The Isle of Wight and Winchester (May-October, 1819)
WENTWORTH PLACE is not large. Dilke, in the fashionable phraseology of the day, described the two houses as cottages, but to us they are not that. The rooms are high and well proportioned. Excluding the basement, Brown's house had four and Dilke's five rooms. Dilke's two living-rooms were divided by folding-doors and could be thrown into one large enough in which to give a party. The house would just hold in comfort Mrs. Brawne and her three children; beside Fanny there were Sam, a boy of fourteen, and a little sister, Margaret. In 1838 the two houses were bought by Miss Chester, an actress who had formerly held the Court appointment of reader to George IV: she converted them into one house with the addition of a large drawing-room.
Wentworth Place, now the Keats Memorial House, is full of the peace and dignity of age, though tragedy has owned it. Keats was ill and unhappy within its walls; in 1828 Sam Brawne1 died there of the same disease; and in November, 1829, Mrs. Brawne came to a terrible end. Holding aloft a candle to light a friend out of the house, her dress caught fire and she died as the result of burns.
In the garden, the design of which is little altered since Keats's day, there are some fine old trees. The glory of them is a two hundred- years-old mulberry now supporting his great age with a crutch but still producing abundant fruit. The plum tree under which the 'Nightingale' Ode is said to have been written was still there until recently, an ivy-clad stump. Before the house grew a hedge of laurustinus, now replaced by a wooden fence. Water was obtained from a conduit which was recently uncovered in the course of drain repairs.
To a man in love the period of engagement is necessarily a trying one: to Keats, an ardently passionate man, the nearness of his beloved must have been almost unbearable. There are indications in his letters that she herself was not yet fully awakened to love. The response is often far slower in a woman and Fanny was young. Before his death she had learned to love him wholly.
Although his love for her inspired most of his finest work, Keats could not write when he was near her: work in some form or other was, apart from the creative urge within him, a necessity, as money was short. He would soon have temporarily to leave Wentworth Place____________________