TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Laira Green. 21 March 1841.
My dear Severn,
Welcome to England! An impudent congratulation, you will say, from one about to go to the other hemisphere at the beginning of May.2 I knew you were coming, knew it from others, though I have been strangely kept in the dark by yourself. How could I well reply to your letter of September?3 Scarcely was it received, when I was cogitating on New Zealand; and when I had made up my mind, and was about to tell you the news, I heard you were expected in England. Did I not tell you that your Coronation visit might come to this? I am certain you have done right, not only for your wife’s health, and your boy’s education, but for your profession. You press me, with your wonted kindness, to go and live with you, instead of pursuing my plans. You tempt me, but I cannot, must not. Had I thought of such a course, while making up my mind to be or not to be an emigrant, I might have concluded otherwise — certainly I should have paused. As it is, the die is cast. Yesterday I took leave of Carlino, who precedes me — he is at present wind-bound in the harbour.4 Though chiefly for his benefit, it is fair to state that our going was by no means at his suggestion, for he was, at first, very averse to it. Of course I have weighed the consequences of this step with all the ability in my power; and I ought to have the credit of proper deliberation. You blame me; but are you acquainted with the country by the best report, with the probable great advantages (not so much, perhaps, in money-getting at my time of life, but in happiness) and with the scheme in detail or generally? I think you are not; for those of my friends who have most withstood me have known nothing — nay, they will confound one country with another, one colony with another, one purpose with another. Some friends of this sort have withstood me, and, indeed, teased me. Do not you, my dear Severn, join them, or rather follow their example, for they are silent at last. There is doubtless some risk of happiness in any course a man may pursue, however promising; but as it is now too late, pray do not repeat your objections, because you throw a gloom over my cheerful hopes. Your letter, though dated on 18th, did not arrive till last night, when I had taken leave of Carlino. I almost wish you had not arrived so early, because I am now strongly induced to visit London before I go; you need not press me to this, for my inclinations are of themselves enough; you may rely on my going to see you, if I can get rid of business matters and other matters here in time.5
I resolved not to leave England and carry away with me the life and remains of Keats. They will be confided for publication to Mr R. M. Milnes MP, whom, I believe, you know.6 At the close of the Life I leave your letters, written at the time, copied verbatim, to tell the sad story of his sufferings. I have attempted to make a selection from his poems, but I find myself too partial to reject any, so Mr Milnes must exercise his judgment on that point; for, I am well aware, that a poet’s fame is more likely to be injured by the indiscriminate admiration of his friends than by his critics. Mr Milnes is a poet himself, an admirer of Keats, and, in my mind, better able to sit in judgment on a selection for publication than any other man I know.
The greater part of this letter is for your wife as well as for yourself; so, with my love to her,
I am your’s ever truly,
1 Printed in Sharp 193-194 with minor errors, and reproduced in Stillinger 410-412. Address: Joseph Severn Esqre / No 3 Burlington Gardens, / London. Postmarks: PLYMOUTH MR 21 1841 C; A 23 MR 23 1841; Crabtree / PennyPost. [Return to the letter]
2 In 1840 Brown attended a meeting of the New Plymouth Company designed to encourage emigrants to Taranaki Bay, New Zealand. Brown enrolled, planning to emigrate with his son Carlino. He did not sail until 22 June 1841. [Return to the letter]
3 This letter, untraced, apparently included an invitation to Brown from the Severns to set up house together when they returned to London. Brown reverted to the idea after the failure of his venture in New Zealand. See 22 Jan. 1842. [Return to the letter]
5 There is only slight evidence, perhaps in a returned letter, that this meeting ever took place. If it had, it would have been the first time that Brown and Severn had met since 1830. [Return to the letter]
6 Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885), later Lord Houghton, politician, poet, travel writer and memorialist, first met Severn in Rome in 1832 (James Pope-Hennessey, Monckton Milnes: the Years of Promise 1809-1851 [London: 1949] 62-65). [Return to the letter]