Select Poems by John Keats

John Keats by Amy Lowell


To add another to the long list of books on Keats seems to demand, if not an excuse, at least an explanation.  My reasons for undertaking what at first sight appears an act of supererogation have a certain cogency, however, and this cogency lies in the unexpected wealth of new material existing uncharted and almost unexplored in the libraries of American collectors.  America has always been greatly interested in Keats, and from the very beginning American enthusiasts have been indefatigable in their effoxrts to obtain manuscripts, letters, books owned by Keats, anything, in short, which touched even remotely on the brief life history of the poet.  For years I had been one of this band of collectors, but I scarcely knew how successful my quest had been until, in 1921, I was asked to deliver a commemorative address on the one hundredth anniversary of Keats's death at Yale University, as one of the lectures of the Francis Bergen Foundation.  In preparing that address, I discovered so much that was fresh and unknown, so many little collateral facts of importance, that only a tithe of the information so gained could find place in the limits of an hour's talk.  Realizing that, if my own collection could yield so much, the collections of others must also contain a great deal of which biographers and commentators were unaware, I decided that there was room for a new biography which should incorporate all the available material and make it accessible to students of Keats.

My intention in writing this book has been by no means to supplant existing biographies, but to add to them, and this I hope will be clearly understood.  I should not have attempted a complete biography had it been possible to present all that I have discovered in any other way, but the knowledge gained, spread as it is over the whole of Keats's life, could be properly understood only by placing it in a chronological pattern.

This was my chief reason for writing the book; there was, however, another.  It lay simply in the passage of time.  Many as are the books on Keats, their authors have belonged, I think without exception, to the nineteenth century, in attitude if not in fact.  But a new generation of poets and critics now holds the stage, and the twentieth century has been silent in regard to Keats.  Yet a great poet has something to give to every generation, and it has seemed to me time that mine should set down its impressions and put its particular view on record.  I do not pretend to speak as the universal voice of an era, merely as one voice existing in that era; but this opinion has led me to add a certain amount of criticism to the biography proper, which criticism will be considered sympathetic or the reverse principally, I believe, according to whether the individual reader derive his impressions from the mental impulses of the last century or of this.

Before going any farther, I wish to make an apology.  In July, 1914, I met Sir Sidney Colvin, then preparing his great book on Keats, in London.  I told him that I possessed a good deal of Keats material, and promised, at his desire, to send him a list of it.  But before my return to America, the war broke out, and shortly after, I fell seriously ill.  These two facts made it impossible for me to keep my promise immediately, and before I was able to do so, his biography appeared.  At the time, I had no intention of writing on Keats myself, and was deeply chagrined to discover that it was too late to send the list.  I can only say that Sir Sidney Colvin has most graciously forgiven me, and granted me his permission to quote freely from his book.  My indebtedness to him will be found recorded again and again throughout these two volumes.

Keats and his poetry are so much of a piece, that I have followed a rather unusual method in dealing with the two aspects of his character, the personal and the poetic.  I have given his life as a whole, bringing in the poems at intervals as they occurred to him.  My object has been to make the reader feel as though he were living with Keats, subject to the same influences that surrounded him, moving in his circle, watching the advent of poems as from day to day they sprang into being.  I have tried to bring back into existence the place, the time, and the society in which Keats moved.  A host of commentators have dealt with him solely in his quality of poet functioning in the timeless area of universal literature; my endeavour has been to show him as a particular poet, hindered and assisted by his temperamental bias as a man, writing in a certain milieu.  For this reason, I have considered that no detail which could add vividness to the picture is unimportant, nothing which could clarify his psychological processes too slight to be mentioned.  Keats's life was so short that it is possible to follow it with a minuteness which could not be accorded to a poet who had lived the usual span of man's existence.

I have quoted freely, both from published and hitherto unpublished sources, convinced that first-hand evidence is always preferable to a hundred-year-after paraphrase.  And I have spared no space to make clear my reasons for any altered date or departure from an accepted point of view.  The sources for the quotations will be found at the bottom of the pages, and being there, I have not thought it necessary to give any farther catalogue of the books consulted.  In the quotations, words in parentheses were in the original manuscripts, words in brackets have been added by me or by previous commentators.  In quoting poems published in Keats's lifetime, I have followed the texts of the first editions.  For those poems published after his death, I have followed the manuscripts wherever such were obtainable; where manuscripts were non-existent or inaccessible, I have taken Mr. Buxton Forman's readings in his Complete Edition.  In the case of poems recently discovered, I have adopted Professor de Sélincourt's text.  All letters and manuscripts are quoted exactly as they were written.  I have altered neither spelling nor punctuation, and have let even abbreviations stand.  In three Appendices I have given a chronological list of Keats's poems compiled with reference to the most recent discoveries; an unknown fragment of a poetical play in the Morgan Library; and various underscored passages and annotations found in books owned by Keats and never before published.01

As I have already said, my work has been principally among American collections, as I believed that the material in England had been exhaustively gone over by previous students, but I have examined both the Dilke Collection at Hampstead and that in the British Museum.  Lord Crewe's collection I have not seen nor made any attempt to see, knowing it to have been thoroughly tabulated and made use of by the late H. Buxton Forman and Sir Sidney Colvin.  The debt owed to these two gentlemen by all students of Keats is incalculable.  Nothing can be done to-day without constant reference to their works.  In the case of Mr. Buxton Forman, I have used chiefly his Complete Edition, in five small volumes, published in 1900-1, augmenting it with his earlier Library Edition, which though fuller in detail lacks the later information of the small edition.  Whenever possible I have gone to the original sources quoted by him or Sir Sidney Colvin.

Professor de Sélincourt's editions of Keats's poems, particularly the Fourth Edition, have been invaluable, and to his courtesy I owe the permission to quote from them.  It is a pleasure to record my thanks for his kindness and encouragement.

It has been my good fortune to run across a number of letters of Fanny Brawne's, quite unknown to students.  I have been allowed to quote these in excerpts only, but indeed to give them in full would require an entire volume.  To me, they make Fanny Brawne for the first time plausible; we see her at last as she was, not as egregious and erroneous legend has hitherto depicted her.  To have been able, through these letters, to raise the cloud of malign misconstructions which has long obscured her, has been one of the chief satisfactions of my researches.

The list of my indebtedness to my brother collectors, and to many other people who have helped me by information or otherwise, is long, for I have met with the utmost cordiality on every side. First and foremost come the owners or custodians of the great collections.  To Mr. J.P. Morgan of New York, owner of the Morgan Library, which he has just formally put at the service of students, but which has in fact always been at their service, assisted by the expert advice of its remarkable librarian, Miss Belle da Costa Greene, I am deeply obliged.  Through Miss Greene’s kindness I have had free access to the Library for the past four years, and have been permitted to make such transcripts of manuscripts as I needed.  Mr. F. Holland Day of Norwood, Mass., has given me copies of three unpublished letters of Keats and various letters of his friends, as well as many photographs and pictures, among them a most interesting pencil drawing of Keats from a note-book of his brother Tom’s.  Mr. Day has also greatly aided me with his advice and detailed knowledge of Keats’s life, and supplied me with newspaper clippings and magazine articles difficult to find.  His unique collection of Keats presentation copies has added some valuable bits to my biographical data.  Mr. Louis A. Holman of Boston, an indefatigable collector of Keatsiana, and the owner of the largest collection of prints and illustrations relating to Keats in the world, has opened his entire store to me.  His note-books, the result of infinite labour, have been of the greatest service.  Mr. Frank B. Bemis of Boston has also offered me every facility in his power, to him I owe a most important letter from Tom Keats, and the inscriptions in some of his presentation copies of Keats's books have been particularly significant.  Mr. William A. White of Brooklyn has been most kind.  Through him I have had access to a manuscript of Lamia02 as well as the proof-sheets of that poem, and his courtesy has enabled me to find and recognize one of the only two first editions of Drayton's Endimion and Phœbe known to exist, which is now in his possession.  The Keats Memorial Association of Hampstead, England, through its most courteous secretary, Mr. William E. Doubleday, placed the Dilke Collection at my unreserved disposal, and Mr. Doubleday personally undertook to obtain for me various permissions from people in England for which I am profoundly grateful.  In the notes, these large collections are referred to as Morgan Collection, Day Collection, Dilke Collection, etc.

For the owners of one or more items, my thanks are due to Mr. Lucius Wilmerding of New York, for permission to quote the annotations in a copy of Palmerin of England; to Mr. William M. Elkins of Philadelphia, for allowing me to examine a copy of Keats's Poems formerly owned by Thomas Richards; to Mr. James Freeman Clarke of Boston, for permission to transcribe one of Keats's Scotch letters given by George Keats to his grandfather; to Mr. W. van R. Whitall of Pelham Manor, New York, for sending me Woodhouse's copy of Endymion for examination and transcription and for a photograph of an oil portrait of Woodhouse belonging to him; to Professor Edward S. Burgess of Hunter College, for an unpublished letter of George Keats, and for his transcription of Keats's notes written by Marianne Reynolds into a copy of Paradise Lost from the copy given by Keats to Mrs. Dilke now in the Dilke Collection; to Mr. A. Edward Newton of Philadelphia, for permission to reproduce a silhouette of Keats as a boy; to the National Portrait Gallery, London, for permission to reproduce a pencil drawing of Keats by Brown; to Mrs. Herbert L. Wild, grand-daughter of Joseph Severn, for the reproduction of a silhouette of Keats; to Miss Fanny Speed MacDonald, great grand-daughter of George Keats, for a photograph of an engraving of a water colour sketch of Tom Keats by Joseph Severn; to Mr. Oliver R. Barrett of Chicago, for photographs of Keats's passport in his possession; to Dr. Roderick Terry of Newport, Rhode Island, for allowing me to quote the poem Hither, hither, love, the manuscript of which is owned by him; to Mrs. Roland Gage Hopkins of Brookline, Mass., for two unpublished letters of Keats; to Mr. Rosewell Page of Richmond, for transcribing the title-page and inscription of a Greek Testament which belonged to Keats now in his possession; to the Authors' Club of New York, for allowing me to transcribe Keats's annotations in a copy of Guzman de Alfarache.

Other people who have helped me in various ways are: Mrs. Samuel A. Hartwell, a grand-daughter of George Keats, by giving me much information about the Keats family in America, and compiling for me a genealogy of George Keats's descendants; Mrs. Thomas Hardy, by sending me information about the Keats family in Dorsetshire; Dr. John B. Hawes 2nd, by examining a health history of Keats which I made out for him and permitting me to quote his opinion upon it; Dr. Abner Post, by also examining the health history and allowing me to quote the result of his investigations; the Rev. Dr. Leigh H. Nixon, Librarian of the Westminster Cathedral Library, by sending me information in regard to a copy of Drayton's Endimion and Phœbe in that Library; Mr. Gardner Teall, by telling me of the whereabouts of Keats's copy of Guzman de Alfarache; Mr. Claude L. Finney of the University of Michigan, by according me permission to quote from his unpublished thesis, Shakespeare and Keats in the Widener Library, Harvard University; Professor Ralph Leslie Rusk of the University of Indiana, by giving me leave to quote one of Keats's Scotch letters discovered by him in an old copy of the Western Messenger which he reprinted in the North American Review and Miss Elisabeth Cutting, the editor of that magazine, by adding her necessary permission to his; Mr. S. Foster Damon, by making for me a list of the derivations of the alchemical and astrological allusions in Keats's Cap and Bells; and Miss Margaret Shepard, by allowing me to reproduce a photograph taken by her of the Piazza di Spagna, Rome.

To my friend, Professor John Livingston Lowes of Harvard, I owe so much that it is impossible to tabulate the sum of my indebtedness.  His enthusiasm, encouragement, and sympathy during the entire time that I have been at work on the book have been unfailing.  To his knowledge and imaginative insight I owe many suggestions as to the possible sources of some of the poems, which suggestions I have followed up with most fruitful results.

To Professor William Lyon Phelps of Yale is due the initial impulse which led me to undertake the book, for it was he who invited me to deliver the anniversary address at New Haven.  I hereby express my thanks.

Others whose assistance I cannot leave unrecorded are Dr. Theodore J. Eastman, who has given me much advice on the medical aspects of Keats's life; Dr. George Watson Cole, librarian of the Henry E. Huntington library at Pasadena, who, together with his assistant, Mr. Cecil K. Edmonds, set me on the track which led to the discovery of a copy of Drayton's Endimion and Phœbe in a place where Keats might have seen it; Professor John R. Slater of the University of Rochester, who examined for me a presentation copy of Keats's Endymion formerly in the possession of Mrs. Bertha L. Bolton of that city; my niece, Mrs. Orme B. Clarke of London, who obtained for me a copy of the entry of the marriage of Keats's parents in the Register Book of Marriages of Saint George's Church, Hanover Square, and the Rev. Prebendary Thicknesse who made the copy.

For transcriptions of letters and poems which I have been unable to use, I wish to thank the well-known booksellers, Mr. Gabriel Wells, and Mr. Edgar H. Wells, both of New York, Mr. Charles Sessler of Philadelphia, and Mr. John Howell of San Francisco; also Mr. Jerome Kern of New York.

Mr. Charles K. Bolton, librarian of the Boston Athenæum, Mr. William C. Lane, librarian of the Widener Library, and Mr. Walter B. Briggs, assistant librarian of the Widener Library, have afforded me very material assistance in many ways for which I am most grateful.

I cannot close this list without mentioning my secretaries, Mrs. Charles W. Alexander and Mrs. Willis C. Carling, whose unwearying labours have so materially lightened mine.  By their devotion, complete indifference to the passage of time, and enthusiastic eagerness, a long and difficult task has been made almost easy and brought to a conclusion in a surprisingly short time.

If I have forgotten any one I should have remembered, I shall be very sorry; but I beg all such persons, if any there be, to pardon the oversight as one of the head not of the heart.



October 10, 1924.


John Keats by Amy Lowell Select Poems by John Keats


01 -  A fourth Appendix contains material which arrived too late to be mentioned above.

02 -  Now in the Bemis Collection.

Transcribed and formatted exactly as printed in the 1925 Houghton Mifflin Company edition of John Keats by Amy Lowell.