Letter #15: To John Taylor and James Hessey, 12 or 13 April 1817

Today’s letter is the first Keats sent to the two men who would become his new publishers, John Taylor and James Augustus Hessey. The brief note is essentially a courtesy hello, in which Keats apologizes for not having more time (or paper) to say more than that. Nonetheless, we sense a bit of his excitement coming off of the recent publication of his first volume, and his eager anticipation for the next project that Taylor and Hessey will help usher into being. That next project is, of course, Endymion, about which we’ll hear much more in coming weeks and months as Keats begins writing it.

Although we’ve had earlier opportunities to do so, today is the first time we’re introducing Amy Lowell into the story of Keats’s letters. Lowell was truly one of the great Friends of Keats. Her 1925 biography certainly put down a hefty deposit in the ledger of friendship toward Keats. But she was also a great collector of Keatsiana. Between 1900 or so and her death in 1925, she acquired many manuscripts of Keats’s letters and poems, and that collection formed the early bulk of Harvard’s Keats Collection. Incidentally, she was not the only Lowell (the illustrious Boston family) who was a friend of Keats. The KLP does not specialize in genealogy, so we’re not sure exactly how to characterize Amy Lowell’s relationship with James Russell Lowell, but we can say with confidence that Amy’s great-grandfather was James’s uncle–so, grandcousins? We’ll learn more about James Russell Lowell in 2018, because in the 1830s he befriended George Keats in Louisville, and through their friendship secured permission to publish two of Keats’s Scotch letters from summer 1818. (Updated on 27 April 2017: See the note below about not trusting us–this brief digression about James Russell Lowell is wrong on one slightly important detail: he was related to Amy Lowell, but he never traveled to Louisville in the 1830s. The KLP confused him with James Freeman Clarke. Forgive us, please. You’ll hear more about him later. James Russell Lowell may one day make another appearance, either in a lie or an actual fact).

But back to Amy Lowell, who acquired today’s letter, along with about two dozen other ones, at a Sotheby’s auction of Taylor family papers in 1903. One pines for those heady days in the late-19th and early-20th centuries when so many Keats manuscripts were coming up for sale. It seems unlikely that anyone anytime soon will acquire dozens of such treasures over the space of just a few years. Alas, the KLP does its best to provide some sense of encountering the objects in other ways than physical possession. And we wholeheartedly thank the great archival institutions like the Houghton Library at Harvard for helping make access possible. Here is an image of Keats’s letter courtesy of Harvard.


For our response to today’s letter, we have a special treat. We don’t mean to boast or anything, but we have for you an exclusive story that we’re breaking here today. It turns out that there is more to the history of this letter’s movements than we previously thought. The KLP is happy to announce that it has learned that Keats’s letter was originally intercepted by another recipient and then passed on to Taylor and Hessey!! And we are reproducing here today the accompanying message that the accidental recipient sent along with Keats’s scrap of a note. So head on to our next post to see our new discovery!

**The KLP adheres to the notion that Beauty is truth, truth beauty. As such, you probably shouldn’t trust us.**

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