Keats Family Books

This small collection of books owned by poet John Keats and his family, all with markings or annotations, rewards close study.
John Keats's copy of William Hazlitt's Characters of Shakespeare's plays, with his signature and annotations.
Houghton Library

Keats’s Books

There is no complete catalog of books owned by poet John Keats. The primary source of information is a list by Charles Brown, “List of Mr. John Keats’s Books,” (Keats Circle I, 253-60) likely compiled in July 1821 after the poet’s death.

Frank Owings, in The Keats Library (1978), estimates that Keats accumulated less than 100 volumes, consisting largely of contemporary poetry by Shelley, Hunt and Wordsworth, and classics by Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare.

Keats gave away some of his books before his departure for Italy, most notably to Fanny Brawne. Most he left with his sometime housemate, Charles Brown. He took with him only his pocket set of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Works (now at Houghton Library) and Shakespeare’s Poetical Works (now at Keats House, Hampstead). These he gave to Joseph Severn in 1821.

Keats’s informal will, written before he left England for Italy, directed “My Chest of Books divide among my friends” (Letters of John Keats, II, 319). Brow did so, dispersing them among eight of Keats’s friends, and retaining some for himself. Brown returned books Keats had borrowed to their rightful owners; gift books to their givers; and the remainder as he saw fit. The volumes are now widely scattered, in both public and private libraries.

The Harvard Collection

Houghton Library, home to the world's largest collection of original handwritten Keats manuscripts and letters, also houses a small collection of the books owned by Keats and his family.

While the total number of books at Houghton is small — 11 titles owned by the poet, another 10 by members of his family — they reward close study.

The most important is perhaps the seven-volume set of Shakespeare’s Dramatic Works, marked and annotated by Keats.

Houghton Library has begun a program of digitizing the books in the collection, and links to those images are indicated in the entries below.

Books Owned by Keats

John Keats comments on Samuel Johnson's critique of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Fie, Johnson!"
John Keats comments on Samuel Johnson's critique of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Fie, Johnson!"
Houghton Library

Books Owned by the Keats Family

Accessing These Materials

All of the Keats family books held at Houghton Library are cataloged in HOLLIS (links above). Those records contain fuller bibliographic description.

The library has begun a program of digitizing the books in this collection. Links to those images are indicated in the entries above.

Access to the original volumes is restricted, and permission must be obtained in advance of a visit. If the volumes have been digitized, access to the originals is not permitted.

Contact

Houghton Library Reference