John Keats’ letters are frequently sources of information about travelling and sojourns around England or Italy. However, pleasures of travelling were not for him; for he was confined to one quarantining after another, although recurring phases of tranquility in countryside retreats visited on him from time to time; as once described in the first known letter he wrote to Fanny Brawne: “I am now at a very pleasant Cottage window, looking onto a beautiful hilly country, with a glimpse of the sea; the morning is very fine. I do not know how elastic my spirit might be, what pleasure I might have in living here and breathing and wandering as free as a stag about this beautiful Coast if the remembrance of you did not weigh so upon me I have never known any unalloy’d Happiness for many days together: the death or sickness of some one has always spoilt my hours—and now when none such troubles oppress me, it is you must confess very hard that another sort of pain should haunt me.”

Later, in writing to his brother and sister, John and Fanny, Keats provides them, in his letters, with many descriptions of Kewsick (England) and Dumfries (Scotland). Further, after seeing Fanny Brawne for the last time, around October, 1820, he writes to her mother, Mrs. Brawne, after embarking for Italy. Keats could not bear to write to his ‘dearest love,’ and so wrote to her mother giving her as objective epistle as possible on his itinerary, from Naples.


To Mrs. Brawne

October 24 [1820], Naples Harbour.

My dear Mrs. Brawne—A few words will tell you what sort of a Passage we had, and what situation we are in, and few they must be on account of the Quarantine, our Letters being liable to be opened for the purpose of fumigation at the Health Office. We have to remain in the vessel ten days and are at present shut in a tier of ships. The sea air has been beneficial to me about to as great an extent as squally weather and bad accommodations and provisions has done harm. So I am about as I was. Give my Love to Fanny and tell her, if I were well there is enough in this Port of Naples to fill a quire of Paper—but it looks like a dream—every man who can row his boat and walk and talk seems a different being from myself. I do not feel in the world. It has been unfortunate for me that one of the Passengers is a young Lady in a Consumption—her imprudence has vexed me very much—the knowledge of her complaints—the flushings in her face, all her bad symptoms have preyed upon me—they would have done so had I been in good health. Severn now is a very good fellow but his nerves are too strong to be hurt by other people’s illnesses—I remember poor Rice wore me in the same way in the Isle of Wight—I shall feel a load off me when the Lady vanishes out of my sight. It is impossible to describe exactly in what state of health I am—at this moment I am suffering from indigestion very much, which makes such stuff of this Letter. I would always wish you to think me a little worse than I really am; not being of a sanguine disposition I am likely to succeed. If I do not recover your regret will be softened—if I do your pleasure will be doubled. I dare not fix my Mind upon Fanny, I have not dared to think of her. The only comfort I have had that way has been in thinking for hours together of having the knife she gave me put in a silver-case—the hair in a Locket—and the Pocket Book in a gold net. Show her this. I dare say no more. Yet you must not believe I am so ill as this Letter may look, for if ever there was a person born without the faculty of hoping I am he. Severn is writing to Haslam, and I have just asked him to request Haslam to send you his account of my health. O what an account I could give you of the Bay of Naples if I could once more feel myself a Citizen of this world—I feel a spirit in my Brain would lay it forth pleasantly—O what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints! My Love again to Fanny—tell Tootts I wish I could pitch her a basket of grapes—and tell Sam the fellows catch here with a line a little fish much like an anchovy, pull them up fast. Remember me to Mr. and Mrs. Dilke—mention to Brown that I wrote him a letter at Portsmouth which I did not send and am in doubt if he ever will see it.

My dear Mrs. Brawne, yours sincerely and affectionate John Keats.

Good bye Fanny! God bless you.


And, so Keats’ last known letter, is less about the leisure walks and sojourns of the poet, and more about his premonitions of his final journey, which he tries to disguise in humility, wit and jovial descriptions of the home provided to him by his friend, the artist Joseph Severn, in Keats’ last days. And, in ten days from this last letter that he wrote, as Sidney Colvin, the editor of Keats’ letter writes, “[o]n the 10th of December following came a renewal of fever and hemorrhage, extinguishing the last hope of recovery: and after eleven more weeks of suffering, only alleviated by the devoted care of Severn, the poet died in his friend’s arms on the 23d of February 1821.”


To Charles Browne

Rome, November 30, 1820.

My dear Brown—’Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter. My stomach continues so bad, that I feel it worse on opening any book,—yet I am much better than I was in quarantine. Then I am afraid to encounter the pro-ing and con-ing of anything interesting to me in England. I have an habitual feeling of my real life having passed, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. God knows how it would have been—but it appears to me—however, I will not speak of that subject. I must have been at Bedhampton nearly at the time you were writing to me from Chichester—how unfortunate—and to pass on the river too! There was my star predominant! I cannot answer anything in your letter, which followed me from Naples to Rome, because I am afraid to look it over again. I am so weak (in mind) that I cannot bear the sight of any handwriting of a friend I love so much as I do you. Yet I ride the little horse, and at my worst even in quarantine, summoned up more puns, in a sort of desperation, in one week than in any year of my life. There is one thought enough to kill me; I have been well, healthy, alert, etc., walking with her, and now—the knowledge of contrast, feeling for light and shade, all that information (primitive sense) necessary for a poem, are great enemies to the recovery of the stomach. There, you rogue, I put you to the torture; but you must bring your philosophy to bear, as I do mine, really, or how should I be able to live? Dr. Clark is very attentive to me; he says, there is very little the matter with my lungs, but my stomach, he says, is very bad. I am well disappointed in hearing good news from George, for it runs in my head we shall all die young. I have not written to Reynolds yet, which he must think very neglectful; being anxious to send him a good account of my health, I have delayed it from week to week. If I recover, I will do all in my power to correct the mistakes made during sickness; and if I should not, all my faults will be forgiven. Severn is very well, though he leads so dull a life with me. Remember me to all friends, and tell Haslam I should not have left London without taking leave of him, but from being so low in body and mind. Write to George as soon as you receive this, and tell him how I am, as far as you can guess; and also a note to my sister—who walks about my imagination like a ghost—she is so like Tom. I can scarcely bid you good-bye, even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.

God bless you!
John Keats.


John Keats

John Keats

John Keats (1795-1821), son of a hostler, was an English Romantic poet. He died at an early age of tuberculosis, a family disease which had claimed the lives of his mother and siblings. He is noted primarily for his odes on “Autumn,” “Psyche,” a Nightingale, “a Grecian Urn,” “Melancholy,” and others. He is buried at Rome, where he died during his last therapeutic sojourn, away from home.