Charles Brown (1787-1842) was Keats’s closest friend. They met in the summer of 1817 and went on a walking holiday of Scotland together. Keats moved into Brown’s home at Wentworth Place after Tom Keats’s death. Brown illegally married their Irish housekeeper (with whom he had an illegitimate son) in late 1819 and left on a solitary holiday to Scotland in May 1820. He and Keats never met again, though the poet hoped that Brown would accompany him to Italy. Brown emigrated to New Zealand in 1841 and died a year later.
Keats incorrectly dated this letter 28 September. It was written on board the Maria Cowther. Joseph Severn, Keats’s traveling companion, was writing to friends as well and confessing his worry over Keats’s state of mind.
Keats’s final letters to Charles Brown reveal the depression and grief he experienced over leaving Fanny Brawne, and the hopelessness of his physical condition.
My dear Brown,
The time has not yet come for a pleasant Letter from me. I have delayed writing to you from time to time because I felt how impossible it was to enliven you with one heartening hope of my recovery; this morning in bed the matter struck me in a different manner; I thought I would write “while I was in some liking” or I might become too ill to write at all and then if the desire to have written should become strong it would be a great affliction to me. I have many more Letters to write and I bless my stars that I have begun, for time seems to press, – this may be my best opportunity. We are in a calm and I am easy enough this morning. If my spirits seem too low you may in some degree impute it to our having been at sea a fortmight [for fortnight] without making any way. I was very disappointed at not meeting you at bedhamption [for Bedhampton], and am very provoked at the thought of you being at Chichester to day. I should have delighted in setting off for London for the sensation merely – for what should I do there? I could not leave my lungs or stomach or other worse things behind me. I wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much – there is one I must mention and have done with it. Even if my body would recover of itself, this would prevent it – The very thing which I want to live most for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it Who can help it? Were I in health it would make me ill, and how can I bear it in my state? I dare say you will be able to guess on what subject I am harping – you know what was my greatest pain during the first part of my illness at your house. I wish for death every day and night to deliver me from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would destroy even those pains which are better than nothing. Land and Sea, weakness and decline are great seperators, but death is the great divorcer for ever. When the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I may say the bitterness of death is passed. I often wish for you that you might flatter me with the best. I think without my mentioning it for my sake you would be a friend to Miss Brawne when I am dead. You think she has many faults – but, for my sake, think she has not one — if there is any thing you can do for her by word or deed I know you will do it. I am in a state at present in which woman merely as woman can have no more power over me than stocks and stones, and yet the difference of my sensations with respect to Miss Brawne and my Sister is amazing. The one seems to absorb the other to a degree incredible. I seldom think of my Brother and Sister in america. The thought of leaving Miss Brawne is beyond every thing horrible – the sense of darkness coming over me – I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing. Some of the phrases shr was in the habit of using during my last nursing at Wen(t)worth place ring in my ears – Is there another Life? Shall I awake and find all this a dream? There must be we cannot be created for this sort of suffering. The receiving of this letter is to be one of yours – I will say nothing about our friendship or rather yours to me more than that as you deserve to escape you will never be so unhappy as I am. I should think of you in my last moments. I shall endeavour to write to Miss Brawne if possible to day. A sudden stop to my life in the middle of one of these Letters would be no bad thing for it keeps one in a sort of fever awhile. Though fatigued with a Letter longer than any I have written for a .long while it would be better to go on for ever than awake to a sense of contrary winds. We expect to put into Portland roads to night. The Captn the Crew and the Passengers are all illtemper’d and weary. I shall write to dilke. I feel as if I was closing my last letter to you – My dear Brown –
Your affectionate friend
Notes: This famous letter was once used to argue that Keats’s death was hastened by his feelings for Fanny Brawne.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "John Keats Letter To Charles Brown, 30 September 1820" https://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/charles-brown-30-september-1820/, March 2, 2015