Parallels in the lives of two temperamentally different brothers
The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George
by Denise Gigante
Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $45 hb, 499 pp, 9780674048560
On the morning of 17 September 1820, a consumptive John Keats and his travelling companion and nurse, the artist Joseph Severn, boarded the 127-ton brigantine Maria Crowther bound for Italy. Ahead of them lay thirty-four days of foul weather, fouler food, and close quarters shared with another consumptive (a young girl) and a horrified matron; thirty-four days, for Keats, of agonising regret and mortal fear. It was the first stage of what he called his ‘posthumous existence’: the twenty-five-year-old poet was sailing out to die. And because Keats was prevented by the well-meaning Severn from swallowing the phial of euthanasian opium he had bought before leaving England, this posthumous existence would drag on until nearly midnight on Wednesday, 21 February 1821, when Keats died in Severn’s arms in an apartment in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome.