This letter, posted from Rome to London, discusses the final illness of the poet John Keats, and has been preserved at the British Library with portraits of the correspondents. 

Who were the correspondents?

In the winter of 1820-21, Keats was advised to go to Italy to avoid the effects the harsh English winter might have on his tuberculosis. The author of this letter is Joseph Severn, the painter who agreed to accompany him on the journey. The recipient, Mrs Francis Brawne, was the mother of Fanny Brawne, the great love of Keats’s life. 

What does it tell us? 

Severn notes that he began the letter at 1am on 11 January 1821, and finished at 3am: he is writing at Keats’s bedside in the advanced stages of his illness. He describes how he has ‘perceived in these last 3 days symptoms of recovery’, that the doctor agrees, and that ‘I most certainly think I shall bring him back to England’. Partly, Severn puts this down to Keats having ‘given up all thoughts, hopes or even wish for recovery’, and explains that ‘poor Keats cannot see any letters – they affect him so much and much increase his danger'. He closes by noting that ‘I have just looked at him – he is in a beautiful sleep; in look he is very much more like himself – I have the greatest hope of him’. Keats died on 23 February, and is buried in Rome; at his request, his tombstone reads 'Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water'.