Letter from Joseph Severn, who tended John Keats during his final days

April 3, 2007 at 11:55 am (Eloquence)

Rome, 27 February 1821

My Dear Brown,

He is gone – he died with the most perfect ease – he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. ‘Severn – I – lift me up – I am dying – I shall die easy – don’t be frightened – be firm, and thank God it has come!’ I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death – so quiet – that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now – I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday, with many English. They take such care of me here – that I must else have gone into a fever. I am better now – but still quite disabled.

The Police have been. The furniture, the walls, the floor, everything must be destroyed by order of the law. But this is well looked to by Dr. C.

The letters I put into the coffin with my own hand.

I must leave off.


This goes by the first post. Some of my kind friends would have written else. I will try to write you every thing next post; or the Doctor will. They had a mask – and hand and foot done – I cannot go on.


This letter was quoted in the novel THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU by Salley Vickers.

John Keats died of tuberculosis at age 26.

1 Comment

  1. “The question is not how to cure or how to be cured but how to live.” - The Other Side of You, by Salley Vickers « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] at  the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. (I did the same some forty years ago.) I have quoted  Joseph Severn’s letter on the poet’s death elsewhere in […]

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