Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn

Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn

Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn

Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn

Excerpt

My acquaintance with the Severns began one wet afternoon at Charlton, when I found an album of their sketches. Then I read Mary Severn's diary and some of her letters. It was Mary in whom I was most interested at first. She seemed strangely modern for her times. Who could have imagined a young lady in the middle of the last century supporting, not only herself, but her family, by her painting? From their sketches, their caricatures and their letters I got to know the Severns. I knew what they looked like, what they thought, and how they talked and behaved. I longed to bring the family to life again.

Six months of Joseph Severn's life are well known and have been often described; the fifty-eight years he lived after Keats's death are usually dismissed in a sentence. The one Life of Joseph Severn, published in 1892, entirely ignored the period in London when the family fortunes were low, which to me is one of the most amusing. I am still enchanted by Mrs. Severn's indomitable remark when, after days of staving off writs and bailiffs, she extravagantly hired a hansom cab and sank back on to the seat, "Well, however poor I am, there are certain things I cannot give up--hansoms, cold cream and violet powder." Then there were Mary's letters from Windsor, when she was painting the Queen's children, with descriptions of Her Majesty--"If she would only sit in warm rooms she really would be better looking. . . . Her hands were blue and shaking so she could hardly point to the pictures. . . ."

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