When the Maria Crowther arrived in Naples Harbor on 21 October 1820, its passengers may have thought their journey was over. It had already been somewhat of a difficult passage, having faced storms and unfavorable conditions in the Channel as soon as they reached the sea on 19 September (after sailing down the Thames from London on 17 September. After slow eastward progress along the southern coast (including some backtracking because of poor weather), the Maria Crowther left England for good sometime around 2 October. More bad weather arrived in the Bay of Biscay, as did two Portuguese warships, leading to some worry that the Maria Crowther might be plundered. Such was not the case, and the remainder of the voyage to Naples passed relatively smoothly. Nonetheless, one imagines the passengers were eager to leave their ship when they were instead informed by the Italian authorities that due to a typhus outbreak in London, all English vessels were being forced to remain offshore for 6 weeks. That meant ten more days until the passengers of the Maria Crowther would truly be finished with their voyage.
And so, on the fourth day of ten spent in quarantine aboard the ship, Keats wrote his last direct communication to Fanny Brawne. And most of the communication was indirect, given that he could only muster the psychic fortitude to address Fanny’s mother, and at times specify particular messages to relay to the daughter. Only in the last line of his fourth page could Keats bring himself to address Fanny with these final written words to her: “Good bye Fanny! God bless you.” The devastation conveyed in that brief but double goodbye is matched by the understatement of Fanny’s entry in her copy of Leigh Hunt’s Literary Pocket-Book upon Keats’s departure: “Mr. Keats left Hampstead.” Given Keats’s own focus on vanishing around this time–he writes of Fanny to Charles Brown on 30 September, “I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing”–it is perhaps appropriate that only a vague outline of Fanny’s original inscription remains.
Fanny Brawne wrote “Mr. Keats left Hampstead” in the entry for 8 September (although he actually left on 13 September). Only a faint trace remains. Image via the Keats House Museum
With that we will leave you to read today’s letter to Mrs. Brawne, even if you may need to come prepared with some tissues for your tears. Text of the letter can be read via Harry Buxton Forman’s 1901 edition of the complete works, or via The Keats Letters, Papers, and Other Relics (1914), edited by George C. Williamson. It features a transcription of the letter and facsimile images of the MS, which we reproduce below. And if you would like to know more about Keats’s journey to Italy, check out this wonderful resource from The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, “John Keats’s Final Voyage.“
Once you’ve read the letter, then check out Susan Wolfson’s latest essay for us, where you’ll learn much more about the letter and Keats’s circumstances during this final part of his life.
Williamson, plates xliv-xlvii. Click images to enlarge.