Before he parted from Fanny Brawne and left Wentworth Place, Keats asked her to write to his sister, Fanny Keats. She first wrote to her on Monday 18 September 1820, the day after Keats had sailed from London. This began a correspondence of 31 letters over a four-year period.
This extract is read by Darcy Keeble Watson, for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.
‘And so he was gone. Mr Keats left Hampstead.’
Letter to Fanny Keats, 18th September 1820
Monday afternoon [September 18, 1820.]
My dear Miss Keats
Your brother on leaving England expressed a wish that I should occasionally write to you; a wish with which I feel the greatest pleasure in complying, but I cannot help thinking I require some kind of introduction, instead of which I must inform you of all my claims to your correspondence and I assure you I think them no slight ones, for I have known your brother for two years, am a great friend of Mrs Dilke’s who I believe you like, and once sent you a message, which I do not know whether you received by a lady who had then never seen you but who expected to do so, a Mrs Cornish. Besides which I have several times invited you to stay with me during the last time your brother George was in England, an indulgence which was not granted me. You see I have been quite intimate with you, most likely without you ever having heard of my name. Besides all this your brother has been staying with us for the last six weeks of his being in this country and my Mother has nursed him. He left us last Wednesday but as the ship waited a few days longer than we expected, he did not sail from London till 7 o’clock yesterday morning. This afternoon we have received letters from two of his friends who accompanied him as far as Gravesend; they both declare his health and spirit is to be better than they could have expected. I do not enclose you the letters or send you all the particulars because Mr Haslam said he should call on you very soon and he may have seen you before you receive this note; if that should not be the case, you will be pleased to hear that he went part of the way with him: his kindness cannot be described. As he was uneasy at your brother’s travelling by himself he persuaded a friend to go with him, and in a very few weeks Mr Brown, who you probably know byname will follow him. I cannot tell you how much everyone have exerted themselves for him, nor how much he is liked, which is the more wonderful as he is the last person to exert himself to gain people’s friendship. I am certain he has some spell that attaches them to him, or else he has fortunately met with a set of friends that I did not believe could be found in the world. May I hope, at some time to receive a letter from you? Perhaps you have an objection to write to a stranger. If so, I will try not to be very much disappointed if your objection is too strong to be overcome. For my own part I have long ceased to consider you a stranger and though this first letter may be a little stiff–because I wish to let you know what a time I have been acquainted with you, it will not be the case again, for at any rate I shall write once more whether you answer or not, as soon as letters are received from your brother, which I hope will not be for some time, for writing agitates him extremely. In Mr Haslam you will see the best person in the world to raise your spirits, he feels so certain your brother will soon recover his health. What an unconscionable first letter. I remain yours, allow me to say, affectionately
Wentworth Place, Hampstead.
Postmark: Sp. 19, 1820. NN.
Address: Miss Keats,
The Keats200 bicentenary is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.