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(In a letter to Reynolds dated the 27th of April 1818, Keats says, "I have written for my folio Shakspeare, in which there are the first few stanzas of my 'Pot of Basil.' I have the rest here, finished, and will copy the whole out fair shortly, and George will bring it you. The compliment is paid by us to Boccace, whether we publish or no..." The folio Shakspeare, now in Sir Charles Dilke's hands, contains no stanzas of Isabella, so it is to be presumed they were only loose in the book. Again on the 3rd of May 1818, Keats writes to Reynolds, “ I have written to George for the first stanzas of my 'Isabel'. I shall have them soon, and will copy the whole out for you." And, in a letter to Bailey dated the roth of June, he says, " I want to read you my 'Pot of Basil!” This all points to the recent completion of the poem ; and Lord Houghton records on the authority of Brown that it was only just completed when the friends started on their Scotch tour in June. On the 14th of February 1819, he promised to send the poem out to his brother George, with other recent work. It is necessary to be particular about this point, because Leigh Hunt when reviewing Lamia, Isabella, &c., made the unaccountable statement (see Appendix) that the poems in this volume“ were almost all written four years ago, when the author was but twenty". The allusion to Boccaccio, Lord Houghton explains by telling us that Keats and Reynolds projected a volume of tales versified from that author. Two by Reynolds were published in The Garden of Florence, &c. (1821). In view of the unachieved scheme of joint authorship, the following sentences from the Preface to Reynolds's volume should stand associated with Isabella :
"The stories from Boccacio (The Garden of Florence, and The Ladye of Provence) were to have been associated with tales from the same source, intended to have been written by a friend ;—but illness on his part, and distracting engagements on mine, prevented us from accomplishing our plan at the time; and Death now, to my deep sorrow, has frustrated it for ever! He, who is gone, was one of the very kindest friends I possessed, and yet he was not kinder perhaps to me, than to others. His intense mind and powerful feeling would, I truly believe, have done the world some service, had his life been spared—but he was of too sensitive a nature and thus he was destroyed ! One story he completed, and that is to me now the most pathetic poem in existence !”
It is likely enough that Keats copied out Isabella as he intended, for the friend who wrote this about it after all was over. But as yet I have not succeeded in tracing any complete manuscript of the poem. Mr. R. A. Potts possesses what would seem to be two fragments of the original draft. This manuscript is of Stanzas XXX
to XL, exclusive of Stanzą XXXII ; two leaves, one shorter than the other by the length of a stanza, written upon both sides of the paper, and probably having lost stanza XXXII with stanza xxix at the back of it by a stroke of those generous scissars wherewith manuscripts of Keats were distributed by Severn, formerly the owner of these fragments. The variations shown by them are noted in tủe following pages.-H. B. F.]
I. FAIR Isabel
, poor'simple Isabel ! Lorenzo, a young palmer in' Love's eye ! They could not'in the self-same mansion dwell
Without some stir of heart, some malady ; They could not sit at meals but feel how well
It soothed each to be the other by ; They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep But to each other dream, and nightly weep.
With every eve deeper and tenderer still ;
But her full shape would all his seeing fill; And his continual voice was pleasanter
To her, than noise of trees or hidden rill; Her lute-string gave an echo of his name, She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.