A beautiful and touching letter poet John Keats wrote to his lady love Fanny Brawne just a few months before he died will be up for auction at Bonham’s London on March 29th. It is one of only 39 surviving letters from Keats to Brawne that remain in private hands, so the opportunity to purchase one is a rare event. The pre-sale estimate for the letter places its value between £80,000 ($125,000) and £120,000 ($190,000).
When Keats wrote the letter, he was actually living in the same building with Fanny, Wentworth Place in Hampstead Heath, London. He was already very ill with tuberculosis, however, and since both Keats and Fanny had vast personal experience of nursing family members with the disease, they knew they had to stay away from each other lest she run the risk of infection. The letter passionately bemoans their physical separation.
My dearest Fanny
The power of your benediction is not of 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 such 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 affectation. 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 be. 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 yours affectionately my dearest, j.k
Just a few months after he wrote this, in September 1820, John Keats moved to Rome on the advice of his doctors. The warmer climate, they hoped, would stay the progress of the disease and prolong his life. Unfortunately, that was an unseasonably cold and wet autumn in Italy, and his caretakers, his friend Joseph Severn and Dr. James Clark, did more harm than good by bleeding him and starving him (one anchovy and a piece of bread a day), so Keats’ health deteriorated rapidly. Five months later, he was dead.
Fanny mourned him, complete with shorn hair and black clothes, for six years. She kept all the letters he had written her, leaving them to her children when she died in 1865. They published the letters in a slim volume in 1878, then sold the original letters at auction in 1885 for a grand total of £543 17s ($859 in today’s money).