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To Fanny Keats (Oxford, September 10th, 1817)
My dear Fanny
Let us now begin a regular question and answer a little pro and con; letting it interfere as a pleasant method of my coming at your favorite little wants and enjoyments, that I may meet them in a way befitting a brother.
We have been so little together since you have been able to reflect on things that I know not whether you prefer the History of King Pepin to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Cinderella and her glass slipper to Moore’s Almanack. However in a few Letters I hope I shall be able to come at that and adapt my scribblings to your Pleasure. You must tell me about all you read if it be only six Pages in a Week and this transmitted to me every now and then will procure you full sheets of Writing from me pretty frequently. This I feel as a necessity for we ought to become intimately acquainted, in order that I may not only, as you grow up love you as my only Sister, but confide in you as my dearest friend. When I saw you last I told you of my intention of going to Oxford and ’tis now a Week since I disembark’d from his Whipship’s Coach the Defiance in this place. I am living in Magdalen Hall on a visit to a young Man with whom I have not been long acquainted, but whom I like very much we lead very industrious lives he in general Studies and I in proceeding at a pretty good rate with a Poem which I hope you will see early in the next year. Perhaps you might like to know what I am writing about. I will tell you. Many Years ago there was a young handsome Shepherd who fed his flocks on a Mountain’s Side called Latmus – he was a very contemplative sort of a Person and lived solitary among the trees and Plains little thinking that such a beautiful Creature as the Moon was growing mad in Love with him. However so it was; and when he was asleep on the Grass she used to come down from heaven and admire him excessively for a long time; and at last could not refrain from carrying him away in her arms to the top of that high Mountain Latmus while he was a dreaming, but I daresay you have read this and all the other beautiful Tales which have come down from the ancient times of that beautiful Greece. If you have not let me know and I will tell you more at large of others quite as delightful. This Oxford I have no doubt is the finest City in the world it is full of old Gothic buildings, Spires, towers, Quadrangles, Cloisters, Groves, etc., and is surrounded with more clear streams than ever I saw together. I take a Walk by the Side of one of them every Evening and, thank God, we have not had a drop of rain these many days. I had a long and interesting Letter from George, cross lines by a short one from Tom yesterday dated Paris. They both send their loves to you. Like most Englishmen they feel a mighty preference for everything English, the French Meadows, the trees, the People, the Towns, the Churches, the Books, the everything, although they may be in themselves good: yet when put in comparison with our green Island they all vanish like Swallows in October. They have seen Cathedrals, Manuscripts, Fountains, Pictures, Tragedy, Comedy, with other things you may by chance meet with in this Country such as Washerwomen, Lamplighters, Turnpikemen, Fishkettles, Dancing Masters, Kettle drums, Sentry Boxes, Rocking Horses, etc., and, now they have taken them over a set of boxing-gloves.
I have written to George and requested him, as you wish I should, to write to you. I have been writing very hard lately, even till an utter incapacity came on, and I feel it now about my head: so you must not mind a little out-of-the-way sayings, though by the bye were my brain as clear as a bell I think I should have a little propensity thereto. I shall stop here till I have finished the 3d Book of my Story; which I hope will be accomplish’d in at most three Weeks from today, about which time you shall see me. How do you like Miss Taylor’s essays in Rhyme, I just look’d into the Book and it appeared to me suitable to you, especially since I remember your liking for those pleasant little things the Original Poems, the essays are the more mature production of the same hand. While I was speaking about France it occurred to me to speak a few Words on their Language, it is perhaps the poorest one ever spoken since the jabbering in the Tower of Babel, and when you come to know that the real use and greatness of a Tongue is to be referred to its Literature, you will be astonished to find how very inferior it is to our native Speech. I wish the Italian would supersede French in every school throughout the Country, for that is full of real Poetry and Romance of a kind more fitted for the Pleasure of Ladies than perhaps our own. It seems that the only end to be gained in acquiring French is the immense accomplishment of speaking it, it is none at all, a most lamentable mistake indeed. Italian indeed would sound most musically from Lips which had began to pronounce it as early as French is crammed down our Mouths, as if we were young Jackdaws at the mercy of an overfeeding Schoolboy. Now Fanny you must write soon, and write all you think about, never mind what, only let me have a good deal of your writing. You need not do it all at once, be two or three or four days about it, and let it be a diary of your little Life. You will preserve all my Letters and I will secure yours, and thus in the course of time we shall each of us have a good Bundle, which, hereafter, when things may have strangely altered and God knows what happened, we may read over together and look with pleasure on times past, that now are to come. Give my Respects to the Ladies, and so my dear Fanny I am ever.
Your most affectionate Brother
If you direct Post Office, Oxford, your Letter will be brought to me.