New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 4


20 December 1822

Pisa. 20th Decr 1822.2

My dear Severn,

As I read your account of your illness,3 and you have given it with great exactness, I was happy to feel assured it was nothing worse than a bilious attack. To my knowledge that is bad enough while it lasts, but it leaves no evil consequences, and in asking for my medical advice, you happen to have pitched on a man of experience in this line. I don’t think you and I were acquainted when I suffered a severe attack of the bile, and which was, for some time, most ignorantly treated. It seized me, as with you, with a giddiness in the head, so much so, and so constant, that I was always fearful of stooping lest I should fall in a fit, tho’ it never came to that pass; and once, for a whole evening, I did nothing but shed unhappy tears without the slightest cause. I tell you this to let you know my situation was almost as bad as your’s, tho’ it wears & tears different constitutions in different ways, and what has kept me well ever since, may, in all probability, keep you well ever after, — for we are both sedentary animals, and both like a good dinner, and so on. Now for my receipt, — it is nothing new, but commonly practised by many, — and its operation is always to keep the body gently open, when the liver will duly perform its functions, and no redundancy of bile oppress <it> the system, — but, mark you! for this purpose, it must be taken every night, now and for ever, unless you go thro’ great fatigue during the day, or your bowels, from some cause, are too much relaxed. It is a pill, containing one grain of Aloes and two grains of Rhubarb, with quantum suf: of soap to form the mass. I used to make 100 or 200 at a time, for I have taken them now for 5 or 6 years. Let people preach against constant physicians, oneself as they please, but while I do not undergo that bodily labour, <for> to which our bodies are adapted, and which is required for health, it stands to reason I must use some artificial means to gain that health. There is a Physician at Bath, 84 years old, who has constantly taken these pills for 60 years. And I know a gentleman of 65 years who told me he has taken them half his life. See what a pleasure my life is to me now! I am not only free from bad bile, but I can eat & drink as I please, or take exercise or no exercise just as it suits me, without regard to health. When I walked in the Highlands I never wanted one, but as I can’t spend all my life in walking, I take a pill every night. If you are wise, "do thou likewise". Mind, the property of Aloes is always to act chiefly on the rectum, but, unlike other purgatives, its operation is certain, in proportion to the dose, this only 1/8 of a grain is taken, which makes it so valuable a medicine for gently keeping the body open; yet, as its action is on the rectum, you may possibly feel a<s> soreness at first, (tho’ with but one grain nightly) at the fundament, but that will cease as you grow used to it, and indeed I believe you will feel none, tho’ I mention it to prevent your leaving them off in a fright; they never affected me in that manner. And again mind this, — should you at any time want a stronger purge, do not swallow more of these pills at night, but take some other purge, as aloes are bad if taken in too large a quantity, — tho’ when I was bilioused the Physician dosed me at once with ten grains, for which he ought to have been compelled to take twenty. So, this is my say. I am sorry enough at your past sufferings, but I look forward with a sure and certain hope you will never suffer again in the like way, and that ends my sorrow. How is your weather at Rome? We are well nigh congealed. Ice nearly an inch thick. O dolce Pisa! Hunt writes from Genoa, complaining of the cold there, especially on account of his sick wife, but I don’t think it can be worse than at Pisa. You have not yet mentioned whether it is to be 1st April or 1st May that we are to meet in Florence, — I put this question for the third time. As for going to Venice, I want to see Venice, and dare say I shall be glad to go with you, but as you write vaguely on this subject, I give merely a vague promise. Piccinino4 must go with us, wherever we go. This cold weather has given him a cough, which I don’t like. I forgot to tell you I received our Keats’ papers from Mr Bond, a little before I quitted England.5 I sorted them all, and returned to every one his letters to Keats, which I understand gave great satisfaction. I know nothing of Mr Taylor’s biography of him, and am not surprised at his neglecting you, — he is not the man I took him for. As for your picture of Lorenzo di Medici, I can say nothing more than that I like the idea. I can get Roscoe’s life,6 and then I may refresh my memory. Lord! how we’ll picturise at Florence! I have no spare copy of Keats’ works, — so you must be content with reading mine. "How I long", say you, "to read the Liberal! — pray forward a copy to me!" I have no copy, — know not a word but my own words in it, — I have written to England to send them to me, after three are published, — so I calculate I shall show you those three at Florence. I have begun an article on "Letter-writing",7 which I am making as fantastical as I can. I lately sent for the New Monthly Magazine some "Imitations of Pignotti",8 — because for my poetry they pay 20 Gus a sheet! Only think of my turning Poet! When I write &c — I write a line or two, I’m afraid of looking up at poor Keats’ portrait. But the "Article" I am principally engaged in at present is a plum pudding for Christmas day, — it shall be a jolly good one. Then there are sundry preparations for punch, — all in the best style, — I wish I could punch you, till I gave you the staggers, and one of my pills after it.

Yours sincerely, Chas Brown.

Miss Brawne, by the last news, was recovered so far that the wounds were all healed without any poisonous symptoms. I am under no apprehension about her. I expect a letter from her daily. Lord Murray is still at Naples.


1 The first two pages and six lines of the third are scored through with a single pencil mark, probably by Sharp. Address: Al Signore / Il Signor Joseph Severn, / Gentiliamo Inglese / No 18 Via di San Isidoro (2do piano) / Roma. Postmarks: Pisa; DECEM [illegible]. [Return to the letter]

2 Underlined in pencil.[Return to the letter]

3 In Severn’s letter of 7 Dec. 1822 (Scott 218-221). As with his earlier attack, Severn’s troubles were the result of overeating. [Return to the letter]

4 Brown’s son Carlino. [Return to the letter]

5 They had been included in a box of things Severn consigned to William Bond. [Return to the letter]

6 William Roscoe, The Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Called the Magnificent. 2 vols. (Liverpool, 1795). Severn read it as a student at the Royal Academy and was, like many of his fellows, inspired by it. See Severn to C. R. Leslie, 20 Nov. 1821 (Scott 177-81). Severn, like Raphael before him in “The School of Athens,” planned to include a mix of contemporary and historical figures in his picture of “The Assassination of Lorenzo de’ Medici.” [Return to the letter]

7 See 7 Nov. 1822, n15. [Return to the letter]

8 These verses were not published in the New Monthly Magazine. [Return to the letter]

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Published @ RC

December 2007