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New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 41

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

31 May 1836

Laira Green, near Plymouth.
      31 May 1836.

My dear Severn,

It is too bad that I have not written to you for so long a time; yet listen to me. My health, during the winter, has been of the worst, — horrible nervousness, caused undoubtedly by derangement of the stomach, which twice worked itself into epileptic fits of (as I am told) a frightful description. For these nine weeks, however, I have been in heaven, compared to the hell I endured; and in heaven shall I remain, if I resolutely follow my mode of living, — that of 13 oz of food a day, and total abstinence from fermented and spirituous drink. There is no great credit due to me, for I have learnt really to like this very temperate diet. As soon as I was myself happy, I wanted to hear that you and your’s were so also; and, for these nine weeks, have I been upbraiding myself for not encouraging you to write. There was another cause for this last delay; a treaty was on foot for my purchase of a cottage; it was off, on again, difficulties arose; at last it was finally arranged, the deed signed &c, and here I am snug in my new purchase, with the carpets laid down, and every thing in tolerable order. This is my first letter writing under the roof. You will look for an account of my cottage; — but first I ought to tell you that Mrs Brown2, the widow of my eldest brother, and her daughter have been living with me for six months, and may continue so to do for six years. The mother keeps house &c, the daughter makes tea &c, and we go on very comfortably without a jar, I bargaining to have my own will in all things appertaining to myself. We do not keep house at a joint expence; but they pay me for what I calculate is the extra expence, and that is not much. This, while it suits my comfort, suits them; as, though they will, in two or three years, have what is called plenty, at present it is prudent, for their future benefit, to live economically. Carlino, a tall raw-boned lad, has been studying mathematics with a love for them, and is ambitious of shining as a civil engineer. Now for the cottage; it is two miles from the town, near the Exeter road, and the Laira, an arm of the sea. Laira Green consists of six gentlemen’s cottages, one of which is mine. It has two gardens, of altogether a fifth of an acre. An avenue, planted with trees and shrubs, runs before the cottages, common to the proprietors, but not to others. Behind, to the north, is an abrupt rock, topped by a hill. The spot is almost proverbially healthy, and, from its sheltered situation, warm. On the ground floor we have two parlours, with the roses looking in at the windows, two kitchens, a china closet, a pantry, and every convenience, with hard and soft water, oven, and all those things which are forgotten in Rome and New Zealand. Up stairs we have four good bedrooms; — the servant sleeps now in the kitchen, but a fifth bedroom will be made at a trifling expence. I likewise intend to build a small green-house, since perfect happiness cannot be attained without it. The views and the country about us are delightful. There are plenty of fruits, flowers, and shrubs in the garden; for it has been carefully tended. Now for all this what think you do I pay? — £18 a year. That is, the interest at 4 ½ % of my money paid down, and for the building of another bedroom, only amounts to that sum. But the King’s taxes and poor rates! — from both am I utterly free; the former were legally set aside last year for five following years; and with the latter I never can have any thing to do, because Laira Green is extra-parochial, — a beautiful word that! To be sure we have no parish church, but that is a loss to which I am praiseworthily resigned. In turning to your last letter,3 I see but two subjects that I need to speak on; one is, your explanation about the picture for Dilke, which at last you condescended to give, and which no one could guess at, — I instantly copied it, and sent it to him.4 The next matter is about your "Angels at the Tomb",5 — an "entirely new invention", — of which I want a particular description. In the mean time I will tell you about our Plymouth Institution. We have many literary and scientific men here, three rather high in fame, and they are members. During the six winter months we have a lecture and an after discussion there every Thursday, and during the summer tea and coffee once a month to keep us together and settle various points. The building is very handsome, of Grecian architecture. Ill as I was, some how I ventured to get up with a speech in my mouth before a hundred strangers, — (I that never had spoken ten words before ten such!) — and, to my surprise, made an impression. I am now hand in hand with them. In March, just as their season was ending, they were disappointed of a lecture; when I, bettering in health, read them one on "Shakespear’s Sonnets". I am down for one next November on "The intellectual history of Florence", and, if wanted, for another on "The influence of Italian on English poetry". This Institution sui{ts}6 me to a hair. I have lately been made their librarian. Ever{y} summer, (and this is a third) the Institution is opened as {a gallery} of paintings and drawings by resident and other artists, — and I am on the Committee, — nay, on the hanging one. I shall send my Hogarths, my two portraits of Keats from you,7 and the medallion in plaister8 of him by Girometti, which Woodhouse gave me; and also Kirkup’s drawings9 of yourself and Carlino, — so you will be exhibited at Plymouth! I wish I had something worthy of your hand to send, but, acting by the advice of two artist friends here, I do not send your portrait of Carlino,10 because it is a mere sketch, and, unhappily, a good deal faded; I yield, for I am fearful the uninitiated may not see it is worthy of you, and thus do you harm; — if all who pay their shilling were judges it should go. Let me hear from you soon. Nothing but a hell of nervousness, from which I must be free henceforth on 13 oz a day, can hinder me from writing. I must write to Kirkup soon. Carlino {send}s his love, and so do I to your wife and younglings. Be {so goo}d as to remember me to Gibson, Wyatt, Captn Baynes, {the Wils}ons, the Leaches {and all} those who remember me.

Your’s most truly,
           Chas Brown.

Notes

*Figure 2. Half Portrait of Carlino Brown, aged six.

1 Mentioned by Sharp 177. Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "845-8." Address: Rome. Italy / Al Pittore Inglese / Il Sig. Giuseppe Severn, / Via Rasella, / Roma. / Italie . Postmarks: PLYMOUTH JU 1 1836; F 36 86; ROMA 20 {...} 1836; PAID 3 JU 3 1836; PONT {BEAU}VOISIN. [Return to the letter]

2 Jane Elizabeth Brown, whose daughter, Frances "Fanny" Joanna Brown (b. 1811), Carlino considered marrying (Stillinger 358n). For more on Brown’s sister-in-law, see 26 Oct. 1826, n9. [Return to the letter]

3 Untraced. [Return to the letter]

4 It did not convince Dilke. See 23 Jan. 1834, n4. [Return to the letter]

5 This became Severn’s altar piece, "The Holy Sepulchre," on which he labored in the 1840s. It was never placed (Scott 39-44). [Return to the letter]

6 The bottom left corner of MS p. 4 is torn off. [Return to the letter]

7 Brown’s copies of Severn’s miniature, "John Keats Esq," and the deathbed drawing. [Return to the letter]

8 Woodhouse had commissioned the Girometti medallion, a posthumous portrait of Keats, now in the Keats-Shelley House Rome, and given copies in plaster to his friends. [Return to the letter]

9 Kirkup’s portrait drawing of Severn is the frontispiece in Sharp. For his portrait of Carlino, see McCormick (fig. 21). [Return to the letter]

10 Severn made two portraits of Carlino at ages 3 and 6, a watercolor miniature on ivory and an oil on canvas. The first, which is presumably the one to which Brown refers, is at the Keats-Shelley Memorial House Rome, the second at the LMA (K/PZ/01/237). See Figure 2. [Return to the letter]

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December 2007

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