200 years ago Keats was furious about fake love-letters

On Thursday 15 April 1819, Keats collected letters which he had left with his former landlady Mrs. Bentley the previous December after the death of his younger brother Tom. Writing to his surviving brother George:

“I found some of the correspondence between [Tom] and that degraded Wells [Charles Wells, a school-friend of Tom’s] and Amena. It is a wretched business…
I now see the whole cruel deception. I think Wells must have had an accomplice in it—Amena’s Letters are in a Man’s language and in a Man’s hand imitating a woman’s. The instigations to this diabolical scheme were vanity, and the love of intrigue. It was no thoughtless hoax—but a cruel deception on a sanguine Temperament, with every show of friendship. I do not think death too bad for the villain. The world would look upon it in a different light should I expose it—they would call it a frolic—so I must be wary—but I consider it my duty to be prudently revengeful. I will hang over his head like a sword by a hair. I will be opium to his vanity—if I cannot injure his interests. He is a rat and he shall have ratsbane to his vanity—I will harm him all I possibly can—I have no doubt I shall be able to do so. Let us leave him to his misery alone except when we can throw in a little more.”

In none of this year’s letters was Keats as furious as when describing Charles Wells’s jape. From this distance it is hard to imagine Tom falling for Amena whose “Guitarr well strung by Cupid God of love would pull thy useless head into a melodious slumber”. It is easier to understand Keats’s embarrassment at the way Wells parodied the weakest lines from the 1817 volume Poems by John Keats (especially the one which reads ‘And wear’st thou the shield of the fam’d Britomartis.’)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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