TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Florence. 16 Augt 1828.
My dear Severn,
Kirkup and I have taken the extract from Mr Erskine’s letter2 into our best consideration, and you can make use of our opinion as you think fit. We think it plain enough that he does not choose to have any picture from you, both because he avoids answering you on that subject, and because the tenor of the extract is to this effect, — your prices are higher than <you> he expected. But, as you have £50 of his in your hands for a picture, you have it in your power to keep the money, and to send him any picture for it you may think proper. Kirkup thinks you quite justified in such conduct, — I have a small doubt, — but you are the best judge on this point, as you know all that has passed. However, Kirkup and I both agree that the most gentlemanly and spirited behaviour on your part would be to write to ask him thro’ what channel he desires the £50 to be remitted, and, on the arrival of his answer, pointing out the channel, to remit it instantly. We are also of opinion that his conduct has been extremely shabby and silly. You are, at all events, injured by him, as a returned picture is always offered for sale under a disadvantage. He, when in Florence, told Kirkup he was sorry you had chosen such a subject for him, as he thought you succeeded so much better in your Italian costume-subjects.
"The pleasure of society among friends is cultivated by a resemblance of opinion concerning morality, and by some difference of taste in the sciences; thus they are either strengthened in their sentiments, or are exercised and instructed by argument."3 Thus says La Bruyere, and Kirkup and I seemed to be a couple made according to his recipe. I cannot entirely agree with you that friends get tired of each other after having emptied one another’s budget, purely because I never felt so myself; but yet I think you are, generally speaking, in the right. I also think that Kirkup is, in particular, one of that kind; for I have observed his eager love of new acquaintances, his sudden admiration of them, and, after a few months, his coldness, if not dislike, towards them. This I could make good by many, many instances, — one is enough, — Landor was once his demigod, and now, and for months back for no reason that I am aware of, he seems to avoid him, and speaks slightingly of him. I ascribed this part of his character, which I have long noticed, to his having, during his <long> stay in Italy, been accustomed to a constant ebb and flow of travelling acquaintances, till, at last, it has become his pleasure, in lieu of lasting attachments.4 Another thing I have observed in Kirkup: for the last two years he has been growing more and more partial to persons of rank, family, and fortune; and, in proportion, more and more averse to unassuming beings like myself. Nobility and stylish life not only dazzle his senses, but his judgment. Be this as it may, he certainly has ceased to like me as much as he used, though, I am aware, he has an esteem for me, — and that esteem, perhaps, is undiminished. Ill manners in Kirkup, as he piques himself on proprieties, are worse than in any one else, and so I felt them. After I wrote to you about him, I began to consider whether Maria5 had not been the secret cause of his behaviour to me. Three or four months ago she begged me to record her everlasting intention to make him marry her; my answer instantly deprived her of all hope in my assistance; from that day, I had remarked, she never once asked me to take her out on a walk, tho’, previously, she had asked me nearly every day. I began to reflect that possibly she hated me for my answer more than I was aware of, and that possibly she had been using her art and influence with Kirkup in order to separate us, and have him wholly to herself. On my return from Pisa, I was astonished to find that K’s ill manner had changed to downright rude expressions, and, in one instance, to insolence. I thought of it till the next morning, and then taxed him with not only that instance, but with his general conduct towards me, specifying many of his rudenesses. We had long conversations together, without anger; and I discovered that Maria had made numerous complaints against me, <two or> three of which he stated, while the remainder he either could not or would not remember. The first he soon perceived was not my fault, — it was the servant’s, — he had been misinformed. The second he avowed was very wrong conduct in Maria, not in me. And the third rests on the original agreement between him & me, when we took the house, which he forgets, but which I do not. Yes, there was a fourth complaint, which I flatly denied, and which, if true, as he said, ought not to have been a complaint. I further discovered that Maria had been often expressing her desire to live with him alone, — in another house without me. I told K what I thought of her conduct, and that he had been swayed by it against me. He thought not. I desired to hear every thing she had said or insinuated, — but I desired it in vain; nor did I much care for it, as the riddle was already solved. Kirkup has been in the wrong; either the complaints were worth noticing, and he ought to have spoken to me about them; or they were not worth noticing, and he ought not to have thought about them; instead of either of which, he behaved to me with indifference, coolness, ill manners, and, at last, downright rudeness, while I was utterly unconscious of having given offence, and therefore attacked by surprise, unfairly, and in an unfriendly manner; while he, by a word at the time, might have been convinced that I had never acted wrongly towards him or her. Neither of us was hot-headed enough to make a quarrel out of the business. Our conversations and explanations were rather measured than otherwise. We are very good friends; he behaves with kindness of manner, and no reference whatever is made to the past. I, however, behave to Maria with no more than civility, — that is, no longer with kindness; she has gained her point, and that is enough for her. I have taken a second floor in Via Maggio, in the same house where Morgan and his friends live, — they occupy the first floor. Kirkup has not yet found an apartment, but there is plenty of time between this and 1st November. As the second floor, where I am going, is empty, I can remove when I choose, — perhaps in the middle of Octr. Kirkup has finished his Jessica, — Mr Floyer has <got> bought it, — it is very beautiful and full of good taste, and has been very, very much admired. His bathing girl is nearly finished, and, in another style, will create as great an admiration.
Morgan’s relations are going to Rome this winter; I shall give them a letter to you. They are made of good stuff. Morgan sends his kind remembrances.
Am I to charge Dilke with 30 crowns for your sketch-copy of the Raphael?6 Some time since you said I was to do so. There is a little account between him and me, so I can, if you choose, add it to the debit side. Your’s sincerely,
I believe I have spoken to you in favour of old Wallis and his son, — if so, I recal[l] every thing of the kind. I mention this because old Wallis talks of going to Rome, — take care of him.7
2 Thomas Erskine balked at taking "Cordelia at the Bedside of Lear" once it was completed. Although he suggested to Severn that it was under priced, he gave a different explanation to Kirkup (Erskine to Severn, 20 July 1828 [Harvard, MS ENG 1434 (61)], partially reprinted in Scott 261n5). Erskine’s biographer records his changing taste in art between his first and second visit to Rome. See Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ed. William Hanna (Edinburgh, 1877) 78. [Return to the letter]
3 Brown’s own rendering of a maxim by Jean de la Bruyère (1645-1696): "The pleasure of society amongst Friends is cultivated by a Similarity of Inclinations, and by slender Differences in Opinion" (The Works of Mons. de la Bruyere, trans. Nicholas Rowe [London, 1752] 1: 151). [Return to the letter]