I just moved house and as I was unpacking my books, I ran across one of my Keats books that I bought at a used bookstore 10 years ago. The book itself is a mediocre "life of Keats". I bought it because, pasted in the back cover, is a very old newspaper article from just after WWII written by a Flight Lieutenant S.J. Webb about what happened to Keats House in Rome and more importantly what happened to the Keats relics that were housed inside. It's actually a pretty cool piece of Keats trivia that would have gone into oblivion were it not for the thoughtful previous owner of this book--thanks Estelle and S.H. Upjohn--wherever you are! I've pasted the article below.
Keats Memorial House
In one of the most exquisite of the many ancient squares in Rome, at the foot of the wide baroque staircases leading down the Pinician Hill from the church of the Trinita dei Monti to the Piazza di Spagna, is the house in which John Keats spent the last few months of his life. English and American admirers had made of it a treasure house of relics of the poet and his contemporaries, and through the war it continued to be an English oasis in the Fascist world. No longer open to the public, the museum and library were still cared for by Signora V. Signorelli Cacciatore, half-Italian, half-Russian curator of the memorial house since 1934. She studied at Cambridge, knows and loves England, and has translated into Italian the verse of Rupert Brooke and W.B. Yeats. A neutral committee stood guardians of the place until better times.
After the North African landings in 1942 it was foreseen that Italy might eventually become a battleground, and the most precious relics--a lock of Keats's hair, the death-bed portrait by Severn, irreplaceable first editions and manuscript poems--were sent to the great Abbey of Monte Cassino and lodged in the library under the care of the Maltese archivist Don Mauro Inguanez. Less than a year later the Allies invaded Italy, the Germans took over full military control of Rome, and the long-range shells that underlined their mastery in the ex-Duce's capital fell perilously near the square on September 10, 1943, shattering windows in the old house.
Soon a more deadly danger threatened the ancient Benedictine monastery, debauched and looted by the Nazis and turned into a fortress barring the liberating armies' way to Rome. Don Inguanez asked the German commander's permission to pack and move his personal belongings. It was given. One morning, on the outskirts of the battle-torn Cassino, a dusty figure ina priest's habit "thumbed" a ride on a German truck going into Rome. He had with him a dilapidated suitcase and a box. The box contained the Keats relics. The priest was Don Inguanez. He brought them to new sanctuary in a monistary in Rome. Recently the relics were restored to the memorial house, undamaged by the war, in the presence of Sir Noel Charles and Mr. Alexander Kirk, pre-war members of the Memorial Committee and now British and United States representatives to the Allied Advisory Council for Italy.
Once again it is possible to stand in that little upper room in an angle of the second floor and conjure up those last months when death drew Keats like a temptation. On his death the Italians made haste to fumigate the house and destroy the furniture against infection. Not a stick remains, although the curator has a receipt for the piano. Fortunately there is the death-bed portrait painted by the faithful Severn, which in its infinite weariness echoes the line "mortality weighs heavy on me like unwilling sleep". The graves of Keats and Shelley in the shadow of the tomb of Caius Sestius also miraculously escaped damage in the ravages of air raids.