Letter 32

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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 32


26 February 1830

Florence. 26 Feby 1830.

My dear Severn,

It was about four years and a half ago that George Keats2 sent to Dilke a defence of himself, refuting the "cruel charge" (as he called it) which I had made against him. Dilke sent me the purport of it,3 with a request that I should make you and others acquainted with it. I did so, for I had no evidence by which I could contradict his bold assertions; though, as I told you in Rome,4 when you put the question to me, I had no faith in his defence. Now, see the danger of villainy, and by what unlooked for chance it is laid bare. Having a bundle of papers, which belonged to Keats, part of his own hand writing, I lately opened it, on the supposition the papers might assist me in the Memoirs.5 They were chiefly letters between Keats and his brothers. I threw George’s and Tom’s aside; but, after awhile, as if by an invisible hand, a passage in one of George’s own letters was turned towards me, which gave the lie direct to the ground work of his defence! I then searched further, and found an Acct Currt of Abbey’s;6 when, by these two documents, I was instantly enabled to prove that every tittle of his defence was false, most impudently and atrociously false. I have sent these proofs to Dilke,7 requesting him to promulgate them among our acquaintances, that I may be no longer suspected as a rash accuser. How he, who has been so positive in George’s favour from the first, will take it, I know not; — I expect his answer every day.

You may rely on my obeying your orders respecting the papers you have promised. You knew Keats before I did, and perhaps you can give me some account of the developement of his mind as a poet.8 He himself has talked to me a little on this subject; but, if possible, I would have further information. When did your acquaintance with him begin? Nearly two months since I wrote to Richards for assistance;9 — no answer. If I knew how to direct a letter to Haslam,10 I would apply to him; can you tell me his address? — or will you write to him? When I asked you about the terms for engraving, it never entered my head that you would offer to engrave his miniature;11 if you can spare time, this offer of your’s is admirable. Respecting the original, in Miss Brawne’s possession, I am afraid you cannot have it. Were I to ask her for the loan of it, I believe she would send it; and that belief makes me the more delicate in asking for it; besides, I cannot run the hazard of its being lost on the way. No, Severn, I do not feel myself authorized in making that request. I will send you my copy,12 and the drawing I made from your representation of him a little before his death; — together with that foolish little painting I have promised;13 and all this in a short while. I have been very much occupied in Mrs Medwin’s14 affairs, battling with bankers, and lawyers, with my hands day after day full of documents in Courts of Law; let this be my apology, especially when I tell you I have been of service to that ill treated lady, with whom every one in Florence sympathises. I have had much conscientious responsibility on my head, little able to think of any thing else. To return to Keats: Dilke urges me, as a proof to the world of my friendship for Keats, and as the only proof that I am not book-making, to declare, from the first, that I will not accept of one penny of the profits which may arise from the Memoirs. I never thought of profit, rather of loss, as I expected to pay a large sum for the engravings. To my mind Dilke’s advice is good; and I intend, you willing, to set out with a declaration that the book is an offering to his fame by you and me, both refusing to partake in the profits. The only question then is, who is to have them? Should there be any, ought we not to present them to his sister?15 It is true she does not want them, and therefore we might dispose of them in some other way, something still conducive to his fame; — what say you?16 — what have you to propose?

Give my love to Mrs Severn, and say I am eternally obliged to her for the copy she is making. I am equally surprised and rejoiced to hear of her excellent painting. Carlino also sends his love, with ten kisses to Claudia. Shall we make up a match between them? Their ages are suitable,17 — ask Mrs Severn what she thinks of it. Kirkup is very well, — all very well. Did I tell you Marina18 is married? I cannot, literally cannot answer your question about Trelawny. I’m turned whist player.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.

Remembrances to the Leaches, and all friends. Have you heard any thing of the Cobbetts?

Now, you rogue, I’ll make your mouth water! I’m, in half an hour, to sit down before a dish of pickled salmon!! I’ve bought about five pounds of it!!! — a quarter of a Kit!!!! Huzza!!!!!


1 Printed: Sharp 160-161, who omits the postscript, and reproduced in Stillinger 307-309. Brown responds to Severn’s letter of 17 Jan. 1830 (Scott 297-299). Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "738-40." Address: Al Pittore Inglese / Il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / No 152 Via Rasella, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 1 MARZO. [Return to the letter]

2 George Keats (1797-1841), younger brother of John Keats, whom Brown accused of cheating the poet out of his share of the family inheritance. For a detailed discussion of Brown’s argument with Dilke, see Garrett 26-53. [Return to the letter]

3 Dilke to Brown, 31 July 1824 (Stillinger 159-164). [Return to the letter]

4 They were together there in October 1826. [Return to the letter]

5 Brown’s "Life of John Keats," which was not presented as a lecture to the Plymouth Institution until December 1836, and not published for another one hundred years after that, though Milnes did incorporate much of Brown’s material in his Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats (London, 1848). [Return to the letter]

6 Richard Abbey (d. 1837), merchant, trustee for the Keats family estate and guardian to the Keats children after their mother’s death. [Return to the letter]

7 Brown to Dilke, 20 Jan. 1830 (Stillinger 301-307). [Return to the letter]

8 Severn obliged with some interesting reminiscences of the young Keats in his letter to Brown, 15 Apr. 1830 (Scott 302-307). [Return to the letter]

9 The letter is untraced. [Return to the letter]

10 Severn had now lost touch with William Haslam, who first introduced him to Keats and in 1820 persuaded him to accompany the poet to Italy. The friendship was quickly restored when Severn returned to London in 1841. [Return to the letter]

11 See Severn to Brown, 17 Jan. 1830 (Scott 298). In this letter Severn asked Brown if he could arrange to borrow the original of his miniature of Keats (in the possession of Fanny Brawne) to aid him in the engraving he had offered as a frontispiece for Brown’s memoir. [Return to the letter]

12 For Brown’s copy of Severn’s miniature in India ink, see Donald Parson, Portraits of Keats (Cleveland, OH: World, 1954) 113. [Return to the letter]

13 Severn acknowledged receiving the painting in his follow-up letter to Brown of 15 Apr. 1830: "I like your tree much" (Scott 302). [Return to the letter]

14 Anne Henrietta Medwin (1788-1868), had been deserted by her husband Thomas Medwin, Shelley’s cousin and biographer. In his absence, his bankers in Florence sued her for the repayment of substantial loans made to him. See Brown to Leigh Hunt, 1 June 1830 (Stillinger 321n6). [Return to the letter]

15 Under the settlement of the Keats family inheritance in 1825, Fanny Keats (1803-1889), received some £4500. She married Valentin de Llanos, a Spanish writer and politician, the following year. See Marie Adami, Fanny Keats (New Haven: Yale UP, 1938) 119. [Return to the letter]

16 Severn proposed a monument to Keats in Rome (Scott 303). [Return to the letter]

17 Carlino was nine years older than Claudia. [Return to the letter]

18 Kirkup’s former mistress, "Ri." [Return to the letter]

Published @ RC

December 2007