Thursday 14 March 2019

'I escaped being blown over and blown under...'

On this day in 1818, Keats wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds from Teignmouth in Devon, where he was experiencing weather very much like what we've been having here lately, as Storm Gareth sweeps across the country. Keats makes merry with the weather conditions, taking off into one of those quicksilver flights of fancy that make his letters so dazzlingly entertaining, so bursting with life and invention...

'Dear Reynolds,
I escaped being blown over and blown under & trees & house being toppled on me.—I have since hearing of Brown’s accident had an aversion to a dose of parapet, and being also a lover of antiquities
[Pg 83] I would sooner have a harmless piece of herculaneum sent me quietly as a present than ever so modern a chimney-pot tumbled on to my head—Being agog to see some Devonshire, I would have taken a walk the first day, but the rain would not let me; and the second, but the rain would not let me; and the third, but the rain forbade it. Ditto 4—ditto 5—ditto—so I made up my Mind to stop indoors, and catch a sight flying between the showers: and, behold I saw a pretty valley—pretty cliffs, pretty Brooks, pretty Meadows, pretty trees, both standing as they were created, and blown down as they are uncreated—The green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious—mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Mussels do for the Tide,–– so we look upon a brook in these parts as you look upon a dash in your Country–– there must be something to support this, aye, fog, hail, snow rain–– Mist–– blanketing up three parts of the year–– This devonshire is like Lydia Languish, very entertaining when at smiles, but cursedly subject to sympathetic moisture. You have the sensation of walking under one great Lamplighter: and you can’t go on the other side of the ladder to keep your frock clean, and cosset your superstition...'

And so on it goes – the young Keats on fizzing form.
'The flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the Mussels do for the Tide' – surely only Keats could have made that connection.
Patrick Kurp recently quoted Auden's observation that the style of the great letter writers is 'characterized by speed, high spirits, wit, and fancy'. Almost any letter of Keats proves the point.

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