The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
by Frederic G. Kenyon
Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Footnotes |
It is now time to tell the story of the romance which, during the last eighteen months, had entered into Elizabeth Barrett's life, and was destined to divert its course into new and happier channels. It is a story which fills one of the brightest pages in English literary history.
The foregoing letters have shown something of Miss Barrett's admiration for the poetry of Robert Browning, and contain allusions to the beginning of their personal acquaintance. Her knowledge of his poetry dates back to the appearance of 'Paracelsus,' not to 'Pauline,' of which there is no mention in her letters, and which had been practically withdrawn from circulation by the author. Her personal acquaintance with him was of much later date, and was directly due to the publication of the 'Poems' in 1844. Chancing to express his admiration of them to Mr. Kenyon, who had been his friend since 1839 and his father's school-fellow in years long distant, Mr. Browning was urged by him to write to Miss Barrett himself, and tell her of his pleasure in her work. Possibly the allusion to him in 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship' may have been felt as furnishing an excuse for addressing her; however that may be, he took Mr. Kenyon's advice, and in January 1845 we find Miss Barrett in 'ecstasies' over a letter (evidently the first) from 'Browning the poet, Browning the author of "Paracelsus" and king of the mystics' (see p. 236, above).
The correspondence, once begun, continued to flourish, and in the course of the same month Miss Barrett tells Mrs. Martin that she is 'getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet and mystic; and we are growing to be the truest of friends.' At the end of May, when the return of summer brought her a renewal of strength, they met face to face for the first time; and from that time Robert Browning was included in the small list of privileged friends who were admitted to visit her in person.
How this friendship ripened into love, and love into courtship, it is not for us to inquire too closely. Something has been told already in Mrs. Orr's 'Life of Robert Browning;' something more is told in the long and most interesting letter which stands first in the present chapter. More precious than either is the record of her fluctuating feelings which Mrs. Browning has enshrined for ever in her 'Sonnets from the Portuguese,' and in the handful of other poems—'Life and Love,' 'A Denial,' 'Proof and Disproof,' 'Inclusions,' 'Insufficiency,' which likewise belong to this period and describe its hesitations, its sorrows and its overwhelming joys. In the difficult circumstances under which they were placed, the conduct of both was without reproach. Mr. Browning knew that he was asking to be allowed to take charge of an invalid's life—believed indeed that she was even worse than was really the case, and that she was hopelessly incapacitated from ever standing on her feet—but was sure enough of his love to regard that as no obstacle. Miss Barrett, for her part, shrank from burdening the life of the man she loved with a responsibility so trying and perhaps so painful, and refused his unchanging devotion for his sake, not for her own.
The situation was complicated by the character of Mr. Barrett, and by the certainty—for such it was to his daughter—that he would refuse to entertain the idea of her marriage, or, indeed, that of any of his children. The truth of this view was absolutely vindicated not only in the case of Elizabeth, but also in those of two others of the family in later years. The reasons for his feeling it is probable he could not have explained to himself. He was fond of his family after his own fashion—proud, too, of his daughter's genius; but he could not, it would seem, regard them in any other light than as belonging to himself. The wish to leave his roof and to enter into new relations was looked upon as unfilial treachery; and no argument or persuasion could shake him from his fixed idea. So long as this disposition could be regarded as the result of a devoted love of his children, it could be accepted with respect, if not with full acquiescence; but circumstances brought the proof that this was not the case, and thereby ultimately paved the way to Elizabeth's marriage.
These circumstances are stated in several of her letters, and alluded to in several others, but it may help to the understanding of them if a brief summary be given here. In the autumn of 1845, as described above, Miss Barrett's doctors advised her to winter abroad. The advice was strongly pressed, as offering a good prospect of a real improvement of health, and as the only way of avoiding the annual relapse brought on by the English winter. One or more of her brothers could have gone with her, and she was willing and able to try the experiment; but in face of this express medical testimony, Mr. Barrett interposed a refusal. This indifference to her health naturally wounded Miss Barrett very deeply; but it also gave her the right of taking her fate into her own hands. Convinced at last that no refusal on her part could alter Mr. Browning's devotion to her, and that marriage with him, so far from being an increase of risk to her health, offered the only means by which she might hope for an improvement in it, she gave him the conditional promise that if she came safely through the then impending winter, she would consent to a definite engagement.
The winter of 1845-6 was an exceptionally mild one, and she suffered less than usual; and in the spring of 1846 her lover claimed her promise. Throughout the summer she continued to gain strength, being able, not only to drive out, but even to walk short distances, and to visit a few of her special friends such as Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Boyd. Accordingly it was agreed that at the end of the summer they should be married, and leave England for Italy before the cold weather should return. The uselessness of asking her father's consent was so evident, and the certainty that it would only result in the exclusion of Mr. Browning from the house so clear, that no attempt was made to obtain it. Only her two sisters were aware of what was going on; but even they were not informed of the final arrangements for the marriage, in order that they might not be involved in their father's anger when it should become known. For the same reason the secret was kept from so close a friend of both parties as Mr. Kenyon; though both he and Mr. Boyd, and possibly also Mrs. Jameson, had suspicions amounting to different degrees of certainty as to the real state of affairs. It had been intended that they should wait until the end of September, but a project for a temporary removal of the family into the country precipitated matters; and on September 12, accompanied only by her maid, Wilson, Miss Barrett slipped from the house and was married to Robert Browning in Marylebone Church. The associations which that ponderous edifice has gained from this act for all lovers of English poetry tempt one to forgive its unromantic appearance, and to remember rather the pilgrimages which Robert Browning on his subsequent visits to England never failed to pay to its threshold.
For a week after the marriage Mrs. Browning—by which more familiar name we now have the right to call her—remained in her father's house; her husband refraining from seeing her, since he could not now ask for her by her proper name without betraying their secret. Then, on September 19, accompanied once more by her maid and the ever-beloved Flushie, she left her home, to which she was never to return, crossed the Channel with her husband to Havre, and so travelled on to Paris. Her father's anger, if not loud, was deep and unforgiving. From that moment he cast her off and disowned her. He would not read or open her letters; he would not see her when she returned to England. Even the birth of her child brought no relenting; he expressed no sympathy or anxiety, he would not look upon its face. He died as he lived, unrelenting, cut off by his own unbending anger from a daughter who could with difficulty bring herself to speak a harsh word of him, even to her most intimate friends.
It was a more unexpected and consequently an even more bitter blow to find that her brothers at first disapproved of her action; the more so, since they had sympathised with her in the struggle of the previous autumn. This disapprobation was, however, less deep-seated, resting partly upon doubts as to the practical prudence of the match, partly, no doubt, upon a natural annoyance at having been kept in the dark. Such an estrangement could only be temporary, and as time went on was replaced by a full renewal of the old affection towards herself and a friendly acceptance of her husband. With her sisters, on the other hand, there was never a shadow of difference or estrangement. That love remained unaffected; and almost the only circumstance that caused Mrs. Browning to regret her enforced absence from England was the separation which it entailed from her two sisters.
In Paris the fugitives found a friend who proved a friend indeed. A few weeks earlier Mrs. Jameson, knowing of the needs of Miss Barrett's health, had offered to take her to Italy; but her offer had been refused. Her astonishment may be imagined when, after this short interval of time, she found her invalid friend in Paris as the wife of Robert Browning. The prospect filled her with almost as much dismay as pleasure. 'I have here,' she wrote to a friend from Paris, 'a poet and a poetess—two celebrities who have run away and married under circumstances peculiarly interesting, and such as to render imprudence the height of prudence. Both excellent; but God help them! for I know not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will get on through this prosaic world.' Mrs. Jameson, who was travelling with her young niece, Miss Geraldine Bate, lent her aid to smooth the path of her poet friends, and it was in her company that, after a week's rest in Paris, the Brownings proceeded on their journey to Italy. It is easy to imagine what a comfort her presence must have been to the invalid wife and her naturally anxious husband; and this journey sealed a friendship of no ordinary depth and warmth. Mrs. Browning bore the journey wonderfully, though suffering much from fatigue. During a rest of two days at Avignon, a pilgrimage was made to Vaucluse, in honour of Petrarch and his Laura; and there, as Mrs. Macpherson has recorded in an often quoted passage of her biography of her aunt, 'there, at the very source of the "chiare, fresche e dolci acque," Mr. Browning took his wife up in his arms, and carrying her across the shallow, curling water, seated her on a rock that rose throne-like in the middle of the stream. Thus love and poetry took a new possession of the spot immortalised by Petrarch's loving fancy.'
So at the beginning of October the party reached Pisa; and there the newly wedded pair settled for the winter. Here first since the departure from London was there leisure to renew the intercourse with friends at home, to answer congratulations and good wishes, to explain what might seem strange and unaccountable. From this point Mrs. Browning's correspondence contains nearly a full record of her life, and can be left to tell its own story in better language than the biographer's. The first letter to Mrs. Martin is an 'apologia pro connubio suo' in fullest detail; the others carry on the story from the point at which that leaves it.
With regard to this first letter, full as it is of the most intimate personal and family revelations, it has seemed right to give it entire. The marriage of Robert and Elizabeth Browning has passed into literary history, and it is only fair that it should be set, once for all, in its true light. Those who might be pained by any expressions in it have passed away; and those in whose character and reputation the lovers of English literature are interested have nothing to fear from the fullest revelation. If anything were kept back, false and injurious surmises might be formed; the truth leaves little room for controversy, and none for slander.
To Mrs. Martin
Collegio Ferdinando, Pisa; October 20(?), 1846.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Will you believe that I began a letter to you before I took this step, to give you the whole story of the impulses towards it, feeling strongly that I owed what I considered my justification to such dear friends as yourself and Mr. Martin, that you might not hastily conclude that you had thrown away upon one who was quite unworthy the regard of years? I had begun such a letter—when, by the plan of going to Little Bookham, my plans were all hurried forward—changed—driven prematurely into action, and the last hours of agitation and deep anguish—for it was the deepest of its kind, to leave Wimpole Street and those whom I tenderly loved—so would not admit of my writing or thinking: only I was able to think that my beloved sisters would send you some account of me when I was gone. And now I hear from them that your generosity has not waited for a letter from me to do its best for me, and that instead of being vexed, as you might well be, at my leaving England without a word sent to you, you have used kind offices in my behalf, you have been more than the generous and affectionate friend I always considered you. So my first words must be that I am deeply grateful to you, my very dear friend, and that to the last moment of my life I shall remember the claim you have on my gratitude. Generous people are inclined to acquit generously; but it has been very painful to me to observe that with all my mere friends I have found more sympathy and trust, than in those who are of my own household and who have been daily witnesses of my life. I do not say this for papa, who is peculiar and in a peculiar position; but it pained me that——, who knew all that passed last year—for instance, about Pisa—who knew that the alternative of making a single effort to secure my health during the winter was the severe displeasure I have incurred now, and that the fruit of yielding myself a prisoner was the sense of being of no use nor comfort to any soul; papa having given up coming to see me except for five minutes, a day; ==—, who said to me with his own lips, 'He does not love you—do not think it' (said and repeated it two months ago)—that —— should now turn round and reproach me for want of affection towards my family, for not letting myself drop like a dead weight into the abyss, a sacrifice without an object and expiation—this did surprise me and pain me—pained me more than all papa's dreadful words. But the personal feeling is nearer with most of us than the tenderest feeling for another; and my family had been so accustomed to the idea of my living on and on in that room, that while my heart was eating itself, their love for me was consoled, and at last the evil grew scarcely perceptible. It was no want of love in them, and quite natural in itself: we all get used to the thought of a tomb; and I was buried, that was the whole. It was a little thing even for myself a short time ago, and really it would be a pneumatological curiosity if I could describe and let you see how perfectly for years together, after what broke my heart at Torquay, I lived on the outside of my own life, blindly and darkly from day to day, as completely dead to hope of any kind as if I had my face against a grave, never feeling a personal instinct, taking trains of thought to carry out as an occupation absolutely indifferent to the me which is in every human being. Nobody quite understood this of me, because I am not morally a coward, and have a hatred of all the forms of audible groaning. But God knows what is within, and how utterly I had abdicated myself and thought it not worth while to put out my finger to touch my share of life. Even my poetry, which suddenly grew an interest, was a thing on the outside of me, a thing to be done, and then done! What people said of it did not touch me. A thoroughly morbid and desolate state it was, which I look back now to with the sort of horror with which one would look to one's graveclothes, if one had been clothed in them by mistake during a trance.
And now I will tell you. It is nearly two years ago since I have known Mr. Browning. Mr. Kenyon wished to bring him to see me five years ago, as one of the lions of London who roared the gentlest and was best worth my knowing; but I refused then, in my blind dislike to seeing strangers. Immediately, however, after the publication of my last volumes, he wrote to me, and we had a correspondence which ended in my agreeing to receive him as I never had received any other man. I did not know why, but it was utterly impossible for me to refuse to receive him, though I consented against my will. He writes the most exquisite letters possible, and has a way of putting things which I have not, a way of putting aside—so he came. He came, and with our personal acquaintance began his attachment for me, a sort of infatuation call it, which resisted the various denials which were my plain duty at the beginning, and has persisted past them all. I began with—a grave assurance that I was in an exceptional position and saw him just in consequence of it, and that if ever he recurred to that subject again I never could see him again while I lived; and he believed me and was silent. To my mind, indeed, it was a bare impulse—a generous man of quick sympathies taking up a sudden interest with both hands! So I thought; but in the meantime the letters and the visits rained down more and more, and in every one there was something which was too slight to analyse and notice, but too decided not to be understood; so that at last, when the 'proposed respect' of the silence gave way, it was rather less dangerous. So then I showed him how he was throwing into the ashes his best affections—how the common gifts of youth and cheerfulness were behind me—how I had not strength, even of heart, for the ordinary duties of life—everything I told him and showed him. 'Look at this—and this,' throwing down all my disadvantages. To which he did not answer by a single compliment, but simply that he had not then to choose, and that I might be right or he might be right, he was not there to decide; but that he loved me and should to his last hour. He said that the freshness of youth had passed with him also, and that he had studied the world out of books and seen many women, yet had never loved one until he had seen me. That he knew himself, and knew that, if ever so repulsed, he should love me to his last hour—it should be first and last. At the same time, he would not tease me, he would wait twenty years if I pleased, and then, if life lasted so long for both of us, then when it was ending perhaps, I might understand him and feel that I might have trusted him. For my health, he had believed when he first spoke that I was suffering from an incurable injury of the spine, and that he never could hope to see me stand up before his face, and he appealed to my womanly sense of what a pure attachment should be—whether such a circumstance, if it had been true, was inconsistent with it. He preferred, he said, of free and deliberate choice, to be allowed to sit only an hour a day by my side, to the fulfilment of the brightest dream which should exclude me, in any possible world.
I tell you so much, my ever dear friend, that you may see the manner of man I have had to do with, and the sort of attachment which for nearly two years has been drawing and winning me. I know better than any in the world, indeed, what Mr. Kenyon once unconsciously said before me—that 'Robert Browning is great in everything.' Then, when you think how this element of an affection so pure and persistent, cast into my dreary life, must have acted on it—how little by little I was drawn into the persuasion that something was left, and that still I could do something to the happiness of another—and he what he was, for I have deprived myself of the privilege of praising him—then it seemed worth while to take up with that unusual energy (for me!), expended in vain last year, the advice of the physicians that I should go to a warm climate for the winter. Then came the Pisa conflict of last year. For years I had looked with a sort of indifferent expectation towards Italy, knowing and feeling that I should escape there the annual relapse, yet, with that laisser aller manner which had become a habit to me, unable to form a definite wish about it. But last year, when all this happened to me, and I was better than usual in the summer, I wished to make the experiment—to live the experiment out, and see whether there was hope for me or not hope. Then came Dr. Chambers, with his encouraging opinion. 'I wanted simply a warm climate and air,' he said; 'I might be well if I pleased.' Followed what you know—or do not precisely know—the pain of it was acutely felt by me; for I never had doubted but that papa would catch at any human chance of restoring my health. I was under the delusion always that the difficulty of making such trials lay in me, and not in him. His manner of acting towards me last summer was one of the most painful griefs of my life, because it involved a disappointment in the affections. My dear father is a very peculiar person. He is naturally stern, and has exaggerated notions of authority, but these things go with high and noble qualities; and as for feeling, the water is under the rock, and I had faith. Yes, and have it. I admire such qualities as he has—fortitude, integrity. I loved him for his courage in adverse circumstances which were yet felt by him more literally than I could feel them. Always he has had the greatest power over my heart, because I am of those weak women who reverence strong men. By a word he might have bound me to him hand and foot. Never has he spoken a gentle word to me or looked a kind look which has not made in me large results of gratitude, and throughout my illness the sound of his step on the stairs has had the power of quickening my pulse—I have loved him so and love him. Now if he had said last summer that he was reluctant for me to leave him—if he had even allowed me to think by mistake that his affection for me was the motive of such reluctance—I was ready to give up Pisa in a moment, and I told him as much. Whatever my new impulses towards life were, my love for him (taken so) would have resisted all—I loved him so dearly. But his course was otherwise, quite otherwise, and I was wounded to the bottom of my heart—cast off when I was ready to cling to him. In the meanwhile, at my side was another; I was driven and I was drawn. Then at last I said, 'If you like to let this winter decide it, you may. I will allow of no promises nor engagement. I cannot go to Italy, and I know, as nearly as a human creature can know any fact, that I shall be ill again through the influence of this English winter. If I am, you will see plainer the foolishness of this persistence; if I am not, I will do what you please.' And his answer was, 'If you are ill and keep your resolution of not marrying me under those circumstances, I will keep mine and love you till God shall take us both.' This was in last autumn, and the winter came with its miraculous mildness, as you know, and I was saved as I dared not hope; my word therefore was claimed in the spring. Now do you understand, and will you feel for me? An application to my father was certainly the obvious course, if it had not been for his peculiar nature and my peculiar position. But there is no speculation in the case; it is a matter of knowledge that if Robert had applied to him in the first instance he would have been forbidden the house without a moment's scruple; and if in the last (as my sisters thought best as a respectable form), I should have been incapacitated from any after-exertion by the horrible scenes to which, as a thing of course, I should have been exposed. Papa will not bear some subjects, it is a thing known; his peculiarity takes that ground to the largest. Not one of his children will ever marry without a breach, which we all know, though he probably does not—deceiving himself in a setting up of obstacles, whereas the real obstacle is in his own mind. In my case there was, or would have been, a great deal of apparent reason to hold by; my health would have been motive enough—ostensible motive. I see that precisely as others may see it. Indeed, if I were charged now with want of generosity for casting myself so, a dead burden, on the man I love, nothing of the sort could surprise me. It was what occurred to myself, that thought was, and what occasioned a long struggle and months of agitation, and which nothing could have overcome but the very uncommon affection of a very uncommon person, reasoning out to me the great fact of love making its own level. As to vanity and selfishness blinding me, certainly I may have made a mistake, and the future may prove it, but still more certainly I was not blinded so. On the contrary, never have I been more humbled, and never less in danger of considering any personal pitiful advantage, than throughout this affair. You, who are generous and a woman, will believe this of me, even if you do not comprehend the habit I had fallen into of casting aside the consideration of possible happiness of my own. But I was speaking of papa. Obvious it was that the application to him was a mere form. I knew the result of it. I had made up my mind to act upon my full right of taking my own way. I had long believed such an act (the most strictly personal act of one's life) to be within the rights of every person of mature age, man or woman, and I had resolved to exercise that right in my own case by a resolution which had slowly ripened. All the other doors of life were shut to me, and shut me in as in a prison, and only before this door stood one whom I loved best and who loved me best, and who invited me out through it for the good's sake which he thought I could do him. Now if for the sake of the mere form I had applied to my father, and if, as he would have done directly, he had set up his 'curse' against the step I proposed to take, would it have been doing otherwise than placing a knife in his hand? A few years ago, merely through the reverberation of what he said to another on a subject like this, I fell on the floor in a fainting fit, and was almost delirious afterwards. I cannot bear some words. I would much rather have blows without them. In my actual state of nerves and physical weakness, it would have been the sacrifice of my whole life—of my convictions, of my affections, and, above all, of what the person dearest to me persisted in calling his life, and the good of it—if I had observed that 'form.' Therefore, wrong or right, I determined not to observe it, and, wrong or right, I did and do consider that in not doing so I sinned against no duty. That I was constrained to act clandestinely, and did not choose to do so, God is witness, and will set it down as my heavy misfortune and not my fault. Also, up to the very last act we stood in the light of day for the whole world, if it pleased, to judge us. I never saw him out of the Wimpole Street house; he came twice a week to see me—or rather, three times in the fortnight, openly in the sight of all, and this for nearly two years, and neither more nor less. Some jests used to be passed upon us by my brothers, and I allowed them without a word, but it would have been infamous in me to have taken any into my confidence who would have suffered, as a direct consequence, a blighting of his own prospects. My secrecy towards them all was my simple duty towards them all, and what they call want of affection was an affectionate consideration for them. My sisters did indeed know the truth to a certain point. They knew of the attachment and engagement—I could not help that—but the whole of the event I kept from them with a strength and resolution which really I did not know to be in me, and of which nothing but a sense of the injury to be done to them by a fuller confidence, and my tender gratitude and attachment to them for all their love and goodness, could have rendered me capable. Their faith in me, and undeviating affection for me, I shall be grateful for to the end of my existence, and to the extent of my power of feeling gratitude. My dearest sisters!—especially, let me say, my own beloved Arabel, who, with no consolation except the exercise of a most generous tenderness, has looked only to what she considered my good—never doubting me, never swerving for one instant in her love for me. May God reward her as I cannot. Dearest Henrietta loves me too, but loses less in me, and has reasons for not misjudging me. But both my sisters have been faultless in their bearing towards me, and never did I love them so tenderly as I love them now.
The only time I met R.B. clandestinely was in the parish church, where we were married before two witnesses—it was the first and only time. I looked, he says, more dead than alive, and can well believe it, for I all but fainted on the way, and had to stop for sal volatile at a chemist's shop. The support through it all was my trust in him, for no woman who ever committed a like act of trust has had stronger motives to hold by. Now may I not tell you that his genius, and all but miraculous attainments, are the least things in him, the moral nature being of the very noblest, as all who ever knew him admit? Then he has had that wide experience of men which ends by throwing the mind back on itself and God; there is nothing incomplete in him, except as all humanity is incompleteness. The only wonder is how such a man, whom any woman could have loved, should have loved me; but men of genius, you know, are apt to love with their imagination. Then there is something in the sympathy, the strange, straight sympathy which unites us on all subjects. If it were not that I look up to him, we should be too alike to be together perhaps, but I know my place better than he does, who is too humble. Oh, you cannot think how well we get on after six weeks of marriage. If I suffer again it will not be through him. Some day, dearest Mrs. Martin, I will show you and dear Mr. Martin how his prophecy was fulfilled, saving some picturesque particulars. I did not know before that Saul was among the prophets.
My poor husband suffered very much from the constraint imposed on him by my position, and did, for the first time in his life, for my sake do that in secret which he could not speak upon the housetops. Mea culpa all of it! If one of us two is to be blamed, it is I, at whose representation of circumstances he submitted to do violence to his own self-respect. I would not suffer him to tell even our dear common friend Mr. Kenyon. I felt that it would be throwing on dear Mr. Kenyon a painful responsibility, and involve him in the blame ready to fall. And dear dear Mr. Kenyon, like the noble, generous friend I love so deservedly, comprehends all at a word, sends us not his forgiveness, but his sympathy, his affection, the kindest words which can be written! I cannot tell you all his inexpressible kindness to us both. He justifies us to the uttermost, and, in that, all the grateful attachment we had, each on our side, so long professed towards him. Indeed, in a note I had from him yesterday, he uses this strong expression after gladly speaking of our successful journey: 'I considered that you had perilled your life upon this undertaking, and, reflecting upon your last position, I thought that you had done well.' But my life was not perilled in the journey. The agitation and fatigue were evils, to be sure, and Mrs. Jameson, who met us in Paris by a happy accident, thought me 'looking horribly ill' at first, and persuaded us to rest there for a week on the promise of accompanying us herself to Pisa to help Robert to take care of me. He, who was in a fit of terror about me, agreed at once, and so she came with us, she and her young niece, and her kindness leaves us both very grateful. So kind she was, and is—for still she is in Pisa—opening her arms to us and calling us 'children of light' instead of ugly names, and declaring that she should have been 'proud' to have had anything to do with our marriage. Indeed, we hear every day kind speeches and messages from people such as Mr. Chorley of the 'Athenaeum,' who 'has tears in his eyes,' Monckton Milnes, Barry Cornwall, and other friends of my husband's, but who only know me by my books, and I want the love and sympathy of those who love me and whom I love. I was talking of the influence of the journey. The change of air has done me wonderful good notwithstanding the fatigue, and I am renewed to the point of being able to throw off most of my invalid habits; and of walking quite like a woman. Mrs. Jameson said the other day, 'You are not improved, you are transformed.' We have most comfortable rooms here at Pisa and have taken them for six months, in the best situation for health, and close to the Duomo and Leaning Tower. It is a beautiful, solemn city, and we have made acquaintance with Professor Ferucci, who is about to admit us to [a sight] of the [University Lib]rary. We shall certainly [spend] next summer in Italy somewhere, and [talk] of Rome for the next winter, but, of course, this is all in air. Let me hear
from you, dearest Mrs. Martin, and direct, 'M. Browning, Poste Restante, Pisa'—it is best. Just before we left Paris I wrote to my aunt Jane, and from Marseilles to Bummy, but from neither have I heard yet.
With best love to dearest Mr. Martin, ever both my dear kind friends,
Your affectionate and grateful
To Miss Mitford
Moulins: October 2, 1846.
I began to write to you, my beloved friend, earlier, that I might follow your kindest wishes literally, and also to thank you at once for your goodness to me, for which may God bless you. But the fatigue and agitation have been very great, and I was forced to break off—as now I dare not revert to what is behind. I will tell you more another day. At Orleans, with your kindest letter, I had one from my dearest, gracious friend Mr. Kenyon, who, in his goodness, does more than exculpate—even approves—he wrote a joint letter to both of us. But oh, the anguish I have gone through! You are good, you are kind. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying to me that you would have gone to the church with me. Yes, I know you would. And for that very reason I forbore involving you in such a responsibility and drawing you into such a net. I took Wilson with me. I had courage to keep the secret to my sisters for their sakes, though I will tell you in strict confidence that it was known to them potentially, that is, the attachment and engagement were known, the necessity remaining that, for stringent reasons affecting their own tranquillity, they should be able to say at last, 'We were not instructed in this and this.' The dearest, fondest, most affectionate of sisters they are to me, and if the sacrifice of a life, or of all prospect of happiness, would have worked any lasting good to them, it should have been made even in the hour I left them. I knew that by the anguish I suffered in it. But a sacrifice, without good to anyone—I shrank from it. And also, it was the sacrifice of two. And he, as you say, had done everything for me, had loved me for reasons which had helped to weary me of myself, loved me heart to heart persistently—in spite of my own will—drawn me back to life and hope again when I had done with both. My life seemed to belong to him and to none other at last, and I had no power to speak a word. Have faith in me, my dearest friend, till you can know him. The intellect is so little in comparison to all the rest, to the womanly tenderness, the inexhaustible goodness, the high and noble aspiration of every hour. Temper, spirits, manners: there is not a flaw anywhere. I shut my eyes sometimes and fancy it all a dream of my guardian angel. Only, if it had been a dream, the pain of some parts of it would have awakened me before now; it is not a dream. I have borne all the emotion of fatigue miraculously well, though, of course, a good deal exhausted at times. We had intended to hurry on to the South at once, but at Paris we met Mrs. Jameson, who opened her arms to us with the most literal affectionateness, kissed us both, and took us by surprise by calling us 'wise people, wild poets or not.' Moreover, she fixed us in an apartment above her own in the Hôtel de la Ville de Paris, that I might rest for a week, and crowned the rest of her goodnesses by agreeing to accompany us to Pisa, where she was about to travel with her young niece. Therefore we are five travelling, Wilson being with me. Oh, yes, Wilson came; her attachment to me never shrank for a moment. And Flush came and I assure you that nearly as much attention has been paid to Flush as to me from the beginning, so that he is perfectly reconciled, and would be happy if the people at the railroads were not barbarians, and immovable in their evil designs of shutting him up in a box when we travel that way.
You understand now, ever dearest Miss Mitford, how the pause has come about writing. The week at Paris! Such a strange week it was, altogether like a vision. Whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell scarcely. Our Balzac should be flattered beyond measure by my thinking of him at all. Which I did, but of you more. I will write and tell you more about Paris. You should go there indeed. And to our hotel, if at all. Once we were at the Louvre, but we kept very still of course, and were satisfied with the idea of Paris. I could have borne to live on there, it was all so strange and full of contrast....
Now you will write—I feel my way on the paper to write this. Nothing is changed between us, nothing can ever interfere with sacred confidences, remember. I do not show letters, you need not fear my turning traitress.... Pray for me, dearest friend, that the bitterness of old affections may not be too bitter with me, and that God may turn those salt waters sweet again.
Pray for your grateful and loving
To Mrs. Martin
[Pisa:] November 5, .
It was pleasant to me, my dearest friend, to think while I was reading your letter yesterday, that almost by that time you had received mine, and could not even seem to doubt a moment longer whether I admitted your claim of hearing and of speaking to the uttermost. I recognised you too entirely as my friend. Because you had put faith in me, so much the more reason there was that I should justify it as far as I could, and with as much frankness (which was a part of my gratitude to you) as was possible from a woman to a woman. Always I have felt that you have believed in me and loved me; and, for the sake of the past and of the present, your affection and your esteem are more to me than I could afford to lose, even in these changed and happy circumstances. So I thank you once more, my dear kind friends, I thank you both—I never shall forget your goodness. I feel it, of course, the more deeply, in proportion to the painful disappointment in other quarters.... Am I, bitter? The feeling, however, passes while I write it out, and my own affection for everybody will wait patiently to be 'forgiven' in the proper form, when everybody shall be at leisure properly. Assuredly, in the meanwhile, however, my case is not to be classed with other cases—what happened to me could not have happened, perhaps, with any other family in England.... I hate and loathe everything too which is clandestine—we both do, Robert and I; and the manner the whole business was carried on in might have instructed the least acute of the bystanders. The flowers standing perpetually on my table for the last two years were brought there by one hand, as everybody knew; and really it would have argued an excess of benevolence in an unmarried man with quite enough resources in London, to pay the continued visits he paid to me without some strong motive indeed. Was it his fault that he did not associate with everybody in the house as well as with me? He desired it; but no—that was not to be. The endurance of the pain of the position was not the least proof of his attachment to me. How I thank you for believing in him—how grateful it makes me! He will justify to the uttermost that faith. We have been married two months, and every hour has bound me to him more and more; if the beginning was well, still better it is now—that is what he says to me, and I say back again day by day. Then it is an 'advantage,' to have an inexhaustible companion who talks wisdom of all things in heaven and earth, and shows besides as perpetual a good humour and gaiety as if he were—a fool, shall I say? or a considerable quantity more, perhaps. As to our domestic affairs, it is not to my honour and glory that the 'bills' are made up every week and paid more regularly 'than hard beseems,' while dear Mrs. Jameson laughs outright at our miraculous prudence and economy, and declares that it is past belief and precedent that we should not burn the candles at both ends, and the next moment will have it that we remind her of the children in a poem of Heine's who set up housekeeping in a tub, and inquired gravely the price of coffee. Ah, but she has left Pisa at last—left it yesterday. It was a painful parting to everybody. Seven weeks spent in such close neighbourhood—a month of it under the same roof and in the same carriages—will fasten people together, and then travelling shakes them together. A more affectionate, generous woman never lived than Mrs. Jameson, and it is pleasant to be sure that she loves us both from her heart, and not only du bout des lèvres. Think of her making Robert promise (as he has told me since) that in the case of my being unwell he would write to her instantly, and she would come at once if anywhere in Italy. So kind, so like her. She spends the winter in Rome, but an intermediate month at Florence, and we are to keep tryst with her somewhere in the spring, perhaps at Venice. If not, she says that she will come back here, for that certainly she will see us. She would have stayed altogether perhaps, if it had not been for her book upon art which she is engaged to bring out next year, and the materials for which are to be sought. As to Pisa, she liked it just as we like it. Oh, it is so beautiful and so full of repose, yet not desolate: it is rather the repose of sleep than of death. Then after the first ten days of rain, which seemed to refer us fatally to Alfieri's 'piove e ripiove,' came as perpetual a divine sunshine, such cloudless, exquisite weather that we ask whether it may not be June instead of November. Every day I am out walking while the golden oranges look at me over the walls, and when I am tired Robert and I sit down on a stone to watch the lizards. We have been to your seashore, too, and seen your island, only he insists on it (Robert does) that it is not Corsica but Gorgona, and that Corsica is not in sight. Beautiful and blue the island was, however, in any case. It might have been Romero's instead of either. Also we have driven up to the foot of mountains, and seen them reflected down in the little pure lake of Ascuno, and we have seen the pine woods, and met the camels laden with faggots all in a line. So now ask me again if I enjoy my liberty as you expect. My head goes round sometimes, that is all. I never was happy before in my life. Ah, but, of course, the painful thoughts recur!
There are some whom I love too tenderly to be easy under their displeasure, or even under their injustice. Only it, seems to me that with time and patience my poor dearest papa will be melted into opening his arms to us—will be melted into a clearer understanding of motives and intentions; I cannot believe that he will forget me, as he says he will, and go on thinking me to be dead rather than alive and happy. So I manage to hope for the best, and all that remains, all my life here, is best already, could not be better or happier. And willingly tell dear Mr. Martin I would take him and you for witnesses of it, and in the meanwhile he is not to send me tantalising messages; no, indeed, unless you really, really, should let yourselves be wafted our way, and could you do so much better at Pau? particularly if Fanny Hanford should come here. Will she really? The climate is described by the inhabitants as a 'pleasant spring throughout the winter,' and if you were to see Robert and me threading our path along the shady side everywhere to avoid the 'excessive heat of the sun' in this November (!) it would appear a good beginning. We are not in the warm orthodox position by the Arno because we heard with our ears one of the best physicians of the place advise against it. 'Better,' he said, 'to have cool rooms to live in and warm walks to go out along.' The rooms we have are rather over-cool perhaps; we are obliged to have a little fire in the sitting-room, in the mornings and evenings that is; but I do not fear for the winter, there is too much difference to my feelings between this November and any English November I ever knew. We have our dinner from the Trattoria at two o'clock, and can dine our favorite way on thrushes and chianti with a miraculous cheapness, and no trouble, no cook, no kitchen; the prophet Elijah or the lilies of the field took as little thought for their dining, which exactly suits us. It is a continental fashion which we never cease commending. Then at six we have coffee, and rolls of milk, made of milk, I mean, and at nine our supper (call it supper, if you please) of roast chestnuts and grapes. So you see how primitive we are, and how I forget to praise the eggs at breakfast. The worst of Pisa is, or would be to some persons, that, socially speaking, it has its dullnesses; it is not lively like Florence, not in that way. But we do not want society, we shun it rather. We like the Duomo and the Campo Santo instead. Then we know a little of Professor Ferucci, who gives us access to the University library, and we subscribe to a modern one, and we have plenty of writing to do of our own. If we can do anything for Fanny Hanford, let us know. It would be too happy, I suppose, to have to do it for yourselves. Think, however, I am quite well, quite well. I can thank God, too, for being alive and well. Make dear Mr. Martin keep well, and not forget himself in the Herefordshire cold—draw him into the sun somewhere. Now write and tell me everything of your plans and of you both, dearest friends. My husband bids me say that he desires to have my friends for his own friends, and that he is grateful to you for not crossing that feeling. Let him send his regards to you. And let me be throughout all changes,
Your ever faithful and most affectionate
I am expecting every day to hear from my dearest sisters. Write to them and love them for me.
This letter has been kept for several days from different causes. Will you inclose the little note to Miss Mitford? I do not hear from home, and am uneasy.
May God bless you!
I am so vexed about those poems appearing just now in 'Blackwood.' Papa must think it impudent of me. It is unfortunate.
To Miss Mitford
[Pisa]: November 5, 1846.
I have your letter, ever dearest Miss Mitford, and it is welcome even more than your letters have been used to be to me—the last charm was to come, you see, by this distance. For all your affection and solicitude, may you trust my gratitude; and if you love me a little, I love you indeed, and never shall cease. The only difference shall be that two may love you where one did, and for my part I will answer for it that if you could love the poor one you will not refuse any love to the other when you come to know him. I never could bear to speak to you of him since quite the beginning, or rather I never could dare. But when you know him and understand how the mental gifts are scarcely half of him, you will not wonder at your friend, and, indeed, two years of steadfast affection from such a man would have, overcome any woman's heart. I have been neither much wiser nor much foolisher than all the shes in the world, only much happier—the difference is in the happiness. Certainly I am not likely to repent of having given myself to him. I cannot, for all the pain received from another quarter, the comfort for which is that my conscience is pure of the sense of having broken the least known duty, and that the same consequence would follow any marriage of any member of my family with any possible man or woman. I look to time, and reason, and natural love and pity, and to the justification of the events acting through all; I look on so and hope, and in the meanwhile it has been a great comfort to have had not merely the indulgence but the approbation and sympathy of most of my old personal friends—oh, such kind letters; for instance, yesterday one came from dear Mrs. Martin, who has known me, she and her husband, since the very beginning of my womanhood, and both of them are acute, thinking people, with heads as strong as their hearts. I in my haste left England without a word to them, for which they might naturally have reproached me; instead of which they write to say that never for a moment have they doubted my having acted for the best and happiest, and to assure me that, having sympathised with me in every sorrow and trial, they delightedly feel with me in the new joy; nothing could be more cordially kind. See how I write to you as if I could speak—all these little things which are great things when seen in the light. Also R, and I are not in the least tired of one another notwithstanding the very perpetual tête-à-tête into which we have fallen, and which (past the first fortnight) would be rather a trial in many cases. Then our housekeeping may end perhaps in being a proverb among the nations, for at the beginning it makes Mrs. Jameson laugh heartily. It disappoints her theories, she admits—finding that, albeit poets, we abstain from burning candles at both ends at once, just as if we did statistics and historical abstracts by nature instead. And do not think that the trouble falls on me. Even the pouring out of the coffee is a divided labour, and the ordering of the dinner is quite out of my hands. As for me, when I am so good as to let myself be carried upstairs, and so angelical as to sit still on the sofa, and so considerate, moreover, as not to put my foot into a puddle, why my duty is considered done to a perfection which is worthy of all adoration; it really is not very hard work to please this taskmaster. For Pisa, we both like it extremely. The city is full of beauty and repose, and the purple mountains gloriously seem to beckon us on deeper into the vineland. We have rooms close to the Duomo and Leaning Tower, in the great Collegio built by Vasari, three excellent bedrooms and a sitting-room, matted and carpeted, looking comfortable even for England. For the last fortnight, except the very last few sunny days, we have had rain; but the climate is as mild as possible, no cold, with all the damp. Delightful weather we had for the travelling. Ah, you, with your terrors of travelling, how you amuse me! Why, the constant change of air in the continued fine weather made me better and better instead of worse. It did me infinite good. Mrs. Jameson says she 'won't call me improved, but transformed rather.' I like the new sights and the movement; my spirits rise; I live—I can adapt myself. If you really tried it and got as far as Paris you would be drawn on, I fancy, and on—on to the East perhaps with H. Martineau, or at least as near it as we are here. By the way, or out of the way, it struck me as unfortunate that my poems should have been printed just now in 'Blackwood;' I wish it had been otherwise. Then I had a letter from one of my Leeds readers the other day to expostulate about the inappropriateness of certain of them! The fact is that I sent a heap of verses swept from my desk and belonging to old feelings and impressions, and not imagining that they were to be used in that quick way. There can't be very much to like, I fear, apart from your goodness for what calls itself mine. Love me, dearest dear Miss Mitford, my dear kind friend—love me, I beg of you, still and ever, only ceasing when I cease to think of you; I will allow of that clause. Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine are staying at the hotel here in Pisa still, and we manage to see them every day; so good and true and affectionate she is, and so much we shall miss her when she goes, which will be in a day or two now. She goes to Florence, to Siena, to Rome to complete her work upon art, which is the object of her Italian journey. I read your vivid and glowing description of the picture to her, or rather I showed your picture to her, and she quite believes with you that it is most probably a Velasquez. Much to be congratulated the owner must be. I mean to know something about pictures some day. Robert does, and I shall get him to open my eyes for me with a little instruction. You know that in this place are to be seen the first steps of art, and it will be interesting to trace them from it as we go farther ourselves. Our present residence we have taken for six months; but we have dreams, dreams, and we discuss them like soothsayers over the evening's roasted chestnuts and grapes. Flush highly approves of Pisa (and the roasted chestnuts), because here he goes out every day and speaks Italian to the little dogs. Oh, Mr. Chorley, such a kind, feeling note he wrote to Robert from Germany, when he read of our marriage in 'Galignani;' we were both touched by it. And Monckton Milnes and others—very kind all. But in a particular manner I remember the kindness of my valued friend Mr. Horne, who never failed me nor could fail. Will you explain to him, or rather ask him to understand, why I did not answer his last note? I forget even Balzac here; tell me what he writes, and help me to love that dear, generous Mr. Kenyon, whom I can love without help. And let me love you, and you love me.
Your ever affectionate and grateful
To Mrs. Jameson
Collegio Ferdinando [Pisa]:
Saturday, November 23, 1846 [postmark].
We were delighted to have your note, dearest Aunt Nina, and I answer it with my feet on your stool, so that my feet are full of you even if my head is not, always. Now, I shall not go a sentence farther without thanking you for that comfort; you scarcely guessed perhaps what a comfort it would be, that stool of yours. I am even apt to sit on it for hours together, leaning against the sofa, till I get to be scolded for putting myself so into the fire, and prophesied of in respect to the probability of a 'general conflagration' of stools and Bas; on which the prophet is to leap from the Leaning Tower, and Flush to be left to make the funeral oration of the establishment. In the meantime, it really is quite a comfort that our housekeeping should be your 'example' at Florence; we have edifying countenances whenever we think of it. And Robert will not by any means believe that you passed us on our own ground, though the eleven pauls a week for breakfast, and my humility, seemed to suggest something of the sort. I am so glad, we are both so glad, that you are enjoying yourself at the fullest and highest among the wonders of art, and cannot be chilled in the soul by any of those fatal winds you speak of. For me, I am certainly better here at Pisa, though the penalty is to see Frate Angelico's picture with the remembrance of you rather than the presence. Here, indeed, we have had a little too much cold for two days; there was a feeling of frost in the air, and a most undeniable east wind which prevented my going out, and made me feel less comfortable than usual at home. But, after all, one felt ashamed to call it cold, and Robert found the heat on the Arno insupportable; which set us both mourning over our 'situation' at the Collegio, where one of us could not get out on such days without a blow on the chest from the 'wind at the corner.' Well, experience teaches, and we shall be taught, and the cost of it is not so very much after all. We have seen your professor once since you left us (oh, the leaving!), or spoken to him once, I should say, when he came in one evening and caught us reading, sighing, yawning over 'Nicolò de' Lapi,' a romance by the son-in law of Manzoni. Before we could speak, he called it 'excellent, très beau,' one of their very best romances, upon which, of course, dear Robert could not bear to offend his literary and national susceptibilities by a doubt even. I, not being so humane, thought that any suffering reader would be justified (under the rack-wheel) in crying out against such a book, as the dullest, heaviest, stupidest, lengthiest. Did you ever read it? If not, don't. When a father-in-law imitates Scott, and a son-in-law imitates his father-in-law, think of the consequences! Robert, in his zeal for Italy and against Eugène Sue, tried to persuade me at first (this was before the scene with your professor) that 'really, Ba, it wasn't so bad,' 'really you are too hard to be pleased,' and so on; but after two or three chapters, the dullness grew too strong for even his benevolence, and the yawning catastrophe (supposed to be peculiar to the 'Guida') overthrew him as completely as it ever did me, though we both resolved to hold on by the stirrup to the end of the two volumes. The catalogue of the library (for observe that we subscribe now—the object is attained!) offers a most melancholy insight into the actual literature of Italy. Translations, translations, translations from third and fourth and fifth rate French and English writers, chiefly French; the roots of thought, here in Italy, seem dead in the ground. It is well that they have great memories—nothing else lives.
We have had the kindest of letters from dear noble Mr. Kenyon; who, by the way, speaks of you as we like to hear him. Dickens is going to Paris for the winter, and Mrs. Butler (he adds) is expected in London. Dear Mr. Kenyon calls me 'crotchety,' but Robert 'an incarnation of the good and the true,' so that I have everything to thank him for. There are noble people who take the world's side and make it seem 'for the nonce' almost respectable; but he gives up all the talk and fine schemes about money-making, and allows us to wait to see whether we want it or not—the money, I mean.
It is Monday, and I am only finishing this note. In the midst came letters from my sisters, making me feel so glad that I could not write. Everybody is well and happy, and dear papa in high spirits and having people to dine with him every day, so that I have not really done anyone harm in doing myself all this good. It does not indeed bring us a step nearer to the forgiveness, but to hear of his being in good spirits makes me inclined to jump, with Gerardine. Dear Geddie! How pleased I am to hear of her being happy, particularly (perhaps) as she is not too happy to forget me. Is all that glory of art making her very ambitious to work and enter into the court of the Temple?...
Robert's love to you both. We often talk of our prospect of meeting you again. And for the past, dearest Aunt Nina, believe of me that I feel to you more gratefully than ever I can say, and remain, while I live,
Your faithful and affectionate
To Miss Mitford
Pisa: December 19, .
Ever dearest Miss Mitford, your kindest letter is three times welcome as usual. On the day you wrote it in the frost, I was sitting out of doors, just in my summer mantilla, and complaining 'of the heat this December!' But woe comes to the discontented. Within these three or four days we too have had frost—yes, and a little snow, for the first time, say the Pisans, during five years. Robert says that the mountains are powdered toward Lucca, and I, who cannot see the mountains, can see the cathedral—the Duomo—how it glitters whitely at the summit, between the blue sky and its own walls of yellow marble. Of course I do not stir an inch from the fire, yet have to struggle a little against my old languor. Only, you see, this can't last! it is exceptional weather, and, up to the last few days, has been divine. And then, after all we talk of frost, my bedroom, which has no fireplace, shows not an English sign on the window, and the air is not metallic as in England. The sun, too, is so hot that the women are seen walking with fur capes and parasols, a curious combination.
I hope you had your visit from Mr. Chorley, and that you both had the usual pleasure from it. Indeed I am touched by what you tell me, and was touched by his note to my husband, written in the first surprise; and because Robert has the greatest regard for him, besides my own personal reasons, I do count him in the forward rank of our friends. You will hear that he has obliged us by accepting a trusteeship to a settlement, forced upon me in spite of certain professions or indispositions of mine; but as my husband's gifts, I had no right, it appeared, by refusing it to place him in a false position for the sake of what dear Mr. Kenyon calls my 'crotchets.' Oh, dear Mr. Kenyon! His kindness and goodness to us have been past thinking of, past thanking for; we can only fall into silence. He has thrust his hand into the fire for us by writing to papa himself, by taking up the management of my small money-matters when nearer hands let them drop, by justifying us with the whole weight of his personal influence; all this in the very face of his own habits and susceptibilities. He has resolved that I shall not miss the offices of father, brother, friend, nor the tenderness and sympathy of them all. And this man is called a mere man of the world, and would be called so rightly if the world were a place for angels. I shall love him dearly and gratefully to my last breath; we both shall....
Robert and I are deep in the fourth month of wedlock; there has not been a shadow between us, nor a word (and I have observed that all married people confess to words), and that the only change I can lay my finger on in him is simply and clearly an increase of affection. Now I need not say it if I did not please, and I should not please, you know, to tell a story. The truth is, that I who always did certainly believe in love, yet was as great a sceptic as you about the evidences thereof, and having held twenty times that Jacob's serving fourteen years for Rachel was not too long by fourteen days, I was not a likely person (with my loathing dread of marriage as a loveless state, and absolute contentment with single life as the alternative to the great majorities of marriages), I was not likely to accept a feeling not genuine, though from the hand of Apollo himself, crowned with his various godships. Especially too, in my position, I could not, would not, should not have done it. Then, genuine feelings are genuine feelings, and do not pass like a cloud. We are as happy as people can be, I do believe, yet are living in a way to try this new relationship of ours—in the utmost seclusion and perpetual téte-à-téte—no amusement nor distraction from without, except some of the very dullest Italian romances which throw us back on the memory of Balzac with reiterated groans. The Italians seem to hang on translations from the French—as we find from the library—not merely of Balzac, but Dumas, your Dumas, and reaching lower—long past De Kock—to the third and fourth rate novelists. What is purely Italian is, as far as we have read, purely dull and conventional. There is no breath nor pulse in the Italian genius. Mrs. Jameson writes to us from Florence that in politics and philosophy the people are getting alive—which may be, for aught we know to the contrary, the poetry and imagination leave them room enough by immense vacancies.
Yet we delight in Italy, and dream of 'pleasures new' for the summer—pastures new, I should have said—but it comes to the same thing. The padrone in this house sent us in as a gift (in gracious recognition, perhaps, of our lawful paying of bills) an immense dish of oranges—two hanging on a stalk with the green leaves still moist with the morning's dew—every great orange of twelve or thirteen with its own stalk and leaves. Such a pretty sight! And better oranges, I beg to say, never were eaten, when we are barbarous enough to eat them day by day after our two o'clock dinner, softening, with the vision of them, the winter which has just shown itself. Almost I have been as pleased with the oranges as I was at Avignon by the pomegranate given to me much in the same way. Think of my being singled out of all our caravan of travellers—Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine Jameson both there—for that significant gift of the pomegranates! I had never seen one before, and, of course, proceeded instantly to cut one 'deep down the middle'—accepting the omen. Yet, in shame and confusion of face, I confess to not being able to appreciate it properly. Olives and pomegranates I set on the same shelf, to be just looked at and called by their names, but by no means eaten bodily.
But you mistake me, dearest friend, about the 'Blackwood' verses. I never thought of writing applicative poems—the heavens forfend! Only that just then, [in] the midst of all the talk, any verses of mine should come into print—and some of them to that particular effect—looked unlucky. I dare say poor papa (for instance) thought me turned suddenly to brass itself. Well, it is perhaps more my fancy than anything else, and was only an impression, even there. Mr. Chorley will tell you of a play of his, which I hope will make its way, though I do wonder how people can bear to write for the theatres in the present state of things. Robert is busy preparing a new edition of his collected poems which are to be so clear that everyone who has understood them hitherto will lose all distinction. We both mean to be as little idle as possible.... We shall meet one day in joy, I do hope, and then you will love my husband for his own sake, as for mine you do not hate him now.
Your ever affectionate
To H.S. Boyd
[Pisa:] December 21 .
You must let me tell you, my dearest Mr. Boyd, that I dreamed of you last night, and that you were looking very well in my dream, and that you told me to break a crust from a loaf of bread which lay by you on the table; which I accept on recollection as a sacramental sign between us, of peace and affection. Wasn't it strange that I should dream so of you? Yet no; thinking awake of you, the sleeping thoughts come naturally. Believe of me this Christmas time, as indeed at every time, that I do not forget you, and that all the distance and change of country can make no difference. Understand, too (for that will give pleasure to your goodness), that I am very happy, and not unwell, though it is almost Christmas....
Dearest friend, are you well and in good spirits? Think of me over the Cyprus, between the cup and the lip, though bad things are said to fall out so. We have, instead of Cyprus, Montepulciano, the famous 'King of Wine,' crowned king, you remember, by the grace of a poet! Your Cyprus, however, keeps supremacy over me, and will not abdicate the divine right of being associated with you. I speak of wine, but we live here the most secluded, quiet life possible—reading and writing, and talking of all things in heaven and earth, and a little besides; and sometimes even laughing as if we had twenty people to laugh with us, or rather hadn't. We know not a creature, I am happy to say, except an Italian professor (of the university here) who called on us the other evening and praised aloud the scholars of England. 'English Latin was best,' he said, 'and English Greek foremost.' Do you clap your hands?
The new pope is more liberal than popes in general, and people write odes to him in consequence.
Robert is going to bring out a new edition of his collected poems, and you are not to read any more, if you please, till this is done. I heard of Carlyle's saying the other day 'that he hoped more from Robert Browning, for the people of England, than from any living English writer,' which pleased me, of course. I am just sending off an anti-slavery poem for America, too ferocious, perhaps, for the Americans to publish: but they asked for a poem and shall have it.
If I ask for a letter, shall I have it, I wonder? Remember me and love me a little, and pray for me, dearest friend, and believe how gratefully and ever affectionately
I am your
Though Robert always calls me Ba, and thinks it the prettiest name in the world! which is a proof, you will say, not only of blind love but of deaf love.
It was during the stay at Pisa, and early in the year 1847, that Mr. Browning first became acquainted with his wife's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese.' Written during the course of their courtship and engagement, they were not shown even to him until some months after their marriage. The story of it was told by Mr. Browning in later life to Mr. Edmund Gosse, with leave to make it known to the world in general; and from Mr. Gosse's publication it is here quoted in his own words.
'Their custom was, Mr. Browning said, to write alone, and not to show each other what they had written. This was a rule which he sometimes broke through, but she never. He had the habit of working in a downstairs room, where their meals were spread, while Mrs. Browning studied in a room on the floor above. One day, early in 1847, their breakfast being over, Mrs. Browning went upstairs, while her husband stood at the window watching the street till the table should be cleared. He was presently aware of some one behind him, although the servant was gone. It was Mrs. Browning, who held him by the shoulder to prevent his turning to look at her, and at the same time pushed a packet of papers into the pocket of his coat. She told him to read that, and to tear it up if he did not like it; and then she fled again to her own room.'
The sonnets were intended for her husband's eye alone; in the first instance, not even for his. No poems can ever have been composed with less thought of the public; perhaps for that very reason they are unmatched for simplicity and sincerity in all Mrs. Browning's work. Her genius in them has full mastery over its material, as it has in few of her other poems. All impurities of style or rhythm are purged away by the fire of love; and they stand, not only highest among the writings of their authoress, but also in the very forefront of English love-poems. With the single exception of Rossetti, no modern English poet has written of love with such genius, such beauty, and such sincerity, as the two who gave the most beautiful example of it in their own lives.
Fortunately for all those who love true poetry, Mr. Browning judged rightly of the obligation laid upon him by the possession of these poems. 'I dared not,' he said, 'reserve to myself the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare's.' Accordingly he persuaded his wife to commit the printing of them to her friend, Miss Mitford; and in the course of the year they appeared in a slender volume, entitled 'Sonnets, by E.B.B.,' with the imprint 'Reading, 1847,' and marked 'Not for publication.' It was not until three years later that they were offered to the general public, in the volumes of 1850. Here first they appeared under the title of 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'—a title suggested by Mr. Browning (in preference to his wife's proposal, 'Sonnets translated from the Bosnian') for the sake of its half-allusion to her other poem, 'Catarina to Camoens,' which was one of his chief favourites among her works.
To these sonnets there is, however, no allusion in the letters here published, which say little for some time of her own work.
To Miss Mitford
February 8, 1847.
But, my dearest Miss Mitford, your scheme about Leghorn is drawn out in the clouds. Now just see how impossible. Leghorn is fifteen miles off, and though there is a railroad there is no liberty for French books to wander backwards and forwards without inspection and seizure. Why, do remember that we are in Italy after all! Nevertheless, I will tell you what we have done: transplanted our subscription from the Italian library, which was wearing us away into a misanthropy, or at least despair of the wits of all Southerns, into a library which has a tolerable supply of French books, and gives us the privilege besides of having a French newspaper, the 'Siècle,' left with us every evening. Also, this library admits (is allowed to admit on certain conditions) some books forbidden generally by the censureship, which is of the strictest; and though Balzac appears very imperfectly, I am delighted to find him at all, and shall dun the bookseller for the 'Instruction criminelle,' which I hope discharges your Lucien as a 'forçat'—neither man nor woman—and true poet, least of all....
The 'Siècle' has for a feuilleton a new romance of Soulié's, called 'Saturnin Fichet,' which is really not good, and tiresome to boot. Robert and I began by each of us reading it, but after a little while he left me alone, being certain that no good could come of such a work. So, of course, ever since, I have been exclaiming and exclaiming as to the wonderful improvement and increasing beauty and glory of it, just to justify myself, and to make him sorry for not having persevered! The truth is, however, that but for obstinacy I should give up too. Deplorably dull the story is, and there is a crowd of people each more indifferent than each, to you; the pith of the plot being (very characteristically) that the hero has somebody exactly like him. To the reader, it's all one in every sense—who's who, and what's what. Robert is a warm admirer of Balzac and has read most of his books, but certainly—oh certainly—he does not in a general way appreciate our French people quite with our warmth; he takes too high a standard, I tell him, and won't listen to a story for a story's sake. I can bear to be amused, you know without a strong pull on my admiration. So we have great wars sometimes, and I put up Dumas' flag, or Soulié's, or Eugène Sue's (yet he was properly possessed by the 'Mystères de Paris') and carry it till my arms ache. The plays and vaudevilles he knows far more of than I do, and always maintains they are the happiest growth of the French school—setting aside the masters, observe—for Balzac and George Sand hold all their honours; and, before your letter came, he had told me about the 'Kean' and the other dramas. Then we read together the other day the 'Rouge et Noir,' that powerful book of Stendhal's (Beyle), and he thought it very striking, and observed—what I had thought from the first and again and again—that it was exactly like Balzac in the raw, in the material and undeveloped conception. What a book it is really, and so full of pain and bitterness, and the gall of iniquity! The new Dumas I shall see in time, perhaps, and it is curious that Robert had just been telling me the very story you speak of in your letter, from the 'Causes Célèbres.' I never read it—the more shame! Dearest friend, all this talk of French books and no talk about you—the most shame! You don't tell me enough of yourself, and I want to hear, because (besides the usual course of reasons) Mr. Chorley spoke of you as if you were not as cheerful as usual; do tell me. Ah! if you fancy that I do not love you as near, through being so far, you are unjust to me as you never were before. For myself, the brightness round me has had a cloud on it lately by an illness of poor Wilson's.... She would not go to Dr. Cook till I was terrified one night, while she was undressing me, by her sinking down on the sofa in a shivering fit. Oh, so frightened I was, and Robert ran out for a physician; and I could have shivered too, with the fright. But she is convalescent now, thank God! and in the meanwhile I have acquired a heap of practical philosophy, and have learnt how it is possible (in certain conditions of the human frame) to comb out and twist up one's own hair, and lace one's very own stays, and cause hooks and eyes to meet behind one's very own back, besides making toast and water for Wilson—which last miracle, it is only just to say, was considerably assisted by Robert's counsels 'not quite to set fire to the bread' while one was toasting it. He was the best and kindest all that time, as even he could be, and carried the kettle when it was too heavy for me, and helped me with heart and head. Mr. Chorley could not have praised him too much, be very sure. I, who always rather appreciated him, do set down the thoughts I had as merely unjust things; he exceeds them all, indeed. Yes, Mr. Chorley has been very kind to us. I had a kind note myself from him a few days since, and do you know that we have a sort of hope of seeing him in Italy this year, with dearest Mr. Kenyon, who has the goodness to crown his goodness by a 'dream' of coming to see us? We leave Pisa in April (did I tell you that?) and pass through Florence towards the north of Italy—to Venice, for instance. In the way of writing, I have not done much yet—just finished my rough sketch of an anti-slavery ballad and sent it off to America, where nobody will print it, I am certain, because I could not help making it bitter. If they do print it, I shall thank them more boldly in earnest than I fancy now. Tell me of Mary Howitt's new collection of ballads—are they good? I warmly wish that Mr. Chorley may succeed with his play; but how can Miss Cushman promise a hundred nights for an untried work?... Perhaps you may find the two last numbers of the 'Bells and Pomegranates' less obscure—it seems so to me. Flush has grown an absolute monarch and barks one distracted when he wants a door opened. Robert spoils him, I think. Do think of me as your ever affectionate and grateful
Have you seen 'Agnes de Misanie,' the new play by the author of 'Lucretia'? A witty feuilletoniste says of it that, besides all the unities of Aristotle, it comprises, from beginning to end, unity of situation. Not bad, is it? Madame Ancelot has just succeeded with a comedy, called 'Une Année à Paris.' By the way, shall you go to Paris this spring?
From Mr. Browning's family, though she had as yet had no opportunity of making acquaintance with them face to face, Mrs. Browning from the first met with an affectionate reception. The following is the first now extant of a series of letters written by her to Miss Browning, the poet's sister. The abrupt and private nature of the marriage never seems to have caused the slightest coldness of feeling in this quarter, though it must have caused anxiety; and the tone of the early letters, in which so new and unfamiliar a relation had to be taken up, does equal honour to the writer and to the recipient.
To Miss Browning
[Pisa: about February 1847.]
I must begin by thanking dearest Sarianna again for her note, and by assuring her that the affectionate tone of it quite made me happy and grateful together—that I am grateful to all of you: do feel that I am. For the rest, when I see (afar off) Robert's minute manuscripts, a certain distrust steals over me of anything I can possibly tell you of our way of living, lest it should be the vainest of repetitions, and by no means worth repeating, both at once. Such a quiet silent life it is—going to hear the Friar preach in the Duomo, a grand event in it, and the wind laying flat all our schemes about Volterra and Lucca! I have had to give up even the Friar for these three days past; there is nothing for me when I have driven out Robert to take his necessary walk but to sit and watch the pinewood blaze. He is grieved about the illness of his cousin, only I do hope that your next letter will confirm the happy change which stops the further anxiety, and come soon for that purpose, besides others. Your letters never can come too often, remember, even when they have not to speak of illness, and I for my part must always have a thankful interest in your cousin for the kind part he took in the happiest event of my life. You have to tell us too of your dear mother—Robert is so anxious about her always. How deeply and tenderly he loves her and all of you, never could have been more manifest than now when he is away from you and has to talk of you instead of to you. By the way (or rather out of the way) I quite took your view of the purposed ingratitude to poor Miss Haworth—it would have been worse in him than the sins of 'Examiner' and 'Athenaeum.' If authors won't feel for one another, there's an end of the world of writing! Oh, I think he proposed it in a moment of hardheartedness—we all put on tortoiseshell now and then, and presently come out into the sun as sensitively as ever. Besides Miss Haworth has written to us very kindly; and kindness doesn't spring up everywhere, like the violets in your gravel walks. See how I understand Hatcham. Do try to love me a little, dearest Sarianna, and (with my grateful love always to your father and mother) let me be your affectionate sister,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING,
or rather BA.
The correspondence with Mr. Westwood, which had lapsed for a considerable time, was resumed with the following letter:
To Mr. Westwood
Collegio Ferdinando, Pisa: March 10, 1847.
If really, my dear Mr. Westwood, it was an 'ill temper' in you, causing the brief note, it was a most flattering ill temper, and I thank you just as I have had reason to do for the good nature which has caused you to bear with me so often and so long. You have been misled on some points. I did not go to Italy last year, or rather the year before last! I was disappointed and forced to stay in Wimpole Street after all; but the winter being so mild, so miraculously mild for England you may remember, I was spared my winter relapse and left liberty for new plans such as I never used to think were in my destiny! Such a change it is to me, such a strange happiness and freedom, and you must not in your kindness wish me back again, but rather be contented, like a friend as you are, to hear that I am very happy and very well, and still doubtful whether all the brightness can be meant for me! It is just as if the sun rose again at 7 o'clock P.M. The strangeness seems so great....
I am now very well, and so happy as not to think much of it, except for the sake of another. And do you fancy how I feel, carried; into the visions of nature from my gloomy room. Even now I walk as in a dream. We made a pilgrimage from Avignon to Vaucluse in right poetical duty, and I and my husband sate upon two stones in the midst of the fountain which in its dark prison of rocks flashes and roars and testifies to the memory of Petrarch. It was louder and fuller than usual when we were there, on account of the rains; and Flush, though by no means born to be a hero, considered my position so outrageous that he dashed through the water to me, splashing me all over, so he is baptised in Petrarch's name. The scenery is full of grandeur, the rocks sheathe themselves into the sky, and nothing grows there except a little cypress here and there, and a straggling olive tree; and the fountain works out its soul in its stony prison, and runs away in a green rapid stream. Such a striking sight it is. I sate upon deck, too, in our passage from Marseilles to Genoa, and had a vision of mountains, six or seven deep, one behind another. As to Pisa, call it a beautiful town, you cannot do less with Arno and its palaces, and above all the wonderful Duomo and Campo Santo, and Leaning Tower and Baptistery, all of which are a stone's throw from our windows. We have rooms in a great college-house built by Vasari, and fallen into desuetude from collegiate purposes; and here we live the quietest and most tête-à-tête of lives, knowing nobody, hearing nothing, and for nearly three months together never catching a glimpse of a paper. Oh, how wrong you were about the 'Times'! Now, however, we subscribe to a French and Italian library, and have a French newspaper every evening, the 'Siècle,' and so look through a loophole at the world. Yet, not too proud are we, even now, for all the news you will please to send us in charity: 'da obolum Belisario!'
What do you mean about poor Tennyson? I heard of him last on his return from a visit to the Swiss mountains, which 'disappointed him,' he was said to say. Very wrong, either of mountains or poet!
Tell me if you make acquaintance with Mrs. Hewitt's new ballads.
Mrs. Jameson is engaged in a work on art which will be very interesting....
Flush's love to your Flopsy. Flush has grown very overbearing in this Italy, I think because my husband spoils him (if not for the glory at Vaucluse); Robert declares that the said Flush considers him, my husband, to be created for the especial purpose of doing him service, and really it looks rather like it.
Never do I see the 'Athenaeum' now, but before I left England some pure gushes between the rocks reminded me of you. Tell me all you can; it will all be like rain upon dry ground. My husband bids me offer his regards to you—if you will accept them; and that you may do it ask your heart. I will assure you (aside) that his poetry is as the prose of his nature: he himself is so much better and higher than his own works.
In the middle of April the Brownings left Pisa and journeyed to Florence, arriving there on April 20. There, however, the programme was arrested, and, save for an abortive excursion to Vallombrosa, whence they were repulsed by the misogynist principles of the monks, they continued to reside in Florence for the remainder of the year. Their first abode was in the Via delle Belle Donne; but after the return from Vallombrosa, in August, they moved across the river, and took furnished rooms in the Palazzo Guidi, the building which, under the name of 'Casa Guidi,' is for ever associated with their memory.
To Mrs. Martin
Florence: April 24, 1847.
I received your letter, my dearest friend, by this day's post, and wrote a little note directly to the office as a trap for the feet of your travellers. If they escape us after all, therefore, they may praise their stars for it rather than my intentions—our intentions, I should say, for Robert will gladly do everything he can in the way of expounding a text or two of the glories of Florence, and we both shall be much pleased and cordially pleased to learn more of Fanny and her brother than the glance at Pisa could teach us. As for me, she will let me have a little talking for my share: I can't walk about or see anything. I lie here flat on the sofa in order to be wise; I rest and take port wine by wineglasses; and a few more days of it will prepare me, I hope and trust, for an interview with the Venus de' Medici. Think of my having been in Florence since Tuesday, this being Saturday, and not a step taken into the galleries. It seems a disgrace, a sort of involuntary disgraceful act, or rather no-act, which to complain of relieves one to some degree. And how kind of you to wish to hear from me of myself! There is nothing really much the matter with me; I am just weak, sleeping and eating dreadfully well considering that Florence isn't seen yet, and 'looking well,' too, says Mrs. Jameson, who, with her niece, is our guest just now. It would have been wise if I had rested longer at Pisa, but, you see, there was a long engagement to meet Mrs. Jameson here, and she expressed a very kind unwillingness to leave Italy without keeping it: also she had resolved to come out of her way on purpose for this, and, as I had the consent of my physician, we determined to perform our part of the compact; and in order to prepare for the longer journey I went out in the carriage a little too soon, perhaps, and a little too long. At least, if I had kept quite still I should have been strong by this time—not that I have done myself harm in the serious sense, observe—and now the affair is accomplished, I shall be wonderfully discreet and self-denying, and resist Venuses and Apollos like some one wiser than the gods themselves. My chest is very well; there has been no symptom of evil in that quarter.... We took the whole coupé of the diligence—but regretted our first plan of the vettura nevertheless—and now are settled in very comfortable rooms in the 'Via delle Belle Donne' just out of the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, very superior rooms to our apartment in Pisa, in which we were cheated to the uttermost with all the subtlety of Italy and to the full extent of our ignorance; think what that must have been! Our present apartment, with the hire of a grand piano and music, does not cost us so much within ever so many francisconi. Oh, and you don't frighten me though we are on the north side of the Arno! We have taken our rooms for two months, and may be here longer, and the fear of the heat was stronger with me than the fear of the cold, or we might have been in the Pitti and 'arrostiti' by this time. We expected dear Mrs. Jameson on Saturday, but she came on Friday evening, having suddenly remembered that it was Shakespeare's birthday, and bringing with her from Arezzo a bottle of wine to 'drink to his memory with two other poets,' so there was a great deal of merriment, as you may fancy, and Robert played Shakespeare's favorite air, 'The Light of Love,' and everybody was delighted to meet everybody, and Roman news and Pisan dullness were properly discussed on every side. She saw a good deal of Cobden in Rome, and went with him to the Sistine Chapel. He has no feeling for art, and, being very true and earnest, could only do his best to try to admire Michael Angelo; but here and there, where he understood, the pleasure was expressed with a blunt characteristic simplicity. Standing before the statue of Demosthenes, he said: 'That man is persuaded himself of what he speaks, and will therefore persuade others.' She liked him exceedingly. For my part, I should join in more admiration if it were not for his having accepted money, but paid patriots are no heroes of mine. 'Verily they have their reward.' O'Connell had arrived in Rome, and it was considered that he came only to die. Among the artists, Gibson and Wyatt were doing great things; she wishes us to know Gibson particularly. As to the Pope he lives in an atmosphere of love and admiration, and 'he is doing what he can,' Mrs. Jameson believes. Robert says: 'A dreadful situation, after all, for a man of understanding and honesty! I pity him from my soul, for he can, at best, only temporise with truth.' But human nature is doomed to pay a high price for its opportunities. Delighted I am to have your good account of dear Mr. Martin, though you are naughty people to persist in going to England so soon. Do write to me and tell me all about both of you. I will do what I can—like the Pope—but what can I do? Yes, indeed, I mean to enjoy art and nature too; one shall not exclude the other. This Florence seems divine as we pass the bridges, and my husband, who knows everything, is to teach and show me all the great wonders, so that I am reasonably impatient to try my advantages. His kind regards to you both, and my best love, dearest friends....
Your very affectionate
To Mrs. Jameson
Florence: May 12, .
I was afraid, we both were afraid for you, dearest friend, when we saw the clouds gather and heard the rain fall as it did that day at Florence. It seemed impossible that you should be beyond the evil influence, should you have travelled ever so fast; but, after all, a storm in the Apennines, like many a moral storm, will be better perhaps than a calm to look back upon. We talked of you and thought of you, and missed you at coffee time, and regretted that so pleasant a week (for us) should have gone so fast, as fast as a dull week, or, rather, a good deal faster. Dearest friend, do believe that we felt your goodness in Coming to us—in making us an object—before you left Italy; it fills up the measure of goodness and kindness for which we shall thank and love you all our lives. Never fancy that we can forget you or be less touched by the memory of what you have been to us in affection and sympathy—never. And don't you lose sight of us; do write often, and do, do make haste and come back to Italy, and then make use of us in any and every possible way as house-takers or house-mates, for we are ready to accept the lowest place or the highest. The week you gave us would be altogether bright and glad if it had not been for the depression and anxiety on your part. May God turn it all to gain and satisfaction in some unlooked-for way. To be a road-maker is weary work, even across the Apennines of life. We have not science enough for it if we have strength, which we haven't either. Do you remember how Sindbad shut his eyes and let himself be carried over the hills by an eagle? That was better than to set about breaking stones. Also what you could do you have done; you have finished your part, and the sense of a fulfilled duty is in itself satisfying—is and must be. My sympathies go with you entirely, while I wish your dear Gerardine to be happy; I wish it from my heart.... Just after you left us arrived our box with the precious deeds, which are thrown into the cabinet for want of witnesses. And then Robert has had a letter from Mr. Forster with the date of Shakespeare's birthday, and overflowing with kindness really both to himself and me. It quite touched me, that letter. Also we have had a visitation from an American, but on the point of leaving Florence and very tame and inoffensive, and we bore it very well considering. He sent us a new literary periodical of the old world, in which, among other interesting matter, I had the pleasure of reading an account of my own 'blindness,' taken from a French paper (the 'Presse'), and mentioned with humane regret. Well! and what more news is there to tell you? I have been out once, only once, and only for an inglorious glorious drive round the Piazza Gran Duca, past the Duomo, outside the walls, and in again at the Cascine. It was like the trail of a vision in the evening sun. I saw the Perseus in a sort of flash. The Duomo is more after the likeness of a Duomo than Pisa can show; I like those masses in ecclesiastical architecture. Now we are plotting how to, engage a carriage for a month's service without ruining ourselves, for we must see, and I can't walk and see, though much stronger than when we parted, and looking much better, as Robert and the looking glass both do testify. I have seemed at last 'to leap to a conclusion' of convalescence. But the heat—oh, so hot it is. If it is half as hot with you, you must be calling on the name of St. Lawrence by this time, and require no 'turning.' I should not like to travel under such a sun. It would be too like playing at snapdragon. Yes, 'brightly happy.' Women generally lose by marriage, but I have gained the world by mine. If it were not for some griefs, which are and must be griefs, I should be too happy perhaps, which is good for nobody. May God bless you, my dear, dearest friend! Robert must be content with sending his love to-day, and shall write another day. We both love you every day. My love and a kiss to dearest Gerardine, who is to remember to write to me.
Your ever affectionate
To H.S. Boyd
Florence: May 26, 1847.
I should have answered your letter, my dearest friend, more quickly, but when it came I was ill, as you may have heard, and afterwards I wished to wait until I could send you information about the Leaning Tower and the bells. The book you required, about the cathedral, Robert has tried in vain to procure for you. Plenty of such books, but not in English. In London such things are to be found, I should think, without difficulty, for instance, 'Murray's Handbook to Northern Italy,' though rather dear (12s.), would give you sufficiently full information upon the ecclesiastical glories both of Pisa and of this beautiful Florence, from whence I write to you.... I will answer for the harmony of the bells, as we lived within a stone's throw of them, and they began at four o'clock every morning and rang my dreams apart. The Pasquareccia (the fourth) especially has a profound note in it, which may well have thrilled horror to the criminal's heart. It was ghastly in its effects; dropped into the deep of night like a thought of death. Often have I said, 'Oh, how ghastly!' and then turned on my pillow and dreamed a bad dream. But if the bell founders at Pisa have a merited reputation, let no one say as much for the bellringers. The manner in which all the bells of all the churches in the city are shaken together sometimes would certainly make you groan in despair of your ears. The discord is fortunately indescribable. Well—but here we are at Florence, the most beautiful of the cities devised by man....
In the meanwhile I have seen the Venus, I have seen the divine Raphaels. I have stood by Michael Angelo's tomb in Santa Croce. I have looked at the wonderful Duomo. This cathedral! After all, the elaborate grace of the Pisan cathedral is one thing, and the massive grandeur of this of Florence is another and better thing; it struck me with a sense of the sublime in architecture. At Pisa we say, 'How beautiful!' here we say nothing; it is enough if we can breathe. The mountainous marble masses overcome as we look up—we feel the weight of them on the soul. Tesselated marbles (the green treading its elaborate pattern into the dim yellow, which seems the general hue of the structure) climb against the sky, self-crowned with that prodigy of marble domes. It struck me as a wonder in architecture. I had neither seen nor imagined the like of it in any way. It seemed to carry its theology out with it; it signified more than a mere building. Tell me everything you want to know. I shall like to answer a thousand questions. Florence is beautiful, as I have said before, and must say again and again, most beautiful. The river rushes through the midst of its palaces like a crystal arrow, and it is hard to tell, when you see all by the clear sunset, whether those churches, and houses, and windows, and bridges, and people walking, in the water or out of the water, are the real walls, and windows, and bridges, and people, and churches. The only difference is that, down below, there is a double movement; the movement of the stream besides the movement of life. For the rest, the distinctness of the eye is as great in one as in the other.... Remember me to such of my friends as remember me kindly when unreminded by me. I am very happy—happier and happier.
Robert's best regards to you always.
To Mrs. Jameson
Palazzo Guidi, Via Maggio, Florence:
August 7, 1847 [postmark].
You will be surprised perhaps, and perhaps not, dearest friend, to find that we are still at Florence. Florence 'holds us with a glittering eye;' there's a charm cast round us, and we can't get away. In the first place, your news of Recoaro came so late that, as you said yourself, we ought to have been there before your letter reached us. Nobody would encourage us to go north on any grounds, indeed, and if anybody speaks a word now in favour of Venice, straight comes somebody else speaking the direct contrary. Altogether, we took to making a plan of our own—a great, wild, delightful plan of plunging into the mountains and spending two or three months at the monastery of Vallombrosa, until the heat was passed, and dear Mr. Kenyon decided, and we could either settle for the winter at Florence or pass on to Rome. Could anything look more delightful than that? Well, we got a letter of recommendation to the abbot, and left our apartment, Via delle Belle Donne, a week before our three months were done, thoroughly burned out by the sun; set out at four in the morning, reached Pelago, and from thence travelled five miles along a 'via non rotabile' through the most romantic scenery. Oh, such mountains!—as if the whole world were alive with mountains—such ravines—black in spite of flashing waters in them—such woods and rocks—travelled in basket sledges drawn by four white oxen—Wilson and I and the luggage—and Robert riding step by step. We were four hours doing the five miles, so you may fancy what rough work it was. Whether I was most tired or charmed was a tug between body and soul. The worst was that, there being a new abbot at the monastery—an austere man jealous of his sanctity and the approach of women—our letter, and Robert's eloquence to boot, did nothing for us, and we were ingloriously and ignominiously expelled at the end of five days. For three days we were welcome; for two more we kept our ground; but after that, out we were thrust, with baggage and expectations. Nothing could be much more provoking. And yet we came back very merrily for disappointed people to Florence, getting up at three in the morning, and rolling or sliding (as it might happen) down the precipitous path, and seeing round us a morning glory of mountains, clouds, and rising sun, such as we never can forget—back to Florence and our old lodgings, and an eatable breakfast of coffee and bread, and a confession one to another that if we had won the day instead of losing it, and spent our summer with the monks, we should have grown considerably thinner by the victory. They make their bread, I rather imagine, with the sawdust of their fir trees, and, except oil and wine—yes, and plenty of beef (of fleisch, as your Germans say, of all kinds, indeed), which isn't precisely the fare to suit us—we were thrown for nourishment on the great sights around. Oh, but so beautiful were mountains and forests and waterfalls that I could have kept my ground happily for the two months—even though the only book I saw there was the chronicle of their San Gualberto. Is he not among your saints? Being routed fairly, and having breakfasted fully at our old apartment, Robert went out to find cool rooms, if possible, and make the best of our position, and now we are settled magnificently in this Palazzo Guidi on a first floor in an apartment which looks quite beyond our means, and would be except in the dead part of the season—a suite of spacious rooms opening on a little terrace and furnished elegantly—rather to suit our predecessor the Russian prince than ourselves—but cool and in a delightful situation, six paces from the Piazza Pitti, and with right of daily admission to the Boboli gardens. We pay what we paid in the Via Belle Donne. Isn't this prosperous? You would be surprised to see me, I think, I am so very well (and look so)—dispensed from being carried upstairs, and inclined to take a run, for a walk, every now and then. I scarcely recognise myself or my ways, or my own spirits, all is so different....
We have made the acquaintance of Mr. Powers, who is delightful—of a most charming simplicity, with those great burning eyes of his. Tell me what you think of his boy listening to the shell. Oh, your Raphaels! how divine! And M. Angelo's sculptures! His pictures I leap up to in vain, and fall back regularly. Write of your book and yourself, and write soon; and let me be, as always, your affectionate BA.
We are here for two months certain, and perhaps longer. Do write.
Dear Aunt Nina,—Ba has said something for me, I hope. In any case, my love goes with hers, I trust you are well and happy, as we are, and as we would make you if we could. Love to Geddie. Ever yours, [R.B.]
To Mrs. Martin
Florence: August 7, 1847.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—How I have been longing to get this letter, which comes at last, and justifies the longing by the pleasure it gives!... How kind, how affectionate you are to me, and how strong your claim is that I should thrust on you, in defiance of good taste and conventions, every evidence and assurance of my happiness, so as to justify your faith to yourselves and others. Indeed, indeed, dearest Mrs. Martin, you may 'exult' for me—and this though it should all end here and now. The uncertainties of life and death seem nothing to me. A year (nearly) is saved from the darkness, and if that one year has compensated for those that preceded it—which it has, abundantly—why, let it for those that shall follow, if it so please God. Come what may, I feel as if I never could have a right to murmur. I have been happy enough. Brought about too it was, indeed, by a sort of miracle which to this moment, when I look back, bewilders me to think of; and if you knew the details, counted the little steps, and could; compare my moral position three years and a half ago with this, you would come to despise San Gualberto's miraculous tree at Vallombrosa, which, being dead, gave out green leaves in recognition of his approach, as testified by the inscription—do you remember? But you can't stop to-day to read mine, so rather I shall tell you of our exploit in the mountains. Only one thing I must say first, one thing which you must forgive me for the vanity of resolving to say at last, having had it in my head very often. There's a detestable engraving, which, if you have the ill luck to see (and you may, because, horrible to relate, it is in the shop windows), will you have the kindness, for my sake, not to fancy like Robert?—it being, as he says himself, the very image of 'a young man at Waterloo House, in a moment of inspiration—"A lovely blue, ma'am."' It is as like Robert as Flush. And now I am going to tell you of Vallombrosa. You heard how we meant to stay two months there, and you are to imagine how we got up at three in the morning to escape the heat (imagine me!)—and with all our possessions and a 'dozen of port' (which my husband doses me with twice a day because once it was necessary) proceeded to Pelago by vettura, and from thence in two sledges, drawn each by two white bullocks up to the top of the holy mountain. (Robert was on horseback.) Precisely it must be as you left it. Who can make a road up a house? We were four hours going five miles, and I with all my goodwill was dreadfully tired, and scarcely in appetite for the beef and oil with which we were entertained at the House of Strangers. We are simple people about diet, and had said over and over that we would live on eggs and milk and bread and butter during these two months. We might as well have said that we would live on manna from heaven. The things we had fixed on were just the impossible things. Oh, that bread, with the fetid smell, which stuck in the throat like Macbeth's amen! I am not surprised, you recollect it! The hens had 'got them to a nunnery,' and objected to lay eggs, and the milk and the holy water stood confounded. But of course we spread the tablecloth, just as you did, over all drawbacks of the sort; and the beef and oil, as I said, and the wine too, were liberal and excellent, and we made our gratitude apparent in Robert's best Tuscan—in spite of which we were turned out ignominiously at the end of five days, having been permitted to overstay the usual three days by only two. No, nothing could move the lord abbot. He is a new abbot, and; given to sanctity, and has set his face against women. 'While he is abbot,' he said to our mediating monk, 'he will be abbot. So he is abbot, and we had to come back to Florence.' As I read in the 'Life of San Gualberto,' laid on the table for the edification of strangers, the brothers attain to sanctification, among other means, by cleaning out pigsties with their bare hands, without spade or shovel; but that is uncleanliness enough—they wouldn't touch the little finger of a woman. Angry I was, I do assure you. I should have liked to stay there, in spite of the bread. We should have been only a little thinner at the end. And the scenery—oh, how magnificent! How we enjoyed that great, silent, ink-black pine wood! And do you remember the sea of mountains to the left? How grand it is! We were up at three in the morning again to return to Florence, and the glory of that morning sun breaking the clouds to pieces among the hills is something ineffaceable from my remembrance. We came back ignominiously to our old rooms, but found it impossible to stay on account of the suffocating heat, yet we scarcely could go far from Florence, because of Mr. Kenyon and our hope of seeing him here (since lost). A perplexity ended by Robert's discovery of our present apartments, on the Pitti side of the river (indeed, close to the Grand Duke's palace), consisting of a suite of spacious and delightful rooms, which come within our means only from the deadness of the summer season, comparatively quite cool, and with a terrace which I enjoy to the uttermost through being able to walk there without a bonnet, by just stepping out of the window. The church of San Felice is opposite, so we haven't a neighbour to look through the sunlight or moonlight and take observations. Isn't that pleasant altogether? We ordered back the piano and the book subscription, and settled for two months, and forgave the Vallombrosa monks for the wrong they did us, like secular Christians. What is to come after, I can't tell you. But probably we shall creep slowly along toward Rome, and spend some hot time of it at Perugia, which is said to be cool enough. I think more of other things, wishing that my dearest, kindest sisters had a present as bright as mine—to think nothing at all of the future. Dearest Henrietta's position has long made me uneasy, and, since she frees me into confidence by her confidence to you, I will tell you so. Most undesirable it is that this should be continued, and yet where is there a door open to escape? ... My dear brothers have the illusion that nobody should marry on less than two thousand a year. Good heavens! how preposterous it does seem to me! We scarcely spend three hundred, and I have every luxury, I ever had, and which it would be so easy to give up, at need; and Robert wouldn't sleep, I think, if an unpaid bill dragged itself by any chance into another week. He says that when people get into 'pecuniary difficulties,' his 'sympathies always go with the butchers and bakers.' So we keep out of scrapes yet, you see....
Your grateful and most affectionate
We have had the most delightful letter from Carlyle, who has the goodness to say that not for years has a marriage occurred in his private circle in which he so heartily rejoiced as in ours. He is a personal friend of Robert's, so that I have reason to be very proud and glad.
Robert's best regards to you both always, and he is no believer in magnetism (only I am). Do mention Mr. C. Hanford's health. How strange that he should come to witness my marriage settlement! Did you hear?
To Miss Mitford
Florence: August 20, ,
I have received your letter at last, my ever dearest Miss Mitford, not the missing letter, but the one which comes to make up for it and to catch up my thoughts, which were grumbling at high tide, I do assure you.... As you observed last year (not without reason), these are the days of marrying and giving in marriage. Mr. Horne, you see ... With all my heart I hope he may be very happy. Men risk a good deal in marriage, though not as much as women do; and on the other hand, the singleness of a man when his youth is over is a sadder thing than the saddest which an unmarried woman can suffer. Nearly all my friends of both sexes have been draining off into marriage these two years, scarcely one will be left in the sieve, and I may end by saying that I have happiness enough for my own share to be divided among them all and leave everyone, contented. For me, I take it for pure magic, this life of mine. Surely nobody was ever so happy before. I shall wake some morning with my hair all dripping out of the enchanted bucket, or if not we shall both claim the 'Flitch' next September, if you can find one for us in the land of Cockaigne, drying in expectancy of the revolution in Tennyson's 'Commonwealth.' Well, I don't agree with Mr. Harness in admiring the lady of 'Locksley Hall.' I must either pity or despise a woman who could have married Tennyson and chose a common man. If happy in her choice, I despise her. That's matter of opinion, of course. You may call it matter of foolishness when I add that I personally would rather be teased a little and smoked over a good deal by a man whom I could look up to and be proud of, than have my feet kissed all day by a Mr. Smith in boots and a waistcoat, and thereby chiefly distinguished. Neither I nor another, perhaps, had quite a right to expect a combination of qualities, such as meet, though, in my husband, who is as faultless and pure in his private life as any Mr. Smith of them all, who would not owe five shillings, who lives like a woman in abstemiousness on a pennyworth of wine a day, never touches a cigar even.... Do you hear, as we do, from Mr. Forster, that his new poem is his best work? As soon as you read it, let me have your opinion. The subject seems almost identical with one of Chaucer's. Is it not so? We have spent here the most delightful of summers, notwithstanding the heat, and I begin to comprehend the possibility of St. Lawrence's ecstasies on the gridiron. Very hot it certainly has been and is, yet there have been cool intermissions; and as we have spacious and airy rooms, and as Robert lets me sit all day in my white dressing gown without a single masculine criticism, and as we can step out of the window on a sort of balcony terrace which is quite private and swims over with moonlight in the evenings, and as we live upon water melons and iced water and figs and all manner of fruit, we bear the heat with an angelic patience and felicity which really are edifying. We tried to make the monks of Vallombrosa let us stay with them for two months, but their new abbot said or implied that Wilson and I stank in his nostrils, being women, and San Gualberto, the establishes of their order, had enjoined on them only the mortification of cleaning out pigsties without fork or shovel. So here a couple of women besides was (as Dickens's American said) 'a piling it up rayther too mountainious.' So we were sent away at the end of five days. So provoking! Such scenery, such hills, such a sea of hills looking alive among the clouds. Which rolled, it was difficult to discern. Such pine woods, supernaturally silent, with the ground black as ink, such chestnut and beech forests hanging from the mountains, such rocks and torrents, such chasms and ravines. There were eagles there, too, [and] there was no road. Robert went on horseback, and Flush, Wilson, and I were drawn in a sledge (i.e. an old hamper, a basket wine hamper without a wheel) by two white bullocks up the precipitous mountains. Think of my travelling in that fashion in those wild places at four o'clock in the morning, a little frightened, dreadfully tired, but in an ecstasy of admiration above all! It was a sight to see before one died and went away to another world. Well, but being expelled ignominiously at the end of five days, we had to come back to Florence, and find a new apartment cooler than the old, and wait for dear Mr. Kenyon. And dear Mr. Kenyon does not come (not this autumn, but he may perhaps at the first dawn of spring), and on September 20 we take up our knapsacks and turn our faces towards Rome, I think, creeping slowly along, with a pause at Arezzo, and a longer pause at Perugia, and another perhaps at Terni. Then we plan to take an apartment we have heard of, over the Tarpeian Rock, and enjoy Rome as we have enjoyed Florence. More can scarcely be. This Florence is unspeakably beautiful, by grace both of nature and art, and the wheels of life slide on upon the grass (according to continental ways) with little trouble and less expense. Dinner, 'unordered,' comes through the streets and spreads itself on our table, as hot as if we had smelt cutlets hours before. The science of material life is understood here and in France. Now tell me, what right has England to be the dearest country in the world? But I love dearly dear England, and we hope to spend many a green summer in her yet. The winters you will excuse us, will you not? People who are, like us, neither rich nor strong, claim such excuses. I am wonderfully well, and far better and stronger than before what you call the Pisan 'crisis.' Robert declares that nobody would know me, I look so much better. And you heard from dearest Henrietta. Ah, both of my dearest sisters have been perfect to me. No words can express my feelings towards their goodness. Otherwise, I have good accounts from home of my father's excellent health and spirits, which is better even than to hear of his loving and missing me. I had a few kind lines yesterday from Miss Martineau, who invites us from Florence to Westmoreland. She wants to talk to me, she says, of 'her beloved Jordan.' She is looking forward to a winter of work by the lakes, and to a summer of gardening. The kindest of letters Robert has had from Carlyle, who makes us very happy by what he says of our marriage. Shakespeare's favorite air of the 'Light of Love,' with the full evidence of its being Shakespeare's favorite air, is given in Charles Knight's edition. Seek for it there. Now do write to me and at length, and tell me everything of yourself. Flush hated Vallombrosa, and was frightened out of his wits by the pine forests. Flush likes civilised life, and the society of little dogs with turned-up tails, such as Florence abounds with. Unhappily it abounds also with fleas, which afflict poor Flush to the verge sometimes of despair. Fancy Robert and me down on our knees combing him, with a basin of water on one side! He suffers to such a degree from fleas that I cannot bear to witness it. He tears off his pretty curls through the irritation. Do you know of a remedy? Direct to me, Poste Restante, Florence. Put via France. Let me hear, do; and everything of yourself, mind. Is Mrs. Partridge in better spirits? Do you read any new French books? Dearest friend, let me offer you my husband's cordial regards, with the love of your own affectionate
To Mr. Westwood
Florence: September 1847.
Yes, indeed, my dear Mr. Westwood, I have seen 'friars.' We have been on a pilgrimage to Vallombrosa, and while my husband rode up and down the precipitous mountain paths, I and my maid and Flush were dragged in a hamper by two white bullocks—and such scenery; such hilly peaks, such black ravines and gurgling waters, and rocks and forests above and below, and at last such a monastery and such friars, who wouldn't let us stay with them beyond five days for fear of corrupting the fraternity. The monks had a new abbot, a St. Sejanus of a holy man, and a petticoat stank in his nostrils, said he, and all the I beseeching which we could offer him with joined hands was classed with the temptations of St. Anthony. So we had to come away as we went, and get the better as we could of our disappointment, and really it was a disappointment not to be able to stay our two months out in the wilderness as we had planned it, to say nothing of the heat of Florence, to which at the moment it was not pleasant to return. But we got new lodgings in the shade and comforted ourselves as well as we could. 'Comforted'—there's a word for Florence—that ingratitude was a slip of the pen, believe me. Only we had set our hearts upon a two months' seclusion in the deep of the pine forests (which have such a strange dialect in the silence they speak with), and the mountains were divine, and it was provoking to be crossed in our ambitions by that little holy abbot with the red face, and to be driven out of Eden, even to Florence. It is said, observe, that Milton took his description of Paradise from Vallombrosa—so driven out of Eden we were, literally. To Florence, though! and what Florence is, the tongue of man or poet may easily fail to describe. The most beautiful of cities, with the golden Arno shot through the breast of her like an arrow, and 'non dolet' all the same. For what helps to charm here is the innocent gaiety of the people, who, for ever at feast day and holiday celebrations, come and go along the streets, the women in elegant dresses and with glittering fans, shining away every thought of Northern cares and taxes, such as make people grave in England. No little orphan on a house step but seems to inherit, naturally his slice of water-melon and bunch of purple grapes, and the rich fraternise with the poor as we are unaccustomed to see them, listening to the same music and walking in the same gardens, and looking at the same Raphaels even! Also we were glad to be here just now, when there is new animation and energy given to Italy by this new wonderful Pope, who is a great man and doing greatly. I hope you give him your sympathies. Think how seldom the liberation of a people begins from the throne, à fortiori from a papal throne, which is so high and straight. And the spark spreads! here is even our Grand Duke conceding the civic guard, and forgetting his Austrian prejudices. The world learns, it is pleasant to observe....
So well I am, dear Mr. Westwood, and so happy after a year's trial of the stuff of marriage, happier than ever, perhaps, and the revolution is so complete that one has to learn to stand up straight and steadily (like a landsman in a sailing ship) before one can do any work with one's hand and brain.
We have had a delightful letter from Carlyle, who loves my husband, I am proud to say.
To Miss Mitford
[Florence:] October 1, 1847 [postmark].
Ever dearest Miss Mitford,—I am delighted to have your letter, and lose little time in replying to it. The lost letter meanwhile does not appear. The moon has it, to make more shine on these summer nights; if still one may say 'summer' now that September is deep and that we are cool as people hoped to be when at hottest.... Do tell me your full thought of the commonwealth of women. I begin by agreeing with you as to his implied under-estimate of women; his women are too voluptuous; however, of the most refined voluptuousness. His gardener's daughter, for instance, is just a rose: and 'a Rose,' one might beg all poets to observe, is as precisely sensual as fricasseed chicken, or even boiled beef and carrots. Did you read Mrs. Butler's 'Year of Consolation,' and how did you think of it in the main? As to Mr. Home's illustrations of national music, I don't know; I feel a little jealous of his doing well what many inferior men have done well—men who couldn't write 'Orion' and the 'Death of Marlowe.' Now, dearest dear Miss Mitford, you shall call him 'tiresome' if you like, because I never heard him talk, and he may be tiresome for aught I know, of course; but you sha'n't say that he has not done some fine things in poetry. Now, you know what the first book of 'Orion' is, and 'Marlowe,' and 'Cosmo;' and you sha'n't say that you don't know it, and that when you forgot it for a moment, I did not remind you.... It was our plan to leave Florence on the 21st. We stay, however, one month longer, half through temptation, half through reason. Which is strongest, who knows? We quite love Florence, and have delightful rooms; and then, though I am quite well now as to my general health, it is thought better for me to travel a month hence. So I suppose we shall stay. In the meanwhile our Florentines kept the anniversary of our wedding day (and the establishment of the civic guard) most gloriously a day or two or three ago, forty thousand persons flocking out of the neighbourhood to help the expression of public sympathy and overflowing the city. The procession passed under our eyes into the Piazza Pitti, where the Grand Duke and all his family stood at the palace window melting into tears, to receive the thanks of his people. The joy and exultation on all sides were most affecting to look upon. Grave men kissed one another, and grateful young women lifted up their children to the level of their own smiles, and the children themselves mixed their shrill little vivas with the shouts of the people. At once, a more frenetic gladness and a more innocent manifestation of gladness were never witnessed. During three hours and a half the procession wound on past our windows, and every inch of every house seemed alive with gazers all that time, the white handkerchiefs fluttering like doves, and clouds of flowers and laurel leaves floating down on the heads of those who passed. Banners, too, with inscriptions to suit the popular feeling—'Liberty'—the 'Union of Italy'—the 'Memory of the Martyrs'—'Viva Pio Nono'—'Viva Leopoldo Secondo'—were quite stirred with the breath of the shouters. I am glad to have seen that sight, and to be in Italy at this moment, when such sights are to be seen. My wrist aches a little even now with the waving I gave to my handkerchief, I assure you, for Robert and I and Flush sate the whole sight out at the window, and would not be reserved with the tribute of our sympathy. Flush had his two front paws over the window sill, with his ears hanging down, but he confessed at last that he thought they were rather long about it, particularly as it had nothing to do with dinner and chicken bones and subjects of consequence. He is less tormented and looks better; in excellent spirits and appetite always—and thinner, like your Flush—and very fond of Robert, as indeed he ought to be. On the famous evening of that famous day I have been speaking of, we lost him—he ran away and stayed away all night—which was too bad, considering that it was our anniversary besides, and that he had no right to spoil it. But I imagine he was bewildered with the crowd and the illumination, only as he did look so very guilty and conscious of evil on his return, there's room for suspecting him of having been very much amused, 'motu proprio,' as our Grand Duke says in the edict. He was found at nine o'clock in the morning at the door of our apartment, waiting to be let in—mind, I don't mean the Grand Duke. Very few acquaintances have we made at Florence, and very quietly lived out our days. Mr. Powers the sculptor is our chief friend and favorite, a most charming, simple, straight-forward, genial American, as simple as the man of genius he has proved himself needs be. He sometimes comes to talk and take coffee with us, and we like him much. His wife is an amiable woman, and they have heaps of children from thirteen downwards, all, except the eldest boy, Florentines, and the sculptor has eyes like a wild Indian's, so black and full of light. You would scarcely wonder if they clave the marble without the help of his hands. We have seen besides the Hoppners, Lord Byron's friends at Venice, you will remember. And Miss Boyle, the niece of the Earl of Cork, and authoress and poetess on her own account, having been introduced once to Robert in London at Lady Morgan's, has hunted us out and paid us a visit. A very vivacious little person, with sparkling talk enough. Lord Holland has lent her mother and herself the famous Careggi Villa, where Lorenzo the Magnificent died, and they have been living there among the vines these four months. These and a few American visitors are all we have seen at Florence. We live a far more solitary life than you do, in your village and with the 'prestige' of the country wrapping you round. Pray give your sympathies to our Pope, and call him a great man. For liberty to spring from a throne is wonderful, but from a papal throne is miraculous. That's my doxy. I suppose dear Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Chorley are still abroad. French books I get at, but at scarcely a new one, which is very provoking. At Rome it may be better. I have not read 'Martin' even, since the first volume in England, nor G. Sand's 'Lucretia.'
May God bless you. Think sometimes of your ever affectionate E.B.B.
The 'month' lengthened itself out, and December found the Brownings still in Florence, and definitely established there for the winter. During this time, although there is no allusion to it in the letters, Mrs. Browning must have been engaged in writing the first part of 'Casa Guidi Windows' with its hopeful aspirations for Italian liberty. It was, indeed, a time when hope seemed justifiable. Pius IX. had ascended the papal throne—then a temporal as well as a spiritual sovereignty—in June 1846, with the reputation of being anxious to introduce liberal reforms, and even to promote the formation of a united Italy. The English Government was diplomatically advocating reform, in spite of the opposition of Austria; and its representative, Lord Minto, who was sent on a special mission to Italy to bring this influence to bear on the rulers of the various Italian States, was received with enthusiastic joy by the zealots for Italian liberty. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, as was noticed above, had taken the first step in the direction of popular government by the institution of a National Guard; and Charles Albert of Piedmont was always supposed to have the cause of Italy at heart in spite of the vacillations of his policy. The catastrophe of 1848 was still in the distance; and for the moment a friend of freedom and of Italy might be permitted to hope much.
Yet a difference will be noticed between the tone of Mrs. Browning's letters at this time and that which marks her language in 1859. In 1847 she was still comparatively new to the country. She is interested in the experiment which she sees enacted before her; she feels, as any poet must feel, the attraction of the idea of a free and united Italy. But her heart is not thrown into the struggle as it was at a later time. She can write, and does, for the most part, write, of other matters. The disappointment of Milan and Novara could not break her heart, as the disappointment of Villafranca went near to doing. They are not, indeed, so much as mentioned in detail in the letters that follow. It is in 'Casa Guidi Windows'—the first part written in 1847-8, the second in 1851—that her reflections upon Italian politics, alike in their hopes and in their failures, must be sought.
To Miss Mitford
Florence: December 8, 1847.
Have you thought me long, my dearest Miss Mitford, in writing? When your letter came we were distracted by various uncertainties, torn by wild horses of sundry speculations, and then, when one begins by delay in answering a letter, you are aware how a silence grows and grows. Also I heard of you through my sisters and Mrs. Duprey[?], and that made me lazier still. Now don't treat me according to the Jewish law, an eye for an eye; no! but a heart for a heart, if you please; and you never can have reason to reproach mine for not loving you. Think what we have done since I wrote last to you. Taken two houses, that is, two apartments, each for six months, presigning the contract. You will set it down as excellent poet's work in the way of domestic economy; but the fault was altogether mine as usual, and my husband, to please me, took rooms which I could not be pleased by three days, through the absence of sunshine and warmth. The consequence was that we had to pay heaps of guineas away for leave to go away ourselves, any alternative being preferable to a return of illness, and I am sure I should have been ill if we had persisted in staying there. You can scarcely fancy the wonderful difference which the sun makes in Italy. Oh, he isn't a mere 'round O' in the air in this Italy, I assure you! He makes us feel that he rules the day to all intents and purposes. So away we came into the blaze of him here in the Piazza Pitti, precisely opposite the Grand Duke's palace, I with my remorse, and poor Robert without a single reproach. Any other man, a little lower than the angels, would have stamped and sworn a little for the mere relief of the thing, but as to his being angry with me for any cause, except not eating enough dinner, the said sun would turn the wrong way first. So here we are on the Pitti till April, in small rooms yellow with sunshine from morning to evening; and most days I am able to get out into the piazza, and walk up and down for some twenty minutes without feeling a shadow of breath from the actual winter. Also it is pleasant to be close to the Raffaels, to say nothing of the immense advantage of the festa days, when, day after day, the civic guard comes to show the whole population of Florence, their Grand Duke inclusive, the new helmets and epaulettes and the glory thereof. They have swords, too, I believe, somewhere. The crowds come and come, like children to see rows of dolls, only the children would tire sooner than the Tuscans. Robert said musingly the other morning as we stood at the window, 'Surely, after all this, they would use those muskets.' It's a problem, a 'grand peut-être.' I was rather amused by hearing lately that our civic heroes had the gallantry to propose to the ancient military that these last should do the night work, i.e. when nobody was looking on and there was no credit, as they found it dull and fatiguing. Ah, one laughs, you see; one can't help it now and then. But at the real and rising feeling of the people by night and day one doesn't laugh indeed. I hear and see with the deepest sympathy of soul, on the contrary. I love the Italians, too, and none the less that something of the triviality and innocent vanity of children abounds in them. A delightful and most welcome letter was the last you sent me, my dearest friend. Your bridal visit must have charmed you, and I am glad you had the gladness of witnessing some of the happiness of your friend, Mrs. Acton Tyndal, you who have such quick sympathies, and to whom the happiness of a friend is a gain counted in your own. The swan's shadow is something in a clear water. For poor Mrs.——, if she is really, as you say Mrs. Tyndal thinks, pining in an access of literary despondency, why that only proves to me that she is not happy otherwise, that her life and soul are not sufficiently filled for her woman's need. I cannot believe of any woman that she can think of fame first. A woman of genius may be absorbed, indeed, in the exercise of an active power, engrossed in the charges of the course and the combat; but this is altogether different to a vain and bitter longing for prizes, and what prizes, oh, gracious heavens! The empty cup of cold metal! so cold, so empty to a woman with a heart. So, if your friend's belief is true, still more deeply do I pity that other friend, who is supposed to be unhappy from such a cause. A few days ago I saw a bride of my own family, Mrs. Reynolds, Arlette Butler, who married Captain Reynolds some five months since.... Many were her exclamations at seeing me. She declared that such a change was never seen, I was so transfigured with my betterness: 'Oh, Ba, it is quite wonderful indeed!' We had been calculated on, during her three months in Rome, as a 'piece of resistance,' and it was a disappointment to find us here in a corner with the salt. Just as I was praised was poor Flush criticised. Flush has not recovered from the effects yet of the summer plague of fleas, and his curls, though growing, are not grown. I never saw him in such spirits nor so ugly; and though Robert and I flatter ourselves upon 'the sensible improvement,' Arlette could only see him with reference to the past, when in his Wimpole Street days he was sleek and over fat, and she cried aloud at the loss of his beauty. Then we have had [another] visitor, Mr. Hillard, an American critic, who reviewed me in [the old] world, and so came to view me in the new, a very intelligent man, of a good, noble spirit. And Miss Boyle, ever and anon, comes at night, at nine o'clock, to catch us at our hot chestnuts and mulled wine, and warm her feet at our fire; and a kinder, more cordial little creature, full of talent and accomplishment, never had the world's polish on it. Very amusing, too, she is, and original, and a good deal of laughing she and Robert make between them. Did I tell you of her before, and how she is the niece of Lord Cork, and poetess by grace of certain Irish Muses? Neither of us know her writings in any way, but we like her, and for the best reasons. And this is nearly all, I think, we see of the 'face divine,' masculine and feminine, and I can't make Robert go out a single evening, not even to a concert, nor to hear a play of Alfieri's, yet we fill up our days with books and music (and a little writing has its share), and wonder at the clock for galloping. It's twenty-four o'clock with us almost as soon as we begin to count. Do tell me of Tennyson's book, and of Miss Martineau's. I was grieved to hear a distant murmur of a rumour of an apprehension of a return of her complaint: somebody said that she could not bear the pressure of dress, and that the exhaustion resulting from the fits of absorption in work and enthusiasm on the new subject of Egypt was painfully great, and that her friends feared for her. I should think that the bodily excitement and fatigue of her late travels must have been highly hazardous, and that indeed, throughout her convalescence, she should have more spared herself in climbing hills and walking and riding distances. A strain obviously might undo everything. Still, I do hope that the bitter cup may not be filled for her again. What a wonderful discovery this substitute for ether inhalations seems to be. Do you hear anything of its operation in your neighbourhood? We have had a letter from Mr. Horne, who appears happy, and speaks of his success in lecturing on Ireland, and of a new novel which he is about to publish in a separate form after having printed it in a magazine. We have not set up the types even of our plans about a book, very distinctly, but we shall do something some day, and you shall hear of it the evening before. Being too happy doesn't agree with literary activity quite as well as I should have thought; and then, dear Mr. Kenyon can't persuade us that we are not rich enough, so as to bring into force a lower order of motives. He talks of Rome still. Now write, dear, dearest Miss Mitford, and tell me of yourself and your health, and do, do love me as you used to do. As to French books, one may swear, but you can't get a new publication, except by accident, at this excellent celebrated library of Vieusseux, and I am reduced to read some of my favorites over again, I and Robert together. You ought to hear how we go to single combat, ever and anon, with shield and lance. The greatest quarrel we have had since our marriage, by the way (always excepting my crying conjugal wrong of not eating enough!), was brought up by Masson's pamphlet on the Iron Mask and Fouquet. I wouldn't be persuaded that Fouquet was 'in it,' and so 'the anger of my lord waxed hot.' To this day he says sometimes: 'Don't be cross, Ba! Fouquet wasn't the Iron Mask after all.'
God bless you, dearest Miss Mitford.
Your ever affectionate
We are here till April.
To Mrs. Jameson
Florence: December 1847.
Indeed, my dear friend, you have a right to complain of me, whether or not we had any in thinking ourselves deeply injured creatures by your last silence. Yet when in your letter which came at last, you said, 'Write directly,' I meant to write directly; I did not take out my vengeance in a foregone malice, be very sure. Just at the time we were in a hard knot of uncertainties about Rome and Venice and Florence, and a cold house and a warm house; for instance we managed (that is I did, for altogether it was my fault) to take two apartments in the course of ten days, each for a term of six months, getting out of one of them by leaving the skirts of our garments, rent, literally, in the hand of the proprietor. You have heard most of this, I dare say, from Mr. Kenyon or my sisters. Now, too, you are aware of our being in Piazza Pitti, in a charmed circle of sun blaze. Our rooms are small, but of course as cheerful as being under the very eyelids of the sun must make everything; and we have a cook in the house who takes the office of traiteur on him and gives us English mutton chops at Florentine prices, both of us quite well and in spirits, and (though you never will believe this) happier than ever. For my own part, you know I need not say a word if it were not true, and I must say to you, who saw the beginning with us, that this end of fifteen months is just fifteen times better and brighter; the mystical 'moon' growing larger and larger till scarcely room is left for any stars at all: the only differences which have touched me being the more and more happiness. It would have been worse than unreasonable if in marrying I had expected one quarter of such happiness, and indeed I did not, to do myself justice, and every now and then I look round in astonishment and thankfulness together, yet with a sort of horror, seeing that this is not heaven after all. We live just as we did when you knew us, just as shut-up a life. Robert never goes anywhere except to take a walk with Flush, which isn't my fault, as you may imagine: he has not been out one evening of the fifteen months; but what with music and books and writing and talking, we scarcely know how the days go, it's such a gallop on the grass. We are going through some of old Sacchetti's novelets now: characteristic work for Florence, if somewhat dull elsewhere. Boccaccios can't be expected to spring up with the vines in rows, even in this climate. We got a newly printed addition to Savonarola's poems the other day, very flat and cold, they did not catch fire when he was burnt. The most poetic thing in the book is his face on the first page, with that eager, devouring soul in the eyes of it. You may suppose that I am able sometimes to go over to the gallery and adore the Raphaels, and Robert will tell you of the divine Apollino which you missed seeing in Poggio Imperiale, and which I shall be set face to face before, some day soon, I hope....
Father Prout was in Florence for some two hours in passing to Rome, and of course, according to contract of spirits of the air, Robert met him, and heard a great deal of you and Geddie (saw Geddie's picture, by the way, and thought it very like), was told much to the advantage of Mr. Macpherson, and at the end of all, kissed in the open street as the speaker was about to disappear in the diligence. When you write, tell me of the book. Surely it will be out anon, and then you will be free, shall you not? Have you seen Tennyson's new poem, and what of it? Miss Martineau is to discourse about Egypt, I suppose; but in the meanwhile do you hear that she forswears mesmerism, as Mr. Spenser Hall does, according to the report Robert brings me home from the newspaper reading. Now I shall leave him room to stand on and speak a word to you. Give my love to Gerardine, and don't forget to mention her letter. I hope you are happy about your friends, and that, in particular, Lady Byron's health is strengthening and to strengthen. Always my dear friend's
Dear Aunt Nina,—A corner is just the place for eating Christmas pies in, but for venting Christmas wishes, hardly! What has Ba told you and wished you in the way of love? I wish you the same and love you the same, but Geddie, being part of you, gets her due part. We are as happy as two owls in a hole, two toads under a tree stump; or any other queer two poking creatures that we let live, after the fashion of their black hearts, only Ba is fat and rosy; yes, indeed! Florence is empty and pleasant. Goodbye, therefore, till next year—shall it not be then we meet? God bless you. R.B.
To Miss Mitford
Florence: February 22, .
Your letter, my dearest friend, which was written, a part at least, before Christmas, came lingering in long after the new year had seen out its matins. Oh, I had wondered so, and wished so over the long silence. My fault, perhaps in a measure, for I know how silent I was before. Yes, and you tell me of your having been unwell (bad news), and of your dear Flush's death, which made me sorrowful for you, as I might reasonably be. And now tell me more. Have you a successor to him? Once you told me that one of the race was in training, but as you say nothing now I am all in a doubt. Let me hear everything. If I had been you, I think I should have preferred some quite other kind of dog, as the unlikeness of a likeness would be apt to bring a pain to me; but people can't reason about feelings, and feelings are like the colour of eyes, not the same in different faces, however general may be the proximity of noses.... The great subject with everybody just now is the new hope of Italy, and the liberal constitution, given nobly by our good, excellent Grand Duke, whose praise is in all the houses, streets, and piazzas. The other evening, the evening after the gift, he went privately to the opera, was recognised, and in a burst of triumph and a glory of waxen torches was brought back to the Pitti by the people. I was undressing to go to bed, had my hair down over my shoulders under Wilson's ministry, when Robert called me to look out of the window and see. Through the dark night a great flock of stars seemed sweeping up the piazza, but not in silence, nor with very heavenly noises. The 'Evvivas' were deafening. So glad I was. I, too, stood at the window and clapped my hands. If ever Grand Duke deserved benediction this Duke does. We hear that he was quite moved, overpowered, and wept like a child. Nevertheless the most of Italy is under the cloud, and God knows how all may end as the thunder ripens. Now I mustn't, I suppose, write politics. Our plans about England are afloat. Impossible to know what we shall do, but if not this summer, the summer after must help us to the sight of some beloved faces. It will be a midsummer dream, and we shall return to winter in Italy. My Flush is as well as ever, and perhaps gayer than ever I knew him. He runs out in the piazza whenever he pleases, and plays with the dogs when they are pretty enough, and wags his tail at the sentinels and civic guard, and takes the Grand Duke as a sort of neighbour of his, whom it is proper enough to patronise, but who has considerably less inherent merit and dignity than the spotted spaniel in the alley to the left. We have been reading over again 'André' and 'Leone Leoni,' and Robert is in an enthusiasm about the first. Happy person, you are, to get so at new books. Blessed is the man who reads Balzac, or even Dumas. I have got to admire Dumas doubly since that fight and scramble for his brains in Paris. Now do think of me and love me, and let me be as ever your affectionate
Robert's regards always. Say particularly how you are, and may God bless you, dearest Miss Mitford, and make you happy.
To Miss Mitford
Florence: April 15, .
... My Flush has recovered his beauty, and is in more vivacious spirits than I remember to have seen him. Still, the days come when he will have no pleasure and plenty of fleas, poor dog, for Savonarola's martyrdom here in Florence is scarcely worse than Flush's in the summer. Which doesn't prevent his enjoying the spring, though, and just now, when, by medical command, I drive out two hours every day, his delight is to occupy the seat in the carriage opposite to Robert and me, and look disdainfully on all the little dogs who walk afoot. We drive day by day through the lovely Cascine (where the trees have finished and spread their webs of full greenery, undimmed by the sun yet), first sweeping through the city, past such a window where Bianca Capello looked out to see the Duke go by, and past such a door where Lapo stood, and past the famous stone where Dante drew his chair out to sit. Strange, to have all that old-world life about us, and the blue sky so bright besides, and ever so much talk on our lips about the new French revolution, and the King of Prussia's cunning, and the fuss in Germany and elsewhere. Not to speak of our own particular troubles and triumphs in Lombardy close by. The English are flying from Florence, by the way, in a helter skelter, just as they always do fly, except (to do them justice) on a field of battle. The family Englishman is a dreadful coward, be it admitted frankly. See how they run from France, even to my dear excellent Uncle Hedley, who has too many little girls in his household to stay longer at Tours. Oh, I don't blame him exactly. I only wish that he had waited a little longer, the time necessary for being quite reassured. He has great stakes in the country—a house at Tours and in Paris, and twenty thousand pounds in the Rouen railway. But Florence will fall upon her feet we may all be certain, let the worst happen that can. Meanwhile, republicans as I and my, husband are by profession, we very anxiously, anxiously even to pain, look on the work being attempted and done just now by the theorists in Paris; far from half approving of it we are, and far from being absolutely confident of the durability of the other half. Tell me what you think, and if you are not anxious too. As to communism, surely the practical part of that, the only not dangerous part, is attainable simply by the consent of individuals who may try the experiment of associating their families in order to the cheaper employment of the means of life, and successfully in many cases. But make a government scheme of even so much, and you seem to trench on the individual liberty. All such patriarchal planning in a government issues naturally into absolutism, and is adapted to states of society more or less barbaric. Liberty and civilisation when married together lawfully rather evolve individuality than tend to generalisation. Is this not true? I fear, I fear that mad theories promising the impossible may, in turn, make the people mad. I Louis Blanc knows not what he says. Have I not mentioned to you a very gifted woman, a sculptress, Mademoiselle de Fauveau, who lives in Florence with her mother practising her profession, an exile from France, in consequence of their royalist opinions and participation in the Vendée struggle, some sixteen or fifteen years? On that occasion she was mistaken for and allowed herself to be arrested as Madame de la Roche Jacquelin; therefore she has justified, by suffering in the cause, her passionate attachment to it. A most interesting person she is; she called upon us a short time ago and interested us much. And Mrs. Jameson would tell you that her celebrity in her art is not comparative 'for a woman,' but that, since Benvenuto Cellini, more beautiful works of the kind have not been accomplished. An exquisite fountain she has lately done for the Emperor of Russia. She has workmen under her, and is as 'professional' in every respect as if neither woman nor noble. At the first throb of this revolution of course she dreamt the impossible about that dear 'Henri Cinq,' who is as much out of the question as Henri Quatre himself; and now it ends with the 'French Legation' coming to settle in the house precisely opposite to hers, with a hideous sign-painting appended O the Gallic cock on one leg and at full crow inscribed, 'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.' This, and the death of her favorite dog, whom, after seventeen years' affection, she was forced to have destroyed on account of a combination of diseases, has quite saddened the sculptress. When she came to see us I observed that after so long a residence at Florence she must regard it as a second country. 'Ah non!' (the answer was) 'il n'y a pas de seconde patrie.' What you tell me of 'Jane Eyre' makes me long to see the book. I may long, I fancy. It is dismal to have to disappoint my dearest sisters, who hoped for me in England this summer, but our English visit must be for next summer instead; there seems too much against it just now. The drawback of Italy is the distance from England. If it were but as near as Paris, for instance, why in that case we should settle here at once, I do think, the conveniences and luxuries of life are of such incredible cheapness, the climate so divine, and the way of things altogether so serene and suited to our tastes and instincts. But to give up England and the English, the dear, dearest treasure of English love, is impossible, so we just linger and linger. The Boyles go to England from the press of panic, Lady Boyle being old and infirm. Ah, but your talking friend would interest you, and you might accept the talk in infinitesimal doses, you know. Lamartine has surely acted down the fallacy of the impractical tendencies of imaginative men. I am full of France just now. Are you all prepared for an outbreak in Ireland? I hope so. My husband has the second edition of his collected poems in the press by this time, by grace of Chapman and Hall, who accept all risks. You speak of Tennyson's vexation about the reception of the 'Princess.' Why did Mr. Harness and others, who 'never could understand' his former divine works, praise this in manuscript till the poet's hope grew to the height of his ambition? Strangely unfortunate. We have not read it yet. I hear that Tennyson had the other day everything packed for Italy, then turned his face toward Ireland, and went there. Oh, for a talk with you. But this is a sort of talk, isn't it? Accept my husband's regards. As to my love, I throw it to you over the [sea] with both hands. God bless you.
Your ever affectionate
To John Kenyan
[Florence:] May I, .
My dearest Mr. Kenyon,—Surely it is quite wrong that we three, Robert, you, and I, should be satisfied with writing little dry notes, as short as so many proclamations, and those of the order of your anti-Chartist magistracy, 'Whereas certain evil disposed persons &c. &c.,' instead of our anti-Austrian Grand duchy's 'O figli amati' (how characteristic of the north and the south, to be sure, is this contrast! Yet, after all, they might have managed it rather better in England!)—little dry notes brief and business-like as an anti-Chartist proclamation! And, indeed, two of us are by no means satisfied, whatever the third may be. The other day we were looking over some of the dear delightful letters you used to write to us. Real letters those were, and not little dry notes at all. Robert said, 'When I write to dear Mr. Kenyon I really do feel overcome by the sense of what I owe to him, and so, as it is beyond words to say, why generally I say as little as possible of anything, keeping myself to matters of business.' An alternative very objectionable, I told him; for to have 'a dumb devil' from ever such grateful and sentimental reasons, when the Alps stand betwixt friend, is damnatory in the extreme. Then, as you are not 'too grateful' to us, why don't you write? Pray do, my dear friend. Let us all write as we used to do. And to make sure of it, I begin.
Since I ended last the world has turned over on its other side, in order, one must hope, to some happy change in the dream. Our friend, Miss Bayley, in that very kind letter which has just reached me and shall be answered directly (will you tell her with my thankful love?), asks if Robert and I are communists, and then half draws back her question into a discreet reflection that I, at least, was never much celebrated for acumen on political economy. Most true indeed! And therefore, and on that very ground, is it not the more creditable to me that I don't set up for a communist immediately? In proportion to the ignorance might be the stringency of the embrace of 'la vérité sociale:' so I claim a little credit that it isn't. For really we are not communists, farther than to admit the wisdom of voluntary association in matters of material life among the poorer classes. And to legislate even on such points seems as objectionable as possible; all intermeddlings of government with domesticities, from Lacedaemon to Peru, were and must be objectionable; and of the growth of absolutism, let us, theorise as we choose. I would have the government educate the people absolutely, and then give room for the individual to develop himself into life freely. Nothing can be more hateful to me than this communist idea of quenching individualities in the mass. As if the hope of the world did not always consist in the eliciting of the individual man from the background of the masses, in the evolvement of individual genius, virtue, magnanimity. Do you know how I love France and the French? Robert laughs at me for the mania of it, or used to laugh long before this revolution. When I was a prisoner, my other mania for imaginative literature used to be ministered to through the prison bars by Balzac, George Sand, and the like immortal improprieties. They kept the colour in my life to some degree and did good service in their time to me, I can assure you, though in dear discreet England women oughtn't to confess to such reading, I believe, or you told me so yourself one day. Well, but through reading the books I grew to love France, in a mania too; and the interest, which all must feel in the late occurrences there, has been with me, and is, quite painful. I read the newspapers as I never did in my life, and hope and fear in paroxysms, yes, and am guilty of thinking far more of Paris than of Lombardy itself, and try to understand financial difficulties and social theories with the best will in the world; much as Flush tries to understand me when I tell him that barking and jumping may be unseasonable things. Both of us open our eyes a good deal, but the comprehension is questionable after all. What, however, I do seem least of all to comprehend, is your hymn of triumph in England, just because you have a lower ideal of liberty than the French people have. See if in Louis Philippe's time France was not in many respects more advanced than England is now, property better divided, hereditary privilege abolished! Are we to blow with the trumpet because we respect the ruts while everywhere else they are mending the roads? I do not comprehend. As to the Chartists, it is only a pity in my mind that you have not more of them. That's their fault. Mine, you will say, is being pert about politics when you would rather have anything else in a letter from Italy. You have heard of my illness, and will have been sorry for me, I am certain; but with blessings edging me round, I need not catch at a thistle in the hedge to make a 'sorrowful complaignte' of. Our plans have floated round and round, in and out of all the bays and creeks of the Happy Islands....
Meanwhile here we are—and when do you mean to come to see us, pray? Mind, I hold by the skirts of the vision for next winter. Why, surely you won't talk of 'disturbances' and 'revolutions,' and the like disloyal reasons which send our brave countrymen flying on all sides, as if every separate individual expected to be bombarded per se. Now, mind you come; dear dear Mr. Kenyon, how delighted past expression we should be to see you! Ah, do you fancy that I have no regret for our delightful gossips? If I have the feeling I told you of for Balzac and George Sand, what must I have for you? Now come, and let us see you! And still sooner, if you please, write to us—and write of yourself and in detail—and tell us particularly, first if the winter has left no sign of a cough with you, and next, what you mean by something which suggests to my fancy that you have a book in the course of printing. Is that true? Tell me all about it—all! Who can be interested, pray, if I am not? For your and Mr. Chorley's and Mr. Forster's kind dealings with Robert's poems I thank you gratefully; and as a third volume can bring up the rear quickly in the case of success, I make no wailing for my 'Luria,' however dear it may be.
You are not to fancy that I am unwell now. On the contrary, I am nearly as strong as ever, and go out in the carriage for two hours every day, besides a little walk sometimes. Not a word more to-day. Write—do—and you shall hear from us at length. Robert sends his own love, I suppose. We both love you from our hearts.
Your ever affectionate and grateful
(who can't read over, and writes in such a hurry!)
It was about this time, as appears from the following letter, that the Brownings finally anchored themselves in Florence by taking an unfurnished suite of rooms in the Palazzo Guidi, and making there a home for themselves, Here, in the Via Maggio, almost opposite the Pitti Palace, and within easy distance of the Ponte Vecchio, is the dwelling known to all lovers of English poetry as Casa Guidi, and bearing now upon its walls the name of the English poetess whose life and writings formed, in the graceful words of the Italian poet, 'a golden ring between Italy and England.' Whatever might be their migrations—and they were many, especially in later years—Casa Guidi was henceforth their home.
To Miss Mitford
May 28, 1848.
... And now I must tell you what we have done since I wrote last, little thinking of doing so. You see our problem was to get to England as much in our summers as possible, the expense of the intermediate journeys making it difficult of solution. On examination of the whole case, it appeared manifest that we were throwing money into the like to hear you talk of poor France; how I hope that you are able to hope for her. Oh, this absurdity of communism and mythological fête-ism! where can it end? They had better have kept Louis Philippe after all, if they are no more practical. Your Madame must be insufferable indeed, seeing that her knowledge of these subjects and men did not make her sufferable to you. My curiosity never is exhausted. What I hold is that the French have a higher ideal than we, and that all this clambering, leaping, struggling of indefinite awkwardness simply proves it. But success in the republic is different still. I fear for them. My uncle and his family are safe at Tunbridge Wells, my aunt longing to be able to get back again. For those who are still nearer to me, I have no heart to speak of them, loving them as I do and must to the end, whatever that end may be; but my dearest sisters write often to me—never let me miss their affection. I am quite well again, and strong, and Robert and I go out after tea in a wandering walk to sit in the Loggia and look at the Perseus, or, better still, at the divine sunsets on the Arno, turning it to pure gold under the bridges. After more than twenty months of marriage, we are happier than ever—I may say we. Italy will regenerate herself in all senses, I hope and believe. In Florence we are very quiet, and the English fly in proportion. N.B.—Always first fly the majors and gallant captains, unless there's a general. How I should like to see dear Mr. Horne's poem! He's bold, at least—yes, and has a great heart to be bold with. A cloud has fallen on me some few weeks ago, in the illness and death of my dear friend Mr. Boyd, but he did not suffer, and is not to be mourned by those without hope [sic]. Still, it has been a cloud. May God bless you, my beloved friend. Write soon, and of yourself, to your ever affectionate
My husband's regards go to you, of course.
To Miss Browning
[Florence: about June 1848.]
My dearest Sarianna,—At last, you see, I give sign of life. The love, I hope you believed in without sign or symbol; and even for the rest, Robert promised to answer for me like godfather or godmother, and bear the consequence of my sins....
We are a little uneasy just now as to whether you will be overjoyed or under joyed by our new scheme of taking an unfurnished apartment. It would spoil all, for instance, if your dear mother seemed disappointed—vexed—in the least degree. And I can understand how, to persons at a distance and of course unable to understand the whole circumstances of the case, the fact of an apartment taken and furnished may seem to involve some dreadful giving up for ever and ever of country and family—which would be as dreadful to us as to you! How could we give you up, do you think, when we love you more and more? Oh no. If Robert has succeeded in making clear the subject to you, you will all perceive, just as we know, that we have simply thus solved the problem of making our small income carry us to England, not only next summer, but many a summer after. We should like to give every summer to dear England, and hide away from the cold only when it comes. By our scheme we shall have saved money even at the end of the present year; while for afterward, here's a residence—that is, apied à terre—in Italy, all but free when we wish to use it; and when we care to let it, producing eight or ten pounds a month in help of travelling expenses. It's the best investment for Mr. Moxon's money we could have looked the world over for. So the learned tell us; and after all, you know, we only pay in the proportion of your working classes in the Pancras building contrived for them by the philanthropy of your Southwood Smiths. I do wish you could see what rooms we have, what ceilings, what height and breadth, what a double terrace for orange trees; how cool, how likely to be warm, how perfect every way! Robert leaned once to a ground floor in the Frescobaldi Palace, being bewitched by a garden full of camellias, and a little pond of gold and silver fish; but while he saw the fish I saw the mosquitos in clouds, such an apocalypse of them as has not yet been visible to me in all Florence, and I dread mosquitos more than Austrians; and he, in his unspeakable goodness, deferred to my fear in a moment and gave up the camellias without one look behind. A heavy conscience I should have if it were not that the camellia garden was certainly less private than our terrace here, where we can have camellias also if we please. How pretty and pleasant your cottage at Windsor must be! We had a long muse over your father's sketch of it, and set faces at the windows. That the dear invalid is better for the change must have brightened it, too, to her companions, and the very sound of a 'forest' is something peculiarly delightful and untried to me. I know hills well, and of the sea too much; but now I want forests, or quite, quite mountains, such as you have not in England.
Robert says that if 'Blackwood' likes to print a poem of mine and send you the proofs, you will be so very good as to like to correct them. To me it seems too much to ask, when you have work for him to do beside. Will it be too much, or is nothing so to your kindness? I would ask my other sisters, who would gladly, dear things, do it for me; but I have misgivings through their being so entirely unaccustomed to occupations of the sort, or any critical reading of poetry of any sort. Robert is quite well and in the best spirits, and has the headache now only very occasionally. I am as well as he, having quite recovered my strength and power of walking. So we wander to the bridge of Trinità every evening after tea to see the sunset on the Arno. May God bless you all! Give my true love to your father and mother, and my loving thanks to yourself for that last stitch in the stool. How good you are, Sarianna, to your ever affectionate sister
Always remind your dear mother that we are no more bound here than when in furnished lodgings. It is a mere name.
To Mrs. Martin
Palazzo Guidi: June 20, .
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Now I am going to answer your letter, which I all but lost, and got ever so many days beyond the right day, because you directed it to Mrs. William Browning. Pray remember Robert Browning for the future, in right descent from Robert Brunnyng, the first English poet. Mrs. Jameson says, 'It's ominous of the actual Robert's being the last English poet;' a saying which I give you to remember us by, rejecting the omen.... We have grown to be Florentine citizens, as perhaps you have heard. Health and means both forbade our settlement in England; and the journey backwards and forwards being another sort of expense, and very necessary with our ties and affections, we had to think how to live here, when we were here, at the cheapest. The difference between taking a furnished apartment and an unfurnished one is something immense. For our furnished rooms we have had always to pay some four guineas a month; and unfurnished rooms of equal pretension we could have for twelve a year, and the furniture (out and out) for fifty pounds. This calculation, together with the consideration that we could let our apartment whenever we travelled and receive back the whole cost, could not choose, of course, but determine us. On coming to the point, however, we grew ambitious, and preferred giving five-and-twenty guineas for a noble suite of rooms in the Palazzo Guidi, a stone's throw from the Pitti, and furnishing them after our own taste rather than after our economy, the economy having a legitimate share of respect notwithstanding; and the satisfactory thing being that the whole expense of this furnishing—rococo chairs, spring sofas, carved bookcases, satin from cardinals' beds, and the rest—is covered by the proceeds of our books during the last two winters. This is satisfying, isn't it? We shall stand safe within the borders of our narrow income even this year, and next year comes the harvest! We shall go to England in the spring, and return home to Italy. Do you understand? Mr. Kenyon, our friend and counsellor, writes to applaud—such prudence was never known before among poets. Then we have a plan, that when the summer (this summer) grows too hot, we shall just take up our carpet-bag and Wilson and plunge into the mountains in search of the monasteries beyond Vallombrosa, from Arezzo go to St. Sepolchro in the Apennines, and thence to Fano on the seashore, making a round back perhaps (after seeing the great fair at Sinigaglia) to Ravenna and Bologna home. As to Rome, our plan is to give up Rome next winter, seeing that we must go to England in the spring. I must see my dearest sisters and whoever else dear will see me, and Robert must see his family beside; and going to Rome will take us too far from the route and cost too much; and then we are not inclined to give the first-fruits of our new apartment to strangers if we could let it ever so easily this year. You can't think how well the rooms look already; you must come and see them, you and dear Mr. Martin. Three immense rooms we have, and a fourth small one for a book room and winter room—windows opening on a little terrace, eight windows to the south; two good bedrooms behind, with a smaller terrace, and kitchen, &c., all on a first floor and Count Guidi's favorite suite. The Guidi were connected by marriage with the Ugolino of Pisa, Dante's Ugolino, only we shun all traditions of the Tower of Famine, and promise to give you excellent coffee whenever you will come to give us the opportunity. We shall have vines and myrtles and orange trees on the terrace, and I shall have a watering-pot and garden just as you do, though it must be on the bricks instead of the ground. For temperature, the stoves are said to be very effective in the winter, and in the summer we are cool and airy; the advantage of these thick-walled palazzos is coolness in summer and warmth in winter. I am very well and quite strong again, or rather, stronger than ever, and able to walk as far as Cellini's Perseus in the moonlight evenings, on the other side of the Arno. Oh, that Arno in the sunset, with the moon and evening star standing by, how divine it is!...
Think of me as ever your most affectionate
To Miss Mitford
Florence: July 4, .
It does grieve me, my ever dearest Miss Mitford, to hear of the suffering which has fallen upon you! Oh, rheumatism or not, whatever the name may be, do take care, do consider, and turn your dear face toward the seaside; somewhere where you can have warm sea bathing and sea air, and be able to associate the word 'a drive' not with mad ponies, but the mildest of donkeys, on a flat sand. The good it would do you is incalculable, I am certain; it is precisely a case for change of air, with quiet....
As for when you come to Florence, we won't have 'a pony carriage between us,' if you please, because we may have a carriage and a pair of horses and a coachman, and pay as little as for the pony-chair in England. For three hundred a year one may live much like the Grand Duchess, and go to the opera in the evening at fivepence-halfpenny inclusive. Indeed, poor people should have their patriotism tenderly dealt with, when, after certain experiments, they decide on living upon the whole on the Continent. The differences are past belief, beyond expectation, and when the sunshine is thrown in, the head turns at once, and you fall straight into absenteeism. Ah, for the 'long chats' and the 'having England at one another's fireside!' You talk of delightful things indeed. We are very quiet, politically speaking, and though we hear now and then of melancholy mothers who have to part with their sons for Lombardy,
and though there are processions for the blessing of flags and an occasional firing of guns for a victory, or a cry in the streets, 'Notizie della guerra—leggete, signori;' this is all we know of Radetsky in Florence; while, for civil politics, the meeting of the senate took place a few days since to the satisfaction of everybody, and the Grand Duke's speech was generally admired. The elections have returned moderate men, and many land-proprietors, and Robert, who went out to see the procession of members, was struck by the grave thoughtful faces and the dignity of expression. We are going some day to hear the debates, but it has pleased their signoria to fix upon twelve (noon) for meeting, and really I do not dare to go out in the sun. The hour is sufficiently conclusive against dangerous enthusiasm. Poor France, poor France! News of the dreadful massacre at Paris just reaches us, and the letters and newspapers not arriving to-day, everybody fears a continuation of the crisis. How is it to end? Who 'despairs of the republic?' Why, I do! I fear, I fear, that it cannot stand in France, and you seem to have not much more hope. My husband has a little, with melancholy intermediate prospects; but my own belief that the people have had enough of democratic institutions and will be impatient for a kingship anew. Whom will they have? How did you feel when the cry was raised, 'Vive l'Empereur'? Only Prince Napoleon is a Napoleon cut out in paper after all. The Prince de Joinville is said to be very popular. It makes me giddy to think of the awful precipices which surround France—to think, too, that the great danger is on the question of property, which is perhaps divided there more justly than in any other country of Europe. Lamartine has comprehended nothing, that is clear, even if his amount of energy had been effectual.... Yes, do send me the list of Balzac, after 'Les Misères de la Vie Conjugale,' I mean. I left him in the midst of 'La Femme de Soixante Ans,' who seemed on the point of turning the heads of all 'la jeunesse' around her; and, after all, she did not strike me as so charming. But Balzac charms me, let him write what he will; he's an inspired man. Tell me, too, exactly what Sue has done after 'Martin.' I read only one volume of 'Martin.' And did poor Soulié finish his 'Dramas'? And after 'Lucretia' what did George Sand write? When Robert and I are ambitious, we talk of buying Balzac in full some day, to put him up in our bookcase from the convent, if the carved-wood angels, infants and serpents, should not finish mouldering away in horror at the touch of him. But I fear it will rather be an expensive purchase, even here. Would that he gave up the drama, for which, as you observe, he has no faculty whatever. In fact, the faculty he has is the very reverse of the dramatic, ordinarily understood.... Dearest Mr. Kenyon is called quite well and delightful by the whole world, though he suffered from cough in the winter; and he is bringing out a new book of poems, a 'Day at Tivoli,' and others; and he talks energetically of coming to Florence this autumn. Also, we have hopes of Mr. Chorley. I congratulate you on the going away of Madame. Coming and going bring very various associations in this life of ours. Why, if you were to come we should appreciate our fortune, and you should have my particular chair, which Robert calls mine because I like sitting in a cloud; it's so sybaritically soft a chair. Now I love you for the kind words you say of him, who deserves the best words of the best women and men, wherever spoken! Yes, indeed, I am happy. Otherwise, I should have a stone where the heart is, and sink by the weight of it. You must have faith in me, for I never can make you thoroughly to understand what he is, of himself, and to me—the noblest and perfectest of human beings. After a year and ten months' absolute soul-to-soul intercourse and union, I have to look higher still for my first ideal. You won't blame me for bad taste that I say these things, for can I help it, when I am writing my heart to you? It is a heart which runs over very often with a grateful joy for a most peculiar destiny, even in the midst of some bitter drawbacks which I need not allude to farther....
May God bless you continually, even as I am
To Mrs. Jameson
Palazzo Guidi: July 15, .
Now at last, my very dear friend, I am writing to you, and the reproach you sent to me in your letter shall not be driven inwardly any more by my self-reproaches. Wasn't it your fault after all, a little, that we did not hear one another's voice oftener? You are so long in writing. Then I have been putting off and putting off my letter to you, just because I wanted to make a full letter of it; and Robert always says that it's the bane of a correspondence to make a full letter a condition of writing at all. But so much I had to tell you! while the mere outline of facts you had from others, I knew. Which is just said that you may forgive us both, and believe that we think of you and love you, yes, and talk of you, even when we don't write to you, and that we shall write to you for the future more regularly, indeed. Your letter, notwithstanding its reproach, was very welcome and very kind, only you must be fagged with the book, and saddened by Lady Byron's state of health, and anxious about Gerardine perhaps. The best of all was the prospect you hold out to us of coming to Italy this year. Do, do come. Delighted we shall be to see you in Florence, and wise it will be in you to cast behind your back both the fear of Radetsky and as much English care as may be. Now, would it not do infinite good to Lady Byron if you could carry her with you into the sun? Surely it would do her great good; the change, the calm, the atmosphere of beauty and brightness, which harmonises so wonderfully with every shade of human feeling. Florence just now, and thanks to the panic, is tolerably clean of the English—you scarcely see an English face anywhere—and perhaps this was a circumstance that helped to give Robert courage to take our apartment here and 'settle down.' You were surprised at so decided a step I dare say, and, I believe, though too considerate to say it in your letter, you have wondered in your thoughts at our fixing at Florence instead of Rome, and without seeing more of Italy before the finality of making a choice. But observe, Florence is wonderfully cheap, one lives here for just nothing; and the convenience in respect to England, letters, and the facility of letting our house in our absence, is incomparable altogether. At Rome a house would be habitable only half the year, and the distance and the expense are objections at the first sight of the subject.... Altogether, if I could but get a supply of French books, turning the cock easily, it would be perfect; but as to anything new in the book way, Vieusseux seems to have made a vow against it, and poor Robert comes and goes in a state of desperation between me and the bookseller ('But what can I do, Ba?'), and only brings news of some pitiful revolution or other which promises a full flush of republican virtues and falls off into the fleur de lis as usual. Think of our not having read 'Lucretia' yet—George Sand's. And Balzac is six or seven works deep from us; but these are evils to be borne. We live on just in the same way, having very few visitors, and receiving them in the quietest of hospitalities. Mr. Ware, the American, who wrote the 'Letters from Palmyra,' and is a delightful, earnest, simple person, comes to have coffee with us once or twice a week, and very much we like him. Mr. Hillard, another cultivated American friend of ours, you have in London, and we should gladly have kept longer. Mr. Powers does not spend himself much upon visiting, which is quite right, but we do hope to see a good deal of Mademoiselle de Fauveau. Robert exceedingly admires her. As to Italian society, one may as well take to longing for the evening star, for it seems quite as inaccessible; and indeed, of society of any sort, we have not much, nor wish for it, nor miss it. Dearest friend, if I could open my heart to you in all seriousness, you would see nothing there but a sort of enduring wonder of happiness—yes, and some gratitude, I do hope, besides. Could everything be well in England, I should only have to melt out of the body at once in the joy and the glow of it. Happier and happier I have been, month after month; and when I hear him talk of being happy too, my very soul seems to swim round with feelings which cannot be spoken. But I tell you a little, because I owe the telling to you, and also that you may set down in your philosophy the possibility of book-making creatures living happily together. I admit, though, to begin (or end), that my husband is an exceptional human being, and that it wouldn't be just to measure another by him. We are planning a great deal of enjoyment in this 'going to the fair' at Sinigaglia, meaning to go by Arezzo and San Sepolchro, and Urbino, to Fano, where we shall pitch our tent for the benefit, as Robert says, of the sea air and the oysters. Fano is very habitable, and we may get to Pesaro and the footsteps of Castiglione's 'courtier,' to say nothing of Bernardo Tasso; and Ancona beckons from the other side of Sinigaglia, and Loreto beside, only we shall have to restrain our flights a little. The passage of the Apennine is said to be magnificent, and, altogether, surely it must be delightful; and we take only two carpet bags—not to be weighed down by 'impedimenta,' and have our own home, left in charge of the porter, to return to at last, I am very well and shall be better for the change, though Robert is dreadfully afraid, as usual, that I shall fall to pieces at the first motion....
May God bless you!
Ever I am your affectionate
Write to Florence as usual—Poste Restante. You will hear how we are in great hopes of dear Mr. Kenyon.
Dear Aunt Nina,—Only a word in all the hurry of setting off. We love you as you love us, and are pretty nearly as happy as you would have us. All love and prosperity to dear Geddie, too; what do you say of 'Landor,' and my not sending it to Forster or somebody? Che che (as the Tuscans exclaim), who was it promised to call at my people's, who would have tendered it forthwith? I will see about it as it is. Goodbye, dearest aunt, and let no revolution disturb your good will to Ba and
To Miss Mitford
Florence: August 24, 1848.
Ever dearest Miss Mitford,—It's great comfort to have your letter; for as it came more lingeringly than usual, I had time to be a little anxious, and even my husband has confessed since that he thought what he would not say aloud for fear of paining me, as to the probability of your being less well than usual. Your letters come so regularly to the hour, you see, that when it strikes without them, we ask why. Thank God, you are better after all, and reviving in spirits, as I saw at the first glance before the words said it clearly....
As for ourselves, we have scarcely done so well, yet well; having enjoyed a great deal in spite of drawbacks. Murray, the traitor, sent us to Fano as a 'delightful summer residence for an English family,' and we found it uninhabitable from the heat, vegetation scorched with paleness, the very air swooning in the sun, and the gloomy looks of the inhabitants sufficiently corroborative of their words, that no drop of rain or dew ever falls there during the summer. A 'circulating library' 'which doesn't give out books,' and 'a refined and intellectual Italian society' (I quote Murray for that phrase) which 'never reads a book through' (I quote Mrs. Wiseman, Dr. Wiseman's mother, who has lived in Fano seven years), complete the advantages of the place, yet the churches are beautiful, and a divine picture of Guercino's is worth going all that way to see. By a happy
accident we fell in with Mrs. Wiseman, who, having married her daughter to Count Gabrielli with ancestral possessions in Fano, has lived on there from year to year, in a state of permanent moaning as far as I could apprehend. She is a very intelligent and vivacious person, and having been used to the best French society, bears but ill this exile from the common civilities of life. I wish Dr. Wiseman, of whose childhood and manhood she spoke with touching pride, would ask her to minister to the domestic rites of his bishop's palace in Westminster; there would be no hesitation, I fancy, in her acceptance of the invitation. Agreeable as she and her daughter were, however, we fled from Fano after three days, and, finding ourselves cheated out of our dream of summer coolness, resolved on substituting for it what the Italians call 'un bel giro.' So we went to Ancona, a striking sea city, holding up against the brown rocks and elbowing out the purple tides, beautiful to look upon. An exfoliation of the rock itself, you would call the houses that seem to grow there, so identical is the colour and character. I should like to visit Ancona again when there is a little air and shadow; we stayed a week as it was, living upon fish and cold water. Water, water, was the cry all day long, and really you should have seen me (or you should not have seen me) lying on the sofa, and demoralised out of all sense of female vanity, not to say decency, with dishevelled hair at full length, and 'sans gown, sans stays, sans shoes, sans everything,' except a petticoat and white dressing wrapper. I said something feebly once about the waiter; but I don't think I meant it for earnest, for when Robert said, 'Oh, don't mind, dear,' certainly I didn't mind in the least. People don't, I suppose, when they are in ovens, or in exhausted receivers. Never before did I guess what heat was—that's sure. We went to Loreto for a day, back through Ancona, Sinigaglia (oh, I forgot to tell you, there was no fair this year at Sinigaglia; Italy will be content, I suppose, with selling her honour), Fano, Pesaro, Rimini to Ravenna, back again over the Apennines from Forli. A 'bel giro,' wasn't it? Ravenna, where Robert positively wanted to go to live once, has itself put an end to those yearnings. The churches are wonderful: holding an atmosphere of purple glory, and if one could live just in them, or in Dante's tomb—well, otherwise keep me from Ravenna. The very antiquity of the houses is whitewashed, and the marshes on all sides send up stenches new and old, till the hot air is sick with them. To get to the pine forest, which is exquisite, you have to go a mile along the canal, the exhalations pursuing you step for step, and, what ruffled me more than all beside, we were not admitted into the house of Dante's tomb 'without an especial permission from the authorities.' Quite furious I was about this, and both of us too angry to think of applying: but we stood at the grated window and read the pathetic inscription as plainly as if we had touched the marble. We stood there between three and four in the morning, and then went straight on to Florence from that tomb of the exiled poet. Just what we should have done, had the circumstances been arranged in a dramatic intention. From Forli, the air grew pure and quick again; and the exquisite, almost visionary scenery of the Apennines, the wonderful variety of shape and colour, the sudden transitions and vital individuality of those mountains, the chestnut forests dropping by their own weight into the deep ravines, the rocks cloven and clawed by the living torrents, and the hills, hill above hill, piling up their grand existences as if they did it themselves, changing colour in the effort—of these things I cannot give you any idea, and if words could not, painting could not either. Indeed, the whole scenery of our journey, except when we approached the coast, was full of beauty. The first time we crossed the Apennine (near Borgo San Sepolcro) we did it by moonlight, and the flesh was weak, and one fell asleep, and saw things between sleep and wake, only the effects were grand and singular so, even though of course we lost much in the distinctness. Well, but you will understand from all this that we were delighted to get home—I was, I assure you. Florence seemed as cool as an oven after the fire; indeed, we called it quite cool, and I took possession of my own chair and put up my feet on the cushions and was charmed, both with having been so far and coming back so soon. Three weeks brought us home. Flush was a fellow traveller of course, and enjoyed it in the most obviously amusing manner. Never was there so good a dog in a carriage before his time! Think of Flush, too! He has a supreme contempt for trees and hills or anything of that kind, and, in the intervals of natural scenery, he drew in his head from the window and didn't consider it worth looking at; but when the population thickened, and when a village or a town was to be passed through, then his eyes were starting out of his head with eagerness; he looked east, he looked west, you would conclude that he was taking notes or preparing them. His eagerness to get into the carriage first used to amuse the Italians. Ah, poor Italy! I am as mortified as an Italian ought to be. They have only the rhetoric of patriots and soldiers, I fear! Tuscany is to be spared forsooth, if she lies still, and here she lies, eating ices and keeping the feast of the Madonna. Perdoni! but she has a review in the Cascine besides, and a gallant show of some 'ten thousand men' they are said to have made of it—only don't think that I and Robert went out to see that sight. We should have sickened at it too much. An amiable, refined people, too, these Tuscans are, conciliating and affectionate. When you look out into the streets on feast days, you would take it for one great 'rout,' everybody appears dressed for a drawing room, and you can scarcely discern the least difference between class and class, from the Grand Duchess to the Donna di facenda; also there is no belying of the costume in the manners, the most gracious and graceful courtesy and gentleness being apparent in the thickest crowds. This is all attractive and delightful; but the people wants stamina, wants conscience, wants self-reverence. Dante's soul has died out of the land. Enough of this. As for France, I have 'despaired of the republic' for very long, but the nation is a great nation, and will right itself under some flag, white or red. Don't you think so? Thank you for the news of our authors, it is as 'the sound of a trumpet afar off,' and I am like the war-horse. Neglectful that I am, I forgot to tell you before that you heard quite rightly about Mr. Thackeray's wife, who is ill so. Since your question, I had in gossip from England that the book 'Jane Eyre' was written by a governess in his house, and that the preface to the foreign edition refers to him in some marked way. We have not seen the book at all. But the first letter in which you mentioned your Oxford student caught us in the midst of his work upon art. Very vivid, very graphic, full of sensibility, but inconsequent in some of the reasoning, it seemed to me, and rather flashy than full in the metaphysics. Robert, who knows a good deal about art, to which knowledge I of course have no pretence, could agree with him only by snatches, and we, both of us, standing before a very expressive picture of Domenichino's (the 'David'—at Fano) wondered how he could blaspheme so against a great artist. Still, he is no ordinary man, and for a critic to be so much a poet is a great thing. Also, we have by no means, I should imagine, seen the utmost of his stature. How kindly you speak to me of my dearest sisters. Yes, go to see them whenever you are in London, they are worthy of the gladness of receiving you. And will you write soon to me, and tell me everything of yourself, how you are, how home agrees with you, and the little details which are such gold dust to absent friends....
May God bless you, my beloved friend. Let me ever be (my husband joining in all warm regards) your most affectionate
To Miss Mitford
Florence: October 10, 1848.
My ever dearest Miss Mitford,—Have you not thought some hard thoughts of me, for not instantly replying to a letter which necessarily must have been, to one who loved you, of such painful interest? Do I not love you truly? Yes, indeed. But while preparing to write to you my deep regret at hearing that you had been so ill, illness came in another form to prevent me from writing, my husband being laid up for nearly a month with fever and ulcerated sore throat. I had not the heart to write a line to anyone, much less to prepare a packet to escort your letter free from foreign postage; and to make you pay for a chapter of Lamentations' without the spirit of prophecy, would have been too hard on you, wouldn't it? Quite unhappy I have been over those burning hands and languid eyes, the only unhappiness I ever had by them, and then he wouldn't see a physician; and if it hadn't been that, just at the right moment, Mr. Mahony, the celebrated Jesuit, and Father Prout of 'Fraser,' knowing everything as those Jesuits are apt to do, came in to us on his way to Rome, pointed out that the fever got ahead through weakness and mixed up with his own kind hand a potion of eggs and port wine, to the horror of our Italian servant, who lifted up his eyes at such a prescription for a fever, crying, 'O Inglesi, Inglesi!' the case would have been far worse, I have no kind of doubt. For the eccentric prescription gave the power of sleeping, and the pulse grew quieter directly. I shall always be grateful to Father Prout, always. The very sight of some one with a friend's name and a cheerful face, his very jests at me for being a 'bambina' and frightened without cause, were as comforting as the salutation of angels. Also, he has been in Florence ever since, and we have seen him every day; he came to doctor and remained to talk. A very singular person, of whom the world tells a thousand and one tales, you know, but of whom I shall speak as I find him, because the utmost kindness and warmheartedness have characterised his whole bearing towards us. Robert met him years ago at dinner at Emerson Tennent's, and since has crossed paths with him on various points of Europe. The first time I saw him was as he stood on a rock at Leghorn, at our disembarkation in Italy. Not refined in a social sense by any manner of means, yet a most accomplished scholar and vibrating all over with learned associations and vivid combinations of fancy and experience—having seen all the ends of the earth and the men thereof, and possessing the art of talk and quotation to an amusing degree. In another week or two he will be at Rome.... How graphically you give us your Oxford student! Well! the picture is more distinct than Turner's, and if you had called it, in the manner of the Master, 'A Rock Limpet,' we should have recognised in it the corresponding type of the gifted and eccentric writer in question. Very eloquent he is, I agree at once, and true views he takes of Art in the abstract, true and elevating. It is in the application of connective logic that he breaks away from one so violently.... We are expecting our books by an early vessel, and are about to be very busy, building up a rococo bookcase of carved angels and demons. Also we shall get up curtains, and get down bedroom carpets, and finish the remainder of our furnishing business, now that the hot weather is at an end. I say 'at an end,' though the glass stands at seventy. As to the 'war,' that is rather different, it is painful to feel ourselves growing gradually cooler and cooler on the subject of Italian patriotism, valour, and good sense; but the process is inevitable. The child's play between the Livornese and our Grand Duke provokes a thousand pleasantries. Every now and then a day is fixed for a revolution in Tuscany, but up to the present time a shower has come and put it off. Two Sundays ago Florence was to have been 'sacked' by Leghorn, when a drizzle came and saved us. You think this a bad joke of mine or an impotent sarcasm, perhaps; whereas I merely speak historically. Brave men, good men, even sensible men there are of course in the land, but they are not strong enough for the times or for masterdom. For France, it is a great nation; but even in France they want a man, and Cavaignacso only a soldier. If Louis Napoleon had the muscle of his uncle's little finger in his soul, he would be president, and king; but he is flaccid altogether, you see, and Joinville stands nearer to the royal probability after all. 'Henri Cinq' is said to be too closely espoused to the Church, and his connections at Naples and Parma don't help his cause. Robert has more hope of the republic than I have: but call ye this a republic? Do you know that Miss Martineau takes up the 'History of England' under Charles Knight, in the continuation of a popular book? I regret her fine imagination being so wasted. So you saw Mr. Chorley? What a pleasant flashing in the eyes! We hear of him in Holland and Norway. Dear Mr. Kenyon won't stir from England, we see plainly. Ah! Frederic Soulié! he is too dead, I fear. Perhaps he goes on, though, writing romances, after the fashion of poor Miss Pickering, that prove nothing. I long for my French fountains of living literature, which, pure or impure, plashed in one's face so pleasantly. Some old French 'Mémoires' we have got at lately, 'Brienne' for instance. It is curious how the leaders of the last revolution (under Louis XVIII.) seem to have despised one another. Brienne is very dull and flat. For Puseyism, it runs counter to the spirit of our times, after all, and will never achieve a church. May God bless you! Robert's regards go with the love of your ever affectionate
To Mrs. Martin
Florence: December 3, 1848.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—It seemed long to me that you had not written, and it seems long to me now that I have not answered the kind letter which came at last. Then Henrietta told me of your being unwell at the moment of her mad excursion into Herefordshire. Altogether I want to speak to you and hear from you, and shall be easier and gladder when both are done. Do forgive my sins and write directly, and tell me everything about both of you, and how you are in spirits and health, and whether you really make up your minds to see more danger in the stormy influences of the Continent in the moral point of view than in those of England in the physical. For my part I hold to my original class of fear, and would rather face two or three revolutions than an east wind of an English winter. If I were you I would go to Pau as usual and take poor Abd-el-Kader's place (my husband is furious about the treatment of Abd-el-Kader, so I hear a good deal about him), or I would go to Italy and try
Florence, where really democratic ministries roar as gently as sucking doves, particularly when they are safe in place. We have listened to dreadful rumours—Florence was to have been sacked several times by the Livornese; the Grand Duke went so far as to send away his family to Siena, and we had 'Morte a Fiorentini!' chalked up on the walls. Still, somehow or other, the peace has been kept in Florentine fashion; it has rained once or twice, which is always enough here to moderate the most revolutionary when they wear their best surtouts, and I look forward to an unbroken tranquillity just as I used to do, even though the windows of the Ridolfi Palace (the ambassador in London) were smashed the other evening a few yards from ours. Perhaps a gentle and affectionate approach to contempt for our Florentines mixes a little with this feeling of security, but what then? They are an amiable, refined, graceful people, with much of the artistic temperament as distinguished from that of men of genius—effeminate, no, rather feminine in a better sense—of a fancy easily turned into impulse, but with no strenuous and determinate strength in them. What they comprehend best in the 'Italian League' is probably a league to wear silk velvet and each a feather in his hat, to carry flags and cry vivas, and keep a grand festa day in the piazzas. Better and happier in this than in stabbing prime ministers, or hanging up their dead bodies to shoot at; and not much more childish than these French patriots and republicans, who crown their great deeds by electing to the presidency such a man as Prince Louis Napoleon, simply because 'C'est le neveu de son oncle!' A curious precedent for a president, certainly; but, oh heavens and earth, what curious things abroad everywhere just now, inclusive of the sea serpent! I agree with you that much of all is very melancholy and disheartening, though holding fast by my hope and belief that good will be the end, as it always is God's end to man's frenzies, and that all we observe is but the fermentation necessary to the new wine, which presently we shall drink pure. Meanwhile, the saddest thing is the impossibility (which I, for one, feel) to sympathise, to go along with, the people to whom and to whose cause all my natural sympathies yearn. The word 'Liberty' ceases to make me thrill, as at something great and unmistakable, as, for instance, the other great words Truth, and Justice; do. The salt has lost its savour, the meaning has escaped from the term; we know nothing of what people will do when they aspire to Liberty. The holiness of liberty is desecrated by the sign of the ass's hoof. Fixed principles, either of opinion or action, seem clearly gone out of the world. The principle of Destruction is in the place of the principle of Re-integration, or of Radical Reform, as we called it in England. I look all round and can sympathise nowhere. The rulers hold by rottenness, and the people leap into the abyss, and nobody knows why this is, or why that is. As to France, my tears (which I really couldn't help at the time of the expulsion of poor Louis Philippe and his family, not being very strong just then) are justified, it appears, though my husband thought them foolish (and so did I), and though we both began by an adhesion to the Republic in the cordial manner. But, just see, the Republic was a 'man in an iron mask' or helmet, and turns out a military dictatorship, a throttling of the press, a starving of the finances, and an election of Louis Napoleon to be President. Louis Philippe was better than all this, take him at worst, and at worst he did not deserve the mud and stones cast at him, which I have always maintained and maintain still. England might have got up ('happy country') more crying grievances than France at the moment of outbreak; but what makes outbreaks now-a-days is not 'the cause, my soul,' but the stuff of the people. You are huckaback on the other side of the Channel, and you wear out the poor Irish linen, let the justice of the case be what it may. Politics enough and too much, surely, especially now when they are depressing to you, and more or less to everybody.... We are still in the slow agonies of furnishing our apartment. You see, being the poorest and most prudent of possible poets, we had to solve the problem of taking our furniture out of our year's income (proceeds of poems and the like), and of not getting into debt. Oh, I take no credit to myself; I was always in debt in my little way ('small im morals,' as Dr. Bowring might call it) before I married, but Robert, though a poet and dramatist by profession, being descended from the blood of all the Puritans, and educated by the strictest of dissenters, has a sort of horror about the dreadful fact of owing five shillings five days, which I call quite morbid in its degree and extent, and which is altogether unpoetical according to the traditions of the world. So we have been dragging in by inches our chairs and tables throughout the summer, and by no means look finished and furnished at this late moment, the slow Italians coming at the heels of our slowest intentions with the putting up of our curtains, which begin to be necessary in this November tramontana. Yet in a month or three weeks we shall look quite comfortable—before Christmas; and in the meantime we heap up the pine wood and feel perfectly warm with these thick palace walls between us and the outside air. Also my husband's new edition is on the edge of coming out, and we have had an application from Mr. Phelps, of Sadler's Wells, for leave to act his 'Blot on the 'Scutcheon,' which, if it doesn't succeed, its public can have neither hearts nor intellects (that being an impartial opinion), and which, if it succeeds, will be of pecuniary advantage to us. Look out in the papers.... My love and my husband's go to you, our dear friends. Let me be always
Your affectionate and grateful
While Italy shows herself so politically demoralised, and the blood of poor Russia smokes from the ground, the ground seems to care no more for it than the newspapers, or anybody else.
Such a jar of flowers we have to keep December. White roses, as in June.
To Miss Mitford
Florence: December 16, .
... You are wondering, perhaps, how we are so fool-hardy as to keep on furnishing rooms in the midst of 'anarchy,' the Pope a fugitive, and the crowned heads packing up. Ah, but we have faith in the softness of our Florentines, who must be well spurred up to the leap before they do any harm. These things look worse at a distance than they do near, although, seen far and near, nothing can be worse than the evidence of demoralisation of people, governors, and journalists, in the sympathy given everywhere to the assassination of poor Rossi. If Rossi
was retrocessive, he was at least a constitutional minister, and constitutional means of opposing him were open to all, but Italy understands nothing constitutional; liberty is a fair word and a watchword, nothing more; an idea it is not in the minds of any. The poor Pope I deeply pity; he is a weak man with the noblest and most disinterested intentions. His faithful flock have nearly broken his heart by the murder of his two personal friends, Rossi and Palma, and the threat, which they sent him by embassy, of murdering every man, woman, and child in the Quirinal, with the exception of his Holiness, unless he accepted their terms. He should have gone out to them and so died, but having missed that opportunity, nothing remained but flight. He was a mere Pope hostage as long as he stayed in Rome. Curious, the 'intervention of the French,' so long desired by the Italians, and vouchsafed so. The Florentines open their eyes in mute astonishment, and some of them 'won't read the journals any more.' The boldest say softly that the Romans are sure not to bear it. And what is to happen in France? Why, what a world we have just now.... Father Prout is gone to Rome for a fortnight, has stayed three weeks, and day by day we expect him back again. I don't understand how the Prout papers should have hurt him ecclesiastically, but that he should be known for their writer is not astonishing, as the secret was never, I believe, attempted to be kept. We have been, at least I have been, a little anxious lately about the fate of the 'Blot on the 'Scutcheon,' which Mr. Phelps applied for my husband's permission to revive at Sadler's. Of course, putting the request was a mere form, as he had every right to act the play, and there was nothing to answer but one thing. Only it made one anxious—made me anxious—till we heard the result, and we, both of us, are very grateful to dear Mr. Chorley, who not only made it his business to be at the theatre the first night, but, before he slept, sat down like a true friend to give us the story of the result, and never, he says, was a more complete and legitimate success. The play went straight to the heart of the audience, it seems, and we hear of its continuance on the stage from the papers. So far, so well. You may remember, or may not have heard, how Macready brought it out and put his foot on it in the flash of a quarrel between manager and author, and Phelps, knowing the whole secret and feeling the power of the play, determined on making a revival of it on his own theatre, which was wise, as the event proves. Mr. Chorley called his acting really 'fine.' I see the second edition of the 'Poetical Works' advertised at last in the 'Athenaeum,' and conclude it to be coming out directly. Also my second edition is called for, only nothing is yet arranged on that point. We have had a most interesting letter from Mr. Home, giving terrible accounts, to be sure, of the submersion of all literature in England and France since the French Revolution, but noble and instructive proof of individual wave-riding energy, such as I have always admired in him. He and his wife, he says, live chiefly on the produce of their garden, and keep a cheerful heart for the rest; even the 'Institutes' expect gratuitous lectures, so that the sweat of the brain seems less productive than the sweat of the brow. I am glad that Mr. Serjeant Talfourd and his wife spoke affectionately of my husband, for he is attached to both of them.... My Flush has grown to be passionately fond of grapes, devouring bunch after bunch, and looking so fat and well that we attribute some virtue to them. When he goes to England he will be as much in a strait as an Italian who related to us his adventures in London; he had had a long walk in the heat, and catching sight of grapes hanging up in a grocer's shop, he stopped short to have a pennyworth, as he said inwardly to himself. Down he sat and made out a Tuscan luncheon in purple bunches. At last, taking out his purse to look for the halfpence: 'Fifteen shillings, sir, if you please,' said the shopman. Now do write soon, and speak particularly of your health, and take care of it and don't be too complaisant to visitors. May God bless you, my very dear friend! Think of me as
Ever your affectionate and grateful
My husband's regards always.
Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Footnotes |
More: Writer Directory | Book Reviews | Homework Help | E-texts | Timeline | Submit a Review |