Obituaries of Keats's Death

Obituaries and Notices of Keats’s death

The text of an obituary notice in a magazine.
Notice of the death of John Keats in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for March 1821.

On Saturday 17 March 1821 Charles Brown received Joseph Severn’s letter reporting Keats’s death. The following day he informed the Brawne family next door at Wentworth Place, describing the moment Fanny Brawne was told in a letter to Severn of 23 March 1821:

then she, – she was to have it told her; and the worst had been concealed from her knowledge, ever since your December letter. It is now five days since she heard it. I shall not speak of the first shock, nor of the following days, – it is enough she is now pretty well, – and thro’out she has shown a firmness of mind which I little expected from one so young, and under such a load of grief... Tho’ enemies have preyed upon him, I am quite resigned, for those very enemies knew not what they were doing, whose heart they were breaking; – the highest praise that mortal can have belonged to Keats, – no one ever saw him without loving him, – no one could know him and treat him unkindly… If Abbey will permit it, Mrs Brawne & Mrs Dilke will call on Miss Keats. They are in mourning next door. As for myself, tho’ such things are a mere form, I mourn for him, outwardly as well as inwardly, as for a brother.

On Sunday 18 March Brown forwarded Severn’s letter to John Taylor:

Read the enclosed – it is all over. I leave to you the care of inserting his death in the papers, – word it as you please, – you will do it better than I can, – in fact I can’t do it.

I have sent this sad news to Rice & Dilke & to Mr Abbey, – not to Haslam, for you can send him the letter. On second thoughts I will destroy the note to Mr Abbey, & write to Haslam to call & inform him of it.

Brown then wrote to William Haslam to ask him to immediately inform Keats’s sister:

I was about to write to Mr Abbey, to inform him of this sad news, but request you will without delay call on him for that purpose, – I say without delay, – lest Miss Keats should hear of it by the papers or thro’ some other means. Taylor will show you the letter. I can’t write more.

John Taylor began to put notices in the newspapers. The first two appeared in the ‘Sun’ and the ‘Morning Chronicle’ on 22 March; notices followed in the other London newspapers on 23 March. The short appreciation in the ‘Sun’ uses the opportunity to promote the publishing house of Taylor and Hessey:

John Keats Esq. – The admirers of poetry will regret to hear that this gentleman died at Rome, on the 23d ult., at the age of twenty-five. His work, entitled Endymion, displays strong proofs of imagination, impregnated with knowledge and genuine poetic spirit. This work induced Messrs. Taylor and Hessey to bring forward a Volume of his Miscellaneous Poems, the chief of which are entitled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and a fragment entitled Hyperion. – Mr. Keats possessed great descriptive powers, which are so strong manifested in the fragment of Hyperion, that there is additional cause for lamenting that the ingenious author did not live to conclude it. We should not mention Messrs. Taylor and Hessey without a tribute of praise to their taste, liberality, and benevolence, in drawing the talents of Clare from rustic obscurity and hopeless drudgery, enabling him to support his aged Parents, and placing him in a state of humble independence, which affords him the means of cultivating his mind, and of giving full expansion to the powers of his genius. This conduct holds forth a good example to the higher ranks, who might do honour to themselves, and, by encouraging unfriended talents, augment the literary fame of their Country.

Leigh Hunt included a typical notice in the ‘Examiner’ on Sunday 25 March:

On Friday the 23d of February, at Rome, after a lingering illness, died John Keats the poet, aged 25.

Throughout the rest of March notices appeared in several provincial and Scottish newspapers, and in magazines, such as the ‘Annual Register’ for March, although the date was incorrect:

The text of an obituary notice in a magazine.
Notice of the death of John Keats in the ‘Annual Register’ for March 1821.

Keats’s friend Benjamin Bailey saw one of the notices in a newspaper and wrote to Taylor on 26 March:

I was very much shocked at seeing poor Keats’s death in the newspaper. He had so endeared himself to all who were acquainted with him that the stroke will be severely & generally felt among his friends. It is, however, but what has been long expected: and if we consider his anxious & excited character, we cannot but arrive at the conclusion that this, like other visitations from Providence, is a merciful severity. Yet with human hearts and affections, we cannot but feel a painful sensation that one so young, so amiable, & so promising, should have been so early cut off.

John Taylor also wrote to the poet John Clare:

The life of poor Keats is ended at last: he died at the age of twenty-five. He used to say he should effect nothing which he would rest his fame upon until he was thirty, and all hopes are over at twenty-five. But he has left enough, though he did not think so, and if his biographer cannot do him justice the advocate is in fault, and not the cause. Poor fellow! Perhaps your feeling will produce some lines to his memory. One of the very few poets of this day is gone.

Clare did as Taylor asked. Taylor published Clare’s sonnet later the same year as the penultimate sonnet in ‘The Village Minstrel’, volume 2:

The text of a sonnet.
‘To the memory of John Keats’. Sonnet by John Clare. Published in ‘The Village Minstrel’, 1821.

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.

Find out more about #Keats200 by following Keats House on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.