Letter 42

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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 42

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

26 November 1836

Laira Green. 26 Novr 1836.

My dear Severn,

When I received your last letter,2 nearly three months ago, I resolved not to answer you in a hurry, though now, upon looking back, I am astonished at so much time having passed. How could I write to disturb the pleasant dream in which you then were? You were resolved on a fine monument to Keats, and I utterly disapproved of it. If his poems should induce his countrymen, otherwise uninfluenced, to erect a monument to him, my joy would be great; but I cannot approve of such an honour, in a questionable shape, by his personal friends, paid to him as a poet.3 Still, looking on the intention in its best point of view, I do not perceive it can do his fame any harm, — which, at first sight, I thought I did perceive. The impropriety of a relation or a friend as a subscriber to or a furtherer of an object of national feeling, of a national tribute, I feel so strongly, that I am afraid thousands of others will feel the same. On this ground, while I sincerely thank you for referring the subject of a bas relief and other matters to me, conjointly with yourself, I must decline having any thing to do with the monument, — except on one point. This point is that not one word shall be there except those contained in his dying request, — "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Swayed by a very natural feeling at the time, I advised more,4 <and you ...> but now I am convinced of the error, the sort of profanation of adding even a note of admiration to his own words. If a dying friend, a good man, leaves strict orders for the wording of his epitaph, he should be obeyed, — if good faith is in the world. I have long repented of my fault, and must repeat what I said to you in Rome, — "I hope the government will permit the censure of every word, with the exception of those words to which he himself limited his epitaph." The memory of Keats has been one of my greatest pleasures; but lately it has been mixed with pain, — for I have been occupied in writing a life of him,5 and, consequently, been turning over letters and papers, some full of hope, others of despair, and my mind has been compelled to trace one misfortune to another, all connected with him. I knew this task was my duty, and, from the beginnings I had, from time to time, made, I found it a painful one. Therefore, to compel me to my duty, I boldly put down my name at our Institution for a lecture, on 29 December, on "The life and poems of John Keats." Now that it is advertised, the card printed, the members looking forward to it, there is no retreating, it must be done. About one half is done. Probably I shall afterwards print it in a magazine, there to rest as a voucher for his admirers; — possibly I may print it in a small volume by itself;6 — in either shape you must have it. My first lecture was given about a fortnight ago, — "The intellectual history of Florence". I was aware of the interest of the subject, but the unusual hand-applause, and the high compliments bestowed on me were unexpected. After the "Life of Keats" I shall give no more lectures this season; indeed few give more than one in a season. My nephew7 is down for this subject, — "Animal and vegetable physiology compared", — which is highly interesting. Nine days since we had, by an artist, a lecture on "Painting", all to prove the worse than inutility of a Royal Academy. I took a great part in the discussion afterwards, on the side of the lecturer, or rather I joined with every one else in his arguments. Not one offerred to speak a word in favour of the R A’s, as royal peoples, or whatever you may call them. The conclusion seemed unanimous, that "such an Academy, while it may not have the evil effect of depressing genius, has certainly the evil effect of exalting mediocrity to the honours of genius." This reminds me of your question,8 and my answer is; — put not down your name, but leave it to the Academy to elect you a member or not; if you solicit it with success, you will not deserve it, because you will be guilty of meanness; — if without success, you will be doubly degraded. You talk of a good english education for your boy; I positively know of none, unless it may be in the "London University", — all others, I contend, are radically and practically bad. I consider the english to be far, very far below par in education, compared with their neighbours. Politics are every thing here, and I remain a staunch radical. A new newspaper is set up in Plymouth, in which I have begun to attack parsons and Conservatives in squibs. Yesterday evening I wrote and fairly copied out six ottava rima stanzas (48 lines) viz: — "The Cormorant and the Fishes , imitated from La Fontaine, and dedicated to the Conservatives." So, what with squibs, the Institution, my garden, my green-house, and sundry by-occupations, I am as happy as my nature will allow me to be, — having, it must be owned, always possessed, in a tolerable degree, the art of driving away unpleasant thoughts. But my delightful green-house, my plants, my dear children in that nursery! Talk of your four children indeed! — why I have about 340, every one in his own pot! There may I be seen among them every morning, attending to their wants with a fatherly care. Oh, if you could but see that promising lad, my Epacris, now in full bloom. Mary’s beauty! — what! does it equal that of my Melaleuca hypericifolia?9 Do give me a candid, unprejudiced answer to that question. Not but that I rely on your few children being good, healthy, clever, and beautiful, and I heartily wish them and their delighted mother a merry Christmas.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.

Notes

**Figure 4. Geranium Robertianum.

**Figure 5. Capsicum Annuum Acuminatum.

1 Printed: Sharp 178-179 with errors and omissions, and reproduced in Stillinger 339-340. Address: Al Pittore Inglese / il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Via Rasella / Roma. Postmarks: PLYMOUTH NO 26 1836; LONDON 28 NOV 1836; C PAID 28 NO 28 1836; ANGLETERRE PAR CALAIS; PONT BEAUVOISIN; ROMA {...} 1836; [one other illegible].[Return to the letter]

2 Severn’s of 13 July 1836 (Scott 335-339). [Return to the letter]

3 Several words crossed out. [Return to the letter]

4 See Brown to Severn, 28 Aug. 1821 (Stillinger 91-92). [Return to the letter]

5 Brown’s "Life of John Keats" (KC, ii.52-97). See also Life of John Keats By Charles Armitage Brown, eds. Dorothy Hyde Bodurtha and Willard Bissell Pope (London: Oxford UP, 1937). [Return to the letter]

6 Brown failed to find a publisher for his memoir. See Brown to R. M. Milnes, 25 Oct. 1840 (Stillinger 405). [Return to the letter]

7 John Mavor Brown (b. 1808), then practicing in Plymouth. His wife, Mary Louise Brown (née Dunnage) was a witness at Fanny Brawne’s wedding in June 1833. [Return to the letter]

8 In his letter to Brown of 13 July 1836, Severn had sought advice on whether to put his name down as a candidate for election to the Royal Academy (Scott 335-339). [Return to the letter]

9 Mary, Severn's second daughter (1832-66), was generally thought of as the beauty of the family. Brown’s twenty-two watercolor drawings of flowers are now at the LMA (K/PZ/03/001-022). See Figures 4 and 5. [Return to the letter]

Published @ RC

December 2007