16 Apr. 1831

Letter 34


16, 25 April 1831

Florence. 16 April 1831.

My dear Severn,

I had dated this letter as you see, though I am now writing on 25th, intending to send it by the Wilsons, who talked of setting off to Rome immediately. Then they showed a little hesitation, till, a few days since, they resolved to remain here, and are now removing into a new house. After all I have nothing to say but what may well go by the post; for your description of Rome is, with a trivial exception, a fac simile of Florence during the late hubbub, — which is saying quite enough. I was surprised as well as grieved to hear that your illness had been so severe and tedious; as I was led to understand by Mr Uwins that it was a short indisposition. No doubt your bad news from home increased it.2 I always thought it was a vain office to offer consolation, till I lately remarked, in Gray’s letters, that his invariable method was to point out to a friend how much severer his misfortune might have been; — this is real consolation, and I therefore cannot help pointing out to you that, if your boy was not to live, how happy it is for you that he did not first arrive in Rome and personally link himself tightly on your affections; — as it is, you have not lost a son, but one whom you expected from England, whom you would not have known had you accidentally met him, — thank God! you have no recollection of him but as a baby, which he had long ceased to resemble. Are you not coming to Florence? I am perfectly prepared for you, having taken a villa two miles off for six months, so that I can give up my town habitation to you and Mrs Severn. For the present my plan is to walk into town every day to dinner, and sleep in the country air. The villa stands very high, and I have a glorious panorama; it is near Galilei’s villa at Arcetri. You must come if only to see how industriously I am proceeding with Hogarth’s heads from the Rake’s progress;3 there are to be 70, and I have finished 32, at the rate of six in a month. Each one is on a separate bit of Bristol paper, and, when completed, they are to be mounted in one frame on crimson velvet, — such being Kirkup’s taste, for he and the Wilsons pay me high compliments on them, and spur me on to finish them. What an unbusiness-like fellow you are! — you ask for a stove, — I send it, — and you neither tell me whether you like it, nor if it is arrived! Kirkup declines subscribing any more to your Exhibition and Lottery;4 but Wilson says he will continue his subscription, — though he is rather afraid of having a prize. He and his family are all well, and always at work; Kirkup is also well, but seldom at work. Charley is strong and hearty, making great progress in music; his master says he never met but with one child equal to him; yet (is it not provoking?) he himself hates it, and it is only by the word of command that he ever sits down to the piano. The rogue sends kisses and love.5


1 The letter lacks address and postmarks and was probably hand delivered. [Return to the letter]

2 The death of Severn’s illegitimate son, Henry, when he was on the point of leaving England to join the Severn family in Rome. The Severns named their next male child, born 27 June 1833, after him. Elizabeth Severn was herself illegitimate. [Return to the letter]

3 A framed set of 78 pen and wash copies of the heads from "The Rake’s Progress," signed and dated "Florence 1831," are now at the LMA (K/PZ/05/036). [Return to the letter]

4 In 1830 Severn was responsible for organizing the British showing in an international art exhibition at the Capitol. Employing a lottery to sell pictures between a group of subscribers was not an uncommon practice at this time. [Return to the letter]

5 The letter is unsigned. [Return to the letter]