TO MRS SEVERN1
Florence. 13 March 1829.
My dear Mrs Severn,
Here I am, dejected, melancholy, wretched, not hearing a word of news respecting you. Charley, more sprightly than myself, sends his love to you. Why do you not curtain-lecture your hub, why not tease, worry, and torment him, when he dares to leave me in ignorance of your well being?2 If he does not behave himself better, I shall take you away from him.
Don’t tell him, because he does not deserve it, that Trelawny is with me;3 that he has anxiously inquired after him; that Trelawny himself is remarkably well; that we live together, and are mightily happy; with fifty other matters, that he deserves not to be acquainted with.
But you may tell him that his Ginori stoves set forth on 10th Jany, and that, I dare say, they are all cracked, broken, and crushed, as a judgment on him for his monstrous silence.
You may also inform him, as a punishment, that, in a few weeks, I shall address Mr Jas Cobbett to him,4 the son of the enormous radical. He will wish to be introduced to Sig. Gregory.5 Say that I am sorry Mr Jas Cobbett is a good, modest, and estimable young man; that his sister, who travels with him, is equal to him; and that it vexes me that I cannot send two fearful dragons in their stead.
My spite is at the utmost; so, in one word, I hope his wig is turned gray.
Now for a few words between ourselves, cheek by jowl, with our feet on the fender, — not that it is cold in Florence, but I have heard fearful accounts of your Roman winter. Well then, in the first place, the tears I have shed for the death of your poor, dear, old Pope6 are unknown, — so are those of my fellow Tuscans; some might say they live in an onion, but I cannot imagine they live even in a blade of garlick, — I won’t answer for assafatida. Ah, what despair you must have endured to have your Carnival spoiled! — but no, you and I are sober-minded, discreet, house-keeping folks, and don’t care the value of a nose-mask for all the maskerades. Hang Popes! — so let me whisper a word in your ear more to the purpose. Won’t you come and see me this summer? No matter for hub, because if you set your wits in the right quarter, he will be easily managed. See you I must. To gain his consent, which is but decent, tell him any thing; for any thing will do for hubs. Make him come. When I see him, it is possible I may not deign to take him by the hand, after so long a course of ill-behaviour, which will be the more lordly and delightful. If, on the contrary, I should happen to be in good humour, I may tell him a budget of news from London, among which he will find the riddle solved of <. . .>7 disasters, — to wit, the long passed, long enduring, and <ever increasing . . .>8 my wits have escaped me through the nibs of my pen, that, immediately after reading this last sentence, you will have the kindness to cancel it, never to speak of it, as, the fact is, a secret has escaped me, — pray, in your prudence, be attentive to this.
When I began to scribble this my first letter to my admired Madonna, I thought of being extremely sedate and courtly. Somehow or another, old remembrances ran away with formality just as I began. Ten to one you will not excuse such audacity, and fifty to one you will. My apology is, (if it is one,) that I am a bad hand at letter-writing, — I always say too much or too little, — I am too merry or too wise, — too much inspired by syllabub or plain boiled beef. Syllabub! — hum, — when I used to advertise a tureen-full at Hampstead, I recollect that my house was full of ladies on the occasion, — so perhaps you like one too, — not, however, that I, in my vanity, can suppose this a hundredth part as good, — I never made a paper one before.
You must know, between ourselves, for I don’t like Hub to know my secrets, that I have taken Charley away from an excellent school, in order to educate him at home. My motive for this was that the child required, for his health and strength, long walks. So here he is at home, or on the hills, much to the benefit of us both. Sometimes he is idle, and I am angry, and full of punishments; and sometimes he is a delightful creature, full of industry and affection. How much I wonder what he will be ten years hence!
Alack! I forgot I was writing to a lady. I shall be pinched, black and blue, for troubling her with too long a letter. So, without more words, give half a kiss to your undeserving hub, —
and believe me,
Your affectionate friend,
3 He moved in with Brown in February 1829, traveled to Ancona in May and returned to Brown’s house in August before moving to his own villa south of Florence two months later (Stillinger 279n2). [Return to the letter]
4 James Cobbett (1803-1881), the son of William Cobbett, the great Radical politician and writer. James Cobbett was traveling with his sister, Anne Cobbett, who became very friendly with the Severns in Rome and acted in absentia as godmother to the Severns’ first child, Claudia Fitzroy (b. 12 July 1829). In a letter to Severn of 15 Aug. 1829, Anne Cobbett tells of an amusing row with Brown in Florence in which he told her that she was not beautiful. She retorted that as a bald, aging man with a cupboard full of sweetmeats he was not qualified to judge (Harvard, MS ENG 1434 ). Brown’s letters of introduction for the Cobbetts to "Colonel" Finch are printed in Stillinger 275-76. [Return to the letter]