Introduction

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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown

Provenance

  1. Charles Brown loved food. His letters to Severn are sprinkled with recipes and advice on special dishes. A long passage rejects Severn's "boasted fish sauce" in favor of his own "essence of anchovies." Another lists the contents of a picnic basket, which includes a chicken, a veal pie and a mug of clotted cream. And yet another, attempting to lure his friend to Florence, describes his lunch: "I had some tender beef steaks today, stewed artichokes, a rice pudding, and cherries, — surely you'll come as quick as possible!" No wonder Edward Trelawny, writing with his usual tact, described Brown as "a huge feeder."1 Although a sumptuous diet often roiled his digestive tract, it did provide an excuse to cook up a metaphor for his own correspondence. "I am a bad hand at letter-writing," he admitted, "I always say too much or too little, — I am too merry or too wise, — too much inspired by syllabub or plain boiled beef. Syllabub! — hum, — when I used to advertise a tureen-full at Hampstead, I recollect that my house was full of ladies on the occasion, — so perhaps you like one too, — not, however, that I, in my vanity, can suppose this a hundredth part as good, — I never made a paper one before" (13 March 1829).

  2. Evidently Severn enjoyed the taste for he kept more of Brown's letters than any other correspondent's (fifty-nine), preserving the earliest, dated January 15, 1821, for nearly sixty years.2 Only Gladstone, with thirty letters, appears to have been as important a fixture in Severn's personal archive. At his death Severn's collection of Brown's letters passed to his eldest son, Walter, who in the 1880s lent them to William Sharp who was working on Severn's life and letters. Sharp drew on the Brown letters extensively but did not print many of them in full, reasoning that they "would no longer be of interest" because they contained "somewhat that is of too personal or private a nature to be disengaged from the gossip of a bygone day, and occasionally passages in that broader humour which has ceased to please" (Preface ix). In other words, Sharp censored the specific letters that were painted with Brown's "broader humour," omitting sections that would have been distasteful to his late Victorian audience. He did contemplate publishing at least some of them separately, however, musing to Horace Scudder, then editor of the Atlantic Monthly, that he had "kept out the great bulk of Chas. Armitage Brown's letters, for separate use . . . These I shall probably print elsewhere, unless you have any special reason for wishing to see them."3 Although he wrote other follow-up articles on Severn, nothing appeared subsequently on Brown's letters, and he sent them back to Walter.

  3. In The Everlasting Spell (1963), Joanna Richardson took a stern view of Sharp's censorship of Brown's letters. She called his decision a "monument to stupidity" (184) and implied that Sharp had "suppressed" them (185). Four years later, in a review, she all but accused him of destroying the letters: "I suspect that Sir Charles Dilke was not the only Victorian to burn Keatsiana: to impoverish literature in the cause of prudery."4 Little did she know how close to the truth she had come, though at the time of her writing the letters were actually quite safe. The vital clue appeared in Sheila Birkenhead's Illustrious Friends (1965), the second installment of the Severn story following her earlier Against Oblivion (1944). In the book, Birkenhead cites two extracts from the Brown letters and reports them as "in possession of author."5 While Birkenhead clearly consulted at least some of the letters, her confirmation of their existence amounted to a very soft whisper. Other than her acknowledgment of possession, the only indication that these were the letters Richardson believed lost or destroyed appeared in some minor variations from Sharp's earlier transcriptions.

  4. So how did Sheila Birkenhead come by the letters? And, to retrace our steps for a moment, what happened to them after they were given back to Walter Severn? As it turns out, Walter divided his father's papers, keeping the majority and passing on the Brown letters along with some other items to his youngest brother, Arthur. The preponderance of Walter's share eventually went to his daughter Helen Christian, who married the Reverend Herbert Louis Wild. Their son, John H. S. Wild, inherited most of the Severn papers and in the late 1960s disposed of them to the bookseller Winifred A. Myers, who then sold them to Arthur Houghton, Jr. Soon thereafter, Houghton presented them to Harvard University.6

  5. New information reveals that on his death in February 1931, Arthur Severn gave the Brown letters to a close friend of the family, Miss Mary Larkin Horne. The gift comprised other valuable material as well, including Arthur's memoirs, selections from his correspondence with John Ruskin, and letters to Joseph Severn from the Cowden Clarkes, H. Buxton Forman, Fanny Keats de Llanos, Mary Shelley, and Edward Trelawny. Although she donated some items to the Keats House in Hampstead a few months after Arthur's death,7 Miss Horne chose not to relinquish the Brown letters, perhaps because she was thinking of using them in a book.8 When she died in 1952 the letters were still in her possession and formed a part of her estate. Correspondence preserved by Sheila Birkenhead shows that Miss Horne's sister was unable to make it to London to settle her late sibling's affairs and so empowered a friend, Mrs. Lilian Fairclough, to act on her behalf. In a letter to Mrs. Fairclough, dated 22 October 1952, Miss C. Horne wrote, somewhat enigmatically: "I give my consent to all letters and correspondence to be destroyed." A few years later, Mrs. Fairclough disclosed to Lady Birkenhead that the solicitor dealing with Miss Horne's estate had been appointed to oversee the burning of "all papers." As Mrs. Fairclough reported, "I asked the two administrators for permission to save any papers and was told to do what I liked — as far as they were concerned, burn the lot."9

  6. Acting wisely, Mrs. Fairclough "salvaged the letters from holocaust"10 and after several months of sorting lent them to Sheila Birkenhead, whose first book on Severn she knew and admired. Apparently, Birkenhead had contacted Miss Mary Horne sometime before she died and had expressed interest in seeing the letters for her second book on the Severn and Ruskin families. In 1955 Lady Birkenhead had typescripts made of the Brown letters and like William Sharp before her considered publishing them. But other projects intervened and she was not able to move forward with the edition. Some years later, Mrs. Fairclough generously gave her the Brown letters, which Lady Birkenhead intended to present to Keats House.11 The letters remained in her home, however, until their rediscovery in July 2003 by Sue Brown, who was preparing her new biography of Severn. All of these manuscripts are now in the possession of Lady Juliet Townsend, the daughter of Sheila Birkenhead and great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Severn.

    Editorial Procedures

  7. After nearly seeing publication twice and after coming perilously close to extinction, Charles Brown's letters to Joseph Severn are at last being published here, in a full diplomatic edition, where they will be readily accessible to all students of the Keats circle. The present edition includes forty-six letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn and one letter from Brown to Joseph's wife, Elizabeth Severn. Although there is solid evidence that William Sharp consulted the letters in fashioning the narrative of his Life and Letters of Joseph Severn (1892), he printed only two of them in full and nine in part.12 He made passing mention of seven additional letters, but he did not quote from them. In all, then, our edition contains thirty-five entirely new letters by Charles Brown to Severn and nine more published by Sharp solely in extracts. We have also included an appendix with six more letters of Brown: one each to Richard Monckton Milnes, Edward Trelawny, Charles W. Dilke, Marianne Hunt, Henry Snook and the Snook boys. The letters to Trelawny and Mrs. Hunt are printed here for the first time; the others, with the exception of that to Milnes, have been published only in extracts.13

  8. The original holographs are in remarkably good condition given their adventures. One finds the usual ink blots, minor tears and stains, occasional foxing and creasing, but nothing that impedes the readability of Brown's steady, fluid hand. The one-page fragmentary letter of [March] 1834 is the single exception, though it appears at some point to have been deliberately cut and torn, perhaps by Severn himself who sometimes used the integral address space for notes and the tallying of expenses. Because Brown writes such a neat, clean, bold hand, there are very few illegible words; nor are there many cancellations. And unlike Severn, who often wrote in a hurried scrawl and crossed his letters, Brown's penmanship is always careful and meticulous. He laid down his words as if he were highly conscious of their reception, eager to strike his reader with the full and immediate impact of his wit and observation. In fact, Brown was so conscious of the sensibility of his recipient that he always allowed space for the anticipated tear hole caused by the removal of the seal. He refrained from crossing his letters and rarely wrote up the sides of the sheet, though twice he jokingly interlined a half-sheet upside down ("heels over head") because Severn had complained of his writing being "too legible." In the initial sequence of eleven letters Brown was parsimonious with space and did not use a single paragraph break. Every line is crammed with words to the margins. Even though it might aid in readability, we've chosen not to insert paragraph breaks in these early letters so as to preserve the close march of his prose.

  9. In the texts printed here we have reproduced exactly the spelling, capitalization and punctuation of the manuscripts. Exceptions have been made for repeated words and obvious slips of the pen. In the rare instance where a word could not be deciphered it is presented as ellipses enclosed by brackets ([. . .]), with an explanatory note when necessary. We use braces ({ }) to indicate editorial insertions that fill gaps which result from damage to the manuscript, and braces enclosing three dots ({. . .}) to signify lacunae which we were unable to supply conjecturally. Wherever canceled words appear of interest or significance, we have included them within angle brackets (< >). Ampersands and abbreviations have been retained, though superscript letters are reproduced without the dots or dashes that typically appear beneath them. When available, addresses and postmarks have been included in head notes. The first footnote in relevant letters carries a reference to prior publication in the editions of Sharp and Stillinger.

    New Information

  10. These newly recovered letters fill significant gaps in the record of Charles Brown's life and should help future scholars compose a more complete picture of their subject. In his 1989 biography, E. H. McCormick complained of a break in the sequence of letters between the summer of 1827 and the spring of 1829 (126). We are now able to make available seven letters which document Brown's activities and meetings with friends during this time. Of more serious concern to McCormick was the gap between the summers of 1830 and 1836 (139). Indeed, Jack Stillinger was able to record only two extant letters for this six-year period. The present edition supplies us with nine letters, which go a long way toward filling this "obscure but obviously critical period" (McCormick 143). Two letters in particular, dated 17 Sept. 1833 and 23 Jan. 1834, provide valuable information about Brown's visit to England in 1833. We learn that he stayed with his mother, Jane Browne (since remarried to Joseph R. Browne), and found her much improved in health; that he saw two of the children of the radical reformer, William Cobbett, whom he had first met in Florence in 1828, and also Keats' friend, Richard Woodhouse; and that he attended the Royal Academy Exhibition, where he studied the paintings of Eastlake, Uwins and Severn (on the last of whom he provides a detailed critique). Perhaps most important, we discover that he stayed at the home of Charles W. Dilke in London and that the two men patched up their longstanding feud over George Keats and the Keats family inheritance. This reconciliation, though short-lived, was the more remarkable given that Dilke had just written to George Keats several months earlier stating that Brown had "broken off all further correspondence."14 Another indication of the thaw is that around this time Dilke began commissioning work from his friend for The Athenaeum ("Fresh Light" 140). Although Dilke softened towards Brown, he grew increasingly irritated by Severn, who in 1826 had promised but never delivered a copy of the background landscape of Raphael's "La Madonna di Foligno."15 Another letter from this time (22 June 1834) offers fresh details about Brown's apoplectic seizure in Vieusseux's Reading room in Florence and helps us clear up a number of confusions in McCormick's timeline of events (143-144).

  11. In reference to Keats we find some new information in these letters. We now know that in addition to distributing Keats' books after his death, Brown also returned the poet's correspondence. "I forgot to tell you," he writes to Severn on 20 Dec. 1822, "I received our Keats' papers from Mr Bond, a little before I quitted England. I sorted them all, and returned to every one his letters to Keats, which I understand gave great satisfaction." Severn had ignored Taylor's claims to be Keats' literary executor and had chosen instead to send Keats' papers to Brown. In another letter of 23 Feb. 1825, we learn that Brown had been working on a sketch of Keats when he was living with Severn in Rome and had engaged a friend of his to finish it after his departure. And the fragmentary letter of [March] 1834 now records Brown's response to Severn's request earlier in the month to send him the manuscript copy of Otho the Great, a play which Brown had co-written with Keats. Severn was intending to have it performed by visiting members of the Cambridge Apostles, who were early Keats enthusiasts. As the letter confirms, Brown did not oblige Severn either in coming to Rome or in sending him the manuscript before the Apostles left at the end of their Easter visit. He explained that "so many have disliked it, as a dramatic work, . . . that I am afraid it is not so good as you and I imagine, and I do not feel so anxious as formerly to make it public." As it turned out, many of their mutual friends had been critical of the play, including Dilke, Hunt, Landor, Richards and Darley.

  12. In The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, William Sharp chose to omit a key passage in Brown's first letter printed here (13, 14 August 1821), which casts light on an episode that vexed Severn for many years. The passage concerned Severn's hopes of earning the Royal Academy's pension to pay for his traveling expenses and a three-year residence at Rome. During the final stages of his illness, Keats had warned Severn not to be overly optimistic about his chances of winning the award. As Severn later wrote:

    He recounted his being at a dinner with Hilton & some other artists at the house of Hiltons brother in law & the subject of conversation was the Royal Academy giving me the 1st prise for my picture of the Cave of Despair — that the work was very inferior but the artist being an old fellow & his attempts for the prize frequent the Council had given it out of pity & not for any merit.
           Keats then for the first time expressed his disgust at such a mean lie & that there were present three artists beside Hilton who knew it to be a mean lie & that he would not any longer sit down with such snobs, that he knew me very well, had seen my picture & knew its merits & that I was a young man & that it was my first attempt for any prize of any kind — He then rose from the table & abruptly left the party.16

    Brooding over the story after Keats' death, Severn persuaded himself that Hilton would frustrate his application. Although he knew that Brown was on poor terms with Taylor, Severn asked him to approach the publisher and get him to use his influence with his friend Hilton. The unpublished section of Brown's letter of 13, 14 August shows that in spite of all the difficulties, Brown went out of his way to oblige Severn. As a result, he was able to reassure Severn that there had been a "guiltless mistake": "Those illiberal expressions concerning your prize picture were not used by Hilton, nor at his house, nor even in his presence; but by Hilton's friend De Wintd (or Windt, or what?) at Taylor's house" (13, 14 Aug. 1821). In the end, Severn did get his pension and Hilton proved particularly helpful over it. Brown's efforts to correct the record reassured his friend, even if in later years Severn was to revert to his earlier version of the story.17

  13. One other noteworthy piece of information emerges from Brown's letters. Writing to his brother and sister-in-law in September 1819, Keats mentions in passing that "Severn has got a little Baby" (Letters, ii. 205). Since no reference to the child appeared again in his future letters and Sharp had deliberately suppressed what he knew of the story, scholars never pursued the issue any further. Confirmation of Keats' statement, however, is now provided by Brown who refers several times to Severn's illegitimate son, Henry, and is eager to hear news of his progress.18 (His own son, Carlino, was born about a year after Severn's). In 1826, we learn of a planned reunion between father and son in Italy, and then five years later, sadly, of Henry's premature death. We never discover the cause, though we are privy to Brown's thoughtful words of sympathy and consolation.19

  14. Finally, a few words are in order about the unpublished letter from Brown to Edward Trelawny, dated 11 Oct. 1838, since it is so strikingly different from the group to Severn. The letter is valuable for illuminating a spiritual side of Brown not available in any of his other correspondence. In it he confesses his disillusionment with "the Christian Superstition" and reveals to Trelawny his own private belief system — a commitment to deism and freethinking. He describes his experience of Christianity as a boy oppressed by a tyranny of fear, and goes on to regret the way it saps youthful energies and deprives children of happiness and vitality. He laments the benighted response of "faith-ridden Plymouth" to his ideas, asks Trelawny to recommend "a clever fellow, or two" he might recruit as disciples, and then rather surprisingly, given the Brown we know, announces that he has "a call, and that, setting about it in the right way, [he] might do something." He considers hiring a chapel and giving sermons, offering an alternative to the stodgy parsons at the Plymouth Institution with whom he had already had several run-ins. It is an extraordinary letter, revelatory and sad, one that shows Brown isolated from his own community in Plymouth, at loose ends, quixotically looking to establish a new generation of youthful deists who shall effect "a most sweeping reform in the church and state." Two years later he made the desperate decision to emigrate to New Zealand.

    The Character of Charles Brown

  15. Brown is usually seen as a rather one-dimensional "friend of Keats," robust and masculine, practical and business-like, with a proclivity for "good living and amatory indiscretion."20 Some biographical accounts, however, treat his friendship with Keats and indeed his character more skeptically. He may have been generous and warm-hearted, they concede, but these qualities were tempered by his bachelor selfishness, coarse humor and tight financial prudence. Full of helpful advice to his friends, he could be legalistic and vindictive when it came to the affairs of those he suspected of duplicity. A number of scholars have admitted that though he was a man of firm principles, he at times bowed to strong prejudice, especially when he believed that he or a close companion had been wronged. There is no finer, more succinct example of this aspect of his character than Brown's concluding letter to Frederick Huxham, the iron-founder with whom he had a six-month quarrel over the pricing of a saw-mill:

         Sir,
         Not being restrained by scruples of conscience or by sentiments of honour, your lying and roguery ought to be perfect; but, by your ignorant use of them, they become of more injury than benefit to yourself.
          Yet those who best know you inform me that you have long ceased to have a character to lose.
                   Your hum Servt
                   Chas Brown.21

    C. W. Dilke, whose friendship with Brown was famously rocky, explored the contradictory facets of his character in detailed notes he made in the margins of Richard Monckton Milnes' Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats.22 Quoting from the preface, Dilke fulminates, "A retired Russia-merchant the generous protector of the poet Keats! Fine words — what are they worth?" Then, more soberly, "There is a curious amount of truth & error in these fine phrases." Then haughtily, "Neither Mr Milnes nor his distinguished crack-brained friend of Fiesole,23 knew any thing about Brown — they were not sufficiently on an equality to penetrate the heart of the mystery." To Milnes' comment about Keats' surviving manuscripts — "Few of these remains had escaped the affectionate care of Mr. Brown, and he told me that he only deferred their publication till his return to England" (x) — Dilke responds by boldly underlining most of the sentence and firing off another salvo: "Why dress up the facts after this fanciful fashion! Brown always had an eye to publication — and offered them for publication after Keats' death. He furnished the plot of the tragedy, Otho, on condition that he should have half profits. There was no wrong in this — but why trick him out in masquerade costume as a generous protector of the man or talk of his "affectionate care" of the MSS[?]"

  16. That the notes are written up and down the margins and extend deep into the gutter effectively (and aggressively) surrounding Milnes' text, shows Dilke's obvious agitation. He cannot resist sniping at Brown in the second volume as well (50; 60; 70-71). Still, his overall assessment seems more even-tempered, if not deeply conflicted: Brown was "scrupulously honest," but "wanted nobleness to lift this honesty out of the commercial kennel"; he might have "forgiven John what he owed him with all his heart," but if Keats had been able to pay, "he would have charged interest"; he "could do generous things too — but not after the fashion of the world"; and he was capable of "acts of generosity," but also "others of meanness — the latter was always noticed, the former overlooked." Even Dilke's final defense of his friend, which seems to come direct, may conceal the sting of a political pun: "amongst his early companions he had a character for any thing rather than liberality — but he was liberal."

  17. One incident in particular got Brown into trouble with Dilke and subsequent commentators. In 1826 money was unexpectedly found in the Keats account in chancery. Through Dilke, Brown immediately submitted to George Keats a bill for unpaid expenses which John Keats had incurred from December 1819 to May 1820 at Wentworth Place as his health worsened. In all it amounted to £75 4s 5d, including not just rent and a half share of the wines and spirits bill, but four guineas for the doctors, 3s for coach hire and even 6s 6d for "sundries" (Brown to Dilke, 2 May 1826 [Stillinger 250-251]). This characteristically punctilious account, which George quickly settled, not surprisingly brought some harsh criticism. What has not previously been known is the fact that Brown soon put the money to altruistic use. Just as he had kept Keats in funds over the spring of 1820, so now he offered to lend his unexpected windfall to Severn who, as so often, was in financial difficulty — "for I'm no longer so poor, since Dilke wrote me word that some money, belonging to poor Keats, had been miraculously touched from the fangs of Chancery" (18 June 1826). The very next letter shows that Brown was as good as his word, sending on a money order even though he had not yet received the funds from his agent in England (27 June 1826).

  18. Perhaps owing in part to his incomplete knowledge of Brown's financial dealings, Rollins' view of him is severe, characterized by a tone of moral indignation over Brown's handling of Abby and Carlino as well as Keats. He regrets Brown's "unconventional domestic affairs," frowns at his treatment of women and finally weighs him thus: "Brown was a strange mixture of coarseness, kindliness, cold-bloodedness, and calculation" (KC, i. lxiii, lxix). Not a very flattering description, to be sure, but charitable compared to Aileen Ward's dismantling of Brown a few years later.24 In her otherwise compelling biography of Keats, Ward goes out of her way to impugn his integrity. She describes him as "a misogynist" (203, 239, 443n) and embellishes "Brown's roughshod approach to sex" (301) by suggesting that "his masculine needs [were] satisfied by occasional visits to the shabby side streets off Covent Garden" (203). More seriously, she implies that a passage from an affectionate letter Brown wrote to one of the young Snook boys while on his walking tour with Keats is actually a sign of his deviant sexuality, of pedophilia ("Whatever the actual nature of Brown's attachment to the young Snooks. . ." [204-205]). Brown is not only seen as lusty but predatory.

  19. Through these and other examples which she lifts out of context, Ward seeks to discredit Brown in anticipation of his greatest sin — abandoning Keats. She argues that Brown later tampered with the record in an attempt to justify his failure to accompany Keats to Italy. When he came to write the poet's biography he carefully deleted passages from letters that reflected badly on him, misrepresented his financial situation at the time and withheld from Keats an important letter about money from the poet's brother George (390). Of all those in the Keats circle, according to Ward, it was only Fanny Brawne who genuinely recognized Brown's betrayal: "For months she had silently watched Brown, next door, playing the part of Keats' dearest friend while dodging the responsibility which she had expected from the first he would fulfil" (399). By the end of her biography, Ward's condemnation of Brown's behavior is total, though not wholly convincing, as Stillinger and others have pointed out.25 This vilification of Brown reaches its apogee in Jane Campion’s recent film, “Bright Star” (2009), where he is caricatured as a pantomime villain trying desperately to hold onto his friend Keats and alienate him from Fanny Brawne.

  20. Given that his name is linked with Severn's in Keats' letter divulging the news of Severn's baby and that both men were reputed to have "long studied in the Life-Academy" (Letters, ii. 205), one would expect confirmation of Ward's observations in these new letters. But they show only occasional evidence of sexual innuendo or racy banter, and are not self-centered and calculating. The Brown who emerges is in fact quite different from the man described by Rollins and Ward and favors the generous side of Dilke's estimate. He is consistently agreeable and pleasant, anxious about Severn's health and career, sensitive about the misfortunes of others, fair-minded, judicious and kind. He provides practical advice and counsel, shares remedies for physical ailments, and shows concern for Severn's wife and family, even to the extent of spending a sleepless night on hearing no news from them after the end of the Roman cholera outbreak in 1837. He is charmingly self-deprecatory, offering a number of comical self portraits. He is by turns playful and witty, droll and wise. He can be downright silly, as when he graffitis little exclamatory faces between lines or signs off one letter "with a bow profound, down to the ground" (5, 8 Sept. 1829). But he is also serious and reflective, grimly recounting the suicide of Louisa, the mistress of court artist George Hayter (17 Nov. 1827). If there are brief glimpses of a conquest here and there and smatterings of adolescent humor — when he speaks, for instance, of going to the Carnival with his friend Daniells, who is dressed as Lady Bull with "bubbies as big as Alderman Curtis' back side" — there are far more examples of Brown's solicitude about Severn and the welfare of his family, particularly in his compassionate response to young Henry's death. If Brown expressed delight in copying heads from Hogarth's Rake's Progress, he also took great pleasure in producing delicate watercolor drawings of flowers.

  21. One image of Brown after Keats' death is of a man alone "with spectacles on nose and pouch on side," writing occasional literary pieces and laboring over long, detailed missives to Hunt and Dilke about legal matters.26 In addition to softening our view of Brown's character, these new letters present us with a much more compelling sense of his gregarious nature than we have had before. Brown was a bachelor in an age when bachelor households elicited far less comment than they might today, but he was not solitary. These letters bring out his active sociability and love of company. One is struck, for instance, by the variety of living arrangements he set up and how seldom Brown was actually alone. For a time he lived with Severn and Trelawny in Florence; then with Severn, William West, William Ewing (who had helped Severn nurse Keats) and Leigh Hunt's son in Rome; then with Kirkup and his mistress; with Trelawny and his daughter Zella, and with the widow Mrs. Webster. Later in England he kept house for two years with Mrs. Brown, the widow of his eldest brother, and her daughter. And when on his own with Carlino in Florence he was surrounded by a vibrant English community of writers and artists with whom he dined regularly.27 In a certain sense, then, Brown was always improvising a family, seeking to assemble a lively household of voices both male and female, young and old.

  22. This interest in family arises too in Brown's discussions of gardening, where he matches Severn's talk of children with his own horticultural effusions: "But my delightful green-house, my plants, my dear children in that nursery! Talk of your four children indeed! — why I have about 340, every one in his own pot! There may I be seen among them every morning, attending to their wants with a fatherly care. Oh, if you could but see that promising lad, my Epacris, now in full bloom. Mary's beauty! — what! does it equal that of my Melaleuca hypericifolia?" (26 Nov. 1836). Here and elsewhere he figures his flowers as family members, jokingly sparring with Severn over the beauty of their "children." Other letters show his experiments in cross-pollination, his efforts to create "strange varieties" from "bastard seeds," doubtless a reference to the botanical conversation between Perdita and Polixenes in Act IV of The Winter's Tale (22 June 1834).

  23. In dwelling on his sexual exploits, biographers have thus neglected Brown's less sensational side — his domesticity, his interest in the comforts of a well-appointed home and a flourishing garden. This aspect of his character emerges in frequent gossip about servants and household economy, the exchange of recipes, and occasional descriptions of his living quarters: "My parlour is every day becoming more comfortable, — a fire-place, (that smoketh no{t}) with a marble chimney-piece, — sets of book-shelves round the room, — a good matting under my feet, — cosey arm-chairs, and the window-curtains in preparation; — oh! I forgot the sofa! Nor shall I live so solitary as you may imagine, but hush! — to tell you more of that would make you guess too nearly at my puzzle" (5 Nov. 1824). That Brown was adept at housekeeping is confirmed by Severn when the two lived together in Rome. He tells his father that "Mr Brown is the acting manager — he directs the Cooking — buying — and keeps us young shavers in order" (11 Jan. 1824). Although he often expressed frustration at Severn's sloppy business practices and gently chided him for not writing, Brown never withheld from him hospitality: "You will find me at No 1905 Via Maggio, on the second floor, — and there you will find a bed, a plate, a knife, fork, and spoon, and a coffee-cup, — nay, I don't know whether I cannot, upon due application, afford you a chamber-pot. Pray come, if not for me, for the sake of yourself" (30 Sept. 1828).

  24. If these letters show us the importance of home and garden to Brown, they also reveal his attachment to the stage and harken back, particularly in their style, to his earlier theatrical success in London. A striking feature of the writing is how consistently performative it is, how much invested in the energy of acting and theatricality. Brown adopts a surprisingly varied repertoire of roles in addressing Severn and he plays them with great exuberance and gusto ("Now, you rogue, I'll make your mouth water! I'm, in half an hour, to sit down before a dish of pickled salmon!! I've bought about five pounds of it!!! — a quarter of a Kit!!!! Huzza!!!!! [26 Feb. 1830]). He is by turns the wag, the rake, the writer, the gossip, the doctor, the sage, the philosopher, the businessman, the accountant, the financial advisor, the scold, and the country gentleman. He plays the art, book and literary critic as well as the social commentator. He acts the confidant and counselor, advocate and fan. A careful reading of these letters, moreover, reveals that his performance of these identities is decidedly self-conscious and that he finds great enjoyment in writing them.

  25. In this regard, the consensus view of his "highly sexed" and "roughly ebullient nature," his bluff masculine presence, may need some revising.28 For a significant subset of his personae involve conventional stereotypes of women. He plays the cook, as we have observed ("the 'Article' I am principally engaged in at present is a plum pudding for Christmas day" [20 Dec. 1822]), and also the protective and nurturing mother. "I'm the most motherly father you ever knew," he boasts to Severn, after keeping Carlino home from school because of a cough (30 March 1826). He evokes the fussy homemaker in his repeated mention of broken china,29 and the dutiful wife in attempting to woo Severn to Florence: "Then when you daub at the Pitti, I shall (after a famous breakfast) pack you off at eight o' Clock, with an umbrella for sun and rain (which you can always leave at the gate), and such a walk!" (6, 7 June 1823). That his identity is less well-defined, more porous than we have suspected, is also indicated by his long joke about entering a convent and happily residing there. "By the way," he winks at Severn, "I occupy the Abbess's apartments" (20 May 1824). In the end, the issue of Brown's gender identity seems far more subtle than critics have acknowledged. It certainly merits closer attention.30

  26. The one role Brown never tired of performing, however, was that of the concerned and honest friend. And so one comes to see this as an essential part of his nature. In an essay titled, "Letter-Writing," he lists various kinds of letters but saves those from friends for last. It's not difficult to imagine that he had Severn on his mind as he was composing these lines: "At length I arrive at what my fingers have been aching to come at, — letters from a friend; or, if the world will allow it, from many friends. In my opinion, friendship can best express itself by the pen; from which alone the closest friendships have sometimes originated. . . . [T]hat honest, glowing sentiment, of all others the least selfish, never so thrills in our hearts as when our friend writes to us; and it must be often, and in all his moods, in his hopes and fears, in his joys and sorrows" (Some Letters 115). The great theme of these new letters is Brown's sustained friendship with Severn over more than twenty years. When read together with his other letters at the Houghton Library and Severn's communications to him in the British Library and Pforzheimer Collection, this series of correspondence offers us the fullest consecutive record of any of the friendships in the Keats circle after the poet's death. And what is remarkable about this friendship is its resilience in spite of the long passage of time during which the two did not see each other. Indeed, aside from a small piece of tenuous evidence,31 there is no indication that the two friends met after 1830, though they continued to be warm friends.

  27. As readers will see, many of these letters show that Brown was a fine judge of character. Sketches of fellow countrymen like Hayter, Kirkup, Reader and Taylor are keen and unsparing, concise executions of character. Hayter, for example, is drawn thus: "I could pardon his vanity, though it is greater than any man's I ever knew; but he is, in other respects, unpleasant, requiring one's services on every petty or useful occasion, and paying for them with manners just within the boundary of rudeness, — it is astonishing how much he can do in that way, without overstepping the actual boundary" (17 March 1827). And of Reader, who was coming to Rome, he warned: "His mind has a squint in it as well as his face. He is boasting and selfish. He will give a sugar plum in the hope of receiving a sirloin of beef. . . If you dine at his house, he has an intention on you" (13 April 1826). When it came to Severn, however, he was always more kind and forgiving (though he had plenty to complain about). He tells his friend Thomas Richards, "I think him quite a perfect fellow. He has a generous way of thinking on all occasions and an independence of spirit that I seldom saw equalled" (Stillinger 145).

  28. It is tempting to see parallels between Brown's friendship with Keats and later with Severn. In both cases he was willing to act as the handmaid to genius. A talented amateur artist himself he set far higher store on Severn's gifts than posterity has done. Early on he described him as the finest miniature portraitist living, delighted in his artistic successes in Rome, and went out of his way to appraise Severn's work at the RA exhibitions. As these letters show, Brown was an active participant in Severn's career, advising him on prices and patrons, encouraging and applauding him; he was conscious that by comparison with his own dilettante talents, Severn was, like Keats before him, the genuine article, a true creative artist.32 But if in some ways Severn stood as Brown's proxy for Keats, there was also a genuine sympathy between them. They were both convivial men who loved Italy. They were both for a time single parents and they had shared memories of Keats and a lasting devotion to him.

  29. At one time or another Brown quarreled with all the leading members of the Keats circle, except for Severn. Given Brown's possessiveness about everything to do with Keats and the fact that Severn, rather than Brown, was increasingly being identified as the friend of Keats, the unruffled course of the two men's friendship which is confirmed in these letters is a tribute not only to Severn's but also to Brown's "generous way of thinking on all occasions." As one by one his own siblings died, he came to see Severn as more than just a good friend, but as an intimate, a member of the family. "Had I any thing more to say," Brown concludes in a moving early letter, "I would not spare myself, for your sake; for know, my dear Severn, I feel towards you as a brother for your kindness to our brother Keats" (9 March 1821). The collection which follows offers a vivid picture of the vitality and persistence of that brotherly affection between Brown and Severn.

    * * *

  30. This revised edition (2010) corrects several transcriptional errors in the letter-texts, supplies new information in a number of the footnotes, rounding out dates for many Brown descendants and identifying more historical figures and literary references. Most important, it now, we believe, provides a more convincing date for one of the letters (6, 7 June [1824] for [1823]) and adds two significant new letters to the edition, that of 9 March 1821 to Severn (Letter 1), which has not previously been published in accurate form, and that of 17 October 1835 to Richard Monckton Milnes (Appendix Letter 4), which was published by Leonidas M. Jones in the Keats-Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1979), but is now largely unknown. We have provided fresh annotations for both of these letters.

  31. Charles Brown’s manuscript letter to Severn of 9 March 1821 came to Harvard as part of the Severn papers in 1972, and so Jack Stillinger was unable to include it in his edition (1966). Instead he had to rely on the flawed transcription made by William Sharp in his The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn (1892), though he did manage to supply a number of “purely conjectural” words and phrases to portions Sharp could not decipher, conjectures that have turned out to be largely accurate. Unlike his notorious transcriptions of Severn’s memoirs, William Sharp’s rendering of Brown’s letter contains only minor omissions and embellishments. Still, these alterations clearly affect the experience of reading the original letter by regularizing the punctuation and grammar and occasionally rearranging the syntax. Certainly emendations such as the following change the essential character if not the overall sense of the letter:

    Sharp: “I understand (as indeed Keats told me) how he intended to treat Lockhart” (88).

    MS: “I understand, (& indeed Keats told me,) how he intended to have treated Lockhart.”

    Sharp: “Mrs. Brawne saw your letter, but her daughter did not, from whom the worst is kept back, in (to my mind) a very ill-judged way” (88).

    MS: “Mrs B-- saw your letter, but not her daughter, from whom the worst is kept back, in (to my mind) a very ill judged way.”

    Sharp: “Yet had I anything more to say, I would not spare myself for your sake; for, my dear Severn, I feel towards you as a brother for your kindness to our brother Keats.”

    MS: “Yet had I any thing more to say, I would not spare myself, for your sake; for know, my dear Severn, I feel towards you as a brother for your kindness to our brother Keats.”

    Sharp’s elision of that resonant, Lear-like “know” in the last example (and final sentence of the letter) makes a big difference tonally as well as psychologically. It forecasts the nature of Brown’s relationship with Severn over the next twenty-one years, and its presence genuinely heightens the powerful emotional impact at the end of the letter. We believe interventions like these are serious enough to merit a fresh transcription that accurately reflects both the spontaneity and emotional veracity of Brown’s letter.

  32. Brown’s letter of 17 October 1835 to Richard M. Milnes represents the earliest known piece of correspondence between the two men (by five years) and demonstrates that they were already on cordial terms, having first met in 1832-33, when Milnes was traveling in Italy with his family. The opening lines of the preface to his famous biography of Keats (1848) confirm this meeting: “It is now fifteen years ago that I met, at the villa of my distinguished friend Mr. Landor, on the beautiful hill-side of Fiesole, Mr. Charles Brown, a retired Russia-merchant, with whose name I was already familiar as the generous protector and devoted friend of the Poet Keats.” We learn from the letter that Brown has had another apoplectic seizure similar to the one he suffered in Vieusseux’s Reading Room in Florence the year before, and that his doctors have warned him that taking snuff could hasten his death. They have also tried to persuade him that the fit was epileptic, a faulty diagnosis since Brown experienced a number of transient ischemic attacks (TIA), or partial strokes, as we now know them, throughout his life. His longstanding skepticism about doctors thus turned out to be warranted.

Notes

1 Trelawny to Captain Daniel Roberts, 19 Sept. 1858 (Letters of Edward John Trelawny, ed. H. Buxton Forman [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1910] 215). In his later years Brown cut back on his diet. [Back]

2 Of these fifty-nine letters, forty-six comprise the newly rediscovered letters (including one from Brown to Elizabeth Severn) and ten are at the Houghton Library, Harvard. Remarkably, only three of Brown's letters to Severn mentioned by Sharp remain untraced – 21, 28[?] August 1821; Dec. 1829; April[?] 1841. [Back]

3 19 Sept. 1891, Houghton Library, Harvard, MS Am 801.4 (401). [Back]

4 Rev. of Jack Stillinger, ed. The Letters of Charles Armitage Brown (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1966) in Keats-Shelley Journal 16 (Winter 1967): 95. [Back]

5 Illustrious Friends: The Story of Joseph Severn and His Son Arthur (New York: Reynal, 1965) 81, 99. [Back]

6 For a more detailed account of the history of the Severn papers, see Scott 563-67. Only one letter from Brown to Severn appeared in the Wild sale to Arthur Houghton, Jr., who had earlier given Harvard ten letters (1954). As noted below, the forty-six rediscovered letters were not among the Severn Papers sold by John Wild. [Back]

7 In June 1931, Miss Horne gave the following material to Keats House: a letter from Joseph Severn to his sister Maria, dated Nov. 1, 1820; a number of letters and items concerning a memorial to Joseph Severn and his burial in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome; Joseph Severn's oil painting, "Greek Hill shepherds Rescuing a Lamb from a Vulture" (1825). [Back]

8 Amongst the Birkenhead correspondence is a curious item: a royalty statement from Moyco Press to Miss M. L. Horne of 20, Aubrey Walk, W8. The statement covers the period from Jan. to June 1945 and lists the titles of her two books: Remarkable People and Life and Letters of Arthur Severn. A search of WorldCat and COPAC yields no results for Miss Horne, her two books or the mysterious Moyco Press. Google is no better. [Back]

9 Lilian Fairclough to Lady Sheila Birkenhead, 22 May 1955. [Back]

10 Sheila Birkenhead to Lilian Fairclough, 25 May 1955 (copy). In the Introduction to Illustrious Friends, Birkenhead also expresses her gratitude to Mrs. Fairclough for rescuing Arthur Severn's Memoirs "from destruction" (xiii). [Back]

11 Sheila Birkenhead to Lilian Fairclough, 1 Jan. 1956 (copy). [Back]

12 The two letters are those of 21 March 1841 and 22 Jan. 1842. Most of the partially transcribed letters in Sharp's edition contain substantial omissions. In the first footnote of each letter we have noted Sharp's other citations. [Back]

13 We have chosen not to include the twenty-six unpublished letters from Brown to the Exeter Ironfounders, Huxhams, brought to light in 1988 and discussed in Gillian Iles's article in the Keats-Shelley Journal (1991). These letters, now at the LMA, concern a protracted argument over mechanical equipment, contain no new biographical information, and are simply not very interesting. [Back]

14 Charles W. Dilke to George Keats, 12 February 1833 (KC, ii. 10). [Back]

15 For an extended discussion of the quarrel over Dilke's picture, see Sue Brown's "Fresh Light" (146-47). [Back]

16 "My tedious Life" (Scott 646). [Back]

17 See, for example, H. C. Robinson's diary entry for 9 Aug. 1838: "Breakfast at Samuel Rogers. S[evern] made himself very entertaining – Told a curious anecdote of De Windt's malignity towards him" (Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Writers. Ed. Edith J. Morley. 3 vols. [London, 1938] 2: 552), and also Mrs. Annie Fields's account of a meeting with Severn (M. A. de Wolfe Howe, "A Talk with Joseph Severn about John Keats." The John Keats Memorial Volume [London: John Lane, 1921] 106). [Back]

18 Additional evidence of a son appears in Severn's letter to Brown, 19 Sept. 1821, though Sharp excised the passage in his transcription (see Scott 173). [Back]

19 As Grant Scott has argued, the existence of an illegitimate child complicated Severn's decision to go to Rome with Keats (Scott 26-29). In her biography of Severn, Sue Brown also explores the implications of Severn's son. [Back]

20 John L. Bradley, Rev. of Stillinger's The Letters of Charles Armitage Brown in The Modern Language Review 63 (July 1968): 682. [Back]

21 To Mr F. Huxham / Iron foundry / Exeter, "Oriental". 20 June 1841 (LMA, K/MS/02/199). The "Oriental" was the name of the ship chartered by the Plymouth Company of New Zealand to take its main body of colonists to the newly founded settlement of New Plymouth. It sailed from Plymouth, England on 22 June 1841 and landed at New Plymouth on 7 Nov. 1841 (Beverley A. Mitchell, Charles Armitage Brown Family Tree [New Zealand: privately printed, 1983] 3). [Back]

22 At the Morgan Library and Museum. Only a small selection of these marginal notes have been quoted previously. [Back]

23 Walter Savage Landor. [Back]

24 Aileen Ward, John Keats: The Making of a Poet. 1963. Rev. ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986). Bate, Gittings, Motion and Richardson offer fairly balanced assessments of Brown's character, though for obvious reasons those of Stillinger and McCormick are more positive. [Back]

25 See Stillinger 10-11, McCormick 72-73, 75-76, and Robert Gittings, John Keats (London: Heinemann, 1968) 589. [Back]

26 An impression we are likely to come away with from Stillinger's edition of the letters. [Back]

27 These included George Hayter, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Seymour Kirkup, Walter Savage Landor and for a time, Richard Westmacott. Noteworthy too are the number and assortment of people he lists who pass through Florence on their way to Rome and the traffic of goods back and forth – everything from pictures and books to stoves and thermometers. At various points, Brown sounds like the manager of a warehouse. [Back]

28 See Andrew Motion, Keats (London: Faber & Faber, 1997) 195 and Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1963) 347. [Back]

29 26 Oct. 1826; 2 Nov. 1826; 17 March 1827. [Back]

30 In this regard, Keats' comic reference to Brown giving birth is noteworthy as well: "Brown has been walking up and down the room a breeding – now at this moment he is being delivered of a couplet – and I dare say will be as well as can be expected – Gracious – he has twins!" (Letters, ii. 66). [Back]

31 Severn's letter to Brown of 21 Nov. 1837, which forms a part of the packet of Brown letters in Lady Townsend's collection. Its presence there may be explained by the possibility that Brown and Severn briefly met up again in London before Brown left for New Zealand in June 1841. This would have given him the opportunity to return Severn's letter. [Back]

32 See, for example, his remarks about Severn to Henry Snook in his letter of 11 Feb. 1820. [Back]

Published @ RC

December 2007