I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.
Those words, often quoted, appear at the end of John Keats’ last surviving letter, written in November of 1820 to his dear friend, Charles Brown, just two months before 25-year-old Keats succumbed to tuberculosis. Much will be written today—the 200th anniversary of his death—about Keats’ contribution to the world of poetry, and his work will quite rightly be celebrated.
However, at the risk of lowering the tone once again, let us not forget that Keats was one of the first people ever to mention—in writing at least, in a letter dated 6th August 1818—a roast beef sandwich. This, I swear, is true. Let us also not forget the time the filthy wordsmith wrote a letter whilst a “soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy” nectarine “melted” down his throat. And while we’re at it, how about the letter to his sister in which he talks of downing a string of sausages “as easily as a Pen’orth of Lady’s fingers.”
Please realise that the following list of Keats’ Eats could have been much longer. Alas, I’m busy.
[Claret] fills one’s mouth with a gushing freshness—then goes down cool and feverless—then you do not feel it quarrelling with your liver—no it is rather a Peace maker and lies as quiet as it did in the grape—then it is as fragrant as the Queen Bee; and the more ethereal Part of it mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral apartments like a bully in a bad house looking for his trul and hurrying from door to door bouncing against the waistcoat; but rather walks like Aladin about his own enchanted palace so gently that you do not feel his step.
John Keats | Letter to his brother and sister, 19 Feb 1818
I am ashamed of writing you such stuff, nor would I if it were not for being tired after my days walking, and ready to tumble into bed so fatigued that when I am asleep you might sew my nose to my great toe and trundle me round the town like a Hoop without waking me—Then I get so hungry—a Ham goes but a very little way and fowls are like Larks to me—A Batch of Bread I make no more ado with than a sheet of parliament; and I can eat a Bull’s head as easily as I used to do Bull’s eyes—I take a whole string of Pork Sausages down as easily as a Pen’orth of Lady’s fingers.
John Keats | Letter to Fanny Keats, 3 Jul 1818
We dined yesterday on dirty bacon dirtier eggs and dirtiest Potatoes with a slice of Salmon—we breakfast this morning in a nice carpeted Room with Sofa hair bottomed chairs and green-baized mehogany—A spring by the road side is always welcome—we drink water for dinner diluted with a Gill of wiskey.
John Keats | Letter to Tom Keats, 5 Jul 1818
For these two days past we have been so badly accommodated more particularly in coarse food that I have not been at all in cue to write. Last night poor Brown with his feet blistered and scarcely able to walk, after a trudge of 20 Miles down the Side of Loch Awe had no supper but Eggs and Oat Cake—we have lost the sight of white bread entirely—Now we had eaten nothing but Eggs all day—about 10 a piece and they had become sickening.
John Keats | Letter to Tom Keats, 20 Jul 1818
Sometimes when I am rather tired, I lean rather languishingly on a Rock, & long for some famous Beauty to get down from her Palfrey in passing; approach me with her—saddle bags—& give me—a dozen or two capital roast beef sandwiches.
John Keats | Letter to Ann Wylie, 6 Aug 1818
I should like now to promenade round your Gardens—apple-tasting—pear-tasting—plum-judging—apricot-nibbling—peach-scrunching—nectarine-sucking and Melon-carving. I have also a great feeling for antiquated cherries full of sugar cracks—and a white currant tree kept for company. I admire lolling on a lawn by a water lilied pond to eat white currants and see gold-fish: and go to the Fair in the Evening if I’m good.
John Keats | Letter to Fanny Keats, 29 Aug 1819
Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine—good God how fine. It went down soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy—all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry. I shall certainly breed. Now I come to my request. Should you like me for a neighbour again? Come, plump it out, I won’t blush.
John Keats | Letter to Charles Dilke, 22 Sep 1819
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