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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 10

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

23 February 1825

Florence. 23rd Feby 1825.

My dear Severn,

Your letter2 came pleasantly enough, though I take my own time in answering it, — tit for tat. Can you tell me if Mr Morgan3 has received letters from me and Kirkup, touching Ri’s4 roba? We are afraid the direction ought to have been more explicit. And K is anxious about some document he enclosed to Mr Eastlake, thinking it may have miscarried. I must tell you Hazlitt is here, and will shortly, so he says, proceed to Rome, where he is to study your Raphael and Michael, and write a book on them. He will be accompanied by his wife.5 It is his wish to have a letter to you, which he certainly shall have. Don’t let this news cause trepidation among the Artists, though, it must be confessed, an Edinburgh Reviewer is a formidable sort of person, and his pen is not one of the finest nibbed. I think you will like him extremely, and, between ourselves, he may be of the utmost service to you in your profession, as far as its patronage is concerned; and already he has a high opinion of your talents.6 It is so long since I’ve written to you, I hardly know what to say. Oh! do you, or do you not come here in the summer? West has not written a word to Italy, as far as I can understand; would I knew where he is, and what is his address, that I might write to him forbidding the exhibition, public or private, of my portrait. Mr Marriott Hunt,7 nephew to our L.H. is here, in the hope of some good from our climate for the cure of a deafness that has lately visited him; he has brought a parcel of music from Novello and Holmes8 for you, — it is at present in my custody, and consists of 18 pieces marked 10s/6d each, — I fancy you have the greater part, — as sent you by Hunt. Mem: your epigrams are good for prose ones, — if that is not compliment enough, I can’t in conscience praise you more. Have you received any money from Craufurd? I think not; but let me know. He and I are far from cordiality, — he does not understand me, and I cannot be expected to understand him, for he does not understand himself. I’m invited to dine there on Friday, — must go, — sorry for it. What you ask about your painting, I think is easily answered.9 Painting is as poetry, where the art is to concentrate ideas, and to embellish common events through the medium of the imagination. Your naked boys treading the ripe grapes form a beautiful subject, sufficiently natural, because it is not too far removed from possibility. A man soiling the grapes, as I should call it, is an unworthy object for painting, purely because it is unpleasant, however undoubtedly in nature. In poetry and painting, things are not to be represented as they positively exist, for there is <little> not an entire pleasure in them in that view; but they should be embellished to the utmost, always however in taste, and in the feeling of the subject. Those who object to your boys, should, on the same principle, object to so many beautiful women assembled at the same moment in the same vintage, — both are improbable, only the boys are less so. God has given us a real world and an imaginary one, — both lovely and both perfect; and he has also given us the power to relieve our minds by flying from one to the other, and by mingling them at our will for our delight. The last belongs especially to the poet and the painter; when they fail to take advantage of it, they become matter-of-fact gentlemen, who use their fine words and their fine colours to no purpose. Your man is a matter-of-fact; your boys a touch of poetry. The former a disagreeable reality, the latter a brilliant probability, a threading of the imagination through the dull course of common events. Your own natural feeling led you to the beautiful, the poetic, and your fear of infringing on the usual mode, the common one, has startled you. Have I satisfied you? Kirkup is very well. As we know it is said in Rome that he has a new acquaintance, and as it matters not, I own it; chiefly because I believe the whole affair is there mentioned in a different light than the fact really is. Yet you need not talk of it, — what I say is to yourself. It would have been rather strange than otherwise, had he not attached himself to some one after the sudden break up of his old connexion; the only thing to be feared is that he may become attached too strongly, and again be hampered; this however I do not much fear. I have not concealed from him my 1001 objections to the party, and having acted thus, I feel he is at liberty to act as he chooses. Besides, were I to <put> thrust every opposition in my power against him, should not I be strengthening the tie? and should I not lose him from my house, where he is so delightful an inmate? I therefore keep friends with him and her, neither lending a helping nor a restraining hand, as much from policy as good will; and I quietly wait till the candle burns out, or till some accident may put it out, my breath not being strong enough to blow it out. Ri is living very happily, and ought to continue so, — if not, it will I am afraid be her fault, for her husband is an excellent fellow. Remember me to Captn Baynes;10 I’m right glad he lives with you, and that your house is kept in so admirable a style. We have some nice pickings here, under the auspices of my cook, (I keep a man-cook!) and I’ve a bed-room, a knife, a fork and a plate for your worship, whenever you may choose to visit sweet me and Florence. After all your blunders and delays it is pleasant to hear your picture11 has arrived, and that Sir T. Lawrence compliments you on it. I like your Gondola subject. I have despatched four Italian Tales to the New Monthly Mag, and will send forty more if the Editor pleases, — but I doubt it. The Tales are good, though I say it; but not entirely original, though entire novelties to the English; they are founded on the old Italian "Novelle" by different authors; my work has been to tell them in another style, never translating or even paraphrasing, and generally twisting their incidents to my own purposes. The first Tale, "An honest face", I prophesy will be the subject of at least one Melo Drama, — it is very interesting, fearfully so, and yet quite natural, — and yet without even a spice of love in it!12 Does Ulysses13 ever talk of me? and what says he? I’ve a notion he does not care to speak about me, unless by way of civility towards yourself. He has not written to Hunt, — but be silent on that, as it is so much the better. Do you wish me to keep the music, or shall I look out for an opportunity to forward it? When your painting (the 20 Louis one) comes, I’ll act according to orders; and I shall be glad to see something, any nothing (if you will) from your easel. It strikes me — ah! I recollect it perfectly, — I left a would-be outline of our Keats,14 which a friend of mine engaged to finish, — I wonder whether it is finished, and if it will be forwarded with your 20 Louis one; — I think it certainly will. Remember me kindly to Westmacott, Gibson,15 and all our friends. Is Gott succeeding in marble? — for sketches and marble, I take it, are different matters. Make my respects to the Postman,

and believe me,
      Your’s very truly,
           Chas Brown.

Notes

1 Printed: Sharp 149-150 with errors and omissions, and reproduced in Stillinger 212-214. Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "Copied." Address: Al Signore / Il Signor Giuseppe Severn, / Pittore Inglese, / Vicolo de’ Marroniti, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 28 FEBRARE. [Return to the letter]

2 Untraced. [Return to the letter]

3 The man who lived below Brown (Stillinger 278). [Return to the letter]

4 Seymour Kirkup’s ex-mistress. [Return to the letter]

5 For Hazlitt’s movements in Italy on his belated honeymoon tour in 1825 with his second wife, Isabella Bridgwater (1791-1869), see Stillinger 212n2. [Return to the letter]

6 Henry Crabb Robinson, no friend of Hazlitt, wrote in his dairy on 1 June 1830: "Severn knows Hazlitt, by whom, as might be expected, he was ill treated" (Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and their Writers, ed. Edith J. Morley, 3 vols. [London, 1938] 1: 387). Though Hazlitt’s article, "The English Students at Rome," was highly critical of the English artists there its conclusion on the need to get out to the Alban Hills and paint the local beauties implied approval of the new direction Severn’s art was taking in "The Vintage" (1925). See The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe, 21 vols. (London, 1930-34) 17: 134-142. [Return to the letter]

7 Marriott Hunt, the son of Leigh Hunt’s brother and business partner, John. He stayed with the Hunts in Florence from around 9 February until he returned to England on 10 September (Stillinger 206n1 and 220n1). [Return to the letter]

8 Edward Holmes (1797-1859), English music critic and first English biographer of Mozart. He was a friend of Severn from their youth together in Hoxton and school friend of Keats. In 1823 Holmes moved in with the Novello family as student of and musical assistant to Vincent Novello. [Return to the letter]

9 Thomas Uwins had objected to the inclusion of some small boys treading the grapes in Severn’s "The Vintage" on the grounds of sentimentality (Severn to Uwins, 18 Sept. 1825 [Uwins 2: 195]). Severn appealed to Brown, though Uwins was not convinced by Brown’s reply (Uwins 2: 196). [Return to the letter]

10 Captain W. G. Baynes, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and amateur artist and actor. He shared Severn’s lodgings for a time in Rome and traveled to England with him in 1838 (Severn to Sarah Severn, 9 Dec. 1824 [SFL 29]). [Return to the letter]

11 "Greek Hill Shepherds Rescuing a Lamb from a Vulture," exhibited at the British Institution in 1825. [Return to the letter]

12 Brown speaks at more length about his tales in his letter to Richards of 10 Jan. 1825 (Stillinger 200-205). [Return to the letter]

13 Probably Edward Trelawny (1792-1881), adventurer, author, friend of Hunt, Shelley and Byron. [Return to the letter]

14 Unknown. [Return to the letter]

15 John Gibson (1790-1866), Neo-Classical sculptor and leader of the British artistic community in Rome. [Return to the letter]

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