owned, with Charles Brown, the house that would eventually become the Keats House), there are surprisingly few extant letters that Keats sent to them. We saw back in November 1817 a very short note requesting a copy of Coleridge’s Sybilline Leaves. Today’s letter is the first one since then. It was sent to Charles Dilke, who was then staying at Bedhampton at the home of his brother-in-law John Snook. Incidentally, Keats and Joseph Severn would stay with the Snooks in that same home the night before they set sail for Italy just about two years later.

There is some amazing stuff in this letter to Dilke, not the least of which is his attempt at a “dissertation on letter writing.” It takes shape as a table of paper types/sizes matched with the kinds of people who write with them. It’s a bit difficult to render spatially in plain text with our limited HTML skills, so instead here is an image of that part of the letter, from the facsimile of it printed in The Keats Letters, Papers and Other Relics Forming the Dilke Bequest in the Hampstead Public Library (1914):

From the first page of Keats’s 20-21 Sept 1818 letter to Dilke

Ok, so it’s not the best image, but it is a screenshot of a scan of a collotype of a letter. Not too bad considering. Here’s how Rollins renders it in print:

From Hyder Edward Rollins’s The Letters of John Keats.

We could say more about this lovely exercise in epistolary theory, but we don’t need to do so, because we have two great contributions which focus on precisely this aspect of Keats’s letter. Tomorrow we will hear from Andrew Burkett (Union College), who argues that we can see Keats playing with the sonnet form with his table of paper types. And we’ll also hear from Olivia Moy (Lehman College, CUNY), who takes up Burkett’s sonnet idea and proposes some additional ways we might understand how Keats is experimenting and why. So stay tuned for those paired responses tomorrow!

In the meantime, you can read Keats’s letter and glory in his brief dissertation on letter writing. The text of the letter you can read in the aforementioned The Keats Letters, Papers and Other Relics, which includes a printed version of the letter along with the facsimile images. We’re experimenting by embedding the Google Books version below, which seems to be working?? (You can also click the link above if you prefer.)

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