John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 72|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
Thursday, February 3, 1820! It was one of the those days of thaw and treacherous weather. Keats left his home in Hampstead without his overcoat. He rode to London on the outside of the stage-coach. Late that night he came home flushed and fevered. Brown, with whom he was living, at Wentworth Place, advised him to go to bed at once. When he entered the bedroom a little later with medicine. Keats was coughing and slipping into the sheets. "That is blood from my mouth," he said. "Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see that blood." In the flickering light he examined the spots on the sheet. He was a graduate in medicine. "I know that blood," he announced. "It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in that color. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die." The instantaneous reaction of a man's mind in a crisis which takes him unawares is one of the best tests of character. Brown, who held the candle, said that Keats looked up into his face with a calmness that he could never forget.
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His mother had died of consumption and so had his brother Tom. But George and his young sister were free of the taint. The illness of the Scotch tour had given Keats a warning. This second outbreak of the malady was the sign that he had received the fatal inheritance.
All that follows is the story of an invalid, calling for medical and not critical judgment. Although his hectic imagination is a torment, it does not continually rave and rend. At times love seems a partial solace. There are many incidents touchingly human in the record; often a display of fine graciousness of nature. The cheerful letters which Keats writes to his sister; the admonitions to his friends to wear warm wraps; the notes sent in to Miss Brawne, who lived in the adjoining house,—these lighten the atmosphere with idyllic charm. A sofa bed is made for him in the front parlor, so that he may escape the monotony of four posts and curtains upstairs. Through the window he looks out on the landscape of the Heath, longing for spring sunshine. He watches the passers-by: the French aristocrat in exile, the clock-mender, the gypsies, the workingwomen in red cloaks, the two elderly maidens with their lap-dog, fearful of Brawne's Carlo. The doctors have told him that his trouble is only nervous irritability and general weakness; they have prescribed tangents, squares and angles as a sedative for his mind. But his thoughts dwell, preferably, on green fields and flowers—English wild-roses. His hope lives on the song of a thrush as a promise of warm weather and better health. "There's that thrush again—I can't afford it—he'll run me up a pretty Bill for Music."
The event of each day is the visit of his betrothed. It has to be short in order to avoid an overstimulus to his nerves. He has to speak low, for he suffers palpitations of the heart. Sometimes he asks her to wait until nightfall, so that he may enjoy the prolonged anticipation as well as the reality. Always the poet, spiritualizing his pleasures. When she is not there, he watches her walking on the lawn, or waits for the stage that brings her from town, or follows her vanishing figure over the Heath, his heart full of admiration. No, there is nothing to be afraid of in these love letters. All we need to do is to put each in its vital setting and think of Keats as we think of our own loved ones, suffering on beds of pain.
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