Wednesday 31 October 2018

'This day is my Birth day'

On this day in 1818 – his 23rd birthday – John Keats finished a long letter he had been writing over the previous fortnight to his brother George and his wife Georgiana, who were living a precarious existence in America, trying to start a new life, and with a baby on the way. Meanwhile, Keats's other brother, Tom, was dying of consumption.
Keats's letter ends:

'I hope you will have a Son, and it is one of my first wishes to have him in my Arms – which I will do please God before he cuts one double tooth. Tom is rather more easy than he has been; but is still so nervous that I cannot speak to him of these Matters – indeed it is the care I have had to keep his Mind aloof from feelings too acute that has made this Letter so short [!] a one – I did not like to write before him a Letter he knew was to reach your hands – I cannot even now ask him for any Message – his heart speaks to you – Be as happy as you can. Think of me and for my sake be cheerful. Believe me my dear Brother and Sister
           Your anxious and affectionate Brother
   This day is my Birth day –
   All our friends have been anxious in their enquiries and all send their remembrances'

Two years later, Keats – whose unfailing consideration for others is one of the most conspicuous and attractive features of his Letters – was himself in the final stages of the consumption that was to kill him.

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