A researcher of Keats discovers that the Roman authorities had looked into the poet before his passing.
Newly uncovered documents from the 19th century reveal that John Keats was under investigation by the Roman police shortly before his death.
Alessandro Gallenzi, an expert on Keats, found a record in the Roman police archives mentioning the poet by the incorrect name “John Xeats”. The record stated that Keats was being investigated because his landlady requested for him to be evicted from her property. She was unaware that he had tuberculosis and did not want to risk catching the disease. During that era, tuberculosis was believed to be highly contagious in Rome, which made it challenging and costly for Keats to find a new place to stay if he had revealed his illness.
In 1820, the English poet started having difficulty breathing and bleeding in his lungs. His medical advisors suggested he go on a trip across the ocean. He embarked on a journey to Rome with his companion Joseph Severn, arriving on November 15, 1820.
Keats was diagnosed with tuberculosis by his doctor, James Clark, while residing with Anna Angeletti, a woman who lived nearby.
In December of 1820, Keats had a severe coughing fit that caused him to spit up a large amount of blood. Severn, who was with him at the time, reported that Keats believed this to be a sign of his impending death. This caused concern for Angeletti, who then filed a complaint with the local police magistrate, Stanislao del Drago. She requested that Keats be taken out of her house or, in the event of his death, that she be compensated for the expenses of cleaning and disinfecting his living quarters.
On December 18th, Gallenzi discovered that del Drago had made a report to the police at their main office. The police then opened an investigation and included Keats’ name in their records. The next day, on December 19th, the governor of Rome, Tommaso Bernetti, sent a letter to the secretary of the Sacra Consulta, who handles public health matters, along with Angeletti’s request.
At four o’clock in the morning on December 24th, Severn was informed about the investigation by Clark. On December 27th, the Sacra Consulta’s secretary sent a letter to Domenico Morichini, a notable doctor who was consulted for an opinion on Napoleon’s health the previous year.
Morichini and Clark had a meeting, and Morichini sent a message to the Sacra Consulta to reassure them that they would take necessary steps to ensure proper sanitation. This included getting rid of all of Keats’ furniture, disposing of any wools and cottons, scraping the floors, and whitewashing the walls.
The communication also mentioned that Clark would ensure the landlady would be repaid for any expenses. According to Gallenzi, Keats was financially struggling at the time and the letter demonstrates Clark’s generosity towards the poet.
According to Gallenzi, it has been recently discovered that Angeletti had filed a police complaint, which was only briefly mentioned in one of Severn’s letters. It was not until now that both Angeletti’s letter and the police register entry were uncovered, providing confirmation that Keats was indeed being investigated.
On February 23, 1821, at the young age of 25, Keats passed away. The day after, a team of doctors, including Clark and an Italian surgeon, potentially Morichini, performed an autopsy and determined that the cause of death was tuberculosis. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, Keats’ living quarters were thoroughly cleaned and his furniture was burned outside of the home.
Gallenzi discovered the documents at the State Archive of Rome. Despite the pandemic, he managed to write a book about the poet entitled “Written in Water: Keats’s Final Journey.” As he prepared for the second edition, he was able to visit Rome and locate the documents after extensive communication with archivists.
“No one had suspected that they still existed, that they’ve been preserved, so I think they are an important discovery,” said Gallenzi. The scholar now hopes that he will find Keats’ autopsy report, which he believes would be “exceedingly interesting”.