The last known handwritten poem by John Keats in private hands is one of the star items in the sale of the Roy Davids Collection III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets which will be held in two parts on 10th April and 8 May 2013 at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street.
The sale is the fruit of 40 years of collecting by the poet and scholar Roy Davids and is the finest collection of poetry ever to come to auction. In Mr David’s own words, “it would now be impossible for the present collection to be even approximately replicated.’
The Keats manuscript is from the draft of his well known early poem, I stood tiptoe on a little hill, and consists of 33 lines from the work scribbled on both front and back showing how the poet revised his thoughts as he wrote. This is the only poetical manuscript by Keats now ever likely to be available to collectors and it is estimated at £40,000-45,000.
The entire ten-leaf manuscript of the poem originally belonged to Keats close friend Charles Cowden Clarke, who cut it into thirteen pieces after the poet’s death as mementoes for friends and admirers. Of the other twelve pieces, the locations of four have never been known; six are in institutions including Harvard, the British Library and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; and the other two were last heard of in 1929. Only one other poem in Keats hand has appeared at auction since then when a fair copy of ‘To Hope’ was sold in 1972 and then again in 2001.
Keats began work on the poem in Margate in July 1816 and completed it in November of the same year. It is the opening work in his first published volume of poems from 1817 entitled simply ‘Poems’ although it is almost certainly the last one in the book to have been written.
Among other fascinating and important items are handwritten poems by a young Charlotte Bronte, John Betjeman, W. H. Auden, Gerald Manley Hopkins and the complete working paper for Sylvia Plath’s key poem ‘Sheep in Fog’ plus a commentary on it by Ted Hughes.