The Death of John Keats
On February 23rd, 1821, the English poet John Keats (1795-1821) died in Rome. He was only twenty-five years old.
He and his friend, the artist Joseph Severn (1793-1879), were lodging in rooms overlooking the Spanish Steps. Their apartment is now part of the Keats-Shelley House and there is a plaque to the poet on the side wall of the building. However, the plaque notes the date of his death as February 24th and not February 23rd!
This apparent discrepancy can be explained by the fact that Keats died in the evening of February 23rd, an hour before midnight. However, in the Rome of 1821, sunset, not midnight, marked the start of a new day, hence the reason for stating the date of his death as February 24th. The same date is marked on his gravestone in the 'Protestant' Cemetery.
Keats, who was suffering from tuberculosis, had been advised by his doctors not to spend another winter in London. He therefore headed south with his friend, the artist Joseph Severn. The pair pitched up in Rome on November 14th, 1820, but it was too late for the chronically sick poet. On November 30th Keats wrote to a friend: "I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence." It was the last letter he wrote.
The house was bought in 1906 by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association and opened as a small museum three years later.
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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