My chest of books divide among my friends


John Keats's 1820 will

John Keats died with £800 in chancery, due to him from an inheritance. He knew nothing of this though, and was effectively penniless while he was dying of consumption. In a final attempt to recover his health, he set sail for Italy in the fall of 1820 with his close friend Joseph Severn. A month before his departure, he acknowledged the futility of this journey in a short letter to his publisher and friend John Taylor and noted that the upcoming trip "wakes me at daylight every morning and haunts me horribly."

At about the same time, he penned these few lines – the closest thing to a last will and testament he ever wrote. This informal will notes "all my estate real and personal consists in the hopes of the sale of books publish'd or unpublish'd," and gives instructions that Charles Brown and John Taylor be the "first paid Creditors." The final directive, penned (in perfect iambic pentameter) at the top of this "scrap of Paper," disperses his small library -- he states: "My Chest of Books divide among my friends." These instructions were carried out by Charles Brown, and Keats's collection of about 80 books is now scattered across libraries and private collections.

The Morgan's manuscript collections also include Keats's 1818 fair copy of Endymion, the only surviving portion of Hyperion, and numerous letters and early drafts of poems -- as well as three locks of his hair.

For more information about this item, click here.

The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.

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