John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 77|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
On the tenth of December the hemorrhages broke again. He lost blood by cupfuls. The attack was followed by fierce fever and more hemorrhages. The succeeding weeks are only a prolonged distress—without hope. Financial straits harass the two expatriates. Severn is nurse, cook, and servant, day and night, week after week. The doctor comes four and five times daily. The patient's food is reduced to one anchovy, a morsel of bread or a pint of milk. There is a slight rally in January and a walk on the Pincio—the flutter of the lamp before the darkness. Again the hemorrhages and the copious losses of blood. Keats yearns for music. A piano is brought in and Severn plays the symphonies of Haydn, while the doomed one fingers continually his precious love token—that white oval carnelian. "Touch," he once said, thinking of her, "has a memory."
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His mind is lucid. He feels bitterly the burden and the strain on his friend. For his sake he wishes death to come speedily. Sometimes there are outbursts of petulance at Severn's patient and uncomplaining devotion. The nerves are riotous. He begs for forgiveness. Then comes a period of great calmness. The nerves are exhausted, impotent. "He remains quiet and submissive under his heavy fate," records the nurse. Keats repeats to him that thought of infinite regret which he had expressed so finely months before: "If I should die, I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory, but I have lov'd the principle of Beauty in all things, and if I had had time, I would have made myself remembered." It was during this period of "great quietness and peace," on the fourteenth of February, that the dying man, whose humility had always been conspicuous in his self-estimate, believing he was leaving only a few fragments, and these of no repute, asked that his name should not be put upon his tomb. He requested the simple epitaph,—
Here lies one whose name was writ in water,—
a wish which attests the great divide, in his own mind, between his paltry performance and his ambitious designs. Long before he had declared, "I had rather fail than not be among the greatest."
Toward the close he lost all desire of recovery. Already in spirit he had passed beyond the bourne, and he thought of the grave as a rest upon which he would gladly enter. Severn's visit to the cemetery and the account of the profusion of violets there brought him deep joy. He gave the last instructions. A letter from his betrothed, unopened, was to be wrapped in the winding sheet above his heart. Then the inaudible bell began to toll softly. "Poor Keats has me ever by him and shadows out the form of one solitary friend; he opens his eyes in great doubt and horror, but when they fall on me, they close gently, open quietly and close again till he sinks to sleep."
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