John Keats: The Apothecary Poet, Page 9|
by Sir William Osler (1908).
On February 3 the smouldering fires broke out, after he had been exposed in a stage ride, in an attack of haemoptysis. From this date we can trace in the letters the melancholy progress of the disease. In April and May the lung symptoms became less pronounced, and in spite of much nervous irritability and weakness he was able to direct the publication of his third little volume of poems . On June 22 he had a return of the spitting of blood, which lasted several days. The serious nature of the disease was by this time evident to both the patient and his physicians. He acknowledges that it will be a long, tedious affair, and that a winter in Italy may be necessary. ''Tis not yet consumption,' he writes Fanny Keats, 'but it would be were I to remain in this climate all the winter.' This, too, was a time of terrible mental distress, as he became madly jealous of his best friend, C.A. Brown. The letters of this period to Fanny Brawne tell of the 'damned moments' of one who 'dotes yet doubts, suspects, yet fondly loves'.
PAGE 9 OF 10.
Preparations were made for his journey to Italy, which he speaks of 'as marching up to a battery'. He sailed for Naples, which was reached after a tedious voyage about the end of October. Severn, the artist, accompanied him, and has given (Atlantic Monthly, April, 1863) a touching account of the last months of his friend's life. Realizing fully the hopelessness of his condition, like many a brave man in a similar plight, he wished to take his life. Severn states:
'In a little basket of medicines I had bought at Gravesend at his request there was a bottle of laudanum, and this I afterwards found was destined by him "to close his mortal career", when no hope was left, and prevent a long, lingering death, for my poor sake. When the dismal time came, and Sir James Clark was unable to encounter Keats's penetrating look and eager demand, he insisted on having the bottle, which I had already put away. Then came the most touching scenes. He now explained to me the exact procedure of his gradual dissolution, enumerated my deprivations and toils, and dwelt upon the danger to my life, and certainly to my fortunes, from my continued attendance upon him. One whole day was spent in earnest representations of this sort, to which, at the same time that they wrung my heart to hear and his to utter, I was obliged to oppose a firm resistance. On the second day, his tender appeal turned to despair, in all the power of his ardent imagination and bursting heart.' (In similar circumstances one of the gentlest and most loving of men whom it has been my lot to attend was more successful, and when he realized fully that a slow, lingering death awaited him, took the laudanum with which for months he had been provided. In such a case, whose heart will not echo the kindly words with which Burton closes his celebrated section on suicide? 'Who knows how he may be tempted? It is his case; it may be thine. Quae sua sors hodie est, cras fore vestra potest. We ought not to be so rash and rigorous in our censures as some are; charity will judge and hope the best; God be merciful unto us all!')
In Rome, Keats was under the care of Dr. (afterwards Sir James) Clark, who, with Severn, watched him with assiduous care throughout the winter months. Unlike so many consumptives, Keats had none of the spes phthisica, which carries them hopefully to the very gates of the grave. He knew how desperate was his state. 'I feel,' he said, 'the flowers growing over me.' 'When will this posthumous life come to an end?' On February 14 he requested Severn to have inscribed on his gravestone the words,
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
• • • • •Dearest Romantic, to read the tenth page of this article,
kindly click on the link at the very bottom of this page.• • • • •