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
- Matheo Aleman's The rogue, or, The life of Guzman de Alfarache, bound with Fernando Rojas' The Spanish bawd, : represented in Celestina: or, The tragicke-comedy of Calisto and Melibea.
- Thomas Chatterton's Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and others, in the fifteenth century
- William Hazlitt's Political essays, with sketches of public characters
- William Hazlitt's Characters of Shakespear’s plays (view online)
- Leigh Hunt's Foliage; or Poems original and translated
- Zacharia Jackson's Shakspeare's genius justified
- Francisco de Moraes' Palmerín of England(view online)
- John Selden's Titles of honor
- The dramatic works of William Shakspeare (view online)
- The works of Mr. Edmund Spenser (view online)
Books Owned by the Keats Family
- William Hazlitt's Lectures on English comic writers. Delivered at the Surry Institution
- Allan Cunningham's The lives of the most eminent British painters and sculptors
- Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer
- Oliver Goldsmith's Goldsmiths poems, and essays
- Bernadin de Saint-Pierre's Paul and Virginia
- The poetical works of William Collins : with the life of the author and critical observations by Dr. Langhorne
- Richard Turner'sAn easy introduction to the arts and sciences
- Sir Charles Morell's The tales of the genii; or, The delighful lessons of Horam, the son of Asmar.
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.