Keats House acquires poignant love letter Keats wrote to girl-next-door Fanny Brawne

By Richard Moss | 27 May 2011
a photo of Benjamin Zephania with a mounted Keats manuscript
Keats House Poet in Residence, Benjamin Zephaniah, with Keats' love letter to Fanny Brawne.© City of London Corporation
He may have only lived there for a couple of years but Keats House in Hampstead has become a Mecca for fans of the ill-fated Romantic poet John Keats – and rightly so.

Keats lived at Wentworth House, as it was then called, for a short but emotionally charged time between 1818 to 1820 and wrote some of his best-loved poems there. It was also from the house that he travelled to Rome, where he died of tuberculosis aged just 25.

But perhaps most importantly it was where he also fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne. 

Now the trustees of the meticulously period restored house have acquired the last remaining Keats letter in private ownership - a love letter actually written to Fanny Brawne at Wentworth Place in 1820.

In the letter Keats wrote: "I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been - Lips! Why should a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things."

The tragic subtext of this impassioned note is that the ailing Keats would be dead within months and that the object of his ardour was only feet away through the adjoining walls. "You had better not come today," was scribbled on the outside of the wax sealed letter.

a photo of a letter manuscript
© City of London Corporation
Unveiled by Keats House poet in residence Benjamin Zepahaniah on May 27, it is now on display in the Brawne Room, where Fanny would have almost certainly read it in 1820. Poignantly, the letter sits next her engagement ring, given to her by Keats in 1820, and which she wore for the rest of her life.

Wesley Kerr, Chairman of the London Region Heritage Lottery Fund, which helped to purchase the letter said its acquisition would enable countless generations to “see close up the powerful words penned by Keats at the evocative, superbly restored villa where he wrote them.”

“John Keats famously wrote that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” His deep, doomed love for Fanny Brawne was a thing of beauty, which still burns brightly nearly two centuries after this unique letter was written.”

The letter was purchased at auction by the City of London Corporation, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and The Friends of Keats House in March 2011 year for £80,000.

  • The Keats House Summer Festival, featuring poet in residence Benjamin Zephaniah, takes place between May 28 and June 5. See www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk for more information.
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