To Fanny Brawne, May 1820 collection
‘If we love we must not live as other men and women do – I cannot brook the wolfsbane of fashion and foppery and tattle.’
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.
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 are two longer letters written in May 1820
Tuesday Morn –
My dearest Girl,
I wrote a Letter for you yesterday expecting to have seen your mother. I shall be selfish enough to send it though I know it may give you a little pain, because I wish you to see how unhappy I am for love of you, and endeavour as much as I can to entice you to give up your whole heart to me whose whole existence hangs upon you. You could not step or move an eyelid but it would shoot to my heart – I am greedy of you – Do not think of any thing but me. Do not live as if I was not existing – Do not forget me – But have I any right to say you forget me? Perhaps you think of me all day. Have I any right to wish you to be unhappy for me? You would forgive me for wishing it, if you knew the extreme passion I have that you should love me – and for you to love me as I do you, you must think of no one but me, much less write that sentence. Yesterday and this morning I have been haunted with .a sweet vision – I have seen you the whole time in your shepherdess dress. How my senses have ached at it! How my heart has been devoted to it! How my eyes have been full of Tears at it! I[n]deed I think a real Love is enough to occupy the widest heart – Your going to town alone, when I heard of it was a shock to me – yet I expected it – promise me you will not for some time, till I get better. Promise me this and fill the paper full of the most endearing mames [for names]. If you cannot do so with good will, do my Love tell me – say what you think – confess if your heart is too much fasten’d on the world. Perhaps then I may see you at a greater distance, I may not be able to appropriate you so closely to myself. Were you to loose a favorite bird from the cage, how would your eyes ache after it as long as it was in sight; when out of sight you would recover a little. Perphaps if you would, if so it is, confess to me how many things are necessary to you besides me, I might be happier, by being less tantaliz’d. Well may you exclaim, how selfish, how cruel, not to let me enjoy my youth! to wish me to be unhappy! You must be so if you love me – upon my Soul I can be contented with nothing else. If you could really what is call’d enjoy yourself at a Party – if you can smile in peoples faces, and wish them to admire you now, you never have nor ever will love me – I see life in nothing but the cerrtainty of your Love – convince me of it my sweetest. If I am not somehow convinc’d I shall die of agony. If we love we must not live as other men and women do – I cannot brook the wolfsbane of fashion and foppery and tattle. You must be mine to die upon the rack if I want you. I do not pretend to say I have more feeling than my fellows – but I wish you seriously to look over my letters kind and unkind and consider whether the Person who wrote them can be able to
endure much longer the agonies and uncertainties which you are so peculiarly made to create – My recovery of bodily hea[l]th will be of no benefit to me if you are not all mine when I am well. For god’s sake save me – or tell me my passion is of too awful a nature for you. Again God bless you
No-my sweet Fanny-I am wrong. I do not want you to be unhappy – and yet I do, I must while there is so sweet a Beauty – my loveliest my darling! Good bye! I kiss you – O the torments!
May (?) 1820
My dearest Girl,
I have been a walk this morning with a book in my hand, but as usual I have been occupied with nothing hut you: I wish I could say in an agreeable manner. I am tormented day and night. They talk of my going to Italy. ‘Tis certain I shall never recover if I am to be so long separate from you: yet with all this devotion to you I cannot persuade myself into any confidence of you. Past experience connected with the fact of my long separation from you gives me agonies which are scarcely to be talked of. When your mother comes I shall be very sudden and expert in asking her whether you have been to Mrs. Dilke’s, for she might say no to make me easy. I am literally worn to death, which seems my only recourse. I cannot forget what has pass’d. What? nothing : with a man of the world, but to me deathful. I will get rid of this as much as possible. When you were in the habit of flirting with Brown you would have left off, could your own heart have felt one half of one pang mine did. Brown is a good sort of Man – he did not know he was doing me to death by inches. I feel the effect of everyone of those hours in my side now; and for that cause, though he has done me many services, though I know his love and friendship for me, though at this moment I should be without pence were it not for his assistance, I will never see or speak .to him until we are both old men, if we are to be. I will resent my .heart having been made a football. You will call this madness. I have heard you say that it was not unpleasant to wait a few years – you have amusements – your mind is away – you have not brooded over one idea as I have, and how should you? You are to me an object intensely desireable – the air I breathe in a room empty of you is unhealthy. I am not the same to you – no – you can wait – you have a thousand activities – you can be happy without me. Any party, any thing to fill up the day has been enough. How have you pass’d this month? Who have you smil’d with? All this may seem savage in me. You do not feel as I do–you do not know what it is to love – one day you may – your time is not come. Ask yourself how many unhappy hours Keats has caused you in Loneliness. For myself I have been a Martyr the whole time, and for this reason I speak; the confession is forc’d from me by the torture. I appeal to you by the blood of that Christ you believe in: Do not write to me if you have done anything this month which it would have pained me to have seen. You may have altered – if you have not – if you still behave in dancing rooms and other societies as I have seen you – I do not want to live – if you have done so I wish this coming night may be my last. I cannot live without you, and not only you but chaste you; virtuous you. The Sun rises and sets, the day passes, and you follow the bent of your inclination to a certain extent – you have no conception of the quantity of miserable feeling that passes through me in a day. Be serious ! Love is not a plaything – and again do not write unless you can do it with a crystal conscience. I would sooner die for want of you than –
Yours for ever
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "John Keats Letters To Fanny Brawne, May 1820 collection" https://englishhistory.net/keats/letters/fanny-brawne-may-1820-collection/, February 27, 2015