200 years ago Keats wrote his fifth letter to Miss Brawne

On Thursday 5 August 1819, Keats wrote this to Fanny Brawne —quite a challenging letter for her to receive on her 19th birthday:

My dear Girl,                                                                 Shanklin, Thursday Night

You say you must not have any more such Letters as the last: I’ll try that you shall not by running obstinate the other way. Indeed I have not fair play—I am not idle enough for proper downright love-letters—I leave this minute a scene in our Tragedy and see you (think it not blasphemy) through the mist of Plots, speeches, counterplots and counterspeeches. The Lover is madder than I am—I am nothing to him—he has a figure like the Statue of Maleager and double distilled fire in his heart.

Thank God for my diligence! were it not for that I should be miserable. I encourage it, and strive not to think of you—but when I have succeeded in doing so all day and as far as midnight, you return, as soon as this artificial excitement goes off more severely from the fever I am left in. Upon my soul I cannot say what you could like me for. I do not think myself a fright any more than I do Mr. A., Mr. B., and Mr. C.—yet if I were a woman I should not like A. B. C.

But enough of this. So you intend to hold me to my promise of seeing you in a short time. I shall keep it with as much sorrow as gladness: for I am not one of the Paladins of old who liv’d upon water grass and smiles for years together. What though would I not give to-night for the gratification of my eyes alone?

This day week we shall move to Winchester; for I feel the want of a Library. Brown will leave me there to pay a visit to Mr. Snook at Bedhampton: in his absence I will flit to you and back. I will stay very little while, for as I am in a train of writing now I fear to disturb it—let it have its course bad or good—in it I shall try my own strength and the public pulse. At Winchester I shall get your Letters more readily; and it being a cathedral City I shall have a pleasure always a great one to me when near a Cathedral, of reading them during the service up and down the Aisle.

Friday Morning—Just as I had written thus far last night, Brown came down in his morning coat and nightcap, saying he had been refresh’d by a good sleep and was very hungry. I left him eating and went to bed, being too tired to enter into any discussions.

You would delight very greatly in the walks about here; the Cliffs, woods, hills, sands, rocks, &c. about here. They are however not so fine but I shall give them a hearty good bye to exchange them for my Cathedral.—Yet again I am not so tired of Scenery as to hate Switzerland. We might spend a pleasant year at Berne or Zurich—if it should please Venus to hear my “Beseech thee to hear us O Goddess.” And if she should hear, God forbid we should what people call settle—turn into a pond, a stagnant Lethe—a vile crescent, row or buildings. Better be imprudent moveables than prudent fixtures. Open my Mouth at the Street door like the Lion’s head at Venice to receive hateful cards, letters, messages. Go out and wither at tea parties; freeze at dinners; bake at dances; simmer at routs. No my love, trust yourself to me and I will find you nobler amusements, fortune favouring.

I fear you will not receive this till Sunday or Monday… I long to be off for Winchester for I begin to dislike the very door posts here—the names, the pebbles.

You ask after my health, not telling me whether you are better. I am quite well. You going out is no proof that you are: how is it? Late hours will do you great harm. What fairing is it?

I was alone for a couple of days while Brown went gadding over the country with his ancient knapsack. Now I like his society as well as any Man’s, yet regretted his return—it broke in upon me like a Thunderbolt. I had got in a dream among my Books—really luxuriating in a solitude and silence you alone should have disturb’d.
Your ever affectionate
John Keats

[Miss Brawne’s 19th birthday was on 9 August.]

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