Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends, by John Keats

18. — To Benjamin Bailey.

My dear Bailey — After a tolerable journey, I went from Coach to Coach as far as Hampstead where I found my Brothers — the next Morning finding myself tolerably well I went to Lamb’s Conduit Street and delivered your parcel. Jane and Marianne were greatly improved. Marianne especially, she has no unhealthy plumpness in the face, but she comes me healthy and angular to the chin — I did not see John — I was extremely sorry to hear that poor Rice, after having had capital health during his tour, was very ill. I daresay you have heard from him. From No. 19 I went to Hunt’s and Haydon’s who live now neighbours. — Shelley was there — I know nothing about anything in this part of the world — every Body seems at Loggerheads. There’s Hunt infatuated — there’s Haydon’s picture in statu quo — There’s Hunt walks up and down his painting room criticising every head most unmercifully. There’s Horace Smith tired of Hunt. “The web of our life is of mingled yarn.”27 Haydon having removed entirely from Marlborough Street, Cripps must direct his letter to Lisson Grove, North Paddington. Yesterday Morning while I was at Brown’s, in came Reynolds, he was pretty bobbish, we had a pleasant day — he would walk home at night that cursed cold distance. Mrs. Bentley’s children are making a horrid row28— 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! If he will say this to Reynolds, what would he to other people? Haydon received a Letter a little while back on this subject from some Lady — which contains a caution to me, through him, on the subject — now is not all this a most paltry thing to think about? You may see the whole of the case by the following Extract from a Letter I wrote to George in the Spring —“As to what you say about my being a Poet, I can return no Answer but by saying that the high Idea I have of poetical fame makes me think I see it towering too high above me. At any rate, I have no right to talk until Endymion is finished — it will be a test, a trial of my Powers of Imagination, and chiefly of my invention, which is a rare thing indeed — by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare circumstance, and fill them with poetry: and when I consider that this is a great task, and that when done it will take me but a dozen paces towards the temple of fame — it makes me say — God forbid that I should be without such a task! I have heard Hunt say, and I may be asked —why endeavour after a long Poem? To which I should answer, Do not the Lovers of Poetry like to have a little Region to wander in, where they may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many are forgotten and found new in a second Reading: which may be food for a Week’s stroll in the Summer? Do not they like this better than what they can read through before Mrs. Williams comes down stairs? a Morning work at most.

“Besides, a long poem is a test of invention, which I take to be the Polar star of Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails — and Imagination the rudder. Did our great Poets ever write short Pieces? I mean in the shape of Tales — this same invention seems indeed of late years to have been forgotten as a Poetical excellence — But enough of this, I put on no Laurels till I shall have finished Endymion, and I hope Apollo is not angered at my having made a Mockery at him at Hunt’s”——

You see, Bailey, how independent my Writing has been. Hunt’s dissuasion was of no avail — 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. His corrections and amputations will by the knowing ones be traced in the Poem. This is, to be sure, the vexation of a day, nor would I say so many words about it to any but those whom I know to have my welfare and reputation at heart. Haydon promised to give directions for those Casts, and you may expect to see them soon, with as many Letters — You will soon hear the dinning of Bells — never mind! you and Gleig29 will defy the foul fiend — But do not sacrifice your health to Books: do take it kindly and not so voraciously. I am certain if you are your own Physician, your Stomach will resume its proper strength and then what great benefits will follow. — My sister wrote a Letter to me, which I think must be at the post-office — Ax Will to see. My Brother’s kindest remembrances to you — we are going to dine at Brown’s where I have some hopes of meeting Reynolds. The little Mercury I have taken has corrected the poison and improved my health — though I feel from my employment that I shall never be again secure in Robustness. Would that you were as well as

Your Sincere friend and brother

John Keats.

27 First Lord in All’s Well that Ends Well, IV. iii.

28 Bentley, the Hampstead postman, was Keats’s landlord at the house in Well Walk where he and his brothers had taken up their quarters the previous June.

29 G. R. Gleig, son of the Bishop of Stirling: born 1796, died 1888: served in the Peninsula War and afterwards took orders: Chaplain-General to the Forces from 1846 to 1875: author of the Subaltern and many military tales and histories.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56