‘My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it.’
‘I fear I am too prudent for a dying kind of Lover. Yet, there is a great difference between going off in warm blood like Romeo, and making one’s exit like a frog in a frost – ‘
Recipient: Fanny Brawne (1800-1865) was first Keats’s neighbor and later his fiancée. The eldest child of a widowed mother, she at first perplexed and exasperated the poet. They fell in love, though Keats’s friends were against the match.
Introduction: Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne are among the most famous love letters ever written. As next door neighbors, they exchanged numerous short notes, and occasionally more passionate ones. None of Fanny’s letters to Keats survive. From his, however, it seems he was often unsettled by her behavior and uncertain of her affection. His illness brought them closer; when he left for Rome, they were engaged and deeply in love.
The following letters are a series written in March 1820.
March (?) 1820
You fear, sometimes, I do not love you so much as you wish? My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve. The more I have known you the more have I lov’d. In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you. I have vex’d you too much. But for Love! Can I help it? You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass’d my window .home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time. You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov’d your Beauty. Have I nothing else then to love in you but that? Do not I see a heart naturally furnish’d with wings imprison itself with me? No ill prospect has been able .to turn your thoughts a moment from me. This perhaps should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy – but I will not talk of that. Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you: how much more deeply then must I feel for you knowing you love me. My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it. I never felt my Mind repose upon anything with complete and undistracted enjoyment – upon no person but you. When you are in the room my thoughts never fly out of window: you always concentrate my whole senses. The anxiety shown about our Loves in your last note is an immense pleasure to me: however you must not suffer such speculations to molest you any more: nor will I any more believe you can have the least pique against me. Brown is gone out – but here is Mrs. Wylie – when she is gone I shall be awake for you. – Remembrances to your Mother.
March (?) 1820
My dear Fanny,
I am much better this morning than I was a week ago: indeed I improve a little every day. I rely upon taking a walk with you upon the first of may: in the mean time undergoing a babylonish captivity I shall not be jew enough to hang up my harp upon a willow, but rather endeavour to clear up my arrears in versifying and with returning health begin upon something new: pursuant to which resolution it will be necessary to have my or rather Tavlor’s manuscript, which you, if you please, will send by my Messenger either to day or tomorrow. Is Mr D with you today? You appear’d very much fatigued last night: you must look a little brighter this morning. I shall not suffer my little girl ever to be obscured like glass breath’d upon but always bright as it is her nature to. Feeding upon sham victuals and sitting by the fire will completely annul me. I have no need of an enchanted wax figure to duplicate me for I am melting in my proper person before the fire. If you meet with any thing better (worse) than common in your Magazines let me see it.
Good bye my
March (?) 1820
My dearest Fanny, I slept well last night and am no worse this morning for it. Day by day if I am not deceived I get a more unrestrain’d use of my Chest. The nearer a racer gets to the Goal the more his anxiety becomes so I lingering upon the borders of health feel my impatience increase. Perhaps on your account I have imagined my illness more serious than it is: how horrid was the chance of slipping into the ground instead of into your arms – the difference is amazing Love – Death must come at last; Man must die, as Shallow says; but before that is my fate I feign would try what more pleasures than you have given so sweet a creature as you can give. Let me have another op[p]ortunity of years before me and I will not die without being remember’d. Take care of yourself dear that we may both be well in the Summer. I do not at all fatigue myself with writing, having merely to put a line or two here and there, a Task which would worry a stout state of the body and mind, but which just suits me as I can do no more.
March (?) 1820
My dearest Fanny,Though I shall see you in so short a time I cannot forbear sending you a few lines. You say I did not give you yesterday a minute account of my health. To-day I have left off the Medicine which I took to keep the pulse down and I find I can do very well without it, which is a very favourable sign, as it shows there is no inflammation remaining. You think I may be wearied at night you say: it is my best time; I am at my best about eight o’Clock. I received a Note from Mr. Proctor today. He says he cannot pay me a visit this weather as he is fearful of an inflammation in the Chest. What a horrid climate this is? or what careless inhabitants it has? You are one of them. My dear girl do not make a joke of it: do not expose yourself to the cold. There’s the Thrush again – I can’t afford it – he’ll run me up a pretty Bill for Music-besides he ought to know I deal at Clementi’s. How can you bear so long an imprisonment at Hampstead? I shall always remember it with all the gusto that a monopolizing carle should. I could build an Altar to you for it.
March (?) 1820
My dearest Girl,
In consequence of our company I suppose I shall not see you before tomorrow. I am much better to day – indeed all I have to complain of is want of strength and a little tightness in the Chest. I envied Sam’s walk with you to day; which I will not do again as I may get very tired of envying. I imagine you now sitting in your new black dress which I like so much and if I were a little less selfish and more enthousiastic I should run round and surprise you with a knock at the door. I fear I am too prudent for a dying kind of Lover. Yet, there is a great difference between going off in warm blood like Romeo, and making one’s exit like a frog in a frost – I had nothing particular to say to day, but not intending that there shall be any interruption to our correspondence (which at some future time I propose offering to Murray) I write something I God bless you my sweet Love Illness is a long lane, but I see you at the end of it, and shall mend my pace as well as possible
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "John Keats To Fanny Brawne Letters, March 1820 collection" https://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/fanny-brawne-letters-march-1820/, February 10, 2015