Keats arrived back in London on the evening of 18 August 1818, via the George, which departed Cromarty on 8 August. He arrived at the Dilkes’ at Wentworth Place looking, according to Mrs. Dilke, “as brown and as shabby as you can imagine; scarcely any shoes left, his jacket all torn at the back, a fur cap, a great plaid, and his knapsack.” Well, who can blame him. It’d been quite the journey!
At some point the next day he sat down to write of his return to his sister Fanny. He begins by apologizing for not answering her last letter, which she had sent on 12 June. Since the letter had to follow Keats around Scotland, it didn’t reach him in Inverness until the time he was about to depart for London. So we’ll let his delinquency slide this time. For the rest of 1818 Fanny will receive much more regular correspondence from her eldest brother. In part this is because of Tom’s continued decline and his death at the beginning of December. One suspects that Keats not only wanted to comfort his sister, but also would have himself needed the correspondence with her to help his grieving. After December, John and Fanny are the only two Keats siblings who are not separated by an ocean or by mortality.
In today’s letter it appears that Keats is mostly catching Fanny up on the latest. He tells her of the stories he’ll soon share with her about his travels. And he responds to a number of things she must have written to him in her last. He advises against playing the flageolet, but he says he’ll get one for her if she insists. He promises to get her a copy of Endymion, and another copy of his 1817 volume. He promises as well to speak with Richard Abbey (her guardian) about some situation at her school (“what you say concerning school”). And he notes, “I am sorry for your poor Canary.” Poor canary indeed! We hope Fanny got another pet to comfort her.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that Keats mentions his own health as well as Tom’s. He tells Fanny of the “bad sore throat” that led him to cut his trip short, and he also mentions “a confounded tooth ache” that is keeping him from doing much writing and from visiting her in Walthamstow. It’s tempting to see nothing but doom-and-gloom when it comes to Keats’s health from here on out. But let’s resist that temptation and remember that Keats isn’t quite at death’s door just yet. There’s plenty of vitality that he’ll display in the letters to come over the next two years, so we don’t want to overemphasize the significance of the “sore throat” too much just because we know how the story ends. Much remains possible as Keats embarks on his last phase of writing as 1818 begins to approach its end.
Text of the letter can be read via Forman’s 1895 edition. The manuscript, along with most of the letters to Fanny Keats, is at the British Library. No images for you yet–sorry!