200 years ago Keats wrote to thank his publisher for £30

On Sunday 5th September 1819 Keats wrote a challenging letter to his publisher John Taylor to thank him for £30 (which Richard Woodhouse had donated) and which had been sent via James Hessey:

“My dear Taylor,
“This morning I received yours of the 2nd and with it a letter from Hessey enclosing a Bank post Bill of £30, an ample sum I assure you— more I had no thought of.—”

[So far, so good. But then came the strange hectoring:]

“You should not have delayed so long in Fleet Street—leading an inactive life as you did was breathing poison: you will find the country air do more for you than you expect. But it must be proper country air. You must choose a spot. What sort of a place is Retford? You should have a dry, gravelly, barren, elevated country, open to the currents of air, and such a place is generally furnished with the finest springs. The neighbourhood of a rich inclosed fulsome manured arable Land, especially in a valley and almost as bad on a flat, would be almost as bad as the smoke of Fleet Street.—Such a place as this was Shanklin, only open to the south-east and surrounded by hills in every other direction. From this south-east came the damps of the sea; which, having no egress, the air would for days together take on an unhealthy idiosyncrasy altogether enervating and weakening as a city smoke—I felt it very much. Since I have been here at Winchester I have been improving in health—it is not so confined—and there is on one side of the City a dry chalky down, where the air is worth Sixpence a pint. So if you do not get better at Retford, do not impute it to your own weakness before you have well considered the Nature of the air and soil—especially as Autumn is encroaching—for the Autumn fog over a rich land is like the steam from cabbage water…
And if this sort of atmosphere is a mitigation to the energies of a strong man, how much more must it injure a weak one unoccupied, unexercised. For what is the cause of so many men maintaining a good state in Cities, but occupation? An idle man, a man who is not sensitively alive to self-interest in a city cannot continue long in good health. This is easily explained. If you were to walk leisurely through an unwholesome path in the fens, with a little horror of them, you would be sure to have your ague. But let Macbeth cross the same path, with the dagger in the air leading him on, and he would never have an ague or any thing like it. You should give these things a serious consideration. Notts, I believe, is a flat county. You should be on the slope of one of the dry barren hills in Somersetshire. I am convinced there is as harmful Air to be breathed in the country as in town.
“I am greatly obliged to you for your letter. Perhaps, if you had had strength and spirits enough, you would have felt offended by my offering a note of hand, or rather expressed it. However, I am sure you will give me credit for not in anywise mistrusting you; or imagining that you would take advantage of any power I might give you over me. No— it proceeded from my serious resolve not to be a gratuitous borrower, from a great desire to be correct in money matters, to have in my desk the Chronicles of them to refer to, and know my wordly non-estate: besides in case of my death such documents would be but just, if merely as memorials of the friendly turns I had done to me.
“Had I known of your illness I should not have written in such fiery phrase as in my first letter. I hope that shortly you will be able to bear six times as much.
Brown likes the tragedy very much: but he is not a fit judge of it, as I have only acted as midwife to his plot; and of course he will be fond of his child. I do not think I can make you any extracts without spoiling the effect of the whole when you come to read it—I hope you will not consider my labour misspent.
Since I finished it, I have finished Lamia, and am now occupied in revising St. Agnes’s Eve, and studying Italian. Ariosto I find as diffuse, in parts, as Spenser—I understand completely the difference between them. I will cross the letter with some lines from Lamia. Brown’s kindest remembrances to you—and I am ever your most sincere friend, John Keats.

200 years ago Keats was desperate for cash

On Wednesday 1 September 1819 Keats was down to his “last few shillings” so wrote to his publisher John Taylor:
“My dear Taylor
“Brown and I have been employed for these 3 weeks past from time to time in writing to our different friends—a dead silence is our only answer—we wait morning after morning…
We have been much in want of news from the Theatres having heard that Kean is going to America— but no—not a word. Why I should come on you with all these complaints, I cannot explain to myself, especially as I suspect you must be in the country. Do answer me soon for I really must know something. I must steer myself by the rudder of Information.”

He went on to ask for a month’s cash, with the promise that he would put more effort into chasing up friends to whom he had lent money.

200 years ago Keats wrote to his sister about Winchester

On Saturday 28 August 1819 Keats wrote to his sister:

My dear Fanny,

You must forgive me for suffering so long a space to elapse between the dates of my letters. It is more than a fortnight since I left Shanklin, chiefly for the purpose of being near a tolerable Library, which after all is not to be found in this place. However we like it very much: it is the pleasantest Town I ever was in, and has the most recommendations of any. There is a fine Cathedral which to me is always a source of amusement, part of it built 1400 years ago; and the more modern by a magnificent Man, you may have read of in our History, called William of Wickham. The whole town is beautifully wooded. From the Hill at the eastern extremity you see a prospect of Streets, and old Buildings mixed up with Trees. Then there are the most beautiful streams about I ever saw—full of Trout. There is the Foundation of St. Croix about half a mile in the fields—a charity greatly abused. We have a Collegiate School, a Roman catholic School; a chapel ditto and a Nunnery! And what improves it all is, the fashionable inhabitants are all gone to Southampton.

We are quiet—except a fiddle that now and then goes like a gimlet through my Ears—Our Landlady’s Son not being quite a Proficient.

I have still been hard at work, having completed a Tragedy I think I spoke of to you. But there I fear all my labour will be thrown away for the present, as I hear Mr. Kean is going to America. For all I can guess I shall remain here till the middle of October—when Mr. Brown will return to his house at Hampstead: whither I shall return with him. I some time since sent the Letter I told you I had received from George to Haslam with a request to let you and Mrs. Wylie see it: he sent it back to me for very insufficient reasons without doing so; and I was so irritated by it that I would not send it travelling about by the post any more: besides the postage is very expensive. I know Mrs. Wylie will think this a great neglect. I am sorry to say my temper gets the better of me—I will not send it again.

Some correspondence I have had with Mr. Abbey about George’s affairs—and I must confess he has behaved very kindly to me as far as the wording of his Letter went. Have you heard any further mention of his retiring from Business? I am anxious to hear whether Hodgkinson, whose name I cannot bear to write, will in any likelihood be thrown upon himself.

The delightful Weather we have had for two Months is the highest gratification I could receive—no chill’d red noses—no shivering—but fair atmosphere to think in—a clean towel mark’d with the mangle and a basin of clear Water to drench one’s face with ten times a day: no need of much exercise—a Mile a day being quite sufficient. My greatest regret is that I have not been well enough to bathe though I have been two Months by the sea side and live now close to delicious bathing—Still I enjoy the Weather—I adore fine Weather as the greatest blessing I can have.

Give me Books, fruit, French wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know—not pay the price of one’s time for a jig—but a little chance music: and I can pass a summer very quietly without caring much about Fat Louis, fat Regent or the Duke of Wellington.

Why have you not written to me? Because you were in expectation of George’s Letter and so waited?

Mr. Brown is copying out our Tragedy of Otho the Great in a superb style—better than it deserves—there as I said is labour in vain for the present. I had hoped to give Kean another opportunity to shine. What can we do now? There is not another actor of Tragedy in all London or Europe. The Covent Garden Company is execrable. Young is the best among them and he is a ranting coxcombical tasteless Actor—A Disgust, a Nausea—and yet the very best after Kean. What a set of barren asses are actors!

I should like now to promenade round your Gardens—apple-tasting—pear-tasting—plum-judging—apricot nibbling—peach-scrunching— nectarine-sucking and Melon-carving. I have also a great feeling for antiquated cherries full of sugar cracks—and a white currant tree kept for company. I admire lolling on a lawn by a water lillied pond to eat white currants and see gold fish: and go to the Fair in the Evening if I’m good. There is not hope for that—one is sure to get into some mess before evening. Have these hot days I brag of so much been well or ill for your health? Let me hear soon—
Your affectionate Brother
John

200 years ago, Keats resumed work on ‘Lamia’

On Wednesday 25 August 1819, Keats and Charles Brown learned of Edmund Kean’s plans to visit to America, which meant he wouldn’t be able to star in the play they had just finished writing with him in mind.
Keats resumed work on his narrative poem ‘Lamia’, beginning Book II, which seems to be coloured by his disenchantment with Miss Brawne.

Love in a palace is perhaps at last
More grievous torment than a hermit’s fast:—
That is a doubtful tale from faery land,
Hard for the non-elect to understand.
Had Lycius liv’d to hand his story down,
He might have given the moral a fresh frown,
Or clench’d it quite: but too short was their bliss
To breed distrust and hate, that make the soft voice hiss.
Besides, there, nightly, with terrific glare,
Love, jealous grown of so complete a pair,
Hover’d and buzz’d his wings, with fearful roar,
Above the lintel of their chamber door,
And down the passage cast a glow upon the floor.

For all this came a ruin: side by side
They were enthroned, in the even tide,
Upon a couch, near to a curtaining
Whose airy texture, from a golden string,
Floated into the room, and let appear
Unveil’d the summer heaven, blue and clear,
Betwixt two marble shafts:—there they reposed,
Where use had made it sweet, with eyelids closed,
Saving a tythe which love still open kept,
That they might see each other while they almost slept;
When from the slope side of a suburb hill,
Deafening the swallow’s twitter, came a thrill
Of trumpets—Lycius started—the sounds fled,
But left a thought, a buzzing in his head.
For the first time, since first he harbour’d in
That purple-lined palace of sweet sin,
His spirit pass’d beyond its golden bourn
Into the noisy world almost forsworn.
The lady, ever watchful, penetrant,
Saw this with pain, so arguing a want
Of something more, more than her empery
Of joys; and she began to moan and sigh
Because he mused beyond her, knowing well
That but a moment’s thought is passion’s passing bell.
“Why do you sigh, fair creature?” whisper’d he:
“Why do you think?” return’d she tenderly:
“You have deserted me;—where am I now?
Not in your heart while care weighs on your brow:
No, no, you have dismiss’d me; and I go
From your breast houseless: ay, it must be so.”

200 years ago: Keats’s view of fine writing

On Tuesday 24 August 1819 Keats wrote to fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds:

“I am convinced more and more, every day, that fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world; the Paradise Lost becomes a greater wonder. The more I know what my diligence may in time probably effect, the more does my heart distend with Pride and Obstinacy—I feel it in my power to become a popular writer—I feel it in my power to refuse the poisonous suffrage of a public.”

He only got to write two more great works in his short life.

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.

 

Keats’s sixth letter to Miss Brawne

On Monday 16 August 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne from Winchester:

My dear Girl—what shall I say for myself? I have been here four days and not yet written to you—’tis true I have had many teasing letters of business to dismiss—and I have been in the Claws, like a serpent in an Eagle’s, of the last act of our Tragedy. This is no excuse; I know it; I do not presume to offer it. I have no right either to ask a speedy answer to let me know how lenient you are—I must remain some days in a Mist—I see you through a Mist: as I daresay you do me by this time. Believe in the first Letters I wrote you: I assure you I felt as I wrote—I could not write so now. The thousand images I have had pass through my brain—my uneasy spirits—my unguess’d fate—all spread as a veil between me and you. Remember I have had no idle leisure to brood over you—’tis well perhaps I have not. I could not have endured the throng of jealousies that used to haunt me before I had plunged so deeply into imaginary interests.

I would fain, as my sails are set, sail on without an interruption for a Brace of Months longer—I am in complete cue—in the fever; and shall in these four Months do an immense deal.

This Page as my eye skims over it I see is excessively unloverlike and ungallant—I cannot help it—I am no officer in yawning quarters; no Parson-romeo. My Mind is heap’d to the full; stuff’d like a cricket ball—if I strive to fill it more it would burst. I know the generallity of women would hate me for this; that I should have so unsoften’d, so hard a Mind as to forget them; forget the brightest realities for the dull imaginations of my own Brain. But I conjure you to give it a fair thinking; and ask yourself whether ’tis not better to explain my feelings to you, than write artificial Passion—Besides, you would see through it. It would be vain to strive to deceive you. ’Tis harsh, harsh, I know it. My heart seems now made of iron—I could not write a proper answer to an invitation to Idalia. You are my Judge: my forehead is on the ground.

You seem offended at a little simple innocent childish playfulness in my last. I did not seriously mean to say that you were endeavouring to make me keep my promise. I beg your pardon for it. ’Tis but just your Pride should take the alarm—seriously. You say I may do as I please—I do not think with any conscience I can; my cash resourses are for the present stopp’d; I fear for some time. I spend no money, but it increases my debts. I have all my life thought very little of these matters—they seem not to belong to me. It may be a proud sentence; but by Heaven I am as entirely above all matters of interest as the Sun is above the Earth—and though of my own money I should be careless; of my Friends’ I must be spare.

You see how I go on—like so many strokes of a hammer. I cannot help it—I am impell’d, driven to it. I am not happy enough for silken Phrases, and silver sentences. I can no more use soothing words to you than if I were at this moment engaged in a charge of Cavalry. Then you will say I should not write at all.—Should I not?

This Winchester is a fine place: a beautiful Cathedral and many other ancient buildings in the Environs. The little coffin of a room at Shanklin is changed for a large room, where I can promenade at my pleasure—looks out onto a beautiful—blank side of a house. It is strange I should like it better than the view of the sea from our window at Shanklin. I began to hate the very posts there—the voice of the old Lady over the way was getting a great Plague. The Fisherman’s face never altered any more than our black teapot—the nob however was knock’d off to my little relief.

I am getting a great dislike of the picturesque; and can only relish it over again by seeing you enjoy it. One of the pleasantest things I have seen lately was at Cowes. The Regent in his Yatch (I think they spell it) was anchored oppoisite a beautiful vessel—and all the Yatchs and boats on the coast, were passing and repassing it; and curcuiting and tacking about it in every direction. I never beheld anything so silent, light, and graceful.

As we pass’d over to Southampton, there was nearly an accident. There came by a Boat, well mann’d; with two naval officers at the stern. Our Bow-lines took the top of their little mast and snapped it off close by the bord. Had the mast been a little stouter they would have been upset. In so trifling an event I could not help admiring our seamen—neither officer nor man in the whole Boat mov’d a muscle—they scarcely notic’d it even with words.

Forgive me for this flint-worded Letter, and believe and see that I cannot think of you without some sort of energy—though mal à propos. Even as I leave off it seems to me that a few more moments thought of you would uncrystallize and dissolve me. I must not give way to it—but turn to my writing again—if I fail I shall die hard. O my love, your lips are growing sweet again to my fancy—I must forget them. Ever your affectionate
Keats

[On this day a political demonstration was violently suppressed at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester: the Peterloo Massacre.]

Keats’s progress report dated 14 August 1819

Keats had last written to Benjamin Bailey in July 1818 (he had stayed with him for some of the time that he wrote ‘Endymion’). But on Saturday 14 August 1819 he felt the need to bring him up to date with his writing:

“Within these two months I have written 1500 lines, most of which, besides many more of prior composition, you will probably see by next winter.
I have written 2 tales, one from Boccaccio called the Pot of Basil; and another called St. Agnes’s Eve, on a popular superstition, and a 3rd called Lamia (half finished). I have also been writing parts of my “Hyperion,” and completed 4 acts of a tragedy. It was the opinion of most of my friends that I should never be able to write a scene. I will endeavour to wipe away the prejudice—I sincerely hope you will be pleased when my labours, since we last saw each other, shall reach you.

“One of my Ambitions is to make as great a revolution in modern dramatic writing as Kean has done in acting. Another, to upset the drawling of the blue-stocking literary world—if in the Course of a few years I do these two things, I ought to die content, and my friends should drink a dozen of claret on my tomb. I am convinced more and more every day that (excepting the human friend philosopher) a fine writer is the most genuine being in the world. Shakespeare and the Paradise lost every day become greater wonders to me. I look on fine phrases like a lover.”

200 years ago Keats arrived in Winchester

On Thursday 12 August 1819, Keats and Brown travelled from the Isle of Wight to Winchester. Describing their trip across the Solent:
“As we pass’d over to Southampton, there was nearly an accident. There came by a Boat, well mann’d; with two naval officers at the stern. Our Bow-lines took the top of their little mast and snapped it off close by the bord. Had the mast been a little stouter they would have been upset. In so trifling an event I could not help admiring our seamen—neither officer nor man in the whole Boat mov’d a muscle—they scarcely notic’d it even with words.”