New major acquisition of John Keats's Copy of Edmund Spenser's Collected Works

Monday, July 1, 2024

We are delighted to announce that the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association recently acquired a unique item from John Keats’s personal library.
Keats’s copy of The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr Edmund Spenser was printed in London by Henry Hills for Jonathan Edwin in 1679. It is the third edition of Spenser’s collected works and has an engraved frontispiece. The title page bears the signature ‘John Keats, Severn’s Gift, 1818’ in Keats’s hand.
Scholars of the Romantics are agreed that after Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser was the poet who most influenced Keats; his friend Cowden Clarke recalled how ‘Keats consumed Spenser’s Faerie Queene like a young horse ramping through a spring meadow, with it leaving him enchanted and transformed into a poetic being’. Written in 1814, ‘Imitation of Spenser’ is Keats’s earliest recorded poem. Stanza, meter and spelling in poems such as Endymion and The Eve of St Agnes, owe much to the style of the Elizabethan poet. As his health declined, John Keats appears to have annotated passages in the Faerie Queene to reflect his love for Fanny Brawne and his last poem, ‘In after time a sage of mickle lore’, drew heavily on the lyricism of Spenser.
This unique object is of remarkable provenance and enclosed within it are a number of letters relating to earlier sales – notably one dating to 1914 from rare book dealer, Frank T. Sabin who writes it was ‘the finest edition of the works of Spenser procurable… no doubt selected by Severn as the gift more likely than any other to be appreciated by Keats’. Indeed, this gift says much about the friendship between John Keats and artist, Joseph Severn. Keats’s copy of Spenser’s poems will shortly join the collection of unique items held at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome.
We would like to thank Professor Duncan Wu, Angus Graham-Campbell and Catherine Payling for their invaluable assistance with the authentication and purchase of Keats’s copy of Spenser’s works at auction in America.
We are greatly indebted to the Friends of the National Libraries for their generous support of this major acquisition.