Severn Writes to Charles Brown About Keats's Death

News of Keats's Death Reaches England

On 17 March 1821, Charles Brown received a letter from Joseph Severn, containing the news that Keats had died. The letter was written four days after his death but, due to the time it took for post to reach England from Italy, Keats’s friends and loved ones in London had to wait nearly a month to hear of the tragic events which had taken place in Rome on the 23 February 1821.  

A drawing of the side profile of a man’s face lying on a pillow, with eyes closed. Also includes the words: ‘O for this quiet –the daisies growing over me –it will be my first –I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave…O! I can feel the cold earth upon me – ‘.
John Keats on his deathbed. E. Walker, print, 1939, after Joseph Severn, drawing, 28 January 1821. Image courtesy of Keats House, City of London Corporation, K/PZ/01/136.

This letter is read by Ryan O’Grady, who played Joseph Severn, in the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.

Rome 27 February 1821.

My dear Brown,

  He is gone – he died with the most perfect ease – he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. “Severn – I – lift me up - I am dying – I shall die easy – don’t be frightened – be firm, and thank God it has come!” I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death – so quiet that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now – I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday, with many English. They take care of me here – that I must, else, have gone into a fever. I am better now – but still quite disabled.

  The Police have been. The furniture, the walls, the floor, every thing must be destroyed by order of the law. But this is well looked to by Dr Clark.


  The letters I put into the coffin with my own hand.

  I must leave off.

J.S.

  This goes by the first post. Some of my kind friends would have written else. I will try to write you every thing next post; or     the Doctor will.

  They had a mask – and hand and foot done –

   I cannot get on ––––

Letter from Joseph Severn in Rome to his friend Charles Brown in Hampstead, 27 February 1821. Two pages showing Charles Brown's transcript of Severn's letter, prepared for Brown's 'Life of John Keats'. Image courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., MS Keats 4.3.27. 

Read the previous letter from Severn to Charles Brown 8 - 15 February here.

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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