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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 36

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

17 September 1833

Villa Veneziani. 17 Septr 1833.

My dear Severn,

So you returned from Venice without ever touching at Florence!2 No great matter to me certainly. However, Kirkup tells me you will come direct to Florence next year, — let me hear more about this. I and my eternal boy are returned in good health, in spite of fatigue, cholera, influenza, and all the ills to which the northern flesh is heir. When in Paris3 I heard there were 600,000 ill of Influenza; and when in London I rarely met with a family that had not been from bedroom to bedroom attacked, — the rare thing was to meet with a single individual that had not been attacked. After all, the influenza is nothing but a severe cold, which must be taken care of; and as for the cholera, it seizes on the diseased, the drunken, and the infirm, and only on those, with few exceptions, in England. I went to the Exhibition purposely to see your picture,4 and I have fifty things to say about it. The first is, — (but don’t hate me while I say it) — it disappointed me. The placing your figures in half tint is sacrificing them to the landscape, which I acknowledge is beautiful, — but the figures ought to be principal. Then your abominable yellow (excuse the epithet) is to me utterly astounding; and not only to me, but to every one else. You requested me to give my opinion, and I cannot give a half opinion; besides, I know you like a downright one. If I were to refrain from giving it, I could not refrain from telling you that you, according to all others with whom I have conversed, are extravagant in your yellow. Pray think of this seriously; and I have heard one other in London make the same observation, which I had informed you of before I left Florence, that your figures are deficient in roundness. Mind, I write to you as I wish people would speak to me. When in London, I was known as your friend; and those who spoke to me of your paintings, spoke with regret at what, in their estimation, you were in error. I can assure you Eastlake follows a far different line of colour.5 One asserted your women were ugly, — but I well knew it was merely owing to that mistaken yellow, — and what girl can look lovely in the jaundice? You can scarcely imagine what pain I have endured in scrawling these violent lines, — for I feel a sort of paternal regard for your pictures. To turn to another subject, I found my mother far better than I had anticipated; she is comparatively well, considering her age, without pain and amazingly cheerful; but, I am well aware, the dropsy is gradually preying on her. The Cobbetts send you and Mrs Severn a thousand remembrances;6 and Miss Cobbett especially sends you a morning gown, of all colours, and therefore she hopes you can stain it with none in your painting. I have packed it up with various matters that are coming to me by sea. The quarrel between me and Dilke is made up, and I was living, before I left London, in his house.7 This leads me to a heavy charge against you. Mind, I only repeat what I have heard from him, and from his brother8 at Chichester. When he was <here> in Rome in 1826 or 1827 he wished a copy of part of the painting of "La Madonna di Foligno," and you said you would get it done well for 15 crowns. Afterwards, through me, he was informed it could not be well done under 30 crowns, for which sum you had engaged an artist. That artist died, and you engaged to do it for 30 crowns. When you were in Florence, at the time of your marriage, I pai{d y}ou those 30 crowns on account of Dilke. From that time to this he has received no picture, no return of the money, no letter! I ventured on saying that I believed you had forwarded the picture to him, though it might have miscarried, as I knew you were deficient in sending letters at the time you forwarded any thing, which, between you and me, may lead to very great misrepresentations.9 The reason for my having said this was, that Woodhouse10 (who is very well) received your painting of Keats, with a bill for the expences, without a single line from you. Pray make up as perfect a story as you can in this affair of Dilke’s. His address is No 9 Lower Grosvenor Place, Pimlico. You cannot conceive how much I have been annoyed at all this being dunned into me. I write to Chas Wilson to-day. Address me to the care of W. G. Johnstone, Banker, Florence. Give my love to Mrs Severn, and the three,11 — and if the three understand not so much, you may give them kisses instead. Carlino sends his love; he is almost spoiled by being too much petted every where in England, — his grandmother being worse than all. Remember me to Gibson, Baynes, and all those I know.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.

I arrived here on 4th, and could not write before, owing to fatigue and bustle of all sort...

Notes

1 Mentioned in Sharp 174. Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "821-3." Address: Al Pittore Inglese / Il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / No 152 Via Rasella, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 19 SETTEMBRE. [Return to the letter]

2 Severn traveled to Venice in May 1833 with the portrait painter Richard Rothwell to renew his acquaintance with the Venetian Masters (Scott 315-323). [Return to the letter]

3 Whilst in Paris, Brown probably visited his niece, Jane Wingfield Brown (1807-1890), who married a French doctor named Jean Victor Louvet-Lamarre in June 1832. She did not return to England until 4 May 1835 (Iles 150-151). [Return to the letter]

4 "Sicilian Peasants singing the evening Hymn to the Virgin," shown at the RA Exhibition in 1833. [Return to the letter]

5 Eastlake had returned to England in 1830 and adapted his palette to suit English tastes (see [6, 7 June 1823], n12). [Return to the letter]

6 See 13 Mar. 1829, n4. [Return to the letter]

7 The reconciliation in the quarrel over the probity of George Keats’ financial dealings with his brother, John, was short-lived. See 2, 7 June 1838. [Return to the letter]

8 William Dilke (1796-1885), Dilke’s younger brother, to whom Dilke and Brown had submitted their cases involving George Keats for arbitration (Garrett 44). [Return to the letter]

9 For the origins of this commission which Severn took ten years to fulfill, see 2 Nov. 1826, n2. [Return to the letter]

10 Richard Woodhouse (1788-1834), literary and legal adviser to Keats’s publishers, Taylor and Hessey. Woodhouse stayed with Brown for seven weeks in 1832 (Stillinger 326). Severn painted for Woodhouse a copy of his "Keats Reading" (KC, i.cl), the original of which is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. [Return to the letter]

11 Brown’s ignorance of the fact that there were now four Severn children, including Henry, born 27 June 1833, suggests that he and Severn were in less frequent contact than previously. [Return to the letter]

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Published @ RC

December 2007