Almost a Remembrance: Belle Greene’s Keats

February 17 through August 15, 2021

I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity—it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance —

On 23 February 1821, the Romantic poet John Keats (1795–1821) died in Rome from tuberculosis. Marking the two-hundredth anniversary of his death, this exhibition considers the Morgan’s Keats collection through the lens of the library’s first director, Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950)—a self-described “Keats lover.” Appointed in late 1905 as J. Pierpont Morgan’s private librarian, Greene developed the collection and became an internationally renowned expert in rare books and manuscripts. She built, catalogued, and interpreted the Morgan’s Keats holdings, featured here through books, correspondence, literary drafts, and archival documents. 

In a letter Greene acquired for the library, Keats wrote that “Poetry . . . should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance.” Bringing together institutional and literary history, this installation remembers a great British poet through the work and vision of one of the world’s greatest librarians.

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Joseph Severn, portrait sketch of John Keats, 1821. MA 214.7. Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1909.