To Benjamin Bailey (January 23rd, 1818)

Friday Jan, 23rd

My dear Bailey
Twelve days have pass’d since your last reached me – what has gone through the myriads of humand Minds since the 12thwe talk of the immense number of Books, the Volumes ranged thousands by thousands – but perhaps more goes through the human intelligence in 12 days than ever was written. How has that unfortunate family lived through the twelve? One saying of your’s I shall never forget – you may not recollect it – it being perhaps said when you were looking on the surface and seeming of Humanity alone, without a thought of the past or the future – or the deeps of good and evil – you were at the moment estranged from speculation and I think you have arguments ready for the Man who would utter it to you – this is a ormidable preface for a simple thing – merely you said: “Why should a Woman suffer?” Aye. Why should she? ‘By heavens I’d coin my very Soul and drop my “Blood for Drachmas”! These things are, and he who feels how incompetent the most skyes Knight errantry is to heal this bruised fairness is like a sensitive leaf on the hot hand of thought. Your tearing, my dear friend, a spiritless and gloomy Letter up to rewrite to me is what I shall never forget – it was to me a real thing. Things have happened lately of great perplexity; you must have heard of them; Reynolds and Haydon retorting and recriminating, and parting for ever. The same thing has happened between Haydon and Hunt. It is unfortunate: men should bear with each other; there lives not the man who may not be cut up, aye, lashed to pieces, on his weakest side. The best of men have but a portion of good in them – a kind of spiritual yeast in their frames, which creates the ferment of existence – by which a man is propelled to act, and strive, and buffet with circumstance. The sure way, Bailey, is first to know a man’s faults, and then be passive. If after that he insensibly draws you towards him, then you have no power to break the link. Before I felt interest in either Reynolds or Haydon, I was well-read in their faults; yet knowing them both I have been cementing gradually with both. I have an affection for them both, for reasons almost opposite; and to both must I of necessity cling, supported always by the hope that when a little time, a few years, shall have tried me more fully in their esteem, I may be able to bring them together. This time must come, because they have both hearts; and they will recollect the best parts of each other when this gust is overblown. I had a Message from you through a Letter to Jane I think about Cripps – there can be no idea of binding till a sufficient sum is sure for him – and even then the thing should be maturely consider’d by all his helpers. I shall try my luck upon as many fat-purses as I can meet with. Cripps is improving very fast. I have the greater hopes of him because he is so slow in devellopment – a Man of great executing Powers at 20 – with a look and a speech almost stupid is sure to do something. I have just look’d through the second side of your Letter – I feel a great content at it. I was at Hunt’s the other day, and he surprised me with a real authenticated Lock of Milton’s Hair. I know you would like what I wrote thereon – so here it is – as they say of a Sheep in a Nursery Book

On seeing a Lock of Milton’s Hair –


Chief of organic Numbers!
Old Scholar of the Spheres!
Thy spirit never slumbers,
But rolls about our ears
For ever and for ever.
O, what a mad endeavour
Worketh he
Who, to thy sacred and ennobled hearse,
Would offer a burnt sacrifice of verse
And Melody!

How heavenward thou soundedst
Live Temple of sweet noise;
And discord unconfoundedst:
Giving delight new joys,
And Pleasure nobler pinions –
O where are thy Dominions!
Lend thine ear
To a young delian oath – aye, by thy soul,
By all that from thy mortal Lips did roll;
And by the Kernel of thine earthly Love,
Beauty, in things on earth and things above,
When every childish fashion
Has vanish’d from my rhyme
Will I grey-gone in passion
Give to an after-time
Hymning and harmony
Of thee, and of thy Words and of thy Life:
But vain is now the bruning and the strife –
Pangs are in vain – until I grow high-rife
With Old Philosophy
And mad with glimpses at futurity!

For many years my offerings must be hush’d:
When I do speak I’ll think upon this hour,
Because I feel my forehead hot and flush’d,
Even at the simplest vassal of thy Power, –
A Lock of thy bright hair!
Sudden it came,
And I was startled when I heard thy name
Coupled so unaware –
Yet, at the moment, temperate was my blood:
Methought I had beheld it from the flood.
Jan. 21st

This I did at Hunt’s at his request – perhaps I should have done something better alone and at home – I have sent my first book to the Press – and this afternoon shall begin preparing the second – my visit to you will be a great spur to quicken the Proceeding – I have not had your Sermon returned – I long to make it the subject of a Letter to you – What do they say at Oxford?
I trust you and Gleig pass much fine time together. Remember me to him and Whitehead. My Brother Tom is getting stronger but his Spitting of blood continues. I sat down to read King Lear yesterday, and felt the greatness of the thing up to the writing of a Sonnet preparatory thereto – in my next you shall have it. There were some miserable reports of Rice’s health – I went and lo! Master Jemmy had been to the play the night before and was out at the time – he always comes on his Legs like a Cat – I have seen a good deal of Wordsworth. Hazlitt is lecturing on Poetry at the Surrey institution – I shall be there next Tuesday.

Your most affectionate Friend
John Keats

[Read the biographical context.]

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