My dear Rice — I have not been well enough to make any tolerable rejoinder to your kind letter. I will, as you advise, be very chary of my health and spirits. I am sorry to hear of your relapse and hypochondriac symptoms attending it. Let us hope for the best, as you say. I shall follow your example in looking to the future good rather than brooding upon the present ill…
I may say, that for six months before I was taken ill I had not passed a tranquil day. Either that gloom overspread me, or I was suffering under some passionate feeling, or if I turned to versify, that acerbated the poison of either sensation. The beauties of nature had lost their power over me. How astonishingly (here I must premise that illness, as far as I can judge in so short a time, has relieved my mind of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and makes me perceive things in a truer light) — how astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon us! Like poor Falstaff, though I do not “babble,” I think of green fields; I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancy — their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy. It is because they are connected with the most thoughtless and the happiest moments of our lives. I have seen foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature, but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of our Spring are what I want to see again…
I hope I shall sit under the trees with you again in some such place as the Isle of Wight. I do not mind a game of cards in a saw-pit or waggon, but if ever you catch me on a stage-coach in the winter full against the wind, bring me down with a brace of bullets, and I promise not to ’peach…
I am, my dear Rice, ever most sincerely yours
I have broken this open to let you know I was surprised at seeing it on the table this morning, thinking it had gone long ago.
On Monday 14 February 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — I am improving but very gradually and suspect it will be a long while before I shall be able to walk six miles — The Sun appears half inclined to shine; if he obliges us I shall take a turn in the garden this morning. No one from Town has visited me since my last.
I have had so many presents of jam and jellies that they would reach side by side the length of the sideboard. I hope I shall be well before it is all consumed. I am vexed that Mr. Abbey will not allow you pocket money sufficient. He has not behaved well — By detaining money from me and George when we most wanted it he has increased our expenses. In consequence of such delay George was obliged to take his voyage to England which will be £150 out of his pocket.
I enclose you a note — You shall hear from me again the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother
[The ‘note’ was probably a £1 note]
On Friday 11 February 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — I am much the same as when I last wrote. I hope a little more verging towards improvement. Yesterday morning being very fine, I took a walk for a quarter of an hour in the garden and was very much refresh’d by it. You must consider no news, good news — if you do not hear from me the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother
On Tuesday 8 February Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — I had a slight return of fever last night, which terminated favourably, and I am now tolerably well, though weak from the small quantity of food to which I am obliged to confine myself: I am sure a mouse would starve upon it. Mrs. Wylie came yesterday. I have a very pleasant room for a sick person. A Sofa bed is made up for me in the front Parlour which looks on to the grass plot as you remember Mrs. Dilke’s does. How much more comfortable than a dull room up stairs, where one gets tired of the pattern of the bed curtains. Besides I see all that passes — for instance now, this morning — if I had been in my own room I should not have seen the coals brought in. On Sunday between the hours of twelve and one I descried a Pot boy. I conjectured it might be the one o’Clock beer — Old women with bobbins and red cloaks and unpresuming bonnets I see creeping about the heath. Gipsies after hare skins and silver spoons. Then goes by a fellow with a wooden clock under his arm that strikes a hundred and more. Then comes the old French emigrant (who has been very well to do in France) with his hands joined behind on his hips, and his face full of political schemes. Then passes Mr. David Lewis, a very good-natured, good-looking old gentleman who has been very kind to Tom and George and me. As for those fellows the Brickmakers they are always passing to and fro. I mus’n’t forget the two old maiden Ladies in Well Walk who have a Lap dog between them that they are very anxious about. It is a corpulent Little beast whom it is necessary to coax along with an ivory-tipp’d cane. Carlo our Neighbour Mrs. Brawne’s dog and it meet sometimes. Lappy thinks Carlo a devil of a fellow and so do his Mistresses. Well they may — he would sweep ’em all down at a run; all for the Joke of it. I shall desire him to peruse the fable of the Boys and the frogs: though he prefers the tongues and the Bones. You shall hear from me again the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother
[Mrs Wylie was their brother George’s mother-in-law.]
[Mrs Dilke’s “grass plot” had been Mrs Brawne’s “grass plot” since April 1819, but Keats kept that a secret from his sister, as well as his attachment for Miss Brawne.]
On Sunday 6 February 1820 (four days after his first attack of spitting blood) , Keats wrote a very reassuring letter to his sister.
My dear Sister — I should not have sent those Letters without some notice if Mr. Brown had not persuaded me against it on account of an illness with which I was attack’d on Thursday. After that I was resolved not to write till I should be on the mending hand; thank God, I am now so. From imprudently leaving off my great coat in the thaw I caught cold which flew to my Lungs. Every remedy that has been applied has taken the desired effect, and I have nothing now to do but stay within doors for some time. If I should be confined long I shall write to Mr. Abbey to ask permission for you to visit me. George has been running great chance of a similar attack, but I hope the sea air will be his Physician in case of illness — the air out at sea is always more temperate than on land — George mentioned, in his Letters to us, something of Mr. Abbey’s regret concerning the silence kept up in his house. It is entirely the fault of his Manner. You must be careful always to wear warm clothing not only in frost but in a Thaw. — I have no news to tell you. The half-built houses opposite us stand just as they were and seem dying of old age before they are brought up. The grass looks very dingy, the Celery is all gone, and there is nothing to enliven one but a few Cabbage Stalks that seem fix’d on the superannuated List. Mrs. Dilke has been ill but is better. Several of my friends have been to see me. Mrs. Reynolds was here this morning and the two Mr. Wylie’s. Brown has been very alert about me, though a little wheezy himself this weather. Everybody is ill. Yesterday evening Mr. Davenport, a gentleman of Hampstead, sent me an invitation to supper, instead of his coming to see us, having so bad a cold he could not stir out — so you see ’tis the weather and I am among a thousand. Whenever you have an inflammatory fever never mind about eating. The day on which I was getting ill I felt this fever to a great height, and therefore almost entirely abstained from food the whole day. I have no doubt experienced a benefit from so doing — The Papers I see are full of anecdotes of the late King: how he nodded to a Coal-heaver and laugh’d with a Quaker and lik’d boiled Leg of Mutton. Old Peter Pindar is just dead: what will the old King and he say to each other? Perhaps the King may confess that Peter was in the right, and Peter maintain himself to have been wrong. You shall hear from me again on Tuesday.
Your affectionate Brother
On Thursday 3 February 1820, Keats suffered his first haemorrhage, as his friend Charles Brown wrote:
One night, at eleven o’clock, he came into the house in a state that looked like fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible; it therefore was the more fearful. I asked hurriedly, “What is the matter?—you are fevered?” “Yes, yes.” he answered, “I was on the outside of the stage this bitter day till I was severely chilled,—but now I don’t feel it. Fevered!—of coure, a little.” He mildly and instantly yielded, a property in his nature towards any friend, to my request that he should go to bed. I followed with the best immediate remedy in my power. I entered his chamber as he leapt into bed. On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say,—“That is blood from my mouth.” I went to wards him; he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. “Bring me the candle, Brown: and let me see this blood.” After regarding it steadfastly, he looked up into my face, with a calmness of countenance that I can never forget, and said,—”I know the colour of that blood;—it is arterial blood:—I cannot be deceived in that colour;—that drop of blood is my death-warrant;—I must die.” I ran for a surgeon; my friend was bled; and, at five in the morning, I left him after he had been, some time, in a quiet sleep.
Charles Brown: ‘Life of Keats’,
in Hyder Edward Rollins (ed) The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers 1816-1878 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1948) ii, 73-74
On Friday 28 January 1820 Keats added a few lines to his letter to his sister-in-law Georgiana Wylie Keats, as he had forgotten to hand them to George before he left London to return to her in America:
‘I wish you would call me names: I deserve them so much. I have only written two sheets for you, to carry by George, and those I forgot to bring to town and have therefore to forward them to Liverpool. George went this morning at 6 o’clock by the Liverpool coach. His being on his journey to you prevents my regretting his short stay. I have no news of any sort to tell you. Henry [Wylie, her brother] is wife bound in Camden Town; there is no getting him out. I am sorry he has not a prettier wife: indeed ’tis a shame: she is not half a wife. I think I could find some of her relations in Buffon, or Captn Cook’s voyages or the hierogueglyphics in Moor’s Almanack, or upon a Chinese clock door, the shepherdesses on her own mantelpiece, or in a cruel sampler in which she may find herself worsted, or in a Dutch toyshop window, or one of the daughters in the ark, or any picture shop window. As I intend to retire into the country where there will be no sort of news, I shall not be able to write you very long letters. Besides I am afraid the postage comes to too much; which till now I have not been aware of.
People in military bands are generally seriously occupied. None may or can laugh at their work but the Kettle Drum, Long Drum, Do. Triangle and Cymbals. Thinking you might want a rat-catcher I put your mother’s old quaker-colour’d cat into the top of your bonnet. She’s wi’ kitten, so you may expect to find a whole family. I hope the family will not grow too large for its lodging. I shall send you a close written sheet on the first of next month, but for fear of missing the Liverpool Post I must finish here. God bless you and your little girl.
Your affectionate Brother
On Monday 17 January 1820 Keats wrote to his sister-in-law Georgiana:
“I know three witty people all distinct in their excellence — Rice, Reynolds, and Richards. Rice is the wisest, Reynolds the playfullest, Richards the out-o’-the-wayest.
The first makes you laugh and think, the second makes you laugh and not think, the third puzzles your head.
I admire the first, I enjoy the second, I stare at the third.
The first is claret, the second ginger-beer, the third crême de Byrapymdrag.
The first is inspired by Minerva, the second by Mercury, the third by Harlequin Epigram, Esq.
The first is neat in his dress, the second slovenly, the third uncomfortable.
The first speaks adagio, the second allegretto, the third both together.
The first is Swiftean, the second Tom-Crib-ean, the third Shandean.
And yet these three eans are not three eans but one ean.”
On Saturday, January 15 1820 Keats wrote to his sister-in-law Georgiana:
It is strange that George having to stop so short a time in England, I should not have seen him for nearly two days. He has been to Haslam’s and does not encourage me to follow his example. He had given promise to dine with the same party to-morrow, but has sent an excuse which I am glad of, as we shall have a pleasant party with us to-morrow. We expect Charles here to-day. This is a beautiful day. I hope you will not quarrel with it if I call it an American one. The sun comes upon the snow and makes a prettier candy than we have on twelfth-night cakes. George is busy this morning in making copies of my verses. He is making one now of an “Ode to the Nightingale,” which is like reading an account of the Black Hole at Calcutta on an iceberg…
Were you now in England I dare say you would be able (setting aside the pleasure you would have in seeing your mother) to suck out more amusement for society than I am able to do. To me it is all as dull here as Louisville could be. I am tired of the theatres. Almost all the parties I may chance to fall into I know by heart. I know the different styles of talk in different places — what subjects will be started, how it will proceed like an acted play, from the first to the last act. If I go to Hunt’s I run my head into many tunes heard before, old puns, and old music; to Haydon’s worn-out discourses of poetry and painting. The Miss —— I am afraid to speak to, for fear of some sickly reiteration of phrase or sentiment. When they were at the dance the other night I tried manfully to sit near and talk to them, but to no purpose; and if I had it would have been to no purpose still. My question or observation must have been an old one, and the rejoinder very antique indeed. At Dilke’s I fall foul of politics. ’Tis best to remain aloof from people and like their good parts without being eternally troubled with the dull process of their everyday lives. When once a person has smoked the vapidness of the routine of society he must either have self-interest or the love of some sort of distinction to keep him in good humour with it. All I can say is that, standing at Charing Cross and looking east, west, north, and south, I can see nothing but dulness. I hope while I am young to live retired in the country.
On Thursday, January 13, 1820, Keats wrote to Georgiana Keats. While George Keats came to England to sort out his finances, she stayed in America looking after their baby daughter.
My dear Sister — By the time you receive this your trouble will be over. I wish you knew they were half over. I mean that George is safe in England and in good health. To write to you by him is almost like following one’s own letter in the mail. That it may not be quite so, I will leave common intelligence out of the question, and write wide of him as I can. I fear I must be dull, having had no good-natured flip from Fortune’s finger since I saw you, and no sideway comfort in the success of my friends. I could almost promise that if I had the means I would accompany George back to America, and pay you a visit of a few months. I should not think much of the time, or my absence from my books; or I have no right to think, for I am very idle. But then I ought to be diligent, and at least keep myself within the reach of materials for diligence. Diligence, that I do not mean to say; I should say dreaming over my books, or rather other people’s books. George has promised to bring you to England when the five years have elapsed. I regret very much that I shall not be able to see you before that time, and even then I must hope that your affairs will be in so prosperous a way as to induce you to stop longer. Yours is a hardish fate, to be so divided among your friends and settled among a people you hate. You will find it improve. You have a heart that will take hold of your children; even George’s absence will make things better. His return will banish what must be your greatest sorrow, and at the same time minor ones with it. Robinson Crusoe, when he saw himself in danger of perishing on the waters, looked back to his island as to the haven of his happiness, and on gaining it once more was more content with his solitude. We smoke George about his little girl. He runs the common-beaten road of every father, as I dare say you do of every mother: there is no child like his child, so original — original forsooth! However, I take you at your words. I have a lively faith that yours is the very gem of all children. Ain’t I its uncle?…
If you should have a boy, do not christen him John, and persuade George not to let his partiality for me come across. ’Tis a bad name, and goes against a man. If my name had been Edmund I should have been more fortunate.