2 June 1838

Letter 44


2, 7 June 1838

London. 2 June 1838.

My dear Severn,

Here am I, lured from my quiet cottage to the turmoil of a city, for the sake of publishing a volume,2 which may, in its consequences, bring disquiet into my cottage. One good thing, however, has accrued; — I have seen your four pictures in the Exhibition.3 My praise is worth nothing, as I am an interested party; but they are much praised by those who know nothing about you. They are well placed. Your "Crusaders" seems to be the chief favourite; though I prefer the Venetian scene. The composition of the former is most striking. Imagination, which we rarely see now-a-days in painting, is in your painting; not a dreamy one, like Fuseli’s,4 but one that makes your treatment of a subject gain imperceptibly on the beholder. The colour fully keeps its purpose with any of the best around them. Wilkie5 must be merely painting for money, — his are sad fallings-off. Turner6 is like a kitchen fire in the dog-days. Going from the Exhibition to the National Gallery,7 I became intoxicated with admiration; and I endeavoured to account for part of their, — the old masters! — superiority. Beyond any modern they contrived to give a roundness to the figures; somehow it seems as if, by turning the frame, we could see the other side of the limbs. How this is managed I know not, but occasionally I perceive they adopted a bold, harsh outline, which, I thought, contributed to the magical effect. This, together with the depth they gave to their pictures, seems to me the grand secret; — reflect on how it might be done. The Athenaeum has praised you well;8 but Dilke, in private at least, and possibly when more are present than I have witnessed, is apt to relate the whole of the transaction between you and him; in vain I protest in your favour; it bears the stain of looking like getting thirty crowns out of him for nothing, to those who do not know you. Eleven years are passed! He declares, and authorises me to tell you, that he will not receive the picture if it comes; and he will not demand the money back again.9 Thus nothing is left for you but to send him the money; and, even I in your place, I would send it instantly, with the addition of 5 pct per annum, though it were all my money at hand. It matters not whether you are or are not in fault. Dilke is altogether unpleasant towards myself. He is dogmatical, conceited, and rude. Success has turned his brain.10 For the last fortnight I have kept from his house, except in paying two visits of mere civility; and, though I will not again quarrel with him, I would rather not henceforth be in his company, — it is a nuisance to my better thoughts. My forthcoming volume is on Shakespeare. It is printed at my own risk. I say nothing of its contents, as I shall send you a copy by Mr Crauford, who will set off for Florence in about two months. Charles Richards11 prints it. His nephew, our little Tom is his right-hand man, — a good, sedate, and clever fellow. He supports, I believe, his mother and youngest brother. The second is my godson, who is to visit my cottage; the eldest daughter is comfortably married; Sophy12 is in Wales, as a dress maker. I have dined with Haslam, who lives like a most prosperous man; he has a wife and daughter,13 the latter a nice girl of about sixteen; he sends remembrances, and no reproaches for not writing. In this town, this city of humbug, I am hurried and flurried in all sorts of ways. I am sick of the eternal wheels, sick of the eternal streets, and abominably sick of the process of printing. Away I go tomorrow, leaving the last proofs to the care of Tom and a young lady-acquaintance of mine. You have so often sent me a moderate letter, that I make no conscience of letting you have one from me. In fact, for the future, I intend to say what I wish in as few words as I can cram it. I say nothing of your sad loss14 but this: — the time will come when you will have more pleasure than pain in his remembrance, and, at last, unalloyed pleasure. Give my best love to your wife.

Your’s most sincerely,
           Chas Brown.

This has been written at snatches; it is now 7th June.


1 Printed: Sharp 186 with errors and omissions, and reproduced in Stillinger 346-347. Above the salutation, Sharp has penciled, "887-9." Brown responds to Severn’s letter of 21 Nov. 1837 (Scott 345-347). Brown has written "Italia " at the head of the address page, "Italie " at the foot. Address: Al Pittore Inglese / il Sig. Guiseppe Severn, / Via Rasella, / Roma. Postmarks: LONDON 7 JUN 1838; PAID 7 JU 7 1838; ANGLETERRA PAR CALAIS; PONT BEAUVOIS{IN}; ROMA 21 {…} 1838 [one other illegible]. [Return to the letter]

2 Shakespeare’s Autobiographical Poems (London, 1838). [Return to the letter]

3 Severn’s four pictures at the RA Exhibition of 1838 included: an oil sketch of his altar piece, "The Infant of the Apocalypse Saved from the Dragon" (now in the Tate Gallery, London), "Ariel," "The First Crusaders in Sight of Jerusalem" and "The Finale of a Venetian Masque at the Summer’s Dawn." The last, which Brown liked best, proved the hardest to sell and was eventually bought for £150 in 1847 by Elizabeth Severn’s half-brother the Earl of Eglinton (Scott 429n10). [Return to the letter]

4 John Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Professor of Painting at the RA and Keeper of the RA Schools, had been Severn’s principal teacher at the Academy. He specialized in mesmeric, often nightmarish visions of scenes from Shakespeare, Milton and Norse mythology. [Return to the letter]

5 Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841), Scottish genre painter and the most popular artist of his time. His style changed radically after study visits to Italy and Spain between 1825 and 1828 and he lost his mass appeal. George IV, however, appointed him as his official portrait painter in 1830, after which he developed a lucrative practice as a portrait painter. See Nicholas Tromans, David Wilkie: Painter of Everyday Life (London: Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2002) 26-27. [Return to the letter]

6 J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851), the greatest and most original painter of his age, famous for his bold use of yellow. [Return to the letter]

7 The "new" National Gallery opened to the public on 9 April. [Return to the letter]

8 The Athenaeum (19 May 1838): 363. [Return to the letter]

9 This contradicts the statement in Severn’s letter to Brown of 13 July 1836 that he had already sent the picture. Severn may have brought it with him when he came to London in June 1838. See too 23 Jan. 1834, n4. [Return to the letter]

10 From 1830 Dilke was owner and editor of The Athenaeum, which he turned into a successful literary weekly (KC, i.lxxxiv). [Return to the letter]

11 Charles Richards, brother of Brown’s friend Thomas Richards. He was established at 100 St. Martin’s Lane and printed Keats’ Poems in 1817. He also published the 1838 Daily Remembrancer which Brown used on the voyage to New Zealand.[Return to the letter]

12 For more on Tom and Sophia Richards, see Stillinger 152. [Return to the letter]

13 Mary Haslam, Haslam’s second wife and Annette Augusta (b. 28 Aug. 1820), Haslam’s daughter by his first marriage. Haslam’s first wife was also called Mary (Scott 93n1 and 240n2).[Return to the letter]

14 The death of Severn’s third son, Arthur, who died in a crib accident on 15 July 1837. [Return to the letter]