17 JUNE 1949, Page 22


Friends of Keats

FOR Englishmen the study of Keats is, today, oddly embarrassed. Most of the grand documents are in American possession. The British Museum holds on to the MS. of Hyperion. But there is a leaf missing from it. Mr. De Selincourt, when he published a facsimile of the MS., did not know where the missing leaf was. I could have told him, and he might have guessed ; it is in the Morgan Library in New York. To the generosity of Americans, we all know, there is no limit. Do the Trustees of the Morgan Library really feel that this missing leaf ought to be with them ? Are they happy that the British Museum MS. should, but for them, be per- fect ? The British Museum keeps also the only complete autograph of Isabella. But most of the other MSS. of Keats are in the U.S.A. Our latest loss—a loss grievous and unexpected—was in 1939, when the whole of the Crewe House Keatsiana passed to America. I had collated the Crewe House papers for the poems. When I wished to check my proofs with the originals, the MSS. were no longer in Crewe House ; nor was their owner in a position to tell me where they were. They had, in fact, passd to Mr. Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. ; and are now a part of the Houghton Library in Harvard University. If they were not to stay with us, they could hardly, be it said at once, be in better keeping. Proof sufficient is Mr. Rollins's book.

Apart from the letters of Keats himself—for which we have the masterly edition of Mr. M. Buxton Forman—The Keats Circle makes "available in print for reading and study," not only all the letters of the Crewe House collection, but those given to the Harvard Library by Miss Lowell in 1927. With the letters of these two great collections Mr. Rollins has been able, by the generosity of the guardians of the Morgan Library, to include the letters of the " celebrated scrapbook of Keatsiana 'Compiled by Richard Wood- house." "A rapid count," says Mr. Rollins, "shows that of the three hundred and fifty-two separate documents included . . . about fifty have hitherto been printed entire." Unless one counts as rapidly as Mr. Rollins, the documents number, in fact, not three hundred and fifty-two, but three hundred and fifty. Of the fifty letters hitherto printed entire, most have been printed " with considerable inexactness." That Mr. Rollins is himself a very exact transcriber I think certain. Half a dozen of his letters, selected at random from the Morgan scrapbook, I have tried out with photographs of the originals. No single error have I detected in any of them.

Some grumbles Mr. Rollins's work invites. His letters are arranged chronologically. That was proper and necessary. But it was proper and necessary also to indicate from which of the three collections— Crewe, Lowell, Morgan—each letter derives ; and to attach to it a page number, or the like, indicating its place in the manuscript to which it belongs. Sometimes there is a bare heading, " Morgan MS." But whether only the letters so headed belong to the Morgan collection I cannot tell. When I tried to check some of Mr. Rollins's transcripts of Morgan letters, I was at a difficulty in finding the page. The letters from the Crewe collection and the Lowell collec- tion carry no heading at all. An appendix, again, brings together fifty letters addressed, nearly all of them, to Keats's publisher, Taylor, No indication is given of the source of any of these. I do not remember any of them from among the Crewe papers ; nor do they appear in my photographs of the Woodhouse scrapbook. They may belong to the Lowell collection. But, for any information vouch- safed by Mr. Rollins, a man might go to the Harvard Library only to be told that there was better hunting in the Huntington. It was to be wished, I would add, that Mr. Rollins had employed some mark by which the reader could discover readily whether a particu- lar letter has or has not been printed before.

While the Crewe papers were still in this country, one of the most interesting of them, Brown's Life of Keats, was excellently edited by Dorothy Bodurtha and Willard Pope ((Word, 1937). Mr. Rollins's transcript of it occupies close on fifty pages of his second volume, The corrections which it makes in the text of the Oxford transcript are negligible; nor does it allow the reader to dispense with Bodurtha and Pope. Only there, for example, will he discover that the letter of Severn printed on pp. 9o-93 of Mr. Rollins's second volume is incomplete, and how much of the text of it is uncertain. Including this Brown item, Mr. Rollins does not do what he aims to do ; he does not dispense the reader from the " inconvenience of hunting down such letters as have heretofore been printed."

Mr. Rollins devotes more than one hundred pages of his first volume to biographical sketches of various members of the Keats circle. These are all good and readable. But most of the persons sketched figure in the " biographical memoranda " prefixed to Mr. Buxton Forman's edition of Keats's letters ; and the new matter added by Mr. Rollins is not considerable. But the sketches of Abbey, Milnes, Sir James Clarke, Peter de Wint and William Hilton are new and useful. About Abbey—a problematical person—Mr. Rollins is non- committal (he is a degree non-committal also, it may be noticed, about Fanny Brawne). Milnes, certainly, deserved a biographical note. Well over a hundred letters of the second volume are addressed to him. In their letters to him, two of Keats's friends live newly and appealingly—Bailey and Mathew. Mathew's eight poems are not great poetry. But his letter to Milnes of February 3rd, 5847, is a valuable document in the criticism of Keats.

"A set of friends that I did not believe could be found in the world "—so Fanny Brawne speaks of the persons whose letters Mr. Rollins has so effectively brought together. Many of them were, as he says, men interesting in their own right. What comes out more strikingly than anything else in their letters is their complete devotion to Keats. "Love," Mr. Rollins writes, "is the somewhat unconventional word the Keats circle use in referring to him "; and he quotes for it Bailey, Reynolds, Brown, Haslam, C. C. Clarke. These two new volumes, if they furnished nothing else, would be valuable for the picture which they offer of the essential lovableness