200 years ago, Keats met a future killer

On Friday 21 November 1817, Keats called on fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds where he met Jonathan Christie (the London agent for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Review). ‘I should have been here a day sooner but the Reynoldses persuaded me to stop in Town to meet your friend Christie.’*

The letter gives no hint of the trouble which Blackwood’s and Christie would cause to Keats and his circle.  The following summer, Blackwood’s would publish a scathing review of Endymion (the ‘poetic romance’ which Keats was about to complete on 28 November 1817).

John Scott, the editor of a rival publication The London Magazine would publish articles defending Keats and other writers. Insults flew, and in 1821 Scott challenged Christie to pistols at dawn on 16 February 1821. Christie’s shot wounded John Scott, who died 11 days later.

* Letter to Benjamin Bailey 22 November 1817.

200 years ago, in November 1817, Keats was writing Book IV of his romantic epic ‘Endymion’

“Beneath my palm trees, by the river side,
I sat a weeping: in the whole world wide
There was no one to ask me why I wept,—
And so I kept
Brimming the water-lily cups with tears
Cold as my fears.

“Beneath my palm trees, by the river side,
I sat a weeping: what enamour’d bride,
Cheated by shadowy wooer from the clouds,
But hides and shrouds
Beneath dark palms by a river side?

“And as I sat, over the light blue hills
There came a noise of revellers: the rills
Into the wide stream came of purple hue —
’Twas Bacchus and his crew!
The earnest trumpet spake, and the silver thrills
From kissing cymbals made a merry din —
’Twas Bacchus and his kin!
Like to a moving vintage down they came,
Crown’d with green leaves, and faces all on flame;
All madly dancing through the pleasant valley,
To scare thee, Melancholy!
O then, O then, thou wast a simple name!
And I forgot thee, as the berried holly
By shepherds is forgotten, when, in June,
Tall chestnuts keep away the sun and moon:—
I rush’d into the folly!”

John Keats: ‘Endymion’ Book IV lines 182-208 which he was writing in November 1817, and which seem to anticipate two of his great Odes of 1819.

200 years ago Keats anticipated savage criticism of his poetry

On 3 November 1817, Keats wrote to Benjamin Bailey:

‘There has been a flaming attack upon Hunt in the Endinburgh Magazine. I never read any thing so virulent — accusing him of the greatest Crimes, depreciating his Wife, his Poetry, his Habits, his Company, his Conversation. These philippics are to come out in numbers — called “the Cockney School of Poetry”.

‘There has been but one number published — that on Hunt — to which they have prefixed a motto from one Cornelius Webb, Poetaster — who unfortunately was of our party occasionally at Hampstead, and took it into his head to write the following,— something about, “We’ll talk on Wordsworth, Byron, a theme we never tire on;” and so forth till he comes to Hunt and Keats. In the motto they have put Hunt and Keats in large letters — I have no doubt that the second number was intended for me, but have hopes for its non-appearance, from the following Advertisement in last Sunday’s Examiner:— “To Z.— The writer of the Article signed Z., in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine for October 1817 is invited to send his address to the printer of the Examiner, in order that Justice may be Executed on the proper person.”

‘I don’t mind the thing much — but if he should go to such lengths with me as he has done with Hunt, I must infallibly call him to an Account if he be a human being, and appears in Squares and Theatres, where we might “possibly meet” — I don’t relish his abuse.’

John Keats: Part of a letter to Benjamin Bailey 3 November 1817.
‘On the Cockney School of Poetry, No. 1.’ appeared in ‘Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine’ for October 1817, with John Gibson Lockhart hiding behind the pseudonym ‘Z’. The fourth part (which savaged Keats) appeared the following year. This was a time when duels were still fought over literary reviews — in 1821 John Scott would die from injuries he received in a duel with Lockhart’s London agent Jonathan Henry Christie.

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.]