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XIV. To Jane and Mariane Reynolds 5 September 1817
XXIV. To John Hamilton Reynolds 22 November 1817
LXXIII. To Jane Reynolds 1 September 1818
LXXIV. To Charles Wentworth Dilke 21 September 1818.
LXXXII. To Fanny Keats 6 November 1818
PREFACE TO THE LETTERS.
BY THE EDITOR.
This edition of the Letters of John Keats contains in all 217 letters or parts of letters. Those which are fragments are but few: on the other hand there are several each of which would have been many letters but for scarcity of opportunities for despatch to America. These are the journal letters to George Keats and his wife. A large number of the letters appear in no other English edition save my Library edition and illustrated one-volume edition published by Messrs. Reeves and Turner; and two-one to Horace Smith and one to Brown-appear now for the first time. Of the sources of the letters information is given in the general preface prefixed to Volume I. In this place a few words concerning Keats as a letter-writer are needed. If to be true, interesting, attractive, witty, humorous, idealistic, realistic, speculative, discursive, and gossippy in turns is the note of a good letter-writer, then indeed Keats was one. If to tell one's friends just what they want to know about one's doings and thoughts, and about the doings and thoughts of mutual friends, is to be a good letter-writer-that is where Keats, of all men of genius in the last century, excelled. If consideration for the feelings of others in the manner and degree of communicating misfortunes or disagreeables be an epistolary virtue, Keats was largely dowered with that virtue. If to present a true picture of the essential qualities of one's personality is a valuable art, Keats manifested that art in a high form in his letters. And if, when wrung by disease and misery, it is better to leave some record for a pitying posterity than to carry a ghastly secret into the oblivion of the grave, then in this also Keats exceeded others who have made the world richer with their letters. Lastly, the man is not dissociated from the poet in them. Not only is the poetic mode of thought frequently the ruling mode in the prose fabric of these letters; but they are set with gems of verse of all waters, dashed in just as they were composed, a part of the man's life enacting and reflected throughout, and ranging in quality from the merest doggerel calculated to fatten by laughter ("Laugh and grow fat!") to the very masterpieces of poetic craft by which Keats has most blessed his race. It is a far cry from
Two or three Posies
With two or three simples
O what can ail thee Knight at arms
But true it is that, in reading Keats's letters with a fresh eye, one never knows whether the next precious stone one comes to, embedded in one of his racy, lively, inimitably good-tempered and well-conditioned prose pages, will be of the one mood or the other.
In order that the two volumes of letters may be complete in themselves, the poems with which he interspersed his familiar letters are here given in the form in which he wrote them, whether drafts or revisions, although they all appear in their final form in the three volumes of poetry. "Complete," indeed, is a dangerous word to use about such a collection; for here there is no demonstrable finality. To-day one's edition is complete: to-morrow it may be incomplete by the discovery of one more letter-the next day still further from completeness by a fresh find. But at all events there is no letter of Keats ever seen by me which is not included in this edition; and it is doubtful whether much of consequence remains to find.
One of the chief distinctive features of this and my illustrated edition is the insertion of the letters to Fanny Brawne in the order of their production as nearly as it can be ascertained. It is this that accounts for the greater part of the disparity, though not by any means the whole of it, between the hundred and sixty-four letters forming Mr. Colvin's edition and the two hundred and seventeen contained in this volume.
I still think Keats's letters without those to Fanny Brawne very much like 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark. When I made up my mind, after weighing the whole matter carefully, to publish those letters in 1878, I was fully alive to the risk of vituperation, and not unduly solicitous on that score. The press turned out to be about equally divided on it: to one half those letters were "the greatest treasure offered to the reading public for many years," and so on: to the other half their publication was an outrage unheard of; and they "signified the same in the usual manner." The friendly acclamations, and still more the personal expression of views from those whom I knew and valued, were thankfully received. As to the vituperations, one thought of the celebrated anathema recorded in 'The Jackdaw of Rheims,' and came to the conclusion that that memorable occasion was not the only one on which "Nobody seemed one penny the worse."
To return to that sober seriousness which befits the occasion,-the Letters to Fanny Brawne, as here placed side by side with those to Fanny Keats and other correspondents of the poet, are specially commended to such readers in the new century as care to know Keats thoroughly in all moods of his mind and all phases of his temper. There is nothing for any one to be afraid of—nothing that any man or woman need blush to have overheard through that good hap which preserved these records. Above all, the letters are irrevocably with us; and, being with us, they complete the picture of the true Keats. Taken in their proper context, they redound to his honour. That a man placed as he was, endowed by nature as he was, refined by art as he was, and tortured by bodily disease and mental agony as he was, should yet mingle with the bitterness of his cry of despair such sweetness