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BOUT ten years ago I discovered, while
examining the manuscripts of the letters written by John Keats to his brother George, who emigrated to America with his young wife in 1818, that the larger part of the letters were not included in that most excellent work of Lord Houghton's, “ The Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats.” Questioning my mother, a daughter of George Keats and at the time the owner of the manuscripts, I learned that the originals had never been in Lord Houghton's hands, but that some of them, at his request, had been copied for him by the late Mr. John Jeffrey, who shortly after the death of George Keats became the husband of his widow. Mr. Jeffrey evidently exercised his own discretion in making selections from the letters, and just as evidently did not exercise a very wise discretion. This is very much to be regretted, for it was certainly due to Lord Houghton that everything in existence throwing any light whatever upon the brief life of John Keats should
Mr. Jonquest, has hands
have been placed before him for his guidance, as it is rarely given to either mortals or immortals to have a biographer so sympathetic and at the same time so painstaking and eloquent.
I determined, after making this discovery, that I should, whenever I could find a few days of leisure, publish these letters in their entirety. That leisure has just come. I have been persuaded, however, to include all of the letters of Keats in this volume, and for that purpose I have not only transcribed the manuscripts preserved by my mother, but have borrowed from Lord Houghton's books the letters furnished to him by the literary friends and associates of Keats, and have also taken from the book published by Mr. Buxton Forman, Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne, the woman who inspired the poet with the great passion of his life, and who, ten years after his death, had so shallow an appreciation of his greatness that she wrote to Mr. Dilke: “ The kindest act would be to let him rest forever in the obscurity to which circumstances have condemned him," though thirty-five years later, with mature commercial thrift, she bade her offspring to guard the letters carefully, “ as they would some day be considered of value."
Few of the letters have dates, and it is impossible to arrange them chronologically, so that I have determined to classify them in this way: (1) “The letters to his brothers,” (2) “The letters to his friends,” (3) “ The letters to Fanny Brawne," and (4) “ Severn's account of the death of Keats." I trust that this arrangement will not detract from the value of the letters as side-lights upon the story of the
poet's life, but will answer the purpose quite as well as they would have done had I undertaken and succeeded in the impossible task of placing the letters in their correct chronological order.
Lord Houghton has inadvertently fallen into several errors of fact, which I am sure he will be glad to have me point out. In the first place, George Keats was not the elder of the brothers, being two years John's junior, as he was born in 1797, while the poet was born in 1795. It was only natural that such an error should have been made, as George Keats was larger and physically much stronger than either of his brothers; besides, being more of a man of affairs, and in practical things more self-reliant and enterprising. The affairs of the Keatses when George Keats emigrated to America were in any. thing but a prosperous condition. They had inherited from their father eight or ten thousand pounds. John Keats's education, however, had been expensive for a person in his condition of life, and Tom Keats's long illness was a great drain upon the small patrimony. To add to this, George Keats quarrelled with Mr. Abbey, the executor of the Keats estate, in whose counting-room he was employed, and resolved to seek his fortune in a more independent field. It is thus that John Keats wrote to his friend Bailey, in regard to George's determination to leave England:
You know my brother George has been out of employ for some time. It has weighed very much upon him, and driven him to scheme and turn over things in his mind. The result has been his determination to emigrate to the back settlements of Ainerica, become farmer, and work with his own hands, after purchasing fourteen hundred acres of the American Gov. ernment. This, for many reasons, has met with my entire consent, and the chief one is this: he is of too independent and liberal a mind to get on in trade in this country, in which a generous man with a scanty resource must be ruined. I would sooner he should till the ground than bow to a customer. There is no choice with him: he could not bring himself to the latter. I could not consent to his going alone;- no; but that objection is done away with: he will marry, before he sets sail, a young lady he has known for several years, of a liberal nature, and high-spirited enough to follow him to the banks of the Mississippi.
As all the letters in this book show, John Keats had a very lively affection for his brother's wife, and it is thus that he wrote to Bailey, of her after her marriage, and a few days before the young couple set sail for America:
I had known my sister-in-law some time before she was my sister, and was very fond of her. I like her better and better. She is the most disinterested woman I ever knewthat is to say, she goes beyond degrees in it. To see an entirely disinterested girl quite happy is the most pleasant and extraordinary thing in the world.
The second error I would point out — and I do this upon the authority of a marginal note in my grandmother's handwriting, made in her copy of Lord Houghton's book — is in regard to the color of Keats's hair and eyes. Lord Houghton says, upon the authority of a lady who remembers Keats at the time of Hazlitt's lectures: “His eyes were large and blue, his hair auburn. He wore it divided down the center, and it fell in rich masses on each side of his face. His mouth was full and less intel