TO JOSEPH SEVERN1
Florence. 11 August 1831.
My dear Severn,
Others have taught me to procrastinate in letter-writing, and therefore others ought not to find fault with my procrastination. This is no spiteful hit at you, for I esteem you an angel of a correspondent in comparison with most of my friends. I have been so drilled out of regularity, that now I can scarcely persuade myself to sit down with pen in hand, — unless some nonsense for myself runs in my head. At last, to put an end to my self reproaches, I have "screwed my courage to the sticking place,"2 patting my idleness with the promise of sending you a very few lines, with another promise (to you) of a longer scrawl when my scrawling humour shall return.
I am much interested in the news you give of your intention to go to England next spring, to pay a visit to your father;3 for I am engaged next spring to pay a visit to my mother. Thus I entertain a thousand pleasant anticipations of our taking the journey together. Mind, I shall set off, (wind, weather, and cholera permitting,) in the first week of May, and I insist on going by the Simplon road, which I am anxious to see.
You say I omitted to mention that I had paid for the stove. Look to my letter, — where I say you’re my debtor. What more explicit would a man have? Of course it was paid for before it left Florence, — who will trust me? Now I have received six Roman crowns from Mr Wilson, and six more from Mr Glasgow,4 making exactly six pauls more than you ought to have sent; — so, if you can understand mercantile phrases, I am at this present Dr to Jos. Severn six pauls. Pray request your wife to explain this to you, — for I feel confident it is too much for yourself alone. What a blessing is a wife! — and what a change we have had from hot to coolish weather! — not that the change is applicable in any horrid way, — all I mean is that — damn the application!
Though I am now in a very lazy, hoity-toity fit, you must know that folks either pretend, or really think I am amazingly industrious. They look at my Hogarth’s heads, and say, — "Do 70 of these! — it is not in the patience of man!" Yet, for all their wise sayings, my 56th is in hand. To confess the truth, when I had done 47, I had a dastardly demon at my ear, whispering, — "They are good for nothing, — don’t go on, — or wait till you are more inclined to work." "Alas!" I replied, "I know, by experience, that to wait to be inclined to occupation, when a man has bread without it, is waiting for happiness when it is at one’s fingers’ ends." So, down I sat, like a drudge, till I worked myself again into good humour with my work. In this way I drove off my demon.
You press me to be intimate with the Glasgows. I called on him, and thanked him; but, as for intimacy, why he lives 2 miles from the Bolognese gate, and I two miles from the Roman one, — six miles apart. What! don’t you know I’m a country gentleman? Yes, I have a bit of a villa on the top of a hill, where I am half in love with a farmer’s girl, and where Charley gets tanned. By the by, he improves rapidly in music, and begins to like it more than he will confess. I took this rustication for six months, sometimes in town, sometimes on the hill, just as the whim suits. Now that the putrid fever is raging in Florence, I think, (as it attacks children more than others, — so they tell me,) I prefer trees to houses more than ever.
I won’t talk to you about that infamous law-suit;5 for I have seen your letter to Wilson, have said all I could, and he has written to you, — not that any thing we can do or say will avail. Now that I come to the last turn-over,6 I insist on it this is a long scrawl, — by no means a few lines, which, in my idleness, I prognosticated. Truth is, writing begets writing. "Let no man," as Sterne says, "say, — I will write a duodecimo."7 — See, — I have written a folio!
Kirkup is remarkably well, and works almost as <well> closely as myself. Mrs Wilson has had an inflammation in her bowels, is recovered, and gaining strength. I am rejoiced to hear such continued accounts of the good health of your children. Give a kiss, in my name, to your wife, and, in my ditto, a shake of the hand to each of our friends.
You unconscionable fellow! What can you mean by conjecturing I shall pay you another visit this autumn, when you have broken your intention of coming to me answer by return of post.10
3 Severn’s father, James (b. 1765), with whom he had parted on bitter terms in September 1820, was in declining health and died on 5 July 1833 (Thomas Severn to Severn, 20 Jan. 1831, Harvard, MS ENG 1434 ). Though Brown returned to England in the spring of 1833, Severn did not accompany him. [Return to the letter]
5 The court case brought against Severn by Teresa Bartolomei and her husband was not settled until 1832. For Severn’s account of the proceedings and the trial’s equivocal outcome, see Sharp 289-292. [Return to the letter]