On Sunday 7 May 1820 Charles Armitage Brown let his half of Wentworth Place for the summer and set off on a Scottish tour. Keats sailed with him as far as Gravesend, then moved in to new lodgings at 2 Wesleyan Place, Kentish Town.
Earlier he had written to Charles Wentworth Dilke:
My dear Dilke — As Brown is not to be a fixture at Hampstead, I have at last made up my mind to send home all lent books. I should have seen you before this, but my mind has been at work all over the world to find out what to do. I have my choice of three things, or at least two — South America, or Surgeon to an Indiaman, which last, I think, will be my fate. I shall resolve in a few days. Remember me to Mrs. D. and Charles, and your father and mother.
Ever truly yours
I went for the first time into the City the day before yesterday, for before I was very disinclined to encounter the scuffle, more from nervousness than real illness; which notwithstanding I should not have suffered to conquer me if I had not made up my mind not to go to Scotland, but to remove to Kentish Town till Mr. Brown returns. Kentish Town is a mile nearer to you than Hampstead—
I have been getting gradually better, but am not so well as to trust myself to the casualties of rain and sleeping out which I am liable to in visiting you. Mr. Brown goes on Saturday, and by that time I shall have settled in my new lodging, when I will certainly venture to you. You will forgive me I hope when I confess that I endeavour to think of you as little as possible and to let George dwell upon my mind but slightly. The reason being that I am afraid to ruminate on anything which has the shade of difficulty or melancholy in it, as that sort of cogitation is so pernicious to health, and it is only by health that I can be enabled to alleviate your situation in future. For some time you must do what you can of yourself for relief; and bear your mind up with the consciousness that your situation cannot last for ever, and that for the present you may console yourself against the reproaches of Mrs. Abbey. Whatever obligations you may have had to her you have none now, as she has reproached you. I do not know what property you have, but I will enquire into it: be sure however that beyond the obligation that a lodger may have to a landlord you have none to Mrs. Abbey. Let the surety of this make you laugh at Mrs. A.’s foolish tattle.
Mrs. Dilke’s Brother has got your Dog. She is now very well — still liable to Illness. I will get her to come and see you if I can make up my mind on the propriety of introducing a stranger into Abbey’s house. Be careful to let no fretting injure your health as I have suffered it — health is the greatest of blessings — with health and hope we should be content to live, and so you will find as you grow older.
I am, my dear Fanny, your affectionate Brother
[Keats had to move out of his rooms in Wentworth Place, Hampstead, as his landlord Charles Brown would be letting them out while he took his usual walking tour in Scotland.]
On Friday 21 April 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:
I have been slowly improving since I wrote last. The Doctor assures me that there is nothing the matter with me except nervous irritability and a general weakness of the whole system, which has proceeded from my anxiety of mind of late years and the too great excitement of poetry…
Now the fine Weather is come you will not find your time so irksome. You must be sensible how much I regret not being able to alleviate the unpleasantness of your situation, but trust my dear Fanny that better times are in wait for you.
Your affectionate Brother
On April 12 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — Excuse these shabby scraps of paper I send you — and also from endeavouring to give you any consolation just at present, for though my health is tolerably well I am too nervous to enter into any discussion in which my heart is concerned. Wait patiently and take care of your health, being especially careful to keep yourself from low spirits which are great enemies to health. You are young and have only need of a little patience. I am not yet able to bear the fatigue of coming to Walthamstow, though I have been to Town once or twice. I have thought of taking a change of air. You shall hear from me immediately on my moving anywhere. I will ask Mrs. Dilke to pay you a visit if the weather holds fine, the first time I see her. The Dog is being attended to like a Prince.
Your affectionate Brother
[The Dog was Fanny Keats’s spaniel — presumably Mr and Mrs Abbey had not allowed her to keep it at their house.]
On Saturday 1 April 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — I am getting better every day and should think myself quite well were I not reminded every now and then by faintness and a tightness in the Chest. Send your Spaniel over to Hampstead, for I think I know where to find a Master or Mistress for him. You may depend upon it if you were even to turn it loose in the common road it would soon find an owner. If I keep improving as I have done I shall be able to come over to you in the course of a few weeks. I should take the advantage of your being in Town but I cannot bear the City though I have already ventured as far as the west end for the purpose of seeing Mr. Haydon’s Picture, which is just finished and has made its appearance. I have not heard from George yet since he left Liverpool. Mr. Brown wrote to him as from me the other day — Mr. B. wrote two Letters to Mr. Abbey concerning me — Mr. A. took no notice and of course Mr. B. must give up such a correspondence when as the man said all the Letters are on one side. I write with greater ease than I had thought, therefore you shall soon hear from me again.
Your affectionate Brother
[The Spaniel may have been adopted by Keats’s next-door-neighbour Fanny Brawne.]
[Haydon’s painting appears in the post for 25 March.]
[Mr B. — Charles Armitage Brown, with whom Keats was lodging at Wentworth Place.]
[Mr A. — Richard Abbey — was Fanny Keats’s Guardian. He controlled the money which the Keatses were due to inherit. After Keats’s death, Fanny had to sue Abbey to get her share of the estate.]
On Saturday 25 March 1820 Keats took a coach from Hampstead to Piccadilly and The Egyptian Hall, to attend a private view of Benjamin Robert Haydon’s enormous painting Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. Keats appears as one of the figures between the trees on the right-hand side of the picture. Wordsworth (dressed in black) has his head bowed and holds his right hand across his chest; Keats is directly above him. Christ (who looks uncannily like Haydon) appears to be gesturing towards Keats.
In December 1816 Haydon had made life masks (plaster casts) of the faces of both Wordsworth and Keats for use in the painting. The years during which he worked on it match almost all of Keats’s career as a poet.
[Oil on canvas, 396 x 457 cm, located at Mount St Mary’s Seminary, Cincinnati
On Monday 20 March 1820 Keats (applying 19th century social distancing) wrote:
My dear Fanny — According to your desire I write to-day. It must be but a few lines, for I have been attack’d several times with a palpitation at the heart and the Doctor says I must not make the slightest exertion. I am much the same to-day as I have been for a week past. They say ’tis nothing but debility and will entirely cease on my recovery of my strength which is the object of my present diet. As the Doctor will not suffer me to write I shall ask Mr. Brown to let you hear news of me for the future if I should not get stronger soon. I hope I shall be well enough to come and see your flowers in bloom.
Ever your most affectionate Brother
On Saturday 4 March Keats wrote:
“My dear Dilke — Since I saw you I have been gradually, too gradually perhaps, improving; and though under an interdict with respect to animal food, living upon pseudo victuals, Brown says I have pick’d up a little flesh lately. If I can keep off inflammation for the next six weeks I trust I shall do very well.”
He went on to tease Dilke about his handwriting:
“You must improve in your penmanship; your writing is like the speaking of a child of three years old, very understandable to its father but to no one else. The worst is it looks well — no, that is not the worst — the worst is, it is worse than Bailey’s. Bailey’s looks illegible and may perchance be read; yours looks very legible and may perchance not be read…”
“It has been said that the Character of a Man may be known by his handwriting — if the Character of the age may be known by the average goodness of said, what a slovenly age we live in. Look at Queen Elizabeth’s Latin exercises and blush. Look at Milton’s hand. I can’t say a word for Shakspeare’s.”
On or around Tuesday 29 February 1820 Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne about visiting when his landlord Charles Brown was at home:
My dear Fanny,
I think you had better not make any long stay with me when Mr Brown is at home. Whenever he goes out you may bring your work. You will have a pleasant walk to day. I shall see you pass. I shall follow you with my eyes over the Heath. Will you come towards evening instead of before dinner – when you are gone, ’t is past – if you do not come till the evening I have something to look forward to all day. Come round to my window for a moment when you have read this. Thank your Mother, for the preserves, for me. The raspberry will be too sweet not having any acid; therefore as you are so good a girl I shall make you a present of it. Good bye