Keats and Italy

A History of the Keats-Shelley House in Italy


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Keats and Italy

Book Authors

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The Keats-Shelley Museum

Piazza di Spagna 26, Rome Italy

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Keats and Italy
60 Illustrations
2005 Pages 120

ISBN 978-88-89290-31-9

English Library


AA.VV Keats and Italy

“The rooms secured for Keats and Severn on the second floor were comfortable and well furnished, but had the disadvantage of communicating with their Venetian landlady Anna Angeletti’s own rooms, and at nearly ten pounds a month were rather expensive. The front door led into a dark hall, but beyond this was a fine large sitting room (where Severn also slept, on a couch behind a curtain), which led into a bedroom with a red-tiled floor, a carved fireplace and two windows, one looking over the piazza and the other the Scalinata. They were pleased with these rooms, which Severn described as ‘simple but elegant’, and Keats found the view from the windows of his bedroom a constant delight.”

Sally Brown

Keats and Italy



Preface by HRH The Prince of Wales
Curator’s Note

Keats and Italy

Sally Brown  Suppose Me in Rome
Filippo Donini   The Influence of Italy on Keats


John Keats   Three Sonnets
Percy Bysshe Shelley   from ‘Adonais’

History of the Keats-Shelley House

Sally Brown   An Echo and a Light unto Eternity: The Founding of the Keats-Shelley House
Vera Cacciatore   The House in War-time

Keats-Shelley House Architecture and Collection

Catherine Payling The Museum Collection
Richard Haslam The House by the Barcaccia

Founding Donors


Book Review, by Roderick Cavaliero, Keats-Shelley Bulletin N. 19, 2005

Keats and Italy, A History of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, by Sally Brown, Vera Cacciatore, Filippo Donini, Richard Haslam and Catherine Payling.

This short but comprehensive life history of No 26 Piazza di Spagna has been written to celebrate its hundredth birthday as a memorial to the Romantic poets who lived and wrote in Italy. Its authors have all at some time been intimately connected with the House, one as Trustee, two as curators  and one as a temporary curator, and an architectural historian. It is succinct, informative and lavishly and interestingly illustrated and comes with a preface from its patron, the Prince of Wales, for which he deserves full marks as the most enlightened literary royal since good King George IV.

While Keats's three months in Rome before his death have long been known, and exhaustively detailed, Sally Brown has to tell the tale again to set the context and to explain why the House exercised such a powerful stimulus to the British-American community in Rome who were inspired to procure it when it unexpectedly came on the market just over 100 years ago. It was a lucky chance that the House was not destroyed to make room for a hotel before the resources could be found. I am pleased, though also a little disappointed, to find that the threat did not come to the house, as I had supposed, because it had become a house of ill-repute—the visitors to the Mesdames Hazlehurt can only have been of the purest virtue. Its purchase, master-minded by the British diplomatist, Rennell Rodd, and friend of Oscar Wilde (whose poem to Keats's grave is one of the manuscript treasures of the museum), was a piece of inspired philanthropy as well as cultural salvage.

The story thereafter largely but not wholly resides in numbers of the Keats-Shelley Bulletin over the years and to have it all in one place, and elegantly and economically narrated, is one of the virtues of this little book. The war and post-war years were not kind to the House, though it and its contents had providentially survived, as Vera Cacciatore's republished memoir reveals. A discursive inventory of what the museum and library has to offer is, at last, available in the contribution of the current Curator.  The wonder is that this has never been done before, since the riches exceed what a passionate pilgrim can absorb in a short visit. It is a tribute to generosity and dedication from both sides of the Atlantic and from Italy herself, and provides an absorbing opportunity for the collection to flash upon that inward eye which all of us hope to nourish after our visits. Richard Haslam's account of how No 26 came to be built and its history as a building will be completely new to many who have made it one of the 'musts' of a visit to Rome.  During  my unregenerate working life I found myself one of the Rome Committee of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. Later I was approached in Vienna by a dead poet's enthusiast who told me that there was a chance of buying the house in the Vienna woods in which WH Auden had spent part of his life.  Had I, as one of the custodians of Keats's house in Rome, any advice for him, as a member of the Auden Society. 'Yes', I said. 'Don't!'

The two authors of this 'life' of the House did not live through the abject times, when the Association looked as if it might be broke, when the costs of keeping the House open in Rome had grown greater than its income, when Friends were dipping deep into their pockets and when the employment of a curator, in Italy's penal employment scene, on the retirement of Vera Cacciatore who had held the crumbling fort undaunted for forty-two years, looked a forlorn prospect, unless we could find someone who would work a 24/7 week for virtually nothing. The Association had no endowment for the House, and at one time there was talk of finding another philanthropic enterprise to take on 26 Piazza di Spagna.

Governments know better than to pick up this kind of bill, but come the hour, come the man or rather the men and women.. A retired diplomatist with an apartment in Rome was appointed on a stipend no working man could live on. An appeal was launched in Britain, Rotary footed most of a bill for essential repairs, and miraculously the House became viable again. There was a price to be paid. The sleepy museum and library, which would close if there was a serious scholar at work within, had to become one of the popular tourist attractions in a city full of rival attractions, the English Romantics who had always been on the English curriculum in Italian schools had to become forward players on the Italian literary scene. The House, while seeking  patrons, had to become a patron itself, sponsoring conferences, competitions, prizes..

The busy and interactive part now played by the Association in Italy has been the object and achievement of three curators since 1976, assisted by a generous endowment created in the will of a citizen of Philadelphia, which converted the House from precarious survival to comfortable dynamism. I am pleased to see that Harold B. Martin, our almost unknown benefactor, is mentioned.  Had I been asked today what to do with Auden's house in Austria, I should have said: 'Only buy it if you can set up an endowment fund to see you through good days and bad; appoint someone with flair to run the place and do not hesitate to charge for services.

Dead poet's societies are dependent upon fashion and enthusiasm and there was plenty of this when it was founded by the English speaking community in Rome at the turn of the last century. It has been sustained by the enthusiasm and generosity of admirers. Fortunately Keats, Shelley and Byron (who, of course, has his own society) have never gone out of fashion, and they have never lacked for enthusiasts. Official Britain has never been over generous about its literary heritage, except in theory, so that the House does perform an important role in the cultural relations between Britain and Italy, at no cost to the taxpayer, national or local.  No one doubts its future now barring an act of God or Terrorism (some years back there was fear of a rocket attack on the American Express office in Piazza di Spagna. An ill-directed missile could have sent No 26 up in a cloud of semtex and artificial fertiliser).

I feel the need to expatiate on this part of the House's life as, with due modesty towards the living and reverence for the dead, the authors' tribute to those who came to its rescue, of whom they are a not an inconsiderable part, is muted.

Roderick Cavaliero

Edizioni Il Labirinto