‘This journey to Italy’
‘Mr Keats left Hampstead’
Experience Keats’s parting from Fanny Brawne and departure from Wentworth Place prior to his journey to Italy in the company of Joseph Severn in this video and read on to find out more.
Throughout the summer of 1820, Keats’s doctors and friends advised him to travel to a warmer country for the good of his health, as they feared he would not survive another English winter.
Keats was initially reluctant to leave Fanny Brawne and attempt such a difficult journey but, by mid-August, he had made up his mind to go to Italy and was making serious preparations. Keats wrote to his publisher and friend, John Taylor, asking him to find out how much the journey and a year’s residence would cost.
‘My Chest is in so nervous a state, that any thing extra such as speaking to an unaccustomed Person or writing a Note half suffocates me. This Journey to Italy wakes me at daylight every morning and haunts me horribly. I shall endeavour to go though it be with the sensation of marching up against a Battery. The first step towards it is to know the expense of a Journey and a years residence: which if you will ascertain for me and let me know early you will greatly serve me.’
Keats to John Taylor, Sunday 13 August 1820
Dr James Clark, who had a medical practice in Rome, recommended that city, and specifically the residences near the Piazza di Spagna, as the ideal place for Keats to recover. With the destination decided, Taylor found an advert for a passage on board the Maria Crowther, a 127-ton cargo vessel which was moored in the Thames bound for Naples, and set about making arrangements for the journey. He also wrote to Keats explaining the terms on which he would advance funds for his trip in return for copyright in the two volumes he had published: Endymion and Keats’s last book, Lamia etc.
The question of who would travel with Keats, who was too ill to undertake the journey alone, had not yet been decided. His closest friend, Charles Brown, was away in Scotland and on 14 August Keats wrote to him to inform him of his decision to go to Rome, in the hope that he would accompany him.
‘A winter in England would, I have not a doubt, kill me; so I have resolved to go to Italy, either by sea or land. Not that I have any great hopes of that, – for, I think, there is a core of disease in me not easy to pull out. […] I shall be obliged to set off in less than a month. […] When I have health I will bring up the long arrears of letters I owe you. […]'
Keats to Charles Brown, Monday 14 August 1820
Awaiting a reply from Brown and despite his ill health and own doubts about leaving, Keats concerned himself with making sure that his sister Fanny Keats was cared for after his departure. With the date fast approaching, Keats dictated his last letter to Fanny Keats, informing her that he will be leaving soon:
‘In the hope of entirely re-establishing my health I shall leave England for Italy this week and, of course I shall not be able to see you before my departure. […] I am as well as I can expect and feel very impatient to get on board as the sea air is expected to be of great benefit to me. My present intention is to stay some time at Naples and then to proceed to Rome where I shall find several friends or at least several acquaintances. At any rate it will be a relief to quit this cold; wet, uncertain climate. I am not very fond of living in cities but there will be too much to amuse me, as soon as I am well enough to go out, to make me feel dull.’
John Keats to Fanny Keats, Monday 11 September 1820
On the night of the 12 September, William Haslam, another of Keats’s close ‘set of friends’ who had been helping him with arrangements, stayed the night at Wentworth Place. Next day, in the absence of any reply from Charles Brown, he made arrangements for Joseph Severn to accompany Keats to Italy. Keats and Severn had been friends for four years. Though Keats probably preferred Charles Brown as a travelling companion, Severn was the only person free and willing to go, persuaded by the opportunities for a painter in Italy.
‘Mr William Haslam presents his respectful Compts to Mr Taylor & begs by the bearer to be informed the name of the Vessel & of the Agents to the Vessel in which Mr Keats’ Passage is taken. –
Mr Taylor will be happy to hear that the motive for this enquiry is to secure a second passage for Keats’ Friend Severn. –’
William Haslam to John Taylor, Wednesday 13 September 1820
Keats said his goodbyes to Fanny Brawne, and left Wentworth Place for the last time on the afternoon of Wednesday 13 September. They never saw each other again. She recorded his departure in the pocket book which Keats had given to her as a parting gift with the simple line: ‘Mr Keats left Hampstead’.
Keats’s Last Book: a virtual journey is a Keats House exhibition, published in July 2020 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems.
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.