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

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

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

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

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-

[Text of letters from Hanson, Marilee. “John Keats Letter To Fanny Keats, 14 February 1820”, March 17, 2015, accessed 28 February 2020]

200 years ago Keats wrote to fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds

On Monday 28 February Keats wrote to John Hamilton Reynolds:

My dear Reynolds — I have been improving since you saw me: my nights are better which I think is a very encouraging thing. You mention your cold in rather too slighting a manner — if you travel outside have some flannel against the wind — which I hope will not keep on at this rate when you are in the Packet boat [to France]. Should it rain do not stop upon deck though the Passengers should vomit themselves inside out. Keep under Hatches from all sort of wet.
I am pretty well provided with Books at present, when you return I may give you a commission or two. Mr. B. C. [Bryan Waller Procter, who wrote under the alias Barry Cornwall] has sent me not only his Sicilian Story but yesterday his Dramatic Scenes — this is very polite, and I shall do what I can to make him sensible I think so. I confess they teaze me — they are composed of amiability, the Seasons, the Leaves, the Moons, etc., upon which he rings (according to Hunt’s expression), triple bob majors. However that is nothing — I think he likes poetry for its own sake, not his.

I hope I shall soon be well enough to proceed with my faeries [his unfinished poem ‘The Cap and bells, Or, The Jealousies’] and set you about the notes on Sundays and Stray-days. If I had been well enough I should have liked to cross the water with you. Brown wishes you a pleasant voyage — Have fish for dinner at the sea ports, and don’t forget a bottle of Claret. You will not meet with so much to hate at Brussels as at Paris. Remember me to all my friends. If I were well enough I would paraphrase an ode of Horace’s for you, on your embarking in the seventy years ago style. The Packet will bear a comparison with a Roman galley at any rate.

Ever yours affectionately
J. Keats.

200 years ago Keats wrote again to his sister

On Thursday February 24, 1820 Keats wrote:

My dear Fanny — I am sorry to hear you have been so unwell: now you are better, keep so. Remember to be very careful of your clothing — this climate requires the utmost care. There has been very little alteration in me lately. I am much the same as when I wrote last. When I am well enough to return to my old diet I shall get stronger. If my recovery should be delay’d long I will ask Mr. Abbey to let you visit me — keep up your Spirits as well as you can. You shall hear soon again from me.
Your affectionate Brother
John ——.

200 years ago Keats tried to reassure his sister about his health

On Saturday 19 February Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — Being confined almost entirely to vegetable food and the weather being at the same time so much against me, I cannot say I have much improved since I wrote last. The Doctor tells me there are no dangerous Symptoms about me, and quietness of mind and fine weather will restore me. Mind my advice to be very careful to wear warm cloathing in a thaw. I will write again on Tuesday when I hope to send you good news.
Your affectionate Brother
John ——.

200 years ago Keats sent this letter to his friend James Rice

My dear Rice — I have not been well enough to make any tolerable rejoinder to your kind letter. I will, as you advise, be very chary of my health and spirits. I am sorry to hear of your relapse and hypochondriac symptoms attending it. Let us hope for the best, as you say. I shall follow your example in looking to the future good rather than brooding upon the present ill…

I may say, that for six months before I was taken ill I had not passed a tranquil day. Either that gloom overspread me, or I was suffering under some passionate feeling, or if I turned to versify, that acerbated the poison of either sensation. The beauties of nature had lost their power over me. How astonishingly (here I must premise that illness, as far as I can judge in so short a time, has relieved my mind of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and makes me perceive things in a truer light) — how astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon us! Like poor Falstaff, though I do not “babble,” I think of green fields; I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancy — their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy. It is because they are connected with the most thoughtless and the happiest moments of our lives. I have seen foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature, but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of our Spring are what I want to see again…

I hope I shall sit under the trees with you again in some such place as the Isle of Wight. I do not mind a game of cards in a saw-pit or waggon, but if ever you catch me on a stage-coach in the winter full against the wind, bring me down with a brace of bullets, and I promise not to ’peach…

I am, my dear Rice, ever most sincerely yours
John Keats.
I have broken this open to let you know I was surprised at seeing it on the table this morning, thinking it had gone long ago.

200 years ago Keats wrote another letter to his sister

On Monday 14 February 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:

My dear Fanny — I am improving but very gradually and suspect it will be a long while before I shall be able to walk six miles — The Sun appears half inclined to shine; if he obliges us I shall take a turn in the garden this morning. No one from Town has visited me since my last.

I have had so many presents of jam and jellies that they would reach side by side the length of the sideboard. I hope I shall be well before it is all consumed. I am vexed that Mr. Abbey will not allow you pocket money sufficient. He has not behaved well — By detaining money from me and George when we most wanted it he has increased our expenses. In consequence of such delay George was obliged to take his voyage to England which will be £150 out of his pocket.

I enclose you a note — You shall hear from me again the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother

[The ‘note’ was probably a £1 note]

200 years ago Keats updated his sister about his illness

On Friday 11 February 1820 Keats wrote to his sister:

My dear Fanny — I am much the same as when I last wrote. I hope a little more verging towards improvement. Yesterday morning being very fine, I took a walk for a quarter of an hour in the garden and was very much refresh’d by it. You must consider no news, good news — if you do not hear from me the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother

200 years ago Keats gave his sister an update on his health

On Tuesday 8 February Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny — I had a slight return of fever last night, which terminated favourably, and I am now tolerably well, though weak from the small quantity of food to which I am obliged to confine myself: I am sure a mouse would starve upon it. Mrs. Wylie came yesterday. I have a very pleasant room for a sick person. A Sofa bed is made up for me in the front Parlour which looks on to the grass plot as you remember Mrs. Dilke’s does. How much more comfortable than a dull room up stairs, where one gets tired of the pattern of the bed curtains. Besides I see all that passes — for instance now, this morning — if I had been in my own room I should not have seen the coals brought in. On Sunday between the hours of twelve and one I descried a Pot boy. I conjectured it might be the one o’Clock beer — Old women with bobbins and red cloaks and unpresuming bonnets I see creeping about the heath. Gipsies after hare skins and silver spoons. Then goes by a fellow with a wooden clock under his arm that strikes a hundred and more. Then comes the old French emigrant (who has been very well to do in France) with his hands joined behind on his hips, and his face full of political schemes. Then passes Mr. David Lewis, a very good-natured, good-looking old gentleman who has been very kind to Tom and George and me. As for those fellows the Brickmakers they are always passing to and fro. I mus’n’t forget the two old maiden Ladies in Well Walk who have a Lap dog between them that they are very anxious about. It is a corpulent Little beast whom it is necessary to coax along with an ivory-tipp’d cane. Carlo our Neighbour Mrs. Brawne’s dog and it meet sometimes. Lappy thinks Carlo a devil of a fellow and so do his Mistresses. Well they may — he would sweep ’em all down at a run; all for the Joke of it. I shall desire him to peruse the fable of the Boys and the frogs: though he prefers the tongues and the Bones. You shall hear from me again the day after to-morrow.
Your affectionate Brother
John Keats.

[Mrs Wylie was their brother George’s mother-in-law.]
[Mrs Dilke’s “grass plot” had been Mrs Brawne’s “grass plot” since April 1819, but Keats kept that a secret from his sister, as well as his attachment for Miss Brawne.]

200 years ago Keats talked down his fatal illness

On Sunday 6 February 1820 (four days after his first attack of spitting blood) , Keats wrote a very reassuring letter to his sister.

My dear Sister — I should not have sent those Letters without some notice if Mr. Brown had not persuaded me against it on account of an illness with which I was attack’d on Thursday. After that I was resolved not to write till I should be on the mending hand; thank God, I am now so. From imprudently leaving off my great coat in the thaw I caught cold which flew to my Lungs. Every remedy that has been applied has taken the desired effect, and I have nothing now to do but stay within doors for some time. If I should be confined long I shall write to Mr. Abbey to ask permission for you to visit me. George has been running great chance of a similar attack, but I hope the sea air will be his Physician in case of illness — the air out at sea is always more temperate than on land — George mentioned, in his Letters to us, something of Mr. Abbey’s regret concerning the silence kept up in his house. It is entirely the fault of his Manner. You must be careful always to wear warm clothing not only in frost but in a Thaw. — I have no news to tell you. The half-built houses opposite us stand just as they were and seem dying of old age before they are brought up. The grass looks very dingy, the Celery is all gone, and there is nothing to enliven one but a few Cabbage Stalks that seem fix’d on the superannuated List. Mrs. Dilke has been ill but is better. Several of my friends have been to see me. Mrs. Reynolds was here this morning and the two Mr. Wylie’s. Brown has been very alert about me, though a little wheezy himself this weather. Everybody is ill. Yesterday evening Mr. Davenport, a gentleman of Hampstead, sent me an invitation to supper, instead of his coming to see us, having so bad a cold he could not stir out — so you see ’tis the weather and I am among a thousand. Whenever you have an inflammatory fever never mind about eating. The day on which I was getting ill I felt this fever to a great height, and therefore almost entirely abstained from food the whole day. I have no doubt experienced a benefit from so doing — The Papers I see are full of anecdotes of the late King: how he nodded to a Coal-heaver and laugh’d with a Quaker and lik’d boiled Leg of Mutton. Old Peter Pindar is just dead: what will the old King and he say to each other? Perhaps the King may confess that Peter was in the right, and Peter maintain himself to have been wrong. You shall hear from me again on Tuesday.
Your affectionate Brother

200 years ago Keats’s fatal illness became obvious

On Thursday 3 February 1820, Keats suffered his first haemorrhage, as his friend Charles Brown wrote:

One night, at eleven o’clock, he came into the house in a state that looked like fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible; it therefore was the more fearful. I asked hurriedly, “What is the matter?—you are fevered?” “Yes, yes.” he answered, “I was on the outside of the stage this bitter day till I was severely chilled,—but now I don’t feel it. Fevered!—of coure, a little.” He mildly and instantly yielded, a property in his nature towards any friend, to my request that he should go to bed. I followed with the best immediate remedy in my power. I entered his chamber as he leapt into bed. On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say,—“That is blood from my mouth.” I went to wards him; he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. “Bring me the candle, Brown: and let me see this blood.” After regarding it steadfastly, he looked up into my face, with a calmness of countenance that I can never forget, and said,—”I know the colour of that blood;—it is arterial blood:—I cannot be deceived in that colour;—that drop of blood is my death-warrant;—I must die.” I ran for a surgeon; my friend was bled; and, at five in the morning, I left him after he had been, some time, in a quiet sleep.

Charles Brown: ‘Life of Keats’,
in Hyder Edward Rollins (ed) The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers 1816-1878 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1948) ii, 73-74