I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.
Rome oozes with history and souls that inhabited it. As imprisoned in time, these souls still permeate the atmosphere with an eternal note. In the heart of the city, next to the Spanish Steps, at number 26, stands the last dwelling of the most romantic of all poets, John Keats who died there in 1821, aged just twenty-five.
His thin elegant shape, his enigmatic face and his anguished poetry, make him one of the most fascinating representatives of European literature. Nothing could undermine his genius, constantly researching beauty in the world. The most prolific years of the poet also correspond with the love of his life, the Londoner Fanny Brawne, who was engaged with the poet from December 1818 until his death, in Rome in 1821. Until the very last moment, the poet regretted not being able to stay with her, but his disease – tuberculosis – was contagious. Furthermore, trying to get better, he was advised to move to a wormer climate In Italy, in Rome.
Keats left for the “Fair Country” in 1820, and the ship, which had already gone through an intense storm, was put in quarantine at Naples port. It was feared that passengers could have contracted cholera, as there had been an epidemic in the United Kingdom. When Keats reached Rome, it was already late November, and the mild climate was just a distant memory. Phthisis did not get any better, on the contrary, it worsened day by day. John Keats and his friend Severn arrived in Rome and lodged in the building in Piazza di Spagna. They paid a 5 ecu rent monthly, in a place where little apartments were rented. They settled in two rooms, on the second floor. A little living room, where Severn stayed, connected with a corner little room, where Keats slept. There was a paneled ceiling and a fire place. Two windows faced directly on the Piazza and on the famous Steps. Meals were home delivered, thanks to the kitchen of the Osteria della Lepre, in via Condotti. One of the most favorite places for foreigner literates was Caffè Greco, located just in front of the aforementioned Osteria. When Keats’s health conditions let, he would stroll through Pincio. His friend Severn did everything he could in order to soothe his pain, but on February 23, 1821, in the tiny spare room in Piazza di Spagna, Keats, who had studied to become a surgeon, felt his life abandoning him.
In 1903 the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association was founded with the aim of collecting founds to save the building from being demolished and to make it a place to remember John Keats and Percy Shelley’s lives. The museum was inaugurated on April 3, 1909. Inside of it, in its bare elegant rooms which include the poet’s bedroom, visitors find letters, manuscripts, a wax Carnival mask who belonged to Lord Byron, portraits and relics of romantic poets and of other great writers who were influenced by Keats, like Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Severn – friend and travel companion of Keats – and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The museum also includes an ample terrace at the first floor, recently restored, and another one on the second floor with a view on the unique Piazza di Spagna. There are also a cozy bookshop filled with books and articles and a cinema room presenting a video with the history of both the museum and the Roman life of Keats, Shelley and Byron. Furthermore Keats-Shelley House regularly hosts temporary exhibitions and public conferences in both Italian and English. All these elements increase the suggestive unique atmosphere of the museum.