New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn, Edited by Grant Scott and Sue Brown
Letter 43

TO JOSEPH SEVERN1

26 October 1837

Laira Green, near Plymouth.
     26 October 1837.

My dear Severn,

It is now ten months since I wrote to you, and all this time I have had no news of you or your’s. My faculty of hope is tolerably strong; but when I found the cholera had ceased in Rome, and still you did not write, I became uneasy, till last night I tossed about in bed in downright fear. Pray write immediately.2 Keat’s life remains unpublished till called for; I am sorry to say there is no call for it at present; so it may remain quiet till I am "quietly inurned";3 I have done what I conceived my duty, and I can leave it to another generation, if, after my death, he should be then more considered by the many. I cannot bear the thought of its being printed and received as of little interest except among a few. Sometimes, however, I think of printing a limited number, and of not selling one; and sometimes my purpose is to lodge it in the British Museum, to be referred to at any time, by any body. It is, of course, short; as I am not permitted to use for publication his posthumous poems.4

Carlino and I are again living together, without further company; for Mrs Brown, on account of her bad health, unless on a hill, has left me, and her daughter, at least for a time, has accompanied her.5 We were inmates for two years. Carlino is a tall lad, with his head full of steam, cast-iron, and chemistry. He has no sympathy for my pleasures in literature; but he is good, and as he is clever, I hope to see him successful.6 My health is excellent, by having arrived at the beau-ideal of water-drinking, — that is by never desiring to drink any thing else, except tea and coffee. I write this on a sheet of paper with a Prospectus7 of our doings at the Plymouth Institution; in order to give you a notion of it, and let you see what a labourer I am, and how I am honoured. This at Plymouth was the first of the kind, — allowing a long discussion after each lecture. It has been imitated all over the country; and certainly this sort of flint and steel discussion, under due restrictions, away from politics and religion, and conducted with gentlemanly decorum, has done much for the information and the sharpening of the provincial gentry, — since the intellects of such folks are apt to grow stagnant. There are also, in all parts, "Mechanics’ Institutions", much of the same description; but their lectures are generally of the utilitarian order. Think what an effect these must have on the education of the people! Few mechanics have time to write lectures, and fewer still can be masters of the subjects. Still they give many from themselves, and they make up by volunteers. The other day they deputed my grocer’s son to ask me for a lecture, and I answered "yes" with delight. I was not till then aware that they wanted one; but I wrote to them, handsomely as they deserve, and offerred three subjects, all ready written, putting my "Intellectual history of Florence" at the head, as that might suit their views better than some others, for mere literary disquisitions would not much interest them, and perhaps they ought not. Now turn the paper upside down.8 Last Thursday I gave one lecture on Shakespear; and to-night I am to give another. In that one already given I brought forward very strong circumstancial evidence from his works that he must necessarily have visited Italy, at about 1597; I having first proved that he had sufficient means, with prudence, to meet the expence of such a journey. By the by, from some late discoveries, irrefragible ones, I can calculate that at the age of 44, he was possessed in lands and money, of £6,500 in our present money, or £1,300 of his time. I was listened to with deep interest;9 but neither that, nor the question of his learning in the classics, could raise a general discussion. Every man would have it understood he knows a great deal about Shakespear; but if he is led into deep water, he is silent. According to an old stager at our Institution, the best lectures are those which will not admit of discussion; — if so, I was complimented. To-night I shall have nothing to do with matter-of-fact disquisitions, but with his mind and his consummate art as a dramatist.10 I call him the "wisest man", — "humanly speaking, our greatest teacher", — and I end all with an assertion, after eulogising his unvaried feelings of charity, in language well nigh enthusiastic, that — "the first requisite for the art of poetry is universal kindliness." What will they say to that? Besides which, I give them a few arguments on what folks might probably call paradoxes. Don’t you wish you saw me thundering at them from the lecturer’s desk in our great Hall? I recollect you once told me my hand-writing is too plain; you see I have endeavoured to please you by turning it heels over head, to make it a little difficult; it is to be hoped I have succeeded. Give my particular love to your wife, and be sure your children have it. Remembrances to all old friends at Rome. I like my cottage here more and more.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.

Notes

1 Printed: Sharp 184 with errors and omissions, and reproduced in Stillinger 345-346. Above the salutation, Sharp has penciled, "882-4." Above the formal address, Brown has written "Italie.", and below it to the left, "Italy." On the address flap, in what is no doubt a note to himself, Severn has written, "Phillips Life of Card. Poli." Address: Al Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Pittore Inglese, / Via Rasella, / Roma. Postmarks: PLYMOUTH OC 26 1837; LONDON 27 OCT 1837; PAID 27 OC 27 1837; ANGLETERRA PAR CALAIS; PONT {BEAU}VOISIN; ROMA 9 NOV 1837 [one other illegible]. [Return to the letter]

2 Severn responded on 21 Nov. 1837 (Scott 345-347). During the great Roman cholera epidemic of 1837 the Severns took refuge in the Alban Hills, where they were cut off from contact with friends. They were also recovering from the tragedy of the accidental death of their infant son, Arthur, on 15 July 1837 (Scott 343n3). [Return to the letter]

3 Hamlet, I.iv.49. [Return to the letter]

4 Following the disagreement between Brown and Dilke over George Keats’ financial dealings with his brother, George Keats threatened an injunction against Brown to prevent the publication of Keats’ poems in his possession. See Brown to Severn, 23 Aug. 1838 (Stillinger 343, 348). [Return to the letter]

5Jane Elizabeth Brown left for Kineton, Warwickshire, where Dr. John Mavor Brown and his family lived. She died there in 1846. [Return to the letter]

6After an unpromising start, Carlino Brown eventually met with success in New Zealand, serving in local and national government and as a major in the militia (Stillinger 31-32). [Return to the letter]

7 The letter has been written on the printed Prospectus, which includes a list of lectures starting on October 5, 1837 and concluding March 22, 1838. Brown is advertised for three lectures, two on Shakespeare and another on Milton’s "Comus." He is also listed as one of three Vice-Presidents of the Institution. [Return to the letter]

8 This is the last sentence of MS p. 2. The rest of the letter is interlined, as Brown says, "upside down." [Return to the letter]

9 For Landor’s comments on the equivocal reception of Brown’s lecture, see Stillinger 345n5. [Return to the letter]

10 Brown’s study of the sonnets in Shakespeare’s Autobiographical Poems (London, 1838) drew on the three Shakespeare lectures Brown delivered at the Plymouth Institution (Stillinger 345n4). [Return to the letter]

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December 2007

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