Letter to Benjamin Bailey, November 22, 1817

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Letter to Benjamin Bailey  (1817) 
by John Keats

November 22nd, 1817

My dear Bailey,

I will get over the first part of this (unsaid) Letter as soon as possible for it relates to the affair of poor Crips - To a Man of your nature such a Letter as Haydon's must have been extremely cutting - What occasions the greater part of the World's Quarrels? Simply this, two Minds meet and do not understand each other time enough to prevent any shock or surprise at the conduct of either party - As soon as I had known Haydon three days I had got enough of his character not to have been surprised at such a Letter as he has hurt you with. Nor when I knew it was it a principle with me to drop his acquaintance although with you it would have been an imperious feeling. I wish you knew all that I think about Genius and the Heart - and yet I think you are thoroughly acquainted with my innermost breast in that respect, or you could not have known me even thus long and still hold me worthy to be your dear friend. In passing however I must say of one thing that has pressed upon me lately and encreased my Humility and capability of submission and that is this truth - Men of Genius are great as certain ethereal Chemicals operating on the Mass of neutral intellect - but they have not any individuality, any determined Character - I would call the top and head of those who have a proper self Men of Power.

But I am running my head into a Subject which I am certain I could not do justice to under five years Study and 3 vols octavo - and moreover long to be talking about the Imagination - so my dear Bailey do not think of this unpleasant affair if possible - do not - I defy any harm to come of it - I defy. I'll shall write to Crips this Week and request him to tell me all his going on from time to time by Letter wherever I may be - it will all go on well so don't because you have suddenly discover'd a Coldness in Haydon suffer yourself to be teased. Do not my dear fellow. O I wish I was as certain of the end of all your troubles as that of your momentary start about the authenticity of the Imagination. I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not - for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. In a word, you may know my favorite speculation by my first book, and the little song I send in my last, which is a representation from the fancy of the probable mode of operating in these matters. The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream, - he awoke and found it truth. I am more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consecutive reasoning - and yet it must be. Can it be that even the greatest philosopher ever arrived at his goal without putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts! It is a 'Vision in the form of Youth,' a shadow of reality to come. And this consideration has further convinced me, - for it has come as auxiliary to another favorite speculation of mine, - that we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we called happiness on earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger as you do after truth. Adam's dream will do here, and seems to be a conviction that imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human life and its spiritual repetition. But, as I was saying, the simple imaginative mind may have its rewards in the repetition of its own silent working coming continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness - to compare great things with small - have you never by being Surprised with an old Melody - in a delicious place - by a delicious voice, felt over again your very Speculations and Surmises at the time it first operated on your Soul - do you not remember forming to yourself the singer's face more beautiful than it was possible and yet with the elevation of the Moment you did not think so - even then you were mounted on the Wings of Imagination so high - that the Protrotype must be here after - that delicius face you will see. What a time! I am continually running away from the subject - sure this cannot be exactly the case with a complex Mind - one that is imaginative and at the same time careful of its fruits - who would exist partly on Sensation partly on thought - to whom it is necessary that years should bring the philosophic Mind - such an one I consider your's and therefore it is necessary to your eternal Happiness that you not only drink this old Wine of Heaven, which I shall call the redigestion of our most ethereal Musings on Earth; but also increase in knowledge and know all things. I am glad to hear you are in a fair way for Easter - you will soon get through your unpleasent reading and then! - but the world is full of troubles and I have not much reason to think myself pesterd with many - I think Jane or Marianne has a better opinion of me than I deserve - for really and truly I do not think my Brothers illness connected with mine - you know more of the real Cause than they do nor have I any chance of being rack'd as you have been - You perhaps at one time thought there was such a thing as worldly happiness to be arrived at, at certain periods of time marked out, - you have of necessity from your disposition been thus led away - I scarcely remember counting upon any happiness - I look for it if it be not in the present hour, - nothing startles me beyond the moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights, or if a sparrow come before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel. The first thing that strikes me on hearing a misfortune having befallen another is this - 'Well, it cannot be helped: he will have the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit' - and I beg now, my dear Bailey, that hereafter should you observe anything cold in me not to put it to the account of heartlessness, but abstraction - for I assure you I sometimes feel not the influence of a passion or affection during a whole week - and so long this sometimes continues, I begin to suspect myself, and the genuineness of my feelings at other times - thinking them a few barren tragedy tears.

Your affectionate friend,

John Keats

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.