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

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Mitford; but, except once to Wimpole Street, this is the first packet
of letters which goes from me since my confinement. You will have
heard how our joy turned suddenly into deep sorrow by the death of my
husband's mother. An unsuspected disease (ossification of the heart)
terminated in a fatal way, and she lay in the insensibility precursive
of the grave's, when the letter, written in such gladness by my poor
husband, and announcing the birth of his child, reached her address.
'It would have made her heart bound,' said her daughter to us. Poor,
tender heart, the last throb was too near. The medical men would not
allow the news to be communicated. The next joy she felt was to be in
heaven itself. My husband has been in the deepest anguish, and indeed,
except for the courageous consideration of his sister, who wrote two
letters of preparation saying that 'she was not well,' and she 'was
very ill,' when in fact all was over, I am frightened to think what
the result would have been to him. He has loved his mother as such
passionate natures only can love, and I never saw a man so bowed down
in an extremity of sorrow--never. Even now the depression is great,
and sometimes when I leave him alone a little and return to the room,
I find him in tears. I do earnestly wish to change the scene and air;
but where to go? England looks terrible now. He says it would break
his heart to see his mother's roses over the wall, and the place
where she used to lay her scissors and gloves. Which I understand so
thoroughly that I can't say, 'Let us go to England.' We must wait and
see what his father and sister will choose to do or choose us to
do, for of course a duty plainly seen would draw us anywhere. My own
dearest sisters will be painfully disappointed by any change of plan,
only they are too good and kind not to understand the difficulty, not
to see the motive. So do _you_, I am certain. It has been very very
painful altogether, this drawing together of life and death. Robert
was too enraptured at my safety, and with his little son, and the
sudden reaction was terrible. You see how natural that was. How kind
of you to write that note to him full of affectionate expressions
towards me! Thank you, dearest friend. He had begged my sisters to let
you know of my welfare, and I hope they did; and now it is my turn
to know of _you_, and so I do entreat you not to delay, but to let me
hear exactly how you are and what your plans are for the summer. Do
you think of Paris seriously? Am I not a sceptic about your voyages
round the world? It's about the only thing that I don't thoroughly
believe you _can_ do. But (not to be impertinent) I want to hear so
much! I want first and chiefly to hear of your health; and occupations
next, and next your plans for the summer. Louis Napoleon is
astonishing the world, you see, by his firmness and courage;
and though really I don't make out the aim and end of his French
republicans in going to Rome to extinguish the republic there, I wait
before I swear at him for it till my information becomes fuller. If
they have at Rome such a republic as we have had in Florence, without
a public, imposed by a few bawlers and brawlers on many mutes and
cowards, why, the sooner it goes to pieces the better, of course.
Probably the French Government acts upon information. In any case, if
the Romans are in earnest they may resist eight thousand men.[1] We
shall see. My _faith_ in every species of Italian is, however, nearly
tired out. I don't believe they are men at all, much less heroes
and patriots. Since I wrote last to you, I think we have had two
revolutions here at Florence, Grand Duke out, Grand Duke in.[188] The
bells in the church opposite rang for both. They first planted a tree
of liberty close to our door, and, then they pulled it down. The same
tune, sung under the windows, did for 'Viva la republica!' and 'Viva
Leopoldo!' The genuine popular feeling is certainly for the Grand Duke
('O, santissima madre di Dio!' said our nurse, clasping her hands,
'how the people do love him!'); only nobody would run the risk of a
pin's prick to save the ducal throne. If the Leghornese, who put up
Guerazzi on its ruins, had not refused to pay at certain Florentine
cafes, we shouldn't have had revolution the second, and all this
shooting in the street! Dr. Harding, who was coming to see me, had
time to get behind a stable door, just before there was a fall against
it of four shot corpses; and Robert barely managed to get home
across the bridges. He had been out walking in the city, apprehending
nothing, when the storm gathered and broke. Sad and humiliating it all
has been, and the author of 'Vanity Fair' might turn it to better uses
for a chapter. By the way, we have just been reading 'Vanity Fair.'
Very clever, very effective, but cruel to human nature. A painful
book, and not the pain that purifies and exalts. Partial truths after
all, and those not wholesome. But I certainly had no idea that
Mr. Thackeray had intellectual force for such a book; the power is
considerable. For Balzac, Balzac may have gone out of the world as
far as we are concerned. Isn't it hard on us? exiles from Balzac! The
bookseller here, having despaired of the republic and the Grand Duchy
both, I suppose, and taking for granted on the whole that the world
must be coming shortly to an end, doesn't give us the sign of a new
book. We ought to, be done with such vanities. There! and almost I
have done my paper without a single word to you of the _baby_! Ah, you
won't believe that I forgot him even if I pretend, so I won't. He is
a lovely, fat, strong child, with double chins and rosy cheeks, and
a great wide chest, undeniable lungs, I can assure you. Dr. Harding
called him 'a robust child' the other day, and 'a more beautiful child
he never saw.' I never saw a child half as beautiful, for my part....
Dear Mr. Chorley has written the kindest letter to my husband. I much
regard him indeed. May God bless you. Let me ever be (with Robert's
thanks and warm remembrance),

Your most affectionate

Flush's jealousy of the baby would amuse you. For a whole fortnight
he fell into deep melancholy and was proof against all attentions
lavished on him. Now he begins to be consoled a little and even
condescends to patronise the cradle.

Footnote 1: As they did until the 8,000 had been increased to 35,000.]

[Footnote 188: A revolution, fomented chiefly by the Leghornese,
expelled the Grand Duke in March 1849; about seven weeks later a
counter-revolution, chiefly by the peasantry, recalled him.]

_To Miss Browning_
[Florence:] May 2, 1849.

Robert gives me this blank, and three minutes to write across it.
Thank you, my very dear Sarianna, for all your kindness and affection.
I understand what I have lost. I know the worth of a tenderness such
as you speak of, and I feel that for the sake of my love for Robert
she was ready out of the fullness of her heart to love _me_ also. It
has been bitter to me that I have unconsciously deprived him of the
personal face-to-face shining out of her angelic nature for more than
two years, but she has forgiven me, and we shall all meet, when it
pleases God, before His throne. In the meanwhile, my dearest Sarianna,
we are thinking much of you, and neither of us can bear the thought of
your living on where you are. If you could imagine the relief it would
be to us--to me as well as to Robert--to be told frankly what we ought
to do, where we ought to go, to please you best--you and your dearest
father--you would think the whole matter over and use plain words in
the speaking of it. Robert naturally shrinks from the idea of going to
New Cross under the circumstances of dreary change, and for his sake
England has grown suddenly to me a land of clouds. Still, to see you
and his father, and to be some little comfort to you both, would be
the best consolation to him, I am very sure; and so, dearest Sarianna,
think of us and speak to us. Could not your father get a long
vacation? Could we not meet somewhere? Think how we best may comfort
ourselves by comforting you. Never think of us, Sarianna, as apart
from you--as if our interest or our pleasure _could_ be apart from
yours. The child is so like Robert that I can believe in the other
likeness, and may the inner nature indeed, as you say, be after
that pure image! He is so fat and rosy and strong that almost I am
sceptical of his being my child. I suppose he is, after all. May God
bless you, both of you. I am ashamed to send all these letters, but
Robert makes me. He is better, but still much depressed sometimes, and
over your letters he drops heavy tears. Then he treasures them up
and reads them again and again. Better, however, on the whole, he
is certainly. Poor little babe, who was too much rejoiced over at
_first_, fell away by a most natural recoil (even _I_ felt it to be
_most natural_) from all that triumph, but Robert is still very fond
of him, and goes to see him bathed every morning, and walks up and
down on the terrace with him in his arms. If your dear father can toss
and rock babies as Robert can, he will be a nurse in great favour.

Dearest Sarianna, take care of yourself, and do walk out. No grief in
the world was ever freer from the corroding drop of bitterness--was
ever sweeter, holier, and more hopeful than this of yours must be.
Love is for you on both sides of the grave, and the blossoms of love
meet over it. May God's love, too, bless you!

Your ever affectionate sister,

_To Mrs. Martin_
Florence: May 14, [1849].

My dearest Mrs. Martin,--At last I come to thank you for all your
kindness, all your goodness, all your sympathy for both of us. Robert
would have written to you in the first instance (for we _both_ thought
of you) if we had not agreed that you would hear as quickly from
Henrietta, we not knowing your direct address. Also your welcome
little note should have had an immediate acknowledgment from him if he
had not been so depressed at that time that I was glad to ask him to
wait till I should be ready to write myself. In fact, he has suffered
most acutely from the affliction you have since of course heard of;
and just because he was _too happy_ when the child was born, the pain
was overwhelming afterwards. That is easy to understand, I think.
While he was full of joy for the child, his mother was dying at a
distance, and the very thought of accepting that new affection for
the old became a thing to recoil from--do you not see? So far from
suffering less through the particular combination of circumstances,
as some people seemed to fancy he would, he suffered much more, I
am certain, and very naturally. Even now he is looking very
unwell--thinner and paler than usual, and his spirits, which used to
be so good, have not rallied. I long to get him away from Florence
somewhere--_where_, I can't fix my wishes; our English plans seem flat
on the ground for the present, _that_ is one sad certainty. My dearest
sisters will be very grieved if we don't go to England, and yet how
can I even try to persuade my husband back into the scene of old
associations where he would feel so much pain? Do I not know what I
myself should suffer in some places? And he loved his mother with all
his power of loving, which is deeper and more passionate than love is
with common men. She hearts of men are generally strong in proportion
to their heads. Well, I am not to send you such a dull letter though,
after waiting so long, and after receiving so much to speak thankfully
of. My child you never would believe to be _my child_, from the
evidence of his immense cheeks and chins--for pray don't suppose that
he has only one chin. People call him a lovely child, and if _I_ were
to call him the same it wouldn't be very extraordinary, only I assure
you 'a robust child' I may tell you that he is with a sufficient
modesty, and also that Wilson says he is universally admired in
various tongues when she and the nurse go out with him to the
Cascine--'What a beautiful baby!' and 'Che bel bambino!' He has had
a very stormy entrance upon life, poor little fellow; and when he was
just three days old, a grand festa round the liberty tree planted at
our door, attended with military music, civic dancing and singing, and
the firing of cannons and guns from morning to night, made him start
in his cradle, and threw my careful nurse into paroxysms of devotion
before the 'Vergine Santissima' that I mightn't have a fever in
consequence. Since then the tree of liberty has come down with a crash
and we have had another festa as noisy on that occasion. Revolution
and counter-revolution, Guerazzi[189] and Leopold, sacking of Florence
and entrance of the Austrian army--we live through everything, you
see, and baby grows fat indiscriminately. For my part, I am altogether
_blasee_ about revolutions and invasions. Don't think it want of
feeling in me, or want of sympathy with 'the people,' but really I
can't help a certain political latitudinarianism from creeping over me
in relation to this Tuscany. You ought to be here to understand what I
mean and how I think. Oh heavens! how ignoble it all has been and
is! A revolution made by boys and _vivas_, and unmade by boys and
_vivas_--no, there was blood shed in the unmaking--some horror and
terror, but not as much patriotism and truth as could lift up the
blood from the kennel. The counter-revolution was strictly _counter_,
observe. I mean, that if the Leghornese troops here bad paid their
debts at the Florentine coffee houses, the Florentines would have let
their beloved Grand Duke stay on at Gaeta to the end of the world. The
Grand Duke, too, whose part I have been taking hitherto (because he
did seem to me a good man, more sinned against than sinning)--the
Grand Duke I give up from henceforth, seeing that he has done this
base thing of taking again his Austrian titles in his proclamations
coincidently with the approach of the Austrians. Of Rome, knowing
nothing, I don't like to speak. If a republic _in earnest_ is
established there, Louis Napoleon should not try to set his foot on
it. Dearest Mrs. Martin, how you mistake me about France, and how too
lightly I must have spoken. If you knew how I admire the French as
a nation! Robert always calls them '_my beloved French_.' Their
very faults appear to me to arise from an excess of ideality land
aspiration; but I was vexed rather at their selection of Louis
Napoleon--a selection since justified by the firmness and apparent
integrity of the man. His reputation in England, you will admit, did
not promise the conclusion. Will he be emperor, do you imagine? And
shall I ever have done talking politics? I would far rather talk of
_you_, after all. Henrietta tells me of your looking well, but of your
not being strong yet. Now do, _for once_, have a fit of egotism and
tell me a little about yourself.... Surely I ought especially to thank
you, dearest kind friend, for your goodness in writing to--, of which
Henrietta very properly told me. I never shall forget this and other
proofs of your affection for me, and shall remember them with warm
gratitude always. As to--, I have held out both [my] hands, and my
husband's hands in mine, again and again to him; he cannot possibly,
in the secret place of his heart, expect more from either of us. My
husband would have written to him in the first place, but for the
obstacles raised by himself and others, and now what _could_ Robert
write and say except the bare repetition of what I have said over and
over for him and myself? It is exactly an excuse--not more and not
less. Just before I was ill I sent my last messages, because, with
certain hazards before me, my heart turned to them naturally. I might
as well have turned to a rock.--has been by far the kindest, and has
written to me two or three little notes, and one since the birth of
our child. I love them all far too well to be proud, and my husband
loves me too well not to wish to be friends with every one of them; we
have neither of us any stupid feeling about 'keeping up our dignity.'
Yes, I had a letter from--some time ago, in which something was said
of Robert's being careless of reconciliation. I answered it most
explicitly and affectionately, with every possible assurance from
Robert, and offering them from himself the affection of a brother. Not
a word in answer! To my poor dearest papa I have written very lately,
and as my letter has not, after a week, been sent back, I catch at
the hope of his being moved a little. If he neither sends it back nor
replies severely, I shall take courage to write to him again after a
while. It will be an immense gain to get him only to read my letters.
My father and my brothers hold quite different positions, of
course, and though he has acted sternly towards me, I, knowing his
peculiarities, do not feel embittered and astonished and disappointed
as in the other cases. Absolutely happy my marriage has been--never
could there be a happier marriage (as there are no marriages in
heaven); but dear Henrietta is quite wrong in fancying, or seeming to
fancy, that this quarrel with my family has given or gives me slight
pain. Old affections are not so easily trodden out of me, indeed, and
while I live unreconciled to them, there must be a void and drawback.
Do write to me and tell me of both of you, my very dear friends. Don't
fancy that we are not anxious for brave Venice and Sicily, and that we
don't hate this Austrian invasion. But Tuscany has acted a vile part
altogether--_so_ vile, that I am sceptical about the Romans. We expect
daily the Austrians in Florence, and have made up our minds to be
very kind. May God bless you! Do write, and mention your health
particularly, as I am anxious about it. I am quite well myself, and,
as ever,

Your affectionate

Don't you both like Macaulay's History? We are delighted just now with

[Footnote 189: Chief administrator of the Republic of Tuscany during
the short absence of the Grand Duke Leopold.]

_To Miss Browning_
[Florence: about June 1849.]

I must say to my dearest Sarianna how delighted we are at the thought
of seeing her in Florence. I wish it had been before the autumn, but
since autumn is decided for we must be content to reap our golden
harvest at the time for such things. Certainly the summer heat of
Florence is terrible enough--only we should have carried you with us
into the shade somewhere to the sea or to the mountains--and Robert
has, of course, told you of our Spezzia plan. The 'fatling of the
flock' has been sheared closely of his long petticoats. Did he tell
you that? And you can't think how funny the little creature looks
without his train, his wise baby face appearing to approve of the
whole arrangement. He talks to himself now and smiles at everybody,
and admired my roses so much the other day that he wanted to eat
them; having a sublime transcendental notion about the mouth being
the receptacle of all beauty and glory in this world. Tell your dear
father that certainly he _is_ a 'sweet baby,' there's no denying it.
We lay him down on the floor to let him kick at ease, and he makes
violent efforts to get up by himself, and Wilson declares that the
least encouragement would set him walking. Robert's nursing does
not mend his spirits much. I shall be very glad to get him away from
Florence; he has suffered too much here to rally as I long to see him
do, because, dearest Sarianna, we have to live after all; and to live
rightly we must turn our faces forward and press forward and not look
backward morbidly for the footsteps in the dust of those beloved ones
who travelled with us but yesterday. They themselves are not
behind but before, and we carry with us our tenderness living and
undiminished towards them, to be completed when the round of this life
is complete for us also. Dearest Sarianna, why do I say such things,
but because I have known what grief is? Oh, and how I could have
compounded with you, grief for grief, mine for yours, for _I_ had no
last words nor gestures, Sarianna. God keep you from such a helpless
bitter agony as mine then was. Dear Sarianna, you will think of us
and of Florence, my dear sister, and remember how you have made us
a promise and have to keep it. May God bless you and comfort you.
We think of you and love you continually, and I am always your most


In July the move from Florence, of which Mrs. Browning speaks in the
above letter, was effected, the place ultimately chosen for escape
from the summer heat in the valley of the Arno being the Bagni
di Lucca. Here three months were spent, as the following letters
describe. By this time the struggle for Italian liberty had ended in
failure everywhere. The battle of Novara, on March 23, had prostrated
Piedmont, and caused the abdication of its king, Charles Albert. The
Tuscan Republic had come and gone, and the Grand Duke had re-entered
his capital under the protection of Austrian bayonets. Sicily had been
reduced to subjection to the Bourbons of Naples. On July 2 the French
entered Rome, bringing back the Pope cured of his leanings to reform
and constitutional government; on the 24th, Venice, after an heroic
resistance, capitulated to the Austrians. The struggle was over for
the time; the longing for liberty becomes, of necessity, silent; and
we hear little, for a space, of Italian politics. For the moment it
might seem justifiable to despair of the republic.

_To Miss Mitford_
Bagni di Lucca, Toscana: [about July 1849].

At last, you will say, dearest friend. The truth is, I have not been
forgetting you (how far from that!) but wandering in search of cool
air and a cool bough among all the olive trees to build our summer
nest on. My husband has been suffering beyond what one could shut
one's eyes to in consequence of the great mental shock of last
March--loss of appetite, loss of sleep, looks quite worn and altered.
His spirits never rallied except with an effort, and every letter from
New Cross threw him back into deep depressions. I was very anxious,
and feared much that the end of it all (the intense heat of Florence
assisting) would be a nervous fever or something similar. And I had
the greatest difficulty in persuading him to leave Florence for a
month or two--he who generally delights so in travelling, had no
mind for change or movement. I had to say and swear that baby and I
couldn't bear the heat, and that we must and would go away. _Ce
que femme veut_, if the latter is at all reasonable, or the former
persevering. At last I gained the victory. It was agreed that we two
should go on an exploring journey to find out where we could have
most shadow at least expense; and we left our child with his nurse and
Wilson while we were absent. We went along the coast to Spezzia, saw
Carrara with the white marble mountains, passed through the olive
forests and the vineyards, avenues of acacia trees, chestnut woods,
glorious surprises of most exquisite scenery. I say olive forests
advisedly; the olive grows like a forest tree in those regions,
shading the ground with tents of silvery network. The olive near
Florence is but a shrub in comparison, and I have learnt to despise
a little, too, the Florentine vine, which does not swing such
portcullises of massive dewy green from one tree to another as along
the whole road where we travelled. Beautiful, indeed, it was. Spezzia
wheels the blue sea into the arms of the wooded mountains, and we had
a glance at Shelley's house at Lerici. It was melancholy to me, of
course. I was not sorry that the lodgings we inquired about were
far above our means. We returned on our steps (after two days in the
dirtiest of possible inns), saw Seravezza, a village in the mountains,
where rock, river, and wood enticed us to stay, and the inhabitants
drove us off by their unreasonable prices. It is curious, but just in
proportion to the want of civilisation the prices rise in Italy. If
you haven't cups and saucers you are made to pay for plate. Well, so
finding no rest for the sole of our feet, I persuaded Robert to go to
the Baths of Lucca, only to see them. We were to proceed afterwards
to San Marcello or some safer wilderness. We had both of us, but he
chiefly, the strongest prejudice against these Baths of Lucca, taking
them for a sort of wasp's nest of scandal and gaming, and expecting to
find everything trodden flat by the Continental English; yet I wanted
to see the place, because it is a place to see after all. So we came,
and were so charmed by the exquisite beauty of the scenery, by the
coolness of the climate and the absence of our countrymen, political
troubles serving admirably our private requirements, that we made an
offer for rooms on the spot, and returned to Florence for baby and the
rest of our establishment without further delay. Here we are, then; we
have been here more than a fortnight. We have taken an apartment for
the season--four months--paying twelve pounds for the whole term,
and hoping to be able to stay till the end of October. The living is
cheaper than even at Florence, so that there has been no extravagance
in coming here. In fact, Florence is scarcely tenable during the
summer from the excessive heat by day and night, even if there were no
particular motive for leaving it. We have taken a sort of eagle's nest
in this place, the highest house of the highest of the three villages
which are called the Bagni di Lucca, and which lie at the heart of a
hundred mountains sung to continually by a rushing mountain stream.
The sound of the river and of the cicala is all the noise we hear.
Austrian drums and carriage wheels cannot vex us; God be thanked for
it; the silence is full of joy and consolation. I think my husband's
spirits are better already and his appetite improved. Certainly little
babe's great cheeks are growing rosier and rosier. He is out all day
when the sun is not too strong, and Wilson will have it that he is
prettier than the whole population of babies here. He fixes his
blue eyes on everybody and smiles universal benevolence, rather too
indiscriminately it might be if it were not for Flush. But certainly,
on the whole he prefers Flush. He pulls his ears and rides on him, and
Flush, though his dignity does not approve of being used as a pony,
only protests by turning his head round to kiss the little bare
dimpled feet. A merrier, sweeter-tempered child there can't be than
our baby, and people wonder at his being so forward at four months
old and think there must be a mistake in his age. He is so strong that
when I put out two fingers and he has seized them in his fists he can
draw himself up on his feet, but we discourage this forwardness, which
is not desirable, say the learned. Children of friends of mine at ten
months and a year can't do so much. Is it not curious that _my_ child
should be remarkable for strength and fatness? He has a beaming,
thinking little face, too; oh, I wish you could see it. Then my
own strength has wonderfully improved, just as my medical friends
prophesied; and it seems like a dream when I find myself able to climb
the hills with Robert and help him to lose himself in the forests.
I have been growing stronger and stronger, and where it is to stop I
can't tell, really; I can do as much, or more, now than at any point
of my life since I arrived at woman's estate. The air of this place
seems to penetrate the heart and not the lungs only; it draws you,
raises you, excites you. Mountain air without its keenness, sheathed
in Italian sunshine, think what _that_ must be! And the beauty and
the solitude--for with a few paces we get free of the habitations
of men--all is delightful to me. What is peculiarly beautiful and
wonderful is the variety of the shapes of the mountains. They are a
multitude, and yet there is no likeness. None, except where the golden
mist comes and transfigures them into one glory. For the rest, the
mountain there wrapt in the chestnut forest is not like that bare peak
which tilts against the sky, nor like that serpent twine of another
which seems to move and coil in the moving coiling shadow. Oh, I wish
you were here. You would enjoy the shade of the chestnut trees, and
the sound of the waterfalls, and at nights seem to be living among the
stars; the fireflies are so thick, you would like that too. We have
subscribed to a French library where there are scarcely any new books.
I have read Bernard's 'Gentilhomme Campagnard' (see how _arrieres_ we
are in French literature!), and thought it the dullest and worst of
his books. I wish I could see the 'Memoirs of Louis Napoleon,' but
there is no chance of such good fortune. All this egotism has been
written with a heart full of thoughts of you and anxieties for you.
Do write to me directly and say first how your precious health is, and
then that you have ceased to suffer pain for your friends.... But your
dear self chiefly--how are you, my dearest Miss Mitford? I do long so
for good news of you. On our arrival here Mr. Lever called on us. A
most cordial vivacious manner, a glowing countenance, with the animal
spirits somewhat predominant over the intellect, yet the intellect by
no means in default; you can't help being surprised into being pleased
with him, whatever your previous inclination may be. Natural too, and
a _gentleman_ past mistake. His eldest daughter is nearly grown up,
and his youngest six months old. He has children of every sort of
intermediate age almost, but he himself is young enough still. Not the
slightest Irish accent. He seems to have spent nearly his whole life
on the Continent and by no means to be tired of it. Ah, dearest Miss
Mitford, hearts feel differently, adjust themselves differently before
the prick of sorrow, and I confess I agree with Robert. There are
places stained with the blood of my heart for ever, and where I could
not bear to stand again. If duty called him to New Cross it would be
otherwise, but his sister is rather inclined to come to us, I think,
for a few weeks in the autumn perhaps. Only these are scarcely times
for plans concerning foreign travel. It is something to talk of. It
has been a great disappointment to me the not going to England this
year, but I could not run the risk of the bitter pain to him. May God
bless you from all pain! Love me and write to me, who am ever and ever
your affectionate E.B.B.

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Bagni di Lucca: August 11, 1849.

I thank you, dearest friend, for your most affectionate and welcome
letter would seem to come by instinct, and we have thanked you in our
thoughts long before this moment, when I begin at last to write some
of them. Do believe that to value your affection and to love you back
again are parts of our life, and that it must be always delightful to
us to read in your handwriting or to hear in your voice that we are
not exiled from your life. Give us such an assurance whenever you can.
Shall we not have it face to face at Florence, when the booksellers
let you go? And meantime there is the post; do write to us.... Did
you ever see this place, I wonder? The coolness, the charm of the
mountains, whose very heart you seem to hear beating in the rush of
the little river, the green silence of the chestnut forests, and the
seclusion which anyone may make for himself by keeping clear of
the valley-villages; all these things drew us. We took a delightful
apartment over the heads of the whole world in the highest house
of the Bagni Caldi, where only the donkeys and the _portantini_ can
penetrate, and where we sit at the open windows and hear nothing but
the cicale. Not a mosquito! think of that! The thermometer ranges
from sixty-eight to seventy-four, but the seventy-four has been a
rare excess: the nights, mornings, and evenings are exquisitely cool.
Robert and I go out and lose ourselves in the woods and mountains, and
sit by the waterfalls on the starry and moonlit nights, and neither
by night nor day have the fear of picnics before our eyes. We were
observing the other day that we never met anybody except a monk girt
with a rope, now and then, or a barefooted peasant. The sight of a
pink parasol never startles us into unpleasant theories of comparative
anatomy. One cause, perhaps, may be that on account of political
matters it is a delightfully 'bad season,' but, also, we are too
high for the ordinary walkers, who keep to the valley and the flatter
roads. Robert is better, looking better, and in more healthy spirits;
and we are both enjoying this great sea of mountains and our way of
life here altogether. Of course, we remembered to go back to Florence
for baby and the rest of our little establishment, and we mean to
stay as long as we can, perhaps to the end of October. Baby is in
the triumph of health and full-blown roses, and as he does not hide
himself in the woods like his ancestors, but smiles at everybody, he
is the most popular of possible babies.... We had him baptised
before we left Florence, without godfathers and godmothers, in the
simplicities of the French Lutheran Church. I gave him your kiss as a
precious promise that you would love him one day like a true dear
Aunt Nina; and I promise you on my part that he shall be taught
to understand both the happiness and the honour of it. Robert is
expecting a visit from his sister in the course of this autumn. She
has suffered much, and the change will be good for her, even if, as
she says, she can stay with us only a few weeks. With her we shall
have your book, to be disinherited of which so long has been hard on
us. Robert's own we have not seen yet. It must be satisfactory to you
to have had such a clear triumph after all the dust and toil of the
way. And now tell me, won't it be _necessary_ for you to come again to
Italy for what remains to be done? Poor Florence is quiet enough under
the heel of Austria, and Leopold 'l'intrepido,' as he was happily
called by a poet of Viareggio in a welcoming burst of inspiration,
sits undisturbed at the Pitti. I despair of the republic in Italy, or
rather of Italy altogether. The instructed are not patriotic, and the
patriots are not instructed. We want not only a _man_, but men, and we
must throw, I fear, the bones of their race behind us before the true
deliverers can spring up. Still, it is not all over; there will be
deliverance presently, but it will not be now. We are full of painful
sympathy for poor Venice. There! why write more about politics? It
makes us sick enough to think of Austrians in our Florence without
writing the thought out into greater expansion. Only don't let the
'Times' newspaper persuade you that there is no stepping with impunity
out of England. ... We have 'lectures on Shakespeare' just now by a
Mr. Stuart, who is enlightening the English barbarians at the
lower village, and quoting Mrs. Jameson to make his discourse more
brilliant. We like to hear 'Mrs. Jameson observes.' Give our love to
dear Gerardine. I am anxious for her happiness and yours involved in
it. Love and remember us, dearest friend.

Your E.B.B., or rather, BA.

The following note is added in Mr. Browning's handwriting:

Dear Aunt Nina,--Will there be three years before I see you again? And
Geddie; does she not come to Italy? When we passed through Pisa the
other day, we went to your old inn in love of you, and got your very
room to dine in (the landlord is dead and gone, as is Peveruda--of the
other house, you remember). There were the old vile prints, the old
look-out into the garden, with its orange trees and painted sentinel
watching them. Ba must have told you about our babe, and the little
else there is to tell--that is, for _her_ to tell, for she is not
likely to encroach upon _my_ story which I _could_ tell of her
entirely angel nature, as divine a heart as God ever made; I know more
of her every day; I, who thought I knew something of her five years
ago! I think I know you, too, so I love you and am

Ever yours and dear Geddie's

_To Miss Mitford_
Bagni di Lucca: August 31, 1849.

I told Mr. Lever what you thought of him, dearest friend, and then
he said, all in a glow and animation, that you were not only his
own delight but the delight of his children, which is affection by
refraction, isn't it? Quite gratified he seemed by the hold of your
good opinion. Not only is he the notability _par excellence_ of these
Baths of Lucca, where he has lived a whole year, during the snows upon
the mountains, but he presides over the weekly balls at the casino
where the English 'do congregate' (all except Robert and me), and is
said to be the light of the flambeaux and the spring of the dancers.
There is a general desolation when he _will_ retire to play whist.
In addition to which he really seems to be loving and loveable in his
family. You always see him with his children and his wife; he drives
her and her baby up and down along the only carriageable road of
Lucca: so set down that piece of domestic life on the bright side in
the broad charge against married authors; now do. I believe he is to
return to Florence this winter with his family, having had enough of
the mountains. Have you read 'Roland Cashel,' isn't _that_ the name of
his last novel? The 'Athenaeum' said of it that it was '_new ground_,'
and praised it. I hear that he gets a hundred pounds for each monthly
number. Oh, how glad I was to have your letter, written in such pain,
read in such pleasure! It was only fair to tell me in the last lines
that the face-ache was better, to keep off a fit of remorse. I do
hope that Mr. May is not right about neuralgia, because that is more
difficult to cure than pain which arises from the teeth. Tell me how
you are in all ways. I look into your letters eagerly for news of your
health, then of your spirits, which are a part of health. The cholera
makes me very frightened for my dearest people in London, and silence,
the last longer than usual, ploughs up my days and nights into long
furrows. The disease rages in the neighbourhood of my husband's
family, and though Wimpole Street has been hitherto clear, who can
calculate on what may be? My head goes round to think of it. And papa,
who _will_ keep going into that horrible city! Even if my sisters and
brothers should go into the country as every year, he will be left, he
is no more movable than St. Paul's. My sister-in-law will probably not
come to us as soon as she intended, through a consideration for her
father, who ought not, Robert thinks, to stay alone in the midst of
such contingencies, so perhaps we may go to seek her ourselves in the
spring, if she does not seek us out before in Italy. God keep us all,
and near to one another. Love runs dreadful risks in the world. Yet
Love is, how much the best thing in the world? We have had a great
event in our house. Baby has cut a tooth.... His little happy laugh is
always ringing through the rooms. He is afraid of nobody or nothing
in the world, and was in fits of ecstasy at the tossing of the horse's
head, when he rode on Wilson's knee five or six miles the other day to
a village in the mountains--screaming for joy, she said. He is not six
months yet by a fortnight! His father loves him; passionately, and the
sentiment is reciprocated, I assure you. We have had the coolest
of Italian summers at these Baths of Lucca, the thermometer at the
hottest hour of the hottest day only at seventy-six, and generally at
sixty-eight or seventy. The nights invariably cool. Now the freshness
of the air is growing almost too fresh. I only hope we shall be able
(for the cold) to keep our intention of staying here till the end of
October, I have enjoyed it so entirely, and shall be so sorry to break
off this happy silence into the Austrian drums at poor Florence. And
then we want to see the vintage. Some grapes are ripe already, but
it is not vintage time. We have every kind of good fruit, great
water-melons, which with both arms I can scarcely carry, at twopence
halfpenny each, and figs and peaches cheap in proportion. And the
place agrees with Baby, and has done good to my husband's spirits,
though the only 'amusement' or distraction he has is looking at the
mountains and climbing among the woods with me. Yes, we have been
reading some French romances, 'Monte Cristo,' for instance, I for
the second time--but I have liked it, to read it with him. That Dumas
certainly has power; and to think of the scramble there was for his
brains a year or two ago in Paris! For a man to write so much and
so well together is a miracle. Do you mean that they have left off
writing--those French writers--or that they have tired you out with
writing that looks faint beside the rush of facts, as the range of
French politics show those? Has not Eugene Sue been illustrating
the passions? Somebody told me so. Do _you_ tell me how you like
the French President, and whether he will ever, in your mind, sit on
Napoleon's throne. It seems to me that he has given proof, as far
as the evidence goes, of prudence, integrity, and conscientious
patriotism; the situation is difficult, and he fills it honorably. The
Rome business has been miserably managed; this is the great blot on
the character of his government. But I, for my own part (my husband is
not so minded), do consider that the French motive has been good, the
intention pure, the occupation of Rome by the Austrians being imminent
and the French intervention the only means (with the exception of a
European war) of saving Rome from the hoof of the Absolutists. At the
same time if Pius IX. is the obstinate idiot he seems to be, good and
tenderhearted man as he surely is, and if the old abuses are to be
restored, why Austria might as well have done her own dirty work
and saved French hands from the disgrace of it. It makes us two very
angry. Robert especially is furious. We are not within reach of the
book you speak of, 'Portraits des Orateurs Francais' oh, we might
nearly as well live on a desert island as far as modern books go. And
here, at Lucca, even Robert can't catch sight of even the 'Athenaeum.'
We have a two-day old 'Galignani,' and think ourselves royally off;
and then this little shop with French books in it, just a few, and the
'Gentilhomme Campagnard' the latest published. Yes, but somebody lent
us the first volume of 'Chateaubriand's Memoires.' Have you seen it?
Curiously uninteresting, considering 'the man and the hour.' He writes
of his youth with a grey goose quill; the paper is all wrinkled.
And then he is not frank; he must have more to tell than he tells. I
looked for a more intense and sincere book _outre tombe_ certainly. I
am busy about my new edition, that is all at present, but some things
are written. Good of Mr. Chorley (he is _good_) to place you face
to face with Robert's books, and I am glad you like 'Colombe' and
'Luria.' Dear Mr. Kenyon's poems we have just received and are about
to read, and I am delighted at a glance to see that he has inserted
the 'Gipsy Carol,' which in MS. was such a favorite of mine. Really,
is he so rich? I am glad of it, if he is. Money could not be in more
generous and intelligent hands. Dearest Miss Mitford, you are only
just in being trustful of my affection for you. Never do I forget nor
cease to love you. Write and tell me of your dear self; how you are
_exactly_, and whether you have been at Three Mile Cross all the
summer. May God bless you. Robert's regards. Can you read? Love a
little your

Ever affectionate

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Bagni di Lucca: October 1, [1849].

There seems to be a fatality about our letters, dearest friend, only
the worst fate comes to me! I lose, and you are _near_ losing! And I
should not have liked you to lose any least proof of my thinking of
you, lest a worst loss should happen to me as a consequence, even
worse than the loss of your letters; for then, perhaps, and by
degrees, you might leave off thinking of Robert and me, which, rich
as we are in this mortal world, I do assure you we could neither of
us afford.... We have had much quiet enjoyment here in spite of
everything, read some amusing books (Dumas and Sue--shake your head!),
and seen our child grow fuller of roses and understanding day by day.
Before he was six months old he would stretch out his hands and his
feet too, when bidden to do so, and his little mouth to kiss you. This
is said to be a miracle of forwardness among the learned. He knows
Robert and me quite well as 'Papa' and 'Mama,' and laughs for joy when
he meets us out of doors. Robert is very fond of him, and threw
me into a fit of hilarity the other day by springing away from his
newspaper in an indignation against me because he hit his head against
the floor rolling over and over. 'Oh, Ba, I really can't trust you!'
Down Robert was on the carpet in a moment, to protect the precious
head. He takes it to be made of Venetian glass, I am certain. We may
leave this place much sooner than the end of October, as everything
depends upon the coming in of the cold. It will be the end of October,
won't it, before Gerardine can reach Florence? I wish I knew. We have
made an excursion into the mountains, five miles deep, with all our
household, baby and all, on horseback and donkeyback, and people open
their eyes at our having performed such an exploit--I and the child.
Because it is five miles straight up the Duomo; you wonder how any
horse could keep its footing, the way is so precipitous, up the
exhausted torrent courses, and with a palm's breadth between you and
the headlong ravines. Such scenery. Such a congregation of mountains:
looking alive in the stormy light we saw them by. We dined with the
goats, and baby lay on my shawl rolling and laughing. He wasn't in the
least tired, not he! I won't say so much for myself. The Mr. Stuart
who lectured here on Shakespeare (I think I told you that) couldn't
get through a lecture without quoting you, and wound up by a
declaration that no English critic had done so much for the divine
poet as a woman--Mrs. Jameson. He appears to be a cultivated and
refined person, and especially versed in German criticism, and we mean
to _use_ his society a little when we return to Florence, where he
resides.... What am I to say about Robert's idleness and mine? I
scold him about it in a most anti-conjugal manner, but, you know, his
spirits and nerves have been shaken of late; we must have patience.
As for me, I am much better, and do something, really, now and then.
Wait, and you shall have us both on you; too soon, perhaps. May God
bless you. How are your friends? Lady Byron, Madame de Goethe. The
dreadful cholera has made us anxious about England.

Your ever affectionate

Mr. Browning adds the following note:

Dear Aunt Nina,--Ba will have told you everything, and how we wish
you and Geddie all manner of happiness. I hope we shall be in Florence
when she passes through it. The place is otherwise distasteful to me,
with the creeping curs and the floggers of the same. But the weather
is breaking up here, and I suppose we ought to go back soon. Shall
you indeed come to Italy next year? That will indeed be pleasant
to expect. We hope to go to England in the spring. What comes of
'hoping,' however, we [know] by this time.

Ever yours affectionately,

_To Miss Mitford_
Bagni di Lucca: October 2, 1849.

Thank you, my dearest Miss Mitford: It is great comfort to know
that you are better, and that the cholera does not approach your
neighbourhood. My brothers and sisters have gone to Worthing for a
few weeks; and though my father (dearest Papa!) is not persuadeable, I
fear, into joining them, yet it is something to know that the horrible
pestilence is abating in London. Oh, it has made me so anxious: I
have caught with such a frightened haste at the newspaper to read
the 'returns,' leaving even such subjects as Rome and the President's
letter to quite the last, as if they were indifferent, or, at most,
bits of Mrs. Manning's murder. By the way and talking of murder, how
do you account for the crown of wickedness which England bears just
now over the heads of the nations, in murders of all kinds, by poison,
by pistol, by knife? In this poor Tuscany, which has not brains enough
to govern itself, as you observe, and as really I can't deny, there
have been two murders (properly so called) since we came, just three
years ago, one from jealousy and one from revenge (respectable motives
compared to the advantages of the burying societies!), and the horror
on all sides was great, as if the crime were some rare prodigy, which,
indeed, it is in this country. We have _no punishment of death_ here,
observe! The people are gentle, courteous, refined, and tenderhearted.
What Balzac would call 'femmelette.' All Tuscany is 'Lucien' himself.
The leaning to the artistic nature without the strength of genius
implies demoralisation in most cases, and it is this which makes
your 'good for nothing poets and poetesses,' about which I love so to
battle with you. Genius, I maintain always, you know, is a purifying
power and goes with high moral capacities. Well, and so you invite us
home to civilisation and 'the "Times" newspaper.' We _mean_ to go next
spring, and shall certainly do so unless something happen to catch us
and keep us in a net. But always something does happen: and I have so
often built upon seeing England, and been precipitated from the fourth
storey, that I have learnt to think warily now. I hunger and thirst
for the sight of some faces; must I not long, do you think, to see
your face? And then, I shall be properly proud to show my child
to those who loved me before him. He is beginning to understand
everything--chiefly in Italian, of course, as his nurse talks in her
sleep, I fancy, and can't be silent a second in the day--and when told
to 'dare un bacio a questo povero Flush,' he mixes his little face
with Flush's ears in a moment.... You would wonder to see Flush just
now. He suffered this summer from the climate somewhat as usual,
though not nearly as much as usual; and having been insulted oftener
than once by a supposition of 'mange,' Robert wouldn't bear it
any longer (he is as fond of Flush as I am), and, taking a pair of
scissors, clipped him all over into the likeness of a lion, much
to his advantage in both health and appearance. In the winter he is
always quite well; but the heat and the fleas together are too much
in the summer. The affection between baby and him is not equal, baby's
love being far the stronger. He, on the other hand, looks down upon
baby. What bad news you tell me of our French writers! What! Is it
possible that Dumas even is struck dumb by the revolution? His first
works are so incomparably the worst that I can't admit your theory of
the 'first runnings.' So of Balzac. So of Sue! George Sand is probably
writing 'banners' for the 'Reds,' which, considering the state of
parties in France, does not really give me a higher opinion of
her intelligence or virtue. Ledru Rollin's[190] _confidante_ and
councillor can't occupy an honorable position, and I am sorry, for
her sake and ours. When we go to Florence we must try to get the
'Portraits' and Lamartine's autobiography, which I still more long to
see. So, two women were in love with him, were they? That must be a
comfort to look back upon, now, when nobody will have him. I see by
extracts from his newspaper in Galignani that he can't be accused of
temporising with the Socialists any longer, whatever other charge may
be brought against him: and if, as he says, it was he who made the
French republic, he is by no means irreproachable, having made a bad
and false thing. The President's letter about Rome[191] has delighted
us. A letter worth writing and reading! We read it first in the
Italian papers (long before it was printed in Paris), and the amusing
thing was that where he speaks of the 'hostile influences' (of the
cardinals) they had misprinted it '_orribili_ influenze,' which must
have turned still colder the blood in the veins of Absolutist readers.
The misprint was not corrected until long after--more than a week, I
think. The Pope is just a pope; and, since you give George Sand
credit for having known it, I am the more vexed that Blackwood (under
'orribili influenze') did not publish the poem I wrote two years
ago,[192] in the full glare and burning of the Pope-enthusiasm, which
Robert and I never caught for a moment. Then, _I_ might have passed
a little for a prophetess as well as George Sand! Only, to confess a
truth, the same poem would have proved how fairly I was taken in by
our Tuscan Grand Duke. Oh, the traitor!

I saw the 'Ambarvalia'[193] reviewed somewhere--I fancy in the
'Spectator '--and was not much struck by the extracts. They may,
however, have been selected without much discrimination, and probably
were. I am very glad that you like the gipsy carol in dear Mr.
Kenyon's volume, because it is, and was in MS., a great favorite of
mine. There are excellent things otherwise, as must be when he says
them: one of the most radiant of benevolences with one of the most
refined of intellects! How the paper seems to dwindle as I would fain
talk on more. I have performed a great exploit, ridden on a donkey
five miles deep into the mountains to an almost inaccessible volcanic
ground not far from the stars. Robert on horseback, and Wilson and the
nurse (with baby) on other donkeys; guides, of course. We set off at
eight in the morning and returned at six P.M., after dining on the
mountain pinnacle, I dreadfully tired, but the child laughing as
usual, and burnt Brick-colour for all bad effect. No horse or ass,
untrained to the mountains, could have kept foot a moment where we
penetrated, and even as it was one could not help the natural thrill.
No road except the bed of exhausted torrents above and through the
chestnut forests, and precipitous beyond what you would think possible
for ascent or descent. Ravines tearing the ground to pieces under
your feet. The scenery, sublime and wonderful, satisfied us wholly,
however, as we looked round on the world of innumerable mountains
bound faintly with the grey sea, and not a human habitation. I hope
you will go to London this winter; it will be good for you, it seems
to me. Take care of yourself, my much and ever loved friend! I love
you and think of you indeed. Write of your health, remembering this,

And your affectionate,

My husband's regards always. You had better, I think, direct to
_Florence_, as we shall be there in the course of October.

[Footnote 190: Minister of the Interior in the Republic of 1848, and
one of the most prominent f the advanced Republican leaders.]

[Footnote 191: A letter, addressed to a private friend but intended
to be made public, denouncing the reactionary and oppressive
administration of the restored Pope.]

[Footnote 192: Probably the first part of _Casa Guidi Windows_.]

[Footnote 193: By A.H. Clough and T. Burbidge.]

To Florence, accordingly, they returned in October, and settled down
once more in Casa Guidi for the winter. Mrs. Browning's principal
literary occupation at this time was the preparation of a new edition
of her poems, including nearly all the contents of the 'Seraphim'
volume of 1838, more or less revised, as well as the 'Poems' of
1844. This edition, published in 1850, has formed the basis of all
subsequent editions of her poems. Meanwhile her husband was engaged
in the preparation of 'Christmas Eve and Easter Day,' which was also
published in the course of 1850.

_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: December I, 1849.

My ever loved friend, you will have wondered at this unusual silence;
and so will my sisters to whom I wrote just now, after a pause as
little in my custom. It was not the fault of my head and heart, but of
this unruly body, which has been laid up again in the way of all flesh
of mine....

I am well again now, only obliged to keep quiet and give up my grand
walking excursions, which poor Robert used to be so boastful of. If he
is vain about anything in the world, it is about my improved health,
and I used to say to him, 'But you needn't talk so much to people of
how your wife walked here with you and there with you, as if a wife
with a pair of feet was a miracle of nature.' Now the poor feet have
fallen into their old ways again. Ah, but if God pleases it won't be
for long....

The American authoress, Miss Fuller, with whom we had had some slight
intercourse by letter, and who has been at Rome during the siege, as
a devoted friend of the republicans and a meritorious attendant on
the hospitals, has taken us by surprise at Florence, retiring from the
Roman field with a husband and child above a year old. Nobody had even
suspected a word of this underplot, and her American friends stood in
mute astonishment before this apparition of them here. The husband is
a Roman marquis, appearing amiable and gentlemanly, and having fought
well, they say, at the siege, but with no pretension to cope with his
wife on any ground appertaining to the intellect. She talks, and he
listens. I always wonder at that species of marriage; but people are
so different in their matrimonial ideals that it may answer sometimes.
This Mdme. Ossoli saw George Sand in Paris--was at one of her
soirees--and called her 'a magnificent creature.' The soiree was 'full
of rubbish' in the way of its social composition, which George Sand
likes, _nota bene_. If Mdme. Ossoli called it '_rubbish_' it must have
been really rubbish--not expressing anything conventionally so--she
being one of the out and out _Reds_ and scorners of grades of society.
She said that she did not see Balzac. Balzac went into the world
scarcely at all, frequenting the lowest cafes, so that it was
difficult to track him out. Which information I receive doubtingly.
The rumours about Balzac with certain parties in Paris are not likely
to be too favorable nor at all reliable, I should fancy; besides,
I never entertain disparaging thoughts of my demi-gods unless they
should be forced upon me by evidence you must know. I have not made
a demi-god of Louis Napoleon, by the way--no, and I don't mean it. I
expect some better final result than he has just proved himself to be
of the French Revolution, with all its bitter and cruel consequences
hitherto, so I can't quite agree with you. Only so far, that he
has shown himself up to this point to be an upright man with noble
impulses, and that I give him much of my sympathy and respect in the
difficult position held by him. A man of genius he does not seem to
be--and what, after all, will he manage to do at Rome? I don't take
up the frantic Republican cry in Italy. I know too well the want of
knowledge and the consequent want of i effective faith and energy
among the Italians; but there is a stain upon France in the present
state of the Roman affair, and I don't shut my eyes to that either. To
cast Rome helpless and bound into the hands of the priests is dishonor
to the actors, however we consider the act; and for the sake of
France, even more than for the sake of Italy, I yearn to see the act
cancelled. Oh, we have had the sight of Clough and Burbidge, at last.
Clough has more thought, Burbidge more music; but I am disappointed
in the book on the whole. What I like infinitely better is Clough's
'Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich,' a 'long vacation pastoral,' written in
loose and more-than-need-be unmusical hexameters, but full of vigour
and freshness, and with passages and indeed whole scenes of great
beauty and eloquence. It seems to have been written before the other
poems. Try to get it, if you have not read it already. I feel certain
you will like it and think all the higher of the poet. Oh, it strikes
both Robert and me as being worth twenty of the other little book,
with its fragmentary, dislocated, unartistic character. Arnold's
volume has two good poems in it: 'The Sick King of Bokhara' and 'The
Deserted Merman.' I like them both. But none of these writers
are _artists_, whatever they may be in future days. Have you read
'Shirley,' and is it as good as 'Jane Eyre'? We heard not long since
that Mr. Chorley had discovered the author, _the_ 'Currer Bell.' A
woman, most certainly. We hear, too, that three large editions of the
'Princess' are sold. So much the happier for England and poetry.

Dearest dear Miss Mitford, mind you write to me, and don't pay me out
in my own silence! _You_ have not been ill, I hope and trust. Write
and tell me every little thing of yourself--how you are, and whether
there is still danger of your being uprooted from Three Mile Cross. I
love and think of you always. Fancy Flush being taken in the light
of a rival by baby! Oh, baby was quite jealous the other day, and
strugggled and kicked to get to me because he saw Flush leaning his
pretty head on my lap. There's a great strife for privileges between
those two. May God bless you! My husband's kind regards always, while
I am your most


_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: January 9, 1850.

Thank you, ever dearest Miss Mitford, for this welcome letter written
on your birthday! May the fear of small-pox have passed away long
before now, and every hope and satisfaction have strengthened and

May God bless you and give you many happy years, you who can do so
much towards the happiness of others. May I not answer for my own?...

Little Wiedeman began to crawl on Christmas Day. Before, he used to
roll. We throw things across the floor and he crawls for them like a
little dog, on all fours....

He has just caught a cold, which I make more fuss about than I ought,
say the wise; but I can't get resigned to the association of any sort
of suffering with his laughing dimpled little body--it is the blowing
about in the wind of such a heap of roses. So you prefer 'Shirley' to
'Jane Eyre'! Yet I hear from nobody such an opinion; yet you are very
probably right, for 'Shirley' may suffer from the natural reaction
of the public mind. What you tell me of Tennyson interests me
as everything about him must. I like to think of him digging
gardens--room for cabbage and all. At the same time, what he says
about the public '_hating_ poetry' is certainly not a word for
Tennyson. Perhaps no true poet, having claims upon attention _solely_
through his poetry, has attained so certain a success with such short
delay. Instead of being pelted (as nearly every true poet has been),
he stands already on a pedestal, and is recognised as a master spirit
not by a coterie but by the great public. Three large editions of the
'Princess' have already been sold. If he isn't satisfied after all, I
think he is wrong. Divine poet as he is, and no laurel being too leafy
for him, yet he must be an unreasonable man, and not understanding
of the growth of the laurel trees and the nature of a reading public.
With regard to the other garden-digger, dear Mr. Home, I wish as you
do that I could hear something satisfactory of him. I wrote from Lucca
in the summer, and have no answer. The latest word concerning him is
the announcement in the 'Athenaeum' of a third edition of his 'Gregory
the Seventh,' which we were glad to see, but very, very glad we should
be to have news of his prosperity in the flesh as well as in the
_litterae scriptae_....

I have not been out of doors these two months, but people call me
'looking well,' and a newly married niece of Miss Bayley's, the
accomplished Miss Thomson, who has become the wife of Dr. Emil Braun
(the learned German secretary of the Archaeological Society), and just
passed through Florence on her way to Rome, where they are to reside,
declared that the change she saw in me was miraculous--'wonderful
indeed.' I took her to look at Wiedeman in his cradle, fast asleep,
and she won my heart (over again, for always she was a favorite of
mine) by exclaiming at his prettiness. Charmed, too, we both were
with Dr. Braun--I mean Robert and I were charmed. He has a mixture of
fervour and simplicity which is still more delightfully picturesque
in his foreign English. Oh, he speaks English perfectly, only with an
obvious accent enough. I am sure we should be cordial friends, if the
lines had fallen to us in the same pleasant places; but he is fixed
at Rome, and we are half afraid of the enervating effects of the Roman
climate on the constitutions of children. Tell me, do you hear often
from Mr. Chorley? It quite pains us to observe from his manner of
writing the great depression of his spirits. His mother was ill in
the summer, but plainly the sadness does not arise entirely or chiefly
from this cause. He seems to me over-worked, taxed in the spirit. I
advise nobody to give up work; but that 'Athenaeum' labour is a sort
of treadmill discipline in which there is no progress, nor triumph,
and I do wish he would give that up and come out to us with a new set
of anvils and hammers. Only, of course, he couldn't do it, even if he
would, while there is illness in his family. May there be a whole sun
of success shining on the new play! Robert is engaged on a poem,[194]
and I am busy with my edition. So much to correct, I find, and many
poems to add. Plainly 'Jane Eyre' was by a woman. It used to astound
me when sensible people said otherwise. Write to me, will you? I long
to hear again. Tell me everything of yourself; accept my husband's
true regards, and think of me as your

Ever affectionate

[Footnote 194: _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_.]

_To Miss Browning_
Florence: January 29, 1850.

My dearest Sarianna,--I have waited to thank you for your great and
ready kindness about the new edition, until now when it is fairly on
its way to England. Thank you, thank you! I am only afraid, not that
you will find anything too 'learned,' as you suggest, but a good many
things too careless, I was going to say, only Robert, with various
deep sighs for 'his poor Sarianna,' devoted himself during several
days to rearranging my arrangements, and simplifying my complications.
It was the old story of Order and Disorder over again. He pulled out
the knotted silks with an indefatigable patience, so that really
you will owe to _him_ every moment of ease and facility which may be
enjoyable in the course of the work. I am afraid that at the easiest
you will find it a vexatious business, but I throw everything on
your kindness, and am not distrustful on such a point of weights and

Your letter was full of sad news. Robert was deeply affected at the
account of the illness of his cousin--was in tears before he could end
the letter. I do hope that in a day or two we may hear from you that
the happy change was confirmed as time passed on. I do hope so; it
will be joy, not merely to Robert, but to me, for indeed I never
forget the office which his kindness performed for both of us at a
crisis ripe with all the happiness of my life.

Then it was sad to hear of your dear father suffering from lumbago.
May the last of it have passed away long before you get what I am
writing! Tell him with my love that Wiedeman shall hear some day (if
we all live) the verses he wrote to him; and I have it in my head that
little Wiedeman will be very sensitive to verses and kindness too--he
likes to hear anything rhythmical and musical, and he likes to
be petted and kissed--the most affectionate little creature he
is--sitting on my knee, while I give him books to turn the leaves
over (a favorite amusement), every two minutes he puts up his little
rosebud of a mouth to have a kiss. His cold is quite gone, and he has
taken advantage of the opportunity to grow still fatter; as to his
activities, there's no end to them. His nurse and I agree that he
doesn't remain quiet a moment in the day....[195]

Now the love of nephews can't bear any more, Sarianna, can it? Only
your father will take my part and say that it isn't tedious--beyond

May God bless both of you, and enable you to send a brighter letter
next time. Robert will be very anxious.

Your ever affectionate sister
Mention yourself, _do_.

[Footnote 195: A long description of the baby's meals and daily
programme follows, the substance of which can probably be imagined by
connoisseurs in the subject.]

_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: February 18, 1850.

Ever dearest Miss Mitford, you _always_ give me pleasure, so for
love's sake don't say that you 'seldom give it,' and such a magical
act as conjuring up for me the sight of a new poem by Alfred
Tennyson[196] is unnecessary to prove you a right beneficent
enchantress. Thank you, thank you. We are not so unworthy of your
redundant kindness as to abuse it by a word spoken or sign signified.
You may trust us indeed. But now you know how free and sincere I
am always! Now tell me. Apart from the fact of this lyric's being a
fragment of fringe from the great poet's 'singing clothes' (as Leigh
Hunt says somewhere), and apart from a certain sweetness and rise and
fall in the rhythm, do you really see much for admiration in the poem?
Is it _new_ in, any way? I admire Tennyson with the most worshipping
part of the multitude, as you are aware, but I do _not_ perceive much
in this lyric, which strikes me, and Robert also (who goes with me
throughout), as quite inferior to the other lyrical snatches in the
'Princess.' By the way, if he introduces it in the 'Princess,' it
will be the only _rhymed_ verse in the work. Robert thinks that he was
thinking of the Rhine echoes in writing it, and not of any heard in
his Irish travels. I hear that Tennyson has taken rooms above Mr.
Forster's in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and is going to try a London life.
So says Mr. Kenyon.... I am writing with an easier mind than when
I wrote last, for I was for a little time rendered very unhappy (so
unhappy that I couldn't touch on the subject, which is always the way
with me when pain passes a certain point), by hearing accidentally
that papa was unwell and looking altered. My sister persisted in
replying to my anxieties that they were unfounded, that I was quite
absurd, indeed, in being anxious at all; only people are not generally
reformed from their absurdities through being scolded for them. Now,
however, it really appears that the evil has passed. He left his
doctor who had given him lowering medicines, and, coincidently with
the leaving, he has recovered looks and health altogether. Arabel says
that I should think he was looking as well as ever, if I saw him, and
that appetite and spirits are even redundant. Thank God.... To
have this good news has made me very happy, and I overflow to you
accordingly. Oh, there is pain enough from that quarter, without
hearing of his being out of health. I write to him continually and
he does not now return my letters, which is a melancholy something
gained. Now enough of such a subject.

I certainly don't think that the qualities, half savage and half
freethinking, expressed in 'Jane Eyre' are likely to suit a model
governess or schoolmistress; and it amuses me to consider them in
that particular relation. Your account falls like dew upon the parched
curiosity of some of our friends here, to whom (as mere gossip, which
did not leave you responsible) I couldn't resist the temptation
of communicating it. People _are_ so curious--even here among the
Raffaels--about this particular authorship, yet nobody seems to have
read 'Shirley'; we are too slow in getting new books. First Galignani
has to pirate them himself, and then to hand us over the spoils.
By the way, there's to be an international copyright, isn't there?
Something is talked of it in the 'Athenaeum.' Meanwhile the Americans
have already reprinted my husband's new edition. 'Landthieves, I mean
pirates.' I used to take that for a slip of the pen in Shakespeare;
but it was a slip of the pen into prophecy. Sorry I am at Mrs. ----
falling short of your warm-hearted ideas about her! Can you understand
a woman's hating a girl because it is not a boy--her first child too?
I understand it so little that scarcely I can believe it. Some women
_have_, however, undeniably an indifference to children, just as many
men have, though it must be unnatural and morbid in both sexes.
Men often affect it--very foolishly, if they count upon the scenic
effects; affectation never succeeds well, and this sort of affectation
is peculiarly unbecoming, except in old bachelors, for there is a
pathetic side to the question so viewed. For my part and my husband's,
we may be frank and say that we have caught up our parental pleasures
with a sort of passion. But then, Wiedeman is such a darling little
creature; who _could_ help loving the child?... Little darling! So
much mischief was not often put before into so small a body. Fancy
the child's upsetting the water jugs till he is drenched (which charms
him), pulling the brooms to pieces, and having serious designs upon
cutting up his frocks with a pair of scissors. He laughs like an imp
when he can succeed in doing anything wrong. Now, see what you get, in
return for your kindness of 'liking to hear about' him! Almost I have
the grace to be ashamed a little. Just before I had your letter we
sent my new edition to England. I gave much time to the revision, and
did not omit reforming some of the rhymes, although you must consider
that the irregularity of these in a certain degree rather falls in
with my system than falls out through my carelessness. So much the
worse, you will say, when a person is _systematically_ bad. The work
will include the best poems of the 'Seraphim' volume, strengthened and
improved as far as the circumstances admitted of. I had not the heart
to leave out the wretched sonnet to yourself, for your dear sake; but
I rewrote the latter half of it (for really it wasn't a sonnet at all,
and 'Una and her lion' are rococo), and so placed it with my other
poems of the same class. There are some new, verses also.[197] The
Miss Hardings I have seen, and talked with them of _you_, a sure way
of finding them delightful. But, my dearest friend, I shall not see
any of the Trollope party--it is not likely. You can scarcely image to
yourself the retired life we live, or how we have retreated from
the kind advances of the English society here. Now people seem to
understand that we are to be left alone; that nothing is to be made of
us. The fact is, we are not like our child, who kisses everybody who
smiles at him! Neither my health nor our pecuniary circumstances, nor
our inclinations perhaps, would admit of our entering into English
society here, which is kept up much after the old English models, with
a proper disdain for Continental simplicities of expense. We have just
heard from Father Prout, who often, he says, sees Mr. Horne, 'who is
as dreamy as ever.' So glad I am, for I was beginning to be uneasy
about him. He has not answered my letter from Lucca. The verses in the
'Athenaeum'[198] are on Sophia Cottrell's child.

May God bless you, dearest friend. Speak of _yourself_ more
particularly to your ever affectionate


Robert's kindest regards. Tell us of Mr. Chorley's play, do.

[Footnote 196: Apparently the _Echo-song_ which now precedes canto
iv. of the _Princess_, though one is surprised at the opinion here
expressed of it. It will be remembered that this and the other lyrical
interludes did not appear in the original edition of the _Princess_.]

[Footnote 197: Notably the _Sonnets from the Portuguese_.]

[Footnote 198: 'A Child's Death at Florence,' which appeared in the
_Athenaeum_ of December 22, 1849.]

_To Mrs. Martin_
Florence: February 22, 1850.

My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Have you wondered that I did not write
before? It was not that I did not thank you in my heart for your kind,
considerate letter, but I was unconquerably uncomfortable about papa;
and, what with the weather, which always has me in its power somehow,
and other things, I fell into a dislike of writing, which I hope you
didn't mistake for ingratitude, because it was not in the least like
the same fault. Now the severe weather (such weather for Italy!) has
broken up, and I am relieved in all ways, having received the most
happy satisfactory news from Wimpole Street, and the assurance from my
sisters that if I were to see papa I should think him looking as well
as ever. He grew impatient with Dr. Elliotson's medicines which, it
appears, were of a very lowering character--suddenly gave them up,
and as suddenly recovered his looks and all the rest, and everybody
at home considers him to be _quite well_. It has relieved me of a
mountain's weight, and I thank God with great joy. Oh, you must have
understood how natural it was for me to be unhappy under the other
circumstances. But if you thought, dearest friend, that _they_
were necessary to induce me to write to him the humblest and most
beseeching of letters, you do not know how I feel his alienation or my
own love for him. I With regard to my brothers, it is quite different,
though even towards _them_ I may faithfully say that my affection
has borne itself higher than my pride. But as to papa, I have never
contended about the right or the wrong, I have never irritated him by
seeming to suppose that his severity to me has been more than justice.
I have confined myself simply to a supplication for--his forgiveness
of what he called, in his own words, the only fault of my life towards
him, and an expression of the love which even I must feel I for him,
whether he forgives me or not. This has been done in letter after
letter, and they are not sent back--it is all. In my last letter, I
ventured to ask him to let it be an understood thing that he should
before the world, and to every practical purpose, act out his idea of
justice by excluding me formally, me and mine, from every advantage
he intended his other children--that, having so been just, he might
afford to be merciful by giving me his forgiveness and affection--all
I asked and desired. My husband and I had talked this over again and
again; only it was a difficult thing to say, you see. At last I took
courage and said it, because, doing it, papa might seem to himself to
reconcile his notion of strict justice, and whatever remains of pity
and tenderness might still be in his heart towards me, if there are
any such. I _know_ he has strong feelings at bottom--otherwise, should
I love him so?--but he has adopted a bad system, and he (as well as I)
is crushed by it.... If I were to write to you the political rumours
we hear every day, you would scarcely think our situation improved in
safety by the horrible Austrian army. Florence bristles with cannon on
all sides, and at the first movement we are promised to be bombarded.
On the other hand, if the red republicans get uppermost there will be
a universal massacre; not a priest, according to their own profession,
will be left alive in Italy. The constitutional party hope they are
gaining strength, but the progress which depends on intellectual
growth must necessarily be slow. That the Papacy has for ever lost its
prestige and power over souls is the only evident truth; bright and
strong enough to cling to. I hear even devout women say: 'This cursed
Pope! it's all his fault.' Protestant places of worship are thronged
with Italian faces, and the minister of the Scotch church at Leghorn
has been threatened with exclusion from the country if he admits
Tuscans to the church communion. Politically speaking, much will
depend upon France, and I have strong hope for France, though it is
so strictly the fashion to despair of her. Tell me dear Mr. Martin's
impression and your own--everything is good that comes from you. But
most _particularly_, tell me how you both are--tell me whether you are
strong again, dearest Mrs. Martin, for indeed I do not like to hear of
your being in the least like an invalid. Do speak of yourself a little
more. Do you know, you are very unsatisfactory as a letter-writer when
you write about yourself--the reason being that you never do write
about yourself except by the suddenest snatches, when you can't
possibly help the reference....

Robert sends his true regards with those of your
Gratefully affectionate

_To Mrs. Jameson_
April 2, [1850].

You have perhaps thought us ungrateful people, my ever dear friend,
for this long delay in thanking you for your beautiful and welcome
present.[199] Here is the truth. Though we had the books from Rome
last month, they were snatched from us by impatient hands before we
had finished the first volume. The books are hungered and thirsted
for in Florence, and, although the English reading club has them,
they can't go fast enough from one to another. Four of our friends
entreated us for the reversion, and although it really is only
just that we should be let read our own books first, yet Robert's
generosity can't resist the need of this person who is 'going away,'
and of that person who is 'so particularly anxious'--for particular
reasons perhaps--so we renounce the privilege you gave us (with the
pomps of this world) and are still waiting to finish even the first
volume. Our cultivated friends the Ogilvys, who had the work from us
earliest, because they were going to Naples, were charmed with it. Mr.
Kirkup the artist, who disputes with Mr. Bezzi the glory of finding
Dante's portrait--yes, and breathes fire in the dispute--has it now.
Madame Ossoli, Margaret Fuller, the American authoress, who brought
from the siege of Rome a noble marquis as her husband, asks for it.
And your adorer Mr. Stuart, who has lectured upon Shakespeare all
the winter, entreats for it. So when we shall be free to enjoy it
thoroughly for ourselves remains doubtful. Robert promises every day,
'You shall have it next, certainly,' and I only hope you will put
him and me in your next edition of the martyrs, for such a splendid
exercise of the gifts of self-renunciation. But don't fancy that
we have not been delighted with the sight of the books, with your
kindness, and besides with the impressions gathered from a rapid
examination of the qualities of the work. It seems to us in every
way a valuable and most interesting work; it must render itself
a _necessity_ for art students, and general readers and seers of
pictures like me, who carry rather sentiment than science into
the consideration of such subjects. We much admire your
introduction--excellent in all ways, besides the grace and eloquence.
Altogether, the work must set you higher with a high class of the
public, and I congratulate you on what is the gain of all of us.
Robert has begun a little pencil list of trifling criticisms he means
to finish. We both cry aloud at what you say of Guercino's angels,
and never would have said if you had been to Fano and seen his divine
picture of the 'Guardian Angel,' which affects me every time I think
of it. Our little Wiedeman had his part of pleasure in the book by
being let look at the engravings. He screamed for joy at the miracle
of so many bird-men, and kissed some of them very reverentially, which
is his usual way of expressing admiration....

Whether you will like Robert's new book I don't know, but I am sure
you will admit the originality and power in it. I wish we had the
option of giving it to you, but Chapman & Hall never seem to think
of our giving copies away, nor leave them at our disposal. There is
nothing _Italian_ in the book; poets are apt to be most present with
the distant. A remark of Wilson's[200] used to strike me as eminently
true--that the perfectest descriptive poem (descriptive of rural
scenery) would _be_ naturally produced in a London cellar. I have read
'Shirley' lately; it is not equal to 'Jane Eyre' in spontaneousness
and earnestness. I found it heavy, I confess, though in the mechanical
part of the writing--the compositional _savoir faire_--there is an
advance. Robert has exhumed some French books, just now, from a little
circulating library which he had not tried, and we have been making
ourselves uncomfortable over Balzac's 'Cousin Pons.' But what a
wonderful writer he is! Who else could have taken such a subject, out
of the lowest mud of humanity, and glorified and consecrated it? He is
wonderful--there is not another word for him--profound, as Nature is.
S I complain of Florence for the want of books. We have to dig and dig
before we can get anything new, and _I_ can read the newspapers only
through Robert's eyes, who only can read them at Vieusseux's in a room
sacred from the foot of woman. And this isn't always satisfactory to
me, as whenever he falls into a state of disgust with any political
_regime_, he throws the whole subject over and won't read a word
more about it. Every now and then, for instance, he ignores France
altogether, and I, who am more tolerant and more curious, find myself
suspended over an hiatus _(valde deflendus_), and what's to be said
and done? M. Thiers' speech--'Thiers is a rascal; I make a point of
not reading one word said by M. Thiers.' M. Prudhon--'Prudhon is a
madman; who cares for Prudhon?' The President--'The President's an
ass; _he_ is not worth thinking of.' And so we treat of politics.

I wish you would write to us a little oftener (or rather, a good deal)
and tell us much of yourself. It made me very sorry that you should
be suffering in the grief of your sister--you whose sympathies are so
tender and quick! May it be better with you now! Mention Lady Byron. I
shall be glad to hear that she is stronger notwithstanding this cruel
winter. We have lovely weather here now, and I am quite well and able
to walk out, and little Wiedeman rolls with Flush on the grass of
the Cascine. Dear kind Wilson is doatingly fond of the child, and
sometimes gives it as her serious opinion that 'there never _was_ such
a child before.' Of course I don't argue the point much. Now, will
you write to us? Speak of your plans particularly when you do. We have
taken this apartment on for another year from May. May God bless you!
Robert unites in affectionate thanks and thoughts of all kinds, with

E.B.B.--rather, BA.

This letter has waited some days to be sent away, as you will see by
the date.

[Footnote 199: Mrs. Jameson's _Legends of the Monastic Orders_, which
had just been published.]

[Footnote 200: Presumably _not_ Mrs. Browning's maid, but 'Christopher

At the end of March 1850, the long-deferred marriage of Mrs.
Browning's sister, Henrietta, to Captain Surtees Cook took place. It
is of interest here mainly as illustrating Mr. Barrett's behaviour
to his daughters. An application for his consent only elicited the
pronouncement, 'If Henrietta marries you, she turns her back on this
house for ever,' and a letter to Henrietta herself reproaching her
with the 'insult' she had offered him in asking his consent when she
had evidently made up her mind to the conclusion, and declaring
that, if she married, her name should never again be mentioned in his
presence. The marriage having thereupon taken place, his decision was
forthwith put into practice, and a second child was thenceforward an
exile from her father's house.

_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: [end of] April 1850.

You will have seen in the papers, dearest friend, the marriage of my
sister Henrietta, and will have understood why I was longer silent
than usual. Indeed, the event has much moved me, and so much of the
emotion was painful--painfulness being inseparable from events of the
sort in our family--that I had to make an effort to realise to myself
the reasonable degree of gladness and satisfaction in her release from
a long, anxious, transitional state, and her prospect of happiness
with a man who has loved her constantly and who is of an upright,
honest, reliable, and religious mind. Our father's objections were to
his Tractarian opinions and insufficient income. I have no sympathy
myself with Tractarian opinions, but I cannot under the circumstances
think an objection of the kind tenable by a third person, and in truth
we all know that if it had not been this objection, it would have been
another--there was no escape any way. An engagement of five years
and an attachment still longer were to have some results; and I can't
regret, or indeed do otherwise than approve from my heart, what she
has done from hers. Most of her friends and relatives have considered
that there was no choice, and that her step is abundantly justified.
At the same time, I thank God that a letter sent to me to ask my
advice never reached me (the _second_ letter of my sisters' lost,
since I left them), because no advice _ought_ to be given on any
subject of the kind, and because I, especially, should have shrunk
from accepting such a responsibility. So I only heard of the marriage
three days before it took place--no, four days before--and was upset,
as you may suppose, by the sudden news. Captain Surtees Cook's sister
was one of the bridesmaids, and his brother performed the ceremony.
The _means_ are very small of course--he has not much, and my sister
has nothing--still it seems to me that they will have enough to live
prudently on, and he looks out for a further appointment. Papa 'will
never again let her name be mentioned in his hearing,' he _says_, but
we must hope. The dreadful business passed off better on the whole
than poor Arabel expected, and things are going on as quietly as
usual in Wimpole Street now. I feel deeply for _her_, who in her
pure disinterestedness just pays the price and suffers the loss.
She represents herself, however, to be relieved at the crisis being
passed. I earnestly hope for her sake that we may be able to get to
England this year--a sight of us will be some comfort. Henrietta is to
live at Taunton for the present, as he has a military situation there,
and they are preparing for a round of visits among their many friends
who are anxious to have them previous to their settling. All this, you
see, will throw me back with papa, even if I can be supposed to have
gained half a step, and I doubt it. Oh yes, dearest Miss Mitford. I
have indeed again and again thought of your 'Emily,' stripping the
situation of 'the favour and prettiness' associated with that heroine.
Wiedeman might compete, though, in darlingness with the child, as the
poem shows him. Still, I can accept no omen. My heart sinks when I
dwell upon peculiarities difficult to analyse. I love him very deeply.
When I write to him, I lay myself at his feet. Even if I had gained
half a step (and I doubt it, as I said), see how I must be thrown back
by the indisposition to receive others. But I cannot write of this
subject. Let us change it....

Madame Ossoli sails for America in a few days, with the hope of
returning to Italy, and indeed I cannot believe that her Roman husband
will be easily naturalised among the Yankees. A very interesting
person she is, far better than her writings--thoughtful, spiritual
in her habitual mode of mind; not only exalted, but _exaltee_ in her
opinions, and yet calm in manner. We shall be sorry to lose her. We
have lost, besides, our friends Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvy, cultivated and
refined people: they occupied the floor above us the last winter, and
at the Baths of Lucca and Florence we have seen much of them for
a year past. She published some time since a volume of 'Scottish
Minstrelsy,' graceful and flowing, and aspires strenuously towards
poetry; a pretty woman with three pretty children, of quick
perceptions and active intelligence and sensibility. They are upright,
excellent people in various ways, and it is a loss to us that they
should have gone to Naples now. Dearest friend, how your letter
delighted me with its happy account of your improved strength. Take
care of yourself, do, to lose no ground. The power of walking must
refresh your spirits as well as widen your daily pleasures. I am so
glad. Thank God. We have heard from Mr. Chorley, who seems to have
received very partial gratification in respect to his play and yet
prepares for more plays, more wrestlings in the same dust. Well, I
can't make it out. A man of his sensitiveness to choose to appeal to
the coarsest side of the public--which, whatever you dramatists may
say, you all certainly do--is incomprehensible to me. Then I cannot
help thinking that he might achieve other sorts of successes more
easily and surely. Your criticism is very just. But _I_ like his
'Music and Manners in Germany' better than anything he has done. I
believe I always _did_ like it best, and since coming to Florence I
have heard cultivated Americans speak of it with enthusiasm, yes, with
enthusiasm. 'Pomfret' they would scarcely believe to be by the same
author. I agree with you, but it is a pity indeed for him to tie
himself to the wheels of the 'Athenaeum,' to _approfondir_ the ruts;
what other end? And, by the way, the 'Athenaeum,' since Mr. Dilke
left it, has grown duller and duller, colder and colder, flatter
and flatter. Mr. Dilke was not brilliant, but he was a Brutus in
criticism; and though it was his speciality to condemn his most
particular friends to the hangman, the survivors thought there was
something grand about it on the whole, and nobody could hold him in
contempt. Now it is all different. We have not even 'public virtue' to
fasten our admiration to. You will be sure to think I am vexed at the
article on my husband's new poem.[201] Why, certainly I am vexed! Who
would _not_ be vexed with such misunderstanding and mistaking. Dear
Mr. Chorley writes a letter to appreciate most generously: so you see
how little power he has in the paper to insert an opinion, or stop an
injustice. On the same day came out a burning panegyric of six columns
in the 'Examiner,' a curious cross-fire. If you read the little book
(I wish I could send you a copy, but Chapman & Hall have not offered
us copies, and you will catch sight of it somewhere), I hope you will
like things in it at least. It seems to me full of power. Two hundred
copies went off in the first fortnight, which is a good beginning
in these days. So I am to confess to a satisfaction in the American
piracies. Well, I confess, then. Only it is rather a complex smile
with which one hears: 'Sir or Madam, we are selling your book at half
price, as well printed as in England.' 'Those apples we stole from
your garden, we sell at a halfpenny, instead of a penny as you do;
they are much appreciated.' Very gratifying indeed. It's worth
while to rob us, that's plain, and there's something magnificent in
supplying a distant market with apples out of one's garden. Still the
smile is complex in its character, and the morality--simple, that's
all I meant to say. A letter from Henrietta and her husband, glowing
with happiness; it makes _me_ happy. She says, 'I wonder if I shall be
as happy as you, Ba.' God grant it. It was signified to her that she
should at once give up her engagement of five years, or leave the
house. She married directly. I do not understand how it could be
otherwise, indeed. My brothers have been kind and affectionate, I am
glad to say; in her case, poor dearest papa does injustice chiefly to
his own nature, by these severities, hard as they seem. Write soon and
talk of yourself to

Ever affectionate

I am rejoicing in the People's Edition of your work. 'Viva!' (Robert's
best regards.)

[Footnote 201: The _Athenaeum_ review of _Christmas Eve and Easter
Day_, while recognising the beauty of many passages in the two poems,
criticised strongly the discussion of theological subjects in 'doggrel
verse;' and its analysis of the theology would hardly be satisfactory
to the author.]

_To Mrs. Jameson_
Florence: May 4, [1850],

Dearest Friend,--This little note will be given to you by the Mr.
Stuart of whom I once told you that he was holding you up to the
admiration of all Florence and the Baths of Lucca as the best English
critic of Shakespeare, in his lectures on the great poet....

Robert bids me say that he wrote you a constrained half-dozen lines
by Mr. Henry Greenough, who asked for a letter of introduction to you,
while the asker was sitting in the room, and the form of 'dear Mrs.
Jameson' couldn't well be escaped from. He loves you as well as ever,
you are to understand, through every complication of forms, and you
are to love him, and _me_, for I come in as a part of him, if you
please. Did you get my thanks for the dear Petrarch pen (so steeped in
double-distilled memories that it seems scarcely fit to be steeped in
ink), and our appreciation as well as gratitude for the books--which,
indeed, charm us more and more? Robert has been picking up pictures at
a few pauls each, 'hole and corner' pictures which the 'dealers' had
not found out; and the other day he covered himself with glory by
discovering and seizing on (in a corn shop a mile from Florence) five
pictures among heaps of trash; and one of the best judges in Florence
(Mr. Kirkup) throws out such names for them as Cimabue, Ghirlandaio,
Giottino, a crucifixion painted on a banner, Giottesque, if not
Giotto, but _unique_, or nearly so, on account of the linen material,
and a little Virgin by a Byzantine master. The curious thing is that
two angel pictures, for which he had given a scudo last year, prove
to have been each sawn off the sides of the Ghirlandaio, so called,
representing the 'Eterno Padre' clothed in a mystical garment and
encircled by a rainbow, the various tints of which, together with the
scarlet tips of the flying seraphs' wings, are darted down into the
smaller pictures and complete the evidence, line for line. It has been
a grand altar-piece, cut to bits. Now come and see for yourself. We
can't say decidedly yet whether it will be possible or impossible for
us to go to England this year, but in any case you must come to see
Gerardine and Italy, and we shall manage to catch you by the skirts
then--so do come. Never mind the rumbling of political thunders,
because, even if a storm breaks, you will slip under cover in these
days easily, whether in France or Italy. I can't make out, for my
part, how anybody can be afraid of such things.

Will you be among the likers or dislikers, I wonder sometimes, of
Robert's new book? The _faculty_, you will recognise, in all cases; he
can do anything he chooses. I have complained of the _asceticism_ in
the second part, but he said it was 'one side of the question.' Don't
think that he has taken to the cilix--indeed he has not--but it is his
way to _see_ things as passionately as other people _feel_ them....

Chapman & Hall offer us no copies, or you should have had one, of
course. So Wordsworth is gone--a great light out of heaven.

May God bless you, my dear friend!

Love your affectionate and grateful, for so many

The death of Wordsworth on April 23 left the Laureateship vacant,
and though there was probably never any likelihood of Mrs. Browning's
being invited to succeed him, it is worth noticing that her claims
were advocated by so prominent a paper as the 'Athenaeum,' which not
only urged that the appointment would be eminently suitable under a
female sovereign, but even expressed its opinion that 'there is no
living poet of either sex who can prefer a higher claim than Mrs.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.' No doubt there would have been a certain
appropriateness in the post of Laureate to a Queen being held by a
poetess, but the claims of Tennyson to the primacy of English poetry
were rightly regarded as paramount. The fact that in Robert Browning
there was a poet of equal calibre with Tennyson, though of so
different a type, seems to have occurred to no one.

_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: June 15, 1850.

My ever dear Friend,--How it grieves me that you should have been
so unwell again! From what you say about the state of the house, I
conclude that your health suffers from that cause precisely; and that
when you are warmly and dryly walled in, you will be less liable to
these attacks, grievous to your friends as to you. Oh, I don't praise
anybody, I assure you, for wishing to entice you to live near them.
We come over the Alps for a sunny climate; what should we not do for
a moral atmosphere like yours? I dare say you have chosen excellently
your new residence, and I hope you will get over the fuss of it with
great courage, remembering the advantages which it is likely to secure
to you. Tell me as much as you can about it all, that I may shift the
scene in the right grooves, and be able to imagine you to myself out
of Three Mile Cross. You have the local feeling so eminently that I
have long been resolved on never asking you to migrate. Doves
won't travel with swallows; who should persuade them? This is no
migration--only a shifting from one branch to another. With Reading
on one side of you still, you will lose nothing, neither sight nor
friend. Oh, do write to me as soon as you can, and say that the
deepening summer has done you good and given you strength; say it,
if possible. I shall be very anxious for the next letter.... My only
objection to Florence is the distance from London, and the expense of
the journey. One's heart is pulled at through different English
ties and can't get the right rest, and I think we shall move
northwards--try France a little, after a time. The present year has
been full of petty vexation to us about the difficulty of going to
England, and it becomes more and more doubtful whether we can attain
to the means of doing it. There are four of us and the child, you
see, and precisely this year we are restricted in means, as far as our
present knowledge goes; but I can't say yet, only I do very much
fear. Nobody will believe our promises, I think, any more, and my
poor Arabel will be in despair, and I shall lose the opportunity of
_authenticating_ Wiedeman; for, as Robert says, all our fine stories
about him will go for nothing, and he will be set down as a sham
child. If not sham, how could human vanity resist the showing him off
bodily? That sounds reasonable....

Certainly you are disinterested about America, and, of course, all
of us who have hearts and heads must feel the sympathy of a greater
nation to be more precious than a thick purse. Still, it is not just
and dignified, this vantage ground of American pirates. Liking the
ends and motives, one disapproves the means. Yes, even _you_ do; and
if I were an American I should dissent with still more emphasis. It
should be made a point of honour with the nation, if there is no
point of law against the re publishers. For my own part, I have every
possible reason to thank and love America; she has been very kind to
me, and the visits we receive here from delightful and cordial persons
of that country have been most gratifying to us. The American minister
at the court of Vienna, with his family, did not pass through Florence
the other day without coming to see us--General Watson Webbe-with
an air of moral as well as military command in his brow and eyes. He
looked, and talked too, like one of oar dignities of the Old World.
The go-ahead principle didn't seem the least over-strong in him, nor
likely to disturb his official balance. What is to happen next in
France? Do you trust still your President? He is in a hard position,
and, if he leaves the Pope where he is, in a dishonored one. As for
the change in the electoral law and the increase of income, I see
nothing in either to make an outcry against. There is great injustice
everywhere and a rankling party-spirit, and to speak the truth and act
it appears still more difficult than usual. I was sorry, do you know,
to hear of dear Mr. Horne's attempt at Shylock; he is fit for higher
things. Did I tell you how we received and admired his Judas Iscariot?
Yes, surely I did. He says that Louis Blanc is a friend of his and
much with him, speaking with enthusiasm. I should be more sorry at
his being involved with the Socialists than with Shylock--still more
sorry; for I love liberty so intensely that I hate Socialism. I hold
it to be the most desecrating and dishonouring to humanity of all
creeds. I would rather (for _me_) live under the absolutism of
Nicholas of Russia than in a Fourier machine, with my individuality
sucked out of me by a social air-pump. Oh, if you happen to write
again to Mrs. Deane, thank her much for her kind anxiety; but, indeed,
if I had lost my darling I should not write verses about it.[202] As
for the Laureateship, it won't be given to _me_, be sure, though the
suggestion has gone the round of the English newspapers--'Galignani'
and all--and notwithstanding that most kind and flattering
recommendation of the 'Athenaeum,' for which I am sure we should
be grateful to Mr. Chorley. I think Leigh Hunt should have the
Laureateship. He has condescended to wish for it, and has 'worn his
singing clothes' longer than most of his contemporaries, deserving
the price of long as well as noble service. Whoever has it will be, of
course, exempted from Court lays; and the distinction of the title and
pension should remain for Spenser's sake, if not for Wordsworth's. We
are very anxious to know about Tennyson's new work, 'In Memoriam.'
Do tell us about it. You are aware that it was written years ago, and
relates to a son of Mr. Hallam, who was Tennyson's intimate friend
and the betrothed of his sister. I have heard, through someone who had
seen the MS., that it is full of beauty and pathos.... Dearest, ever
dear Miss Mitford, speak particularly of your health. May God bless
you, prays

Your ever affectionate
Robert's kindest regards.

[Footnote 202: Referring to the lines entitled _A Child's Grave at
Florence_, which had apparently been misunderstood as implying the
death of Mrs. Browning's own child.]

_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: July 8, 1850.

My dearest Miss Mitford,--I this moment have your note; and as a
packet of ours is going to England, I snatch up a pen to do what I can
with it in the brief moments between this and post time. I don't wait
till it shall be possible to write at length, because I have something
immediate to say to you. Your letter is delightful, yet it is not
for _that_ that I rush so upon answering it. Nor even is it for the
excellent news of your consenting, for dear Mr. Chorley's sake, to
give us some more of your 'papers,'[203] though 'blessed be the hour,
and month, and year' when he set about editing the 'Ladies' Companion'
and persuading you to do such a thing. No, what I want to say is
strictly personal to me. You are the kindest, warmest-hearted, most
affectionate of critics, and precisely as such it is that you have
thrown me into a paroxysm of terror. My dearest friend, _for the
love of me_--I don't argue the point with you--but I beseech you
humbly,--kissing the hem of your garment, and by all sacred and tender
recollections of sympathy between you and me, _don't_ breathe a word
about any juvenile performance of mine--_don't_, if you have any love
left for me. Dear friend, 'disinter' anybody or anything you please,
but don't disinter _me_, unless you mean the ghost of my vexation to
vex you ever after. 'Blessed be she who spares these stones.' All the
saints know that I have enough to answer for since I came to my
mature mind, and that I had difficulty enough in making most of the
'Seraphim' volume presentable a little in my new edition, because it
was too ostensible before the public to be caught back; but if the
sins of my rawest juvenility are to be thrust upon me--and sins are
extant of even twelve or thirteen, or earlier, and I was in print once
when I was ten, I think--what is to become of me? I shall groan
as loud as Christian did. Dearest Miss Mitford, now forgive this
ingratitude which is gratitude all the time. I love you and thank you;
but, right or wrong, mind what I say, and let me love and thank you
still more. When you see my new edition you will see that everything
worth a straw I ever wrote is there, and if there were strength in
conjuration I would conjure you to pass an act of oblivion on the
stubble that remains--if anything does remain, indeed. Now, more than
enough of this. For the rest, I am delighted. I am even so generous as
not to be jealous of Mr. Chorley for prevailing with you when nobody
else could. I had given it up long ago; I never thought you would stir
a pen again. By what charm did he prevail? Your series of papers will
be delightful, I do not doubt; though I never could see anything in
some of your heroes, American or Irish. Longfellow is a poet; I don't
refer to _him_. Still, whatever you say will be worth hearing, and the
_guide_ through 'Pompeii' will be better than many of the ruins. 'The
Pleader's Guide' I never heard of before. Praed has written some
sweet and tender things. Then I shall like to hear you on Beaumont and
Fletcher, and Andrew Marvell.

I have seen nothing of Tennyson's new poem. Do you know if the
echo-song is the most popular of his verses? It is only another proof
to my mind of the no-worth of popularity. That song would be eminently
sweet for a common writer, but Tennyson has done better, surely; his
eminences are to be seen above. As for the laurel, in a sense he is
worthier of it than Leigh Hunt; only Tennyson can wait, that is the
single difference.

So anxious I am about your house. Your health seems to me mainly
to depend on your moving, and I do urge your moving; if not there,
elsewhere. May God bless you, ever dear friend!

I dare say you will think I have given too much importance to the
rococo verses you had the goodness to speak of; but I have a horror of
being disinterred, there's the truth! Leave the violets to grow
over me. Because that wretched school-exercise of a version of the
'Prometheus' had been named by two or three people, wasn't I at the
pains of making a new translation before I left England, so to erase a
sort of half-visible and half invisible 'Blot on the Scutcheon'? After
such an expenditure of lemon-juice, you will not wonder that I should
trouble you with all this talk about nothing....

I am so delighted that you are to lift up your voice again, and so
grateful to Mr. Chorley.

Ah yes, if we go to Paris we shall draw you. Mr. Chorley shan't have
all the triumphs to himself.

Not a word more, says Robert, or the post will be missed. God bless
you! Do take care of yourself, and _don't_ stay in that damp house.
And do make allowances for love.

Your ever affectionate

How glad I shall be if it is true that Tennyson is married! I believe
in the happiness of marriage, for men especially.

[Footnote 203: These are the papers subsequently published under the
title _Recollections of a Literary Life_. Among them was an article
on the Brownings, giving biographical detail with respect to Mrs.
Browning's early life, especially as to the loss of her brother,
which caused extreme pain to her sensitive nature, as a later letter

Through the greater part of the summer of 1850 the Brownings held fast
in Florence, and it was not until September, when Mrs. Browning was
recovering from a rather sharp attack of illness, that they took a
short holiday, going for a few weeks to Siena, a place which they were
again to visit some years later, during the last two summers of Mrs.
Browning's life. The letter announcing their arrival is the first in
the present collection addressed to Miss Isa Blagden. Miss Blagden was
a resident in Florence for many years, and was a prominent member of
English society there. Her friendship, not only with Mrs. Browning,
but with her husband, was of a very intimate character, and was
continued after Mrs. Browning's death until the end of her own life in

_To Miss I. Blagden_
Siena: September [1850].

Here I am keeping my promise, my dear Miss Blagden. We arrived quite
safely, and I was not too tired to sleep at night, though tired of
course, and the baby was a miracle of goodness all the way, only
inclining once to a _rabbia_ through not being able to get at the
electric telegraph, but in ecstasies otherwise at everything new. We
had to stay at the inn all night. We heard of a multitude of villas,
none of which could be caught in time for the daylight. On Sunday,
however, just as we were beginning to give it up, in Robert came with
good news, and we were settled in half an hour afterwards here, a
small house of some seven rooms, two miles from Siena, and situated
delightfully in its own grounds of vineyard and olive ground, not to
boast too much of a pretty little square flower-garden. The grapes
hang in garlands (too tantalising to Wiedeman) about the walls and
before them, and, through and over, we have magnificent views of a
noble sweep of country, undulating hills and various verdure, and,
on one side, the great Maremma extending to the foot of the Roman
mountains. Our villa is on a hill called 'poggio dei venti,' and the
winds give us a turn accordingly at every window. It is delightfully
cool, and I have not been able to bear my window open at night since
our arrival; also we get good milk and bread and eggs and wine, and
are not much at a loss for anything. Think of my forgetting to tell
you (Robert would not forgive me for that) how we have a _specola_ or
sort of belvedere at the top of the house, which he delights in, and
which I shall enjoy presently, when I have recovered my taste for
climbing staircases. He carried me up once, but the being carried
down was so much like being carried down the flue of a chimney, that I
waive the whole privilege for the future. What is better, to my mind,
is the expected fact of being able to get books at Siena--_nearly_ as
well as at Brecker's, really; though Dumas fils seems to fill up many
of the interstices where you think you have found something.
_Three_ pauls a month, the subscription is; and for seven, we get a
'Galignani,' or are promised to get it. We pay for our villa ten scudi
the month, so that altogether it is not ruinous. The air is as fresh
as English air, without English dampness and transition; yes, and
we have English lanes with bowery tops of trees, and brambles and
blackberries, and not a wall anywhere, except the walls of our villa.

For my part, I am recovering strength, I hope and believe. Certainly
I can move about from one room to another, without reeling much: but
I still look so ghastly, as to 'back recoil,' perfectly knowing 'Why,'
from everything in the shape of a looking glass. Robert has found an
armchair for me at Siena. To say the truth, my time for enjoying this
country life, except the enchanting silence and the look from the
window, has not come yet: I must wait for a little more strength.
Wiedeman's cheeks are beginning to redden already, and he delights
in the pigeons and the pig and the donkey and a great yellow dog and
everything else now; only he would change all your trees (except the
apple trees), he says, for the Austrian band at any moment. He is
rather a town baby....

Our drawback is, dear Miss Blagden, that we have not room to take you
in. So sorry we both are indeed. Write and tell me whether you have
decided about Vallombrosa. I hope we shall see much of you still at
Florence, if not here. We could give you everything here except a bed.

Robert's kindest regards with those of
Your ever affectionate

My love to Miss Agassiz, whenever you see her.

_To Miss Mitford_
Siena: September 24, 1850.

To think that it is more than two months since I wrote last to you, my
beloved friend, makes the said two months seem even longer to me than
otherwise they would necessarily be--a slow, heavy two months in every
case, 'with all the weights of care and death hung at them.' Your
letter reached me when I was confined to my bed, and could scarcely
read it, for all the strength at my heart.... As soon as I could be
moved, and before I could walk from one room to another, Dr. Harding
insisted on the necessity of change of air (for my part, I seemed to
myself more fit to change the world than the air), and Robert carried
me into the railroad like a baby, and off we came here to Siena. We
took a villa a mile and _a_ half from the town, a villa situated on a
windy hill (called 'poggio al vento'), with magnificent views from
all the windows, and set in the midst of its own vineyard and olive
ground, apple trees and peach trees, not to speak of a little square
flower-garden, for which we pay _eleven shillings one penny
farthing the week_; and at the end of these three weeks, our medical
comforter's prophecy, to which I listened so incredulously, is
fulfilled, and I am able to walk a mile, and am really as well as ever
in all essential respects.... Our poor little darling, too (see
what disasters!), was ill four-and-twenty hours from a species of
sunstroke, and frightened us with a heavy hot head and glassy staring
eyes, lying in a half-stupor. Terrible, the silence that fell suddenly
upon the house, without the small pattering feet and the singing
voice. But God spared us; he grew quite well directly and sang louder
than ever. Since we came here his cheeks have turned into roses....

What still further depressed me during our latter days at Florence
was the dreadful event in America--the loss of our poor friend Madame
Ossoli,[204] affecting in itself, and also through association with
that past, when the arrowhead of anguish was broken too deeply into my
life ever to be quite drawn out. Robert wanted to keep the news
from me till I was stronger, but we live too _close_ for him to keep
anything from me, and then I should have known it from the first
letter or visitor, so there was no use trying. The poor Ossolis spent
part of their last evening in Italy with us, he and she and their
child, and we had a note from her off Gibraltar, speaking of the
captain's death from smallpox. Afterwards it appears that her
child caught the disease and lay for days between life and death;
_recovered_, and then came the final agony. 'Deep called unto deep,'
indeed. Now she is where there is no more grief and 'no more sea;' and
none of the restless in this world, none of the ship-wrecked in heart
ever seemed to me to want peace more than she did. We saw much of her
last winter; and over a great gulf of differing opinion we both felt
drawn strongly to her. High and pure aspiration she had--yes, and a
tender woman's heart--and we honoured the truth and courage in her,
rare in woman or man. The work she was preparing upon Italy would
probably have been more equal to her faculty than anything previously
produced by her pen (her other writings being curiously inferior to
the impressions her conversation gave you); indeed, she told me it was
the only production to which she had given time and labour. But,
if rescued, the manuscript would be nothing but the raw material. I
believe nothing was finished; nor, if finished, could the work
have been otherwise than deeply coloured by those blood colours of
Socialistic views, which would have drawn the wolves on her, with a
still more howling enmity, both in England and America. Therefore it
was better for her to go. Only God and a few friends can be expected
to distinguish between the pure personality of a woman and her
professed opinions. She was chiefly known in America, I believe, by
oral lectures and a connection with the newspaper press, neither of
them happy means of publicity. Was she happy in anything, I wonder?
She told me that she never was. May God have made her happy in her

Such gloom she had in leaving Italy! So full she was of sad
presentiment! Do you know she gave a _Bible_ as a parting gift
from her child to ours, writing in it '_In memory of_ Angelo Eugene

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