TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Florence. 23 Jany 1834.
My dear Severn,
I am an infamous correspondent, and throw myself on your mercy. Procrastination, in letter writing and only in that, has been growing on me abominably. Add to which, for a long while after my return, I fell into a state of lassitude, weakness, and want of appetite, the effect, I suppose, of over excitement, together with some untoward circumstances in money matters, by no means to a small amount. In looking over your last letter2 I find I am to give you the general impression which the Exhibition made on me. You must know I gave it but a cursory view, having gone there solely to see your picture, and with little time to spare. I walked round the rooms, without a catalogue, glancing at every thing, and stopping at nothing but what really enforced my attention. I was offended, as formerly, with the number of ugly, or commonplace, staring portraits, and my general impression was that the pictures wanted mind, and that the colouring was flimsy, glaring, and gaudy. The painting, which I considered the best, proved afterwards to be by Eastlake; another, which, by the subject, I knew to be by Uwins, I thought the next best.3 I can say no more, — unless that the miniatures were, without exception, surprisingly bad. I should not have dared to write so violently against your yellow system, had I not known how you would take it, and had I not thought you were too wedded to it for any half measures, backed, as I was, by the general opinion in London. Now let me see what else there is in your letter to answer. As for Woodhouse, he certainly told me he had not received a letter from you. Respecting Dilke, I must say he has good cause of complaint; for, at least, you might have explained to him the cause of the delay, especially as he had paid for the sketch beforehand, no matter whether the sum was great or small. For my part, as the affair now stands, unless you are at this moment absolutely occupied on it, I think your best course is to write to him in explanation, and to offer the immediate return of the money. I say offer, because you are promise-bound, unless he release you; though, after such a lapse of time, perhaps you ought to make the offer for him to refuse or accept.4 Give my love to your wife and your four children; — four? — pray, Joey, allow me to ask a very simple question, — how many children do you and Mrs Severn intend to favour the world with?5 Six days ago I sent you by Mr Redfern6 Miss Cobbett’s present of a dressing-gown; it was lying here about a month waiting for some travelling friend to take charge of it. I had the pleasure in Novr of introducing to you Mr Sulivan and family; — do you like them, as I do, much? Kirkup tells me you intend to come here in the summer; mind you confirm this news; and recollect my villa cannot be inconveniently distant, as it is a bare half mile from one of the gates; besides, it has a wondrous room for painting, with a window as big as the side of an english parlour, giving a north light. You will be sorry to hear Kirkup is in rather a delicate state; his throat and lungs are extremely susceptible of cold, so that, in the winter, especially in this, though the weather has been most unseasonably mild, he has been much confined to the house, avoiding meat &c, thus weakening, unavoidably, his system. He seems now much better, and I have promised to dine with him tomorrow, on condition that I am to be treated as a carnivorous animal. When you come, you will find me infatuated with flowers, and Carlino not less so; if I could, I would apprentice him to a nurseryman, as I wish I had been, for I am convinced there is no life so happy as that of a gardener, no pleasure to equal that of one’s own garden. If you bring a dog with you, I give you fair warning he will not be admitted; or, if you presume to pluck a flower, I shall dock you of your dinner on that unfortunate day; — why, you might chance to pluck one undergoing the delicate process of cross-fecundation, and blast my hopes of a variety in the species! — the very notion is distressing!!! — the fact would be afflicting beyond measure!!!
Carlino sends his love to you and your’s.
Your’s most sincerely,
3 Eastlake showed five pictures at the 1834 RA exhibition: "An Italian Peasant Girl," "The Escape of Francesco di Carrarra from Visconti, Duke of Milan," "The Martyr," "Portrait of Miss Bury," and "Portrait of a Lady in an Italian Costume" (Graves 3: 9). Uwins exhibited "The Festa of Pie de Grotta" (Graves 8: 59). [Return to the letter]
4 Severn claimed to have delivered the picture to Dilke in 1836 with a "graziossima letter" (Scott 337) but avoided him when he was in London in 1838. "Mr Dilke has got his picture, and likes it much tho’ I have not seen him, nor shall I as he is too violent about it" (Severn to Elizabeth Severn, 31 July, 1, 3 Aug. 1838, transcribed in Grant F. Scott, "After Keats: The Return of Joseph Severn to England in 1838" Romanticism on the Net 40 [Nov. 2005]). See too 2, 7 June 1838, n9. [Return to the letter]