Letter #184: To Fanny Keats, 6 February 1820

Just a few days after his serious hemorrhage, Keats writes to his sister to assure her that he is recovering well. His typical warmth and kindness towards her is on full display here. There is the first instance of what will become somewhat of a refrain over the next few weeks: here he tells her, “You must be careful always to wear warm clothing not only in frost but in a Thaw.” We also see Keats’s concern that George may at some point face a similar attack, but he hopes that “the sea air will be his Physician in case of illness–the air out at sea is always more temperate than on land.” When Keats is himself ailing, he thinks only of others and their health and happiness.

There’s also the small detail of Keats defending Fanny against a complaint from Richard Abbey (Fanny’s guardian), who seems to have complained to George that she was too often “moped and silent.” George writes to Fanny that she should “cheer up and look lively as nature made you.” Keats’s response is a bit different. Instead of chastising her to smile more (c’mon, George!), Keats defends his little sister by pointing out that “It is entirely the fault of his Manner.” Presumably this comment refers to Abbey’s manner, but it could also refer to George’s manner in addressing the topic and blaming Fanny for her behavior. Who wouldn’t mope while having to live apart from your brothers (one of whom is John Keats, no less) and in the company of the ever-practical and staid Richard Abbey? George really lost some points in our estimation of him…

Another interesting tidbit is brought up at the very end of the letter: the death of King George III on 29 January 1820. Keats notes, “The Papers I see are full of anecdotes of the late king: how he nodded to a Coal heaer and laugh’d with a Quaker and lik’d boil’d Leg of Mutton.” What a man of the people! One senses that Keats’s wry, cutting assessment is not borne of an overly fond view of the late King. However, there is a bit of room for human understanding that emerges from the letter’s final lines. Noting that Peter Pindar (John Wolcot, famous satirist of the King) had died just a year earlier, Keats wonders, “what will the old king and he say to each other? Perhaps the king may confess that Peter was in the right, and Peter maintain himself to have been wrong.” Everybody is in their own mess (as Keats wrote back in spring 1819), and here we see him extending a bit of imaginative grace between two lifelong foes, just as Keats finds himself in his most serious mess yet (health-wise, at least).

Today’s letter resides at the British Library, along with most of the letters to Fanny Keats. Text of the letter can be read via Harry Buxton Forman’s 1901 edition of the Complete Works. Images below come from the same book, via HathiTrust.