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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Appendix Letter 2

CHARLES BROWN TO HENRY SNOOK1

11 February 1820

Hampstead. 11th Feby 1820.

My dear Henry,

The letter of thanks for the basket of provisions is already sent; it went to the wrong party, but no matter; the fault lies at your door; fortunately my mistake was with your Grandmother,2 for some would never have given me credit for its being a mistake, — they might have obstinately suspected I meant a hint for a present. However, notwithstanding the trick you played me, I must say I am much obliged to you. — Recollect we are to correspond; and, as a preliminary, let it be understood I don't like being called "My dear Sir", — I wish for something more familiar from you, — Mr Keats fell very ill yesterday week,3 and my office of head nurse has too much employed me to allow of my answering your letter immediately; he is somewhat better, but I'm in a very anxious state about him. — I was in hopes of you and Jack4 being able, during Easter, to go to the Theatre to witness our Tragedy;5 but no, — at Drury Lane they engaged to play it next Season, and I, not liking the delay, took it home. — Then, to amuse myself, I began to copy some of my favorite Hogarth's heads;6 they were in Indian ink as usual; when Mr Severn (I think you know him) put me on another plan, and I hope to succeed. I must tell you about Mr Severn, whether you know him or not: he is a young Artist, who lately strove with his fellow students for a gold medal, which the Royal Academy gives annually for the best historical painting; the subject was fixed to be the Cave of Despair as described in Spencer's poem; it was Mr Severn's second attempt7 in oil colours, and therefore it might have been supposed he stood no chance of success, and yet he won it!8 — it has been so much approved of that he will have his expences paid9 for three years during his travels on the Continent, and his Majesty is to furnish him with letters of recommendation. What think you of this? I tell it you as a proof there is still some good reward in the world for superior talent; now and then a man of talent is disregarded, but it is an error to believe that such is the common fate of true desert. This does not apply solely to genius in the Arts, but to you and me and all of us, as to our general character and capability. As a subject for your letter, tell me what injury a sulky and ill tempered character does to a boy, — how it affects him with his parents, — how with his brothers & sisters, — how with his friends, — how at school, — how with strangers, — and any other how you please. It strikes me you can amuse yourself much in pointing out the many disadvantages such an unhappy creature must endure. I did not choose to ask what were the advantages of a good disposition, — I think you have one, and therefore you would only write from your own experience; it is better the subject should recal to your mind the observations you may have made on ob{serving}10 if you have been lucky enough never to have fallen in with a sour rogue, then you must needs employ your invention. Don't fear to say severe things, lest your letter appear as ill tempered as the subject; severity is not ill temper, any more than the sentence of death from a Judge is a proof of his being in a passion; besides the character is an imaginary one, so you are at liberty to be as sharp as you please; were it an individual, it would be proper to be influenced by charity; you are to speak against sulkiness and ill temper, not against any particular cross grained boy. There is no occasion for my letters being half the length of yours; I have now given on nearly twice too long; so if your's is a little longer than this, it will do very well. Remember me kindly to Jack. You will be with me on Thursday 30th March,11 and, on all fools day. I shall have my party of boys & Girls. I am your's affectionately,


           Chas Brown.


Notes

1 MS: Churchill College Archives Centre, Cambridge (REND 5/3). Printed: extracts in TLS 6 Dec. 1941: 624; Forman (1883) 4: 62-63n; and Stillinger 52-53. Address: To / Master Henry Snook, / at Mr Lord's Academy, / Tooting, / Surrey. Postmarks: TwoPyPost; Unpaid; SOHampstead; 12 o'Clock FE 12 1820 NO; 4 o'Clock FE 12 1820 EV. [Return to the letter]

2 Sarah Blewford Dilke (1765-1825), the wife of Charles W. Dilke, Sr. [Return to the letter]

3 See Brown's famous recollection of Keats's words after his hemorrhage: "I know the colour of that blood; — it is arterial blood; — I cannot be deceived in that colour; — that drop of blood is my death-warrant; — I must die" (KC, ii.73-74). [Return to the letter]

4 Henry's brother, John Snook. [Return to the letter]

5 Otho the Great. [Return to the letter]

6 See 16 Apr. 1831, n3. [Return to the letter]

7 His first attempt was "Hermia and Helena," shown at the Royal Academy in May 1819 along with the miniature, "John Keats, Esq." [Return to the letter]

8 On 10 December 1819. [Return to the letter]

9 In fact, the traveling pension was not automatically offered to winners of the Gold Medal, though only they were eligible to apply for it. Severn did not apply for the pension until he had already reached Rome with Keats. Brown's misunderstanding of the award may well reflect something that Severn had told him. [Return to the letter]

10 Seal hole. [Return to the letter]

11 Due to their mother's illness the Snook boys were unable to make the visit (Brown to Henry Snook, 24 Mar. 1820 [MS, Churchill College, Cambridge, REND 5/4]). See Stillinger 56-58. [Return to the letter]

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December 2007