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.]

200 years ago Keats wrote his fourth letter to Miss Brawne

On Sunday 25 July 1819 Keats wrote:

My sweet Girl,

I hope you did not blame me much for not obeying your request of a Letter on Saturday: we have had four in our small room playing at cards night and morning leaving me no undisturb’d opportunity to write. Now Rice and Martin are gone, I am at liberty.

Brown to my sorrow confirms the account you give of your ill health. You cannot conceive how I ache to be with you: how I would die for one hour—for what is in the world? I say you cannot conceive; it is impossible you should look with such eyes upon me as I have upon you: it cannot be.

Forgive me if I wander a little this evening, for I have been all day employ’d in a very abstract Poem and I am in deep love with you—two things which must excuse me. I have, believe me, not been an age in letting you take possession of me; the very first week I knew you I wrote myself your vassal; but burnt the Letter as the very next time I saw you I thought you manifested some dislike to me. If you should ever feel for Man at the first sight what I did for you, I am lost. Yet I should not quarrel with you, but hate myself if such a thing were to happen—only I should burst if the thing were not as fine as a Man as you are as a Woman. Perhaps I am too vehement, then fancy me on my knees, especially when I mention a part of your Letter which hurt me; you say speaking of Mr. Severn “but you must be satisfied in knowing that I admired you much more than your friend.” My dear love, I cannot believe there ever was or ever could be any thing to admire in me especially as far as sight goes—I cannot be admired, I am not a thing to be admired. You are, I love you; all I can bring you is a swooning admiration of your Beauty. I hold that place among Men which snub-nos’d brunettes with meeting eyebrows do among women—they are trash to me—unless I should find one among them with a fire in her heart like the one that burns in mine.

You absorb me in spite of myself—you alone: for I look not forward with any pleasure to what is call’d being settled in the world; I tremble at domestic cares—yet for you I would meet them, though if it would leave you the happier I would rather die than do so.

I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute. I hate the world: it batters too much the wings of my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from your lips to send me out of it. From no others would I take it. I am indeed astonish’d to find myself so careless of all charms but yours—remembring as I do the time when even a bit of ribband was a matter of interest with me. What softer words can I find for you after this—what it is I will not read. Nor will I say more here, but in a Postscript answer any thing else you may have mentioned in your Letter in so many words—for I am distracted with a thousand thoughts. I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Hethen.
Your’s ever, fair Star,
John Keats

My seal is mark’d like a family table cloth with my Mother’s initial F for Fanny: put between my Father’s initials. You will soon hear from me again. My respectful Compts to your Mother. Tell Margaret I’ll send her a reef of best rocks and tell Sam I will give him my light bay hunter if he will tie the Bishop hand and foot and pack him in a hamper and send him down for me to bathe him for his health with a Necklace of good snubby stones about his Neck.

[The ‘abstract poem’ is ‘The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream’.
The ‘Bishop’ has been variously interpreted as being a dog, a flute, or a piece of music.]

200 years ago Keats wrote his third letter to Miss Brawne

Thursday 15 July 1819: Keats’s third letter to Fanny Brawne

My love,

I have been in so irritable a state of health these two or three last days, that I did not think I should be able to write this week. Not that I was so ill, but so much so as only to be capable of an unhealthy teasing letter. To night I am greatly recovered only to feel the languor I have felt after you touched with ardency. You say you perhaps might have made me better: you would then have made me worse: now you could quite effect a cure: What fee my sweet Physician would I not give you to do so.

Do not call it folly, when I tell you I took your letter last night to bed with me. In the morning I found your name on the sealing wax obliterated. I was startled at the bad omen till I recollected that it must have happened in my dreams, and they you know fall out by contraries. You must have found out by this time I am a little given to bode ill like the raven; it is my misfortune not my fault; it has proceeded from the general tenor of the circumstances of my life, and rendered every event suspicious. However I will not more trouble either you or myself with sad Prophecies; though so far I am pleased at it as it has given me opportunity to love your disinterestedness towards me. I can be a raven no more; you and pleasure take possession of me at the same moment. I am afraid you have been unwell. If through me illness have touched you (but it must be with a very gentle hand) I must be selfish enough to feel a little glad of it. Will you forgive me this?

I have been reading lately an oriental tale of a very beautiful color—It is of a city of melancholy men, all made so by this circumstance. Through a series of adventures each one of them by turns reach some gardens of Paradise where they meet with a most enchanting Lady; and just as they are going to embrace her, she bids them shut their eyes—they shut them—and on opening their eyes again find themselves descending to the earth in a magic basket. The remembrance of this Lady and their delights lost beyond all recovery render them melancholy ever after. How I applied this to you, my dear; how I palpitated at it; how the certainty that you were in the same world with myself, and though as beautiful, not so talismanic as that Lady; how I could not bear you should be so you must believe because I swear it by yourself.

I cannot say when I shall get a volume ready. I have three or four stories half done, but as I cannot write for the mere sake of the press, I am obliged to let them progress or lie still as my fancy chooses. By Christmas perhaps they may appear, but I am not yet sure they ever will. ’Twill be no matter, for Poems are as common as newspapers and I do not see why it is a greater crime in me than in another to let the verses of an half-fledged brain tumble into the reading-rooms and drawing room windows.

Rice has been better lately than usual: he is not suffering from any neglect of his parents who have for some years been able to appreciate him better than they did in his first youth, and are now devoted to his comfort. To-morrow I shall, if my health continues to improve during the night, take a look farther about the country, and spy at the parties about here who come hunting after the picturesque like beagles. It is astonishing how they raven down scenery like children do sweetmeats. The wondrous Chine here is a very great Lion: I wish I had as many guineas as there have been spy-glasses in it.

I have been, I cannot tell why, in capital spirits this last hour. What reason? When I have to take my candle and retire to a lonely room, without the thought as I fall asleep, of seeing you tomorrow morning? or the next day, or the next—it takes on the appearance of impossibility and eternity—I will say a month—I will say I will see you in a month at most, though no one but yourself should see me; if it be but for an hour. I should not like to be so near you as London without being continually with you: after having once more kissed you Sweet I would rather be here alone at my task than in the bustle and hateful literary chit-chat.

Meantime you must write to me—as I will every week—for your letters keep me alive. My sweet Girl I cannot speak my love for you. Good night! And
Ever yours
John Keats

200 years ago: Keats’s progress report

On Sunday 11 July 1819 Keats updated fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds on the first Act of the tragedy ‘Otho the Great’, as well as the narrative poem ‘Lamia’:
“You will be glad to hear, under my own hand … how diligent I have been, and am being. I have finished the Act, and in the interval of beginning the 2d have proceeded pretty well with Lamia, finishing the 1st part which consists of about 400 lines. I have great hopes of success, because I make use of my Judgment more deliberately than I have yet done; but in case of failure with the world, I shall find my content. And here (as I know you have my good at heart as much as a Brother), I can only repeat to you what I have said to George — that however I should like to enjoy what the competencies of life procure, I am in no wise dashed at a different prospect. I have spent too many thoughtful days and moralised through too many nights for that, and fruitless would they be indeed, if they did not by degrees make me look upon the affairs of the world with a healthy deliberation.”

200 years ago Keats wrote his second letter to Miss Brawne

On Thursday 8 July 1819 Keats wrote:

My sweet Girl,

Your Letter gave me more delight than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights, have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was: I did not believe in it; my Fancy was afraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, ’twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures. You mention “horrid people” and ask me whether it depend upon them, whether I see you again. Do understand me, my love, in this. I have so much of you in my heart that I must turn Mentor when I see a chance of harm beffaling you.

I would never see any thing but Pleasure in your eyes, love on your lips, and Happiness in your steps. I would wish to see you among those amusements suitable to your inclinations and spirits; so that our loves might be a delight in the midst of Pleasures agreeable enough, rather than a resource from vexations and cares. But I doubt much, in case of the worst, whether I shall be philosopher enough to follow my own Lessons: if I saw my resolution give you a pain I could not.

Why may I not speak of your Beauty, since without that I could never have lov’d you?—I cannot conceive any beginning of such love as I have for you but Beauty. There may be a sort of love for which, without the least sneer at it, I have the highest respect and can admire it in others: but it has not the richness, the bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after my own heart. So let me speak of your Beauty, though to my own endangering; if you could be so cruel to me as to try elsewhere its Power. You say you are afraid I shall think you do not love me—in saying this you make me ache the more to be near you.

I am at the diligent use of my faculties here, I do not pass a day without sprawling some blank verse or tagging some rhymes; and here I must confess, that (since I am on that subject) I love you the more in that I belive you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.

I have seen your Comet, and only wish it was a sign that poor Rice would get well whose illness makes him rather a melancholy companion: and the more so as to conquer his feelings and hide them from me, with a forc’d Pun. I kiss’d your writing over in the hope you had indulg’d me by leaving a trace of honey. What was your dream? Tell it me and I will tell you the interpretation thereof.

Ever yours my love!
John Keats

Do not accuse me of delay—we have not here an opportunity of sending letters every day. Write speedily.

[’Horrid people’ presumably include Mrs. Jennings and Richard Abbey.
The ‘blank verse’ is ‘Otho the Great’; the ‘rhymes’ are ‘Lamia’.]

200 years ago Keats wrote to his sister from Shanklin

On Tuesday 6 July 1819, Keats wrote:
“I think I told you the purpose for which I retired to this place—to try the fortune of my Pen once more, and indeed I have some confidence in my success: but in every event, believe me my dear sister, I shall be sufficiently comfortable, as, if I cannot lead that life of competence and society I should wish, I have enough knowledge of my gallipots to ensure me an employment and maintenance. The Place I am in now I visited once before and a very pretty place it is were it not for the bad weather. Our window looks over house-tops and Cliffs onto the Sea, so that when the Ships sail past the Cottage chimneys you may take them for weathercocks. We have Hill and Dale, forest and Mead, and plenty of Lobsters. I was on the Portsmouth Coach the Sunday before last in that heavy shower—and I may say I went to Portsmouth by water—I got a little cold, and as it always flies to my throat I am a little out of sorts that way…
“I am living with a very good fellow indeed, a Mr. Rice. He is unfortunately labouring under a complaint which has for some years been a burthen to him. This is a pain to me. He has a greater tact in speaking to people of the village than I have, and in those matters is a great amusement as well as good friend to me. He bought a ham the other day for says he ‘Keats, I don’t think a Ham is a wrong thing to have in a house.’”

200 years ago Keats began his 12-week writing marathon

On Friday 2 July 1819, Keats began writing ‘Lamia’. Over the next 12 weeks he would complete that narrative poem, co-write a five-act tragedy, revise ‘Hyperion’, write numerous letters — and compose one of the best-loved poems in the English language. Here is the opening of ‘Lamia’:
Upon a time, before the faery broods
Drove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods,
Before King Oberon’s bright diadem,
Sceptre, and mantle, clasp’d with dewy gem,
Frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns
From rushes green, and brakes, and cowslip’d lawns,
The ever-smitten Hermes empty left
His golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft:
From high Olympus had he stolen light,
On this side of Jove’s clouds, to escape the sight
Of his great summoner, and made retreat
Into a forest on the shores of Crete.

200 years ago, Keats wrote his first letter to Miss Brawne

On Thursday 1 July 1819 Keats wrote:

“My dearest Lady,

“I am glad I had not an opportunity of sending off a Letter which I wrote for you on Tuesday night—’twas too much like one out of Rousseau’s Heloise. I am more reasonable this morning. The morning is the only proper time for me to write to a beautiful Girl whom I love so much: for at night, when the lonely day has closed, and the lonely, silent, unmusical Chamber is waiting to receive me as into a Sepulchre, then believe me my passion gets entirely the sway, then I would not have you see those Rhapsodies which I once thought it impossible I should ever give way to, and which I have often laughed at in another, for fear you should think me either too unhappy or perhaps a little mad.

“I am now at a very pleasant Cottage window, looking onto a beautiful hilly country, with a glimpse of the sea; the morning is very fine. I do not know how elastic my spirit my spirit might be, what pleasure I might have in living here and breathing and wandering as free as a stag about this beautiful Coast if the remembrance of you did not weigh so upon me.

“I have never known any unalloy’d Happiness for many days together: the death or sickness of some one has always spoilt my hours—and now when none such troubles oppress me, it is you must confess very hard that another sort of pain should haunt me. Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom. Will you confess this in the Letter you must write immediately, and do all you can to console me in it—make it rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me—write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been.

“For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. But however selfish I may feel, I am sure I could never act selfishly: as I told you a day or two before I left Hampstead, I will never return to London if my Fate does not turn up Pam or at least a Court-card.

“Though I could centre my Happiness in you, I cannot expect to engross your heart so entirely—indeed, if I thought you felt as much for me as I do for you at this moment I do not think I could restrain myself from seeing you again tomorrow for the delight of one embrace. But no—I must live upon hope and Chance.

“In case of the worst that can happen, I shall still love you—but what hatred shall I have for another! Some lines I read the other day are continually ringing a peal in my ears:
To see those eyes I prize above mine own
Dart favours on another—
And those sweet lips (yielding immortal nectar)
Be gently press’d by any but myself—
Think, think, Francesca, what a cursed thing
It were beyond expression!

“Do write immediately. There is no Post from this Place, so you must address Post Office, Newport, Isle of Wight. I know before night I shall curse myself for having sent you so cold a Letter; yet it is better to do it as much in my senses as possible. Be as kind as the distance will permit to your
J. Keats”

200 years ago Keats began a six-week stay at Shanklin

On Tuesday 29 June 1819, Keats and James Rice move into lodgings at Eglantine Cottage, Shanklin. He wrote to his sister: “The Place I am in now I visited once before and a very pretty place it is were it not for the bad weather. Our window looks over house-tops and Cliffs onto the Sea, so that when the Ships sail past the Cottage chimneys you may take them for weathercocks. We have Hill and Dale, forest and Mead, and plenty of Lobsters.”


[Letter to Fanny Keats 6 July 1819.]
[Image of Eglantine Cottage on a sunny day from john-keats.com.]

200 years ago Keats got drenched on the coach to Portsmouth

On Sunday 27 June 1819, travelled to the Isle of Wight, as he wrote to his sister:

“I was on the Portsmouth Coach the Sunday before last in that heavy shower—and I may say I went to Portsmouth by water—I got a little cold, and as it always flies to my throat I am a little out of sorts that way. There were on the Coach with me some common French people but very well behaved—there was a woman amongst them to whom the poor Men in ragged coats were more gallant than ever I saw gentleman to Lady at a Ball. When we got down to walk up hill—one of them pick’d a rose, and on remounting gave it to the woman with ‘Ma’mselle voila une belle rose!’”

To save money Keats generally travelled on the outside of the coach, which certainly shortened his life.

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