20 May 1824

Letter 7


20 May 1824

Maiano. 20th May 1824.

My dear Severn,

Do not think me unkind for not having until this time made you acquainted with a matter of the utmost moment concerning myself. Indeed it would have been useless in me to ask your advice on such a point, as no opinion of your’s could have changed my resolution. You who know me well must be aware that though I have heedlessly, perhaps too heedlessly, gained among my friends and associates a character at times approaching to folly and buffoonery, (for which I am now as repentant as I ought to be,) yet that I have always, beneath that trivial behaviour, entertained the most serious reflections; — you, I say, know this well, and ought not to be surprised at the step I have taken. My future happiness has been the constant idea in my mind ever since I left you; and hating as I do the vain and gaudy glitter of this world, and feeling that nothing but a religious retirement can give ease to my soul, I have determined to enter a Convent. I am now bound by law to remain there for five months, and at the end of that period I cannot believe I shall once desire to bid adieu to so blissful a habitation. Before this reaches you I shall have entered within its holy walls. Hunt speaks very kindly to me under these circumstances, — I know he means kindly, — but nothing he can say shall make me waver, — indeed it is now too late. My Italian friends Gianetti and Magini, when I first acquainted them with this change in my situation, not only refused to believe me, but when I assured them of the fact, they began2 — would you credit it? — to jeer me! — yet what was their astonishment when I let them into the secret that I was going to live in a Convent of Nuns! Fol-de-rol-lol-fal lal lal la! Yes, you rogue, I have taken half a suppressed nunnery for a villa, with 4 rooms and a pantry on the ground floor, and five rooms and a kitchen on the first. I am buying furniture at a swinging rate. By the by, I occupy the Abbess’s apartments. Charley and I intend to be as merry as grigs there. Hunt talks of taking the other half of the Nunnery next October. I pay only 31½ crowns per annum. I forgot to tell you I’ve a glorious romping place, as big as a ballroom, at the top of the house. Did I take you in, as you read the former page? Yes, Severn, thoughts of my future happiness make me retire to this Convent! For the benefit of myself and friends, be it known to all travellers to Florence, that I live at a Nunnery "nel’ soppresso Convento di. S. Baldassarre, a Coverciano, in via che conduce a Settignano",3 about 1½ mile out of "Porta Croce". I have such fine views out of my consecrated windows, — you must really come and look at them. Mind you give Kirkup my address, — or, if he has set off for Florence, instantly send it to him per post. Tell him I do not write to him personally, — yes, I will, — so here goes: — My dear Kirkup, How is Madama? and how are you? As for lodgings; give me your orders, viz: the price, in or out of the walls, how many rooms, and so on. I have enquired, and heard of some handsomely furnished rooms, five I think, near the Porta Pinti, and with a bath, — looking on a beautiful garden and all that, — but the terms, I understand, are 8 zechins per month, about half a crown per diem. What say you? I remain, Dear Kirkup, your’s most truly, Chas Brown. Now, Severn, how are you again? O, I rejoice you’ve earned 20 guineas so easily, and that the Chess-players have nearly finished their game.4 You must not go to England; shall I write to your father?5 Remember me, in as kind a way as you can, to Mrs Erskine and the two graces attending her.6 No, Hunt has not got a Piano. He desires me to ask you if Mr Finch gave you the two crowns which Thornton7 borrowed of you, and which Mrs Hunt gave to Mr Finch to be returned to you in Rome. I have nothing to say to West for a few days, when I intend to send him a seperate letter, — so you need not remember me to him. Hunt sends Compts to many, but waiteth for your promised letter, when, quoth he, he will respond. Make my love to Gott and Gott’s wife, and eke unto the little Gotts. Tell Teresa8 to continue to be a good woman. I’ve hired a man servant, instead of a sham maid, and hope he’ll turn out a second Gaeturio, — he has begun well. Signor Bartolemei9 is banished for a time to Volterra, and his wife is still conventised. Oh! Florence! what delicious wine at 6 crazie a flask! what green peas! what salted tongues! what a paradise altogether! Westmacott10 is off, — yet just before he went, there was a doubt about his going, as an odd sort of a second-thought letter came from his father. It is possible he may not go to England this year, but return to Rome from Milan; and if he goes, it is very possible he may turn to the right about again. Wishing you a good appetite to a shabbily cooked dinner, I remain

Your’s very sincerely,
           Chas Brown.


1 Printed: Sharp 143-144 with errors and omissions, and reproduced in Stillinger 150-151. Above the salutation Sharp has penciled, "copied." Address: Al Signore / Il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Gentiluomo Inglese, / No 18 Via di S. Isidoro, / Roma. Postmarks: FIRENZE; 24 MAGGIO. [Return to the letter]

2 Playing on Severn’s gullibility, Brown intentionally delayed the page turn until here to maintain the ruse that he had undergone a deep religious conversion and was now doing penance for his sins in a Convent. For Brown’s more serious reflection on his religious principles, see his letter of 11 Oct. 1838 to Trelawny (appendix). [Return to the letter]

3 "At the suppressed convent of St. Baldasare at Coverciano on the road leading to Settignano." Brown lived here until November 1824. [Return to the letter]

4 "Miranda and Ferdinand Playing Chess," from The Tempest. Maria Erskine, Severn’s current love interest, modeled for Miranda. Though Brown warmly praised it in his article, "Actors and Artists at Rome," published in The Examiner (3 Oct. 1824): 626-28, it proved hard to sell. [Return to the letter]

5 In his letters home Severn frequently talked of returning to see his family (see, for example, Severn to Maria Severn, 22 July, 1826), but did not, in fact, get to London until June 1838, five years after his father’s death (Scott 253). [Return to the letter]

6 Maria Erskine (1776-1824), the widow of John Erskine of Cardross. Severn fancied himself in love with the younger of her two daughters, Maria, the niece of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who had brought the Elgin Marbles to England. [Return to the letter]

7 Thornton Hunt (1810-1873), Leigh Hunt’s eldest son. [Return to the letter]

8 Teresa Bartolomei, "a young woman very clever and willing — she has learned to cook in our English taste" (Severn to Sarah Severn, 9 Dec. 1824 [SFL 29]). She and her husband Giovanni were still with Severn in 1827 when he wrote to one of his brothers: "a great part of my happiness is owing to these 2 good souls, whose honesty and affection nothing can surpass" (Severn to Thomas Severn, 15 July 1827 [Scott 283]). After his marriage, however, the Bartolomeis took a court case against Severn. See 5, 8 Sept. 1829. [Return to the letter]

9 Unidentified. [Return to the letter]

10 Richard Westmacott, Jr (1799-1872), sculptor and son of Sir Richard Westmacott, R. A. He was a good friend of Severn, one of the leaders of the British artistic colony in Rome where he arrived in 1820, and one of the few to attend Keats’ funeral (KC, i. 227). Brown got to know him during the winter he spent in Rome in 1823-4. According to Gunn’s Dictionary of British Sculptors, he spent six years in Italy before returning to work in his father’s busy sculptural practice in London. In 1824 he may have returned temporarily to England, but was back in Italy in 1825 (Severn to Maria Severn, 4 Oct. 1824 [Scott 260-63]). [Return to the letter]