An exceptionally rare and moving love letter from Keats to his fiancée Fanny Brawne heads the sale of the Roy Davids Collection of Papers and Portraits at Bonhams on March 29 - already being described as the most exciting auction of its kind for over 40 years. It is estimated at between £80,000 and £120,000.
Keats wrote the letter - the only one of the 39 surviving letters to Fanny still in private hands - in 1820 when he was fatally ill with consumption (TB). Though Fanny lived next door to Keats their meetings were restricted by his health which also prevented even the most limited physical contact.
He refers to this painful constraint in the letter, regretting the fact that they cannot kiss - TB being highly contagious - but consoling himself with the certainty of her love. The full text of the letter is given below.
The doomed love affair between Keats and Fanny Brawne is among the most famous in the history of literature and continues to fascinate succeeding generations as the success of the 2009 award winning film 'Bright Star' showed. Indeed, a note scribbled by Keats on the envelope, "You had better not come today" appears as a line in the film - a poignant reminder of the poet's condition.
The letter begins 'My dearest Fanny'...
The power of your benediction is not of so weak a nature as to pass from the ring in four and twenty hours - it is like a sacred Chalice once consecrated and ever consecrate. 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. Thank God, though I hold them the dearest pleasures in the universe, I have a consolation independent of them in the certainty of your affectation. I could write a song in the style of Tom Moores Pathetic about Memory if that would be any relief to me. No. It would not be. I will be as obstinate as a Robin, I will not sing in a cage. Health is my expected heaven and you are the Houri - this word I believe is both singular and plural - if only plural, never mind - you are a thousand of them.
It ends 'Ever yours affectionately, my dearest... j.K.'
Keats has long been recognised as one of the finest letter writers in the language and his friend Joseph Severn who was with him when he died in 1821 maintained that, "many of Keats' letters contained quite as fine poetry as any of his actual poems."
"It is a mark of Keats' poetic genius and the power of his imagination that the words of this letter fall so naturally into the rhythm of verse," commented Roy Davids, himself a published poet.
"To own a manuscript by Keats is really the closest you can get to him both physically and mentally. In some degree, it is an act of worship."
The Roy Davids Collection features over 500 manuscripts and portraits of major figures from the worlds of literature, history, travel and exploration, art, science, philosophy and psychology. It reflects the tastes and life-time interests of one of Britain's foremost collectors.
The many highlights include a very scarce letter from Sir Walter Raleigh, an essay by William Blake on his picture 'The Last Judgement' and a 12 page letter from the explorer David Livingstone to the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.
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