Brown, Charles Armitage (DNB00)

BROWN, CHARLES ARMITAGE (1787?–1842?), writer on Shakespeare's sonnets and friend of Keats, went to St. Petersburg at the age of eighteen to conduct the business of a Russia merchant started there by his eldest brother John. Working on very little capital, and hampered by political disturbances, the firm soon collapsed, and about 1810, at the age of twenty-three, Brown returned to this country utterly ruined. For some years afterwards he struggled hard for a livelihood, but the death of another brother who had settled in Sumatra put him at length in the possession of a small competence, and he devoted himself to literary pursuits. In 1814 he wrote a serio-comic opera on a Russian subject, entitled 'Narensky, or the Road to Yaroslaf,' with music by Braham and Reeve. It was acted at Drury Lane, under Arnold's management, for several nights from 11 Jan. 1814, with Braham in the chief part (Genest, viii. 405). The libretto was published in 1814, but its literary quality is poor. Brown made the acquaintance of Keats and his brothers before September 1817. At the time Brown was living at Wentworth Place, Hampstead, a double house part of which was in the occupation of Charles Wentworth Dilke, and Keats was living in Well Walk, near at hand. In July 1818 Brown and Keats made a tour together in the north of Scotland. Brown sent a number of amusing letters to Dilke describing the trip, some of which have been printed in Dilke's 'Papers of a Critic,' and in Buxton Forman's elaborate edition of Keats's works. A diary kept by Brown at the same time is unfortunately lost. On the return from Scotland in August, Brown induced Keats to 'keep house' with him at Wentworth Place, each paying his own expenses; and there Brown introduced the poet to Fanny Brawne and her mother, who had hired Brown's rooms during his absence in the north, and had thus made his acquaintance. At Wentworth Place Keats wrote his play of 'Otho,' the plot of which he owed to Brown. In April 1819 Keats wrote some humorous Spenserian stanzas on Brown, which are printed in the various editions of the poet's works. In 1820 Keats left for Rome, with his health rapidly breaking. In 1822, shortly after Keats's death. Brown paid a long visit to Italy. He met Byron at Florence, and tried to induce him to take a just view of Keats's poetry and character. In 1824 Kirkpatrick introduced Brown to Landor, and the introduction led to a long intimacy. For many years Brown was a frequent visitor at Landor's villa at Fiesole. In April 1836 Brown returned to England and lived near Plymouth. He busied himself in public lecturing on Keats and Shakespeare, and in writing for newspapers and reviews. Landor visited him in 1837. In the middle of 1841 he suddenly left England for New Zealand, in the hope partly of improving his fortune and partly of recovering his health, which had been failing for some time. He obtained a government grant of land at Taranaky, New Plymouth, but he was so dissatisfied with its quality and situation that he resolved to return to England. He wrote from New Zealand to Joseph Severn, under date 22 Jan. 1842, announcing this resolve, but he apparently died before beginning the journey. In this, his last extant letter, he mentions that he was engaged on a 'Handbook of New Zealand.'

A number of Keats's manuscripts came into Brown's possession on the poet's death, and Brown determined to publish some of them with a memoir by himself. He printed a few of Keats's unpublished works in the 'New Monthly Magazine,' but a short biographical sketch which he wrote of his friend was refused by the booksellers and by the 'Morning Chronicle.' On leaving England, Brown made overall his manuscripts relating to Keats to R. Monckton Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton, whom he first met at Fiesole in April 1833. In his well-known book on Keats, Lord Houghton made a free use of Brown's papers.

Brown's best-known literary work is his 'Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems, being his Sonnets clearly developed, with his Character drawn chiefly from his Works,' London, 1838. Brown dedicated the book to Landor, with whom he had first discussed its subject at Florence in 1828. It is Brown's endeavour to show that Shakespeare's sonnets conceal a fairly complete autobiography of the poet, and although Boaden had suggested a similar theory in 1812, Brown was the first to treat it with adequate fulness or knowledge. Brown often illustrates Shakespeare from Italian literature, with which he was widely acquainted. Lord Houghton says that Keats learned from Brown all that he knew of Ariosto, and that Brown scarcely let a day pass in Italy without translating from the Italian. His 'complete and admirable Version of the first five Cantos of Boiardo's "Orlando Innamorato"' (Houghton) was unfortunately never published. Of Brown's contributions to periodical literature, his papers in the 'Liberal,' signed Carlone and Carlucci, are very good reading. One called 'Les Charmettes and Rousseau' has been wrongly assigned to Charles Lamb, and another, 'On Shakespeare's Fools,' equally wrongly to Charles Cowden Clarke. A story in the 'Examiner' for 1823 entitled 'La Bella Tabaccaia' is also by Brown. Various references to Brown in the letters of his literary friends, among whom Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt are to be included, prove that he was at all times excellent company. Leigh Hunt is believed to refer to him in the 'Tatler' for 14 Jan. 1831, as 'one of the most genuine wits now living.' Joseph Severn, Keats's friend, maintained a fairly regular correspondence with Brown for more than twenty years (1820-42), and many of Brown's letters to Severn and other literary friends will be printed in the 'Severn Memoirs,' edited by Mr. William Sharp.

[Information from the late W. Dilke of Chichester, from the late Lord Houghton, from Mr. William Sharp, and from Mr. Sidney Colvin; Buxton Forman's complete edition of Keats's works (1883); Dilke's Papers of a Critic; Lord Houghton's Life of Keats (1848); Forster's Life of Landor; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vii. 388, 6th ser. viii. 392. Mr. W. Dilke was of opinion that Brown was never known by the second name of Armitage until the publication of Lord Houghton's Life of Keats. On the title-page of the opera Narensky (1814) Brown is called Mr. Charles Brown, but on that of his work on Shakespeare's sonnets he is called Charles Armitage Brown. His eldest brother's name was John Armitage Brown. A son Charles or Carlino, who settled with him in New Zealand, survived him.]

S. L. L.