Before he parted from Fanny Brawne and left Wentworth Place, Keats asked her to write to his sister, Fanny Keats. They began a correspondence of 31 letters over a four-year period.
This is Fanny Brawne’s ninth letter, written on 21 May 1821 (mistakenly dated 23 May 1821).
With the letter Fanny encloses her copy of part of the letter Joseph Severn wrote to John Taylor on 6 March 1821 about the last days of Keats’s life. The transcript for this can be found further down the page.
This extract is read by Darcy Keeble Watson, for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.
Hampstead, May 23, 1821
My dear Fanny
I find by my pocket book it is above 3 weeks since I received your letter and I am afraid you must have thought me neglectful in not writing before but as I have been staying that time in London and wished, when I did write to mention several things, I put it off till I should be by myself at home – In the first place only think of that Mrs Abbey after her promises to my Mother behaving as she has done. Not that I expected any thing better from her. Oh my dear, what a woman for a girl to be brought up with – The description I have had of her manners and conversation has quite shocked me. For you to look forward to 3 years more of it is dreadful – I find from my Mother that Mrs Dilke was foolish enough to mention me to her in the way I so much wished to avoid, but she appeared to know it already and my Mother suspects from other things that passed, that she has read some of our letters. Do you think it possible, that she or any one of the family could get at them? You must know best, if you are sure it could not be the case I shall know my Mother was mistaken and that Mrs A. must have obtained her knowledge by some other means for you see she was better acquainted with Mrs Cornish than you supposed, indeed I should not have mentioned it at all but to put you on your guard. Should my opinion of her ever come to her ears she would prevent all intercourse between us, and really I could hardly blame her for so doing. When you write mention some day for your being in town with the hour you are sure of Mr Abbey being at home and I will try what I can do with him. If there is any better plan you can think of, if it would be better to call on Mr Abbey when you are not in town I will do that. I wish you more than ever to be with me were it but for a short time which it shall not be if I can persuade him to any thing. Do you not think my dear, a little complaisance or civility on your part might do something. But perhaps you dare not sound him on the subject and if it would be very unpleasant to you do not attempt it, at all events I shall wait for your letter before I do any thing. I thought when I began to write that I had a great deal to say and now I find I have half filled this letter without a word of what I had intended. I have not mentioned your brother. To no one but you would I mention him. I will suffer no one but you to speak to me of him. They are too uninterested in him to have any right to mention what is to you & me, so great a loss. I have copied a letter from Mr Severn giving an account of the last days of his life. No one knows I have it but you, and I had not sealed it up, as I thought you might wish to see it, but if you do, you must prepare for great pain, if you would rather not make yourself again unhappy, do not read it. I think you will be wise. It took me a long time to write. I have not looked at it since, nor do I mean to do so at present, but I mention it to you because though it gives pain, it also gives a certain kind of pleasure in letting us know how glad he was to die at the last. Dear Fanny, no one but you can feel with me – All his friends have forgotten him, they have got over the first shock, and that with them is all. They think I have done the same, which I do not wonder at, for I have taken care never to trouble them with any feelings of mine, but I can tell you who next to me (I must say next to me) loved him best, that I have not got over it and never shall – It’s better for me that I should not forget him but not for you, you have other things to look forward to – and I would not have said any thing about him for I was afraid of distressing you but I did not like to write to you without telling you how I felt about him and leaving it to you whether the subject should be mentioned in our letters – In a letter you sent me some time ago you mentioned your brother George in a manner that made me think you had been mislead about him. He is no favourite of mine and he never liked me so that I am not likely to say too much in his favour from affection for him, but I must say I think he is more blamed than he should be. I think him extravagant and selfish but people in their great zeal make him out much worse than that – Soon after your brother Tom died, my dear John wrote to him offering him any assistance or money in his power. At that time he was not engaged to me and having just lost one brother felt all his affection turned towards the one that remained – George I dare say at first had no thoughts of accepting his offers but when his affairs did not succeed and he had a wife and one child to support, with the prospect of another, I cannot wonder that he should consider them first and as he could not get what he wanted without coming to England he unfortunately came – By that time your brother wished to marry himself, but he could not refuse the money. It may appear very bad in George to leave him 60 pounds when he owed 80, but he had many reasons to suppose the inconvenience would not last long. Your brother had a book of poems nearly ready to come out (which his illness kept back till the summer) he had a tragedy which Mr Brown calculated his share of would be about two hundred pounds and he was writing a story which had he lived to finish would if the others failed make up for it at least so every one imagined. – George could not forsee his illness – He might be a cause of the dreadful consequences but surely a very indirect and accidental one. At the same time I cannot defend him, lately his behaviour has been very selfish and I may say shuffling. As to his returning the money I don’t believe he has ever had it in his power to return a farthing or ever will have, that may not be his fault. The person who suffered most never thought so very badly of it, he used to say, ‘George ought not to have done this he should have recollected that I wish to marry myself – but I suppose having a family to provide for makes a man selfish’ – They tell me that latterly he thought worse of George, but I own I do not believe it – One thing is against him. I don’t think he could ever have supposed it would be in his power to return the money, at the best not for many years – his brother never expected it at all, he always said he would not succeed – If when I write again I think of any thing for or against him I shall mention it – For I wish at any rate to put you on your guard – I have said I think him selfish – and I am afraid whenever you have your money in your own power you will find him troublesome but my dear girl be very cautious – be warned by what has already happened – and remember he is extravagant at least every one says so. I don’t know whether you will be able to connect and read all this – write as soon as you can – ever your affectionate sister & friend –
Postmark: 4 o’clock. 21 My. 1821. Ev.
Address: For Miss Keats, / Richard Abbey’s Esq., / Walthamstow, / Essex.
This extract is read by Darcy Keeble Watson, for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.
Four days previous to his death – the change in him was so great that I passed each moment in dread, not knowing what the next would have – He was calm and firm at its approaches – to a most astonishing degree – He told me not to tremble for he did not think that he should be convulsed – he said “did you ever see any one die?” “no” “well then I pity you, poor Severn. What trouble and danger you have got into for me – now you must be firm for it will not last long. I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave – O! I can feel the cold earth upon me – The daisies growing over me – O for this quiet – it will be my first” – When the morning light came and still found him alive how bitterly he grieved – I cannot bear his cries – Each day he would look up in the Doctor’s face to discover how long he should live he would say “how long will this posthumous life of mine last” that look was more than we could ever bear. The extreme brightness of his eyes with his poor pallid face were not earthly –
These four nights I watched him, each night expecting his death – on the 5th day the Doctor prepared me for it. At 4 O’clock in the afternoon the poor fellow bade me lift him up in bed – he breathed with great difficulty and seemed to lose the power of coughing up the phlegm, an immense sweat came over him so that my breath felt cold to him. “Don’t breathe on me it comes like Ice” he clasped my hand very fast as I held him in my arms. The phlegm rattled in his throat, it increased but still he seemed without pain, he looked upon me with extreme sensibility but without pain, at 11 he died in my arms.
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.
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