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? (from Dr. James Clark) 27 November

? (from Dr. James Clark) 27 November

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to c h a r l e s b row n



3 0 n ov e m b e r 1 8 2 0

pleased with Rome and prefers it greatly to Naples. I was writing to some

friends at Naples about him at the moment he unexpectedly made his appearance here.


1. A transcript made by Hessey of part of a letter to an unknown person, possibly

Samuel F. Gray, a medical writer, or an agent of Taylor and Hessey’s.

2. He reached Rome at least as early as 15 November.

3. A reference to Jeffrey’s August review.


To Charles Brown

30 n ovember 1 82 0 1

Rome, 30 November 1820

My dear Brown,

’Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter. My

stomach continues so bad, that I feel it worse on opening any book, yet I

am much better than I was in Quarantine. Then I am afraid to encounter

the proing and conning of anything interesting to me in England. I have an

habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. God knows how it would have been, but it appears to me.

However, I will not speak of that subject. I must have been at Bedhampton

nearly at the time you were writing to me from Chichester. How unfortunate, and to pass on the river too! There was my star predominant! I cannot

answer anything in your letter, which followed me from Naples to Rome,

because I am afraid to look it over again. I am so weak (in mind) that I cannot bear the sight of any handwriting of a friend I love so much as I do you.

Yet I ride the little horse, and at my worst, even in Quarantine, summoned

up more puns, in a sort of desperation, in one week than in any year of my


to c h a r l e s b row n


3 0 n ov e m b e r 1 8 2 0

life. There is one thought enough to kill me. I have been well, healthy, alert

etc., walking with her, and now the knowledge of contrast, feeling for light

and shade, all that information (primitive sense) necessary for a poem are

great enemies to the recovery of the stomach. There, you rogue, I put you

to the torture, but you must bring your philosophy to bear as I do mine, really, or how should I be able to live? Dr. Clarke is very attentive to me; he

says there is very little the matter with my lungs, but my stomach, he says,

is very bad. I am well disappointed in hearing good news from George, for

it runs in my head we shall all die young. I have not written to x x x x x yet,

which he must think very neglectful. Being anxious to send him a good account of my health, I have delayed it from week to week. If I recover, I will

do all in my power to correct the mistakes made during sickness, and if I

should not, all my faults will be forgiven. I shall write to x x x tomorrow, or

next day. I will write to x x x x x in the middle of next week. Severn is very

well, though he leads so dull a life with me. Remember me to all friends,

and tell x x x x2 I should not have left London without taking leave of him,

but from being so low in body and mind. Write to George as soon as you

receive this, and tell him how I am, as far as you can guess, and also a note

to my sister, who walks about my imagination like a ghost; she is so like

Tom. I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an

awkward bow.

God bless you!

John Keats

1. Printed from Brown’s Life of John Keats.

2. The deleted names may refer to Haslam, Dilke, Woodhouse, and Reynolds.

s ev e r n to b row n



14, 17 december 1820


Joseph Severn to Charles Brown

1 4 , 1 7 d ecember 1 82 0

Rome, Dec. 14, 1820

My dear Brown,

I fear our poor Keats is at his worst. A most unlooked-for relapse has

confined him to his bed with every chance against him. It has been so sudden upon what I almost thought convalescence and without any seeming

cause that I cannot calculate on the next change. I dread it, for his suffering

is so great, so continued, and his fortitude so completely gone, that any further change must make him delirious. This is the fifth day and I see him get

worse, but stop. I will tell you the manner of this relapse from the first.

Dec. 17, 4 Morning

Not a moment can I be from him. I sit by his bed and read all day and at

night I humour him in all his wanderings. He has just fallen asleep, the first

for 8 nights, and now from mere exhaustion. I hope he will not wake until I

have written this, for I am anxious beyond measure to have you know this

worse and worse state. Yet I dare not let him see I think it dangerous. I had

seen him wake on the morning of this attack, and to all appearance he was

going on merrily and had unusual good spirits, when in an instant a Cough

seized him and he vomited near two Cupfuls of blood. In a moment I got

Dr. Clark, who saw the manner of it, and immediately took away about 8

ounces of blood from the Arm; it was black and thick in the extreme. Keats

was much alarmed and dejected. O, what an awful day I had with him! He

rush’d out of bed and said “this day shall be my last,” and but for me most

certainly it would. At the risk of losing his confidence I took every destroying means from his reach, nor let him be from my sight one minute. The

blood broke forth again in like quantity the next morning, and the doctor

thought it expedient to take away the like quantity of blood; this was in the


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14, 17 december 1820

same dismal state, and must have been from the horrible state of despair he

was in. But I was so fortunate as to talk him into a little calmness, and with

some English newspapers he became quite patient under the necessary arrangements.

This is the 9th day, and no change for the better. Five times the blood

has come up in coughing, in large quantities generally in the morning, and

nearly the whole time his saliva has been mixed with it. But this is the lesser

evil when compared with his Stomach. Not a single thing will digest. The

torture he suffers all and every night and best part of the day is dreadful in

the extreme. The distended stomach keeps him in perpetual hunger or

craving, and this is augmented by the little nourishment he takes to keep

down the blood. Then his mind is worse than all—despair in every shape.

His imagination and memory present every image in horror, so strong that

morning and night I tremble for his Intellect. The recollection of England,

of his “good friend Brown,” and his happy few weeks in Mrs. Brawne’s

Care, his Sister and brother—O, he will mourn over every circumstance to

me whilst I cool his burning forehead until I tremble through every vein in

concealing my tears from his staring glassy eyes. How he can be Keats again

from all this I have little hope, but I may see it too gloomy since each coming night I sit up adds its dismal contents to my mind.

Dr. Clark will not say so much, although there is no bounds to his attention, yet with little success “can he administer to a mind diseased.”1 Yet all

that can be done most kindly he does whilst his Lady, like himself in refined feeling, prepares and cooks all that poor Keats takes. For in this wilderness of a place (for an Invalid) there was no alternative. Yesterday Dr.

Clark went all over Rome for a certain kind of fish, and got it, but just as I

received it from Mrs. C delicately prepared, Keats was taken by the spitting

of blood and is now gone back all the 9 days. This was occasioned by disobeying the Doctor’s commands. Keats is required to be kept as low as possible to check the blood, so that he is weak and gloomy. Every day he raves

that he will die from hunger, and I was obliged to give him more than allowed. You cannot think how dreadful this is for me. The Doctor on the

one hand tells me I shall kill him to give him more than he allows, and

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14, 17 december 1820

Keats raves for more till I am in complete tremble for him. But I have

talked him over now. We have the best opinion of Dr. C’s skill. He seems to

understand the case, and comes over 4 and 5 times a day. He left word at 12

this morning to call any time in case of danger.

I heard Keats say how he should like Mrs. Brawne and Mrs. Dilke to

visit his sister at Walthamstow. Will you say this for me, and to Mr. Taylor

that Keats was about to write favorably on the very time of his relapse? For

myself I am keeping up beyond my most sanguine expectations; 8 Nights I

have been up, and in the days never a moment away from my patient but to

run over to the Doctor. But I will confess my spirits have been sometimes

quite pulled down, for these wretched Romans have no Idea of comfort.

Here I am obliged to wash up, cook, and read to Keats all day. Added to

this I have had no letters yet from my family. This is a damp to me for I

never knew how dear they were to me. I think of my Mother and I think of

Keats for they are something the same in this tormenting Indigestion. But

if Keats recovers, and then letters bring good news, why I shall take upon

myself to be myself again. I wrote last to my good friend Haslam. It will tell

you all the events up to the relapse of Keats. I had put the letters in post on

the same morning. It was my custom to walk until Keats awoke. We did

breakfast about 9 o’ Clock. My head begins to sally round so much that I

cannot recollect. I will write to Mr. Taylor on the next change in my friend,

and to the Kind Mrs. Brawne when I have any good news. Will you remember me to this lady? Little did I dream on THIS when I saw her last in

London. Will you, my dear Brown, write to me, for a letter to Keats now

would almost kill him. Give Haslam this sad news. I am quite exhausted.

Farewell. I wish you were here my dear Brown.


Joseph Severn (Signed)

I have just looked at him. This will be a good night.

1. Macbeth, V.iii.40.


j o s e ph s ev e r n to j o h n tay l o r


24 december 1820


Joseph Severn to John Taylor

2 4 d ecember 1 82 0 1

Rome, Dec. 24, 1820

1/2 past 4 morn.

My dear Sir,

Keats has changed somewhat for the worse, at least his mind has much,

very, very much, and this leaves his state much the same, and quite as hopeless. Yet the blood has ceased to come, his digestion is better and but for a

cough he must be improving, that is as far as respects his body. But the fatal

prospect of Consumption hangs before his “mind’s eye”2 and turns everything to despair and wretchedness. He will not bear the idea of living,

much less strive to live. I seem to lose his confidence by trying to give him

this hope. He will not hear that his future prospects are favorable. He says

that the continued stretch of his imagination has killed him and were he to

recover he could not write another line. Then his good friends in England.

He only cherishes the idea of what they have done and this he turns to a

load of care for the future. The high hopes of him, his certain success, his

experience, he shakes his head at it and bids it farewell. The remembrance

of his brother’s death I cannot keep from him; all his own symptoms he recollects in him and this with every cough and pain. The many troubles, persecutions, and I may say cruelties he has borne now weigh heavy on him. If

he dies I am witness that he dies of a broken heart and spirit. Would that

his enemies could see this martyrdom of the most noble feeling and brightest genius to be found in existence. I only wish this for their punishment.

He is now only a wreck of his former self. The gnawing weight upon his

mind with the entire loss of bodily strength and appearance push him to

malevolence, suspicion and impatience, yet everyone is struck with him

and interested about him. I am astonished and delighted at the respect paid

him, but even this—I mean the general utmost endeavour he receives—his

j o s e ph s ev e r n to j o h n tay l o r


24 december 1820


dreadful state of mind turns to persecution and sometimes even murder.

He is now under the {. . .}3 was administered to him by an individual in

London. All that fortitude and as it were bravery of mind against bodily

suffering are away from him, and the want of some kind hope to feed his

voracious imagination leaves him to the wreck of ideas without purpose,

imagination without philosophy. Yet this night he said to me: “I think a

malignant being must have power over us, over whom the Almighty has little or no influence. Yet you know Severn, I cannot believe in your book, the

Bible, but I feel the horrible want of some faith, some hope, something to

rest on now. There must be such a book and I know that is it, but I can’t believe it. I am destined to every torment in this world, even to this little

comfort on my deathbed {. . .}.”

O, my dear Sir, you cannot imagine what I sometimes feel. I have read

to him incessantly until no more books could be had, for they must be new

to him, and above all the book he has set his mind upon all through this

last week is not to be had, the works of Jeremy Taylor. His desire to have

these read to him is very great, and yet not to be had. Is not this hard? The

other books he wished me write down are not in Rome. They were Madam

Dacier’s Plato4 and the Pilgrim’s Progress. I have read to him Don Quixote

at his request and some of Miss Edgeworth’s novels, but there are no Books

in Rome. We sometimes get some English papers.

Now observe, my dear Sir, I don’t for a moment push my little but honest Religious faith upon poor Keats, except as far as my feelings go, but

these I try to keep from him. I fall into his views sometimes to quiet him

and tincture them with a somewhat of mine, but his many changes both

body and mind render my charge most affecting and even dangerous, for I

cannot leave him without someone with him that he likes.5 This is the third

week and I have not left him more than two hours. He has not been out of

bed the whole time; he says this alone is enough to kill him was he in

health, and then seeing no face but mine {. . .} him he {. . .} say it makes

him worse to think how I should be occupied and how I am. Sometimes I

succeed in persuading him that he will recover and go back with me to

England. I do lament a thousand times that he ever left England, not from

the want of medical aid or even friends, for nothing can be superior to the


j o s e ph s ev e r n to j o h n tay l o r


24 december 1820

kindness of Dr. Clark, etc., but the journey of 2000 Miles was too much for

his state, even when he left England, and now he has most surely broken

down under it. I have thought he would die before he reached this place.

Journeys to and about Jatatu [?] are not for an Invalid.

Dr. Clark gives very little hope of him. He says he may recover from this

by some change in his mind, but he will most certainly die (at some not

distant period) of Consumption. No disorganisation exists at present, but a

total derangement of the digestive powers. They have nearly lost their functions and it is this cause that produces the blood from the heads of {. . .} on

the chest. It does not come at present.

For myself, my dear Sir, I still keep up nearly as well as I did, altho’ I

have not got any person to relieve me. Keats makes me careful of myself.

He is my doctor. A change of scene might make me better, but I can do

without it. It is 6 o’ clock in the Morning. I have been writing all night.

This is my 5th Letter. Keats has just awoken. I must leave off and boil my

kettle; he hears me writing and inquires, “Tell Taylor I shall soon be in a

second Edition—in sheets—and cold press.” He desired me tell you some

time since that he would have written you but felt he could not say anything; it gave him pain. We have received 5 Letters, 3 to Keats. He read one

from Mr. Hessey and another from Mr. Brown, but the third he could not

read and was effected most bitterly. He says no more letters for him. Even

good news will not lift him up. He is too far gone. But he does not know I

think this, nor does he know Dr. C’s opinion, but his own knowledge of

Anatomy is unfortunate. Farewell, my dear Sir,

Josh. Severn

Tell my friend Haslam I will write him by next post, and the first good

news shall be for the kind Mrs. Brawn. I still hope to have Keats better.

He has waked very calm. I have got leave to have him up today. He will

not take any food. I have been afraid that he would refuse to take food,

and the like of medicine. The Doctor seem’d to think this yesterday. He

is much changed this Morning in appearance for the worse, but he

remains (9 o’ clock) very calm and good-natured (4 o’ clock) dozing

j o s e ph s ev e r n to j o h n tay l o r


24 december 1820


between wiles. He has eaten a small pudding and taken his milk. He is

still composed, but low. I am rather alarmed about money. At Naples I

expended nearly all my stock. Here I can get more by my Miniature

Painting, perhaps quite as much as we could want should Keats fail, but

now I am kept from it. No one to relieve me with Keats. I dare say I

shall manage well, for here are above a dozen to sit to me. I am quite

concerned at the expences here for an invalid. Italy is only for persons

in health, for had I fallen into Keats’s views and these cursed Italians’

imposition all his money must have been gone, but the kindness of

Dr. C has saved much expence. Horses and Coaches have been the

greatest charge. Proper lodging is dear, and as for proper food, it cannot

be got for money; that is, it cannot be got. Dr. Clark went all over

Rome for a fish proper for Keats. If I get a proper thing one day I can’t

get it the next. They cannot make 2 pudding three [?]. The price of a

Horse per month in English Money: £6; lodging: £4.16; and a dinner 4

sh. The money remaining at the Bankers: 260 Scudi, about £52, with

here £70.

4 o’ clock. This moment the doctor sends me word that my

Landlady has reported to the Police that Keats is dying of a

Consumption. Now this has made me vent some curses against her.

The words “dying” and “Consumption” have rather dampt my spirits.

The laws are very severe. I do not know the extent of them. Should

poor Keats die, everything in his room is condemned to be burned even

to paper on the walls. The Italians are so alarmed at Consumption. The

expences are enormous after a death for examinations and precautions

to contagion. Fools. I can hardly contain myself. O! I will be revenged

on this old Cat for putting the notion in my head of my friend’s dying,

and of Consumption; but stop, I know the Doctor half thinks so, but

will not say it. He has brought an Italian Physician here who thinks

Keats has a malformed chest. Should he die the law will demand him to

be opened. I have got some books, Scots Monastery and some travels.

He seems inclined to hear me read all this evening. Keats has just said it

is his last request that no mention be made of him in any manner


j o s e ph s ev e r n to j o h n tay l o r


24 december 1820

publicly—in Reviews, Magazines or Newspapers—that no Engraving

be taken from any Picture of him. Once more, farewell.

1. This letter was first printed in Hyder Rollins, ed., The Keats Circle, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948).

2. Hamlet, I.ii.185.

3. Four or five words missing or illegible, though editors have added, “impression that

poison.” Subsequent brackets indicate one to two words missing.

4. Anne Lefèvre Dacier, The Works of Plato Abridg’d (1749).

5. Here Severn added an asterisk and at the bottom of the sheet wrote: “He does not

like anyone. He says a strange face makes him miserable.”



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