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Mrs. Samuel Brawne (from Joseph Severn) 11 January

Mrs. Samuel Brawne (from Joseph Severn) 11 January

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j o s e ph s ev e r n to m r s . s a m u e l b r aw n e


1 1 j a n ua ry 1 8 2 1


This has been an immense weight for him to rise from. He remains quiet

and submissive under his heavy fate.

Now if anything will recover him it is this absence of himself. I have perceived for the last 3 days symptoms of recovery. Dr. Clark even thinks so.

Nature again revives in him, I mean where art was used before. Yesterday he

permitted me to carry him from his bedroom to our sitting room, to put

him clean things on, and to talk about my Painting to him. This is my

good news. Don’t think it otherwise, my dear Madam, for I have been in

such a state of anxiety and discomfiture in this barbarous place that the

least hope of my friend’s recovery is a heaven to me.

For Three weeks I have never left him. I have sat up at night. I have read

to him nearly all day and even in the night. I light the fire, make his breakfast and sometimes am obliged to cook, make his bed and even sweep the

room. I can have these things done, but never at the time when they ought

and must be done, so that you will see my alternative. What enrages me

most is making a fire. I blow, blow, for an hour. The smoke comes fuming

out. My kettle falls over on the burning sticks—no stove—Keats calling me

to be with him, the fire catching my hands and the door bell ringing. All

these to one quite unused and not all capable, with the want of every

proper material, come not a little galling.

But to my great surprise I am not ill, or even restless, nor have I been all

the time. There is nothing but what I will do for him. There is no alternative but what I think and provide myself against, except his death. Not the

loss of him, I am not prepared to bear that. But the inhumanity, the barbarism of these Italians. So far I have kept everything from poor Keats, but if

he did know but part of what I suffer for them and their cursed laws it

would kill him. Just to instance one thing among many: news was brought

me the other day that our gentle landlady had reported to the Police that

my friend was dying of consumption. Now their law is that every individual thing in each room the patient has been in shall without reserve even to

the paper on the walls be destroyed by fire. This startled me not a little, for

in our sitting room where I wanted to bring him there is property worth

about £150 besides all our own books, etc. invaluable. Now my difficulty


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was to shift him to this room and let no one know it. This was a heavy task

from the unfortunate manner of the place. Our landlady’s apartments are

on the same floor with ours. Her servant waits on me when it pleases her

and enters from an adjoining room. I was determined on removing Keats,

let what would be the consequence. The change was most essential to his

health and spirits, and the following morning I set about accomplishing it.

In the first place I blocked up the door so that they could not enter, then

made up a bed on the Sofa and removed my friend to it. The greatest difficulty was in keeping all from him. I succeeded in this too by making his

bed and sweeping the room where it is, and going dinnerless with all the

pretensions of dining, persuading him that the Servant had made his bed

and I had been dining. He half-suspected this but as he could not tell the

why and the wherefore there it ended. I got him back in the afternoon and

no one save Dr. Clark knew of it.

Dr. C still attends him with his usual kindness and shows his good heart

in everything he does; the like of his lady. I cannot tell which shows us the

most kindness. I am even a mark of their care; mince pies and numberless

nice things come over to keep me alive, and but for their kindness I am

afraid we should go on very gloomily. Now my dear Madam I must leave

off. My eyes are beginning to be unruly, and I must write a most important

letter to our President, Sir Thomas Lawrence, before I suffer myself to


Will you be so kind as to write Mr. Taylor that it was at Messrs.

Torlonia’s Advice Mr. Keats drew a Bill for the whole Sum £120? This was

to save the trouble and expense of many small bills. He now draws in small

sums. I have the whole of affairs under charge and am trying the nearest

possible way. Mr. Taylor will hear from Dr C. about the bill; it will be well

arranged. Present my respectful Compliments to Miss B who I hope and

trust is quite well. Now that I think of her my mind is carried to your

happy Wentworth Place. O, I would my unfortunate friend had never left

it for the hopeless disadvantage of this comfortless Italy. He has many many

times talked over the few happy days at your House, the only time when his

mind was at ease. I hope still to see him with you again. Farewell, my dear

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Madam. One more thing I must say. Poor Keats cannot see any letters, at

least he will not. They affect him so much and increase his danger. The two

last I repented giving. He made me put them into his box unread. More of

these when I write again; meanwhile, any matter of moment had better

come to me. I will be very happy to receive advice and remembrance from

you. Once more farewell,


Josh. Severn

I have just looked at him. He is in a beautiful sleep. In look he is very

much more himself. I have the greatest hopes of him.

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


Joseph Severn to William Haslam

1 5 j an uary 1 82 1

Rome—Jan. 15th 1821

Sunday Night, 1/2 past 11—

My dear Haslam,

Poor Keats has just fallen asleep. I have watched him and read to him to

his very last wink. He has been saying to me, “Severn, I can see under your

quiet look immense twisting and contending. You don’t know what you are

reading. You are enduring for me more than I’d have you. O! that my last

hour was come. What is it puzzles you now? What is it happens?” I tell him

that “nothing happens, nothing worries me beyond his seeing, that it has

been the dull day.” Getting from myself to his recovery, and then my painting, and then England, and then—but they are all lies; my heart almost

leaps to deny them, for I have the veriest load of care that ever came upon


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these shoulders of mine. For Keats is sinking daily. He is dying of a consumption, of a confirmed consumption. Perhaps another three weeks may

lose me him forever. This alone would break down the most gallant spirit. I

had made sure of his recovery when I set out. I was selfish and thought of

his value to me and made a point of my future success depending on his

candor to me. This is not all. I have prepared myself to bear this now, now

that I must and should have seen it before, but Torlonia’s the bankers have

refused any more money. The bill is returned unaccepted, “no effects,” and

I tomorrow must—aye, must—pay the last solitary Crowns for this cursed

lodging place. Yet more. Should our unfortunate friend die, all the furniture will be burnt; beds, sheets, curtains and even the walls must be

scraped. And these devils will come upon me for £100 or £150, the making


But above all, this noble fellow lying on the bed is dying in horror: no

kind hope smoothing down his suffering, no philosophy, no religion to

support him, yet with all the most gnawing desire for it, yet without the

possibility of receiving it. It is not from any religious principles I feel this,

but from the individual sufferings of his mind in this point. I would not

care from what source, so he could understand his misfortunes and glide

into his lot. O! My dear Haslam, this is my greatest care, a care that I pray

to God may soon end, for he says in words that tear my very heartstrings:

“Miserable wretch I am. This last cheap comfort which every rogue and

fool have is denied me in my last moments. Why is this? O! I have serv’d

everyone with my utmost good, yet why is this? I cannot understand this.”

And then his chattering teeth. If I do break down it will be under this. But

I pray that some kind of comfort may come to his lot, that some angel of

goodness will lead him through this dark wilderness.

Now Haslam, what do you think of my situation? For I know not what

may come with tomorrow. I am hedg’d in every way that you can look at

me. If I could leave Keats for a while everyday I could soon raise money by

my face painting, but he will not let me out of his sight. He cannot bear the

face of a stranger. He has made me go out twice and leave him solus. I’d

rather cut my tongue out than tell him that money I must get; that would

kill him at a word. I will not do anything that may add to his misery, for I

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have tried on every point to leave for a few hours in the day, but he won’t

unless he is left alone. This won’t do, nor shall, not for another minute

whilst he is John Keats.

Yet will I not bend down under these. I will not give myself a jot of

credit unless I stand firm, and will too. You’d be rejoiced to see how I am

kept up. Not a flinch yet. I read, cook, make the beds and do all the menial

offices, for no soul comes near Keats except the Doctor and myself. Yet I do

all this with a cheerful heart, for I thank God my little but honest religion

stays me up all through these trials. I’ll pray to God tonight that he may

look down with mercy on my poor friend and myself. I feel no dread of

what more I am to bear but look to it with confidence.

You see my hopes of being kept by the Royal Academy will be cut off

unless I send a picture by the Spring. I have written Sir T. Lawrence some

bold things that I have been feasting my mind on in this confinement; no

less than a project by which to copy (same size) Raphael’s grand pictures in

the Vatican—the Sanctum Sanctorum of Painting—8 in number. I think

this will save me at all events.

I have got a volume of Jeremy Taylor’s Works which Keats has heard me

read tonight. This is a treasure and came when I thought it hopeless. Why

may not other good things come, and even money? I will still keep myself

up with the best hope. Dr. Clark is still the same altho’ he has received notice about this bill. I have said to him that if Keats is wanting in any possible thing now that would give him ease but would be out of his agreement,

or at least fears the payment for, I will be answerable in any way he may

think fit. But no, he does his everything. I lament a thousand times that

Mr. Taylor did not tell me about this money, that it was to be drawn in

small bills. I could have stopped this. As it is I don’t know what to do, unless money is coming through your means, altho’ I know you cannot. But

farewell. Pray, my dear fellow, don’t ask me for journals. Every day’s would

have been more or less like this. Not a word at my Father’s.

Sincerely, ever

Joseph Severn


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This letter is for thine own eye and own heart, or as you see fit. I wrote by

last post to Mrs. Brawne. I think she should know these, but it will be a

severe blow. See Brown too, though I do you injustice to tell you. On

Wednesday I write to Mr. Hunt.

The proofs of Keats’s present state are expectoration continually of a

fawn colour, sometimes streaked with blood. He’s still wasting away,

altho’ he takes as much food as myself, a dry cough, night sweats, with

great uneasiness in his chest. Dr. C is afraid the next change will be to

diarrhea. Keats sees all this. His knowledge of anatomy makes it tenfold

worse at every change. Every way he is unfortunate. I cannot see him

any way without something to “dash the cup from his lip,”1 yet

everyone offers me aid on his account. But he cannot bear it. I must

not leave him night or day. I am quite well, thank God. Once more,

good bye. Only one letter from you yet. I am in doubt whether you

shall have harrowing things like this. Poor Keats cannot read any letters.

He has made me put 2 by unopened. They tear him to pieces. He dare

not look upon the outside of any more—make this known—and

should any communication be required to make let it come to me. I

will frame it to his ear. He places the greatest confidence in me.

1. He was thinking of Matthew xxvi.39, 42, and so on.


Joseph Severn to John Taylor

2 5 , 2 6 j an uary 1 82 1

Rome, Jan. 25th, 1821—

My dear Sir,

Another week and less and less hope. I have still greater cause to fear that

poor Keats is now upon his deathbed. He has shown still worse symptoms

every day: clay-like expectoration in large quantities, night sweats, a ghastly

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wasting-away of his body and extremities with the approaches to a diarrhea

by laxity and griping of the bowels, his food passing through him very

quick and but little digested. Yet from all this he might get up if he could

bear over that intense feeling and those unfortunate combinations and passions of mind from which no medicine in the world can relieve him, nor

any other means, for they are a part of his nature. It now quite astonishes

me that he has lived so long without the almost essence of human-life. I

mean that sometimes calm of mind to keep the machinery of the body going. This I am certain poor Keats never possessed or even felt. He has described to me many parts of his life, of various changes, but all moving to

this restless ferment. No doubt all the emotions of his mind even to his

happiest sensations have brought him to this dreary point from which I

pray God speedily to lift him up. His suffering now is beyond description

and it increases with increasing acuteness of his memory and imagination.

His nerves will not bear the only dreary comfort from things that “smell of

mortality,”1 and to any other source he has still greater horror. He cannot

bear any books; the fact is he cannot bear anything. His state is so irritable,

is so every way unfortunate that I begin to sink under the very seeing him.

Without the labor, without the want of rest and occupation, I shall be ill

from this cause alone. The hardest point between us is that cursed bottle of

Opium. He had determined on taking this the instant his recovery should

stop, he says to save him the extended misery of a long illness. In his own

mind he saw this fatal prospect: the dismal nights, the impossibility of receiving any sort of comfort, and above all the wasting of his body and helplessness. These he had determined on escaping, and but for me, he would

have swallowed this draught 3 Months since in the ship. He says 3 wretched

months I have kept him alive, and for it, no name, no treatment, no privations can be too bad for me. I cannot reason him out of this even on his

own ground, but now I fall into his views on every point. Before I made every sacrifice for his personal comfort in his own way, trying every manner

to satisfy him; now I must do the same mentally. I even say he should have

this bottle, but I have given it to Dr. Clark. The fact is I dare not trust myself with it—so anxious I was to satisfy him in everything.

Poor fellow! He could not read your letter when it came, altho’ he


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opened it. I did not regret it for not a syllable had I let him know about the

Bill. It would have killed him. I trembled when he looked at your name,

but he wept most bitterly, and gave the Letter to me. Dr. Clark has received

yours respecting the Bill. It is now quite right. You will have received my

explanations about it, and I am once more at rest about it.

I have been taken ill in this last week. In 6 weeks I have not had 6 hours

fresh air and sometimes sitting up 3 nights together. Now I cannot sleep, although I may, and the consequence is a heaviness of mind, no power of

thinking. But at my altered appearance today Keats is much alarmed. He

has talked it over and proposed having a nurse, for no one has come near

him but the Doctor and myself. I hope this will soon bring me round, but

my anxiety would alone make me ill without the bodily fatigue I am under.

Everyone is astonished that I have kept up so long.

The Doctor has most certainly done all that could be done, but he says

Keats should never have left England. The disorder had made too great a

progress to receive benefit from this Climate. He says nothing in the world

could cure him, even when he left England. By this journey his life has

been shortened and rendered more painful. Yet it will be a satisfaction to

you as it is to me that for delicate climate nothing could exceed this in

mildness; the fruit trees have been long in blossom. Perhaps everything that

could be done for Keats has been. You will have seen my friend Haslam. I

have been in great trouble about a most painful letter I wrote him. Say to

him that I was in a dreadful state of mind but could not wait sending. The

post goes once a week. Yours very truly,

Joseph Severn

If I can get a nurse I shall not leave Keats for more than an hour in the

day, merely to keep up my health.


The nurse has just been, but I am afraid she won’t do. There are so many

little things that no one can do but myself that I think I will not leave poor

Keats at all. I feel something better this Morning and have determined to

keep on without any more going out. Keats is wanting to say something or

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have something done every minute in the day. No one to do these, he may

become irritated, for I can assure you his mind is bordering on the insane.

11 o’ clock. The doctor has just been. Nature cannot hold out another

fortnight, he says. The mucus is collecting in such quantities the body and

the extremity receive no nourishment, and above all poor Keats’s mind is

determined on being worse and worse nearer and nearer his death that he

cannot possibly last but a short time. Keats is desiring his death with dreadful earnestness. The idea of death seems his only comfort, the only prospect

of ease. He talks of it with delight; it sooths his present torture. The

strangeness of his mind everyday surprises us, no one feeling or one notion

like any other being.

1. King Lear, IV.vi.136.


Joseph Severn to William Haslam

2 2 february 1 82 1

Rome, Feb. 22, 1821

My dear Haslam,

O! how anxious I am to hear from you. None of yours has come but in

answer to mine from Naples. I have nothing to break this dreadful solitude

but Letters. Day after day, night after night here I am by our poor dying

friend. My spirits, my intellects and my health are breaking down. I can get

no one to change me. No one will relieve me. They all run away. And even

if they did not, poor Keats could not do without me. I prepare everything

he eats.

Last night I thought he was going. I could hear the Phlegm in his throat.

He bade me lift him up in the bed, or he would die with pain. I watched


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him all night. At every cough I expected he would suffocate. Death is very

fast approaching, for this Morning by the pale daylight the change in him

frightened me. He has sunk in the last three days to a most ghastly look. I

have these three nights set up with him from the apprehension of his dying.

Dr. Clark has prepared me for it, but I shall be but little able to bear it.

Even this my horrible situation I cannot bear to cease by the loss of him. As

regards Money, my dear Haslam, you will have known that the kindness of

Mr. Taylor sets me quite easy.

I have at times written a favorable letter to my sister. You will see this is

best, for I hope that staying by my poor friend to close his eyes in death will

not add to my other unlucky hits, for I am still quite prevented from painting and what the consequence may be. Poor Keats keeps me by him and

shadows out the form of one solitary friend. He opens his eyes in great horror and doubt, but when they fall upon me they close gently, and open and

close until he falls into another sleep. The very thought of this keeps me by

him until he dies. And why did I say I was losing my time? The advantages

I have gained by knowing John Keats would to gain any other way have

doubled and trebled the time. They could not have gain’d. I won’t try to

write any more; the want of sleep has almost taken away the power. The

Post is going so I would try. Think of me, my dear Haslam, as doing well

and happy, as far as will allow.

Farewell—God bless you


J. Severn

I will write by next post to Brown—a 2nd letter has just come from



[To view this image, refer to

the print version of this title.]

Deathbed portrait of Keats, by Joseph Severn (1821).

Keats House, Hampstead. By permission of the London Metropolitan Archives.

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Mrs. Samuel Brawne (from Joseph Severn) 11 January

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