Benjamin Bailey (1791-1853) was a student at Oxford when he and Keats became friends. The friendship ended when Bailey, after passionately courting Marianne Reynolds, married Hamilton Gleig instead. The marriage may have been determined by his career; Gleig was the daughter of the bishop of Brechin and Bailey was a country parson. Keats’s last letter to Bailey was an achingly polite congratulations on his wedding.
This letter informs Bailey of George Keats’s decision to emigrate to America. Keats also discusses his literary apathy.
Hampstead, Thursday –
My dear Bailey,
I should have answered your letter on the moment – if I could have said yes to your invitation. What hinders me is insuperable; I will tell it at a little length. You know my Brother George has been out of employ for some time. it has weighed very much upon him, and driven him to scheme and turn over things in his Mind. the result has been his resolution to emigrate to the back settlements of America, become farmer and work with his own hands after purchacing 1400 hundred Acres of the American Government. This for many reasons has met with my entire consent-and the chief one is this-he is of too independant and liberal a Mind to get on in trade in this Country-in which a generous Ma(n) with a: scanty recourse must be ruined. I would, -‘ sooner he should till the ground than bow to a Customer- there is no choice with him; he could not bring himself to the latter-I would not consent to his going alone – no; but that objection is done away with-he will marry before he sets sail a young Lady he has known some years-of a nature liberal and highspirited enough to follow him to the Banks of the Mississipi. He will set off in a month or six weeks, and you will see how I should wish to pass that time with him-and then I must set out on a journey of my own – Brown and I are going a pedestrian tour through the north of England and Scotland as far a[s] John 0 Grots. I have this morning such a Lethargy that I cannot write – the reason of my delaying is oftentimes from this feeling — I wait for a proper temper-Now you ask for an immediate answer I do not like to wait even till tomorrow-However I am now so depressed that I have not an Idea to put to paper–my hand feels like lead-and yet it is and unpleasant numbness it does not take away the pain of existence – I don’t know what to write-Monday – You see how I have delayed-and even now I have but a confused idea of what I should be about my intellect must be in a degen[er]ating state – it must be for when I should writing about god knows what I am troubling you with Moods of my own Mind or rather body – for Mind there is none. I am in that temper that if I were under Water I would, scarcely kick to come to the top-I know very well ‘t is all nonsense. In a short time I hope I shall be in a temper to fell [for feel] sensibly your mention of my Book – in vain have I waited till Monday to have any interest in that or in any thing else. I feel no spur at my Brothers going to America and am almost stony-hearted about his wedding. All this will blow over – all I am sorry for is having to write to you in such a time – but I cannot force my letters in a hot bed – I could not feel comfortable in making sentences for you – I am your debtor – I must ever remain so – nor do I wish to be clear of my rational debt – There is a comfort in throwing oneself on the charity of ones friends – ‘t is like the albatros sleeping on its wings – I will be to you wine in the cellar and the more modestly or rather indolently I retire into the backward Bin, the more falerne will I be at the drinking, There is one thing I must mention. My Brother talks of sailing in a fortnight if so I will most probably be with you a week before I set out for Scotland. The middle of your first page should be suffic[i]ent to rouse me-what I said is true and I have dreamt of your mention of it and m(y) not a[n]swering it has weighed on me since – If I com(e,) I will bring your Letter and hear more fully your sentiments on one or two points. I will call about the Lectures at Taylors and at Little Britain tomorrow – Yesterday I dined with Hazlitt; Barnes, and Wilkie at Haydon’s. The was the Duke of Wellington very amusingly pro and con’d. Reynolds has been getting much better; and Rice may begin to crow for he got a little so so at a Party of his and was none the worse for it the next morning. I hope I shall soon see you for we must have many new thoughts and feelings to analize, and to discover whether a little more knowledge has not made us more ignorant –
Notes: William Hazlitt was a literary critic; Thomas Barnes was editor of The Times; David Wilkie was a painter.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "John Keats Letters To Benjamin Bailey, 21,25 May 1818" https://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/benjamin-bailey-2125-may-1818/, March 2, 2015