200 years ago Keats was worried about his younger brother’s health

On Monday 3 November 1817, Keats wrote to Benjamin Bailey:

‘My brother Tom looked very unwell yesterday, and I am for shipping him off to Lisbon. Perhaps I ship there with him.’

Tom Keats would live for another 13 months, but tuberculosis meant he was unwell for most of them. The brothers never made the journey to Lisbon, but in September 1820 Keats would be ‘shipped off’ to Rome in the vain hope of curing the same disease (which he had probably caught when nursing Tom).

[Photograph by Anne Stringfellow.]

200 years ago: Keats’s 22nd birthday

On 31 October 1817, Keats writes a letter to Jane Reynolds (‘I send you a few lines from my fourth Book with the desire of helping away for you five Minutes of the day’).

O Sorrow
Why dost borrow
The natural hue of health from vermeil lips?
To give maiden blushes
To the white rose bushes?
Or is it thy dewy hand the daisy tips?

O Sorrow
Why dost borrow
The lustrous passion from a falcon’s eye?
To give the glow-worm light?
Or, on a moonless night
To tinge, on syren shores, the salt sea-spry?

O Sorrow
Why dost borrow
The mellow ditties from a mourning tongue?
To give at evening pale
Unto the nightingale
That thou mayst listen the cold dews among?

O Sorrow,
Why dost borrow
Heart’s lightness from the merriment of May?
A Lover would not tread
A Cowslip on the head,
Though he should dance from eve till peep of day—
Nor any drooping flower
Held sacred for thy bower
Wherever he may sport himself and play.

To Sorrow
I bade good-morrow
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me and so kind:
I would deceive her
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind!

John Keats: ‘Song of the Indian Maid’ (Endymion Book IV lines 146-181), which he copied in a letter to Jane Reynolds 31 October 1817. [de Sélincourt 125-6]

On 8 October 1817 Keats writes to Benjamin Bailey in Oxford

My dear Bailey

After a tolerable journey I went from coach to Coach to as far as Hampstead where I found my Brothers…

Mrs Bentley’s children are making a horrid row — whereby I regret I cannot be transported to your Room to write to you. I am quite disgusted with literary men, and will never know another except Wordsworth — no not even Byron. Here is an instance of the friendship of such. Haydon and Hunt have known each other many years — now they live, pour ainsi dire, jealous neighbours — Haydon says to me, Keats, don’t show your Lines to Hunt on any Account or he will have done half for you — so it appears Hunt wishes it to be thought. When he met Reynolds in the Theatre, John told him that I was getting on to the completion of 4000 Lines. Ah! Says Hunt, had it not been for me they would have been 7000!…

I refused to visit Shelley, that I might have my own unfettered Scope — and after all I shall have the Reputation of Hunt’s élève.

John Keats: Parts of a letter to Benjamin Bailey written 8 October 1817, on his return to Hampstead after staying with him in Magdalen Hall, Oxford.
Bentley was Keats’s landlord at Well Walk, Hampstead.

200 years ago Keats writes about exploring the river at Oxford

On Sunday 21 September 1817 Keats writes to John Hamilton Reynolds

Oxford Sunday Morn
My dear Reynolds…

For these last five or six days, we have had regularly a Boat on the Isis, and explored all the streams about, which are more in number than your eye-lashes. We sometimes skim into a Bed of rushes, and there become naturalized river-folks,— there is one particularly nice nest, which we have christened “Reynolds’s Cove,” in which we have read Wordsworth, and talked as may be…

Send us a few of your Stanzas to read in “Reynolds’s cove.” Give my Love and respects to your Mother and remember me kindly to all at home.
Yours faithfully
John Keats

John Keats: Parts of a letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, probably written 21 September 1817, while Keats was staying at Magdalen Hall with Benjamin Bailey.  [HBF iv, 31-34]

200 years ago, Keats writes of Endymion bringing drowned lovers back to life

On Saturday 20 September  1817, Keats writes lines 766-806 of ‘Endymion’ Book III

’Mid the sound
Of flutes and viols, ravishing his heart,
Endymion from Glaucus stood apart,
And scatter’d in his face some fragments light.
How lightning-swift the change! a youthful wight
Smiling beneath a coral diadem,
Out-sparkling sudden like an upturn’d gem,
Appear’d, and, stepping to a beauteous corse,
Kneel’d down beside it, and with tenderest force
Press’d its cold hand, and wept — and Scylla sigh’d!
Endymion, with quick hand, the charm applied —
The nymph arose: he left them to their joy,
And onward went upon his high employ,
Showering those powerful fragments on the dead.
And, as he pass’d, each lifted up its head,
As doth a flower at Apollo’s touch.
Death felt it to his inwards: ’twas too much:
Death fell a weeping in his charnel-house.
The Latmian persevered along, and thus
All were re-animated. There arose
A noise of harmony, pulses and throes
Of gladness in the air — while many, who
Had died in mutual arms devout and true,
Sprang to each other madly; and the rest
Felt a high certainty of being blessed.
They gaz’d upon Endymion.

John Keats: Endymion Book III lines 771-796 which he wrote on 20 September 1817. Endymion (‘the Latmian’) journeys under the ocean, where he is able to bring back to life true lovers who drowned at sea.
[de Sélincourt 115]

200 years ago Keats writes a frothy letter to Jane Reynolds

Sunday 14 September 1817

My dear Jane…

[D]on’t you think there is something extremely fine after sunset, when there are a few white clouds about and a few stars blinking — when the waters are ebbing, and the horizon a mystery? This state of things has been so fulfilling to me that I am anxious to hear whether it is a favourite with you. So when you and Mariane club your letter to me put in a word or two about it.

[John Keats: Parts of a letter to Jane Reynolds, written 14 September 1817, while Keats was staying at Magdalen Hall with Benjamin Bailey.]

200 years ago, Keats describes Oxford for his sister

Wednesday 10 September 1817
Keats writes to his sister:

My dear Fanny

Let us now begin a regular question and answer — a little pro and con; letting it interfere as a pleasant method of my coming at your favourite little wants and enjoyments, that I may meet them in way befitting a brother.

We have been so little together since you have been able to reflect on things that I know not whether you prefer the History of King Pepin to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress — or Cinderella and her glass slipper to Moor’s Almanack. However in a few Letters I hope I shall be able to come at that and adapt my scribblings to your Pleasure. You must tell me about all you read if it be only six Pages in a Week, and this transmitted to me every now and then will procure you full sheets of Writing from me pretty frequently.— This I feel as a necessity, for we ought to become intimately acquainted, in order that I may not only, as you grow up, love your as my only Sister, but confide in you as my dearest friend…

This Oxford I have no doubt is the finest City in the world — it is full of old Gothic buildings — Spires — towers — Quadrangles — Cloisters Groves &c. and is surrounded with more clear streams than ever I saw together. I take a Walk by the Side of one of them every Evening and, thank God, we have not had a drop of rain these many days…

I have been writing very hard lately even till an utter incapacity came on, and I feel it now about my head: so you must not mind a little out of the way sayings — though by the bye were my brain as clear as a bell I think I should have a little propensity thereto.

[John Keats: Parts of a letter written 10 September 1817 to his 14-year-old sister Fanny. She had lived with their Guardian Richard Abbey in Walthamstow since the death of their grandmother in 1814, and was allowed very little contact with her family.]

200 years ago, Keats completes Book 2 of ‘Endymion’.

On Tuesday 26 August 1817, Keats completed the second of four books of ‘Endymion: a A Poetic Romance’. Here’s a sample:

Thus spake he, and that moment felt endued
With power to dream deliciously; so wound
Through a dim passage, searching till he found
The smoothest mossy bed and deepest, where
He threw himself, and just into the air
Stretching his indolent arms, he took, O bliss!
A naked waist: “Fair Cupid, whence is this?”
A well-known voice sigh’d, “Sweetest, here am I!”
At which soft ravishment, with doting cry
They trembled to each other. — Helicon!
O fountain’d hill! Old Homer’s Helicon!
That thou wouldst spout a little streamlet o’er
These sorry pages; then the verse would soar
And sing above this gentle pair, like lark
Over his nested young: but all is dark
Around thine aged top, and thy clear fount
Exhales in mists to heaven.

John Keats: ‘Endymion’ Book II lines 707-723.
Among other faults, Keats’s critics judged ‘Endymion’ to be too erotic.

“But this is human life”

Quick waterflies and gnats were sporting still,
And fish were dimpling, as if good nor ill
Had fallen out that hour. The wanderer,
Holding his forehead, to keep off the burr
Of smothering fancies, patiently sat down;
And, while beneath the evening’s sleepy frown
Glow-worms began to trim their starry lamps,
Thus breath’d he to himself: “Whoso encamps
To take a fancied city of delight,
O what a wretch is he! and when ’tis his,
After long toil and travailing, to miss
The kernel of his hopes, how more than vile:
Yet, for him there’s refreshment even in toil;
Another city doth he set about,
Free from the smallest pebble-bead of doubt
That he will seize on trickling honey-combs:
Alas, he finds them dry; and then he foams,
And onward to another city speeds.
But this is human life: the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination’s struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are still the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to show
How quiet death is. Where soil is men grow,
Whether to weeds or flowers; but for me,
There is no depth to strike in.”

John Keats: ‘Endymion’ Book II lines 135-161, which he wrote during the summer of 1817. The passage shows the delight which he took in describing nature (‘the fish were dimpling’) and the struggle he had in finding acceptable rhymes in his very long poem (‘vile/toil’ and ‘anxiety/nigh’ seem rather strained).

On 26 July 1817, a renewed sales push started for ‘Poems by John Keats’

From The Times, Saturday 26 July 1817:

“Just published, in post 8vo, price 6s. boards,
POEMS. By JOHN KEATS.
“What more felicity can fall to creature
“Than to enjoy delight with Liberty!”
Spenser. –Fate of the Butterfly.
Also, price 1s., A Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Kingdom. By the Hermit of Marlow.
Printed by C. and J. Ollier, Public Library, Welbeck-street, Cavendish-square.”

[The Hermit of Marlow was Shelley.]
Around this time Keats and John Hamilton Reynolds met and read Shakespeare together on Hampstead Heath.