Friday, February 17th, 2012...10:43 am

You’ve Got Mail: Keats in love

Jump to Comments

John Keats. Paper silhouette, 1819. *42M-486. Purchase, Friends of the Harvard College Library fund, 1943.In the autumn of 1818, 23-year-old John Keats confessed in a letter to his brother George a fascination for one of his neighbors: “Mrs Brawne…still resides in Hampstead…her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange we have a little tiff now and then.” The woman who caught Keats’s attention was 18-year-old Fanny Brawne, who was intelligent and lively and enjoyed conversing with Keats about her extensive reading. The two soon fell in love, but Keats’s meager finances and deteriorating health kept them from marrying.
In the spring of 1819, the Brawne family moved into half of a house occupied by Keats and his friend Charles Armitage Brown. Whether separated by a great distance or only a wall or window, Keats and Brawne frequently exchanged letters.

Keats’s friends, some of whom never approved of his attachment to Brawne, encouraged Keats to travel to Rome in 1820, where they hoped the warmer climate might improve his health. Once there, Keats rapidly grew worse, and he died on February 23, 1821.

Keats had previously burned some of Brawne’s letters to him; some he requested be buried with him. Thirteen of Keats’s letters to Brawne are now in the collection at Houghton Library, including this one, written in March 1820:

MS Keats 1.79. Bequest of Amy Lowell, 1925. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

“Upon my soul I have loved you to the extreme. I wish you could know the Tenderness with which I continually brood over your different aspects of countenance, action and dress. I see you come down in the morning: I see you meet me at the Window–I see every thing over again eternally that I ever have seen. If I get on the pleasant clue I live in a sort of happy misery, if on the unpleasant ’tis miserable misery…If I am destined to be happy with you here–how short is the longest Life–I wish to believe in immortality–I wish to live with you for ever…Let me be but certain that you are mine heart and soul, and I could die more happily than I could otherwise live.”

To learn more about Keats’s and Brawne’s relationship, and to see more items associated with the couple, visit a new online exhibition, “I shall ever be your dearest love: John Keats and Fanny Brawne.”

MS Keats 1.79. Bequest of Amy Lowell, 1925. Houghton Library, Harvard University.    MS Keats 1.79. Bequest of Amy Lowell, 1925. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

MS Keats 1.79. Bequest of Amy Lowell, 1925. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

MS Keats 1.79. Bequest of Amy Lowelll, 1925.

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to Heather Cole, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post.]

Comments are closed.