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Feb. 11, 1820
The object of the present volume is to supply the want, which many readers must have felt, of a separate and convenient edition of the letters of Keats to his family and friends. He is one of those poets whose genius makes itself felt in prose-writing almost as decisively as in verse, and at their best these letters are among the most beautiful in our language. Portions of them lent an especial charm to a book charming at any rate -the biography of the poet first published more than forty years ago by Lord Houghton. But the correspondence as given by Lord Houghton is neither accurate nor complete. He had in few cases the originals before him, but made use of copies, some of them quite fragmentary, especially those supplied him from America ; and moreover, working while many of the poet's friends were still alive, he thought it right to exercise a degree of editorial freedom for which there would now be neither occasion
While I was engaged in preparing the life of Keats for Mr. Morley's series some years since, the following materials for an improved edition of his letters came into my hands :
(1) The copies made by Richard Woodhouse, a few years after Keats's death, of the poet's correspondence with his principal friends, viz. the publishers, Messrs. Taylor and Hessey; the transcriber, Woodhouse himself, who was a young barrister of literary tastes in the confidence of those gentlemen ; John Hamilton Reynolds, solicitor, poet, humourist, and critic (born 1796, died
1852); Jane and Mariane Reynolds, sisters of the lastnamed, the former afterwards Mrs. Tom Hood ; James Rice, the bosom friend of Reynolds, and like him a young solicitor; Benjamin Bailey, undergraduate of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, afterwards Archdeacon of Colombo (1794 ?1852), and one or two more.
(2) The imperfect copies of the poet's letters to his brother and sister-in-law in America, which were made by the sister-in-law's second husband, Mr. Jeffrey of Louisville, and sent by him to Lord Houghton, who published them with further omissions and alterations of his own.
(3) Somewhat later, after the publication of my book, the autograph originals of some of these same letters to America were put into my hands, including almost the entire text of Nos. lxiii. lxxiii. lxxx. and xcii. in the present edition. The three last are the long and famous journal-letters written in the autumn of 1818 and spring of 1819, and between them occupy nearly a quarter of the whole volume. I have shown elsewhere 1 how much of their value and interest was sacrificed by Mr. Jeffrey's omissions.
Besides these manuscript sources, I have drawn largely on Mr. Buxton Forman's elaborate edition of Keats's works in four volumes (1883), and to a much less extent on the
1 Macmillan's Magazine, August 1888.
? For the letters already printed by Lord Houghton, Mr. Forman as a rule simply copied the text of that editor. The letters to Fanny Brawne and Fanny Keats, on the other hand, he printed with great accuracy from the autographs, and had autographs also before him in revising those to Dilke, Haydon, and one or two besides. The correspondence with Fanny Keats he kindly gave me leave to use for the present volume, receiving from me in return the right to use my MS. materials for a revised issue of his own work, In that issue, which appeared at the end of 1889, the new matter is, however, printed separately, in the form of scraps and addenda detached from their context; and the present edition (the appearance of which has been delayed for two years by accidental circumstances) is the only one in which the true text of the American and miscellaneous letters is given consecutively and in proper order.
edition published by the poet's American grand-nephew, Mr. Speed (1884). Even thus, the correspondence is still probably not quite complete. In some of the voluminous journal-letters there may still be gaps, where a sheet of the autograph has gone astray; and since the following pages have been in print, I have heard of the existence in private collections of one or two letters which I have not been able to include. But it is not a case in which absolute completeness is of much importance.
In matters of the date and sequence of the letters, I have taken pains to be more exact than previous editors, especially in tracing the daily progress and different halting-places of the poet on his Scotch tour (which it takes some knowledge of the ground to do), and in dating the successive parts, written at intervals sometimes during two or three months, of the long journal-letters to America. On these particulars Keats himself is very vague, and his manuscript sometimes runs on without a break at points where the sense shows that he has dropped and taken it up again after a pause of days or weeks. Again, I have in all cases given in full the verse and other quotations contained in the correspondence, where other editors have only indicated them by their first lines. It is indeed from these that the letters derive a great part of their character. Writing to his nearest relatives or most intimate friends, he is always quoting for their pleasure poems of his own now classical, then warm from his brain, sent forth uncertain whether to live or die, or snatches of doggrel nonsense as the humour of the moment takes him. The former, familiar as we may be with them, gain a new interest and freshness from the context: the latter are nothing apart from it, and to
1 The letters in which I have relied wholly or in part on Mr. Speed's text are Nos. xxv. lxxx. (only for a few passages missing in the autograph) cxvi. and cxxxi.
2 Where the dates in my text are printed without brackets, they are those given by Keats himself; the dates within brackets have been supplied either from the postmarks (as was done by Woodhouse in all his transcripts) or by inference from the text.