200 years ago: Keats’s jaded view of his popularity as a writer

On Monday 23 August 1819, Keats and Brown finished writing the tragedy ‘Otho the Great’. Money problems forced Keats to approach his publisher—again. After explaining about the threatened chancery suit, and the efforts which he and Brown have been making with their Tragedy, he continued:

My dear Taylor…
I feel every confidence that, if I choose, I may be a popular writer. That I will never be; but for all that I will get a livelihood. I equally dislike the favour of the public with the love of a woman. They are both a cloying treacle to the wings of Independence.
I shall ever consider them (People) as debtors to me for verses, not myself to them for admiration—which I can do without. I have of late been indulging my spleen by composing a preface AT them: after all resolving never to write a preface at all. “There are so many verses,” would I have said to them, “give so much means for me to buy pleasure with, as a relief to my hours of labour.”— You will observe at the end of this, if you put down the letter “How a solitary life engenders pride and egotism!” True—I know it does, but this pride and egotism will enable me to write finer things than anything else could—so I will indulge it. Just so much as I am humbled by the genius above my grasp am I exalted and look with hate and contempt upon the literary world.


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