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The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1 of 2) by Frederic G. Kenyon

Part 6 out of 9

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and then--and then--if silence and sulkiness are proved crimes of mine
to ever such an extreme, why it would not be unnatural. Do you think I
was born to live the life of an oyster, such as I _do_ live here? And
so, the moaning and gnashing of teeth are best done alone and without
taking anyone into confidence. And so, this is all I have to say for
myself, which perhaps you will be glad of; for you will be ready
to agree with me that next to such faults of idleness, negligence,
silence (call them by what names you please!) as I have been guilty
of, is the repentance of them, if indeed the latter be not the most
unpardonable of the two.

And what are you doing so late in Herefordshire? Is dear Mr. Martin
too well, and tempting the demons? I do hope that the next news of you
will be of your being about to approach the sun and visit us on the
road. You do not give your wisdom away to your friends, all of it, I
hope and trust--not even to Reynolds.

Tell Mr. Martin that a new great daily newspaper, professing
'_ultraism_' at the right end (meaning his and mine), is making
'mighty preparation,' to be called the 'Daily News,'[138] to be
edited by Dickens and to combine with the most liberal politics such
literature as gives character to the French journals--the objects
being both to help the people and to give a _status_ to men of
letters, socially and politically--great objects which will not
be attained, I fear, by any such means. In the first place, I have
misgivings as to Dickens. He has not, I think, _breadth_ of mind
enough for such work, with all his gifts; but we shall see. An immense
capital has been offered and actually advanced. Be good patriots
and order the paper. And talking of papers, I hope you read in the
'Morning Chronicle' Landor's verses to my friend and England's poet,
Mr. Browning.[139] They have much beauty.

You know that Occy has been ill, and that he is well? I hope you are
not so behindhand in our news as not to know. For me, I am not yet
undone by the winter. I still sit in my chair and walk about the room.
But the prison doors are shut close, and I could dash myself
against them sometimes with a passionate impatience of the need-less
captivity. I feel so intimately and from evidence, how, with air and
warmth together in any fair proportion, I should be as well and happy
as the rest of the world, that it is intolerable--well, it is better
to sympathise quietly with Lady--and other energetic runaways, than
amuse you with being riotous to no end; and it is _best_ to write
one's own epitaph still more quietly, is it not?...

And oh how lightly I write, and then sigh to think of what different
colours my spirits and my paper are. Do you know what it is to
laugh, that you may not cry? Yet I hold a comfort fast.... Your very
affectionate

BA.

[Footnote 138: The first number of the _Daily News_ appeared on
January 2l, 1846, under the editorship of Charles Dickens.]

[Footnote 139: The well-known lines beginning, 'There is delight in
singing.' They appeared in the _Morning Chronicle_ for November 22,
1845.]

_To Mrs. Martin_
Saturday [February-March 1846].

My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Indeed it has been tantalising and provoking
to have you close by without being able to gather a better advantage
from it than the knowledge that you were suffering. So passes the
world and the glory of it. I have been vexed into a high state of
morality, I assure you. Now that you are gone away I hear from you
again; and it does seem to me that almost always it happens so, and
that you come to London to be ill and leave it before you can be well
again. It is a comfort in every case to know of your being better, and
Hastings is warm and quiet, and the pretty country all round (mind you
go and see the 'Rocks' _par excellence_)! will entice you into very
gentle exercise. At the same time, don't wish me into the house you
speak of. I can lose nothing here, shut up in my prison, and the
nightingales come to my windows and sing through the sooty panes. If
I were at Hastings I should risk the chance of recovering liberty, and
the consolations of slavery would not reach me as they do here. Also,
if I were to set my heart upon Hastings, I might break it at leisure;
there would be exactly as much difficulty in turning my face that way
as towards Italy--ah, you do not understand! And _I do, at last_, I am
sorry to say; and it has been very long, tedious and reluctant work,
the learning of the lesson....

Did Henrietta tell you that I heard at last from Miss Martineau, who
thought me in Italy, she said, and therefore was silent? She has sent
me her new work (have you read it?) and speaks of her strength and of
being able to walk fifteen miles a day, which seems to me like a fairy
tale, or the 'Three-leagued Boots' at least.

What am I doing, to tell you of? Nothing! The winter is kind, and
this divine 'muggy' weather (is _that_ the technical word and spelling
thereof?), which gives all reasonable people colds in their heads,
leaves _me_ the hope of getting back to the summer without much
injury. A friend of mine--one of the greatest poets in England
too--brought me primroses and polyanthuses the other day, as they are
grown in Surrey![140] Surely it must be nearer spring than we think.

Dearest Mrs. Martin, write and say how you are. And say, God bless
you, both the yous, and mention Mr. Martin particularly, and what your
plans are.

Ever your affectionate
BA.

[Footnote 140:

Beloved, them hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through,
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.

_Sonnets from the Portuguese_, xliv.]

_To Mrs. Martin_
Tuesday [end of June 1846].

So, my dearest Mrs. Martin, you are quite angry with all of us and
with me chiefly. Oh, you need not say no! I see it, I understand it,
and shall therefore take up my own cause precisely as if I were an
injured person. In the first place, dearest Mrs. Martin, when you
wrote to me (at last!) to say that we were both guilty correspondents,
you should have spoken in the singular number; for I was not guilty
at all, I beg to say, while you were on the Continent. You were
uncertain, you said, on going, where you should go and how long
you should stay, and you promised to write and give me some sort of
address--a promise never kept--and where was I to write to you? I
heard for the first time, from the Peytons, of your being at Pau, and
then you were expected at home. So innocent I am, and because it is
a pleasure rather rare to make a sincere profession of innocence, I
meant to write to you at least ten days ago; and then (believe me you
will, without difficulty) the dreadful death of poor Mr. Haydon,[141]
the artist, quite upset me, and made me disinclined to write a word
beyond necessary ones. I thank God that I never saw him--poor gifted
Haydon--but, a year and a half ago, we had a correspondence which
lasted through several months and was very pleasant while it lasted.
Then it was dropped, and only a few days before the event he wrote
three or four notes to me to ask me to take charge of some papers
and pictures, which I acceded to as once I had done before. He was
constantly in pecuniary difficulty, and in apprehension of the seizure
of goods; and nothing of _fear_ suggested itself to my mind--nothing.
The shock was very great. Oh! I do not write to you to write of this.
Only I would have you understand the real case, and that it is not an
excuse, and that it was natural for me to be shaken a good deal. No
artist is left behind with equal largeness of poetical conception! If
the hand had always obeyed the soul, he would have been a genius of
the first order. As it is, he lived on the _slope_ of greatness
and could not be steadfast and calm. His life was one long agony of
self-assertion. Poor, poor Haydon! See how the world treats those who
try too openly for its gratitude! 'Tom Thumb for ever' over the heads
of the giants.

So you heard that I was quite well? Don't believe everything you hear.
But I am really in _a way_ to be well, if I could have such sunshine
as we have been burning in lately, and a fair field of peace besides.
Generally, I am able to go out every day, either walking or in
the carriage--'_walking_' means as far as Queen Anne's Street. The
wonderful winter did not cast me down, and the hot summer helps me up
higher. Now, to _keep in the sun_ is the problem to solve; and if
I can do it, I shall be 'as well as anybody.' If I can't, as ill as
ever. Which is the _resume_ of me, without a word more....

Your ever affectionate
BA.

[Footnote 141: He committed suicide on June 22, under the influence
of the disappointment caused by the indifference of the public to his
pictures, the final instance of which was its flocking to see General
Tom Thumb and neglecting Haydon's large pictures of 'Aristides'
and 'Nero,' which were being exhibited in an adjoining room of the
Egyptian Hall.]

_To H.S. Boyd_
June 27, 1846 [postmark].

Dearest Mr. Boyd,--Let me be clear of your reproaches for not going
to you this week. The truth is that I have been so much shocked and
shaken by the dreadful suicide of poor Mr. Haydon, the artist, I had
not spirits for it. He was not personally my friend. I never saw him
face to face. But we had corresponded, and one of his last acts was an
act of _trust_ towards me. Also I admired his genius. And all to end
_so_! It has naturally affected me much.

So I could not come, but in a few days I _will_ come; and in the
meantime, I have had the sound of your voice to think of, more than
I could think of the deep melodious bells, though they made the right
and solemn impression. How I felt, to be under your roof again!

May God bless you, my very dear friend.
These words in the greatest haste.

From your ever affectionate
ELIBET

CHAPTER V

1846-1849

It is now time to tell the story of the romance which, during the last
eighteen months, had entered into Elizabeth Barrett's life, and was
destined to divert its course into new and happier channels. It is
a story which fills one of the brightest pages in English literary
history.

The foregoing letters have shown something of Miss Barrett's
admiration for the poetry of Robert Browning, and contain allusions
to the beginning of their personal acquaintance. Her knowledge of his
poetry dates back to the appearance of 'Paracelsus,' not to 'Pauline,'
of which there is no mention in her letters, and which had been
practically withdrawn from circulation by the author. Her personal
acquaintance with him was of much later date, and was directly due
to the publication of the 'Poems' in 1844. Chancing to express his
admiration of them to Mr. Kenyon, who had been his friend since 1839
and his father's school-fellow in years long distant, Mr. Browning
was urged by him to write to Miss Barrett himself, and tell her of
his pleasure in her work. Possibly the allusion to him in 'Lady
Geraldine's Courtship' may have been felt as furnishing an excuse for
addressing her; however that may be, he took Mr. Kenyon's advice,
and in January 1845 we find Miss Barrett in 'ecstasies' over a letter
(evidently the first) from 'Browning the poet, Browning the author of
"Paracelsus" and king of the mystics' (see p. 236, above).

The correspondence, once begun, continued to flourish, and in the
course of the same month Miss Barrett tells Mrs. Martin that she is
'getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning,
poet and mystic; and we are growing to be the truest of friends.' At
the end of May, when the return of summer brought her a renewal of
strength, they met face to face for the first time; and from that time
Robert Browning was included in the small list of privileged friends
who were admitted to visit her in person.

How this friendship ripened into love, and love into courtship, it is
not for us to inquire too closely. Something has been told already in
Mrs. Orr's 'Life of Robert Browning;' something more is told in the
long and most interesting letter which stands first in the present
chapter. More precious than either is the record of her fluctuating
feelings which Mrs. Browning has enshrined for ever in her 'Sonnets
from the Portuguese,' and in the handful of other poems--'Life
and Love,' 'A Denial,' 'Proof and Disproof,' 'Inclusions,'
'Insufficiency,'[142] which likewise belong to this period and
describe its hesitations, its sorrows and its overwhelming joys. In
the difficult circumstances under which they were placed, the conduct
of both was without reproach. Mr. Browning knew that he was asking to
be allowed to take charge of an invalid's life--believed indeed
that she was even worse than was really the case, and that she was
hopelessly incapacitated from ever standing on her feet--but was sure
enough of his love to regard that as no obstacle. Miss Barrett, for
her part, shrank from burdening the life of the man she loved with
a responsibility so trying and perhaps so painful, and refused his
unchanging devotion for his sake, not for her own.

[Footnote 142: _Poetical Works_, iv. 20-32.]

The situation was complicated by the character of Mr. Barrett, and by
the certainty--for such it was to his daughter--that he would refuse
to entertain the idea of her marriage, or, indeed, that of any of his
children. The truth of this view was absolutely vindicated not only in
the case of Elizabeth, but also in those of two others of the family
in later years. The reasons for his feeling it is probable he could
not have explained to himself. He was fond of his family after his own
fashion--proud, too, of his daughter's genius; but he could not,
it would seem, regard them in any other light than as belonging to
himself. The wish to leave his roof and to enter into new relations
was looked upon as unfilial treachery; and no argument or persuasion
could shake him from his fixed idea. So long as this disposition could
be regarded as the result of a devoted love of his children, it
could be accepted with respect, if not with full acquiescence; but
circumstances brought the proof that this was not the case, and
thereby ultimately paved the way to Elizabeth's marriage.

These circumstances are stated in several of her letters, and alluded
to in several others, but it may help to the understanding of them
if a brief summary be given here. In the autumn of 1845, as described
above, Miss Barrett's doctors advised her to winter abroad. The
advice was strongly pressed, as offering a good prospect of a real
improvement of health, and as the only way of avoiding the annual
relapse brought on by the English winter. One or more of her brothers
could have gone with her, and she was willing and able to try the
experiment; but in face of this express medical testimony, Mr. Barrett
interposed a refusal. This indifference to her health naturally
wounded Miss Barrett very deeply; but it also gave her the right of
taking her fate into her own hands. Convinced at last that no refusal
on her part could alter Mr. Browning's devotion to her, and that
marriage with him, so far from being an increase of risk to her
health, offered the only means by which she might hope for an
improvement in it, she gave him the conditional promise that if she
came safely through the then impending winter, she would consent to a
definite engagement.

The winter of 1845-6 was an exceptionally mild one, and she suffered
less than usual; and in the spring of 1846 her lover claimed her
promise. Throughout the summer she continued to gain strength, being
able, not only to drive out, but even to walk short distances, and to
visit a few of her special friends such as Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Boyd.
Accordingly it was agreed that at the end of the summer they should
be married, and leave England for Italy before the cold weather should
return. The uselessness of asking her father's consent was so evident,
and the certainty that it would only result in the exclusion of Mr.
Browning from the house so clear, that no attempt was made to obtain
it. Only her two sisters were aware of what was going on; but even
they were not informed of the final arrangements for the marriage, in
order that they might not be involved in their father's anger when it
should become known. For the same reason the secret was kept from so
close a friend of both parties as Mr. Kenyon; though both he and Mr.
Boyd, and possibly also Mrs. Jameson, had suspicions amounting to
different degrees of certainty as to the real state of affairs. It had
been intended that they should wait until the end of September, but
a project for a temporary removal of the family into the country
precipitated matters; and on September 12, accompanied only by her
maid, Wilson, Miss Barrett slipped from the house and was married to
Robert Browning in Marylebone Church.[143] The associations which that
ponderous edifice has gained from this act for all lovers of English
poetry tempt one to forgive its unromantic appearance, and to remember
rather the pilgrimages which Robert Browning on his subsequent visits
to England never failed to pay to its threshold.

[Footnote 143: Mrs. Sutherland Orr says that the marriage took place
in St. Pancras Church; but this is a mistake, as the parish register
of St. Marylebone proves.]

For a week after the marriage Mrs. Browning--by which more familiar
name we now have the right to call her--remained in her father's
house; her husband refraining from seeing her, since he could not now
ask for her by her proper name without betraying their secret.
Then, on September 19, accompanied once more by her maid and the
ever-beloved Flushie, she left her home, to which she was never
to return, crossed the Channel with her husband to Havre, and so
travelled on to Paris. Her father's anger, if not loud, was deep and
unforgiving. From that moment he cast her off and disowned her. He
would not read or open her letters; he would not see her when she
returned to England. Even the birth of her child brought no relenting;
he expressed no sympathy or anxiety, he would not look upon its face.
He died as he lived, unrelenting, cut off by his own unbending anger
from a daughter who could with difficulty bring herself to speak a
harsh word of him, even to her most intimate friends.

It was a more unexpected and consequently an even more bitter blow to
find that her brothers at first disapproved of her action; the
more so, since they had sympathised with her in the struggle of the
previous autumn. This disapprobation was, however, less deep-seated,
resting partly upon doubts as to the practical prudence of the match,
partly, no doubt, upon a natural annoyance at having been kept in the
dark. Such an estrangement could only be temporary, and as time went
on was replaced by a full renewal of the old affection towards herself
and a friendly acceptance of her husband. With her sisters, on the
other hand, there was never a shadow of difference or estrangement.
That love remained unaffected; and almost the only circumstance that
caused Mrs. Browning to regret her enforced absence from England was
the separation which it entailed from her two sisters.

In Paris the fugitives found a friend who proved a friend indeed. A
few weeks earlier Mrs. Jameson, knowing of the needs of Miss Barrett's
health, had offered to take her to Italy; but her offer had been
refused. Her astonishment may be imagined when, after this short
interval of time, she found her invalid friend in Paris as the wife of
Robert Browning. The prospect filled her with almost as much dismay as
pleasure. 'I have here,' she wrote to a friend from Paris, 'a poet
and a poetess--two celebrities who have run away and married under
circumstances peculiarly interesting, and such as to render imprudence
the height of prudence. Both excellent; but God help them! for I know
not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will get on through this
prosaic world.'[144] Mrs. Jameson, who was travelling with her young
niece, Miss Geraldine Bate,[145] lent her aid to smooth the path of
her poet friends, and it was in her company that, after a week's rest
in Paris, the Brownings proceeded on their journey to Italy. It is
easy to imagine what a comfort her presence must have been to the
invalid wife and her naturally anxious husband; and this journey
sealed a friendship of no ordinary depth and warmth. Mrs. Browning
bore the journey wonderfully, though suffering much from fatigue.
During a rest of two days at Avignon, a pilgrimage was made to
Vaucluse, in honour of Petrarch and his Laura; and there, as Mrs.
Macpherson has recorded in an often quoted passage of her biography of
her aunt, 'there, at the very source of the "chiare, fresche e dolci
acque," Mr. Browning took his wife up in his arms, and carrying her
across the shallow, curling water, seated her on a rock that rose
throne-like in the middle of the stream. Thus love and poetry took
a new possession of the spot immortalised by Petrarch's loving
fancy.'[146]

[Footnote 144: _Memoirs of Anna Jameson_, by G. Macpherson, p. 218.]

[Footnote 145: Afterwards Mrs. Macpherson, and Mrs. Jameson's
biographer.]

[Footnote 146: _Memoirs_, p. 231.]

So at the beginning of October the party reached Pisa; and there
the newly wedded pair settled for the winter. Here first since the
departure from London was there leisure to renew the intercourse with
friends at home, to answer congratulations and good wishes, to explain
what might seem strange and unaccountable. From this point Mrs.
Browning's correspondence contains nearly a full record of her life,
and can be left to tell its own story in better language than the
biographer's. The first letter to Mrs. Martin is an 'apologia pro
connubio suo' in fullest detail; the others carry on the story from
the point at which that leaves it.

With regard to this first letter, full as it is of the most intimate
personal and family revelations, it has seemed right to give it
entire. The marriage of Robert and Elizabeth Browning has passed into
literary history, and it is only fair that it should be set, once for
all, in its true light. Those who might be pained by any expressions
in it have passed away; and those in whose character and reputation
the lovers of English literature are interested have nothing to fear
from the fullest revelation. If anything were kept back, false and
injurious surmises might be formed; the truth leaves little room for
controversy, and none for slander.

_To Mrs. Martin_
Collegio Ferdinando, Pisa; October 20(?), 1846.[147]

My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Will you believe that I began a letter to you
before I took this step, to give you the whole story of the impulses
towards it, feeling strongly that I owed what I considered my
justification to such dear friends as yourself and Mr. Martin, that
you might not hastily conclude that you had thrown away upon one
who was quite unworthy the regard of years? I had begun such a
letter--when, by the plan of going to Little Bookham, my plans were
all hurried forward--changed--driven prematurely into action, and the
last hours of agitation and deep anguish--for it was the deepest
of its kind, to leave Wimpole Street and those whom I tenderly
loved--_so_ would not admit of my writing or thinking: only I was able
to think that my beloved sisters would send you some account of me
when I was gone. And now I hear from them that your generosity has not
waited for a letter from me to do its best for me, and that instead
of being vexed, as you might well be, at my leaving England without
a word sent to you, you have used kind offices in my behalf, you
have been more than the generous and affectionate friend I always
considered you. So my first words must be that I am deeply grateful
to you, my very dear friend, and that to the last moment of my life I
shall remember the claim you have on my gratitude. Generous people are
inclined to acquit generously; but it has been very painful to me to
observe that with all my mere friends I have found more sympathy and
_trust_, than in those who are of my own household and who have
been daily witnesses of my life. I do not say this for papa, who is
peculiar and in a peculiar position; but it pained me that----, who
_knew_ all that passed last year--for instance, about Pisa--who knew
that the alternative of making a single effort to secure my health
during the winter was the severe displeasure I have incurred now, and
that the fruit of yielding myself a prisoner was the sense of being of
no use nor comfort to any soul; papa having given up coming to see
me except for five minutes, a day; ==--, who said to me with his own
lips, 'He does not love you--do not think it' (said and repeated it
two months ago)--that ---- should now turn round and reproach me for
want of affection towards my family, for not letting myself drop
like a dead weight into the abyss, a sacrifice without an object and
expiation--this did surprise me and pain me--pained me more than all
papa's dreadful words. But the personal feeling is nearer with most of
us than the tenderest feeling for another; and my family had been so
accustomed to the idea of my living on and on in that room, that while
my heart was eating itself, their love for me was consoled, and at
last the evil grew scarcely perceptible. It was no want of love in
them, and quite natural in itself: we all get used to the thought of a
tomb; and I was buried, that was the whole. It was a little thing even
for myself a short time ago, and really it would be a pneumatological
curiosity if I could describe and let you see how perfectly for years
together, after what broke my heart at Torquay, I lived on the outside
of my own life, blindly and darkly from day to day, as completely dead
to hope of any kind as if I had my face against a grave, never feeling
a personal instinct, taking trains of thought to carry out as an
occupation absolutely indifferent to the _me_ which is in every human
being. Nobody quite understood this of me, because I am not morally
a coward, and have a hatred of all the forms of audible groaning. But
God knows what is within, and how utterly I had abdicated myself and
thought it not worth while to put out my finger to touch my share of
life. Even my poetry, which suddenly grew an interest, was a thing on
the outside of me, a thing to be done, and then done! What people said
of it did not touch _me_. A thoroughly morbid and desolate state it
was, which I look back now to with the sort of horror with which one
would look to one's graveclothes, if one had been clothed in them by
mistake during a trance.

[Footnote 147: The date at the head of the letter is October 2,
but that is certainly a slip of the pen, since at that date, as the
following letter to Miss Mitford shows, they had not reached Pisa.
See also the reference to 'six weeks of marriage' on p. 295. The Pisa
postmark appears to be October 20 (or later), and the English postmark
is November 5.]

And now I will tell you. It is nearly two years ago since I have known
Mr. Browning. Mr. Kenyon wished to bring him to see me five years ago,
as one of the lions of London who roared the gentlest and was best
worth my knowing; but I refused then, in my blind dislike to seeing
strangers. Immediately, however, after the publication of my last
volumes, he wrote to me, and we had a correspondence which ended in my
agreeing to receive him as I never had received any other man. I
did not know why, but it was utterly impossible for me to refuse to
receive him, though I consented against my will. He writes the most
exquisite letters possible, and has a way of putting things which I
have not, a way of putting aside--so he came. He came, and with
our personal acquaintance began his attachment for me, a sort of
_infatuation_ call it, which resisted the various denials which were
my plain duty at the beginning, and has persisted past them all. I
began with--a grave assurance that I was in an exceptional position
and saw him just in consequence of it, and that if ever he recurred to
that subject again I never could see him again while I lived; and
he believed me and was silent. To my mind, indeed, it was a bare
impulse--a generous man of quick sympathies taking up a sudden
interest with both hands! So I thought; but in the meantime the
letters and the visits rained down more and more, and in every one
there was something which was too slight to analyse and notice, but
too decided not to be understood; so that at last, when the 'proposed
respect' of the silence gave way, it was rather less dangerous.
So then I showed him how he was throwing into the ashes his best
affections--how the common gifts of youth and cheerfulness were behind
me--how I had not strength, even of _heart_, for the ordinary duties
of life--everything I told him and showed him. 'Look at this--and
this,' throwing down all my disadvantages. To which he did not answer
by a single compliment, but simply that he had not then to choose,
and that I might be right or he might be right, he was not there to
decide; but that he loved me and should to his last hour. He said
that the freshness of youth had passed with him also, and that he
had studied the world out of books and seen many women, yet had never
loved one until he had seen me. That he knew himself, and knew that,
if ever so repulsed, he should love me to his last hour--it should be
first and last. At the same time, he would not tease me, he would wait
twenty years if I pleased, and then, if life lasted so long for both
of us, then when it was ending perhaps, I might understand him and
feel that I might have trusted him. For my health, he had believed
when he first spoke that I was suffering from an incurable injury of
the spine, and that he never could hope to see me stand up before his
face, and he appealed to my womanly sense of what a pure attachment
should be--whether such a circumstance, if it had been true, was
inconsistent with it. He preferred, he said, of free and deliberate
choice, to be allowed to sit only an hour a day by my side, to the
fulfilment of the brightest dream which should exclude me, in any
possible world.

I tell you so much, my ever dear friend, that you may see the manner
of man I have had to do with, and the sort of attachment which for
nearly two years has been drawing and winning me. I know better than
any in the world, indeed, what Mr. Kenyon once unconsciously said
before me--that 'Robert Browning is great in everything.' Then, when
you think how this element of an affection so pure and persistent,
cast into my dreary life, must have acted on it--how little by little
I was drawn into the persuasion that something was left, and that
still I could do something to the happiness of another--and he what he
was, for I have deprived myself of the privilege of praising him--then
it seemed worth while to take up with that unusual energy (for me!),
expended in vain last year, the advice of the physicians that I should
go to a warm climate for the winter. Then came the Pisa conflict
of last year. For years I had looked with a sort of indifferent
expectation towards Italy, knowing and feeling that I should escape
there the annual relapse, yet, with that _laisser aller_ manner which
had become a habit to me, unable to form a definite wish about it. But
last year, when all this happened to me, and I was better than
usual in the summer, I _wished_ to make the experiment--to live the
experiment out, and see whether there was hope for me or not hope.
Then came Dr. Chambers, with his encouraging opinion. 'I wanted simply
a warm climate and _air_,' he said; 'I might be well if I pleased.'
Followed what you know--or do not precisely know--the pain of it was
acutely felt by me; for I never had doubted but that papa would catch
at any human chance of restoring my health. I was under the delusion
always that the difficulty of making such trials lay in _me_, and not
in _him_. His manner of acting towards me last summer was one of the
most painful griefs of my life, because it involved a disappointment
in the affections. My dear father is a very peculiar person. He is
naturally stern, and has exaggerated notions of authority, but these
things go with high and noble qualities; and as for feeling, the water
is under the rock, and I had faith. Yes, and have it. I admire such
qualities as he has--fortitude, integrity. I loved him for his courage
in adverse circumstances which were yet felt by him more literally
than I could feel them. Always he has had the greatest power over my
heart, because I am of those weak women who reverence strong men. By a
word he might have bound me to him hand and foot. Never has he spoken
a gentle word to me or looked a kind look which has not made in me
large results of gratitude, and throughout my illness the sound of his
step on the stairs has had the power of quickening my pulse--I have
loved him so and love him. Now if he had said last summer that he was
reluctant for me to leave him--if he had even allowed me to think
_by mistake_ that his affection for me was the motive of such
reluctance--I was ready to give up Pisa in a moment, and I told him
as much. Whatever my new impulses towards life were, my love for him
(taken so) would have resisted all--I loved him so dearly. But his
course was otherwise, quite otherwise, and I was wounded to the
bottom of my heart--cast off when I was ready to cling to him. In the
meanwhile, at my side was another; I was driven and I was drawn. Then
at last I said, 'If you like to let this winter decide it, you may. I
will allow of no promises nor engagement. I cannot go to Italy, and I
know, as nearly as a human creature can know any fact, that I shall be
ill again through the influence of this English winter. If I am, you
will see plainer the foolishness of this persistence; if I am not, I
will do what you please.' And his answer was, 'If you are ill and keep
your resolution of not marrying me under those circumstances, I will
keep mine and love you till God shall take us both.' This was in last
autumn, and the winter came with its miraculous mildness, as you know,
and I was saved as I dared not hope; my word therefore was claimed
in the spring. Now do you understand, and will you feel for me? An
application to my father was certainly the obvious course, if it had
not been for his peculiar nature and my peculiar position. But there
is no speculation in the case; it is a matter of _knowledge_ that if
Robert had applied to him in the first instance he would have been
forbidden the house without a moment's scruple; and if in the last (as
my sisters thought best as a respectable _form_), I should have been
incapacitated from any after-exertion by the horrible scenes to which,
as a thing of course, I should have been exposed. Papa will not bear
some subjects, it is a thing _known_; his peculiarity takes that
ground to the largest. Not one of his children will ever marry without
a breach, which we all know, though he probably does not--deceiving
himself in a setting up of _obstacles_, whereas the real obstacle is
in his own mind. In my case there was, or would have been, a great
deal of apparent reason to hold by; my health would have been motive
enough--ostensible motive. I see that precisely as others may see
it. Indeed, if I were charged now with want of generosity for casting
myself so, a dead burden, on the man I love, nothing of the sort could
surprise me. It was what occurred to myself, that thought was, and
what occasioned a long struggle and months of agitation, and which
nothing could have overcome but the very uncommon affection of a very
uncommon person, reasoning out to me the great fact of love making its
own level. As to vanity and selfishness blinding me, certainly I
may have made a mistake, and the future may prove it, but still more
certainly I was not blinded _so_. On the contrary, never have I been
more humbled, and never less in danger of considering any personal
pitiful advantage, than throughout this affair. You, who are generous
and a woman, will believe this of me, even if you do not comprehend
the _habit_ I had fallen into of casting aside the consideration of
possible happiness of my own. But I was speaking of papa. Obvious it
was that the application to him was a mere form. I knew the result of
it. I had made up my mind to act upon my full right of taking my own
way. I had long believed such an act (the most strictly personal act
of one's life) to be within the rights of every person of mature age,
man or woman, and I had resolved to exercise that right in my own case
by a resolution which had slowly ripened. All the other doors of life
were shut to me, and shut me in as in a prison, and only before
this door stood one whom I loved best and who loved me best, and who
invited me out through it for the good's sake which he thought I
could do him. Now if for the sake of the mere form I had applied to
my father, and if, as he would have done directly, he had set up his
'curse' against the step I proposed to take, would it have been doing
otherwise than placing a knife in his hand? A few years ago, merely
through the reverberation of what he said to another on a subject like
this, I fell on the floor in a fainting fit, and was almost delirious
afterwards. I cannot bear some words. I would much rather have blows
without them. In my actual state of nerves and physical weakness, it
would have been the sacrifice of my whole life--of my convictions,
of my affections, and, above all, of what the person dearest to me
persisted in calling _his_ life, and the good of it--if I had observed
that 'form.' Therefore, wrong or right, I determined not to observe
it, and, wrong or right, I did and do consider that in not doing so I
sinned against no duty. That I was _constrained_ to act clandestinely,
and did not _choose_ to do so, God is witness, and will set it down as
my heavy misfortune and not my fault. Also, up to the very last act we
stood in the light of day for the whole world, if it pleased, to judge
us. I never saw him out of the Wimpole Street house; he came twice a
week to see me--or rather, three times in the fortnight, openly in
the sight of all, and this for nearly two years, and neither more
nor less. Some jests used to be passed upon us by my brothers, and I
allowed them without a word, but it would have been infamous in me to
have taken any into my confidence who would have suffered, as a direct
consequence, a blighting of his own prospects. My secrecy towards them
all was my simple duty towards them all, and what they call want of
affection was an affectionate consideration for them. My sisters did
indeed know the truth to a certain point. They knew of the attachment
and engagement--I could not help that--but the whole of the event I
kept from them with a strength and resolution which really I did not
know to be in me, and of which nothing but a sense of the injury to
be done to them by a fuller confidence, and my tender gratitude
and attachment to them for all their love and goodness, could have
rendered me capable. Their faith in me, and undeviating affection for
me, I shall be grateful for to the end of my existence, and to
the extent of my power of feeling gratitude. My dearest
sisters!--especially, let me say, my own beloved Arabel, who, with
no consolation except the exercise of a most generous tenderness, has
looked only to what she considered my good--never doubting me, never
swerving for one instant in her love for me. May God reward her as I
cannot. Dearest Henrietta loves me too, but loses less in me, and has
reasons for not misjudging me. But both my sisters have been faultless
in their bearing towards me, and never did I love them so tenderly as
I love them now.

The only time I met R.B. clandestinely was in the parish church, where
we were married before two witnesses--it was the first and only time.
I looked, he says, more dead than alive, and can well believe it, for
I all but fainted on the way, and had to stop for sal volatile at a
chemist's shop. The support through it all was _my trust in him_,
for no woman who ever committed a like act of trust has had stronger
motives to hold by. Now may I not tell you that his genius, and all
but miraculous attainments, are the least things in him, the moral
nature being of the very noblest, as all who ever knew him admit? Then
he has had that wide experience of men which ends by throwing the mind
back on itself and God; there is nothing incomplete in him, except
as all humanity is incompleteness. The only wonder is how such a man,
whom any woman could have loved, should have loved _me_; but men of
genius, you know, are apt to love with their imagination. Then there
is something in the sympathy, the strange, straight sympathy which
unites us on all subjects. If it were not that I look up to him, we
should be too alike to be together perhaps, but I know my place better
than he does, who is too humble. Oh, you cannot think how well we
get on after six weeks of marriage. If I suffer again it will not be
through _him_. Some day, dearest Mrs. Martin, I will show you and dear
Mr. Martin how his _prophecy was fulfilled_, saving some picturesque
particulars. I did not know before that Saul was among the prophets.

My poor husband suffered very much from the constraint imposed on him
by my position, and did, for the first time in his life, for my sake
do that in secret which he could not speak upon the housetops. _Mea
culpa_ all of it! If one of us two is to be blamed, it is I, at whose
representation of circumstances he submitted to do violence to his
own self-respect. I would not suffer him to tell even our dear common
friend Mr. Kenyon. I felt that it would be throwing on dear Mr. Kenyon
a painful responsibility, and involve him in the blame ready to fall.
And dear dear Mr. Kenyon, like the noble, generous friend I love so
deservedly, comprehends all at a word, sends us _not_ his forgiveness,
but his sympathy, his affection, the kindest words which can be
written! I cannot tell you all his inexpressible kindness to us both.
He justifies us to the uttermost, and, in that, all the grateful
attachment we had, each on our side, so long professed towards him.
Indeed, in a note I had from him yesterday, he uses this strong
expression after gladly speaking of our successful journey: 'I
considered that you had _perilled your life_ upon this undertaking,
and, reflecting upon your last position, I thought that _you had done
well_.' But my life was not perilled in the journey. The agitation and
fatigue were evils, to be sure, and Mrs. Jameson, who met us in Paris
by a happy accident, thought me 'looking horribly ill' at first, and
persuaded us to rest there for a week on the promise of accompanying
us herself to Pisa to help Robert to take care of me. He, who was in
a fit of terror about me, agreed at once, and so she came with us, she
and her young niece, and her kindness leaves us both very grateful. So
kind she was, and is--for still she is in Pisa--opening her arms to
us and calling us 'children of light' instead of ugly names, and
declaring that she should have been 'proud' to have had anything to
do with our marriage. Indeed, we hear every day kind speeches and
messages from people such as Mr. Chorley of the 'Athenaeum,' who 'has
tears in his eyes,' Monckton Milnes, Barry Cornwall, and other friends
of my husband's, but who only know _me_ by my books, and I want the
love and sympathy of those who love me and whom I love. I was talking
of the influence of the journey. The change of air has done me
wonderful good notwithstanding the fatigue, and I am renewed to the
point of being able to throw off most of my invalid habits; and of
walking quite like a woman. Mrs. Jameson said the other day, 'You are
not _improved_, you are _transformed_.' We have most comfortable rooms
here at Pisa and have taken them for six months, in the best situation
for health, and close to the Duomo and Leaning Tower. It is a
beautiful, solemn city, and we have made acquaintance with Professor
Ferucci, who is about to admit us to [a sight][148] of the [University
Lib]rary. We shall certainly [spend] next summer in Italy _somewhere_,
and [talk] of Rome for the next winter, but, of course, this is all in
air. Let me hear

from you, dearest Mrs. Martin, and direct, 'M. Browning, Poste
Restante, Pisa'--it is best. Just before we left Paris I wrote to my
aunt Jane, and from Marseilles to Bummy, but from neither have I heard
yet.

With best love to dearest Mr. Martin, ever both my dear kind friends,

Your affectionate and grateful
BA.

[Footnote 148: The original is torn here.]

_To Miss Mitford_[149]
Moulins: October 2, 1846.

I began to write to you, my beloved friend, earlier, that I might
follow your kindest wishes literally, and also to thank you at once
for your goodness to me, for which may God bless you. But the fatigue
and agitation have been very great, and I was forced to break off--as
now I dare not revert to what is behind. I will tell you more another
day. At Orleans, with your kindest letter, I had one from my dearest,
gracious friend Mr. Kenyon, who, in his goodness, does more than
exculpate--even _approves_--he wrote a joint letter to both of us.
But oh, the anguish I have gone through! You are good, you are kind. I
thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying to me that you would
have gone to the church with me. _Yes, I know you would_. And for
that very reason I forbore involving you in such a responsibility and
drawing you into such a net. I took Wilson with me. I had courage to
keep the secret to my sisters for their sakes, though I will tell you
in strict confidence that it was known to them _potentially_, that
is, the attachment and engagement were known, the necessity remaining
that, for stringent reasons affecting their own tranquillity, they
should be able to say at last, 'We were not instructed in this and
this.' The dearest, fondest, most affectionate of sisters they are to
me, and if the sacrifice of a life, or of all prospect of happiness,
would have worked any lasting good to them, it should have been made
even in the hour I left them. I knew _that_ by the anguish I suffered
in it. But a sacrifice, without good to anyone--I shrank from it. And
also, it was the sacrifice of _two_. And _he_, as you say, had done
everything for me, had loved me for reasons which had helped to weary
me of myself, loved me heart to heart persistently--in spite of my own
will--drawn me back to life and hope again when I had done with both.
My life seemed to belong to him and to none other at last, and I had
no power to speak a word. Have faith in me, my dearest friend, till
you can know him. The intellect is so little in comparison to all the
rest, to the womanly tenderness, the inexhaustible goodness, the high
and noble aspiration of every hour. Temper, spirits, manners: there is
not a flaw anywhere. I shut my eyes sometimes and fancy it all a dream
of my guardian angel. Only, if it had been a dream, the pain of some
parts of it would have awakened me before now; it is not a dream. I
have borne all the emotion of fatigue miraculously well, though, of
course, a good deal exhausted at times. We had intended to hurry on
to the South at once, but at Paris we met Mrs. Jameson, who opened her
arms to us with the most literal affectionateness, _kissed us both_,
and took us by surprise by calling us 'wise people, wild poets or
not.' Moreover, she fixed us in an apartment above her own in the
Hotel de la Ville de Paris, that I might rest for a week, and crowned
the rest of her goodnesses by agreeing to accompany us to Pisa, where
she was about to travel with her young niece. Therefore we are five
travelling, Wilson being with me. Oh, yes, Wilson came; her attachment
to me never shrank for a moment. And Flush came and I assure you that
nearly as much attention has been paid to Flush as to me from the
beginning, so that he is perfectly reconciled, and would be happy
if the people at the railroads were not barbarians, and immovable in
their evil designs of shutting him up in a box when we travel that
way.

You understand now, ever dearest Miss Mitford, how the pause has
come about writing. The week at Paris! Such a strange week it was,
altogether like a vision. Whether in the body or out of the body I
cannot tell scarcely. Our Balzac should be flattered beyond measure
by my thinking of him at all. Which I did, but of _you_ more. I will
write and tell you more about Paris. You should go there indeed. And
to our hotel, if at all. Once we were at the Louvre, but we kept very
still of course, and were satisfied with the _idea_ of Paris. I
could have borne to live on there, it was all so strange and full of
contrast....

Now you will write--I feel my way on the paper to write this.
Nothing is changed between us, nothing can ever interfere with sacred
confidences, remember. I do not show letters, you need not fear my
turning traitress.... Pray for me, dearest friend, that the bitterness
of old affections may not be too bitter with me, and that God may turn
those salt waters sweet again.

Pray for your grateful and loving
E.B.B.

[Footnote 149: This letter is of earlier date than the last, having
been written _en route_ between Orleans and Lyons; but it has seemed
better to place the more detailed narrative first.]

_To Mrs. Martin_
[Pisa:] November 5, [1846].

It was pleasant to me, my dearest friend, to think while I was reading
your letter yesterday, that almost by that time you had received mine,
and could not even seem to doubt a moment longer whether I admitted
your claim of hearing and of speaking to the uttermost. I recognised
you too entirely as my friend. Because you had put faith in me, so
much the more reason there was that I should justify it as far as I
could, and with as much frankness (which was a part of my gratitude to
you) as was possible from a woman to a woman. Always I have felt that
you have believed in me and loved me; and, for the sake of the past
and of the present, your affection and your esteem are more to me than
I could afford to lose, even in these changed and happy circumstances.
So I thank you once more, my dear kind friends, I thank you both--I
never shall forget your goodness. I feel it, of course, the more
deeply, in proportion to the painful disappointment in other
quarters.... Am I, bitter? The feeling, however, passes while I write
it out, and my own affection for everybody will wait patiently to
be 'forgiven' in the proper form, when everybody shall be at leisure
properly. Assuredly, in the meanwhile, however, my case is not to be
classed with other cases--what happened to me could not have happened,
perhaps, with any other family in England.... I hate and loathe
everything too which is clandestine--we _both_ do, Robert and I; and
the manner the whole business was carried on in might have instructed
the least acute of the bystanders. The flowers standing perpetually
on my table for the last two years were brought there by one hand,
as everybody knew; and really it would have argued an excess of
benevolence in an unmarried man with quite enough resources in London,
to pay the continued visits he paid to me without some strong motive
indeed. Was it his fault that he did not associate with everybody in
the house as well as with me? He desired it; but no--that was not to
be. The endurance of the pain of the position was not the least proof
of his attachment to me. How I thank you for believing in him--how
grateful it makes me! He will justify to the uttermost that faith. We
have been married two months, and every hour has bound me to him more
and more; if the beginning was well, still better it is now--that is
what he says to me, and I say back again day by day. Then it is an
'advantage,' to have an inexhaustible companion who talks wisdom of
all things in heaven and earth, and shows besides as perpetual a
good humour and gaiety as if he were--a fool, shall I say? or a
considerable quantity more, perhaps. As to our domestic affairs, it is
not to _my_ honour and glory that the 'bills' are made up every week
and paid more regularly 'than hard beseems,' while dear Mrs. Jameson
laughs outright at our miraculous prudence and economy, and declares
that it is past belief and precedent that we should not burn the
candles at both ends, and the next moment will have it that we remind
her of the children in a poem of Heine's who set up housekeeping in
a tub, and inquired gravely the price of coffee. Ah, but she has
left Pisa at last--left it yesterday. It was a painful parting to
everybody. Seven weeks spent in such close neighbourhood--a month of
it under the same roof and in the same carriages--will fasten
people together, and then travelling _shakes_ them together. A more
affectionate, generous woman never lived than Mrs. Jameson, and it
is pleasant to be sure that she loves us both from her heart, and not
only _du bout des levres_. Think of her making Robert promise (as he
has told me since) that in the case of my being unwell he would write
to her instantly, and she would come at once if anywhere in Italy. So
kind, so like her. She spends the winter in Rome, but an intermediate
month at Florence, and we are to keep tryst with her somewhere in the
spring, perhaps at Venice. If not, she says that she will come back
here, for that certainly she will see us. She would have stayed
altogether perhaps, if it had not been for her book upon art which she
is engaged to bring out next year, and the materials for which are to
be _sought_. As to Pisa, she liked it just as we like it. Oh, it is so
beautiful and so full of repose, yet not _desolate_: it is rather the
repose of sleep than of death. Then after the first ten days of rain,
which seemed to refer us fatally to Alfieri's 'piove e ripiove,' came
as perpetual a divine sunshine, such cloudless, exquisite weather that
we ask whether it may not be June instead of November. Every day I am
out walking while the golden oranges look at me over the walls, and
when I am tired Robert and I sit down on a stone to watch the lizards.
We have been to your seashore, too, and seen your island, only he
insists on it (Robert does) that it is not Corsica but Gorgona, and
that Corsica is not in sight. _Beautiful_ and blue the island was,
however, in any case. It might have been Romero's instead of either.
Also we have driven up to the foot of mountains, and seen them
reflected down in the little pure lake of Ascuno, and we have seen the
pine woods, and met the camels laden with faggots all in a line. So
now ask me again if I enjoy my liberty as you expect. My head goes
round sometimes, that is all. I never was happy before in my life. Ah,
but, of course, the painful thoughts recur!

There are some whom I love too tenderly to be easy under their
displeasure, or even under their injustice. Only it, seems to me
that with time and patience my poor dearest papa will be melted into
opening his arms to us--will be melted into a clearer understanding of
motives and intentions; I cannot believe that he will forget me, as he
says he will, and go on thinking me to be dead rather than alive and
happy. So I manage to hope for the best, and all that remains, all
my life here, _is_ best already, could not be better or happier. And
willingly tell dear Mr. Martin I would take him and you for witnesses
of it, and in the meanwhile he is not to send me tantalising messages;
no, indeed, unless you really, really, should let yourselves be wafted
our way, and could you do so much better at Pau? particularly if Fanny
Hanford should come here. Will she really? The climate is described by
the inhabitants as a 'pleasant spring throughout the winter,' and if
you were to see Robert and me threading our path along the shady side
everywhere to avoid the 'excessive heat of the sun' in this November
(!) it would appear a good beginning. We are not in the warm orthodox
position by the Arno because we heard with our ears one of the best
physicians of the place advise against it. 'Better,' he said, 'to have
cool rooms to live in and warm walks to go out along.' The rooms we
have are rather over-cool perhaps; we are obliged to have a little
fire in the sitting-room, in the mornings and evenings that is; but
I do not fear for the winter, there is too much difference to my
feelings between this November and any English November I ever knew.
We have our dinner from the Trattoria at two o'clock, and can dine our
favorite way on thrushes and chianti with a miraculous cheapness, and
no trouble, no cook, no kitchen; the prophet Elijah or the lilies of
the field took as little thought for their dining, which exactly suits
us. It is a continental fashion which we never cease commending. Then
at six we have coffee, and rolls of milk, made of milk, I mean, and at
nine our supper (call it supper, if you please) of roast chestnuts and
grapes. So you see how primitive we are, and how I forget to praise
the eggs at breakfast. The worst of Pisa is, or would be to some
persons, that, socially speaking, it has its dullnesses; it is not
lively like Florence, not in that way. But we do not want society, we
shun it rather. We like the Duomo and the Campo Santo instead. Then
we know a little of Professor Ferucci, who gives us access to the
University library, and we subscribe to a modern one, and we have
plenty of writing to do of our own. If we can do anything for Fanny
Hanford, let us know. It would be too happy, I suppose, to have to do
it for yourselves. Think, however, I am quite well, quite well. I can
thank God, too, for being alive and well. Make dear Mr. Martin keep
well, and not forget himself in the Herefordshire cold--draw him into
the sun somewhere. Now write and tell me everything of your plans and
of you both, dearest friends. My husband bids me say that he desires
to have my friends for his own friends, and that he is grateful to you
for not crossing that feeling. Let him send his regards to you. And
let me be throughout all changes,

Your ever faithful and most affectionate
BA.

I am expecting every day to hear from my dearest sisters. Write to
them and love them for me.

This letter has been kept for several days from different causes. Will
you inclose the little note to Miss Mitford? I do not hear from home,
and am uneasy.

May God bless you!

November 9.

I am so vexed about those poems appearing just now in
'Blackwood.'[150] Papa must think it _impudent_ of me. It is
unfortunate.

[Footnote 150: _Blackwood's Magazine_ for October 1846 contained
the following poems by Mrs. Browning, some phrases in which might
certainly be open to comment if they were supposed to have been
deliberately chosen for publication at this particular time: 'A
Woman's Shortcomings,' 'A Man's Requirements,' 'Maude's Spinning,' 'A
Dead Rose,' 'Change on Change,' 'A Reed,' and 'Hector in the Garden.']

_To Miss Mitford_
[Pisa]: November 5, 1846.

I have your letter, ever dearest Miss Mitford, and it is welcome even
more than your letters have been used to be to me--the last charm
was to come, you see, by this distance. For all your affection and
solicitude, may you trust my gratitude; and if you love me a little,
I love you indeed, and never shall cease. The only difference shall be
that two may love you where one did, and for my part I will answer for
it that if you could love the poor one you will not refuse any love
to the other when you come to know him. I never could bear to speak to
you of _him_ since quite the beginning, or rather I never could dare.
But when you know him and understand how the mental gifts are scarcely
half of him, you will not wonder at your friend, and, indeed, two
years of steadfast affection from such a man would have, overcome any
woman's heart. I have been neither much wiser nor much foolisher than
all the shes in the world, only much happier--the difference is in the
happiness. Certainly I am not likely to repent of having given myself
to him. I cannot, for all the pain received from another quarter, the
comfort for which is that my conscience is pure of the sense of having
broken the least known duty, and that the same consequence would
follow any marriage of any member of my family with any possible man
or woman. I look to time, and reason, and natural love and pity, and
to the justification of the events acting through all; I look on so
and hope, and in the meanwhile it has been a great comfort to have had
not merely the indulgence but the approbation and sympathy of most
of my old personal friends--oh, such kind letters; for instance,
yesterday one came from dear Mrs. Martin, who has known me, she and
her husband, since the very beginning of my womanhood, and both of
them are acute, thinking people, with heads as strong as their hearts.
I in my haste left England without a word to them, for which they
might naturally have reproached me; instead of which they write to say
that never _for a moment_ have they doubted my having acted for the
best and happiest, and to assure me that, having sympathised with me
in every sorrow and trial, they delightedly feel with me in the new
joy; nothing could be more cordially kind. See how I write to you as
if I could speak--all these little things which are great things when
seen in the light. Also R, and I are not in the least tired of one
another notwithstanding the very perpetual _tete-a-tete_ into which
we have fallen, and which (past the first fortnight) would be rather a
trial in many cases. Then our housekeeping may end perhaps in being a
proverb among the nations, for at the beginning it makes Mrs. Jameson
laugh heartily. It disappoints her theories, she admits--finding that,
albeit poets, we abstain from burning candles at both ends at once,
just as if we did statistics and historical abstracts by nature
instead. And do not think that the trouble falls on me. Even the
pouring out of the coffee is a divided labour, and the ordering of the
dinner is quite out of my hands. As for me, when I am so good as to
let myself be carried upstairs, and so angelical as to sit still on
the sofa, and so considerate, moreover, as _not_ to put my foot into
a puddle, why _my_ duty is considered done to a perfection which is
worthy of all adoration; it really is not very hard work to please
this taskmaster. For Pisa, we both like it extremely. The city is
full of beauty and repose, and the purple mountains gloriously seem
to beckon us on deeper into the vineland. We have rooms close to the
Duomo and Leaning Tower, in the great Collegio built by Vasari, three
excellent bedrooms and a sitting-room, matted and carpeted, looking
comfortable even for England. For the last fortnight, except the very
last few sunny days, we have had rain; but the climate is as mild as
possible, no cold, with all the damp. Delightful weather we had for
the travelling. Ah, you, with your terrors of travelling, how you
amuse me! Why, the constant change of air in the continued fine
weather made me better and better instead of worse. It did me
infinite good. Mrs. Jameson says she 'won't call me _improved_, but
_transformed_ rather.' I like the new sights and the movement; my
spirits rise; I live--I can adapt myself. If you really tried it and
got as far as Paris you would be drawn on, I fancy, and on--on to the
East perhaps with H. Martineau, or at least as near it as we are here.
By the way, or out of the way, it struck me as unfortunate that my
poems should have been printed _just now_ in 'Blackwood;' I wish it
had been otherwise. Then I had a letter from one of my Leeds readers
the other day to expostulate about the _inappropriateness_ of certain
of them! The fact is that I sent a heap of verses swept from my desk
and belonging to old feelings and impressions, and not imagining that
they were to be used in that quick way. There can't be very much to
like, I fear, apart from your goodness for what calls itself mine.
Love me, dearest dear Miss Mitford, my dear kind friend--love me, I
beg of you, still and ever, only ceasing when I cease to think of you;
I will allow of that clause. Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine are staying at
the hotel here in Pisa still, and we manage to see them every day; so
good and true and affectionate she is, and so much we shall miss
her when she goes, which will be in a day or two now. She goes to
Florence, to Siena, to Rome to complete her work upon art, which
is the object of her Italian journey. I read your vivid and glowing
description of the picture to her, or rather I showed your picture
to her, and she quite believes with you that it is most probably a
_Velasquez_. Much to be congratulated the owner must be. I mean to
know something about pictures some day. Robert does, and I shall get
him to open my eyes for me with a little instruction. You know that
in this place are to be seen the first steps of art, and it will be
interesting to trace them from it as we go farther ourselves. Our
present residence we have taken for six months; but we have dreams,
dreams, and we discuss them like soothsayers over the evening's
roasted chestnuts and grapes. Flush highly approves of Pisa (and the
roasted chestnuts), because here he goes out every day and speaks
Italian to the little dogs. Oh, Mr. Chorley, such a kind, feeling
note he wrote to Robert from Germany, when he read of our marriage
in 'Galignani;' we were both touched by it. And Monckton Milnes and
others--very kind all. But in a particular manner I remember the
kindness of my valued friend Mr. Horne, who never failed me nor could
fail. Will you explain to him, or rather ask him to understand, why I
did not answer his last note? I forget even Balzac here; tell me what
he writes, and help me to love that dear, generous Mr. Kenyon, whom I
can love without help. And let me love you, and you love me.

Your ever affectionate and grateful
E.B.B.

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Collegio Ferdinando [Pisa]:
Saturday, November 23, 1846 [postmark].

We were delighted to have your note, dearest Aunt Nina, and I answer
it with my feet on your stool, so that my feet are full of you even if
my head is not, always. Now, I shall not go a sentence farther without
thanking you for that comfort; you scarcely guessed perhaps what a
comfort it would be, that stool of yours. I am even apt to sit on it
for hours together, leaning against the sofa, till I get to be scolded
for putting myself so into the fire, and prophesied of in respect to
the probability of a 'general conflagration' of stools and Bas; on
which the prophet is to leap from the Leaning Tower, and Flush to
be left to make the funeral oration of the establishment. In the
meantime, it really is quite a comfort that our housekeeping should be
your 'example' at Florence; we have edifying countenances whenever we
think of it. And Robert will not by any means believe that you passed
us on our own ground, though the eleven pauls a week for breakfast,
and my humility, seemed to suggest something of the sort. I am so
glad, we are both so glad, that you are enjoying yourself at the
fullest and highest among the wonders of art, and cannot be chilled
in the soul by any of those fatal winds you speak of. For me, I am
certainly better here at Pisa, though the penalty is to see Frate
Angelico's picture with the remembrance of you rather than the
presence. Here, indeed, we have had a little too much cold for two
days; there was a feeling of frost in the air, and a most undeniable
east wind which prevented my going out, and made me feel less
comfortable than usual at home. But, after all, one felt ashamed to
call it _cold_, and Robert found the heat on the Arno insupportable;
which set us both mourning over our 'situation' at the Collegio, where
one of us could not get out on such days without a blow on the chest
from the 'wind at the corner.' Well, experience teaches, and we shall
be taught, and the cost of it is not so very much after all. We have
seen your professor once since you left us (oh, the leaving!), or
_spoken_ to him once, I should say, when he came in one evening and
caught us reading, sighing, yawning over 'Nicolo de' Lapi,' a romance
by the son-in law of Manzoni. Before we could speak, he called it
'excellent, tres beau,' one of their very best romances, upon which,
of course, dear Robert could not bear to offend his literary and
national susceptibilities by a doubt even. _I_, not being so humane,
thought that any suffering reader would be justified (under the
rack-wheel) in crying out against such a book, as the dullest,
heaviest, stupidest, lengthiest. Did you ever read it? If not,
_don't_. When a father-in-law imitates Scott, and a son-in-law
imitates his father-in-law, think of the consequences! Robert, in his
zeal for Italy and against Eugene Sue, tried to persuade me at first
(this was before the scene with your professor) that 'really, Ba, it
wasn't so bad,' 'really you are too hard to be pleased,' and so on;
but after two or three chapters, the dullness grew too strong for even
his benevolence, and the yawning catastrophe (supposed to be peculiar
to the 'Guida') overthrew him as completely as it ever did me, though
we both resolved to hold on by the stirrup to the end of the two
volumes. The catalogue of the library (for observe that we subscribe
now--the object is attained!) offers a most melancholy insight
into the actual literature of Italy. Translations, translations,
translations from third and fourth and fifth rate French and English
writers, chiefly French; the roots of thought, here in Italy, seem
dead in the ground. It is well that they have great memories--nothing
else lives.

We have had the kindest of letters from dear noble Mr. Kenyon; who,
by the way, speaks of you as we like to hear him. Dickens is going to
Paris for the winter, and Mrs. Butler[151] (he adds) is expected
in London. Dear Mr. Kenyon calls me 'crotchety,' but Robert 'an
incarnation of the good and the true,' so that I have everything to
thank him for. There are noble people who take the world's side and
make it seem 'for the _nonce_' almost respectable; but he gives up all
the talk and fine schemes about money-making, and allows us to wait to
see whether we want it or not--the money, I mean.

It is Monday, and I am only finishing this note. In the midst came
letters from my sisters, making me feel so glad that I could not
write. Everybody is well and happy, and dear papa _in high spirits_
and _having people to dine with him every day_, so that I have not
really done anyone harm in doing myself all this good. It does not
indeed bring us a step nearer to the forgiveness, but to hear of his
being in good spirits makes me inclined to jump, with Gerardine.[152]
Dear Geddie! How pleased I am to hear of her being happy, particularly
(perhaps) as she is not too happy to forget _me_. Is all that glory of
art making her very ambitious to work and enter into the court of the
Temple?...

Robert's love to you both. We often talk of our prospect of meeting
you again. And for the _past_, dearest Aunt Nina, believe of me that
I feel to you more gratefully than ever I can say, and remain, while I
live,

Your faithful and affectionate
BA.

[Footnote 151: Better known as Fanny Kemble.]

[Footnote 152: Miss Gerardine Bate, Mrs. Jameson's niece.]

_To Miss Mitford_
Pisa: December 19, [1846].

Ever dearest Miss Mitford, your kindest letter is three times welcome
as usual. On the day you wrote it in the frost, I was sitting out of
doors, just in my summer mantilla, and complaining 'of the heat this
December!' But woe comes to the discontented. Within these three or
four days we too have had frost--yes, and a little snow, for the
first time, say the Pisans, during five years. Robert says that
the mountains are powdered toward Lucca, and I, who cannot see the
mountains, can see the cathedral--the Duomo--how it glitters whitely
at the summit, between the blue sky and its own walls of yellow
marble. Of course I do not stir an inch from the fire, yet have to
struggle a little against my old languor. Only, you see, this can't
last! it is exceptional weather, and, up to the last few days, has
been divine. And then, after all we talk of frost, my bedroom, which
has no fireplace, shows not an English sign on the window, and the
air is not _metallic_ as in England. The sun, too, is so hot that
the women are seen walking with fur capes and parasols, a curious
combination.

I hope you had your visit from Mr. Chorley, and that you both had the
usual pleasure from it. Indeed I _am_ touched by what you tell me, and
was touched by his note to my husband, written in the first surprise;
and because Robert has the greatest regard for him, besides my own
personal reasons, I do count him in the forward rank of our friends.
You will hear that he has obliged us by accepting a trusteeship to
a settlement, forced upon me in spite of certain professions or
indispositions of mine; but as my husband's gifts, I had no right, it
appeared, by refusing it to place him in a false position for the sake
of what dear Mr. Kenyon calls my 'crotchets.' Oh, dear Mr. Kenyon! His
kindness and goodness to us have been past thinking of, past thanking
for; we can only fall into silence. He has thrust his hand into the
fire for us by writing to papa himself, by taking up the management of
my small money-matters when nearer hands let them drop, by justifying
us with the whole weight of his personal influence; all this in the
very face of his own habits and susceptibilities. He has resolved
that I shall not miss the offices of father, brother, friend, nor the
tenderness and sympathy of them all. And this man is called a mere man
of the world, and would be called so rightly if the world were a place
for angels. I shall love him dearly and gratefully to my last breath;
we both shall....

Robert and I are deep in the fourth month of wedlock; there has not
been a shadow between us, nor a _word_ (and I have observed that all
married people confess to _words_), and that the only change I can lay
my finger on in him is simply and clearly an increase of affection.
Now I need not say it if I did not please, and I should not please,
you know, to tell a story. The truth is, that I who always did
certainly believe in love, yet was as great a sceptic as you about the
evidences thereof, and having held twenty times that Jacob's serving
fourteen years for Rachel was not too long by fourteen days, I was
not a likely person (with my loathing dread of marriage as a loveless
state, and absolute contentment with single life as the alternative
to the great majorities of marriages), I was not likely to accept a
feeling not genuine, though from the hand of Apollo himself, crowned
with his various godships. Especially too, in my position, I could
not, would not, should not have done it. Then, genuine feelings are
genuine feelings, and do not pass like a cloud. We are as happy as
people can be, I do believe, yet are living in a way to _try_ this
new relationship of ours--in the utmost seclusion and perpetual
_tete-a-tete_--no amusement nor distraction from without, except some
of the very dullest Italian romances which throw us back on the
memory of Balzac with reiterated groans. The Italians seem to hang on
translations from the French--as we find from the library--not merely
of Balzac, but Dumas, your Dumas, and reaching lower--long past De
Kock--to the third and fourth rate novelists. What is purely Italian
is, as far as we have read, purely dull and conventional. There is no
breath nor pulse in the Italian genius. Mrs. Jameson writes to us
from Florence that in politics and philosophy the people are getting
alive--which may be, for aught we know to the contrary, the poetry and
imagination leave them room enough by immense vacancies.

Yet we delight in Italy, and dream of 'pleasures new' for the
summer--_pastures_ new, I should have said--but it comes to the same
thing. The _padrone_ in this house sent us in as a gift (in gracious
recognition, perhaps, of our lawful paying of bills) an immense dish
of oranges--two hanging on a stalk with the green leaves still moist
with the morning's dew--every great orange of twelve or thirteen with
its own stalk and leaves. Such a pretty sight! And better oranges, I
beg to say, never were eaten, when we are barbarous enough to eat them
day by day after our two o'clock dinner, softening, with the vision
of them, the winter which has just shown itself. Almost I have been
as pleased with the oranges as I was at Avignon by the _pomegranate_
given to me much in the same way. Think of my being singled out of
all our caravan of travellers--Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine Jameson[153]
both there--for that significant gift of the pomegranates! I had never
seen one before, and, of course, proceeded instantly to cut one 'deep
down the middle'[154]--accepting the omen. Yet, in shame and confusion
of face, I confess to not being able to appreciate it properly. Olives
and pomegranates I set on the same shelf, to be just looked at and
called by their names, but by no means eaten bodily.

But you mistake me, dearest friend, about the 'Blackwood' verses. I
never thought of writing _applicative poems_--the heavens forfend!
Only that just _then_, [in] the midst of all the talk, _any_ verses
of mine should come into print--and some of them to that _particular
effect_--looked unlucky. I dare say poor papa (for instance) thought
me turned suddenly to brass itself. Well, it is perhaps more my
fancy than anything else, and was only an impression, even there. Mr.
Chorley will tell you of a play of his, which I hope will make its
way, though I do wonder how people can bear to write for the theatres
in the present state of things. Robert is busy preparing a new edition
of his collected poems which are to be so clear that everyone who has
understood them hitherto will lose all distinction. We both mean to
be as little idle as possible.... We shall meet one day in joy, I do
hope, and then you will love my husband for his own sake, as for mine
you do not hate him now.

Your ever affectionate
E.B.B.

[Footnote 153: This surname is a mistake on Mrs. Browning's part; see
her letter of October 1, 1849.]

[Footnote 154: See _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_, stanza xli.]

_To H.S. Boyd_
[Pisa:] December 21 [1846].

You must let me tell you, my dearest Mr. Boyd, that I dreamed of you
last night, and that you were looking very well in my dream, and that
you told me to break a crust from a loaf of bread which lay by you
on the table; which I accept on recollection as a sacramental sign
between us, of peace and affection. Wasn't it strange that I should
dream so of you? Yet no; thinking awake of you, the sleeping thoughts
come naturally. Believe of me this Christmas time, as indeed at every
time, that I do not forget you, and that all the distance and change
of country can make no difference. Understand, too (for _that_ will
give pleasure to your goodness), that I am very happy, and not unwell,
though it is almost Christmas....

Dearest friend, are you well and in good spirits? Think of me over
the Cyprus, between the cup and the lip, though bad things are said to
fall out so. We have, instead of Cyprus, _Montepulciano_, the famous
'King of Wine,' crowned king, you remember, by the grace of a poet!
Your Cyprus, however, keeps supremacy over me, and will not abdicate
the divine right of being associated with you. I speak of wine, but we
live here the most secluded, quiet life possible--reading and writing,
and talking of all things in heaven and earth, and a little besides;
and sometimes even laughing as if we had twenty people to laugh with
us, or rather _hadn't_. We know not a creature, I am happy to say,
except an Italian professor (of the university here) who called on us
the other evening and praised aloud the scholars of England. 'English
Latin was best,' he said, 'and English Greek foremost.' Do you clap
your hands?

The new pope is more liberal than popes in general, and people write
odes to him in consequence.

Robert is going to bring out a new edition of his collected poems,
and you are not to read any more, if you please, till this is done.
I heard of Carlyle's saying the other day 'that he hoped more from
Robert Browning, for the people of England, than from any living
English writer,' which pleased me, of course. I am just sending off
an anti-slavery poem for America,[155] too ferocious, perhaps, for the
Americans to publish: but they asked for a poem and shall have it.

If I ask for a letter, shall I have it, I wonder? Remember me and
love me a little, and pray for me, dearest friend, and believe how
gratefully and ever affectionately

I am your

ELIBET,

though Robert always calls me _Ba_, and thinks it the prettiest name
in the world! which is a proof, you will say, not only of blind love
but of deaf love.

[Footnote 155: 'The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point' _(Poetical
Works_, ii. 192). It was first printed in a collection called _The
Liberty Bell_, for sale at the Boston National Anti-slavery Bazaar
of 1848. It was separately printed in England in 1849 as a small
pamphlet, which is now a rare bibliographical curiosity.]

It was during the stay at Pisa, and early in the year 1847, that Mr.
Browning first became acquainted with his wife's 'Sonnets from
the Portuguese.' Written during the course of their courtship and
engagement, they were not shown even to him until some months after
their marriage. The story of it was told by Mr. Browning in later
life to Mr. Edmund Gosse, with leave to make it known to the world in
general; and from Mr. Gosse's publication it is here quoted in his own
words.[156]

[Footnote 156: '_Critical Kit-Kats_,' by E. Gosse, p. 2 (1896).]

'Their custom was, Mr. Browning said, to write alone, and not to show
each other what they had written. This was a rule which he sometimes
broke through, but she never. He had the habit of working in a
downstairs room, where their meals were spread, while Mrs. Browning
studied in a room on the floor above. One day, early in 1847, their
breakfast being over, Mrs. Browning went upstairs, while her husband
stood at the window watching the street till the table should be
cleared. He was presently aware of some one behind him, although the
servant was gone. It was Mrs. Browning, who held him by the shoulder
to prevent his turning to look at her, and at the same time pushed
a packet of papers into the pocket of his coat. She told him to read
that, and to tear it up if he did not like it; and then she fled again
to her own room.'

The sonnets were intended for her husband's eye alone; in the first
instance, not even for his. No poems can ever have been composed with
less thought of the public; perhaps for that very reason they are
unmatched for simplicity and sincerity in all Mrs. Browning's work.
Her genius in them has full mastery over its material, as it has in
few of her other poems. All impurities of style or rhythm are purged
away by the fire of love; and they stand, not only highest among the
writings of their authoress, but also in the very forefront of English
love-poems. With the single exception of Rossetti, no modern English
poet has written of love with such genius, such beauty, and such
sincerity, as the two who gave the most beautiful example of it in
their own lives.

Fortunately for all those who love true poetry, Mr. Browning judged
rightly of the obligation laid upon him by the possession of these
poems. 'I dared not,' he said, 'reserve to myself the finest sonnets
written in any language since Shakespeare's.' Accordingly he persuaded
his wife to commit the printing of them to her friend, Miss Mitford;
and in the course of the year they appeared in a slender volume,
entitled 'Sonnets, by E.B.B.,' with the imprint 'Reading, 1847,' and
marked 'Not for publication.' It was not until three years later that
they were offered to the general public, in the volumes of 1850.
Here first they appeared under the title of 'Sonnets from the
Portuguese'--a title suggested by Mr. Browning (in preference to his
wife's proposal, 'Sonnets translated from the Bosnian') for the sake
of its half-allusion to her other poem, 'Catarina to Camoens,' which
was one of his chief favourites among her works.

To these sonnets there is, however, no allusion in the letters here
published, which say little for some time of her own work.

_To Miss Mitford_
February 8, 1847.

But, my dearest Miss Mitford, your scheme about Leghorn is drawn out
in the clouds. Now just see how impossible. Leghorn is fifteen miles
off, and though there is a railroad there is no liberty for French
books to wander backwards and forwards without inspection and seizure.
Why, do remember that we are in Italy after all! Nevertheless, I will
tell you what we have done: transplanted our subscription from the
Italian library, which was wearing us away into a misanthropy, or at
least despair of the wits of all Southerns, into a library which has
a tolerable supply of French books, and gives us the privilege
besides of having a French newspaper, the 'Siecle,' left with us every
evening. Also, this library admits (is allowed to admit on certain
conditions) some books forbidden generally by the censureship, which
is of the strictest; and though Balzac appears very imperfectly, I
am delighted to find him at all, and shall dun the bookseller for the
'Instruction criminelle,' which I hope discharges your Lucien as a
'forcat'--neither man nor woman--and true poet, least of all....

The 'Siecle' has for a _feuilleton_ a new romance of Soulie's, called
'Saturnin Fichet,' which is really not good, and tiresome to boot.
Robert and I began by each of us reading it, but after a little while
he left me alone, being certain that no good could come of such a
work. So, of course, ever since, I have been exclaiming and exclaiming
as to the wonderful improvement and increasing beauty and glory of
it, just to justify myself, and to make him sorry for not having
persevered! The truth is, however, that but for obstinacy I should
give up too. Deplorably dull the story is, and there is a crowd of
people each more indifferent than each, to you; the pith of the plot
being (very characteristically) that the hero has somebody exactly
like him. To the reader, it's _all one_ in every sense--who's who, and
what's what. Robert is a warm admirer of Balzac and has read most of
his books, but certainly--oh certainly--he does not in a general way
appreciate our French people quite with our warmth; he takes too high
a standard, I tell him, and won't listen to a story for a story's
sake. I can bear to be amused, you know without a strong pull on my
admiration. So we have great wars sometimes, and I put up Dumas' flag,
or Soulie's, or Eugene Sue's (yet he was properly possessed by the
'Mysteres de Paris') and carry it till my arms ache. The plays and
vaudevilles he knows far more of than I do, and always maintains
they are the happiest growth of the French school--setting aside the
_masters_, observe--for Balzac and George Sand hold all their honours;
and, before your letter came, he had told me about the 'Kean' and the
other dramas. Then we read together the other day the 'Rouge et Noir,'
that powerful book of Stendhal's (Beyle), and he thought it very
striking, and observed--what I had thought from the first and again
and again--that it was exactly like Balzac _in the raw_, in the
material and undeveloped conception. What a book it is really, and so
full of pain and bitterness, and the gall of iniquity! The new Dumas
I shall see in time, perhaps, and it is curious that Robert had just
been telling me the very story you speak of in your letter, from the
'Causes Celebres.' I never read it--the more shame! Dearest friend,
all this talk of French books and no talk about _you_--the _most_
shame! You don't tell me enough of yourself, and I want to hear,
because (besides the usual course of reasons) Mr. Chorley spoke of you
as if you were not as cheerful as usual; do tell me. Ah! if you fancy
that I do not love you as near, through being so far, you are unjust
to me as you never were before. For myself, the brightness round me
has had a cloud on it lately by an illness of poor Wilson's.... She
would not go to Dr. Cook till I was terrified one night, while she was
undressing me, by her sinking down on the sofa in a shivering fit. Oh,
so frightened I was, and Robert ran out for a physician; and I could
have shivered too, with the fright. But she is convalescent now,
thank God! and in the meanwhile I have acquired a heap of practical
philosophy, and have learnt how it is possible (in certain conditions
of the human frame) to comb out and twist up one's own hair, and lace
one's very own stays, and cause hooks and eyes to meet behind one's
very own back, besides making toast and water for Wilson--which last
miracle, it is only just to say, was considerably assisted by Robert's
counsels 'not quite to set fire to the bread' while one was toasting
it. He was the best and kindest all that time, as even _he_ could be,
and carried the kettle when it was too heavy for me, and helped me
with heart and head. Mr. Chorley could not have praised him too much,
be very sure. I, who always rather appreciated him, do set down the
thoughts I had as merely unjust things; he exceeds them all, indeed.
Yes, Mr. Chorley has been very kind to us. I had a kind note myself
from him a few days since, and do you know that we have a sort of hope
of seeing him in Italy this year, with dearest Mr. Kenyon, who has the
goodness to crown his goodness by a 'dream' of coming to see us? We
leave Pisa in April (did I tell you that?) and pass through Florence
towards the north of Italy--to _Venice_, for instance. In the way of
writing, I have not done much yet--just finished my rough sketch of
an anti-slavery ballad and sent it off to America, where nobody will
print it, I am certain, because I could not help making it bitter. If
they _do_ print it, I shall thank them more boldly in earnest than
I fancy now. Tell me of Mary Howitt's new collection of ballads--are
they good? I warmly wish that Mr. Chorley may succeed with his play;
but how can Miss Cushman promise a hundred nights for an untried
work?... Perhaps you may find the two last numbers of the 'Bells and
Pomegranates' less obscure--it seems so to me. Flush has grown an
absolute monarch and barks one distracted when he wants a door opened.
Robert spoils him, I think. Do think of me as your ever affectionate
and grateful

BA.

Have you seen 'Agnes de Misanie,' the new play by the author of
'Lucretia'? A witty feuilletoniste says of it that, besides all the
unities of Aristotle, it comprises, from beginning to end, _unity of
situation_. Not bad, is it? Madame Ancelot has just succeeded with a
comedy, called 'Une Annee a Paris.' By the way, _shall you go to Paris
this spring_?[157]

[Footnote 157: A list of the works composing Balzac's _Comedie
Humaine_ is attached to this letter for Miss Mitford's benefit.]

From Mr. Browning's family, though she had as yet had no opportunity
of making acquaintance with them face to face, Mrs. Browning from the
first met with an affectionate reception. The following is the first
now extant of a series of letters written by her to Miss Browning,
the poet's sister. The abrupt and private nature of the marriage
never seems to have caused the slightest coldness of feeling in this
quarter, though it must have caused anxiety; and the tone of the early
letters, in which so new and unfamiliar a relation had to be taken up,
does equal honour to the writer and to the recipient.

_To Miss Browning_
[Pisa: about February 1847.]

I must begin by thanking dearest Sarianna again for her note, and by
assuring her that the affectionate tone of it quite made me happy and
grateful together--that I am grateful to _all of you_: do _feel_ that
I am. For the rest, when I see (afar off) Robert's minute manuscripts,
a certain distrust steals over me of anything I can possibly tell you
of our way of living, lest it should be the vainest of repetitions,
and by no means worth repeating, both at once. Such a quiet silent
life it is--going to hear the Friar preach in the Duomo, a grand event
in it, and the wind laying flat all our schemes about Volterra and
Lucca! I have had to give up even the Friar for these three days past;
there is nothing for me when I have driven out Robert to take his
necessary walk but to sit and watch the pinewood blaze. He is grieved
about the illness of his cousin, only I do hope that your next letter
will confirm the happy change which stops the further anxiety, and
come soon for that purpose, besides others. Your letters never can
come too often, remember, even when they have not to speak of illness,
and I for my part must always have a thankful interest in your cousin
for the kind part he took in the happiest event of my life. You have
to tell us too of your dear mother--Robert is so anxious about her
always. How deeply and tenderly he loves her and all of you, never
could have been more manifest than now when he is away from you and
has to talk _of_ you instead of _to_ you. By the way (or rather out
of the way) I quite took your view of the purposed ingratitude to poor
Miss Haworth[158]--it would have been worse in him than the sins of
'Examiner' and 'Athenaeum.' If authors won't feel for one another,
there's an end of the world of writing! Oh, I think he proposed it in
a moment of hardheartedness--we all put on tortoiseshell now and then,
and presently come out into the sun as sensitively as ever. Besides
Miss Haworth has written to us very kindly; and kindness doesn't
spring up everywhere, like the violets in your gravel walks. See how I
understand Hatcham. Do try to love me a little, dearest Sarianna, and
(with my grateful love always to your father and mother) let me be
your affectionate sister,

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING,
or rather BA.

[Footnote 158: Miss E.F. Haworth (several letters to whom are given
farther on) was an old friend of Robert Browning's, and published a
volume of verse in 1847, to which this passage seems to allude.]

The correspondence with Mr. Westwood, which had lapsed for a
considerable time, was resumed with the following letter:

_To Mr. Westwood_
Collegio Ferdinando, Pisa: March 10, 1847.

If really, my dear Mr. Westwood, it was an 'ill temper' in you,
causing the brief note, it was a most flattering ill temper, and I
thank you just as I have had reason to do for the good nature which
has caused you to bear with me so often and so long. You have been
misled on some points. I did not go to Italy last year, or rather the
year before last! I was disappointed and forced to stay in Wimpole
Street after all; but the winter being so mild, so miraculously mild
for England you may remember, I was spared my winter relapse and
left liberty for new plans such as I never used to think were in
my destiny! Such a change it is to me, such a strange happiness and
freedom, and you must not in your kindness wish me back again, but
rather be contented, like a friend as you are, to hear that I am very
happy and very well, and still doubtful whether all the brightness can
be meant for _me_! It is just as if the sun rose again at 7 o'clock
P.M. The strangeness seems so great....

I am now very well, and so happy as not to think much of it, except
for the sake of another. And do you fancy how I feel, carried; into
the visions of nature from my gloomy room. Even now I walk as in a
dream. We made a pilgrimage from Avignon to Vaucluse in right poetical
duty, and I and my husband sate upon two stones in the midst of the
fountain which in its dark prison of rocks flashes and roars and
testifies to the memory of Petrarch. It was louder and fuller than
usual when we were there, on account of the rains; and Flush, though
by no means born to be a hero, considered my position so outrageous
that he dashed through the water to me, splashing me all over, so he
is baptised in Petrarch's name. The scenery is full of grandeur, the
rocks sheathe themselves into the sky, and nothing grows there except
a little cypress here and there, and a straggling olive tree; and the
fountain works out its soul in its stony prison, and runs away in a
green rapid stream. Such a striking sight it is. I sate upon deck,
too, in our passage from Marseilles to Genoa, and had a vision of
mountains, six or seven deep, one behind another. As to Pisa, call it
a beautiful town, you cannot do less with Arno and its palaces, and
above all the wonderful Duomo and Campo Santo, and Leaning Tower and
Baptistery, all of which are a stone's throw from our windows. We
have rooms in a great college-house built by Vasari, and fallen into
desuetude from collegiate purposes; and here we live the quietest and
most _tete-a-tete_ of lives, knowing nobody, hearing nothing, and for
nearly three months together never catching a glimpse of a paper. Oh,
how wrong you were about the 'Times'! Now, however, we subscribe to a
French and Italian library, and have a French newspaper every evening,
the 'Siecle,' and so look through a loophole at the world. Yet, not
too proud are we, even now, for all the news you will please to send
us in charity: 'da obolum Belisario!'

What do you mean about poor Tennyson? I heard of him last on his
return from a visit to the Swiss mountains, which 'disappointed him,'
he was _said to say_. Very wrong, either of mountains or poet!

Tell me if you make acquaintance with Mrs. Hewitt's new ballads.

Mrs. Jameson is engaged in a work on art which will be very
interesting....

Flush's love to your Flopsy. Flush has grown very overbearing in this
Italy, I think because my husband spoils him (if not for the glory
at Vaucluse); Robert declares that the said Flush considers him, my
husband, to be created for the especial purpose of doing him service,
and really it looks rather like it.

Never do I see the 'Athenaeum' now, but before I left England some
pure gushes between the rocks reminded me of you. Tell me all you can;
it will all be like rain upon dry ground. My husband bids me offer his
regards to you--if you will accept them; and that you may do it ask
your heart. I will assure you (aside) that his poetry is as the prose
of his nature: he himself is so much better and higher than his own
works.

In the middle of April the Brownings left Pisa and journeyed to
Florence, arriving there on April 20. There, however, the programme
was arrested, and, save for an abortive excursion to Vallombrosa,
whence they were repulsed by the misogynist principles of the monks,
they continued to reside in Florence for the remainder of the year.
Their first abode was in the Via delle Belle Donne; but after the
return from Vallombrosa, in August, they moved across the river, and
took furnished rooms in the Palazzo Guidi, the building which, under
the name of 'Casa Guidi,' is for ever associated with their memory.

_To Mrs. Martin_
Florence: April 24, 1847.

I received your letter, my dearest friend, by this day's post, and
wrote a little note directly to the office as a trap for the feet
of your travellers. If they escape us after all, therefore, they may
praise their stars for it rather than my intentions--_our_ intentions,
I should say, for Robert will gladly do everything he can in the way
of expounding a text or two of the glories of Florence, and we both
shall be much pleased and cordially pleased to learn more of Fanny
and her brother than the glance at Pisa could teach us. As for me, she
will let me have a little talking for my share: I can't walk about or
see anything. I lie here flat on the sofa in order to be wise; I rest
and take port wine by wineglasses; and a few more days of it will
prepare me, I hope and trust, for an interview with the Venus de'
Medici. Think of my having been in Florence since Tuesday, this
being Saturday, and not a step taken into the galleries. It seems a
disgrace, a sort of involuntary disgraceful act, or rather no-act,
which to complain of relieves one to some degree. And how kind of you
to wish to hear from me of myself! There is nothing really much the
matter with me; I am just _weak_, sleeping and eating dreadfully well
considering that Florence isn't seen yet, and 'looking well,' too,
says Mrs. Jameson, who, with her niece, is our guest just now. It
would have been wise if I had rested longer at Pisa, but, you see,
there was a long engagement to meet Mrs. Jameson here, and she
expressed a very kind unwillingness to leave Italy without keeping it:
also she had resolved to come out of her way on purpose for this, and,
as I had the consent of my physician, we determined to perform our
part of the compact; and in order to prepare for the longer journey I
went out in the carriage a little too soon, perhaps, and a little too
long. At least, if I had kept quite still I should have been strong
by this time--not that I have done myself harm in the serious sense,
observe--and now the affair is accomplished, I shall be wonderfully
discreet and self-denying, and resist Venuses and Apollos like some
one wiser than the gods themselves. My chest is very well; there has
been no symptom of evil in that quarter.... We took the whole coupe
of the diligence--but regretted our first plan of the _vettura_
nevertheless--and now are settled in very comfortable rooms in the
'Via delle Belle Donne' just out of the Piazza Santa Maria Novella,
very superior rooms to our apartment in Pisa, in which we were cheated
to the uttermost with all the subtlety of Italy and to the full
extent of our ignorance; think what _that_ must have been! Our present
apartment, with the hire of a grand piano and music, does not cost us
so much within ever so many francisconi. Oh, and you don't frighten me
though we are on the north side of the Arno! We have taken our rooms
for two months, and may be here longer, and the fear of the heat was
stronger with me than the fear of the cold, or we might have been in
the Pitti and 'arrostiti' by this time. We expected dear Mrs.
Jameson on Saturday, but she came on Friday evening, having suddenly
remembered that it was Shakespeare's birthday, and bringing with her
from Arezzo a bottle of wine to 'drink to his memory with two other
poets,' so there was a great deal of merriment, as you may fancy, and
Robert played Shakespeare's favorite air, 'The Light of Love,' and
everybody was delighted to meet everybody, and Roman news and Pisan
dullness were properly discussed on every side. She saw a good deal
of Cobden in Rome, and went with him to the Sistine Chapel. He has no
feeling for art, and, being very true and earnest, could only do his
best to _try_ to admire Michael Angelo; but here and there, where he
understood, the pleasure was expressed with a blunt characteristic
simplicity. Standing before the statue of Demosthenes, he said:
'That man is persuaded himself of what he speaks, and will therefore
persuade others.' She liked him exceedingly. For my part, I should
join in more admiration if it were not for his having _accepted
money_, but paid patriots are no heroes of mine. 'Verily they have
their reward.' O'Connell had arrived in Rome, and it was considered
that he came only to die. Among the artists, Gibson and Wyatt were
doing great things; she wishes us to know Gibson particularly. As to
the Pope he lives in an atmosphere of love and admiration, and 'he is
doing _what he can_,' Mrs. Jameson believes. Robert says: 'A dreadful
situation, after all, for a man of understanding and honesty! I pity
him from my soul, for he can, at best, only temporise with truth.'
But human nature is doomed to pay a high price for its opportunities.
Delighted I am to have your good account of dear Mr. Martin, though
you are naughty people to persist in going to England so soon. Do
write to me and tell me all about both of you. I will do what I
can--like the Pope--but what can I do? Yes, indeed, I mean to enjoy
art and nature too; one shall not exclude the other. This Florence
seems divine as we pass the bridges, and my husband, who knows
everything, is to teach and show me all the great wonders, so that I
am reasonably impatient to try my advantages. His kind regards to you
both, and my best love, dearest friends....

Your very affectionate
BA.

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Florence: May 12, [1847].

I was afraid, we both were afraid for you, dearest friend, when we
saw the clouds gather and heard the rain fall as it did that day at
Florence. It seemed impossible that you should be beyond the evil
influence, should you have travelled ever so fast; but, after all,
a storm in the Apennines, like many a moral storm, will be better
perhaps than a calm to look back upon. We talked of you and thought of
you, and missed you at coffee time, and regretted that so pleasant a
week (for us) should have gone so fast, as fast as a dull week, or,
rather, a good deal faster. Dearest friend, do believe that we _felt_
your goodness in Coming to us--in making us an object--before you left
Italy; it fills up the measure of goodness and kindness for which we
shall thank and love you all our lives. Never fancy that we can forget
you or be less touched by the memory of what you have been to us in
affection and sympathy--never. And don't _you_ lose sight of _us_; do
write often, and do, _do_ make haste and come back to Italy, and
then make use of us in any and every possible way as house-takers
or house-mates, for we are ready to accept the lowest place or the
highest. The week you gave us would be altogether bright and glad if
it had not been for the depression and anxiety on your part. May God
turn it all to gain and satisfaction in some unlooked-for way. To be a
_road-maker_ is weary work, even across the Apennines of life. We
have not science enough for it if we have strength, which we haven't
either. Do you remember how Sindbad shut his eyes and let himself
be carried over the hills by an eagle? _That_ was better than to set
about breaking stones. Also what you could do you have done; you have
finished your part, and the sense of a fulfilled duty is in itself
satisfying--is and must be. My sympathies go with you entirely, while
I wish your dear Gerardine to be happy; I wish it from my heart....
Just after you left us arrived our box with the precious deeds, which
are thrown into the cabinet for want of witnesses. And then Robert
has had a letter from Mr. Forster with the date of _Shakespeare's
birthday_, and overflowing with kindness really both to himself and
me. It quite touched me, that letter. Also we have had a visitation
from an American, but on the point of leaving Florence and very tame
and inoffensive, and we bore it very well considering. He sent us
a new literary periodical of the old world, in which, among other
interesting matter, I had the pleasure of reading an account of my own
'blindness,' taken from a French paper (the 'Presse'), and mentioned
with humane regret. Well! and what more news is there to tell you?
I have been out once, only once, and only for an inglorious glorious
drive round the Piazza Gran Duca, past the Duomo, outside the walls,
and in again at the Cascine. It was like the trail of a vision in the
evening sun. I saw the Perseus in a sort of flash. The Duomo is more
after the likeness of a Duomo than Pisa can show; I like those masses
in ecclesiastical architecture. Now we are plotting how to, engage
a carriage for a month's service without ruining ourselves, for we
_must_ see, and I _can't_ walk and see, though much stronger than when
we parted, and looking much better, as Robert and the looking glass
both do testify. I have seemed at last 'to leap to a conclusion' of
convalescence. But the heat--oh, so hot it is. If it is half as hot
with you, you must be calling on the name of St. Lawrence by this
time, and require no 'turning.' I should not like to travel under
such a sun. It would be too like playing at snapdragon. Yes, 'brightly
happy.' Women generally _lose_ by marriage, but I have gained the
world by mine. If it were not for some griefs, which are and must be
griefs, I should be too happy perhaps, which is good for nobody. May
God bless you, my dear, dearest friend! Robert must be content with
sending his love to-day, and shall write another day. We both love you
every day. My love and a kiss to dearest Gerardine, who is to remember
to write to me.

Your ever affectionate
BA.

_To H.S. Boyd_
Florence: May 26, 1847.

I should have answered your letter, my dearest friend, more quickly,
but when it came I was ill, as you may have heard, and afterwards I
wished to wait until I could send you information about the Leaning
Tower and the bells[159]. The book you required, about the cathedral,
Robert has tried in vain to procure for you. Plenty of such books,
but _not in English_. In London such things are to be found, I
should think, without difficulty, for instance, 'Murray's Handbook
to Northern Italy,' though rather dear (12_s._), would give you
sufficiently full information upon the ecclesiastical glories both of
Pisa and of this beautiful Florence, from whence I write to you.... I
will answer for the harmony of the bells, as we lived within a stone's
throw of them, and they began at four o'clock every morning and
rang my dreams apart. The Pasquareccia (the fourth) especially has
a profound note in it, which may well have thrilled horror to the
criminal's heart.[160] It was ghastly in its effects; dropped into
the deep of night like a thought of death. Often have I said, 'Oh, how
ghastly!' and then turned on my pillow and dreamed a bad dream. But if
the bell founders at Pisa have a merited reputation, let no one say as
much for the bellringers. The manner in which all the bells of all
the churches in the city are shaken together sometimes would certainly
make you groan in despair of your ears. The discord is fortunately
indescribable. Well--but here we are at Florence, the most beautiful
of the cities devised by man....

In the meanwhile I have seen the Venus, I have seen the divine
Raphaels. I have stood by Michael Angelo's tomb in Santa Croce. I
have looked at the wonderful Duomo. This cathedral! After all, the
elaborate grace of the Pisan cathedral is one thing, and the massive
grandeur of this of Florence is another and better thing; it struck
me with a sense of the sublime in architecture. At Pisa we say, 'How
beautiful!' here we say nothing; it is enough if we can breathe. The
mountainous marble masses overcome as we look up--we feel the weight
of them on the soul. Tesselated marbles (the green treading its
elaborate pattern into the dim yellow, which seems the general hue of
the structure) climb against the sky, self-crowned with that prodigy
of marble domes. It struck me as a wonder in architecture. I had
neither seen nor imagined the like of it in any way. It seemed
to carry its theology out with it; it signified more than a mere
building. Tell me everything you want to know. I shall like to answer
a thousand questions. Florence is beautiful, as I have said before,
and must say again and again, most beautiful. The river rushes through
the midst of its palaces like a crystal arrow, and it is hard to tell,
when you see all by the clear sunset, whether those churches, and
houses, and windows, and bridges, and people walking, in the water or
out of the water, are the real walls, and windows, and bridges, and
people, and churches. The only difference is that, down below, there
is a double movement; the movement of the stream besides the movement
of life. For the rest, the distinctness of the eye is as great in one
as in the other.... Remember me to such of my friends as remember me
kindly when unreminded by me. I am very happy--happier and happier.

ELIBET.

Robert's best regards to you always.

[Footnote 159: It will be remembered that Mr. Boyd took a great
interest in bells and bell ringing. The passage omitted below contains
an extract from Murray's _Handbook_ with reference to the bells of
Pisa.]

[Footnote 160: This bell was tolled on the occasion of an execution.]

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Palazzo Guidi, Via Maggio, Florence:
August 7, 1847 [postmark].

You will be surprised perhaps, and perhaps not, dearest friend,
to find that we are still at Florence. Florence 'holds us with a
glittering eye;' there's a charm cast round us, and we can't get away.
In the first place, your news of Recoaro came so late that, as you
said yourself, we ought to have been there before your letter reached
us. Nobody would encourage us to go north on any grounds, indeed,
and if anybody speaks a word now in favour of Venice, straight comes
somebody else speaking the direct contrary. Altogether, we took to
making a plan of our own--a great, wild, delightful plan of plunging
into the mountains and spending two or three months at the monastery
of Vallombrosa, until the heat was passed, and dear Mr. Kenyon
decided, and we could either settle for the winter at Florence or pass
on to Rome. Could anything look more delightful than that? Well, we
got a letter of recommendation to the abbot, and left our apartment,
Via delle Belle Donne, a week before our three months were done,
thoroughly burned out by the sun; set out at four in the morning,
reached Pelago, and from thence travelled five miles along a 'via non
rotabile' through the most romantic scenery. Oh, such mountains!--as
if the whole world were alive with mountains--such ravines--black in
spite of flashing waters in them--such woods and rocks--travelled
in basket sledges drawn by four white oxen--Wilson and I and the
luggage--and Robert riding step by step. We were four hours doing the
five miles, so you may fancy what rough work it was. Whether I was
most tired or charmed was a _tug_ between body and soul. The worst was
that, there being a new abbot at the monastery--an austere man jealous
of his sanctity and the approach of women--our letter, and Robert's
eloquence to boot, did nothing for us, and we were ingloriously and
ignominiously expelled at the end of five days. For three days we were
welcome; for two more we kept our ground; but after _that_, out we
were thrust, with baggage and expectations. Nothing could be much more
provoking. And yet we came back very merrily for disappointed people
to Florence, getting up at three in the morning, and rolling or
sliding (as it might happen) down the precipitous path, and seeing
round us a morning glory of mountains, clouds, and rising sun, such
as we never can forget--back to Florence and our old lodgings, and an
eatable breakfast of coffee and bread, and a confession one to another
that if we had won the day instead of losing it, and spent our summer
with the monks, we should have grown considerably _thinner_ by the
victory. They make their bread, I rather imagine, with the sawdust of
their fir trees, and, except oil and wine--yes, and plenty of beef
(of _fleisch_, as your Germans say, of all kinds, indeed), which isn't
precisely the fare to suit us--we were thrown for nourishment on the
great sights around. Oh, but so beautiful were mountains and forests
and waterfalls that I could have kept my ground happily for the two
months--even though the only book I saw there was the chronicle of
their San Gualberto. Is he not among your saints? Being routed fairly,
and having breakfasted fully at our old apartment, Robert went out to
find cool rooms, if possible, and make the best of our position, and
now we are settled magnificently in this Palazzo Guidi on a first
floor in an apartment which _looks_ quite beyond our means, and _would
be_ except in the dead part of the season--a suite of spacious rooms
opening on a little terrace and furnished elegantly--rather to suit
our predecessor the Russian prince than ourselves--but cool and in a
delightful situation, six paces from the Piazza Pitti, and with right
of daily admission to the Boboli gardens. We pay what we paid in the
Via Belle Donne. Isn't this prosperous? You would be surprised to see
_me_, I think, I am so very well (and look so)--dispensed from being
carried upstairs, and inclined to take a run, for a walk, every now
and then. I scarcely recognise myself or my ways, or my own spirits,
all is so different....

We have made the acquaintance of Mr. Powers,[161] who is
delightful--of a most charming simplicity, with those great burning
eyes of his. Tell me what you think of his boy listening to the
shell. Oh, your Raphaels! how divine! And M. Angelo's sculptures! His
pictures I leap up to in vain, and fall back regularly. Write of your
book and yourself, and write soon; and let me be, as always, your
affectionate BA.

We are here for two months certain, and perhaps longer. Do write.

Dear Aunt Nina,--Ba has said something for me, I hope. In any case, my
love goes with hers, I trust you are well and happy, as we are, and as
we would make you if we could. Love to Geddie. Ever yours, [R.B.]

[Footnote 161: The American sculptor.]

_To Mrs. Martin_
Florence: August 7, 1847.

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