His Illness (October 1819--August 1820)
DILKE had known how to choose a lodging for a writer determined on a steady course of work. The ancient houses of College Street, over- looking the Abbey gardens, quiet, secluded, could give Keats a memory of mellow cloistered Winchester.
But Keats found it impossible to work. The thought of Fanny Brawne, now so much nearer to him, fevered his blood. The detachment he had won for himself in Winchester fast melted away.
Severn, who visited him soon after his arrival in Town, had expected to see Keats much improved in appearance after his long sojourn in the country, but found him looking ill. He seemed, however, to be in high spirits and was full of his poetry. To Severn it was an evening of delight. He heard, or read, all the poems written since last June. 'Hyperion' came richly to him with such inevitability that lines from it haunted his memory to the end of his long life. He begged Keats to finish the poem, exclaiming that it might have been written by John Milton. This was the wrong thing to say. His friend immediately retorted, that was just the point; he did not want to put his name to a poem that might have been written by John Milton but to one that was unmistakably written by John Keats.
Severn did not much care for 'Lamia' and regretted that his friend's mind 'seemed much more taken up by a rhymed story about a serpentgirl.' He promised, however, to reserve his judgment and to return another night to hear it read aloud. His arduous labours as miniaturist and aspiring painter in oils prevented him for a week or two, and when he did come Keats was gone.
After a few days of futile attempts to work in Westminster Keats had been irresistibly drawn to Hampstead. After a day of rich delight he wrote to Fanny:
I am living to day in yesterday: I was in a complete fascination all day. I feel myself at your mercy. Write me ever so few lines and tell me you will never for ever be less kind to me than yesterday--. You dazzled me. There is nothing in the world so bright and delicate.
Brown had been with them during the evening and had concocted, to tease his friend, some story against him. 'I felt,' wrote Keats, 'it would be death to me if you had ever believed it--though against any one