Doomed young lovers are a perennial favorite of romantic literature, whether Romeo & Juliet or Love Story. But what plays well in a book is often unbearably tragic in real life, as was the case of poet John Keats (1795-1821) and Fanny Brawne (1800-1865.)
Fanny was the inspiration for some of his best poetry - she was famously his "bright star" - and they were dear friends as well as betrothed to wed. But Keats was already feeling the affect of the tuberculosis that would finally kill him, and though he and Fanny lived next door, their relationship was often limited to letters that are heartbreaking in light of his failing health. After he died in Rome in 1821, Fanny mourned him for six years, and kept his letters for the rest of her life. She asked her children to take care of them as well, supposedly telling them that the letters could "someday be considered of value."
"Someday" came today, though more than 150 years too late to benefit Fanny. This morning several of those well-treasured letters were auctioned by Bonhams in London. The final sale price for the letter transcribed below, one of the most moving in the collection, would have shocked the often impoverished Fanny Brawne and John Keats: £96,000.
My dearest Fanny, The power of your benediction is of not so weak a nature as to pass from the ring in four and twenty hours - it is like a sacred Chalice once consecrated and ever consecrate. I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been - Lips! why should a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things. Thank God, though I hold them the dearest pleasures in the universe, I have a consolation independent of them in the certainty of your affection. I could write a song in the style of Tom Moores Pathetic about Memory if that would be any relief to me. No. It would not. I will be as obstinate as a Robin, I will not sing in a cage. Health is my expected heaven and you are the Houri - this word I believe is both singular and plural - if only plural, never mind - you are a thousand of them Ever your affectionately my dearest J.K.
On the back of this letter, Keats poignantly warned "You had better not come to day," a reference to his contagious illness.
Above: John Keats by William Hilton, c. 1822, National Portrait Gallery, London (Wikipedia) Below: Fanny Brawne, artist unknown, c. 1833 Many thanks to Michael Robinson for sharing news of this letter's sale.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.