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    An opportunity of the utmost importance.

    John Keats Autograph Letter Signed: A Monumentally Important Love Letter by the Illustrious Romantic Poet. John Keats, English poet (1795-1821). Autograph letter signed with his initials to Fanny Brawne. Single sheet, overall 8.75" x 7.25"; traces of sealing wax. No place, no date, but Hampstead, presumably February 1820. Signed, "J. K.," typical of such highly personal correspondence, which was hand-delivered and not sent through the mail. It was during the fall of 1818 while John Keats was nursing his brother Tom, who was suffering from tuberculosis, that John met Fanny Brawne. She was a close neighbor in Hampstead and she soon fell hopelessly and tragically in love with her. His relationship with Fanny had a decisive effect on Keats' development. Fannie seems to have been an unexceptional young woman, of firm and generous character, and kindly disposed toward Keats. But Keats expected more, and perhaps more than anyone could give, as is evident from his overwrought letters. Both his uncertain material situation and his failing health made it almost impossible for their relationship to run a normal course. After Tom's death, Keats moved into Wentworth Place with his friend Charles Armitage Brown; and in April 1819 Fanny and her mother became his next-door neighbors. In about October 1819 John Keats and Fanny Brawne became engaged. The letter was written about a year before Keats' death, in the same month that he was seized with the first overt symptoms of tuberculosis. His first attack of blood-coughing came after a cold night ride outside the coach from London to Hampstead, England, leaving him physically and emotionally prostrate. For six or seven weeks following the attack, Keats remained house-bound, affectionately nursed by his friend Charles Brown, but forbidden at first to see anyone else. As the Brawne family were neighbors, he was able to keep up a constant interchange of notes with Fanny throughout his illness. By the end of March 1820, he was able to get up again and, in July, see through the press his last volume of poems, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, and other Poems. John Keats' life was rapidly drawing to a close. He sailed for Italy in September, "as a soldier marches against a battery," to try the effect of a winter there, but a short period of hope was followed by a relapse. At the age of twenty-five, John Keats died in Rome on February 23, 1821.

    The letter reads: "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 Moore's Pathetic about Memory if that would be any relief to me. No 'twould not. I will be as obdurate as a Robin. I will not sing in a cage. Health is my expected heaven and you are my Houri - this word I believe is both singular and plural - if only plural, never mind - you are a thousand of them. Ever yours affectionately my dearest - J. K. You had better not come to-day." This letter was written to thank Fanny for the gift of a ring engraved with her name, hence the opening two sentences.

    Keats' language here is absolutely remarkable, worthy of publication as poetry in itself! Although he wrote various love letters in the course of his short life, those to Fanny Brawne are considered the most romantic and lyrical. On the side where it is addressed, he has added the poignant postscript, "You had better not come to-day." Doubtless he did not want his lover to see the severity of his illness. The enigmatic relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne is perhaps the most fascinating in all of English Romanticism. For many years her existence was not known to the public, and when her letters were finally published, an impression was given of a woman who cared little for Keats and was unworthy of this love. This impression has been corrected, and few informed persons now agree that, as R. H. Stoddard once phrased it, she was a "cold, hard, haughty young woman," who made her lover ridiculous in life and after death. Instead they are likely to agree with Edgcumbe that she was "a young woman of remarkable perception and imagination, keen in the observance of character and events, possessing an unusual critical faculty, and intellectually fitted to become the wife of Keats." The poet harps upon his "swooning admiration" for her and his love and admiration have made her immortal (Letters of John Keats, vol. 1, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, Cambridge UP, 1958). The prime authority for Keats' life and his poetical development can be found in his letters. The correspondence with his brothers and sister (Fanny), with his close friends, and with Fanny Brawne gives the most intimate picture of the admirable integrity of Keats' character and enables the reader to closely follow the development of his thought about poetry - his own poetry and that of others. His letters evince a profound thoughtfulness combined with a quick, sensitive, undidactic critical response. Spontaneous, informal, deeply thought, and deeply felt, they are the best letters written by any English poet. Apart from their interest as a commentary of his work, they have the right to independent literary status. The letter has, additionally, been published in Robert Gittings, Letters of John Keats, 1970, pages 364-365, collection Mr. Roger Barrett, Chicago, and in H. B. Forman, The Letters of John Keats, 1935, page 473, Letter 194, collection Oliver R. Barrett, Chicago.

    It is believed to be the last Keats letter to Fanny Brawne held privately, the others being in institutional collections.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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