Lamia etc was published by the firm of Taylor and Hessey, who had premises in the City of London at 93 Fleet Street. John Taylor (1781–1864) was born in Lincolnshire, the youngest son of a prosperous bookseller and printer in the market town of Retford. In 1803 he moved to London, which was the centre of the book trade, and where the greater number of the reading public lived. It was while apprenticed to the bookseller and printer James Lackington that he first met fellow apprentice James Hessey (1785–1870).
The two friends set up in business as publishers and booksellers in 1806 and they also had a bindery, where the printed pages of a book were bound in stronger or more decorative covers. In 1811 Taylor became friends with Richard Woodhouse (1788–1834), a lawyer, who later worked for the firm. Woodhouse became a close friend of Keats and transcribed many of his poems and letters.
Taylor and Hessey wanted to encourage and promote new talent. Taylor met Keats in early 1817, just before the Ollier brothers published Keats’s first volume of poetry in March that year. The book did not sell well and in April the Olliers dropped Keats. Fortunately Taylor, despite at first being taken aback by Keats’s ‘singular style of dress’, had already agreed to publish his next volume. The firm advanced him money over the next three years in anticipation of future success. However, Keats’s next two volumes, Endymion (published in 1818) and Lamia etc, also proved unprofitable.
The firm also published work by Keats’s friend John Hamilton Reynolds, poet John Clare, and Thomas De Quincey. Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater first appeared in The London Magazine, which the firm took over in 1821.
Taylor and Hessey constantly battled financial problems and the firm was dissolved in 1825.
Taylor and Hessey were only responsible for the publishing of Lamia etc. The pages of the book were printed by a specialist printer called Thomas Davison. He was one of the best of the time, and ran a press in Lombard Street, now Lombard Lane, in the district of Whitefriars, close to Taylor and Hessey’s premises in Fleet Street.
Known for the ‘beauty and singular correctness’ of his works, he printed Leigh Hunt’s The Story of Rimini, editions of Byron for the publisher John Murray, and some of Jane Austen’s novels. In 1831 a notice of his death recorded that:
‘Some of the most splendid works that have for the last thirty years adorned the literature of this country have proceeded from the press of this celebrated printer.’
Taylor and Hessey were active in advertising Keats’s new work. The first advertisement for Lamia etc appeared on 24 June 1820 in the Sun newspaper, after another book of poems they had just published:
This day was published… SACRED LEISURE… By the Rev. FRANCIS HODGSON… Printed for Taylor and Hessey, 93, Fleet-street. Of whom may be had, just published, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other Poems. By John Keats. Author of Endymion.
The publishers’ aim was to obtain advance subscriptions for Keats’s volume and increase the sales of Endymion. On 30 June Richard Woodhouse wrote to Taylor, who was in Bath, that
‘Hessey has subscribed 160 of Keats – & sold one Endymion today – So that the bard’s works beginto get in request. –‘
Advertisements in which the book was priced first appeared in newspapers in Cambridge on 30 June and in London, Oxford and Scotland on Saturday 1 July. The advertisement in the Star read:
This day was published, Infoolscap 8vo. price 7s. 6d. boards, LAMIA, ISABELLA, THE EVE OF ST. AGNES, and other Poems,—By JOHN KEATS. Author of “Endymion.” Printed for Taylor and Hessey, 93, Fleet-street.
On the same day the Literary Gazette reprinted three poems from the book.
After this promising start, advertisements and reviews continued through July and August. But when Keats left for Italy in September, and probably because sales had not been as good as hoped, there were fewer advertisements. Soon after Keats’s death in February 1821 Taylor and Hessey stopped advertising the book, with the last one appearing in June that year.
The poems appearing in Lamia etc have been included in countless books since, but only one edition of the original volume was printed. The 500 copies printed in 1820 failed to all sell and the publisher eventually sold the copyright without publishing further editions.
Keats House has three copies of Lamia etc. One copy originally belonged to Keats’s friend Charles Brown. In summer 1820 Brown left London to go on a walking trip in Scotland. Keats never saw Brown again. When Lamia etc was published, Keats sent copies to his friends, usually adding an inscription on the title page. Brown probably purchased his copy when he returned from Scotland as it has no inscription. Brown wrote his name on the title page and had his copy rebound. It was likely he also had the binders remove the publisher’s ‘Advertisement’ which Keats had objected to. Brown’s copies of all three of Keats’s books are in the collection, all gifted by a descendant of Charles Brown.
The second copy in the collection belonged to Professor Edward Dowden (1843–1913) who was an Irish critic and poet. He published works on Shakespeare, Southey, Browning and Montaigne and a biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and edited editions of Shelley and Wordsworth. A chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses plays with his biographical and critical ideas. The book is missing the half title before the title page, but it does have the publisher’s ‘Advertisement’.
The final copy in the collection is imperfect as it is missing some of the pages at the beginning of the book but is otherwise complete. It was gifted by the Keats scholar Maurice Buxton Forman.
Keats’s Last Book: a virtual journey is a Keats House exhibition, published in July 2020 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems.
The Keats200 bicentenary is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.