Romantic poems for her biographyOn 8 December 1865, the front page of the London Times included the following obituary: 'On the 4 inst., at 34 Coleshill-street, Eaton-square, Frances, the wife of Louis Lindon, Esq. Friends will kindly accept this intimation.' The 65 year old Mrs Lindon was survived by her husband, a sales agent twelve years her junior, and three children. The eldest, 31 year old Edmund was in government service; 27 year old Herbert and 21 year old Margaret still lived at home. Their mother's death naturally affected them, but it was otherwise of interest only to those with memories of Hampstead forty-six years ago. For it was there, in the autumn of 1818, that Frances Lindon had been known as Fanny Brawne. And it was there that she met a struggling young poet named John Keats. The anonymous Mrs Lindon was, in fact, the mysterious, unnamed beloved of the now famous Keats.
It was seven years after her death before Fanny's identity became known. Though she had told her children of her romance with Keats, and shown them her collection of his books and love letters, she had also made them promise to never tell their father. But when Louis Lindon died in 1872, Fanny's children (led primarily by Herbert) were finally able to profit from their mother's story.
And profit they did. Though Keats had died in 1821, just 25 years old and largely unknown, the resulting years had witnessed a belated recognition of his genius. He was now considered among the greatest English poets. His works sold briskly and, in 1848, the first biography of Keats was published. Written by Richard Monckton Milnes with the aid of several of Keats's friends, it nevertheless angered many others. Like Percy Shelley's elegy 'Adonais', Milnes's biography created an image of Keats as a sickly dreamer done to death by bad reviews. It was a sentimental portrait and psychologically false. And though it mentioned Keats's engagement to a young lady, it never named the lady in question.
Fanny had witnessed the growth of Keats's reputation; perhaps she had read the numerous books which eulogized him. But she never revealed herself, nor took a noteworthy interest in his life. Her husband knew only that she and the poet had met as neighbors in Hampstead. Fanny never told him otherwise.
But she had kept Keats's love letters to her, over three dozen of them; many were mere notes, others lengthy chronicles of his devotion, others jealous ramblings which revealed a heretofore new (and, to his admirers, unpleasant) aspect of Keats's character. These letters would later be celebrated as among the most beautiful ever written. But in the 1870s, matters were quite different. Fanny clearly believed they were valuable, or else she would never have given them to her children. Yet what sort of value did she envision? Did she think they would aid scholarship? Or give new insight into Keats's life? Or did she intend for her children to sell them and literally profit from her long ago romance? We do not know the answer. We do know, however, that, upon his father's death, Herbert Lindon immediately sought to sell the letters.