Keats’s sixth letter to Miss Brawne

On Monday 16 August 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne from Winchester:

My dear Girl—what shall I say for myself? I have been here four days and not yet written to you—’tis true I have had many teasing letters of business to dismiss—and I have been in the Claws, like a serpent in an Eagle’s, of the last act of our Tragedy. This is no excuse; I know it; I do not presume to offer it. I have no right either to ask a speedy answer to let me know how lenient you are—I must remain some days in a Mist—I see you through a Mist: as I daresay you do me by this time. Believe in the first Letters I wrote you: I assure you I felt as I wrote—I could not write so now. The thousand images I have had pass through my brain—my uneasy spirits—my unguess’d fate—all spread as a veil between me and you. Remember I have had no idle leisure to brood over you—’tis well perhaps I have not. I could not have endured the throng of jealousies that used to haunt me before I had plunged so deeply into imaginary interests.

I would fain, as my sails are set, sail on without an interruption for a Brace of Months longer—I am in complete cue—in the fever; and shall in these four Months do an immense deal.

This Page as my eye skims over it I see is excessively unloverlike and ungallant—I cannot help it—I am no officer in yawning quarters; no Parson-romeo. My Mind is heap’d to the full; stuff’d like a cricket ball—if I strive to fill it more it would burst. I know the generallity of women would hate me for this; that I should have so unsoften’d, so hard a Mind as to forget them; forget the brightest realities for the dull imaginations of my own Brain. But I conjure you to give it a fair thinking; and ask yourself whether ’tis not better to explain my feelings to you, than write artificial Passion—Besides, you would see through it. It would be vain to strive to deceive you. ’Tis harsh, harsh, I know it. My heart seems now made of iron—I could not write a proper answer to an invitation to Idalia. You are my Judge: my forehead is on the ground.

You seem offended at a little simple innocent childish playfulness in my last. I did not seriously mean to say that you were endeavouring to make me keep my promise. I beg your pardon for it. ’Tis but just your Pride should take the alarm—seriously. You say I may do as I please—I do not think with any conscience I can; my cash resourses are for the present stopp’d; I fear for some time. I spend no money, but it increases my debts. I have all my life thought very little of these matters—they seem not to belong to me. It may be a proud sentence; but by Heaven I am as entirely above all matters of interest as the Sun is above the Earth—and though of my own money I should be careless; of my Friends’ I must be spare.

You see how I go on—like so many strokes of a hammer. I cannot help it—I am impell’d, driven to it. I am not happy enough for silken Phrases, and silver sentences. I can no more use soothing words to you than if I were at this moment engaged in a charge of Cavalry. Then you will say I should not write at all.—Should I not?

This Winchester is a fine place: a beautiful Cathedral and many other ancient buildings in the Environs. The little coffin of a room at Shanklin is changed for a large room, where I can promenade at my pleasure—looks out onto a beautiful—blank side of a house. It is strange I should like it better than the view of the sea from our window at Shanklin. I began to hate the very posts there—the voice of the old Lady over the way was getting a great Plague. The Fisherman’s face never altered any more than our black teapot—the nob however was knock’d off to my little relief.

I am getting a great dislike of the picturesque; and can only relish it over again by seeing you enjoy it. One of the pleasantest things I have seen lately was at Cowes. The Regent in his Yatch (I think they spell it) was anchored oppoisite a beautiful vessel—and all the Yatchs and boats on the coast, were passing and repassing it; and curcuiting and tacking about it in every direction. I never beheld anything so silent, light, and graceful.

As we pass’d over to Southampton, there was nearly an accident. There came by a Boat, well mann’d; with two naval officers at the stern. Our Bow-lines took the top of their little mast and snapped it off close by the bord. Had the mast been a little stouter they would have been upset. In so trifling an event I could not help admiring our seamen—neither officer nor man in the whole Boat mov’d a muscle—they scarcely notic’d it even with words.

Forgive me for this flint-worded Letter, and believe and see that I cannot think of you without some sort of energy—though mal à propos. Even as I leave off it seems to me that a few more moments thought of you would uncrystallize and dissolve me. I must not give way to it—but turn to my writing again—if I fail I shall die hard. O my love, your lips are growing sweet again to my fancy—I must forget them. Ever your affectionate

[On this day a political demonstration was violently suppressed at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester: the Peterloo Massacre.]

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