On Friday 17 September 1819, Keats wrote to his brother George (in America) after returning to Winchester from his hurried visit to London (trying to persuade their Guardian Richard Abbey to release some of George’s inheritance):
“On receiving your last, I immediately took a place in the same night’s coach for London. Mr. Abbey behaved extremely well to me, appointed Monday evening at seven to meet me, and observed that he should drink tea at that hour. I gave him the inclosed note, and showed him the last leaf of yours to me. He really appeared anxious about it, and promised he would forward your money as quickly as possible…
“We are certainly in a very low estate—I say we, for I am in such a situation, that were it not for the assistance of Brown and Taylor, I must be as badly off as a man can be. I could not raise any sum by the promise of any poem, no, not by the mortgage of my intellect. We must wait a little while. I really have hopes of success. I have finished a tragedy which, if it succeeds, will enable me to sell what I may have in manuscript to a good advantage…
“Your wants will be a fresh spur to me. I assure you you shall more than share what I can get whilst I am still young. The time may come when age will make me more selfish. I have not been well treated by the world, and yet I have, capitally well. I do not know a person to whom so many purse-strings would fly open as to me, if I could possibly take advantage of them, which I cannot do, for none of the owners of these purses are rich. Your present situation I will not suffer myself to dwell upon. When misfortunes are so real, we are glad enough to escape them and the thought of them. I cannot help thinking Mr. Audubon a dishonest man. Why did he make you believe that he was a man of property? How is it his circumstances have altered so suddenly? In truth, I do not believe you fit to deal with the world, or at least the American world. But, good God! who can avoid these chances? You have done your best. Take matters as coolly as you can; and confidently expecting help from England, act as if no help was nigh.
Mine, I am sure, is a tolerable tragedy; it would have been a bank to me if, just as I had finished it, I had not heard of Kean’s resolution to go to America. That was the worst news I could have had. There is no actor can do the principal character besides Kean. At Covent Garden, there is a great chance of its being damn’d. Were it to succeed even there it would lift me out of the mire; I mean the mire of a bad reputation which is continually rising against me.
My name with the literary fashionables is vulgar. I am a weaver-boy to them. A tragedy would lift me out of this mess, and mess it is as far as it regards our pockets. But be not cast down any more than I am; I feel that I can bear real ills better than imaginary ones. Whenever I find myself growing vapourish, I rouse myself, wash, and put on a clean shirt, brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoestrings neatly, and in fact adonize as if I were going out. Then, all clean and comfortable, I sit down to write. This I find the greatest relief. Besides I am becoming accustomed to the privations of the pleasures of sense. In the midst of the world, I live like a hermit. I have forgot how to lay plans for enjoyment of any pleasure. I feel I can bear anything,—any misery, even imprisonment, so long as I have neither wife nor child. Perhaps you will say yours are your only comfort; they must be…”
[Brown = Charles Brown, Keats’s landlord and co-author of the tragedy ‘Otho the Great’;
Taylor = John Taylor, Keats’s publisher;
Kean = Edmund Kean, noted tragedian;
Audubon = John Audubon, businessman who had persuaded George Keats to invest in a paddle-steamer which was already at the bottom of the Mississippi, who later became famous for his paintings of American birds.]