ABSTRACT

11 April 1819: Walking in Highgate late in the evening, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats fleetingly crossed paths. Recognising Coleridge’s companion as a mutual acquaintance, Keats acknowledged the men as they passed. A few moments later though, he strode back to them, agitated, earnest, determined to seize the briefest of opportunities: ‘Let me carry away the memory, Coleridge, of having pressed your hand’. 1 According to Coleridge’s later account, the two men shook hands and parted, their exchange brief but impressive enough to make for a starry, literary anecdote and to prompt from Coleridge an ominous prophecy: ‘There is death in his hand’. 2 Keats, however, described the encounter rather differently, writing with characteristic ebullience and humour in his letter to George and Georgiana Keats soon afterwards, ‘I walked with him a[t] his alderman after dinner pace for near two miles’. 3 His version of events considerably deflates Coleridge’s grim grandiloquence, but describing the range of his seemingly inexhaustible conversation, he recalls Coleridge’s account of ‘a dream accompanied, <with> by a sense of touch –single and double touch’. Keats remembers it in passing, but the figure of touch emerges recurrently; it takes hold, in both his work and his posthumous reputation. 4