17 Mar. 1835

Letter 40


17 March 1835

Florence. 17 March 1835.

My dear Severn,

It seems you have been complaining right and left about my not writing. Now, — to show what sympathy exists between us, — I have been complaining in the very same way of myself. But it was impossible for me to hold a pen during the frost; and, when that was over, I was busy in packing up my commodities to go by sea, an occupation that lasted five weeks. Then I had to move into town lodgings, receive visits, return them, dine out, and attend to a million and a half petty matters. After all, — and it is well I am prepared, — I shall set off three weeks earlier than I intended, for three special reasons: 1st good company; 2nd to arrive at Plymouth in time to take a house by Midsummer day, and buy furniture; and 3rd because I go cheaply. We shall go to Genoa, Turin, and by Mont Cenis to Paris, when I shall proceed to Havre or Dieppe, and cross the channel by steam without going to London, where I have nothing to do. This news, together with telling you my health is excellent, is all I can send respecting self. I tell the Florentines, which, by the by, is true enough, — "The severity of an Italian winter compels me to seek a milder climate," — which well nigh stupefies them. Revenons a nos moutons,2 which (as you don’t understand french) means, — let us talk of yourself. I have heard a great deal from various quarters in praise of your large picture,3 and Mr Garden4 told me, two days ago, that you are now putting the finishing touch to it, and, of course, you are in a sufficiently excited state. Am I to see it in London? — for to London will I go if it should be to be seen there. I have stories of your sending it there for exhibition, nay, of your going with it yourself. What is the true and legitimate meaning of all this? Is it any thing better than one of your fire side dreams? For my part, I think you standard artists in Italy are all in the wrong. London, it is true, is too expensive; but were you to take up your rest near Plymouth, you would live in a far cheaper place than Rome or even Florence, and in excellent society, whether for literature, science, or the fine arts, besides being within a distance of about twenty hours from the great market, London, — thanks to our rapid travelling by steam! After making all inquiries in my power, and after my late visit to England, when I found every thing so strangely cheaper than formerly, I calculate on paying £20 a year, including taxes, for a house and garden fit for me and mine, and £6 a year for a good servant of all work; beef, veal, mutton, pork, and lamb averaging four pence for sixteen ounces; bread perhaps a very trifle higher than it is here; while poultry, milk, butter, eggs, &c &c are very greatly cheaper; add, to which, clothing is less expensive there than here. However you may persuade yourself, you never will persuade me that it is better to live in Italy, either for a private individual like myself, or for an artist like yourself. A few years here are enough. I have remained too long, my stay having been occasioned by ignorance of the modern low prices in England; — I could not believe what I had heard respecting them. I have forgotten to let you know the precise day of my departure; — it is fixed for Monday the 30th of this month. Let me hear from you by return of post (at which you used to be famous) — or, at any rate, in high time before I quit. Mr & Mrs Snook5 arrived here very well; she never better; they both desire to be remembered to you and Mrs Severn. Mind you give my particular love to your wife, with Carlino’s. I regret I know but one of your children,6 and that one must be grown past my former knowledge. The cold, and the fears I entertained of travelling, on account of my health, and the long way to the south while I thought of nothing but the north, prevented my going to Rome. Kirkup is thin enough, but very well. Remember us, me and boy, to Mr and Mrs Wilson and family, Mr & Mrs Baynes, Simpson,7 Gibson, Wyatt,8 Boxall,9 and every one that cares a farthing about us. I ought to tell you I saw plainly through your hoax of riding on four horses from the first, — so thou didst not take me in.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.


1 Mentioned in Sharp 176. Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "837." Address: Al Pittore Inglese / Il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Via Rasella, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; NETTA {...TROEFUOR}; ROMA 1835. [Return to the letter]

2 "Let’s get back to the subject." [Return to the letter]

3 Possibly Severn’s altar piece, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse." A study for this painting was shown at the RA Exhibition in 1838. [Return to the letter]

4 Unidentified. [Return to the letter]

5 John (1780-1863), and Letitia Snook (1784-1865), Dilke’s brother-in-law and sister. Keats and Severn stayed with the Snooks on their journey to Italy in September 1820. [Return to the letter]

6 Presumably the Severns’ eldest child, Claudia, born 12 July 1829. Their next child, Walter, was born on 12 October 1830. This suggests that Severn and Brown did not meet again in Italy after 1830 and probably not before Brown’s death in 1842 (though see 21 Mar. 1841, n5). [Return to the letter]

7 For possible identifications, see Scott 376n3. [Return to the letter]

8 Richard James Wyatt (1795-1850), sculptor and one of the leaders of the British artistic community in Rome. [Return to the letter]

9 (Sir) William Boxall (1800-1879), English portrait painter, who succeeded Eastlake in 1865 as Director of the National Gallery. He studied in Italy 1833-36. [Return to the letter]