Poems (Association copy)
London: C & J Ollier, 1817.
London: C & J Ollier, 1817. First edition. Octavo (161 x 195 mm). Near-contemporary purple calf, spine lettered in gilt, floral tool to compartments, decorative panels to sides with concentric borders of dog-tooth rolls, rules, and palmette frame in blind, vine shoot roll in gilt, marbled edges and endpapers. Housed in a custom blue silk chemise and blue morocco slipcase. With the half-title. Wood engraving of Edmund Spenser on title page. Extremities lightly rubbed, occasional corrections and underlining to text, light manuscript notes on final blank. A Fine copy, very attractively bound and with an exceptional association. From the library of the poet Robert Calder Campbell, with his ownership inscription dated 1824 on the first blank. A soldier-poet and early literary mentor to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Calder Campbell was responsible for the cult of Keats among the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
After retiring from the Indian army in 1839, Calder Campbell published three volumes of poems, a novel, and his memoirs, and contributed to a number of literary annuals, including William Michael Rossetti’s Germ. William noted in his diary on 15 November 1849 that Calder Campbell “offers his services for our Magazine, and will hunt up subscribers,” and later wrote that Calder Campbell “took to my brother most heartily; was a firm believer in his future, and watched with the kindliest interest his actual stage of development... he was a lively writer in a minor way, an amusing chatty talker, who had seen many things here and there, and knew something of the publishing world, and a straightforward, most unassuming gentleman, whose society could do nothing but good to a youth like Rossetti” (Rossetti).
Keats’s Poems was published on 3 March 1817 by Charles and James Ollier, who were already publishing Shelley. The first of only three lifetime publications, it is a work of youthful promise - Keats had appeared for the first time in print less than a year earlier, with a poem in the radical weekly The Examiner on 5 May 1816. The 1817 Poems attracted a few admiring reviews but these were followed by the first of several harsh attacks by the influential Blackwood’s Magazine, mainly by critics who resented Keats’s avowed kinship with the despised Leigh Hunt. The best-known poem in the book is the sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, “by common consent one of its masterpieces in this form, having a close unsurpassed for the combined qualities of serenity and concentration” (Colvin), and described as “an astonishing achievement, with a confident formal assurance and metaphoric complexity which make it one of the finest English sonnets. As Hunt generously acknowledged, it ‘completely announced the new poet taking possession’” (ODNB).
Provenance: Robert Calder Campbell. This copy later passed into the collection of George Merryweather (1794-1870), with his armorial bookplate on the front pastedown. Merryweather was a doctor, author, and inventor, most notably of the weather forecasting device known as the Tempest Prognosticator which caused a sensation when it was displayed in the 1851 Great Exhibition. The book was later in the library of noted American bibliophile Natalie Knowlton Blair (1887-1951), with her morocco book label on the front pastedown (her sale, 3 December 2004, lot 181a). (Item #5184)