Part 9 out of 9
Ossoli'--a strange, prophetical expression? That last evening a
prophecy was talked of jestingly--an old prophecy made to poor Marquis
Ossoli, 'that he should shun the sea, for that it would be fatal to
him.' I remember how she turned to me smiling and said, 'Our ship is
called the "Elizabeth," and I accept the omen.'
Now I am making you almost dull perhaps, and myself certainly duller.
Rather let me tell you, dearest Miss Mitford, how delightedly I look
forward to reading whatever you have written or shall write. You write
'as well as twenty years ago'! Why, I should think so, indeed. Don't I
know what your letters are? Haven't I had faith in you always? Haven't
I, in fact, teased you half to death in proof of it? I, who was a sort
of Brutus, and oughtn't to have done it, you hinted. Moreover, Robert
is a great admirer of yours, as I must have told you before, and has
the pretension (unjustly though, as I tell _him_) to place you still
higher among writers than I do, so that we are two in expectancy here.
May Mr. Chorley's periodical live a thousand years!
As my 'Seagull' won't, but you will find it in my new edition, and the
'Doves' and everything else worth a straw of my writing. Here's a
fact which you must try to settle with your theories of simplicity and
popularity: _None of these simple poems of mine have been favorites
with general readers_. The unintelligible ones are always preferred, I
observe, by extracters, compilers, and ladies and gentlemen who write
to tell me that I'm a muse. The very Corn Law Leaguers in the North
used to leave your 'Seagulls' to fly where they could, and clap hands
over mysteries of iniquity. Dearest Miss Mitford--for the rest, don't
mistake what I write to you sometimes--don't fancy that I undervalue
simplicity and think nothing of legitimate fame--I only mean to say
that the vogue which begins with the masses generally comes to nought
(Beranger is an exceptional case, from the _form_ of his poems,
obviously), while the appreciation beginning with the few always ends
with the masses. Wasn't Wordsworth, for instance, both simple and
unpopular, when he was most divine? To go to the great from the small,
when I complain of the lamentable weakness of much in my 'Seraphim'
volume, I don't complain of the 'Seagull' and 'Doves' and the simple
verses, but exactly of the more ambitious ones. I have had to rewrite
pages upon pages of that volume. Oh, such feeble rhymes, and turns of
thought--such a dingy mistiness! Even Robert couldn't say a word for
much of it. I took great pains with the whole, and made considerable
portions new, only your favourites were not touched--not a word
touched, I think, in the 'Seagull,' and scarcely a word in the
'Doves.' You won't complain of me a great deal, I do hope and trust.
Also I put back your 'little words' into the 'House of Clouds.' The
two volumes are to come out, it appears, at the end of October; not
before, because Mr. Chapman wished to inaugurate them for his new
house in Piccadilly. There are some new poems, and one rather long
ballad written at request of anti-slavery friends in America.
I arranged that it should come next to the 'Cry of the Children,' to
appear impartial as to national grievances....
Oh--Balzac--what a loss! One of the greatest and (most) original
writers of the age gone from us! To hear this news made Robert and me
very melancholy. Indeed, there seems to be fatality just now with the
writers of France. Soulie, Bernard, gone too; George Sand translating
Mazzini; Sue in a socialistical state of decadence--what he means
by writing such trash as the 'Peches' I really can't make out; only
Alexandre Dumas keeping his head up gallantly, and he seems to me to
write better than ever. Here is a new book, just published, by
Jules Sandeau, called 'Sacs et Parchemins'! Have you seen it? It
miraculously comes to us from the little Siena library.
We stay in this villa till our month is out, and then we go for a week
into Siena that I may be nearer the churches and pictures, and see
something of the cathedral and Sodomas. We calculated that it was
cheaper to move our quarters than to have a carriage to and fro, and
then Dr. Harding recommended repeated change of air for me, and he has
proved his ability so much (so kindly too!) that we are bound to
act on his opinions as closely as we can. Perhaps we may even go to
Volterra afterwards, if the _finances_ will allow of it. If we do, it
may be for another week at farthest, and then we return to Florence.
You had better direct there as usual. And do write and tell me much of
yourself, and set _me_ down in your thoughts as quite well, and ever
yours in warm and grateful affection.
[Footnote 204: Drowned with her husband on their way to America.]
[Footnote 205: _The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point_.]
_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: November 13, 1850 [postmark].
I _meant_ to cross your second letter, and so, my very dear friend,
you are a second time a prophetess as to my intentions, while I
am still more grateful than I could have been with the literal
fulfilment. Delightful it is to hear from you--do always write when
you can. And though this second letter speaks of your having been
unwell, still I shall continue to flatter myself that upon the whole
'the better part prevails,' and that if the rains don't wash you away
this winter, I may have leave to think of you as strengthening and to
strengthen still. Meanwhile you certainly, as you say, have roots to
your feet. Never was anyone so pure as you from the drop of gypsey
blood which tingles in my veins and my husband's, and gives us every
now and then a fever for roaming, strong enough to carry us to Mount
Caucasus if it were not for the healthy state of depletion observable
in the purse. I get fond of places, so does he. We both of us grew
rather pathetical on leaving our Sienese villa, and shrank from
parting with the pig. But setting out on one's travels has a great
charm; oh, I should like to be able to pay our way down the Nile, and
into Greece, and into Germany, and into Spain! Every now and then
we take out the road-books, calculate the expenses, and groan in the
spirit when it's proved for the hundredth time that we can't do
it. One must have a home, you see, to keep one's books in and one's
spring-sofas in; but the charm of a home is a home _to come back to_.
Do you understand? No, not you! You have as much comprehension of the
pleasure of 'that sort of thing' as in the peculiar taste of the
three ladies who hung themselves in a French balloon the other
day, operatically _nude_, in order, I conjecture, to the ultimate
perfection of French delicacy in morals and manners....
I long to see your papers, and dare say they are charming. At the same
time, just because they are sure to be charming (and notwithstanding
their kindness to me, notwithstanding that I live in a glass house
myself, warmed by such rare stoves!) I am a little in fear that your
generosity and excess of kindness may run the risk of lowering the
ideal of poetry in England by lifting above the mark the names of some
poetasters. Do you know, you take up your heart sometimes by mistake,
to admire with, when you ought to use it only to love with? and this
is apt to be dangerous, with your reputation and authority in matters
of literature. See how impertinent I am! But we should all take care
to teach the world that poetry is a divine thing, should we not? that
is, not mere verse-making, though the verses be pretty in their way.
Rather perish every verse _I_ ever wrote, for one, than help to drag
down an inch that standard of poetry which, for the sake of humanity
as well as literature, should be kept high. As for simplicity and
clearness, did I ever deny that they were excellent qualities? Never,
surely. Only, they will not _make_ poetry; and absolutely vain they
are, and indeed all other qualities, without the essential thing,
the genius, the inspiration, the insight--let us call it what we
please--without which the most accomplished verse-writers had far
better write prose, for their own sakes as for the world's--don't you
think so? Which I say, because I sighed aloud over many names in your
list, and now have taken pertly to write out the sigh at length. Too
charmingly you are sure to have written--and see the danger! But Miss
Fanshawe is well worth your writing of (let me say that I am sensible
warmly of that) as one of the most witty of our wits in verse, men or
women. I have only seen manuscript copies of some of her verses, and
that years ago, but they struck me very much; and really I do not
remember another female wit worthy to sit beside her, even in French
literature. Motherwell is a true poet. But oh, I don't believe in your
John Clares, Thomas Davises, Whittiers, Hallocks--and still less in
other names which it would be invidious to name again. How pert I am!
But you give me leave to be pert, and you know the meaning of it all,
after all. Your editor quarrelled a little with me once, and I with
him, about the 'poetesses of the united empire,' in whom I couldn't or
wouldn't find a poet, though there are extant two volumes of them, and
Lady Winchilsea at the head. I hold that the writer of the ballad of
'Robin Gray' was our first poetess rightly so called, before Joanna
Mr. Lever is in Florence, I believe, now, and was at the Baths of
Lucca in the summer. We never see him; it is curious. He made his way
to us with the sunniest of faces and cordialest of manners at Lucca;
and I, who am much taken by manner, was quite pleased with him, and
wondered how it was that I didn't like his books. Well, he only
wanted to see that we had the right number of eyes and no odd fingers.
Robert, in return for his visit, called on him three times, I think,
and I left my card on Mrs. Lever. But he never came again--he had
seen enough of us, he could put down in his private diary that we had
neither claw nor tail; and there an end, properly enough. In fact,
he lives a different life from ours: he in the ballroom and we in the
cave, nothing could be more different; and perhaps there are not many
subjects of common interest between us. I have seen extracts in
the 'Examiner' from Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' which seemed to me
exquisitely beautiful and pathetical. Oh, there's a poet, talking of
poets. Have you read Wordsworth's last work--the legacy? With regard
to the elder Miss Jewsbury, do you know, I take Mr. Chorley's part
against you, because, although I know her only by her writings, the
writings seem to me to imply a certain vigour and originality of mind,
by no means ordinary. For instance, the fragments of her letters in
his 'Memorials of Mrs. Hemans' are much superior to any other letters
almost in the volume--certainly to Mrs. Hemans's own. Isn't this so?
And so you talk, you in England, of Prince Albert's 'folly,' do you
really? Well, among the odd things we lean to in Italy is to an actual
belief in the greatness and importance of the future exhibition.
We have actually imagined it to be a noble idea, and you take me by
surprise in speaking of the general distaste to it in England. Is
it really possible? For the agriculturists, I am less surprised at
coldness on their part; but do you fancy that the manufacturers and
free-traders are cold too? Is Mr. Chorley against it equally? Yes, I
am glad to hear of Mrs. Butler's success--or Fanny Kemble's, ought I
to say? Our little Wiedeman, who can't speak a word yet, waxes hotter
in his ecclesiastical and musical passion. Think of that baby (just
cutting his eyeteeth) screaming in the streets till he is taken into
the churches, kneeling on his knees to the first sound of music, and
folding his hands and turning up his eyes in a sort of ecstatical
state. One scarcely knows how to deal with the sort of thing: it is
too soon for religious controversy. He crosses himself, I assure you.
Robert says it is as well to have the eyeteeth and the Puseyistical
crisis over together. The child is a very curious imaginative child,
but too excitable for his age, that's all I complain of ... God bless
you, my much loved friend. Write to
Your ever affectionate
What books by Soulie have appeared since his death? Do you remember?
I have just got 'Les Enfants de l'Amour,' by Sue. I suppose he will
prove in it the illegitimacy of legitimacy, and _vice versa_. Sue is
in decided decadence, for the rest, since he has taken to illustrating
_To Miss I. Blagden_
[Florence:] Sunday morning [about 1850].
My dear Miss Blagden,--In spite of all your _drawing_ kindness, we
find it impossible to go to you on Monday. We are expecting friends
from Rome who will remain only a few days, perhaps, in Florence. Now
it seems to me that you very often pass our door. Do you not too often
leave the trace of your goodness with me? And would it not be better
of you still, if you would at once make use of us and give us pleasure
by pausing here, you and Miss Agassiz, to rest and refresh yourselves
with tea, coffee, or whatever else you may choose? We shall be
delighted to see you always, and don't fancy that I say so out of form
or 'tinkling cymbalism.'
Thank you for your intention about the 'Leader.' Robert and I shall
like much to see anything of John Mill's on the subject of Socialism
or any other. By the 'British Review,' do you mean the _North
British_? I read a clever article in that review some months ago on
the German Socialists, ably embracing in its analysis the fraternity
in France, and attributed, I have since heard, to Dr. Hanna, the
son-in-law and biographer of Chalmers. Christian Socialists are by no
means a new sect, the Moravians representing the theory with as
little offence and absurdity as may be. What is it, after all, but an
out-of-door extension of the monastic system? The religious principle,
more or less apprehended, may bind men together so, absorbing their
individualities, and presenting an aim _beyond the world_; but upon
merely human and earthly principles no such system can stand, I feel
persuaded, and I thank God for it. If Fourierism could be realised
(which it surely cannot) out of a dream, the destinies of our race
would shrivel up under the unnatural heat, and human nature would,
in my mind, be desecrated and dishonored--because I do not believe
in purification without suffering, in progress without struggle, in
virtue without temptation. Least of all do I consider happiness the
end of man's life. We look to higher things, have nobler ambitions.
Also, in every advancement of the world hitherto, the individual has
led the masses. Thus, to elicit individuality has been the object of
the best political institutions and governments. Now, in these new
theories, the individual is ground down into the multitude, and
society must be 'moving all together if it moves at all'--restricting
the very possibility of progress by the use of the lights of genius.
Genius is _always individual_.
Here's a scribble upon grave matters! I ought to be acknowledging
instead your scrupulous honesty, as illustrated by five-franc pieces
and Tuscan florins. Make us as useful as you can do, for the future;
and please us by coming often. I am afraid your German Baroness could
not make an arrangement with you, as you do not mention her. Give
our best regards to Miss Agassiz, and accept them yourself, dear Miss
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
_To Mr. Westwood_
Florence: Thursday, December 12, 1850.
My dear Mr. Westwood,--Your book has not reached us yet, and so if I
waited for that, to write, I might wait longer still. But I don't wait
for that, because you bade me not to do so, and besides we have only
this moment finished reading 'In Memoriam,' and it was a sort of
miracle with us that we got it so soon....
_December_ 13.--The above sentences were written yesterday, and hardly
had they been written when your third letter came with its enclosure.
How very kind you are to me, and how am I to thank you enough! If you
had not sent me the 'Athenaeum' article I never should have seen it
probably, for my husband only saw it in the reading room, where women
don't penetrate (because in Italy we can't read, you see), and where
the periodicals are kept so strictly, like Hesperian apples, by the
dragons of the place, that none can be stolen away even for half an
hour. So he could only wish me to catch sight of that article--and you
are good enough to send it and oblige us both exceedingly. For which
kindness thank you, thank you! The favor shown to me in it is extreme,
and I am as grateful as I ought to be. Shall I ask the 'Note and
Query' magazine why the 'Athenaeum' does show me so much favor, while,
as in a late instance, so little justice is shown to my husband? It's
a problem, like another. As for poetry, I hope to do better things
in it yet, though I _have_ a child to 'stand in my sunshine,' as you
suppose he must; but he only makes the sunbeams brighter with his
glistening curls, little darling--and who can complain of that? You
can't think what a good, sweet, curious, imagining child he is. Half
the day I do nothing but admire him--there's the truth. He doesn't
talk yet much, but he gesticulates with extraordinary force of
symbol, and makes surprising revelations to us every half-hour or so.
Meanwhile Flush loses nothing, I assure you. On the contrary, he is
hugged and kissed (rather too hard sometimes), and never is permitted
to be found fault with by anybody under the new _regime_. If Flush is
scolded, Baby cries as matter of course, and he would do admirably for
a 'whipping-boy' if that excellent institution were to be revived by
Young England and the Tractarians for the benefit of our deteriorated
generations. I was ill towards the end of last summer, and we had to
go to Siena for the sake of getting strength again, and there we lived
in a villa among a sea of little hills, and wrapt up in vineyards
and olive yards, enjoying everything. Much the worst of Italy is, the
drawback about books. Somebody said the other day that we 'sate here
like posterity'--reading books with the gloss off them. But our case
in reality is far more dreary, seeing that Prince Posterity will have
glossy books of his own. How exquisite 'In Memoriam' is, how earnest
and true; after all, the gloss never can wear off books like that.
And as to your book, it will come, it will come, and meantime I may
assure you that posterity is very impatient for it. The Italian poem
will be read with the interest which is natural. You know it's a
more than doubtful point whether Shakespeare ever saw Italy out of
a vision, yet he and a crowd of inferior writers have written about
Venice and vineyards as if born to the manner of them. We hear of
Carlyle travelling in France and Germany--but I must leave room for
the words you ask for from a certain hand below.
Ever dear Mr. Westwood's obliged and faithful
And the 'certain hand' will write its best (and far better than any
poor 'Pippa Passes') in recording a feeling which does not pass at
all, that of gratitude for all such generous sympathy as dear Mr.
Westwood's for E.B.B. and (in his proper degree) R. BROWNING.
_To Miss Mitford_
Florence: December 13, 1850.
_Did_ I write a scolding letter, dearest Miss Mitford? So much the
better, when people deserve to be scolded. The worst is, however,
that it sometimes does them no sort of good, and that they will sit
on among the ruins of Carthage, let ever so many messages come from
Italy. My only hope now is, that you will have a mild winter in
England, as we seem likely to have it here; and that in the spring,
by the help of some divine interposition of friends supernaturally
endowed (after the manner of Mr. Chorley), you may be made to go away
into a house with fast walls and chimneys. Certainly, if you could be
made to _write_, anything else is possible. That's my comfort. And
the other's my hope, as I said; and so between hope and consolation
I needn't scold any more. Let me tell you what I have heard of Mrs.
Gaskell, for fear I should forget it later. She is connected by
marriage with Mrs. A.T. Thompson, and from a friend of Mrs. Thompson's
it came to me, and really seems to exonerate Chapman & Hall from the
charge advanced against them. 'Mary Barton' was shown in manuscript
to Mrs. Thompson, and failed to please her; and, in deference to her
judgment, certain alterations were made. Subsequently it was offered
to all or nearly all the publishers in London and rejected. Chapman
& Hall accepted and gave a hundred pounds, as you heard, for the
copyright of the work; and though the success did not, perhaps (that
is quite possible), induce any liberality with regard to copies, they
gave _another hundred pounds_ upon printing the second edition, and
it was not in the bond to do so. I am told that the liberality of
the proceeding was appreciated by the author and her friends
accordingly--and there's the end of my story. Two hundred pounds is a
good price--isn't it?--for a novel, as times go. Miss Lynn had only
a hundred and fifty for her Egyptian novel, or perhaps for the Greek
one. Taking the long run of poetry (if it runs at all), I am half
given to think that it pays better than the novel does, in spite of
everything. Not that we speak out of golden experience; alas, no! We
have had not a sou from our books for a year past, the booksellers
being bound of course to cover their own expenses first. Then this
Christmas account has not yet reached us. But the former editions paid
us regularly so much a year, and so will the present ones, I hope.
Only I was not thinking of _them_, in preferring what may strike you
as an extravagant paradox, but of Tennyson's returns from Moxon last
year, which I understand amounted to five hundred pounds. To be
sure, 'In Memoriam' was a new success, which should not prevent our
considering the fact of a regular income proceeding from the previous
books. A novel flashes up for a season and does not often outlast it.
For 'Mary Barton' I am a little, little disappointed, do you know. I
have just done reading it. There is power and truth--she can shake and
she can pierce--but I wish half the book away, it is so tedious
every now and then; and besides I want more beauty, more air from the
universal world--these classbooks must always be defective as works
of art. How could I help being disappointed a little when Mrs. Jameson
told me that 'since the "Bride of Lammermoor," nothing had appeared
equal to "Mary Barton"?' Then the style of the book is slovenly,
and given to a kind of phraseology which would be vulgar even as
colloquial English. Oh, it is a powerful book in many ways. You are
not to set me down as hypercritical. Probably the author will, write
herself clear of many of her faults: she has strength enough. As to
'In Memoriam,' I have seen it, I have read it--dear Mr. Kenyon had the
goodness to send it to me by an American traveller--and now I really
do disagree with you, for the book has gone to my heart and soul;
I think it full of deep pathos and beauty. All I wish away is
the marriage hymn at the end, and _that_ for every reason I wish
away--it's a discord in the music. The monotony is a part of the
position--(the sea is monotonous, and so is lasting grief.) Your
complaint is against fate and humanity rather than against the poet
Tennyson. Who that has suffered has not felt wave after wave
break dully against one rock, till brain and heart, with all their
radiances, seemed lost in a single shadow? So the effect of the book
is artistic, I think, and indeed I do not wonder at the opinion which
has reached us from various quarters that Tennyson stands higher
through having written it. You see, what he appeared to want,
according to the view of many, was an earnest personality and direct
purpose. In this last book, though of course there is not room in it
for that exercise of creative faculty which elsewhere established
his fame, he appeals heart to heart, directly as from his own to the
universal heart, and we all feel him nearer to us--_I_ do--and so
do others. Have you read a poem called 'the Roman' which was praised
highly in the 'Athenaeum,' but did not seem to Robert to justify the
praise in the passages extracted? written by somebody with certainly
a _nom de guerre_--Sidney Yendys. Observe, _Yendys_ is _Sidney_
reversed. Have you heard anything about it, or seen? The 'Athenaeum'
has been gracious to me beyond gratitude almost; nothing could by
possibility be kinder. A friend of mine sent me the article from
Brussels--a Mr. Westwood, who writes poems himself; yes, and poetical
poems too, written with an odorous, fresh sense of poetry about them.
He has not original power, more's the pity: but he has stayed near the
rose in the 'sweet breath and buddings of the spring,' and although
that won't make anyone live beyond spring-weather, it is the
expression of a sensitive and aspirant nature; and the man is
interesting and amiable--an old correspondent of mine, and kind to me
always. From the little I know of Mr. Bennett, I should say that Mr.
Westwood stood much higher in the matter of gifts, though I fear
that neither of them will make way in that particular department of
literature selected by them for action. Oh, my dearest friend, you may
talk about coteries, but the English society at Florence (from what I
hear of the hum of it at a distance) is worse than any coterie-society
in the world. A coterie, if I understand the thing, is informed by a
unity of sentiment, or faith, or prejudice; but this society here is
not informed at all. People come together to gamble or dance, and if
there's an end, why so much the better; but there's _not_ an end
in most cases, by any manner of means, and against every sort
of innocence. Mind, I imply nothing about Mr. Lever, who lives
irreproachably with his wife and family, rides out with his children
in a troop of horses to the Cascine, and yet is as social a person
as his joyous temperament leads him to be. But we live in a cave, and
peradventure he is afraid of the damp of us--who knows? We know very
few residents in Florence, and these, with chance visitors, chiefly
Americans, are all that keep us from solitude; every now and then in
the evening somebody drops in to tea. Would, indeed, you were near!
but should I be satisfied with you 'once a week,' do you fancy. Ah,
you would soon love Robert. You couldn't help it, I am sure. I should
be soon turned down to an underplace, and, under the circumstances,
would not struggle. Do you remember once telling me that 'all men are
tyrants'?--as sweeping an opinion as the Apostle's, that 'all men
are liars.' Well, if you knew Robert you would make an exception
certainly. Talking of the artistical English here, somebody told me
the other day of a young Cambridge or Oxford man who deducted from
his researches in Rome and Florence that 'Michael Angelo was a wag.'
Another, after walking through the Florentine galleries, exclaimed to
a friend of mine, 'I have seen nothing here equal to those magnificent
pictures in Paris by Paul de Kock.' My friend humbly suggested that he
might mean Paul de la Roche. But see what English you send us for
the most part. We have had one very interesting visitor lately, the
grandson of Goethe. He did us the honour, he said, of spending two
days in Florence on our account, he especially wishing to see Robert
on account of some sympathy of view about 'Paracelsus.' There can
scarcely be a more interesting young man--quite young he seems, and
full of aspiration of the purest kind towards the good and true and
beautiful, and not towards the poor laurel crowns attainable from
any possible public. I don't know when I have been so charmed by a
visitor, and indeed Robert and I paid him the highest compliment we
could, by wishing, one to another, that our little Wiedeman might be
like him some day. I quite agree with you about the church of your
Henry. It surprises me that a child of seven years should find
pleasure even once a day in the long English service--too long,
according to my doxy, for matured years. As to fanaticism, it depends
on a defect of intellect rather than on an excess of the adoring
faculty. The latter cannot, I think, be too fully developed. How I
shall like you to see our Wiedeman! He is a radiant little creature,
really, yet he won't talk; he does nothing but gesticulate, only
making his will and pleasure wonderfully clear and supreme, I assure
you. He's a tyrant, ready made for your theory. If your book is
'better than I expect,' what will it be? God bless you! Be well, and
love me, and write to me, for I am your ever affectionate
_To Mrs. Martin_
Florence: January 30, 1851.
Here I am at last, dearest friend. But you forget how you told me,
when you wrote your 'long letter,' that you were going away into chaos
somewhere, and that your address couldn't be known yet. It was this
which made me delay the answer to that welcome letter--and to begin
to 'put off' is fatal, as perhaps you know. Now forgive me, and I will
behave better in future, indeed....
I am quite well, and looking well, they say; but the frightful
illness of the autumn left me paler and thinner long after the perfect
recovery. The physician told Robert afterwards that few women would
have recovered at all; and when I left Siena I was as able to
walk, and as well in every respect as ever, notwithstanding
everything--think, for instance, of my walking to St. Miniato, here
in Florence! You remember, perhaps, what that pull is. I dare say you
heard from Henrietta how we enjoyed our rustication at Siena. It is
pleasant even to look back on it. We were obliged to look narrowly
at the economies, more narrowly than usual; but the cheapness of the
place suited the occasion, and the little villa, like a mere tent
among the vines, charmed us, though the doors didn't shut, and though
(on account of the smallness) Robert and I had to whisper all our talk
whenever Wiedeman was asleep. Oh, I wish you were in Italy. I wish
you had come here this winter which has been so mild, and which, with
ordinary prudence, would certainly have suited dear Mr. Martin.... I
tried to dissuade the Peytons from making the experiment, through the
fear of its not answering.... We can't get them into society, you
see, because we are out of it, having struggled to keep out of it
with hands and feet, and partially having succeeded, knowing scarcely
anybody except bringers of letters of introduction, and those chiefly
Americans and not residents in Florence. The other day, however, Mrs.
Trollope and her daughter-in-law called on us, and it is settled that
we are to know them; though Robert had made a sort of vow never to
sit in the same room with the author of certain books directed against
liberal institutions and Victor Hugo's poetry. I had a longer battle
to fight, on the matter of this vow, than any since my marriage, and
had some scruples at last of taking advantage of the pure goodness
which induced him to yield to my wishes; but I _did_, because I hate
to seem ungracious and unkind to people; and human beings, besides,
are better than their books, than their principles, and even than
their everyday actions, sometimes. I am always crying out: 'Blessed be
the inconsistency of men.' Then I thought it probable that, the first
shock of the cold water being over, he would like the proposed new
acquaintances very much--and so it turns out. She was very agreeable,
and kind, and good-natured, and talked much about _you_, which was
a charm of itself; and we mean to be quite friends, and to lend
each other books, and to forget one another's offences, in print or
otherwise. Also, she admits us on her private days; for she has public
days (dreadful to relate!), and is in the full flood and flow of
Florentine society. Do write to me, will you? or else I shall set
you down as vexed with me. The state of politics here is dismal.
Newspapers put down; Protestant places of worship shut up. It is so
bad that it must soon be better. What are you both thinking of the
'Papal aggression'? 'Are you frightened? Are you frenzied? For my
part I can't get up much steam about it. The 'Great Insult' was simply
a great mistake, the consequence (natural enough) of the Tractarian
idiocies as enacted in Italy.
God bless both of you, dearest and always remembered friends! Robert's
best regards, he says.
Tell me your thoughts about France. I am so anxious about the crisis
there. We have had a very interesting visit lately from the
grandson of Goethe.
[Footnote 206: The Papal Bull appointing Roman Catholic bishops
throughout England was issued on September 24, 1850, and England was
now in the throes of the anti-papal excitement produced by it.]
[Footnote 207: "Where Louis Napoleon was engaged in his series of
encroachments on the power of the Assembly and intrigues for the
_To Miss Browning_
Florence: April 23, 1851 [postmark].
My dearest Sarianna,--I do hope that Robert takes his share of the
blame in using and abusing you as we have done. It was altogether too
bad--shameful--to send that last MS. for you to copy out; and I did,
indeed, make a little outcry about it, only he insisted on having it
so. Was it very wrong, I wonder? Your kindness and affectionateness I
never doubt of; but if you are not quite strong just now, you might be
teased, in spite of your heart, by all that copying work--not pleasant
at any time. Well, believe that I thank you, at least gratefully, for
what you have done. So quickly too! The advertisement at the end
of the week proves how you must have worked for me. Thank you, dear
Robert will have told you our schemes, and how we are going to work,
and are to love you _near_ for the future, I hope. You, who are wise,
will approve of us, I think, for keeping on our Florentine apartment,
so as to run no more risk than is necessary in making the Paris
experiment. We shall let the old dear rooms, and make money by them,
and keep them to fall back upon, in case we fail at Paris. 'But
we'll not fail.' Well, I hope not, though I am very brittle still and
susceptible to climate. Dearest Sarianna, it will do you infinite
good to come over to us every now and then--you want change, absolute
change of scene and air and climate, I am confident; and you never
will be right till you have had it. We talk, Robert and I, of carrying
you back with us to Rome next year as an English trophy. Meanwhile you
will see Wiedeman, you and dear Mr. Browning. Don't expect to see a
baby of Anak, that's all. Robert is always measuring him on the door,
and reporting such wonderful growth (some inch a week, I think), that
if you receive his reports you will cry out on beholding the child. At
least, you'll say: 'How little he must have been to be no larger now.'
You'll fancy he must have begun from a mustard-seed! The fact is, he
is small, only full of life and joy to the brim. I am not afraid of
your not loving him, nor of his not loving you. He has a loving little
heart, I assure you. If anyone pricks a finger with a needle he begins
to cry--he can't bear to see the least living thing hurt. And when
he loves, it is well. Robert says I must finish, so here ends dearest
Ever affectionate sister
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