Keeper of the Flame of Endymion: A Keats First Edition

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Therefore, ’tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.

Keeper of the flame of Endymion. I think that’s how I might style myself. Too much? OK. It might sound overly like the title of some pulpy fantasy novel. But it really is almost like a fantasy—or a dream—and one that I feel compelled now to share with others.

For a long time I have had a sort of recurring dream in which I find a hidden bookstore—as in a forest and beside a creek, or beneath the lawn of a medieval church, or on the top floor of a dreary office building. Inside are all kinds of peculiar books, with outlandish titles—mashups like A History of the Philosophy of Slavic Mountains, Bertrand Russell’s The ABCs of Dog Training, The Musicology of Edible Flora and Fauna by Arnold Schoenberg—which I snatch up, only then to wake and find myself bereft of them. So I am hoping that this is not another case of my grabby mind having been deluded. To the point, I have made what I believe to be an extraordinary book find—a first edition of Keats’s Endymion! It is the sort of book that major libraries will brag in their newsletters of having acquired. Therefore I hope you will indulge me in a bit of my own reveling.

To refresh you on the history of the book, it was one of the few that Keats published in his short lifetime. Along with his first book, Poems, it received excoriating reviews and probably had a very small run (it’s not known how many of them there are). Both Byron and Shelley imaginatively speculated that its failure lead to Keats’s early death. Nevertheless, it brought Keats to the attention of his later love and muse, Fanny Brawne, and the rest is poetry history.

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On a personal note, I was feeling quite ill and down  yesterday when I came across the book in the poetry section of a used bookstore. I’m not given to extravagant superstition, but I choose to take it as an omen and a blessing from Keats that I found it.

Now here’s the kicker! I bought it for $10! It is in comparatively good condition. So far as I can tell, those in worse condition have sold at auction for around $12,000. However, the more I feel connected with its presence from across the room, the harder it is for me to imagine letting it go.

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I love those first lines, and they seem rather fitting; so I think I will just type them out here to end with:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. …


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