Keats’s love notes to Fanny Brawne from February 1820

During the early stages of Keats’s fatal illness (which began on 3 February 1820) he and Fanny Brawne used to exchange notes each day. Several of his to her have survived (unlike any of hers to him). Here are eight of them, with the dates as scholars have been able to guess them:-

10 (?) February 1820
My dearest Girl –
If illness makes such an agreeable variety in the manner of your eyes I should wish you sometimes to be ill. I wish I had read your note before you went last night that I might have assured you how far I was from suspecting any coldness: You had a just right to be a little silent to one who speaks so plainly to you. You must believe you shall, you will that I can do nothing say nothing think nothing of you but what has its spring in the Love which has so long been my pleasure and torment. On the night I was taken ill when so violent a rush of blood came to my Lungs that I felt nearly suffocated – I assure you I felt it possible I might not survive and at that moment though[ t] of nothing but you – When I said to Brown ‘this is unfortunate’ I thought of you – ‘T is true that since the first two or three days other subjects have entered my head – I shall be looking forward to Health and the Spring and a regular routine of our old Walks. Your affectionate
J.K –

February (?) 1820
My sweet love, I shall wait patiently till tomorrow before I see you, and in the mean time, if there is any need of such a thing, assure you by your Beauty, that whenever I have at any time written on a certain unpleasant subject, it has been with your welfare impress’d upon my mind. How hurt I should have been had you ever acceded to what is, notwithstanding, very reasonable! How much the more do I love you from the general result! In my present state of Health I feel too much separated from you and could almost speak to you in the words of Lorenzo’s Ghost to Isabella
Your Beauty grows upon me and I feel
A greater love through all my essence steal.
My greatest torment since I have known you has been the fear of you being a little inclined to the Cressid; but that suspicion I dismiss utterly and remain happy in the surety of your Love, which I assure you is as much a wonder to me as a delight. Send me the words “Good night” to put under my pillow.
Dearest Fanny,
Your affectionate
J.K.

February (?) 1820
My dearest Girl,
According to all appearances I am to be separated from you as much as possible. How I shall be able to bear it, or whether it will not be worse than your presence now and then, I cannot tell. I must be patient, and in the meantime you must think of it as little as possible. Let me not longer detain you from going to Town – there may be no end to this imprisoning of you. Perhaps you had better not come before tomorrow evening: send me however without fail a good night You know our situation – what hope is there if I should be recovered ever so soon – my very health with [for will] not suffer me to make any great exertion. I am recommended not even to read poetry much less write it. I wish I had even a little hope. I cannot say forget me – but I would mention that there are impossibilities in the world. No more of this – I am not strong enough to be weaned – take no notice of it in your good night. Happen what may I shall ever be my dearest Love
Your affectionate
J-K-

February (?) 1820
My dearest Girl, how could it ever have been my wish to forget you? how could I have said such a thing? The utmost stretch my mind has been capable of was to endeavour to forget you for your own sake seeing what a change [for chance] there was of my remaining in a precarious state of health. I would have borne it as I would bear death if fate was in that humour: but I should as soon think of choosing to die as to part from you. Believe too my Love that our friends think and speak for the best, and if their best is not our best it is not their fault, When I am better I will speak with you at large on these subjects, if there is any occasion – I think there is none. I am rather nervous to day perhaps from being a little recovered and suffering my mind to take little excursions beyond the doors and windows. I take it for a good sign, but as it must not be encouraged you had better delay seeing me till tomorrow. Do not take the trouble of writing much: merely send me my goodnight. Remember me to your Mother and Margaret. Your affectionate
J-K-

February (?) 1820
My dearest Fanny,
I read your note in bed last night, and that might be the reason of my sleeping so much better. I think Mr Brown is right in supposing you may stop too long with me, so very nervous as I am. Send me every evening a written Good night. If you come for a few minutes about six it may be the best time. Should you ever fancy me too low-spirited I must warn you to ascbribe [for ascribe] it to the medicine I am at present taking which is of a nerve-shaking nature – I shall impute any depression I may experience to this cause. I have been writing with a vile old pen the whole week, which is excessively ungallant. The fault is in the Quill: I have mended it and still it is very much inclin’d to make blind es. However these last lines are in a much better style of penmanship thof [for though] a little disfigured by the smear of black currant jelly; which has made a little mark on one of the Pages of Brown’s Ben Jonson, the very best book he has. I have lick’d it but it remains very purplue [for purple]. I did not know whether to say purple or blue, so in the mixture of the thought wrote purplue which may be an excellent name for a colour made up of those two, and would suit well to start next spring. Be very careful of open doors and windows and going without your duffle grey God bless you Love ! –
J. Keats-
P .S. I am sitting in the back room – Remember me to your Mother –

February (?) 1820
My dear Fanny,
Do not let your mother suppose that you hurt me by writing at night. For some reason or other your last night’s note was not so treasureable as former ones. I would fain that you call me Love still. To see you happy and in high spirits is a great consolation to me – still let me believe that you are not half so happy as my restoration would make you. I am nervous, I own, and may think myself worse than I really am; if so you must indulge me, and pamper with that sort of tenderness you have manifested towards me in different Letters. My sweet creature when I look back upon the pains and torments I have suffer’d for you from the day I left you to go to the Isle of Wight; the ecstasies in which I have pass’d some days and the miseries in their turn, I wonder the more at the Beauty which has kept up the spell so fervently. When I send this round I shall be in the front parlour watching to see you show yourself for a minute in the garden. How illness stands as a barrier betwixt me and you! Even if I was well – I must make myself as good a Philosopher as possible. Now I have had opportunities of passing nights anxious and awake I have found other thoughts intrude upon me. “If I should die,” said I to myself, “I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.” Thoughts like these came very feebly whilst I was in health and every pulse beat for you – now you divide with this (may I say it?) “last infirmity of noble minds” all my reflection.
God bless you, Love.
J. Keats.

24 (?) February 1820
My dearest Girl,
Indeed I will not deceive you with respect to my Health. This is the fact as far as I know. I have been confined three weeks and am not yet well – this proves that there is something wrong about me which my constitution will either conquer or give way to – Let us hope for the best. Do you hear the Th[r]ush singing over the field? I think it is a sign of mild weather – so much the better for me. Like all Sinners now I am ill I philosophise, aye out of my attachment to every thing, Trees, flowers, Thrushes Sp[ r]ing, Summer, Claret &c &c aye every thing but you – – my Sister would be glad of my company a little longer. That Thrush is a fine fellow. I hope he was fortunate in his choice this year. Do not send any more of my Books home. I have a great pleasure in the thought of you looking on them.
Ever yours
my sweet Fanny
J-K-

27 (?) February 1820
My dearest Fanny,
I had a better night last night than I have had since my attack, and this morning I am the same as when you saw me. I have been turning over two volumes of Letters written between Ro[u]sseau and two Ladies in the perplexed strain of mingled finesse and sentiment in which the Ladies and gentlemen of those days were so clever, and which is still prevalent among Ladies of this Country who live in a state of reasoning romance. The Likeness however only extends to the mannerism not to the dexterity. What would Rousseau have said at seeing our little correspondence! What would his Ladies have said! I don’t care much – I would sooner have Shakspeare’s opinion about the matter. The common gossiping of washerwomen must be less disgusting than the continual and eternal fence and attack of Rousseau and these sublime Petticoats. One calls herself Clara and her friend Julia two of Ro[u]sseau’s Heroines – they all the same time christen poor Jean Jacques St Preux – who is the pure cavalier of his famous novel. Thank God I am born in England with our own great Men before my eyes – Thank god that you are fair and can love me without being Letter-written and sentimentaliz’d into it – Mr Barry Cornwall has sent me another Book, his first, with a polite note – I must do what I can to make him sensible of the esteem I have for his kindness. If this north east would take a turn it would be so much the better for me. Good bye, my love, my dear love, my beauty-
love me for ever-
J-K-

[Text of letters from Hanson, Marilee. “John Keats Letter To Fanny Keats, 14 February 1820” https://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/fanny-keats-14-february-1820/, March 17, 2015, accessed 28 February 2020]

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