5 Nov. 1824

Letter 9


5 November 1824

Florence. 5th November 1824.

My dear Severn,

I waited for the order from Freeborn,2 which you said was coming directly, post after post, that I might make my handsome acknowledgments together with my answer to your last.3 Then I was in the thick of moving from the country to town, and found it convenient to wait still longer. The very minute I received your letter at the Post office, telling me the money was coming directly, away I speeded to the Bookseller’s and expended the amount in certain volumes which had long since won my heart; — improvident green goose that I was not to consider that the money must necessarily stick on the road for at least a couple of months more! — however though I’ve had no news of or from Mr Freeborn, thank my stars I’ve got my dear precious books! Oh! Mrs Wakefield!4 I’m in love with her! I never met with such a woman in my life; and she’s married! — and what is worse (or better, I can’t tell which,) she is gone — gone to England, and I may never behold her again. What right had you, inconsiderate fellow that you are, to bring me into such a dangerous acquaintance? She with her husband, and the little girl just recovered from the fever, dined with me in the country, — and there was Hunt and two of his children, — quite a party, — and Hunt fell in love with her also, — and when she went away, we looked at each other, like two men who had been savagely deceived, and I sighed, and he shook his head, and we both sang forth her praises. Really, without any jesting, she haunts my imagination more painfully than pleasantly. Mr Wakefield and I took a trip together to the Camaldoleri, and there were the Monks just as we left them last year, a set of good and gentlemanly fellows; he was delighted with them and the scenery. Then we crossed the mountains to La Verna,5 where we were utterly disgusted at the dirty, sullen, atrocious Franciscans. I astonished Mr W. by my flow of eloquence in their abuse. Nothing can repay a visitor for his sufferings at the sight of such nasty animals, — albeit the scenery is very romantic, though in a small compass. I was not so delighted as I expected — it is extraordinary, but wants the grandeur of extent. The weather was not quite favourable, but I believe we saw every thing. I prefer the scenery at the Camaldolere, though, for a painter, that at La Verna is preferable. In old times Laverna was the Goddess of thieves, pick-pockets, and all sorts of pilferers, — a connexion of names that gave me no small satisfaction. Mr & Mrs W. related to me the whole story of the Misses Erskine’s conduct towards you;6 and you ask me if I think you are not greatly to blame. Not only I, but every one else say No. The conduct of the daughters, and your own imagination together, may induce you for a time to think otherwise, but still the old lady’s death was a matter for which I and the Emperor of China are as much accountable as yourself. Both those daughters want sense; Westmacott, in the midst of his praises, was obliged to acknowledge they were dull and indeed stupid; this is the fact, which joined to a little love-spite on the part of Maria,7 form the unreasonable reason for their unladylike and unfeeling conduct. You will be glad to hear, because I am delighted at the news, that my friend Mancur8 is about to be married to my niece, — the natural daughter of my brother James.9 I am one of her guardians, and as she is worth about £2,000, I was always afraid of her being married to a man who would only regard her money, — but with Mancur it will be otherwise, — so much so, that I know no man in whose care I would intrust her so cheerfully as in his. Now for bad news, — poor Daniells has written to me from Malta, a very distressing letter mixed with attempts at joking and deep feeling; he cannot, I am afraid, recover, — he has lost the use of his legs, and seems wasting away in an awful and rapid manner. Then I have just heard that Lord Charles Murray is dead, who was not, by any means, an indifferent person to me, — quite the contrary; his own misfortunes, his goodness of heart, and his reliance on my friendship, were matters that joined him to my feelings, though his rank in life seemed to keep him at a distance from me. Kirkup and Madama and Hunt dined with me yesterday; we are all very angry at your obstinacy in remaining in that filthy Rome, where fevers are to be caught at every turn, and fits in every street. Young master John,10 for some time past, has been a much better boy, under a strict discipline. Did I tell you that Kent,11 the rival of Kean12 in London, is Mrs Hunt’s brother? I saw Mr Craufurd lately, as discontented with Florence as ever. I like to give you a puzzle, — so I’ll tell you that something is expected to happen here, aye, and shortly, that will please and astonish you to the utmost; when you hear of it, your brains will be working on it for a month after; I dare not, at present, give you the slightest hint of what it is, or who it is, therefore you must indulge yourself in all sorts of guessings; in a fortnight or three weeks perhaps the murder will be out. My parlour is every day becoming more comfortable, — a fire-place, (that smoketh no{t}) with a marble chimney-piece, — sets of book-shelves round the room, — a good matting under my feet, — cosey arm-chairs, and the window-curtains in preparation; — oh! I forgot the sofa! Nor shall I live so solitary as you may imagine, but hush! — to tell you more of that would make you guess too nearly at my puzzle, — though what I have said cannot lead your brains the right road. How you will lift up your hands and eyes at the wonderful fact when it reaches your ears! Did West write to you, as he promised, that the Duke of Northumberland13 has, in England, a copy of the School of Athens, as large as the original, painted by Raphael Mengs?14 Ought not this fact to make you pause?15 Mr Uwins16 is here, and will, as I understand, soon set off for Rome. Do not pretend to solve my puzzle by saying I am going to take a wife, — as what I have written I perceive may make you suppose, — for, (blushes apart,) you will be mistaken. In the mean time I’ll solve one of your former riddles, if Mr Wakefield has not been before-hand with me, — the reason why Mrs Cooke17 would not admit you to her acquaintance was that you have a bastard! My Carlino now understands English, and speaks it a little, — besides which he well nigh has mastered the alphabet, — a promising child. Mr Craufurd desires to be remembered to you; he says there will be very few English in Rome this winter. Remember me to all our friends in the Papal dominions. We have quite a throng of Britons in Florence; and the city is superlatively gay with three Operas, and all sorts of goings on, and the weather is so mild that I almost always sit with the windows open, — this is quite a warm dry and clear atmosphere compared to the Roman, as far as my experience tells me. How are Mr & Mrs Finch and Miss Thompson? And how is Mr Ewing? I’m charming,

and also your’s sincerely,
           Chas Brown.


1 Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "copied." Address: Al Signore / Il Signor Giuseppe Severn, / Pittore Inglese, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 8 NOVEMBRE. [Return to the letter]

2 John Freeborn (d. 1859), wine-merchant and banker on Via Condotti, Rome. From 1831 until his death he served as the British consular agent in Rome. See C. T. McIntyre, England against the Papacy, 1858-1861 (New York: Cambridge UP, 1983) 44. [Return to the letter]

3 Severn’s letter of 27 Sept. 1824 (Scott 257-259). [Return to the letter]

4 Probably the wife of Francis Wakefield, a stockbroker, whose address in London was No 70 Old Broad Street (Stillinger 229n10). [Return to the letter]

5 For an account of Brown’s 1823 visit to Vallombrosa, Camaldoli and La Verna in the company of Severn, the Finches and Miss Thomson, see Brown to Richards, 22 Aug. 1823 (Stillinger 130-34). Brown also published a two-part article on the visit, "Vallombrosa, Camaldoli, and La Verna," in the New Monthly Magazine 14 (1825): 261-66 and 346-52 (see Some Letters 59-81). [Return to the letter]

6 Their mother had been taken ill of a fever and died suddenly on 21 August in the house at l’Ariccia which Severn shared with her and her daughters over the summer. Severn felt guilty about the lack of medical attention for Mrs. Erskine, and though he arranged her funeral at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, relations with the two girls became strained (Scott 260-63). [Return to the letter]

7 Severn broke off his courtship with Maria Erskine before the visit to l’Ariccia (Scott 253). [Return to the letter]

8 Henry Mancur (d. 1844), of the parish of St. George, Bloomsbury, was married to Brown's niece, Mary Brown, on 22 Dec. 1824 at St. Mary's, Lambeth. [Return to the letter]

9 James Brown (1780-1815), fourth son of William and Jane Brown. He joined the East India Civil Service, was posted to Sumatra about 1799, and by 1815 was the East India Company’s Resident at Croee (Iles 156). His natural daughter, Mary (1802-1867), spent a good deal of time with the widow of Brown’s eldest brother, John Armitage Brown (Stillinger 2). [Return to the letter]

10 John Hunt (1812-1846), second child of Leigh and Marianne Hunt. In October 1823 Brown had taken him to Rome in hopes of reforming him but he was soon sent back to the Hunts in disgrace. [Return to the letter]

11 Thomas Kent (d. 1849) practiced as a surgeon and midwife in a poor district of Bethnal Green before becoming an actor. His first leading part came on 17 June 1824 when he played the title role in Richard III at Covent Garden Theater. See The Letters of Mary W. Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols. (Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1944) 1: 295n6. [Return to the letter]

12 Edmund Kean (1787-1833), powerful and influential but scandal-ridden Shakespearean actor. [Return to the letter]

13 Hugh Percy (1712-1786), 1st Duke of Northumberland, politician and patron of the arts. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and Trustee of the new British Museum (Oxford DNB). [Return to the letter]

14 Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), German neoclassical portrait painter, who spent much of his career in Italy. [Return to the letter]

15 Severn planned to begin painting a copy of Raphael’s "School of Athens" in the spring of 1825 for presentation to the Royal Academy (Scott 259). The previous year John Craufurd had offered to pay him £200 to finance the work (Severn to James Severn, 30 June 1824 [SFL 25]). Brown was always opposed to the idea (Stillinger 186-87). [Return to the letter]

16 Thomas Uwins (1782-1857), artist and book illustrator, who was to become a close friend of Severn. [Return to the letter]

17 Possibly the wife of one of the two English clergymen in Rome who officiated at the burial of Shelley’s ashes in the Protestant Cemetery on 21 January 1823 (Scott 228). If so, it is most unlikely that Mrs. Cooke knew of the existence of Severn’s illegitimate son, Henry. [Return to the letter]