Old Love Stories Retold: John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Page 3|
by Richard Le Gallienne (1904).
"Shall I give you Miss ——? She is about my height, with a fine style of countenance of the lengthened sort; she wants sentiment in every feature; she manages to make her hair look well; her nostrils are very fine, though a little painful; her mouth is bad and good; her profile is better than her full face, which, indeed, is not full, but pale and thin, without showing any bone; her shape is very graceful, and so are her movements; her arms are good, her hands bad-ish, her feet tolerable. She is not seventeen, but she is ignorant; monstrous is her behaviour, flying out in all directions calling people such names that I was forced lately to make use of the term—Minx: this is, I think, from no innate vice, but from a penchant she has for acting stylishly. I am, however, tired of such style, and shall decline any more of it. She had a friend to visit her lately; you have known plenty such—she plays the music, but without one sensation but the feel of the ivory at her fingers; she is a downright Miss, without one set-off. We hated her, and smoked her, and baited her, and, I think, drove her away. Miss —— thinks her a paragon of fashion, and says she is the only woman in the world she would change persons with. What a shape,—she is superior as a rose to a dandelion."
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This verbal description tallies, almost with exactness, with the only extant portrait of Miss Brawne, a silhouette by M. Edonart, which Mr. Sidney Colvin thus convincingly puts into words: "A brisk and blooming, very young beauty, of the far from uncommon English-hawk blonde type, with aquiline nose and retreating forehead, sharp-cut nostril and gray-blue eye, a slight shapely figure rather short than tall, a taking smile and good hair, carriage and complexion."
It is rather a pity that Miss Brawne's letters have not been preserved, though it would not be difficult, I think, to imagine them. It is not necessary to be Keats to have received such colourless young-lady-like scrawls—which, poor fellow, he, doubtless, kissed and treasured, "even as you and I." Yet, it must not be thought that Miss Brawne was without character or parts. On the contrary, she seems, from Mr. Buxton Forman's naïve description, to have been something like a virago of the accomplishments. "She had the gift of independence or self-sufficingness in a high degree," says the good Mr. Forman, "and it was not easy to turn her from a settled purpose. Without being in general a systematic student, she was a voluminous reader in widely varying branches of literature; and some out-of-the-way subjects she followed up with great perseverance. One of her strong points of learning was the history of costume, in which she was so well read as to be able to answer any question of detail at a moment's notice. . . . She was an eager politician, with very strong convictions, fiery and animated in discussion; a characteristic she preserved till the end."
Whatever else Fanny Brawne lacked, Mr. Forman wishes us to remember that "one of her strong points of learning was the history of costume, etc. . . ." —also that "she was an eager politician. . . ."
O weep for Adonais!
Mr. Forman is nothing if not gallant—but now it is perhaps time to remember that John Keats loved this Fanny Brawne.
He loved her—yes!—and yet!
Yes! In his second letter [10 July, 1819] he writes: "I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fanny was afraid of it, lest it should burn me up."
In his third letter [27 July 1819] he writes: "You absorb me in spite of myself—you alone; for I look not forward with any pleasure to what is call'd being settled in the world; I tremble at domestic cares—yet for you I would meet them, though if it would leave you the happier I would rather die than do so. I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute."
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