TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Florence. 9th August 1825.
My dear Severn,
I’ve heard such accounts of you from every one that has lately returned from Rome, — such excellent accounts of your industry and success in getting orders, that notwithstanding you owe me a letter, I cannot refrain any longer from giving you my congratulations, as hearty ones, my old boy, as you can wish for. Let me however hear about all these matters from yourself, tell me how delicately you use your pencil, how brilliant your colours are, and how the gazers-on protest you outdo all English artists in Rome or elsewhere; — till you arrive at that pitch I shall never be contented, — and even then, I may have a sneaking propensity to hear Raphael called inferior to none but the great Severn; — a friend is ever exorbitant, and so he ought to be. A bird has whispered in my ear that you have been wounded in the wars of Venus, — foh! pah! — and that you went to the sea-side for the purpose of drawing up your marriage articles with la Signora Salute.2 I heard from Wakefield lately, — all well; he says you promised, or half promised, (when he was in Rome,) to go to England, — why what a harum-scarum fellow you must be to talk at that rate. It seems very odd that none of the comers from Rome has brought Hunt’s music; I have been looking out for some one to carry your’s and Fuseli’s book,3 but hitherto without success, because no one goes to Rome at this season. Take care, or you will get yourself into a hobble, as Hunt and all his family will be off for England in one month from this date, — at least so it is settled, subject only to impossibles. They are to go by land. Mrs Hunt’s health is not of the best, though she is in a way to add to the world; so it is possible her situation may prevent their journey, though it is thought not. The other day we had well nigh had a duel between our Doctors, — no, — not well nigh, for one of them had no stomach for it; Dr Keebles had spoken shockingly of Dr Hyssop,4 so the latter proves his innocence, calls for an apology, and hints at an exchange of pills, — bullets, I mean. Well! Dr K declared he would go to the Police for protection, not liking to swallow a bitterer draught in making such an apology than ever he had administered to any of his impatients. This however <he> would not do, and he was obliged to apologise to his rival for having spoken against his character! — an awkward affair! — and as I hate all Doctors but myself, I delight in this tattle of Florence. We are all doing the best in our power to make the summer pleasant; I have just turned away my man Francesco for cheating, so I am running through the agreeable sensations of a new servant; and, at parting, Kirkup gave him a knock on the head for impertinence, — gad-a-mercy! how much a little spirit can perform; for Francesco is as strong as a Hercules, but he was worse than a worm, never offering so much as to turn, but put his head in its right place after its staggering position, and walked off straight forward. I have just despatched £10 worth of work for the New Monthly Mag, on Vallombrosa, Camaldoli and La Verna.5 It has cost me some pains to get at historical facts, and to be acquainted with the most famous men in each Convent. You may tell the ladies,6 with my compliments, that I have turned them to the best account in my power, under the names of Mrs R: and Maria, not forgetting the riding sideways on cross-saddles, instead of "una gamba di quà, ed una gamba di là",7 and the love-making of certain admiring monks. In my last jaunt with Wakefield I make him spin out half a dozen malicious stanzas against the Franciscans, — for I had not the impudence to put them down as my own composition, as they immediately followed a quotation from Chaucer. The time has now arrived when I think it fitting to turn my friends to some use. I am going to write about my walk to Siena, which I took with Mr Reader, and made him stare the other day by asking him in what sort of character he would be pleased to appear, — the lively and agreeable, or the austere and sulky, — or whether he should walk at my elbow begging doggrel rhymes for forty miles together, — or whether he would wish to play a sentimental part, and have a limb broken in defence of some forlorn creature at Poggibonsi, in order to be interesting.
Your’s most sincerely,
1 Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "Copied." Address: 2 / Al Signore / Il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Pittore Inglese, / No 22 Vicolo de’ Marronitti, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 11 AGOSTO. [Return to the letter]
2 Sharp suggests that this was the start of Severn’s romance with Elizabeth Montgomerie (130). Though Severn’s chronology in "My tedious Life" is obscure (Scott 654-56), it seems unlikely that Severn met her before the winter of 1825 when Lady Westmorland, her guardian, returned to Rome (Severn to Thomas Severn, 21 Nov. 1825 [Scott 269]). Severn’s rendezvous with Lady Health in the summer of 1825, to which Brown refers, might be a reference to recovery from a venereal infection or a failed romance in Roman society. As he confesses to his brother Thomas, "I am always in love — which never comes to anything . . . Women in high life are Cats — that’s certain" (Scott 269, 270). [Return to the letter]
4 Brown puns on the names of Drs. Kissock and Peebles. David Kissock (1791-1854), Scottish physician, resided at Florence and appears on 29 August 1825 in John Leland Maquay, Jr.’s unpublished diaries (now at the British Institute of Florence). In 1827 he was consulted by Augustus d’Esté, grandson of George III, about symptoms that today would indicate multiple sclerosis. See Richard M. Swiderski, Multiple Sclerosis Through History and Human Life (Jefferson N.C.: McFarland, 1998) 31-34, and more recently, T. Jock Murray, Multiple Sclerosis: The History of a Disease (New York: Demos, 2005) 32-35. John H. Peebles (1785-1867), Scottish physician, also resided at Florence during this time, as evidenced by his subscription to the Vieusseux Reading Room from 15 October 1823 to 26 October 1824 and its renewal on 2 November 1825. When he published the ominously-entitled Cases of Great Enlargement of the Stomach, he was described as “Fellow of the Imperial and Royal College of Physicians, Florence.” See Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 54 (1840): 31-51. The editors are indebted to Diana Webb for this helpful information. [Return to the letter]