Thursday, February 28, 2008

For the convenience of a library

John Keats to Benjamin Bailey

[Winchester, August 1819]

We* returned to Winchester for the convenience of a library and find it an exceedingly pleasant town, enriched with a beautiful cathedral, and surrounded by a fresh-looking country. We are in tolerably good and cheap lodgings. Within these two months I have written fifteen hundred lines, most of which, besides many more of prior composition, you will probably see by next winter. I have written two tales, one from Boccacio, called the "Pot of Basil," and another call "St. Agnes's Eve," on a popular superstition, and a third called "Lamia" (half-finished). I have also been writing parts of my "Hyperion," and completed four acts of a tragedy. It was the opinion of most of my friend that I should never be able to write a scene: I will endeavor to wipe away the prejudice. I sincerely hope you will be pleased when my labors, since we last saw each other, shall reach you. One of my ambitions is to make as great a revolution in modern dramatic writing as Kean has done in acting. Another, to upset the drawling of the blue-stocking literary world. If, in the course of a few years, I do these two things, I ought to die content, and my friends should drink a dozen of claret on my tomb. I am convinced more and more every day, that (excepting the human-friend philosopher), a fine writer is the most genuine being in the world. Shakespeare and the "Paradise Lost" every day become greater wonders to me. I look upon fine phrases like a lover.

I was glad to see, by a passage of one of Brown's letters, some time ago, from the North, that you were in such good spirits. Since that, you have been married, and in congratulating you, I wish you every continuance of them. Present my respects to Mrs. Bailey. This sounds oddly to me, and I dare say I do it awkwardly enough; but I suppose by this time it is nothing new to you.

Brown's remembrances to you. For as far as I know, we shall remain at Winchester for a goodish while.
Ever your sincere friend,
John Keats.

*Keats and his good friend Charles Brown (1787-1842), who he met in the summer of 1817.

-from Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats editied by R. Monckton Milnes (London: New York: 1848).

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