September 19 - November 22, 1995
John Keats Bicentennial Exhibition
Curated by James Weil
To commemorate the 200th birthday of the poet John Keats, the Grolier Club in 1995 mounted an exhibition of some 100 of his works including original manuscripts, letters and books published during his lifetime, as well as later fine press books, portraits, biographies, criticism and tributes to the poet. Keats lived only 25 years, yet has left a lasting impression on the sensibility of our civilization.
The depth and breadth of the exhibition invited the visitor to appreciate anew Keats's works, his times and his circle of friends. His great capacity for friendship, evident in letters and inscriptions, was perhaps best expressed by the engraving on Charles Brown's tombstone: "The friend of Keats."
John Keats's creative energy leaps off the pages of poems in his own hand... the MSS of "Ode to Psyche," handwritten revisions on the holograph of "Endymion," and poems that are part of letters to his brother and sister-in-law. His heavily annotated copy of Shakespeare adds another dimension to our understanding of Keats.
Keats published only three books during his lifetime: Poems (1817), Endymion (1818), and Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), and all were included in the exhibition. According to Jack Stillinger, the noted Keats scholar, the 1820 volume must be regarded as a major landmark in English literature.
Shelley's monumental elegy and Amy Lowell's biography are examples of the appreciation of Keats's remarkable gifts. Additionally, the exhibition included Haydon's life mask, a casting of Malvina Hoffman's "Head," period criticism, later scholarly comments, and various fine press books, including examples from the Kelmscott Press of William Morris and the Doves Press of Cobden-Sanderson. Jack Stillinger refers to these finely printed books in his foreword to the exhibition catalogue as "artistic collaborators" with Keats. Through their typography, illustration, luxurious papers and lovely bindings they enhance our pleasure in the poetry itself.
Curator James Weil has been deeply involved in Keats for many years. His publishing house issues limited fine editions of poetry, among them texts by Keats and his circle. Weil is also a poet; his own books include a suite of poems on Keats portraits, What Keats Looked Like. For this exhibition at the Grolier Club, the curating committee assembled material from private collectors and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and libraries at Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Texas Christian University, and the University of Chicago, together with the Grolier Club's own collection.
An illustrated checklist was issued to accompany the exhibition, as well as a deluxe edition of Keats' Letters from a Walking Tour.