John Keats: Life and Works, Page 4|
by James Weber Linn (1911).
This review appeared in September, 1818. What gave rise to the story that it killed Keats was the undoubted fact that after that autumn of 1818 Keats's health failed steadily. He had spent part of the summer in a walking-tour of Scotland, roughing it in the rain. The exposure was too much for him; it stirred in him the seeds of consumption, of which his mother had already died and his brother Tom was dying. Close attendance on this brother all through the early winter of that year, made matters worse. "I live now," he wrote, "in a continual fever. It must be poisonous to life." Tom's death saddened while it made Keats's days easier. The torture of a passionate love affair with Miss Brawne began, too, about this time—torture, because almost no sooner had he learned the strength of his feeling for her, than, medically trained as he was, he suspected also that he was doomed. His final confession to himself of the truth we have in the words of his friend Charles Brown:
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"One night . . . he came into the house in a state that . . . was fearful. He . . . instantly yielded to my request that he should go to bed. I followed with the best immediate remedy in my power. . . . Before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say, 'That is blood from my mouth.' I went towards him; he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. 'Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this blood.' After regarding it steadfastly he looked up in my face with a calmness of countenance that I can never forget, and said, 'I know the color of that blood—it is arterial blood—I cannot be deceived in that color—that drop of blood is my death warrant—I must die!'" This was in February, 1820; and a year later, February, 1821, he was dead.
The history of that last year is all of misery. The disease grew quickly worse. He could do no work, except to revise the proofs of his last volume of poems, which was published in July, 1820; he spent his days "lying on a white bed, with white quilt and white sheets; the only color . . . the hectic flush of his cheeks." In September, as a last desperate chance, he sailed for Italy; after a few weeks in Naples, drove the two hundred miles to Rome, and there settled down to die. "I feel the flowers growing over me," he said, and he used to ask the doctor, "When will this posthumous life of mine come to an end?" It ended February 23, 1821. His friend Joseph Severn was with him all the while. They were almost the same age. It is strange to remember that Severn died also in Rome, fifty-eight years later! The house in which Keats died was recently bought by an association of English and American lovers of poetry, and is now kept up as a memorial of the poet, and of Shelley. The two, who died within eighteen months of each other, are buried in the English cemetery at Rome—"a light of laughing flowers above their graves is spread."
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