Letter #97: To Fanny Keats, 16 October 1818

Like last week’s letter to Fanny, today’s contains an apology for not securing Abbey’s permission for Fanny to come visit Tom. Keats claims that he couldn’t make his way to Walthamstow to deal with Abbey and his (we think) unreasonable insistence that Fanny be kept away from her brothers. As with last week, Keats has had to remain close to home because of Tom’s state of health. We’ve already passed the date of the last time Fanny would see Tom (sometime before 9 October, it seems), and, sadly, Tom’s condition will not improve from here on out.

Keats decides not to divulge too much about Tom’s health here. We can tell from his journal letter to George and Georgiana, which he began just two days before this letter to Fanny, that he probably knew Tom’s fate was secured. He writes to them that “you could have had no good news of Tom and I have been withheld on his account these many days; I could not bring myself to say the truth, that he is no better, but much worse—However it must be told, and you must my dear Brother and Sister take example frome me and bear up against any Calamity for my sake as I do for your’s.” One senses that Keats is preparing them for the inevitable news once it comes. In the letter to Fanny, however, Keats takes a much different tack, hoping to not upset her anymore than she already would have been by the sheer fact that her guardian was keeping her from seeing her brothers at a moment when one was already across and ocean, and another was quickly fading away.

Brother John does have some good news for Fanny on another front, however: news from George and Georgiana had finally arrived. Their ship, the Telegraph, had reached port in Philadelphia sometime late in August, and one presumes that they promptly sent word back across the Atlantic. It seems that this initial notice of their safe arrival was sent only to Mrs. Wylie (Georgiana’s mother), with more detailed correspondence to other friends and family to follow later, and more slowly, given that those letters needed to make their way east over land to an eastern port like New York or Philadelphia, or south via water down the Ohio, to the Mississippi, and leaving port from New Orleans. But we do digress! The point here is that Keats can at least share the happy news with Fanny that George and Georgiana have “landed safely … they are both in good health—their prospects are good—and they are by this time nighing to their journey’s end.”

Full text of the letter can be read in Harry Buxton Forman’s edition of the letters from 1895. Image below from that same text.

Keats’s 16 October 1818 letter to Fanny Keats. From Forman’s 1895 edition of the letters.