TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Florence. 29 March 1828.
My dear Severn,
I am glad your Cordelia is in the hands of Mr Bond, and that you have made up your mind not to let Mr Erskine2 have it for any sum under its value. You are anxious to know all that the Athenaeum said,3 — its all was comprised in ten or a dozen lines, to the following effect, — that the Editor had obtained a peep at it while it was being unpacked, — that it was bought by Mr Erskine, — that it has great beauty in composition &c, — and that, possibly to eyes accustomed to the English school, the colouring was rather sombre. A slight description, in a couple of lines, was given of the number of figures in it, and this was all that was said, except that it would appear in the Exhibition, when more notice would be taken of it. The Editor is a Mr Buckingham,4 who has lived in India, and has many Indian connections; I therefore think it likely that this very early notice of its arrival was taken at the request of Mr Erskine himself, especially as his name was mentioned as the purchaser. According to this "critichino" your colouring may be thought rather sombre. Perhaps it may, by the side of the English white pictures, — and perhaps both Romans and Londoners may be equally in the extreme. Beware of not following a favourite system to excess. Your Naples yellow astonishes many persons, without entirely pleasing them. I hear that some carry the system to a greater excess than you do; but they tell me that all of you have got the yellow fever, and that poor Uwins is in the very last stage of the disease. Now stand aside for a moment, because I’ve a word to say to Gibson.
My dear Sir,
Within half an hour after I received the letter, I called on Bartolini, delivered the order, and was told it should be attended to immediately. You may judge, from my expedition, of the pleasure I have in carrying any of your commands into effect. Try me again. Your’s truly,
You may step forward again, Mr Severn! I’ve some half dozen things to say. First I’ll attend to Kirkup’s messages. He is surprised you did not send by Mr & Mrs Calcott5 a part or the whole of his things, as their vettura was at your service. He reminds you that Mr Floyer and Mr Fawkes6 will shortly return to Florence. He recommends you to put by, in one place, all his things, so that those gentlemen, or any other friends, may choose from among them what they please to bring. He is very anxious to have his things, — and, having waited nearly three years, it is no wonder! In respect to Lady Westmoreland, he says he has five drawings here, which belonged to her; but that, as it was difficult to forward them, he kept them to himself, <sending her> giving her, through you, two others in their stead, viz: the portraits of Madame Renaudin and Lady Wallscourt.7
Thus far I have answered some of your questions. Now for others of less importance. Am I not a model of exactness? Jessica and Shylock are, in their heads, complete. Kirkup has painted her face fifty times, before he could please himself, — in my opinion, had he been contented at the first, he would have given us as pretty and as sly a jewess as he has now painted. It is a rich and beautiful picture; the heads only are finished, but all the rest is more than half finished. He has also completed the heads of the "Girl confessing to the Capuchin", to his own satisfaction. It has been proposed to him to make a companion to this picture, — to wit — the "Capuchin confessing to the Girl!" Miss Brawne is not married.8 I cannot consent to send an interesting book to Rome; for this I may be an ill tempered fellow, but I can’t help it; Mr Landor thought such a request highly unreasonable, — unless indeed I were to send you a copy of your favourite Revelations; by the by, he desires to be remembered to you.
Garofanini called on me, with a blundering notion in his head that any priest in Tuscany, Catholic or Protestant, could marry his daughter to the Englishman.9 I assured him it could not be done in Italy without the Pope’s consent. He returned the next day, saying he had made inquiries, and found I was in the right, at which he was much surprised! Then how was he to get the Pope’s consent? I really had qualms in giving him instructions on this head, for he had let two things slip out, — 1st, that the Englishman, in his opinion, had "poco Intelletto", and 2nd, that his daughter was anxious to be married before he died, in order that she might come in for her share of his property! However I told him the name of an Advocate, a friend of mine, who procures licences from Rome for cross-breeds in Faith. He went there, — learnt the mode of application, — and then said he would apply himself, and get the licence without expense. This my friend tells me is impracticable, but lets him go his own way, having, like myself, some conscience against furthering a match that would give a gentleman such a father-in-law, — for, you must know, my friend knew him of old in Rome, and knows all his concerns, public and private, — I was aware of this, when I sent the rogue to that quarter. He was extremely eager to prevent me from letting the Englishman know I had been spoken to on the occasion, — so much so, that to stop every chance of my betraying him, he requested I would not put myself to the trouble of calling at their inn; so I have not seen Claudia in Florence. Her father, and his sister when at Pisa, are sad specimens of the race. After all, I have obeyed you , having put him in the right road to get his daughter married; though I rejoice that he is not likely to obtain the consent, owing to his determination to save the fees. God bless you! Your’s sincerely,
2 Thomas Erskine (1789-1870), Scottish advocate, devotional writer and uncle of Maria Erskine. He had commissioned a picture from Severn in 1824 and paid £50 for it. Severn believed he had a free hand over the choice of subject, size and even the eventual price, and offered Erskine "Cordelia at the Bedside of Lear," which he had begun in 1823-4 and finally completed in 1828, sending it on to the RA Exhibition (Severn to James Severn, 30 June 1824 [SFL 25]). Brown’s letter suggests that Severn tried to charge Erskine more than £50 for the picture. See also 16 Aug. 1828. [Return to the letter]
3 A hastily scribbled sentence on the back of Severn’s letter to Brown (postmarked 13 Marzo 1828) reads, "be sure you tell me what the Athenaeum said." Severn’s original letter to Brown, which includes Gibson’s brief message that Brown responds to below, survives only as a fragment. See 17 Nov. 1827, n2. [Return to the letter]
4 James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855), author and traveler. He established The Athenaeum, the first number of which was published on 2 Jan. 1828. He remained editor for only a few weeks. [Return to the letter]
5 (Sir) Augustus Wall Callcott, RA (1779-1844), landscape painter, was on a honeymoon tour in Germany and Italy with Maria Graham (1786-1844), travel writer and illustrator. They both saw a good deal of Severn in Rome. See Maria Callcott, Journal of an Italian Tour (Bodleian MS ENG d. 2278). [Return to the letter]
8 Severn had asked Brown the question in his letter (Nostrand 222). Fanny Brawne married Louis Lindon, who was then aged 21, on 15 June 1833 (Richardson, The Everlasting Spell, 115). [Return to the letter]