Then came the climax. It was on February 3, 1820. Lord Houghton has described the scene. "Keats," he wrote, "returned home in a state of strange physical excitement; it might have appeared, to those who did not know him, one of fierce intoxication. . . . He was easily persuaded to go to bed; and, as he leapt into the cold sheets, he slightly coughed, and said, 'that is blood from my mouth. Bring me the candle: let me see this blood.' He gazed steadfastly some moments at the ruddy stain, and then with an expression of sudden calmness never to be forgotten, said: ' I know the colour of that blood-it is arterial blood. . . That drop is my death-warrant; I must die.
Consumption, the disease which killed his mother, at last had claimed him also. From the first onslaught, however, he rallied bravely, and April found him full of hope again. His mind was clearer now, and stronger, than it had ever been; and bodily-weakness, instead of diminishing, had magnified his love a thousandfold.
And his love it was, his insatiate desire, which eventually consumed him. He could not forget it. It was an agonising torture for him to see his beloved Fanny moving in a whirl of social gaiety and enjoying every moment of her life, whilst his was misery to him. He pined, he fretted, he brooded on his sorrows. Was she being admired by other men? Was she fickle? These were his thoughts, and for thinking them surely he can be pardoned. Poor bed-ridden invalid, perhaps he can be forgiven even for accusing Brown, his closest friend, of trying to rob him of her. His letters only too clearly reflect his fears.
"If my health would bear it, I could write a poem which I have in my head, which would be a consolation for people in such a situation as mine. I would show someone in love, as I am, with a person living in such liberty as you do. Shakespeare always sums up matters in the most sovereign manner. Hamlet's heart was full of misery, as mine is, when he said to Ophelia, ' Go to a nunnery, go, go !' Indeed, I should like to give up the matter at once-i should like to die. I am sickened at the brute world you are smiling with. I hate men, and women more."
A Sorrowful Parting
In June the trouble of February recurred, and the doctors declared emphatically that Keats could not live in England longer; he must go to Italy. Forthwith, therefore, preparations were made for his departure, in order that he might leave so soon as he was strong enough. For the meanwhile the Brawnes received him in their home, and Fanny nursed and tended him devotedly.
Keats dreaded being separated from her; he hated the idea of the journey, it was intolerable to him. But he could not be more miserable, separated from Fanny, than he was when with her. Away from her, he could not do more than long for her presence; when with her he longed for what was impossible, and what he knew to be impossible. But wipe the memory of this woman from his mind he could not, wherever he was.
"Suppose me in Rome," he wrote. "Well, I should there see you, as in a magic glass going to and from town at all hours. I wish I could infuse a little confidence of human nature into my heart. I cannot muster any. The world is too brutal for me."
It was on September 18 that the poet sailed from London, his heart heavy with sorrow. He tried not to think of Fanny, he felt he could not write to her; and, as the "Maria Crowther" ploughed her way slowly down the Channel, he wrote to Brown instead, confiding his grief to him. It was a long letter, full of pathos, and less bitter than his other letters.
"I wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much," he said. " There is one I must mention, and have done with it. Even if my body would recover of itself, this would prevent it. The very thing which I want to live most for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it-who can help it? Were I in health, it would make me ill, and how can I bear it in my state? I dare say you will be able to guess upon what subject I am harping. ... I think, without my mentioning it, you would be a friend to Miss Brawne when I am dead. You think that she has many faults, but for my sake think that she has not one. If there is anything that you can do for her by word or deed, I know you will do it."
"That Foolish Young Poet"
It was late in October when Keats arrived at Naples, and from there he proceeded straight to Rome. Shelley wanted him to stay with him at Pisa, but this he declined to do; he decided to follow his original plans and go to Rome, in order that his case might receive the attention of Dr. Clarke. Of recovery he had but little hope. And now he no longer dreaded death; he only dreaded leaving Fanny. "I can bear to die, I cannot bear to leave her," he declared in one of his letters.
But the end was slow in coming. He lingered on till February, and his love for Fanny remained firm and constant to the last. "I am afraid to write to her, to receive a letter from her," he wrote only a few weeks before his death; "to see her handwriting would break my heart. Even to hear of her, to see her name written, would be more than I could bear."
At last, on February 23, his troubled, weary soul found rest.
Of Fanny Brawne but little remains to be recorded. In 1825 she married, but even as Mrs. Lindon the memory of the lover of her youth glowed steadfastly within her. And she was only trying to deceive herself when, in after years, she referred to him merely as "that foolish young poet who was in love with me." Keats meant much more to her than this. Her friends have said so; them she was unable to deceive. For, in spite of all his faults, he possessed an illimitable charm, did this sensitive young poet, whose tragedies and griefs inspired Shelley's " Adonais."