Today’s letter is a short one to Fanny, and like several other letters during this period in autumn 1818, it concerns Tom’s health and Keats’s difficulties securing permission for Fanny to visit (or for Keats to visit her). Yes, it’s that dastardly Richard Abbey once again: the Keats family guardian after the death of their grandmother Alice Jennings. Since Fanny had not yet come of age, she remained in Abbey’s care. And he sure didn’t like the Keatses! After Fanny had been allowed to visit with John and Tom several times at the end of summer/beginning of fall, Abbey had around this time forbidden any further visits. His reasoning–likely a pretext to keep Fanny away from her brothers–was that Fanny should not have been allowed to visit other places and with other people on such occasions. Abbey learned sometime in early October, from Fanny herself, that she had done so (most likely she had been to Wentworth Place, home of Charles Brown and the Dilkes, where Keats himself would soon live–Keats House, today). We’ll hear all about how Keats consoles and gently advises Fanny about the matter in a letter later this month. Betsy Winakur Tontiplaphol has an excellent response to that 26 October letter–so be on the lookout!
Today, though, the controversy with Abbey is not really the reason for Fanny’s separation from her brothers. Instead, it’s simply that Keats could not make the journey to Walthamstow, as he had planned to do, because of Tom’s ever-worsening health. He apologizes to Fanny and promises that he “shall be punctual in enqu[i]ring about next Thursday.” In another bit of whimsy, typical of the playful letters to Fanny, Keats notes that he “got to the Stage half an hour before it set out and counted the buns and tarts in a Pastrycooks window and was just beginning with the Jellies. There was no one in the Coach who had a Mind to eat me like Mr Sham-deaf.” We can always count on Keats to do his best to soothe the cares of those he loves when they have plenty of reason to be full of anxiety.
In case you’re wondering what exactly Keats is intending to say here, you’re not alone! According to a note from Harry Buxton Forman’s 1901 edition, the “half an hour before it set out” means “half an hour before it would have set out [if there had been enough passengers].” That clarifies the bit about “no one in the Coach.” Now, we remain agnostic on the issue of “who had a Mind to eat me like Mr Sham-deaf.” Sorry, folks!
Full text of the letter can be read in Harry Buxton Forman’s edition of the letters from 1895. Image below from that same text.