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´╗┐Title: Life and Letters of Robert Browning
Author: Browning, Robert, 1812-1889, Orr, Sutherland, Mrs., 1828-1903
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life and Letters of Robert Browning" ***

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LIFE AND LETTERS OF ROBERT BROWNING

by Mrs. Sutherland Orr


Second Edition



Preface


Such letters of Mr. Browning's as appear, whole or in part, in the
present volume have been in most cases given to me by the persons to
whom they were addressed, or copied by Miss Browning from the originals
under her care; but I owe to the daughter of the Rev. W. J. Fox--Mrs.
Bridell Fox--those written to her father and to Miss Flower; the two
interesting extracts from her father's correspondence with herself and
Mr. Browning's note to Mr. Robertson.

For my general material I have been largely indebted to Miss Browning.
Her memory was the only existing record of her brother's boyhood and
youth. It has been to me an unfailing as well as always accessible
authority for that subsequent period of his life which I could only know
in disconnected facts or his own fragmentary reminiscences. It is less
true, indeed, to say that she has greatly helped me in writing this
short biography than that without her help it could never have been
undertaken.

I thank my friends Mrs. R. Courtenay Bell and Miss Hickey for their
invaluable assistance in preparing the book for, and carrying it through
the press; and I acknowledge with real gratitude the advantages derived
by it from Mr. Dykes Campbell's large literary experience in his very
careful final revision of the proofs.

A. Orr. April 22, 1891.



Contents



Chapter 1 Origin of the Browning Family--Robert Browning's
Grandfather--His position and Character--His first and second
Marriage--Unkindness towards his eldest Son, Robert Browning's
Father--Alleged Infusion of West Indian Blood through Robert Browning's
Grandmother--Existing Evidence against it--The Grandmother's Portrait.

Chapter 2 Robert Browning's Father--His Position in Life--Comparison
between him and his Son--Tenderness towards his Son--Outline of his
Habits and Character--His Death--Significant Newspaper Paragraph--Letter
of Mr. Locker--Lampson--Robert Browning's Mother--Her Character and
Antecedents--Their Influence upon her Son--Nervous Delicacy imparted to
both her Children--Its special Evidences in her Son.

Chapter 3 1812-1826 Birth of Robert Browning--His Childhood
and Schooldays--Restless Temperament--Brilliant Mental
Endowments--Incidental Peculiarities--Strong Religious
Feeling--Passionate Attachment to his Mother; Grief at first
Separation--Fondness for Animals--Experiences of School Life--Extensive
Reading--Early Attempts in Verse--Letter from his Father concerning
them--Spurious Poems in Circulation--'Incondita'--Mr. Fox--Miss Flower.

Chapter 4 1826-1833 First Impressions of Keats and Shelley--Prolonged
Influence of Shelley--Details of Home Education--Its Effects--Youthful
Restlessness--Counteracting Love of Home--Early Friendships: Alfred
Domett, Joseph Arnould, the Silverthornes--Choice of Poetry as a
Profession--Alternative Suggestions; mistaken Rumours concerning
them--Interest in Art--Love of good Theatrical Performances--Talent for
Acting--Final Preparation for Literary Life.

Chapter 5 1833-1835 'Pauline'--Letters to Mr. Fox--Publication of the
Poem; chief Biographical and Literary Characteristics--Mr. Fox's Review
in the 'Monthly Repository'; other Notices--Russian Journey--Desired
diplomatic Appointment--Minor Poems; first Sonnet; their Mode of
Appearance--'The Trifler'--M. de Ripert-Monclar--'Paracelsus'--Letters
to Mr. Fox concerning it; its Publication--Incidental Origin of
'Paracelsus'; its inspiring Motive; its Relation to 'Pauline'--Mr. Fox's
Review of it in the 'Monthly Repository'--Article in the 'Examiner' by
John Forster.

Chapter 6 1835-1838 Removal to Hatcham; some Particulars--Renewed
Intercourse with the second Family of Robert Browning's
Grandfather--Reuben Browning--William Shergold Browning--Visitors
at Hatcham--Thomas Carlyle--Social Life--New Friends and
Acquaintance--Introduction to Macready--New Year's Eve at Elm
Place--Introduction to John Forster--Miss Fanny Haworth--Miss
Martineau--Serjeant Talfourd--The 'Ion' Supper--'Strafford'--Relations
with Macready--Performance of 'Strafford'--Letters concerning it
from Mr. Browning and Miss Flower--Personal Glimpses of Robert
Browning--Rival Forms of Dramatic Inspiration--Relation of 'Strafford'
to 'Sordello'--Mr. Robertson and the 'Westminster Review'.

Chapter 7 1838-1841 First Italian Journey--Letters to Miss Haworth--Mr.
John Kenyon--'Sordello'--Letter to Miss Flower--'Pippa Passes'--'Bells
and Pomegranates'.

Chapter 8 1841-1844 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon'--Letters to Mr.
Frank Hill; Lady Martin--Charles Dickens--Other Dramas and Minor
Poems--Letters to Miss Lee; Miss Haworth; Miss Flower--Second Italian
Journey; Naples--E. J. Trelawney--Stendhal.

Chapter 9 1844-1849 Introduction to Miss Barrett--Engagement--Motives
for Secrecy--Marriage--Journey to Italy--Extract of Letter from
Mr. Fox--Mrs. Browning's Letters to Miss Mitford--Life at
Pisa--Vallombrosa--Florence; Mr. Powers; Miss Boyle--Proposed British
Mission to the Vatican--Father Prout--Palazzo Guidi--Fano; Ancona--'A
Blot in the 'Scutcheon' at Sadler's Wells.

Chapter 10 1849-1852 Death of Mr. Browning's Mother--Birth of his
Son--Mrs. Browning's Letters continued--Baths of Lucca--Florence
again--Venice--Margaret Fuller Ossoli--Visit to England--Winter in
Paris--Carlyle--George Sand--Alfred de Musset.

Chapter 11 1852-1855 M. Joseph Milsand--His close Friendship with
Mr. Browning; Mrs. Browning's Impression of him--New Edition of
Mr. Browning's Poems--'Christmas Eve and Easter Day'--'Essay' on
Shelley--Summer in London--Dante Gabriel Rossetti--Florence; secluded
Life--Letters from Mr. and Mrs. Browning--'Colombe's Birthday'--Baths of
Lucca--Mrs. Browning's Letters--Winter in Rome--Mr. and Mrs. Story--Mrs.
Sartoris--Mrs. Fanny Kemble--Summer in London--Tennyson--Ruskin.

Chapter 12 1855-1858 'Men and Women'--'Karshook'--'Two in the
Campagna'--Winter in Paris; Lady Elgin--'Aurora Leigh'--Death of
Mr. Kenyon and Mr. Barrett--Penini--Mrs. Browning's Letters to Miss
Browning--The Florentine Carnival--Baths of Lucca--Spiritualism--Mr.
Kirkup; Count Ginnasi--Letter from Mr. Browning to Mr. Fox--Havre.

Chapter 13 1858-1861 Mrs. Browning's Illness--Siena--Letter from Mr.
Browning to Mr. Leighton--Mrs. Browning's Letters continued--Walter
Savage Landor--Winter in Rome--Mr. Val Prinsep--Friends in Rome: Mr. and
Mrs. Cartwright--Multiplying Social Relations--Massimo d'Azeglio--Siena
again--Illness and Death of Mrs. Browning's Sister--Mr. Browning's
Occupations--Madame du Quaire--Mrs. Browning's last Illness and Death.

Chapter 14 1861-1863 Miss Blagden--Letters from Mr. Browning to
Miss Haworth and Mr. Leighton--His Feeling in regard to Funeral
Ceremonies--Establishment in London--Plan of Life--Letter to Madame
du Quaire--Miss Arabel Barrett--Biarritz--Letters to Miss
Blagden--Conception of 'The Ring and the Book'--Biographical
Indiscretion--New Edition of his Works--Mr. and Mrs. Procter.

Chapter 15 1863-1869 Pornic--'James Lee's Wife'--Meeting at Mr. F.
Palgrave's--Letters to Miss Blagden--His own Estimate of his Work--His
Father's Illness and Death; Miss Browning--Le Croisic--Academic
Honours; Letter to the Master of Balliol--Death of Miss
Barrett--Audierne--Uniform Edition of his Works--His rising
Fame--'Dramatis Personae'--'The Ring and the Book'; Character of
Pompilia.

Chapter 16 1869-1873 Lord Dufferin; Helen's Tower--Scotland; Visit to
Lady Ashburton--Letters to Miss Blagden--St.-Aubin; The Franco-Prussian
War--'Herve Riel'--Letter to Mr. G. M. Smith--'Balaustion's Adventure';
'Prince Hohenstiel--Schwangau'--'Fifine at the Fair'--Mistaken Theories
of Mr. Browning's Work--St.-Aubin; 'Red Cotton Nightcap Country'.

Chapter 17 1873-1878 London Life--Love of Music--Miss
Egerton-Smith--Periodical Nervous Exhaustion--Mers; 'Aristophanes'
Apology'--'Agamemnon'--'The Inn Album'--'Pacchiarotto and other
Poems'--Visits to Oxford and Cambridge--Letters to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald--St.
Andrews; Letter from Professor Knight--In the Savoyard
Mountains--Death of Miss Egerton-Smith--'La Saisiaz'; 'The Two Poets of
Croisic'--Selections from his Works.

Chapter 18 1878-1884 He revisits Italy; Asolo; Letters to Mrs.
Fitz-Gerald--Venice--Favourite Alpine Retreats--Mrs. Arthur
Bronson--Life in Venice--A Tragedy at Saint-Pierre--Mr.
Cholmondeley--Mr. Browning's Patriotic Feeling; Extract from Letter
to Mrs. Charles Skirrow--'Dramatic Idyls'--'Jocoseria'--'Ferishtah's
Fancies'.

Chapter 19 1881-1887 The Browning Society; Mr. Furnivall; Miss E.
H. Hickey--His Attitude towards the Society; Letter to Mrs.
Fitz-Gerald--Mr. Thaxter, Mrs. Celia Thaxter--Letter to Miss Hickey;
'Strafford'--Shakspere and Wordsworth Societies--Letters to Professor
Knight--Appreciation in Italy; Professor Nencioni--The Goldoni
Sonnet--Mr. Barrett Browning; Palazzo Manzoni--Letters to Mrs. Charles
Skirrow--Mrs. Bloomfield Moore--Llangollen; Sir Theodore and Lady
Martin--Loss of old Friends--Foreign Correspondent of the Royal
Academy--'Parleyings with certain People of Importance in their Day'.

Chapter 20 Constancy to Habit--Optimism--Belief in Providence--Political
Opinions--His Friendships--Reverence for Genius--Attitude towards
his Public--Attitude towards his Work--Habits of Work--His
Reading--Conversational Powers--Impulsiveness and Reserve--Nervous
Peculiarities--His Benevolence--His Attitude towards Women.

Chapter 21 1887-1889 Marriage of Mr. Barrett Browning--Removal to De
Vere Gardens--Symptoms of failing Strength--New Poems; New Edition
of his Works--Letters to Mr. George Bainton, Mr. Smith, and Lady
Martin--Primiero and Venice--Letters to Miss Keep--The last Year in
London--Asolo--Letters to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald, Mrs. Skirrow, and Mr. G. M.
Smith.

Chapter 22 1889 Proposed Purchase of Land at Asolo--Venice--Letter
to Mr. G. Moulton-Barrett--Lines in the 'Athenaeum'--Letter to Miss
Keep--Illness--Death--Funeral Ceremonial at Venice--Publication of
'Asolando'--Interment in Poets' Corner.

Conclusion

Index


Portrait of Robert Browning (1889) Mr. Browning's Study in De Vere
Gardens



LIFE AND LETTERS OF ROBERT BROWNING



Chapter 1

Origin of the Browning Family--Robert Browning's Grandfather--His
position and Character--His first and second Marriage--Unkindness
towards his eldest Son, Robert Browning's Father--Alleged Infusion
of West Indian Blood through Robert Browning's Grandmother--Existing
Evidence against it--The Grandmother's Portrait.



A belief was current in Mr. Browning's lifetime that he had Jewish blood
in his veins. It received outward support from certain accidents of his
life, from his known interest in the Hebrew language and literature,
from his friendship for various members of the Jewish community in
London. It might well have yielded to the fact of his never claiming the
kinship, which could not have existed without his knowledge, and which,
if he had known it, he would, by reason of these very sympathies, have
been the last person to disavow. The results of more recent and more
systematic inquiry have shown the belief to be unfounded.

Our poet sprang, on the father's side, from an obscure or, as family
tradition asserts, a decayed branch, of an Anglo-Saxon stock settled,
at an early period of our history, in the south, and probably also
south-west, of England. A line of Brownings owned the manors of
Melbury-Sampford and Melbury-Osmond, in north-west Dorsetshire; their
last representative disappeared--or was believed to do so--in the time
of Henry VII., their manors passing into the hands of the Earls of
Ilchester, who still hold them.* The name occurs after 1542 in different
parts of the country: in two cases with the affix of 'esquire', in two
also, though not in both coincidently, within twenty miles of Pentridge,
where the first distinct traces of the poet's family appear. Its cradle,
as he called it, was Woodyates, in the parish of Pentridge, on the
Wiltshire confines of Dorsetshire; and there his ancestors, of the third
and fourth generations, held, as we understand, a modest but independent
social position.

     * I am indebted for these facts, as well as for some others
     referring to, or supplied by, Mr. Browning's uncles,
     to some notes made for the Browning Society by Dr. Furnivall.

This fragment of history, if we may so call it, accords better with our
impression of Mr. Browning's genius than could any pedigree which more
palpably connected him with the 'knightly' and 'squirely' families whose
name he bore. It supplies the strong roots of English national life
to which we instinctively refer it. Both the vivid originality of that
genius and its healthy assimilative power stamp it as, in some sense,
the product of virgin soil; and although the varied elements which
entered into its growth were racial as well as cultural, and inherited
as well as absorbed, the evidence of its strong natural or physical
basis remains undisturbed.

Mr. Browning, for his own part, maintained a neutral attitude in the
matter. He neither claimed nor disclaimed the more remote genealogical
past which had presented itself as a certainty to some older members of
his family. He preserved the old framed coat-of-arms handed down to him
from his grandfather; and used, without misgiving as to his right to do
so, a signet-ring engraved from it, the gift of a favourite uncle, in
years gone by. But, so long as he was young, he had no reason to think
about his ancestors; and, when he was old, he had no reason to care
about them; he knew himself to be, in every possible case, the most
important fact in his family history.

     Roi ne suis, ni Prince aussi,
     Suis le seigneur de Conti,

he wrote, a few years back, to a friend who had incidentally questioned
him about it.

Our immediate knowledge of the family begins with Mr. Browning's
grandfather, also a Robert Browning, who obtained through Lord
Shaftesbury's influence a clerkship in the Bank of England, and entered
on it when barely twenty, in 1769. He served fifty years, and rose to
the position of Principal of the Bank Stock Office, then an important
one, and which brought him into contact with the leading financiers
of the day. He became also a lieutenant in the Honourable Artillery
Company, and took part in the defence of the Bank in the Gordon Riots
of 1789. He was an able, energetic, and worldly man: an Englishman, very
much of the provincial type; his literary tastes being limited to the
Bible and 'Tom Jones', both of which he is said to have read through
once a year. He possessed a handsome person and, probably, a vigorous
constitution, since he lived to the age of eighty-four, though
frequently tormented by gout; a circumstance which may help to account
for his not having seen much of his grandchildren, the poet and his
sister; we are indeed told that he particularly dreaded the lively boy's
vicinity to his afflicted foot. He married, in 1778, Margaret, daughter
of a Mr. Tittle by his marriage with Miss Seymour; and who was born
in the West Indies and had inherited property there. They had three
children: Robert, the poet's father; a daughter, who lived an uneventful
life and plays no part in the family history; and another son who died
an infant. The Creole mother died also when her eldest boy was only
seven years old, and passed out of his memory in all but an indistinct
impression of having seen her lying in her coffin. Five years later the
widower married a Miss Smith, who gave him a large family.

This second marriage of Mr. Browning's was a critical event in the life
of his eldest son; it gave him, to all appearance, two step-parents
instead of one. There could have been little sympathy between his father
and himself, for no two persons were ever more unlike, but there was yet
another cause for the systematic unkindness under which the lad grew
up. Mr. Browning fell, as a hard man easily does, greatly under the
influence of his second wife, and this influence was made by her
to subserve the interests of a more than natural jealousy of her
predecessor. An early instance of this was her banishing the dead lady's
portrait to a garret, on the plea that her husband did not need two
wives. The son could be no burden upon her because he had a little
income, derived from his mother's brother; but this, probably, only
heightened her ill-will towards him. When he was old enough to go to a
University, and very desirous of going--when, moreover, he offered to
do so at his own cost--she induced his father to forbid it, because,
she urged, they could not afford to send their other sons to college. An
earlier ambition of his had been to become an artist; but when he showed
his first completed picture to his father, the latter turned away and
refused to look at it. He gave himself the finishing stroke in the
parental eyes, by throwing up a lucrative employment which he had held
for a short time on his mother's West Indian property, in disgust at the
system of slave labour which was still in force there; and he paid for
this unpractical conduct as soon as he was of age, by the compulsory
reimbursement of all the expenses which his father, up to that date, had
incurred for him; and by the loss of his mother's fortune, which, at the
time of her marriage, had not been settled upon her. It was probably
in despair of doing anything better, that, soon after this, in his
twenty-second year, he also became a clerk in the Bank of England. He
married and settled in Camberwell, in 1811; his son and daughter were
born, respectively, in 1812 and 1814. He became a widower in 1849; and
when, four years later, he had completed his term of service at the
Bank, he went with his daughter to Paris, where they resided until his
death in 1866.

Dr. Furnivall has originated a theory, and maintains it as a conviction,
that Mr. Browning's grandmother was more than a Creole in the strict
sense of the term, that of a person born of white parents in the West
Indies, and that an unmistakable dash of dark blood passed from her to
her son and grandson. Such an occurrence was, on the face of it, not
impossible, and would be absolutely unimportant to my mind, and, I think
I may add, to that of Mr. Browning's sister and son. The poet and his
father were what we know them, and if negro blood had any part in their
composition, it was no worse for them, and so much the better for the
negro. But many persons among us are very averse to the idea of such
a cross; I believe its assertion, in the present case, to be entirely
mistaken; I prefer, therefore, touching on the facts alleged in favour
of it, to passing them over in a silence which might be taken to mean
indifference, but might also be interpreted into assent.

We are told that Mr. Browning was so dark in early life, that a nephew
who saw him in Paris, in 1837, mistook him for an Italian. He neither
had nor could have had a nephew; and he was not out of England at the
time specified. It is said that when Mr. Browning senior was residing on
his mother's sugar plantation at St. Kitt's, his appearance was held
to justify his being placed in church among the coloured members of the
congregation. We are assured in the strongest terms that the story has
no foundation, and this by a gentleman whose authority in all matters
concerning the Browning family Dr. Furnivall has otherwise accepted
as conclusive. If the anecdote were true it would be a singular
circumstance that Mr. Browning senior was always fond of drawing negro
heads, and thus obviously disclaimed any unpleasant association with
them.

I do not know the exact physical indications by which a dark strain is
perceived; but if they are to be sought in the colouring of eyes, hair,
and skin, they have been conspicuously absent in the two persons who in
the present case are supposed to have borne them. The poet's father had
light blue eyes and, I am assured by those who knew him best, a clear,
ruddy complexion. His appearance induced strangers passing him in the
Paris streets to remark, 'C'est un Anglais!' The absolute whiteness
of Miss Browning's skin was modified in her brother by a sallow tinge
sufficiently explained by frequent disturbance of the liver; but it
never affected the clearness of his large blue-grey eyes; and his hair,
which grew dark as he approached manhood, though it never became black,
is spoken of, by everyone who remembers him in childhood and youth,
as golden. It is no less worthy of note that the daughter of his early
friend Mr. Fox, who grew up in the little social circle to which he
belonged, never even heard of the dark cross now imputed to him; and a
lady who made his acquaintance during his twenty-fourth year, wrote a
sonnet upon him, beginning with these words:

     Thy brow is calm, young Poet--pale and clear
     As a moonlighted statue.

The suggestion of Italian characteristics in the Poet's face may serve,
however, to introduce a curious fact, which can have no bearing on the
main lines of his descent, but holds collateral possibilities concerning
it. His mother's name Wiedemann or Wiedeman appears in a merely
contracted form as that of one of the oldest families naturalized in
Venice. It became united by marriage with the Rezzonico; and, by a
strange coincidence, the last of these who occupied the palace now owned
by Mr. Barrett Browning was a Widman-Rezzonico. The present Contessa
Widman has lately restored her own palace, which was falling into ruin.

That portrait of the first Mrs. Browning, which gave so much umbrage
to her husband's second wife, has hung for many years in her grandson's
dining-room, and is well known to all his friends. It represents a
stately woman with an unmistakably fair skin; and if the face or hair
betrays any indication of possible dark blood, it is imperceptible to
the general observer, and must be of too slight and fugitive a nature
to enter into the discussion. A long curl touches one shoulder. One
hand rests upon a copy of Thomson's 'Seasons', which was held to be
the proper study and recreation of cultivated women in those days. The
picture was painted by Wright of Derby.

A brother of this lady was an adventurous traveller, and was said to
have penetrated farther into the interior of Africa than any other
European of his time. His violent death will be found recorded in a
singular experience of the poet's middle life.



Chapter 2

Robert Browning's Father--His Position in Life--Comparison between
him and his Son--Tenderness towards his Son--Outline of his Habits and
Character--His Death--Significant Newspaper Paragraph--Letter of
Mr. Locker-Lampson--Robert Browning's Mother--Her Character and
Antecedents--Their Influence upon her Son--Nervous Delicacy imparted to
both her Children--Its special Evidences in her Son.



It was almost a matter of course that Robert Browning's father should be
disinclined for bank work. We are told, and can easily imagine, that he
was not so good an official as the grandfather; we know that he did not
rise so high, nor draw so large a salary. But he made the best of
his position for his family's sake, and it was at that time both more
important and more lucrative than such appointments have since become.
Its emoluments could be increased by many honourable means not covered
by the regular salary. The working-day was short, and every additional
hour's service well paid. To be enrolled on the night-watch was also
very remunerative; there were enormous perquisites in pens, paper, and
sealing-wax.* Mr. Browning availed himself of these opportunities of
adding to his income, and was thus enabled, with the help of his private
means, to gratify his scholarly and artistic tastes, and give his
children the benefit of a very liberal education--the one distinct ideal
of success in life which such a nature as his could form. Constituted as
he was, he probably suffered very little through the paternal unkindness
which had forced him into an uncongenial career. Its only palpable
result was to make him a more anxiously indulgent parent when his own
time came.

     * I have been told that, far from becoming careless in the
     use of these things from his practically unbounded command
     of them, he developed for them an almost superstitious
     reverence.  He could never endure to see a scrap of writing-
     paper wasted.

Many circumstances conspired to secure to the coming poet a happier
childhood and youth than his father had had. His path was to be smoothed
not only by natural affection and conscientious care, but by literary
and artistic sympathy. The second Mr. Browning differed, in certain
respects, as much from the third as from the first. There were,
nevertheless, strong points in which, if he did not resemble, he at
least distinctly foreshadowed him; and the genius of the one would lack
some possible explanation if we did not recognize in great measure its
organized material in the other. Much, indeed, that was genius in the
son existed as talent in the father. The moral nature of the younger
man diverged from that of the older, though retaining strong points of
similarity; but the mental equipments of the two differed far less
in themselves than in the different uses to which temperament and
circumstances trained them.

The most salient intellectual characteristic of Mr. Browning senior was
his passion for reading. In his daughter's words, 'he read in season,
and out of season;' and he not only read, but remembered. As a
schoolboy, he knew by heart the first book of the 'Iliad', and all
the odes of Horace; and it shows how deeply the classical part of his
training must have entered into him, that he was wont, in later life, to
soothe his little boy to sleep by humming to him an ode of Anacreon. It
was one of his amusements at school to organize Homeric combats among
the boys, in which the fighting was carried on in the manner of the
Greeks and Trojans, and he and his friend Kenyon would arm themselves
with swords and shields, and hack at each other lustily, exciting
themselves to battle by insulting speeches derived from the Homeric
text.*

     * This anecdote is partly quoted from Mrs. Andrew Crosse,
     who has introduced it into her article 'John Kenyon and his
     Friends',
     'Temple Bar', April 1890.  She herself received it from Mr.
          Dykes Campbell.

Mr. Browning had also an extraordinary power of versifying, and taught
his son from babyhood the words he wished him to remember, by joining
them to a grotesque rhyme; the child learned all his Latin declensions
in this way. His love of art had been proved by his desire to adopt it
as a profession; his talent for it was evidenced by the life and power
of the sketches, often caricatures, which fell from his pen or pencil as
easily as written words. Mr. Barrett Browning remembers gaining a very
early elementary knowledge of anatomy from comic illustrated rhymes
(now in the possession of their old friend, Mrs. Fraser Corkran) through
which his grandfather impressed upon him the names and position of the
principal bones of the human body.

Even more remarkable than his delight in reading was the manner in
which Mr. Browning read. He carried into it all the preciseness of the
scholar. It was his habit when he bought a book--which was generally
an old one allowing of this addition--to have some pages of blank paper
bound into it. These he filled with notes, chronological tables, or such
other supplementary matter as would enhance the interest, or assist the
mastering, of its contents; all written in a clear and firm though by
no means formal handwriting. More than one book thus treated by him
has passed through my hands, leaving in me, it need hardly be said,
a stronger impression of the owner's intellectual quality than the
acquisition by him of the finest library could have conveyed. One of the
experiences which disgusted him with St. Kitt's was the frustration
by its authorities of an attempt he was making to teach a negro boy
to read, and the understanding that all such educative action was
prohibited.

In his faculties and attainments, as in his pleasures and appreciations,
he showed the simplicity and genuineness of a child. He was not only
ready to amuse, he could always identify himself with children, his
love for whom never failed him in even his latest years. His more than
childlike indifference to pecuniary advantages had been shown in early
life. He gave another proof of it after his wife's death, when he
declined a proposal, made to him by the Bank of England, to assist in
founding one of its branch establishments in Liverpool. He never indeed,
personally, cared for money, except as a means of acquiring old, i.e.
rare books, for which he had, as an acquaintance declared, the scent
of a hound and the snap of a bulldog. His eagerness to possess such
treasures was only matched by the generosity with which he parted with
them; and his daughter well remembers the feeling of angry suspicion
with which she and her brother noted the periodical arrival of a certain
visitor who would be closeted with their father for hours, and steal
away before the supper time, when the family would meet, with some
precious parcel of books or prints under his arm.

It is almost superfluous to say that he was indifferent to creature
comforts. Miss Browning was convinced that, if on any occasion she had
said to him, 'There will be no dinner to-day,' he would only have
looked up from his book to reply, 'All right, my dear, it is of no
consequence.' In his bank-clerk days, when he sometimes dined in Town,
he left one restaurant with which he was not otherwise dissatisfied,
because the waiter always gave him the trouble of specifying what he
would have to eat. A hundred times that trouble would not have deterred
him from a kindly act. Of his goodness of heart, indeed, many distinct
instances might be given; but even this scanty outline of his life has
rendered them superfluous.

Mr. Browning enjoyed splendid physical health. His early love of reading
had not precluded a wholesome enjoyment of athletic sports; and he was,
as a boy, the fastest runner and best base-ball player in his school. He
died, like his father, at eighty-four (or rather, within a few days of
eighty-five), but, unlike him, he had never been ill; a French friend
exclaimed when all was over, 'Il n'a jamais ete vieux.' His faculties
were so unclouded up to the last moment that he could watch himself
dying, and speculate on the nature of the change which was befalling
him. 'What do you think death is, Robert?' he said to his son; 'is it
a fainting, or is it a pang?' A notice of his decease appeared in an
American newspaper. It was written by an unknown hand, and bears a stamp
of genuineness which renders the greater part of it worth quoting.


'He was not only a ruddy, active man, with fine hair, that retained its
strength and brownness to the last, but he had a courageous spirit and a
remarkably intelligent mind. He was a man of the finest culture, and was
often, and never vainly, consulted by his son Robert concerning the more
recondite facts relating to the old characters, whose bones that poet
liked so well to disturb. His knowledge of old French, Spanish, and
Italian literature was wonderful. The old man went smiling and peaceful
to his long rest, preserving his faculties to the last, insomuch that
the physician, astonished at his continued calmness and good humour,
turned to his daughter, and said in a low voice, "Does this gentleman
know that he is dying?" The daughter said in a voice which the father
could hear, "He knows it;" and the old man said with a quiet smile,
"Death is no enemy in my eyes." His last words were spoken to his son
Robert, who was fanning him, "I fear I am wearying you, dear."'


Four years later one of his English acquaintances in Paris, Mr.
Frederick Locker, now Mr. Locker-Lampson, wrote to Robert Browning as
follows:


Dec. 26, 1870.

My dear Browning,--I have always thought that you or Miss Browning, or
some other capable person, should draw up a sketch of your excellent
father so that, hereafter, it might be known what an interesting man he
was.

I used often to meet you in Paris, at Lady Elgin's. She had a genuine
taste for poetry, and she liked being read to, and I remember you gave
her a copy of Keats' poems, and you used often to read his poetry to
her. Lady Elgin died in 1860, and I think it was in that year that Lady
Charlotte and I saw the most of Mr. Browning.* He was then quite an
elderly man, if years could make him so, but he had so much vivacity of
manner, and such simplicity and freshness of mind, that it was difficult
to think him old.

     * Mr. Locker was then married to Lady Charlotte Bruce, Lady
     Elgin's daughter.

I remember, he and your sister lived in an apartment in the Rue de
Grenelle, St. Germain, in quite a simple fashion, much in the way that
most people live in Paris, and in the way that all sensible people would
wish to live all over the world.

Your father and I had at least one taste and affection in common. He
liked hunting the old bookstalls on the 'quais', and he had a great
love and admiration for Hogarth; and he possessed several of Hogarth's
engravings, some in rare and early states of the plate; and he would
relate with glee the circumstances under which he had picked them up,
and at so small a price too! However, he had none of the 'petit-maitre'
weakness of the ordinary collector, which is so common, and which I own
to!--such as an infatuation for tall copies, and wide margins.

I remember your father was fond of drawing in a rough and ready fashion;
he had plenty of talent, I should think not very great cultivation; but
quite enough to serve his purpose, and to amuse his friends. He had a
thoroughly lively and _healthy_ interest in your poetry, and he showed me
some of your boyish attempts at versification.

Taking your dear father altogether, I quite believe him to have been one
of those men--interesting men--whom the world never hears of. Perhaps he
was shy--at any rate he was much less known than he ought to have been;
and now, perhaps, he only remains in the recollection of his family,
and of one or two superior people (like myself!) who were capable of
appreciating him. My dear Browning, I really hope you will draw up a
slight sketch of your father before it is too late. Yours, Frederick
Locker.


The judgments thus expressed twenty years ago are cordially re-stated
in the letter in which Mr. Locker-Lampson authorizes me to publish them.
The desired memoir was never written; but the few details which I have
given of the older Mr. Browning's life and character may perhaps stand
for it.

With regard to the 'strict dissent' with which her parents have been
taxed, Miss Browning writes to me: 'My father was born and educated in
the Church of England, and, for many years before his death, lived in
her communion. He became a Dissenter in middle life, and my mother, born
and brought up in the Kirk of Scotland, became one also; but they could
not be called bigoted, since we always in the evening attended the
preaching of the Rev. Henry Melvill* (afterwards Canon of St. Paul's),
whose sermons Robert much admired.'**

     * At Camden Chapel, Camberwell.

     ** Mr. Browning was much interested, in later years, in
     hearing Canon, perhaps then already Archdeacon, Farrar extol
     his eloquence and ask whether he had known him.  Mr. Ruskin
     also spoke of him with admiration.

Little need be said about the poet's mother. She was spoken of by
Carlyle as 'the true type of a Scottish gentlewoman.' Mr. Kenyon
declared that such as she had no need to go to heaven, because they made
it wherever they were. But her character was all resumed in her son's
words, spoken with the tremulous emotion which so often accompanied his
allusion to those he had loved and lost: 'She was a divine woman.' She
was Scotch on the maternal side, and her kindly, gentle, but distinctly
evangelical Christianity must have been derived from that source. Her
father, William Wiedemann, a ship-owner, was a Hamburg German settled
in Dundee, and has been described by Mr. Browning as an accomplished
draughtsman and musician. She herself had nothing of the artist about
her, though we hear of her sometimes playing the piano; in all her
goodness and sweetness she seems to have been somewhat matter-of-fact.
But there is abundant indirect evidence of Mr. Browning's love of
music having come to him through her, and we are certainly justified in
holding the Scottish-German descent as accountable, in great measure
at least, for the metaphysical quality so early apparent in the poet's
mind, and of which we find no evidence in that of his father. His strong
religious instincts must have been derived from both parents, though
most anxiously fostered by his mother.

There is yet another point on which Mrs. Browning must have influenced
the life and destinies of her son, that of physical health, or, at
least, nervous constitution. She was a delicate woman, very anaemic
during her later years, and a martyr to neuralgia, which was perhaps a
symptom of this condition. The acute ailment reproduced itself in
her daughter in spite of an otherwise vigorous constitution. With the
brother, the inheritance of suffering was not less surely present, if
more difficult to trace. We have been accustomed to speaking of him as a
brilliantly healthy man; he was healthy, even strong, in many essential
respects. Until past the age of seventy he could take long walks without
fatigue, and endure an amount of social and general physical strain
which would have tried many younger men. He carried on until the last a
large, if not always serious, correspondence, and only within the latest
months, perhaps weeks of his life, did his letters even suggest that
physical brain-power was failing him. He had, within the limits which
his death has assigned to it, a considerable recuperative power. His
consciousness of health was vivid, so long as he was well; and it was
only towards the end that the faith in his probable length of days
occasionally deserted him. But he died of no acute disease, more than
seven years younger than his father, having long carried with him
external marks of age from which his father remained exempt. Till
towards the age of forty he suffered from attacks of sore-throat, not
frequent, but of an angry kind. He was constantly troubled by imperfect
action of the liver, though no doctor pronounced the evil serious. I
have spoken of this in reference to his complexion. During the last
twenty years, if not for longer, he rarely spent a winter without a
suffocating cold and cough; within the last five, asthmatic symptoms
established themselves; and when he sank under what was perhaps his
first real attack of bronchitis it was not because the attack was very
severe, but because the heart was exhausted. The circumstances of his
death recalled that of his mother; and we might carry the sad analogy
still farther in his increasing pallor, and the slow and not strong
pulse which always characterized him. This would perhaps be a mistake.
It is difficult to reconcile any idea of bloodlessness with the bounding
vitality of his younger body and mind. Any symptom of organic disease
could scarcely, in his case, have been overlooked. But so much is
certain: he was conscious of what he called a nervousness of nature
which neither father nor grandfather could have bequeathed to him. He
imputed to this, or, in other words, to an undue physical sensitiveness
to mental causes of irritation, his proneness to deranged liver, and
the asthmatic conditions which he believed, rightly or wrongly, to be
produced by it. He was perhaps mistaken in some of his inferences, but
he was not mistaken in the fact. He had the pleasures as well as the
pains of this nervous temperament; its quick response to every congenial
stimulus of physical atmosphere, and human contact. It heightened the
enjoyment, perhaps exaggerated the consciousness of his physical powers.
It also certainly in his later years led him to overdraw them. Many
persons have believed that he could not live without society; a
prolonged seclusion from it would, for obvious reasons, have been
unsuited to him. But the excited gaiety which to the last he carried
into every social gathering was often primarily the result of a moral
and physical effort which his temperament prompted, but his strength
could not always justify. Nature avenged herself in recurrent periods of
exhaustion, long before the closing stage had set in.

I shall subsequently have occasion to trace this nervous impressibility
through various aspects and relations of his life; all I now seek to
show is that this healthiest of poets and most real of men was not
compounded of elements of pure health, and perhaps never could have been
so. It might sound grotesque to say that only a delicate woman could
have been the mother of Robert Browning. The fact remains that of such
a one, and no other, he was born; and we may imagine, without being
fanciful, that his father's placid intellectual powers required for
their transmutation into poetic genius just this infusion of a vital
element not only charged with other racial and individual qualities, but
physically and morally more nearly allied to pain. Perhaps, even for his
happiness as a man, we could not have wished it otherwise.



Chapter 3

1812-1826

Birth of Robert Browning--His Childhood and Schooldays--Restless
Temperament--Brilliant Mental Endowments--Incidental
Peculiarities--Strong Religious Feeling--Passionate Attachment to his
Mother; Grief at first Separation--Fondness for Animals--Experiences of
School Life--Extensive Reading--Early Attempts in Verse--Letter from his
Father concerning them--Spurious Poems in Circulation--'Incondita'--Mr.
Fox--Miss Flower.



Robert Browning was born, as has been often repeated, at Camberwell, on
May 7, 1812, soon after a great comet had disappeared from the sky.
He was a handsome, vigorous, fearless child, and soon developed an
unresting activity and a fiery temper. He clamoured for occupation from
the moment he could speak. His mother could only keep him quiet when
once he had emerged from infancy by telling him stories--doubtless
Bible stories--while holding him on her knee. His energies were of
course destructive till they had found their proper outlet; but we do
not hear of his ever having destroyed anything for the mere sake of
doing so. His first recorded piece of mischief was putting a handsome
Brussels lace veil of his mother's into the fire; but the motive, which
he was just old enough to lisp out, was also his excuse: 'A pitty baze
[pretty blaze], mamma.' Imagination soon came to his rescue. It has
often been told how he extemporized verse aloud while walking round and
round the dining-room table supporting himself by his hands, when he was
still so small that his head was scarcely above it. He remembered having
entertained his mother in the very first walk he was considered old
enough to take with her, by a fantastic account of his possessions in
houses, &c., of which the topographical details elicited from her the
remark, 'Why, sir, you are quite a geographer.' And though this kind of
romancing is common enough among intelligent children, it distinguishes
itself in this case by the strong impression which the incident had left
on his own mind. It seems to have been a first real flight of dramatic
fancy, confusing his identity for the time being.

The power of inventing did not, however, interfere with his readiness to
learn, and the facility with which he acquired whatever knowledge came
in his way had, on one occasion, inconvenient results. A lady of reduced
fortunes kept a small elementary school for boys, a stone's-throw from
his home; and he was sent to it as a day boarder at so tender an age
that his parents, it is supposed, had no object in view but to get
rid of his turbulent activity for an hour or two every morning and
afternoon. Nevertheless, his proficiency in reading and spelling was
soon so much ahead of that of the biggest boy, that complaints broke
out among the mammas, who were sure there was not fair play. Mrs.----was
neglecting her other pupils for the sake of 'bringing on Master
Browning;' and the poor lady found it necessary to discourage Master
Browning's attendance lest she should lose the remainder of her flock.
This, at least, was the story as he himself remembered it. According to
Miss Browning his instructress did not yield without a parting shot.
She retorted on the discontented parents that, if she could give their
children 'Master Browning's intellect', she would have no difficulty
in satisfying them. After this came the interlude of home-teaching, in
which all his elementary knowledge must have been gained. As an older
child he was placed with two Misses Ready, who prepared boys for
entering their brother's (the Rev. Thomas Ready's) school; and in due
time he passed into the latter, where he remained up to the age of
fourteen.

He seems in those early days to have had few playmates beyond his
sister, two years younger than himself, and whom his irrepressible
spirit must sometimes have frightened or repelled. Nor do we hear
anything of childish loves; and though an entry appeared in his diary
one Sunday in about the seventh or eighth year of his age, 'married two
wives this morning,' it only referred to a vague imaginary appropriation
of two girls whom he had just seen in church, and whose charm probably
lay in their being much bigger than he. He was, however, capable of a
self-conscious shyness in the presence of even a little girl; and his
sense of certain proprieties was extraordinarily keen. He told a friend
that on one occasion, when the merest child, he had edged his way by the
wall from one point of his bedroom to another, because he was not fully
clothed, and his reflection in the glass could otherwise have been seen
through the partly open door.*

     * Another anecdote, of a very different kind, belongs to an
     earlier period, and to that category of pure naughtiness
     which could not fail to be sometimes represented in the
     conduct of so gifted a child. An old lady who visited his
     mother, and was characterized in the family as 'Aunt Betsy',
     had irritated him by pronouncing the word 'lovers' with the
     contemptuous jerk which the typical old maid is sometimes
     apt to impart to it, when once the question had arisen why a
     certain 'Lovers' Walk' was so called.  He was too nearly a
     baby to imagine what a 'lover' was; he supposed the name
     denoted a trade or occupation.  But his human sympathy
     resented Aunt Betsy's manner as an affront; and he
     determined, after probably repeated provocation, to show her
     something worse than a 'lover', whatever this might be. So
     one night he slipped out of bed, exchanged his nightgown for
     what he considered the appropriate undress of a devil,
     completed this by a paper tail, and the ugliest face he
     could make, and rushed into the drawing-room, where the old
     lady and his mother were drinking tea.  He was snatched up
     and carried away before he had had time to judge the effect
     of his apparition; but he did not think, looking back upon
     the circumstances in later life, that Aunt Betsy had
     deserved quite so ill of her fellow-creatures as he then
     believed.

His imaginative emotions were largely absorbed by religion. The early
Biblical training had had its effect, and he was, to use his own words,
'passionately religious' in those nursery years; but during them and
many succeeding ones, his mother filled his heart. He loved her so much,
he has been heard to say, that even as a grown man he could not sit
by her otherwise than with an arm round her waist. It is difficult to
measure the influence which this feeling may have exercised on his later
life; it led, even now, to a strange and touching little incident
which had in it the incipient poet no less than the loving child. His
attendance at Miss Ready's school only kept him from home from Monday
till Saturday of every week; but when called upon to confront his first
five days of banishment he felt sure that he would not survive them. A
leaden cistern belonging to the school had in, or outside it, the raised
image of a face. He chose the cistern for his place of burial, and
converted the face into his epitaph by passing his hand over and over it
to a continuous chant of: 'In memory of unhappy Browning'--the ceremony
being renewed in his spare moments, till the acute stage of the feeling
had passed away.

The fondness for animals for which through life he was noted, was
conspicuous in his very earliest days. His urgent demand for 'something
to do' would constantly include 'something to be caught' for him: 'they
were to catch him an eft;' 'they were to catch him a frog.' He would
refuse to take his medicine unless bribed by the gift of a speckled frog
from among the strawberries; and the maternal parasol, hovering above
the strawberry bed during the search for this object of his desires,
remained a standing picture in his remembrance. But the love of the
uncommon was already asserting itself; and one of his very juvenile
projects was a collection of rare creatures, the first contribution to
which was a couple of lady-birds, picked up one winter's day on a wall
and immediately consigned to a box lined with cotton-wool, and labelled,
'Animals found surviving in the depths of a severe winter.' Nor did
curiosity in this case weaken the power of sympathy. His passion for
birds and beasts was the counterpart of his father's love of children,
only displaying itself before the age at which child-love naturally
appears. His mother used to read Croxall's Fables to his little sister
and him. The story contained in them of a lion who was kicked to death
by an ass affected him so painfully that he could no longer endure the
sight of the book; and as he dared not destroy it, he buried it between
the stuffing and the woodwork of an old dining-room chair, where it
stood for lost, at all events for the time being. When first he heard
the adventures of the parrot who insisted on leaving his cage, and who
enjoyed himself for a little while and then died of hunger and cold,
he--and his sister with him--cried so bitterly that it was found
necessary to invent a different ending, according to which the parrot
was rescued just in time and brought back to his cage to live peacefully
in it ever after.

As a boy, he kept owls and monkeys, magpies and hedgehogs, an eagle,
and even a couple of large snakes, constantly bringing home the more
portable creatures in his pockets, and transferring them to his mother
for immediate care. I have heard him speak admiringly of the skilful
tenderness with which she took into her lap a lacerated cat, washed
and sewed up its ghastly wound, and nursed it back to health. The great
intimacy with the life and habits of animals which reveals itself in his
works is readily explained by these facts.

Mr. Ready's establishment was chosen for him as the best in the
neighbourhood; and both there and under the preparatory training of that
gentleman's sisters, the young Robert was well and kindly cared for. The
Misses Ready especially concerned themselves with the spiritual welfare
of their pupils. The periodical hair-brushings were accompanied by the
singing, and fell naturally into the measure, of Watts's hymns; and Mr.
Browning has given his friends some very hearty laughs by illustrating
with voice and gesture the ferocious emphasis with which the brush would
swoop down in the accentuated syllables of the following lines:

     Lord, 'tis a pleasant thing to stand
     In gardens planted by Thy hand.

     .    .    .    .    .

     Fools never raise their thoughts so high,
     Like 'brutes' they live, like _brutes_ they die.

He even compelled his mother to laugh at it, though it was sorely
against her nature to lend herself to any burlesquing of piously
intended things.* He had become a bigger boy since the episode of the
cistern, and had probably in some degree outgrown the intense piety of
his earlier childhood. This little incident seems to prove it. On the
whole, however, his religious instincts did not need strengthening,
though his sense of humour might get the better of them for a moment;
and of secular instruction he seems to have received as little from the
one set of teachers as from the other. I do not suppose that the mental
training at Mr. Ready's was more shallow or more mechanical than that
of most other schools of his own or, indeed, of a much later period; but
the brilliant abilities of Robert Browning inspired him with a certain
contempt for it, as also for the average schoolboy intelligence to
which it was apparently adapted. It must be for this reason that, as he
himself declared, he never gained a prize, although these rewards were
showered in such profusion that the only difficulty was to avoid
them; and if he did not make friends at school (for this also has been
somewhere observed),** it can only be explained in the same way. He
was at an intolerant age, and if his schoolfellows struck him as more
backward or more stupid than they need be, he is not likely to have
taken pains to conceal the impression. It is difficult, at all events,
to think of him as unsociable, and his talents certainly had their
amusing side. Miss Browning tells me that he made his schoolfellows
act plays, some of which he had written for them; and he delighted his
friends, not long ago, by mimicking his own solemn appearance on some
breaking-up or commemorative day, when, according to programme, 'Master
Browning' ascended a platform in the presence of assembled parents and
friends, and, in best jacket, white gloves, and carefully curled hair,
with a circular bow to the company and the then prescribed waving
of alternate arms, delivered a high-flown rhymed address of his own
composition.

     * In spite of this ludicrous association Mr. Browning always
     recognized great merit in Watts's hymns, and still more in
     Dr. Watts himself, who had devoted to this comparatively
     humble work intellectual powers competent to far higher
     things.

     ** It was in no case literally true.  William, afterwards
     Sir William, Channel was leaving Mr. Ready when Browning
     went to him; but a friendly acquaintance began, and was
     afterwards continued, between the two boys; and a closer
     friendship, formed with a younger brother Frank, was only
     interrupted by his death.  Another school friend or
     acquaintance recalled himself as such to the poet's memory
     some ten or twelve years ago. A man who has reached the age
     at which his boyhood becomes of interest to the world may
     even have survived many such relations.

And during the busy idleness of his schooldays, or, at all events, in
the holidays in which he rested from it, he was learning, as perhaps
only those do learn whose real education is derived from home. His
father's house was, Miss Browning tells me, literally crammed with
books; and, she adds, 'it was in this way that Robert became very early
familiar with subjects generally unknown to boys.' He read omnivorously,
though certainly not without guidance. One of the books he best and
earliest loved was 'Quarles' Emblemes', which his father possessed in
a seventeenth century edition, and which contains one or two very
tentative specimens of his early handwriting. Its quaint, powerful lines
and still quainter illustrations combined the marvellous with what he
believed to be true; and he seemed specially identified with its world
of religious fancies by the fact that the soul in it was always depicted
as a child. On its more general grounds his reading was at once largely
literary and very historical; and it was in this direction that the
paternal influence was most strongly revealed. 'Quarles' Emblemes'
was only one of the large collection of old books which Mr. Browning
possessed; and the young Robert learnt to know each favourite author in
the dress as well as the language which carried with it the life of his
period. The first edition of 'Robinson Crusoe'; the first edition of
Milton's works, bought for him by his father; a treatise on astrology
published twenty years after the introduction of printing; the original
pamphlet 'Killing no Murder' (1559), which Carlyle borrowed for his
'Life of Cromwell'; an equally early copy of Bernard Mandeville's
'Bees'; very ancient Bibles--are some of the instances which occur to
me. Among more modern publications, 'Walpole's Letters' were familiar to
him in boyhood, as well as the 'Letters of Junius' and all the works of
Voltaire.

Ancient poets and poetry also played their necessary part in the mental
culture superintended by Robert Browning's father: we can indeed imagine
no case in which they would not have found their way into the boy's
life. Latin poets and Greek dramatists came to him in their due time,
though his special delight in the Greek language only developed itself
later. But his loving, lifelong familiarity with the Elizabethan school,
and indeed with the whole range of English poetry, seems to point to
a more constant study of our national literature. Byron was his chief
master in those early poetic days. He never ceased to honour him as the
one poet who combined a constructive imagination with the more technical
qualities of his art; and the result of this period of aesthetic
training was a volume of short poems produced, we are told, when he was
only twelve, in which the Byronic influence was predominant.

The young author gave his work the title of 'Incondita', which conveyed
a certain idea of deprecation. He was, nevertheless, very anxious to see
it in print; and his father and mother, poetry-lovers of the old
school, also found in it sufficient merit to justify its publication.
No publisher, however, could be found; and we can easily believe that
he soon afterwards destroyed the little manuscript, in some mingled
reaction of disappointment and disgust. But his mother, meanwhile, had
shown it to an acquaintance of hers, Miss Flower, who herself admired
its contents so much as to make a copy of them for the inspection of her
friend, the well-known Unitarian minister, Mr. W. J. Fox. The copy was
transmitted to Mr. Browning after Mr. Fox's death by his daughter, Mrs.
Bridell-Fox; and this, if no other, was in existence in 1871, when, at
his urgent request, that lady also returned to him a fragment of verse
contained in a letter from Miss Sarah Flower. Nor was it till much later
that a friend, who had earnestly begged for a sight of it, definitely
heard of its destruction. The fragment, which doubtless shared the same
fate, was, I am told, a direct imitation of Coleridge's 'Fire, Famine,
and Slaughter'.

These poems were not Mr. Browning's first. It would be impossible to
believe them such when we remember that he composed verses long before
he could write; and a curious proof of the opposite fact has recently
appeared. Two letters of the elder Mr. Browning have found their way
into the market, and have been bought respectively by Mr. Dykes Campbell
and Sir F. Leighton. I give the more important of them. It was addressed
to Mr. Thomas Powell:


Dear Sir,--I hope the enclosed may be acceptable as curiosities. They
were written by Robert when quite a child. I once had nearly a hundred
of them. But he has destroyed all that ever came in his way, having a
great aversion to the practice of many biographers in recording every
trifling incident that falls in their way. He has not the slightest
suspicion that any of his very juvenile performances are in existence.
I have several of the originals by me. They are all extemporaneous
productions, nor has any one a single alteration. There was one amongst
them 'On Bonaparte'--remarkably beautiful--and had I not seen it in
his own handwriting I never would have believed it to have been the
production of a child. It is destroyed. Pardon my troubling you with
these specimens, and requesting you never to mention it, as Robert
would be very much hurt. I remain, dear sir, Your obedient servant, R.
Browning. Bank: March 11, 1843.


The letter was accompanied by a sheet of verses which have been sold
and resold, doubtless in perfect good faith, as being those to which the
writer alludes. But Miss Browning has recognized them as her father's
own impromptu epigrams, well remembered in the family, together with
the occasion on which they were written. The substitution may, from the
first, have been accidental.

We cannot think of all these vanished first-fruits of Mr. Browning's
genius without a sense of loss, all the greater perhaps that there can
have been little in them to prefigure its later forms. Their faults seem
to have lain in the direction of too great splendour of language and too
little wealth of thought; and Mr. Fox, who had read 'Incondita' and been
struck by its promise, confessed afterwards to Mr. Browning that he had
feared these tendencies as his future snare. But the imitative first
note of a young poet's voice may hold a rapture of inspiration which
his most original later utterances will never convey. It is the child
Sordello, singing against the lark.

Not even the poet's sister ever saw 'Incondita'. It was the only one of
his finished productions which Miss Browning did not read, or even
help him to write out. She was then too young to be taken into his
confidence. Its writing, however, had one important result. It procured
for the boy-poet a preliminary introduction to the valuable literary
patron and friend Mr. Fox was subsequently to be. It also supplies the
first substantial record of an acquaintance which made a considerable
impression on his personal life.

The Miss Flower, of whom mention has been made, was one of two sisters,
both sufficiently noted for their artistic gifts to have found a place
in the new Dictionary of National Biography. The elder, Eliza or Lizzie,
was a musical composer; the younger, best known as Sarah Flower Adams,
a writer of sacred verse. Her songs and hymns, including the well-known
'Nearer, my God, to Thee', were often set to music by her sister.* They
sang, I am told, delightfully together, and often without accompaniment,
their voices perfectly harmonizing with each other. Both were, in their
different ways, very attractive; both interesting, not only from their
talents, but from their attachment to each other, and the delicacy which
shortened their lives. They died of consumption, the elder in 1846, at
the age of forty-three; the younger a year later. They became acquainted
with Mrs. Browning through a common friend, Miss Sturtevant; and the
young Robert conceived a warm admiration for Miss Flower's talents,
and a boyish love for herself. She was nine years his senior; her own
affections became probably engaged, and, as time advanced, his feeling
seems to have subsided into one of warm and very loyal friendship. We
hear, indeed, of his falling in love, as he was emerging from his teens,
with a handsome girl who was on a visit at his father's house. But the
fancy died out 'for want of root.' The admiration, even tenderness, for
Miss Flower had so deep a 'root' that he never in latest life mentioned
her name with indifference. In a letter to Mr. Dykes Campbell, in 1881,
he spoke of her as 'a very remarkable person.' If, in spite of his
denials, any woman inspired 'Pauline', it can have been no other than
she. He began writing to her at twelve or thirteen, probably on the
occasion of her expressed sympathy with his first distinct effort at
authorship; and what he afterwards called 'the few utterly insignificant
scraps of letters and verse' which formed his part of the correspondence
were preserved by her as long as she lived. But he recovered and
destroyed them after his return to England, with all the other
reminiscences of those early years. Some notes, however, are extant,
dated respectively, 1841, 1842, and 1845, and will be given in their due
place.

     * She also wrote a dramatic poem in five acts, entitled
     'Vivia Perpetua', referred to by Mrs. Jameson in her 'Sacred
     and Legendary Art', and by Leigh Hunt, when he spoke of her
     in 'Blue-Stocking Revels', as 'Mrs. Adams, rare mistress of
     thought and of tears.'

Mr. Fox was a friend of Miss Flower's father (Benjamin Flower, known as
editor of the 'Cambridge Intelligencer'), and, at his death, in 1829,
became co-executor to his will, and a kind of guardian to his daughters,
then both unmarried, and motherless from their infancy. Eliza's
principal work was a collection of hymns and anthems, originally
composed for Mr. Fox's chapel, where she had assumed the entire
management of the choral part of the service. Her abilities were not
confined to music; she possessed, I am told, an instinctive taste and
judgment in literary matters which caused her opinion to be much valued
by literary men. But Mr. Browning's genuine appreciation of her musical
genius was probably the strongest permanent bond between them. We shall
hear of this in his own words.



Chapter 4

1826-1833

First Impressions of Keats and Shelley--Prolonged Influence
of Shelley--Details of Home Education--Its Effects--Youthful
Restlessness--Counteracting Love of Home--Early Friendships: Alfred
Domett, Joseph Arnould, the Silverthornes--Choice of Poetry as a
Profession--Alternative Suggestions; mistaken Rumours concerning
them--Interest in Art--Love of good Theatrical Performances--Talent for
Acting--Final Preparation for Literary Life.



At the period at which we have arrived, which is that of his leaving
school and completing his fourteenth year, another and a significant
influence was dawning on Robert Browning's life--the influence of the
poet Shelley. Mr. Sharp writes,* and I could only state the facts
in similar words, 'Passing a bookstall one day, he saw, in a box
of second-hand volumes, a little book advertised as "Mr. Shelley's
Atheistical Poem: very scarce."' . . . 'From vague remarks in reply to
his inquiries, and from one or two casual allusions, he learned that
there really was a poet called Shelley; that he had written several
volumes; that he was dead.' . . . 'He begged his mother to procure him
Shelley's works, a request not easily complied with, for the excellent
reason that not one of the local booksellers had even heard of the
poet's name. Ultimately, however, Mrs. Browning learned that what she
sought was procurable at the Olliers', in Vere Street, London.'

     * 'Life of Browning', pp. 30, 31.

Mrs. Browning went to Messrs. Ollier, and brought back 'most of
Shelley's writings, all in their first edition, with the exception of
"The Cenci".' She brought also three volumes of the still less known
John Keats, on being assured that one who liked Shelley's works would
like these also.

Keats and Shelley must always remain connected in this epoch of
Mr. Browning's poetic growth. They indeed came to him as the two
nightingales which, he told some friends, sang together in the May-night
which closed this eventful day: one in the laburnum in his father's
garden, the other in a copper beech which stood on adjoining
ground--with the difference indeed, that he must often have listened
to the feathered singers before, while the two new human voices sounded
from what were to him, as to so many later hearers, unknown heights and
depths of the imaginative world. Their utterance was, to such a spirit
as his, the last, as in a certain sense the first, word of what
poetry can say; and no one who has ever heard him read the 'Ode to a
Nightingale', and repeat in the same subdued tones, as if continuing
his own thoughts, some line from 'Epipsychidion', can doubt that they
retained a lasting and almost equal place in his poet's heart. But the
two cannot be regarded as equals in their relation to his life, and it
would be a great mistake to impute to either any important influence
upon his genius. We may catch some fleeting echoes of Keats's melody
in 'Pippa Passes'; it is almost a commonplace that some measure
of Shelleyan fancy is recognizable in 'Pauline'. But the poetic
individuality of Robert Browning was stronger than any circumstance
through which it could be fed. It would have found nourishment in desert
air. With his first accepted work he threw off what was foreign to
his poetic nature, to be thenceforward his own never-to-be-subdued and
never-to-be-mistaken self. If Shelley became, and long remained for him,
the greatest poet of his age--of almost any age--it was not because he
held him greatest in the poetic art, but because in his case, beyond
all others, he believed its exercise to have been prompted by the truest
spiritual inspiration.

It is difficult to trace the process by which this conviction formed
itself in the boy's mind; still more to account for the strong personal
tenderness which accompanied it. The facts can have been scarcely known
which were to present Shelley to his imagination as a maligned and
persecuted man. It is hard to judge how far such human qualities as we
now read into his work, could be apparent to one who only approached him
through it. But the extra-human note in Shelley's genius irresistibly
suggested to the Browning of fourteen, as it still did to the Browning
of forty, the presence of a lofty spirit, one dwelling in the communion
of higher things. There was often a deep sadness in his utterance; the
consecration of an early death was upon him. And so the worship rooted
itself and grew. It was to find its lyrical expression in 'Pauline'; its
rational and, from the writer's point of view, philosophic justification
in the prose essay on Shelley, published eighteen years afterwards.

It may appear inconsistent with the nature of this influence that
it began by appealing to him in a subversive form. The Shelley whom
Browning first loved was the Shelley of 'Queen Mab', the Shelley who
would have remodelled the whole system of religious belief, as of human
duty and rights; and the earliest result of the new development was
that he became a professing atheist, and, for two years, a practising
vegetarian. He returned to his natural diet when he found his eyesight
becoming weak. The atheism cured itself; we do not exactly know when or
how. What we do know is, that it was with him a passing state of moral
or imaginative rebellion, and not one of rational doubt. His mind was
not so constituted that such doubt could fasten itself upon it; nor
did he ever in after-life speak of this period of negation except as
an access of boyish folly, with which his maturer self could have no
concern. The return to religious belief did not shake his faith in his
new prophet. It only made him willing to admit that he had misread him.

This Shelley period of Robert Browning's life--that which intervened
between 'Incondita' and 'Pauline'--remained, nevertheless, one of
rebellion and unrest, to which many circumstances may have contributed
besides the influence of the one mind. It had been decided that he was
to complete, or at all events continue, his education at home; and,
knowing the elder Mr. Browning as we do, we cannot doubt that the best
reasons, of kindness or expediency, led to his so deciding. It was none
the less, probably, a mistake, for the time being. The conditions of
home life were the more favourable for the young poet's imaginative
growth; but there can rarely have been a boy whose moral and mental
health had more to gain by the combined discipline and freedom of a
public school. His home training was made to include everything which
in those days went to the production of an accomplished gentleman, and
a great deal therefore that was physically good. He learned music,
singing, dancing, riding, boxing, and fencing, and excelled in the
more active of these pursuits. The study of music was also serious, and
carried on under two masters. Mr. John Relfe, author of a valuable work
on counterpoint, was his instructor in thorough-bass; Mr. Abel, a pupil
of Moscheles, in execution. He wrote music for songs which he himself
sang; among them Donne's 'Go and catch a falling star'; Hood's 'I will
not have the mad Clytie'; Peacock's 'The mountain sheep are sweeter';
and his settings, all of which he subsequently destroyed, were, I am
told, very spirited. His education seems otherwise to have been purely
literary. For two years, from the age of fourteen to that of sixteen,
he studied with a French tutor, who, whether this was intended or not,
imparted to him very little but a good knowledge of the French language
and literature. In his eighteenth year he attended, for a term or two,
a Greek class at the London University. His classical and other
reading was probably continued. But we hear nothing in the programme of
mathematics, or logic--of any, in short, of those subjects which train,
even coerce, the thinking powers, and which were doubly requisite for
a nature in which the creative imagination was predominant over all the
other mental faculties, great as these other faculties were. And, even
as poet, he suffered from this omission: since the involutions and
overlappings of thought and phrase, which occur in his earlier and again
in his latest works, must have been partly due to his never learning to
follow the processes of more normally constituted minds. It would be
a great error to suppose that they ever arose from the absence of a
meaning clearly felt, if not always clearly thought out, by himself. He
was storing his memory and enriching his mind; but precisely in so
doing he was nourishing the consciousness of a very vivid and urgent
personality; and, under the restrictions inseparable from the life of a
home-bred youth, it was becoming a burden to him. What outlet he found
in verse we do not know, because nothing survives of what he may then
have written. It is possible that the fate of his early poems, and,
still more, the change of ideals, retarded the definite impulse towards
poetic production. It would be a relief to him to sketch out and
elaborate the plan of his future work--his great mental portrait gallery
of typical men and women; and he was doing so during at least the later
years which preceded the birth of 'Pauline'. But even this must have
been the result of some protracted travail with himself; because it was
only the inward sense of very varied possibilities of existence which
could have impelled him towards this kind of creation. No character he
ever produced was merely a figment of the brain.

It was natural, therefore, that during this time of growth he should
have been, not only more restless, but less amiable than at any other.
The always impatient temper assumed a quality of aggressiveness. He
behaved as a youth will who knows himself to be clever, and believes
that he is not appreciated, because the crude or paradoxical forms which
his cleverness assumes do not recommend it to his elders' minds. He
set the judgments of those about him at defiance, and gratuitously
proclaimed himself everything that he was, and some things that he was
not. All this subdued itself as time advanced, and the coming man in him
could throw off the wayward child. It was all so natural that it might
well be forgotten. But it distressed his mother, the one being in the
world whom he entirely loved; and deserves remembering in the tender
sorrow with which he himself remembered it. He was always ready to
say that he had been worth little in his young days; indeed, his
self-depreciation covered the greater part of his life. This was,
perhaps, one reason of the difficulty of inducing him to dwell upon
his past. 'I am better now,' he has said more than once, when its
reminiscences have been invoked.

One tender little bond maintained itself between his mother and himself
so long as he lived under the paternal roof; it was his rule never to go
to bed without giving her a good-night kiss. If he was out so late that
he had to admit himself with a latch-key, he nevertheless went to her
in her room. Nor did he submit to this as a necessary restraint; for,
except on the occasions of his going abroad, it is scarcely on record
that he ever willingly spent a night away from home. It may not stand
for much, or it may stand to the credit of his restlessness, that,
when he had been placed with some gentleman in Gower Street, for the
convenience of attending the University lectures, or for the sake of
preparing for them, he broke through the arrangement at the end of a
week; but even an agreeable visit had no power to detain him beyond a
few days.

This home-loving quality was in curious contrast to the natural
bohemianism of youthful genius, and the inclination to wildness which
asserted itself in his boyish days. It became the more striking as he
entered upon the age at which no reasonable amount of freedom can
have been denied to him. Something, perhaps, must be allowed for the
pecuniary dependence which forbade his forming any expensive habits of
amusement; but he also claims the credit of having been unable to accept
any low-life pleasures in place of them. I do not know how the idea can
have arisen that he willingly sought his experience in the society
of 'gipsies and tramps'. I remember nothing in his works which even
suggests such association; and it is certain that a few hours spent at a
fair would at all times have exhausted his capability of enduring it.
In the most audacious imaginings of his later life, in the most
undisciplined acts of his early youth, were always present curious
delicacies and reserves. There was always latent in him the real
goodness of heart which would not allow him to trifle consciously with
other lives. Work must also have been his safeguard when the habit of it
had been acquired, and when imagination, once his master, had learned to
serve him.

One tangible cause of his youthful restlessness has been implied in the
foregoing remarks, but deserves stating in his sister's words: 'The
fact was, poor boy, he had outgrown his social surroundings. They were
absolutely good, but they were narrow; it could not be otherwise; he
chafed under them.' He was not, however, quite without congenial society
even before the turning-point in his outward existence which was reached
in the publication of 'Pauline'; and one long friendly acquaintance,
together with one lasting friendship, had their roots in these early
Camberwell days. The families of Joseph Arnould and Alfred Domett
both lived at Camberwell. These two young men were bred to the legal
profession, and the former, afterwards Sir Joseph Arnould, became
a judge in Bombay. But the father of Alfred Domett had been one of
Nelson's captains, and the roving sailor spirit was apparent in his
son; for he had scarcely been called to the Bar when he started for New
Zealand on the instance of a cousin who had preceded him, but who was
drowned in the course of a day's surveying before he could arrive. He
became a member of the New Zealand Parliament, and ultimately, for a
short time, of its Cabinet; only returning to England after an absence
of thirty years. This Mr. Domett seems to have been a very modest man,
besides a devoted friend of Robert Browning's, and on occasion a warm
defender of his works. When he read the apostrophe to 'Alfred, dear
friend,' in the 'Guardian Angel', he had reached the last line before it
occurred to him that the person invoked could be he. I do not think that
this poem, and that directly addressed to him under the pseudonym of
'Waring', were the only ones inspired by the affectionate remembrance
which he had left in their author's mind.

Among his boy companions were also the three Silverthornes, his
neighbours at Camberwell, and cousins on the maternal side. They appear
to have been wild youths, and had certainly no part in his intellectual
or literary life; but the group is interesting to his biographer.
The three brothers were all gifted musicians; having also, probably,
received this endowment from their mother's father. Mr. Browning
conceived a great affection for the eldest, and on the whole most
talented of the cousins; and when he had died--young, as they all
did--he wrote 'May and Death' in remembrance of him. The name of
'Charles' stands there for the old, familiar 'Jim', so often uttered by
him in half-pitying, and all-affectionate allusion, in his later years.
Mrs. Silverthorne was the aunt who paid for the printing of 'Pauline'.

It was at about the time of his short attendance at University College
that the choice of poetry as his future profession was formally made. It
was a foregone conclusion in the young Robert's mind; and little less
in that of his father, who took too sympathetic an interest in his son's
life not to have seen in what direction his desires were tending. He
must, it is true, at some time or other, have played with the thought of
becoming an artist; but the thought can never have represented a wish.
If he had entertained such a one, it would have met not only with no
opposition on his father's part, but with a very ready assent, nor
does the question ever seem to have been seriously mooted in the family
councils. It would be strange, perhaps, if it had. Mr. Browning became
very early familiar with the names of the great painters, and also
learned something about their work; for the Dulwich Gallery was within a
pleasant walk of his home, and his father constantly took him there. He
retained through life a deep interest in art and artists, and became a
very familiar figure in one or two London studios. Some drawings made
by him from the nude, in Italy, and for which he had prepared himself by
assiduous copying of casts and study of human anatomy, had, I believe,
great merit. But painting was one of the subjects in which he never
received instruction, though he modelled, under the direction of his
friend Mr. Story; and a letter of his own will presently show that, in
his youth at least, he never credited himself with exceptional artistic
power. That he might have become an artist, and perhaps a great one,
is difficult to doubt, in the face of his brilliant general ability and
special gifts. The power to do a thing is, however, distinct from the
impulse to do it, and proved so in the present case.

More importance may be given to an idea of his father's that he should
qualify himself for the Bar. It would naturally coincide with the
widening of the social horizon which his University College classes
supplied; it was possibly suggested by the fact that the closest friends
he had already made, and others whom he was perhaps now making, were
barristers. But this also remained an idea. He might have been placed in
the Bank of England, where the virtual offer of an appointment had been
made to him through his father; but the elder Browning spontaneously
rejected this, as unworthy of his son's powers. He had never, he said,
liked bank work himself, and could not, therefore, impose it on him.

We have still to notice another, and a more mistaken view of the
possibilities of Mr. Browning's life. It has been recently stated,
doubtless on the authority of some words of his own, that the Church was
a profession to which he once felt himself drawn. But an admission of
this kind could only refer to that period of his childhood when natural
impulse, combined with his mother's teaching and guidance, frequently
caused his fancy and his feelings to assume a religious form. From the
time when he was a free agent he ceased to be even a regular churchgoer,
though religion became more, rather than less, an integral part of his
inner life; and his alleged fondness for a variety of preachers meant
really that he only listened to those who, from personal association
or conspicuous merit, were interesting to him. I have mentioned Canon
Melvill as one of these; the Rev. Thomas Jones was, as will be
seen, another. In Venice he constantly, with his sister, joined the
congregation of an Italian minister of the little Vaudois church there.*

     * Mr. Browning's memory recalled a first and last effort at
     preaching, inspired by one of his very earliest visits to a
     place of worship. He extemporized a surplice or gown,
     climbed into an arm-chair by way of pulpit, and held forth
     so vehemently that his scarcely more than baby sister was
     frightened and began to cry; whereupon he turned to an
     imaginary presence, and said, with all the sternness which
     the occasion required, 'Pew-opener, remove that child.'

It would be far less surprising if we were told, on sufficient
authority, that he had been disturbed by hankerings for the stage. He
was a passionate admirer of good acting, and would walk from London to
Richmond and back again to see Edmund Kean when he was performing there.
We know how Macready impressed him, though the finer genius of Kean
became very apparent to his retrospective judgment of the two; and it
was impossible to see or hear him, as even an old man, in some momentary
personation of one of Shakespeare's characters, above all of Richard
III., and not feel that a great actor had been lost in him.

So few professions were thought open to gentlemen in Robert Browning's
eighteenth year, that his father's acquiescence in that which he had
chosen might seem a matter scarcely less of necessity than of kindness.
But we must seek the kindness not only in this first, almost inevitable,
assent to his son's becoming a writer, but in the subsequent unfailing
readiness to support him in his literary career. 'Paracelsus',
'Sordello', and the whole of 'Bells and Pomegranates' were published at
his father's expense, and, incredible as it appears, brought no return
to him. This was vividly present to Mr. Browning's mind in what Mrs.
Kemble so justly defines as those 'remembering days' which are the
natural prelude to the forgetting ones. He declared, in the course of
these, to a friend, that for it alone he owed more to his father than to
anyone else in the world. Words to this effect, spoken in conversation
with his sister, have since, as it was right they should, found their
way into print. The more justly will the world interpret any incidental
admission he may ever have made, of intellectual disagreement between
that father and himself.

When the die was cast, and young Browning was definitely to adopt
literature as his profession, he qualified himself for it by reading and
digesting the whole of Johnson's Dictionary. We cannot be surprised to
hear this of one who displayed so great a mastery of words, and so deep
a knowledge of the capacities of the English language.



Chapter 5

1833-1835

'Pauline'--Letters to Mr. Fox--Publication of the Poem; chief
Biographical and Literary Characteristics--Mr. Fox's Review in the
'Monthly Repository'; other Notices--Russian Journey--Desired diplomatic
Appointment--Minor Poems; first Sonnet; their Mode of Appearance--'The
Trifler'--M. de Ripert-Monclar--'Paracelsus'--Letters to Mr. Fox
concerning it; its Publication--Incidental Origin of 'Paracelsus'; its
inspiring Motive; its Relation to 'Pauline'--Mr. Fox's Review of it in
the 'Monthly Repository'--Article in the 'Examiner' by John Forster.



Before Mr. Browning had half completed his twenty-first year he had
written 'Pauline, a Fragment of a Confession'. His sister was in the
secret, but this time his parents were not. This is why his aunt,
hearing that 'Robert' had 'written a poem,' volunteered the sum
requisite for its publication. Even this first instalment of success did
not inspire much hope in the family mind, and Miss Browning made pencil
copies of her favourite passages for the event, which seemed only too
possible, of her never seeing the whole poem again. It was, however,
accepted by Saunders and Otley, and appeared anonymously in 1833.
Meanwhile the young author had bethought himself of his early
sympathizer, Mr. Fox, and he wrote to him as follows (the letter is
undated):


Dear Sir,--Perhaps by the aid of the subjoined initials and a little
reflection, you may recollect an oddish sort of boy, who had the honour
of being introduced to you at Hackney some years back--at that time
a sayer of verse and a doer of it, and whose doings you had a little
previously commended after a fashion--(whether in earnest or not God
knows): that individual it is who takes the liberty of addressing one
whose slight commendation then, was more thought of than all the gun
drum and trumpet of praise would be now, and to submit to you a free and
easy sort of thing which he wrote some months ago 'on one leg' and which
comes out this week--having either heard or dreamed that you contribute
to the 'Westminster'.

Should it be found too insignificant for cutting up, I shall no less
remain, Dear sir, Your most obedient servant, R. B.

I have forgotten the main thing--which is to beg you not to spoil
a loophole I have kept for backing out of the thing if necessary,
'sympathy of dear friends,' &c. &c., none of whom know anything about
it.

Monday Morning; Rev.--Fox.


The answer was clearly encouraging, and Mr. Browning wrote again:


Dear Sir,--In consequence of your kind permission I send, or will send,
a dozen copies of 'Pauline' and (to mitigate the infliction) Shelley's
Poem--on account of what you mentioned this morning. It will perhaps
be as well that you let me know their safe arrival by a line to R. B.
junior, Hanover Cottage, Southampton Street, Camberwell. You must not
think me too encroaching, if I make the getting back 'Rosalind and
Helen' an excuse for calling on you some evening--the said 'R. and
H.' has, I observe, been well thumbed and sedulously marked by an
acquaintance of mine, but I have not time to rub out his labour of love.
I am, dear sir, Yours very really, R. Browning. Camberwell: 2 o'clock.


At the left-hand corner of the first page of this note is written: 'The
parcel--a "Pauline" parcel--is come. I send one as a witness.'

On the inner page is written:

'Impromptu on hearing a sermon by the Rev. T. R.--pronounced "heavy"--

'A _heavy_ sermon!--sure the error's great, For not a word Tom uttered
_had its weight_.'

A third letter, also undated, but post-marked March 29, 1833, refers
probably to the promise or announcement of a favourable notice. A fourth
conveys Mr. Browning's thanks for the notice itself:


My dear Sir,--I have just received your letter, which I am desirous of
acknowledging before any further mark of your kindness reaches me;--I
can only offer you my simple thanks--but they are of the sort that one
can give only once or twice in a life: all things considered, I think
you are almost repaid, if you imagine what I must feel--and it will have
been worth while to have made a fool of myself, only to have obtained a
'case' which leaves my fine fellow Mandeville at a dead lock.

As for the book--I hope ere long to better it, and to deserve your
goodness.

In the meantime I shall not forget the extent to which I am, dear sir,
Your most obliged and obedient servant R. B. S. & O.'s, Conduit St.,
Thursday m-g.



I must intrude on your attention, my dear sir, once more than I had
intended--but a notice like the one I have read will have its effect at
all hazards.

I can only say that I am very proud to feel as grateful as I do, and
not altogether hopeless of justifying, by effort at least, your most
generous 'coming forward'. Hazlitt wrote his essays, as he somewhere
tells us, mainly to send them to some one in the country who had 'always
prophesied he would be something'!--I shall never write a line without
thinking of the source of my first praise, be assured. I am, dear sir,
Yours most truly and obliged, Robert Browning. March 31, 1833.


Mr. Fox was then editor of a periodical called the 'Monthly Repository',
which, as his daughter, Mrs. Bridell-Fox, writes in her graceful
article on Robert Browning, in the 'Argosy' for February 1890, he was
endeavouring to raise from its original denominational character into
a first-class literary and political journal. The articles comprised in
the volume for 1833 are certainly full of interest and variety, at once
more popular and more solid than those prescribed by the present fashion
of monthly magazines. He reviewed 'Pauline' favourably in its April
number--that is, as soon as it had appeared; and the young poet thus
received from him an introduction to what should have been, though it
probably was not, a large circle of intelligent readers.

The poem was characterized by its author, five years later, in a
fantastic note appended to a copy of it, as 'the only remaining crab
of the shapely Tree of Life in my Fool's Paradise.' This name is ill
bestowed upon a work which, however wild a fruit of Mr. Browning's
genius, contains, in its many lines of exquisite fancy and deep pathos,
so much that is rich and sweet. It had also, to discard metaphor,
its faults of exaggeration and confusion; and it is of these that Mr.
Browning was probably thinking when he wrote his more serious apologetic
preface to its reprint in 1868. But these faults were partly due to his
conception of the character which he had tried to depict; and partly to
the inherent difficulty of depicting one so complex, in a succession
of mental and moral states, irrespectively of the conditions of time,
place, and circumstance which were involved in them. Only a very
powerful imagination could have inspired such an attempt. A still more
conspicuous effort of creative genius reveals itself at its close. The
moment chosen for the 'Confession' has been that of a supreme moral or
physical crisis. The exhaustion attendant on this is directly expressed
by the person who makes it, and may also be recognized in the vivid, yet
confusing, intensity of the reminiscences of which it consists. But
we are left in complete doubt as to whether the crisis is that of
approaching death or incipient convalescence, or which character it
bears in the sufferer's mind; and the language used in the closing pages
is such as to suggest, without the slightest break in poetic continuity,
alternately the one conclusion and the other. This was intended by
Browning to assist his anonymity; and when the writer in 'Tait's
Magazine' spoke of the poem as a piece of pure bewilderment, he
expressed the natural judgment of the Philistine, while proving himself
such. If the notice by J. S. Mill, which this criticism excluded, was
indeed--as Mr. Browning always believed--much more sympathetic, I can
only record my astonishment; for there never was a large and cultivated
intelligence one can imagine less in harmony than his with the poetic
excesses, or even the poetic qualities, of 'Pauline'. But this is a
digression.

Mr. Fox, though an accomplished critic, made very light of the artistic
blemishes of the work. His admiration for it was as generous as it was
genuine; and, having recognized in it the hand of a rising poet, it was
more congenial to him to hail that poet's advent than to register his
shortcomings.


'The poem,' he says, 'though evidently a hasty and imperfect sketch, has
truth and life in it, which gave us the thrill, and laid hold of us with
the power, the sensation of which has never yet failed us as a test of
genius.'


But it had also, in his mind, a distinguishing characteristic, which
raised it above the sphere of merely artistic criticism. The article
continues:


'We have never read anything more purely confessional. The whole
composition is of the spirit, spiritual. The scenery is in the chambers
of thought; the agencies are powers and passions; the events are
transitions from one state of spiritual existence to another.'


And we learn from the context that he accepted this confessional and
introspective quality as an expression of the highest emotional life--of
the essence, therefore, of religion. On this point the sincerest
admirers of the poem may find themselves at issue with Mr. Fox. Its
sentiment is warmly religious; it is always, in a certain sense,
spiritual; but its intellectual activities are exercised on entirely
temporal ground, and this fact would generally be admitted as the
negation of spirituality in the religious sense of the word. No
difference, however, of opinion as to his judgment of 'Pauline' can
lessen our appreciation of Mr. Fox's encouraging kindness to its author.
No one who loved Mr. Browning in himself, or in his work, can read the
last lines of this review without a throb of affectionate gratitude
for the sympathy so ungrudgingly, and--as he wrote during his latest
years--so opportunely given:


'In recognizing a poet we cannot stand upon trifles nor fret ourselves
about such matters [as a few blemishes]. Time enough for that
afterwards, when larger works come before us. Archimedes in the bath had
many particulars to settle about specific gravities and Hiero's crown,
but he first gave a glorious leap and shouted 'Eureka!''


Many persons have discovered Mr. Browning since he has been known to
fame. One only discovered him in his obscurity.

Next to that of Mr. Fox stands the name of John Forster among the first
spontaneous appreciators of Mr. Browning's genius; and his admiration
was, in its own way, the more valuable for the circumstances which
precluded in it all possible, even unconscious, bias of personal
interest or sympathy. But this belongs to a somewhat later period of our
history.

I am dwelling at some length on this first experience of Mr. Browning's
literary career, because the confidence which it gave him determined its
immediate future, if not its ultimate course--because, also, the poem
itself is more important to the understanding of his mind than perhaps
any other of his isolated works. It was the earliest of his dramatic
creations; it was therefore inevitably the most instinct with himself;
and we may regard the 'Confession' as to a great extent his own, without
for an instant ignoring the imaginative element which necessarily and
certainly entered into it. At one moment, indeed, his utterance is so
emphatic that we should feel it to be direct, even if we did not know it
to be true. The passage beginning, 'I am made up of an intensest life,'
conveys something more than the writer's actual psychological state. The
feverish desire of life became gradually modified into a more or less
active intellectual and imaginative curiosity; but the sense of
an individual, self-centred, and, as it presented itself to him,
unconditioned existence, survived all the teachings of experience, and
often indeed unconsciously imposed itself upon them.

I have already alluded to that other and more pathetic fragment of
distinct autobiography which is to be found in the invocation to the
'Sun-treader'. Mr. Fox, who has quoted great part of it, justly declares
that 'the fervency, the remembrance, the half-regret mingling with
its exultation, are as true as its leading image is beautiful.' The
'exultation' is in the triumph of Shelley's rising fame; the regret, for
the lost privilege of worshipping in solitary tenderness at an obscure
shrine. The double mood would have been characteristic of any period of
Mr. Browning's life.

The artistic influence of Shelley is also discernible in the natural
imagery of the poem, which reflects a fitful and emotional fancy instead
of the direct poetic vision of the author's later work.

'Pauline' received another and graceful tribute two months later than
the review. In an article of the 'Monthly Repository', and in the course
of a description of some luxuriant wood-scenery, the following passage
occurs:


'Shelley and Tennyson are the best books for this place. . . . They are
natives of this soil; literally so; and if planted would grow as surely
as a crowbar in Kentucky sprouts tenpenny nails. 'Probatum est.' Last
autumn L----dropped a poem of Shelley's down there in the wood,* amongst
the thick, damp, rotting leaves, and this spring some one found a
delicate exotic-looking plant, growing wild on the very spot, with
'Pauline' hanging from its slender stalk. Unripe fruit it may be, but of
pleasant flavour and promise, and a mellower produce, it may be hoped,
will follow.'

     * Mr. Browning's copy of 'Rosalind and Helen', which he had lent
     to Miss Flower, and which she lost in this wood on a picnic.
     This and a bald though well-meant notice in the 'Athenaeum'
     exhaust its literary history for this period.*

         * Not quite, it appears.  Since I wrote the above words,
         Mr. Dykes Campbell has kindly copied for me the following extract
         from the 'Literary Gazette' of March 23, 1833:

     'Pauline:  a Fragment of a Confession', pp. 71.  London, 1833.
     Saunders and Otley.

     'Somewhat mystical, somewhat poetical, somewhat sensual,
     and not a little unintelligible,--this is a dreamy volume,
     without an object, and unfit for publication.'

The anonymity of the poem was not long preserved; there was no reason
why it should be. But 'Pauline' was, from the first, little known or
discussed beyond the immediate circle of the poet's friends; and when,
twenty years later, Dante Gabriel Rossetti unexpectedly came upon it
in the library of the British Museum, he could only surmise that it had
been written by the author of 'Paracelsus'.

The only recorded event of the next two years was Mr. Browning's
visit to Russia, which took place in the winter of 1833-4. The Russian
consul-general, Mr. Benckhausen, had taken a great liking to him, and
being sent to St. Petersburg on some special mission, proposed that
he should accompany him, nominally in the character of secretary.
The letters written to his sister during this, as during every other
absence, were full of graphic description, and would have been a mine
of interest for the student of his imaginative life. They are,
unfortunately, all destroyed, and we have only scattered reminiscences
of what they had to tell; but we know how strangely he was impressed
by some of the circumstances of the journey: above all, by the endless
monotony of snow-covered pine-forest, through which he and his companion
rushed for days and nights at the speed of six post-horses, without
seeming to move from one spot. He enjoyed the society of St. Petersburg,
and was fortunate enough, before his return, to witness the breaking-up
of the ice on the Neva, and see the Czar perform the yearly ceremony
of drinking the first glass of water from it. He was absent about three
months.

The one active career which would have recommended itself to him in his
earlier youth was diplomacy; it was that which he subsequently desired
for his son. He would indeed not have been averse to any post of
activity and responsibility not unsuited to the training of a gentleman.
Soon after his return from Russia he applied for appointment on a
mission which was to be despatched to Persia; and the careless wording
of the answer which his application received made him think for a moment
that it had been granted. He was much disappointed when he learned,
through an interview with the 'chief', that the place was otherwise
filled.

In 1834 he began a little series of contributions to the 'Monthly
Repository', extending into 1835-6, and consisting of five poems. The
earliest of these was a sonnet, not contained in any edition of Mr.
Browning's works, and which, I believe, first reappeared in Mr. Gosse's
article in the 'Century Magazine', December 1881; now part of his
'Personalia'. The second, beginning 'A king lived long ago', was to be
published, with alterations and additions, as one of 'Pippa's' songs.
'Porphyria's Lover' and 'Johannes Agricola in Meditation' were reprinted
together in 'Bells and Pomegranates' under the heading of 'Madhouse
Cells'. The fifth consisted of the Lines beginning 'Still ailing, Wind?
wilt be appeased or no?' afterwards introduced into the sixth section of
'James Lee's Wife'. The sonnet is not very striking, though hints of the
poet's future psychological subtlety are not wanting in it; but his most
essential dramatic quality reveals itself in the last three poems.

This winter of 1834-5 witnessed the birth, perhaps also the extinction,
of an amateur periodical, established by some of Mr. Browning's friends;
foremost among these the young Dowsons, afterwards connected with Alfred
Domett. The magazine was called the 'Trifler', and published in monthly
numbers of about ten pages each. It collapsed from lack of pocket-money
on the part of the editors; but Mr. Browning had written for it one
letter, February 1833, signed with his usual initial Z, and entitled
'Some strictures on a late article in the 'Trifler'.' This boyish
production sparkles with fun, while affecting the lengthy quaintnesses
of some obsolete modes of speech. The article which it attacks was 'A
Dissertation on Debt and Debtors', where the subject was, I imagine,
treated in the orthodox way: and he expends all his paradox in showing
that indebtedness is a necessary condition of human life, and all his
sophistry in confusing it with the abstract sense of obligation. It is,
perhaps, scarcely fair to call attention to such a mere argumentative
and literary freak; but there is something so comical in a defence of
debt, however transparent, proceeding from a man to whom never in his
life a bill can have been sent in twice, and who would always have
preferred ready-money payment to receiving a bill at all, that I may be
forgiven for quoting some passages from it.


For to be man is to be a debtor:--hinting but slightly at the grand and
primeval debt implied in the idea of a creation, as matter too hard
for ears like thine, (for saith not Luther, What hath a cow to do with
nutmegs?) I must, nevertheless, remind thee that all moralists
have concurred in considering this our mortal sojourn as indeed an
uninterrupted state of debt, and the world our dwelling-place as
represented by nothing so aptly as by an inn, wherein those who lodge
most commodiously have in perspective a proportionate score to reduce,*
and those who fare least delicately, but an insignificant shot to
discharge--or, as the tuneful Quarles well phraseth it--

     He's most in _debt_ who lingers out the day,
     Who dies betimes has less and less to pay.

So far, therefore, from these sagacious ethics holding that

     Debt cramps the energies of the soul, &c.

as thou pratest, 'tis plain that they have willed on the very outset
to inculcate this truth on the mind of every man,--no barren and
inconsequential dogma, but an effectual, ever influencing and productive
rule of life,--that he is born a debtor, lives a debtor--aye, friend,
and when thou diest, will not some judicious bystander,--no recreant as
thou to the bonds of nature, but a good borrower and true--remark, as
did his grandsire before him on like occasions, that thou hast 'paid the
_debt_ of nature'? Ha! I have thee 'beyond the rules', as one (a bailiff)
may say!

     * Miss Hickey, on reading this passage, has called my
     attention to the fact that the sentiment which it parodies
     is identical with that expressed in these words of
     'Prospice',

     . . . in a minute pay glad life's arrears
     Of pain, darkness, and cold.

Such performances supplied a distraction to the more serious work of
writing 'Paracelsus', which was to be concluded in March 1835, and which
occupied the foregoing winter months. We do not know to what extent Mr.
Browning had remained in communication with Mr. Fox; but the following
letters show that the friend of 'Pauline' gave ready and efficient help
in the strangely difficult task of securing a publisher for the new
poem.

The first is dated April 2, 1835.


Dear Sir,--I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your
letter:--Sardanapalus 'could not go on multiplying kingdoms'--nor I
protestations--but I thank you very much.

You will oblige me indeed by forwarding the introduction to Moxon. I
merely suggested him in particular, on account of his good name and
fame among author-folk, besides he has himself written--as the Americans
say--'more poetry 'an you can shake a stick at.' So I hope we shall come
to terms.

I also hope my poem will turn out not utterly unworthy your kind
interest, and more deserving your favour than anything of mine you have
as yet seen; indeed I all along proposed to myself such an endeavour,
for it will never do for one so distinguished by past praise to prove
nobody after all--'nous verrons'. I am, dear sir, Yours most truly and
obliged Robt. Browning.


On April 16 he wrote again as follows:


Dear Sir,

Your communication gladdened the cockles of my heart. I lost no time
in presenting myself to Moxon, but no sooner was Mr. Clarke's letter
perused than the Moxonian visage loured exceedingly thereat--the
Moxonian accent grew dolorous thereupon:--'Artevelde' has not paid
expenses by about thirty odd pounds. Tennyson's poetry is 'popular at
Cambridge', and yet of 800 copies which were printed of his last,
some 300 only have gone off: Mr. M. hardly knows whether he shall ever
venture again, &c. &c., and in short begs to decline even inspecting,
&c. &c.

I called on Saunders and Otley at once, and, marvel of marvels, do
really think there is some chance of our coming to decent terms--I shall
know at the beginning of next week, but am not over-sanguine.

You will 'sarve me out'? two words to that; being the man you are, you
must need very little telling from me, of the real feeling I have of
your criticism's worth, and if I have had no more of it, surely I
am hardly to blame, who have in more than one instance bored you
sufficiently: but not a particle of your article has been rejected or
neglected by your observant humble servant, and very proud shall I be
if my new work bear in it the marks of the influence under which it was
undertaken--and if I prove not a fit compeer of the potter in Horace
who anticipated an amphora and produced a porridge-pot. I purposely
keep back the subject until you see my conception of its
capabilities--otherwise you would be planning a vase fit to give the
go-by to Evander's best crockery, which my cantharus would cut but a
sorry figure beside--hardly up to the ansa.

But such as it is, it is very earnest and suggestive--and likely I hope
to do good; and though I am rather scared at the thought of a _fresh eye_
going over its 4,000 lines--discovering blemishes of all sorts which
my one wit cannot avail to detect, fools treated as sages, obscure
passages, slipshod verses, and much that worse is,--yet on the whole
I am not much afraid of the issue, and I would give something to be
allowed to read it some morning to you--for every rap o' the knuckles I
should get a clap o' the back, I know.

I have another affair on hand, rather of a more popular nature, I
conceive, but not so decisive and explicit on a point or two--so I
decide on trying the question with this:--I really shall _need_ your
notice, on this account; I shall affix my name and stick my arms akimbo;
there are a few precious bold bits here and there, and the drift and
scope are awfully radical--I am 'off' for ever with the other side, but
must by all means be 'on' with yours--a position once gained, worthier
works shall follow--therefore a certain writer* who meditated a notice
(it matters not laudatory or otherwise) on 'Pauline' in the 'Examiner',
must be benignant or supercilious as he shall choose, but in no case an
idle spectator of my first appearance on any stage (having previously
only dabbled in private theatricals) and bawl 'Hats off!' 'Down in
front!' &c., as soon as I get to the proscenium; and he may depend that
tho' my 'Now is the winter of our discontent' be rather awkward, yet
there shall be occasional outbreaks of good stuff--that I shall warm as
I get on, and finally wish 'Richmond at the bottom of the seas,' &c. in
the best style imaginable.

     * Mr. John Stuart Mill.

Excuse all this swagger, I know you will, and

(The signature has been cut off; evidently for an autograph.)

Mr. Effingham Wilson was induced to publish the poem, but more, we
understand, on the ground of radical sympathies in Mr. Fox and the
author than on that of its intrinsic worth.

The title-page of 'Paracelsus' introduces us to one of the warmest
friendships of Mr. Browning's life. Count de Ripert-Monclar was a young
French Royalist, one of those who had accompanied the Duchesse de Berri
on her Chouan expedition, and was then, for a few years, spending his
summers in England; ostensibly for his pleasure, really--as he
confessed to the Browning family--in the character of private agent of
communication between the royal exiles and their friends in France. He
was four years older than the poet, and of intellectual tastes which
created an immediate bond of union between them. In the course of one of
their conversations, he suggested the life of Paracelsus as a possible
subject for a poem; but on second thoughts pronounced it unsuitable,
because it gave no room for the introduction of love: about which, he
added, every young man of their age thought he had something quite new
to say. Mr. Browning decided, after the necessary study, that he would
write a poem on Paracelsus, but treating him in his own way. It was
dedicated, in fulfilment of a promise, to the friend to whom its
inspiration had been due.

The Count's visits to England entirely ceased, and the two friends
did not meet for twenty years. Then, one day, in a street in Rome, Mr.
Browning heard a voice behind him crying, 'Robert!' He turned, and
there was 'Amedee'. Both were, by that time, married; the Count--then, I
believe, Marquis--to an English lady, Miss Jerningham. Mrs. Browning, to
whom of course he was introduced, liked him very much.*

     * A minor result of the intimacy was that Mr. Browning
     became member, in 1835, of the Institut Historique, and in
     1836 of the Societe Francaise de Statistique Universelle, to
     both of which learned bodies his friend belonged.

Mr. Browning did treat Paracelsus in his own way; and in so doing
produced a character--at all events a history--which, according
to recent judgments, approached far nearer to the reality than any
conception which had until then been formed of it. He had carefully
collected all the known facts of the great discoverer's life, and
interpreted them with a sympathy which was no less an intuition of their
truth than a reflection of his own genius upon them. We are enabled
in some measure to judge of this by a paper entitled 'Paracelsus, the
Reformer of Medicine', written by Dr. Edward Berdoe for the Browning
Society, and read at its October meeting in 1888; and in the difficulty
which exists for most of us of verifying the historical data of
Mr. Browning's poem, it becomes a valuable guide to, as well as an
interesting comment upon it.

Dr. Berdoe reminds us that we cannot understand the real Paracelsus
without reference to the occult sciences so largely cultivated in his
day, as also to the mental atmosphere which produced them; and he quotes
in illustration a passage from the writings of that Bishop of Spanheim
who was the instructor of Paracelsus, and who appears as such in the
poem. The passage is a definition of divine magic, which is apparently
another term for alchemy; and lays down the great doctrine of all
mediaeval occultism, as of all modern theosophy--of a soul-power equally
operative in the material and the immaterial, in nature and in the
consciousness of man.

The same clue will guide us, as no other can, through what is apparently
conflicting in the aims and methods, anomalous in the moral experience,
of the Paracelsus of the poem. His feverish pursuit, among the things of
Nature, of an ultimate of knowledge, not contained, even in fragments,
in her isolated truths; the sense of failure which haunts his most
valuable attainments; his tampering with the lower or diabolic magic,
when the divine has failed; the ascetic exaltation in which he begins
his career; the sudden awakening to the spiritual sterility which has
been consequent on it; all these find their place, if not always their
counterpart, in the real life.

The language of Mr. Browning's Paracelsus, his attitude towards himself
and the world, are not, however, quite consonant with the alleged facts.
They are more appropriate to an ardent explorer of the world of abstract
thought than to a mystical scientist pursuing the secret of existence.
He preserves, in all his mental vicissitudes, a loftiness of tone and a
unity of intention, difficult to connect, even in fancy, with the real
man, in whom the inherited superstitions and the prognostics of true
science must often have clashed with each other. Dr. Berdoe's picture
of the 'Reformer' drawn more directly from history, conveys this double
impression. Mr. Browning has rendered him more simple by, as it were,
recasting him in the atmosphere of a more modern time, and of his own
intellectual life. This poem still, therefore, belongs to the same group
as 'Pauline', though, as an effort of dramatic creation, superior to it.

We find the Poet with still less of dramatic disguise in the deathbed
revelation which forms so beautiful a close to the story. It supplies a
fitter comment to the errors of the dramatic Paracelsus, than to those
of the historical, whether or not its utterance was within the compass
of historical probability, as Dr. Berdoe believes. In any case it was
the direct product of Mr. Browning's mind, and expressed what was to
be his permanent conviction. It might then have been an echo of German
pantheistic philosophies. From the point of view of science--of modern
science at least--it was prophetic; although the prophecy of one for
whom evolution could never mean less or more than a divine creation
operating on this progressive plan.

The more striking, perhaps, for its personal quality are the evidences
of imaginative sympathy, even direct human insight, in which the poem
abounds. Festus is, indeed, an essentially human creature: the
man--it might have been the woman--of unambitious intellect and large
intelligence of the heart, in whom so many among us have found comfort
and help. We often feel, in reading 'Pauline', that the poet in it was
older than the man. The impression is more strongly and more definitely
conveyed by this second work, which has none of the intellectual
crudeness of 'Pauline', though it still belongs to an early phase of the
author's intellectual life. Not only its mental, but its moral maturity,
seems so much in advance of his uncompleted twenty-third year.

To the first edition of 'Paracelsus' was affixed a preface, now long
discarded, but which acquires fresh interest in a retrospect of the
author's completed work; for it lays down the constant principle
of dramatic creation by which that work was to be inspired. It also
anticipates probable criticism of the artistic form which on this, and
so many subsequent occasions, he selected for it.


'I am anxious that the reader should not, at the very outset--mistaking
my performance for one of a class with which it has nothing in
common--judge it by principles on which it was never moulded, and
subject it to a standard to which it was never meant to conform. I
therefore anticipate his discovery, that it is an attempt, probably more
novel than happy, to reverse the method usually adopted by writers whose
aim it is to set forth any phenomenon of the mind or the passions,
by the operation of persons and events; and that, instead of having
recourse to an external machinery of incidents to create and evolve the
crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to display somewhat minutely
the mood itself in its rise and progress, and have suffered the agency
by which it is influenced and determined, to be generally discernible
in its effects alone, and subordinate throughout, if not altogether
excluded: and this for a reason. I have endeavoured to write a poem, not
a drama: the canons of the drama are well known, and I cannot but think
that, inasmuch as they have immediate regard to stage representation,
the peculiar advantages they hold out are really such only so long as
the purpose for which they were at first instituted is kept in view. I
do not very well understand what is called a Dramatic Poem, wherein all
those restrictions only submitted to on account of compensating good
in the original scheme are scrupulously retained, as though for some
special fitness in themselves--and all new facilities placed at an
author's disposal by the vehicle he selects, as pertinaciously rejected.
. . .'


Mr. Fox reviewed this also in the 'Monthly Repository'. The article
might be obtained through the kindness of Mrs. Bridell-Fox; but it will
be sufficient for my purpose to refer to its closing paragraph, as given
by her in the 'Argosy' of February 1890. It was a final expression of
what the writer regarded as the fitting intellectual attitude towards a
rising poet, whose aims and methods lay so far beyond the range of
the conventional rules of poetry. The great event in the history of
'Paracelsus' was John Forster's article on it in the 'Examiner'. Mr.
Forster had recently come to town. He could barely have heard Mr.
Browning's name, and, as he afterwards told him, was perplexed in
reading the poem by the question of whether its author was an old or a
young man; but he knew that a writer in the 'Athenaeum' had called it
rubbish, and he had taken it up as a probable subject for a piece of
slashing criticism. What he did write can scarcely be defined as praise.
It was the simple, ungrudging admission of the unequivocal power, as
well as brilliant promise, which he recognized in the work. This
mutual experience was the introduction to a long and, certainly on Mr.
Browning's part, a sincere friendship.



Chapter 6

1835-1838

Removal to Hatcham; some Particulars--Renewed Intercourse with the
second Family of Robert Browning's Grandfather--Reuben Browning--William
Shergold Browning--Visitors at Hatcham--Thomas Carlyle--Social Life--New
Friends and Acquaintance--Introduction to Macready--New Year's Eve
at Elm Place--Introduction to John Forster--Miss Fanny Haworth--Miss
Martineau--Serjeant Talfourd--The 'Ion' Supper--'Strafford'--Relations
with Macready--Performance of 'Strafford'--Letters concerning it
from Mr. Browning and Miss Flower--Personal Glimpses of Robert
Browning--Rival Forms of Dramatic Inspiration--Relation of 'Strafford'
to 'Sordello'--Mr. Robertson and the 'Westminster Review'.



It was soon after this time, though the exact date cannot be recalled,
that the Browning family moved from Camberwell to Hatcham. Some such
change had long been in contemplation, for their house was now too
small; and the finding one more suitable, in the latter place, had
decided the question. The new home possessed great attractions. The
long, low rooms of its upper storey supplied abundant accommodation for
the elder Mr. Browning's six thousand books. Mrs. Browning was suffering
greatly from her chronic ailment, neuralgia; and the large garden,
opening on to the Surrey hills, promised her all the benefits of country
air. There were a coach-house and stable, which, by a curious,
probably old-fashioned, arrangement, formed part of the house, and were
accessible from it. Here the 'good horse', York, was eventually put up;
and near this, in the garden, the poet soon had another though humbler
friend in the person of a toad, which became so much attached to him
that it would follow him as he walked. He visited it daily, where it
burrowed under a white rose tree, announcing himself by a pinch of
gravel dropped into its hole; and the creature would crawl forth, allow
its head to be gently tickled, and reward the act with that loving
glance of the soft full eyes which Mr. Browning has recalled in one of
the poems of 'Asolando'.

This change of residence brought the grandfather's second family, for
the first time, into close as well as friendly contact with the first.
Mr. Browning had always remained on outwardly friendly terms with
his stepmother; and both he and his children were rewarded for this
forbearance by the cordial relations which grew up between themselves
and two of her sons. But in the earlier days they lived too far apart
for frequent meeting. The old Mrs. Browning was now a widow, and,
in order to be near her relations, she also came to Hatcham, and
established herself there in close neighbourhood to them. She had then
with her only a son and a daughter, those known to the poet's friends
as Uncle Reuben and Aunt Jemima; respectively nine years, and one year,
older than he. 'Aunt Jemima' married not long afterwards, and is chiefly
remembered as having been very amiable, and, in early youth, to use
her nephew's words, 'as beautiful as the day;' but kindly, merry
'Uncle Reuben', then clerk in the Rothschilds' London bank,* became a
conspicuous member of the family circle. This does not mean that the
poet was ever indebted to him for pecuniary help; and it is desirable
that this should be understood, since it has been confidently asserted
that he was so. So long as he was dependent at all, he depended
exclusively on his father. Even the use of his uncle's horse, which
might have been accepted as a friendly concession on Mr. Reuben's part,
did not really represent one. The animal stood, as I have said, in Mr.
Browning's stable, and it was groomed by his gardener. The promise of
these conveniences had induced Reuben Browning to buy a horse instead of
continuing to hire one. He could only ride it on a few days of the week,
and it was rather a gain than a loss to him that so good a horseman as
his nephew should exercise it during the interval.

     * This uncle's name, and his business relations with the
     great Jewish firm, have contributed to the mistaken theory
     of the poet's descent.

Uncle Reuben was not a great appreciator of poetry--at all events of
his nephew's; and an irreverent remark on 'Sordello', imputed to a more
eminent contemporary, proceeded, under cover of a friend's name, from
him. But he had his share of mental endowments. We are told that he was
a good linguist, and that he wrote on finance under an assumed name. He
was also, apparently, an accomplished classic. Lord Beaconsfield is said
to have declared that the inscription on a silver inkstand, presented to
the daughter of Lionel Rothschild on her marriage, by the clerks at New
Court, 'was the most appropriate thing he had ever come across;' and
that whoever had selected it must be one of the first Latin scholars of
the day. It was Mr. Reuben Browning.

Another favourite uncle was William Shergold Browning, though less
intimate with his nephew and niece than he would have become if he had
not married while they were still children, and settled in Paris, where
his father's interest had placed him in the Rothschild house. He is
known by his 'History of the Huguenots', a work, we are told, 'full of
research, with a reference to contemporary literature for almost every
occurrence mentioned or referred to.' He also wrote the 'Provost of
Paris', and 'Hoel Morven', historical novels, and 'Leisure Hours', a
collection of miscellanies; and was a contributor for some years to
the 'Gentleman's Magazine'. It was chiefly from this uncle that Miss
Browning and her brother heard the now often-repeated stories of their
probable ancestors, Micaiah Browning, who distinguished himself at the
siege of Derry, and that commander of the ship 'Holy Ghost' who conveyed
Henry V. to France before the battle of Agincourt, and received the
coat-of-arms, with its emblematic waves, in reward for his service.
Robert Browning was also indebted to him for the acquaintance of M. de
Ripert-Monclar; for he was on friendly terms with the uncle of the young
count, the Marquis de Fortia, a learned man and member of the Institut,
and gave a letter of introduction--actually, I believe, to his brother
Reuben--at the Marquis's request.*

     * A grandson of William Shergold, Robert Jardine Browning,
     graduated at Lincoln College, was called to the Bar, and is
     now Crown Prosecutor in New South Wales; where his name
     first gave rise to a report that he was Mr. Browning's son,
     while the announcement of his marriage was, for a moment,
     connected with Mr. Browning himself.  He was also intimate
     with the poet and his sister, who liked him very much.

The friendly relations with Carlyle, which resulted in his high estimate
of the poet's mother, also began at Hatcham. On one occasion he took
his brother, the doctor, with him to dine there. An earlier and much
attached friend of the family was Captain Pritchard, cousin to the noted
physician Dr. Blundell. He enabled the young Robert, whom he knew from
the age of sixteen, to attend some of Dr. Blundell's lectures; and this
aroused in him a considerable interest in the sciences connected with
medicine, though, as I shall have occasion to show, no knowledge of
either disease or its treatment ever seems to have penetrated into his
life. A Captain Lloyd is indirectly associated with 'The Flight of the
Duchess'. That poem was not completed according to its original plan;
and it was the always welcome occurrence of a visit from this gentleman
which arrested its completion. Mr. Browning vividly remembered how the
click of the garden gate, and the sight of the familiar figure advancing
towards the house, had broken in upon his work and dispelled its first
inspiration.

The appearance of 'Paracelsus' did not give the young poet his just
place in popular judgment and public esteem. A generation was to pass
before this was conceded to him. But it compelled his recognition by the
leading or rising literary men of the day; and a fuller and more varied
social life now opened before him. The names of Serjeant Talfourd,
Horne, Leigh Hunt, Barry Cornwall (Procter), Monckton Milnes (Lord
Houghton), Eliot Warburton, Dickens, Wordsworth, and Walter Savage
Landor, represent, with that of Forster, some of the acquaintances made,
or the friendships begun, at this period. Prominent among the friends
that were to be, was also Archer Gurney, well known in later life as the
Rev. Archer Gurney, and chaplain to the British embassy in Paris.
His sympathies were at present largely absorbed by politics. He was
contesting the representation of some county, on the Conservative side;
but he took a very vivid interest in Mr. Browning's poems; and this
perhaps fixes the beginning of the intimacy at a somewhat later date;
since a pretty story by which it was illustrated connects itself with
the publication of 'Bells and Pomegranates'. He himself wrote dramas and
poems. Sir John, afterwards Lord, Hanmer was also much attracted by the
young poet, who spent a pleasant week with him at Bettisfield Park. He
was the author of a volume entitled 'Fra Cipollo and other Poems', from
which the motto of 'Colombe's Birthday' was subsequently taken.

The friends, old and new, met in the informal manner of those days, at
afternoon dinners, or later suppers, at the houses of Mr. Fox, Serjeant
Talfourd, and, as we shall see, Mr. Macready; and Mr. Fox's daughter,
then only a little girl, but intelligent and observant for her years,
well remembers the pleasant gatherings at which she was allowed to
assist, when first performances of plays, or first readings of plays and
poems, had brought some of the younger and more ardent spirits together.
Miss Flower, also, takes her place in the literary group. Her sister had
married in 1834, and left her free to live for her own pursuits and her
own friends; and Mr. Browning must have seen more of her then than was
possible in his boyish days.

None, however, of these intimacies were, at the time, so important to
him as that formed with the great actor Macready. They were introduced
to each other by Mr. Fox early in the winter of 1835-6; the meeting is
thus chronicled in Macready's diary, November 27.*

     * 'Macready's Reminiscences', edited by Sir Frederick Pollock;
          1875.


'Went from chambers to dine with Rev. William Fox, Bayswater. . . . Mr.
Robert Browning, the author of 'Paracelsus', came in after dinner; I was
very much pleased to meet him. His face is full of intelligence. . . .
I took Mr. Browning on, and requested to be allowed to improve my
acquaintance with him. He expressed himself warmly, as gratified by the
proposal, wished to send me his book; we exchanged cards and parted.'


On December 7 he writes:


'Read 'Paracelsus', a work of great daring, starred with poetry of
thought, feeling, and diction, but occasionally obscure; the writer can
scarcely fail to be a leading spirit of his time. . . .'


He invited Mr. Browning to his country house, Elm Place, Elstree, for
the last evening of the year; and again refers to him under date of
December 31.


'. . . Our other guests were Miss Henney, Forster, Cattermole, Browning,
and Mr. Munro. Mr. Browning was very popular with the whole party; his
simple and enthusiastic manner engaged attention, and won opinions from
all present; he looks and speaks more like a youthful poet than any man
I ever saw.'


This New-Year's-Eve visit brought Browning and Forster together for the
first time. The journey to Elstree was then performed by coach, and the
two young men met at the 'Blue Posts', where, with one or more of Mr.
Macready's other guests, they waited for the coach to start. They eyed
each other with interest, both being striking in their way, and
neither knowing who the other was. When the introduction took place at
Macready's house, Mr. Forster supplemented it by saying: 'Did you see a
little notice of you I wrote in the 'Examiner'?' The two names will
now be constantly associated in Macready's diary, which, except for
Mr. Browning's own casual utterances, is almost our only record of his
literary and social life during the next two years.

It was at Elm Place that Mr. Browning first met Miss Euphrasia Fanny
Haworth, then a neighbour of Mr. Macready, residing with her mother at
Barham Lodge. Miss Haworth was still a young woman, but her love and
talent for art and literature made her a fitting member of the genial
circle to which Mr. Browning belonged; and she and the poet soon became
fast friends. Her first name appears as 'Eyebright' in 'Sordello'. His
letters to her, returned after her death by her brother, Mr. Frederick
Haworth, supply valuable records of his experiences and of his feelings
at one very interesting, and one deeply sorrowful, period of his
history. She was a thoroughly kindly, as well as gifted woman, and much
appreciated by those of the poet's friends who knew her as a resident in
London during her last years. A portrait which she took of him in 1874
is considered by some persons very good.

At about this time also, and probably through Miss Haworth, he became
acquainted with Miss Martineau.

Soon after his introduction to Macready, if not before, Mr. Browning
became busy with the thought of writing for the stage. The diary has
this entry for February 16, 1836:


'Forster and Browning called, and talked over the plot of a tragedy,
which Browning had begun to think of: the subject, Narses. He said that
I had _bit_ him by my performance of Othello, and I told him I hoped I
should make the blood come. It would indeed be some recompense for the
miseries, the humiliations, the heart-sickening disgusts which I have
endured in my profession, if, by its exercise, I had awakened a spirit
of poetry whose influence would elevate, ennoble, and adorn our degraded
drama. May it be!'


But Narses was abandoned, and the more serious inspiration and more
definite motive were to come later. They connect themselves with one
of the pleasant social occurrences which must have lived in the young
poet's memory. On May 26 'Ion' had been performed for the first time and
with great success, Mr. Macready sustaining the principal part; and the
great actor and a number of their common friends had met at supper at
Serjeant Talfourd's house to celebrate the occasion. The party included
Wordsworth and Landor, both of whom Mr. Browning then met for the first
time. Toasts flew right and left. Mr. Browning's health was proposed
by Serjeant Talfourd as that of the youngest poet of England, and
Wordsworth responded to the appeal with very kindly courtesy. The
conversation afterwards turned upon plays, and Macready, who had ignored
a half-joking question of Miss Mitford, whether, if she wrote one, he
would act in it, overtook Browning as they were leaving the house, and
said, 'Write a play, Browning, and keep me from going to America.' The
reply was, 'Shall it be historical and English; what do you say to a
drama on Strafford?'

This ready response on the poet's part showed that Strafford, as a
dramatic subject, had been occupying his thoughts. The subject was in
the air, because Forster was then bringing out a life of that statesman,
with others belonging to the same period. It was more than in the air,
so far as Browning was concerned, because his friend had been disabled,
either through sickness or sorrow, from finishing this volume by the
appointed time, and he, as well he might, had largely helped him in its
completion. It was, however, not till August 3 that Macready wrote in
his diary:


'Forster told me that Browning had fixed on Strafford for the subject of
a tragedy; he could not have hit upon one that I could have more readily
concurred in.'


A previous entry of May 30, the occasion of which is only implied, shows
with how high an estimate of Mr. Browning's intellectual importance
Macready's professional relations to him began.


'Arriving at chambers, I found a note from Browning. What can I say upon
it? It was a tribute which remunerated me for the annoyances and cares
of years: it was one of the very highest, may I not say the highest,
honour I have through life received.'


The estimate maintained itself in reference to the value of Mr.
Browning's work, since he wrote on March 13, 1837:


'Read before dinner a few pages of 'Paracelsus', which raises my wonder
the more I read it. . . . Looked over two plays, which it was not
possible to read, hardly as I tried. . . . Read some scenes in
'Strafford', which restore one to the world of sense and feeling once
again.'


But as the day of the performance drew near, he became at once more
anxious and more critical. An entry of April 28 comments somewhat
sharply on the dramatic faults of 'Strafford', besides declaring the
writer's belief that the only chance for it is in the acting, which, 'by
possibility, might carry it to the end without disapprobation,' though
he dares not hope without opposition. It is quite conceivable that his
first complete study of the play, and first rehearsal of it, brought to
light deficiencies which had previously escaped him; but so complete
a change of sentiment points also to private causes of uneasiness and
irritation; and, perhaps, to the knowledge that its being saved by
collective good acting was out of the question.

'Strafford' was performed at Covent Garden Theatre on May 1. Mr.
Browning wrote to Mr. Fox after one of the last rehearsals:


May Day, Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Dear Sir,--All my endeavours to procure a copy before this morning have
been fruitless. I send the first book of the first bundle. _Pray_ look
over it--the alterations to-night will be considerable. The complexion
of the piece is, I grieve to say, 'perfect gallows' just now--our _King_,
Mr. Dale, being . . . but you'll see him, and, I fear, not much applaud.
Your unworthy son, in things literary, Robert Browning.

P.S. (in pencil).--A most unnecessary desire, but urged on me by Messrs.
Longman: no notice on Str. in to-night's True Sun,* lest the other
papers be jealous!!!

     * Mr. Fox reviewed 'Strafford' in the 'True Sun'.

A second letter, undated, but evidently written a day or two later,
refers to the promised notice, which had then appeared.


Tuesday Night.

No words can express my feelings: I happen to be much annoyed and
unwell--but your most generous notice has almost made 'my soul well and
happy now.'

I thank you, my most kind, most constant friend, from my heart for your
goodness--which is brave enough, just now. I am ever and increasingly
yours, Robert Browning.

You will be glad to see me on the earliest occasion, will you not? I
shall certainly come.


A letter from Miss Flower to Miss Sarah Fox (sister to the Rev. William
Fox), at Norwich, contains the following passage, which evidently
continues a chapter of London news:


'Then 'Strafford'; were you not pleased to hear of the success of one
you must, I think, remember a very little boy, years ago. If not, you
have often heard us speak of Robert Browning: and it is a great deal to
have accomplished a successful tragedy, although he seems a good deal
annoyed at the go of things behind the scenes, and declares he will
never write a play again, as long as he lives. You have no idea of
the ignorance and obstinacy of the whole set, with here and there an
exception; think of his having to write out the meaning of the word
'impeachment', as some of them thought it meant 'poaching'.'


On the first night, indeed, the fate of 'Strafford' hung in the balance;
it was saved by Macready and Miss Helen Faucit. After this they must
have been better supported, as it was received on the second night
with enthusiasm by a full house. The catastrophe came after the fifth
performance, with the desertion of the actor who had sustained the
part of Pym. We cannot now judge whether, even under favourable
circumstances, the play would have had as long a run as was intended;
but the casting vote in favour of this view is given by the conduct of
Mr. Osbaldistone, the manager, when it was submitted to him. The diary
says, March 30, that he caught at it with avidity, and agreed to produce
it without delay. The terms he offered to the author must also have been
considered favourable in those days.

The play was published in April by Longman, this time not at the
author's expense; but it brought no return either to him or to his
publisher. It was dedicated 'in all affectionate admiration' to William
C. Macready.

We gain some personal glimpses of the Browning of 1835-6; one especially
through Mrs. Bridell-Fox, who thus describes her first meeting with him:


'I remember . . . when Mr. Browning entered the drawing-room, with a
quick light step; and on hearing from me that my father was out, and
in fact that nobody was at home but myself, he said: "It's my birthday
to-day; I'll wait till they come in," and sitting down to the piano,
he added: "If it won't disturb you, I'll play till they do." And as he
turned to the instrument, the bells of some neighbouring church suddenly
burst out with a frantic merry peal. It seemed, to my childish fancy, as
if in response to the remark that it was his birthday. He was then slim
and dark, and very handsome; and--may I hint it--just a trifle of a
dandy, addicted to lemon-coloured kid-gloves and such things: quite "the
glass of fashion and the mould of form." But full of ambition, eager for
success, eager for fame, and, what's more, determined to conquer fame
and to achieve success.'


I do not think his memory ever taxed him with foppishness, though he may
have had the innocent personal vanity of an attractive young man at his
first period of much seeing and being seen; but all we know of him
at that time bears out the impression Mrs. Fox conveys, of a joyous,
artless confidence in himself and in life, easily depressed, but quickly
reasserting itself; and in which the eagerness for new experiences
had freed itself from the rebellious impatience of boyish days. The
self-confidence had its touches of flippancy and conceit; but on this
side it must have been constantly counteracted by his gratitude for
kindness, and by his enthusiastic appreciation of the merits of other
men. His powers of feeling, indeed, greatly expended themselves in this
way. He was very attractive to women and, as we have seen, warmly loved
by very various types of men; but, except in its poetic sense, his
emotional nature was by no means then in the ascendant: a fact difficult
to realize when we remember the passion of his childhood's love for
mother and home, and the new and deep capabilities of affection to be
developed in future days. The poet's soul in him was feeling its wings;
the realities of life had not yet begun to weight them.

We see him again at the 'Ion' supper, in the grace and modesty with
which he received the honours then adjudged to him. The testimony has
been said to come from Miss Mitford, but may easily have been supplied
by Miss Haworth, who was also present on this occasion.

Mr. Browning's impulse towards play-writing had not, as we have seen,
begun with 'Strafford'. It was still very far from being exhausted. And
though he had struck out for himself another line of dramatic activity,
his love for the higher theatrical life, and the legitimate inducements
of the more lucrative and not necessarily less noble form of
composition, might ultimately in some degree have prevailed with him if
circumstances had been such as to educate his theatrical capabilities,
and to reward them. His first acted drama was, however, an interlude to
the production of the important group of poems which was to be completed
by 'Sordello'; and he alludes to this later work in an also discarded
preface to 'Strafford', as one on which he had for some time been
engaged. He even characterizes the Tragedy as an attempt 'to freshen
a jaded mind by diverting it to the healthy natures of a grand epoch.'
'Sordello' again occupied him during the remainder of 1837 and the
beginning of 1838; and by the spring of this year he must have been
thankful to vary the scene and mode of his labours by means of a first
visit to Italy. He announces his impending journey, with its immediate
plan and purpose, in the following note:


To John Robertson, Esq.

Good Friday, 1838.

Dear Sir,--I was not fortunate enough to find you the day before
yesterday--and must tell you very hurriedly that I sail this morning
for Venice--intending to finish my poem among the scenes it describes.
I shall have your good wishes I know. Believe me, in return, Dear sir,
Yours faithfully and obliged, Robert Browning.


Mr. John Robertson had influence with the 'Westminster Review', either
as editor, or member of its staff. He had been introduced to Mr.
Browning by Miss Martineau; and, being a great admirer of 'Paracelsus',
had promised careful attention for 'Sordello'; but, when the time
approached, he made conditions of early reading, &c., which Mr. Browning
thought so unfair towards other magazines that he refused to fulfil
them. He lost his review, and the goodwill of its intending writer; and
even Miss Martineau was ever afterwards cooler towards him, though his
attitude in the matter had been in some degree prompted by a chivalrous
partisanship for her.



Chapter 7

1838-1841

First Italian Journey--Letters to Miss Haworth--Mr. John
Kenyon--'Sordello'--Letter to Miss Flower--'Pippa Passes'--'Bells and
Pomegranates'.



Mr. Browning sailed from London with Captain Davidson of the 'Norham
Castle', a merchant vessel bound for Trieste, on which he found himself
the only passenger. A striking experience of the voyage, and some
characteristic personal details, are given in the following letter to
Miss Haworth. It is dated 1838, and was probably written before that
year's summer had closed.


Tuesday Evening.

Dear Miss Haworth,--Do look at a fuchsia in full bloom and notice the
clear little honey-drop depending from every flower. I have just found
it out to my no small satisfaction,--a bee's breakfast. I only answer
for the long-blossomed sort, though,--indeed, for this plant in my room.
Taste and be Titania; you can, that is. All this while I forget that you
will perhaps never guess the good of the discovery: I have, you are to
know, such a love for flowers and leaves--some leaves--that I every
now and then, in an impatience at being able to possess myself of them
thoroughly, to see them quite, satiate myself with their scent,--bite
them to bits--so there will be some sense in that. How I remember the
flowers--even grasses--of places I have seen! Some one flower or weed, I
should say, that gets some strangehow connected with them.

Snowdrops and Tilsit in Prussia go together; cowslips and Windsor Park,
for instance; flowering palm and some place or other in Holland.

Now to answer what can be answered in the letter I was happy to receive
last week. I am quite well. I did not expect you would write,--for none
of your written reasons, however. You will see 'Sordello' in a trice, if
the fagging fit holds. I did not write six lines while absent (except
a scene in a play, jotted down as we sailed thro' the Straits of
Gibraltar)--but I did hammer out some four, two of which are addressed
to you, two to the Queen*--the whole to go in Book III--perhaps. I
called you 'Eyebright'--meaning a simple and sad sort of translation
of "Euphrasia" into my own language: folks would know who Euphrasia, or
Fanny, was--and I should not know Ianthe or Clemanthe. Not that there is
anything in them to care for, good or bad. Shall I say 'Eyebright'?

     * I know no lines directly addressed to the Queen.

I was disappointed in one thing, Canova.

What companions should I have?

The story of the ship must have reached you 'with a difference' as
Ophelia says; my sister told it to a Mr. Dow, who delivered it to
Forster, I suppose, who furnished Macready with it, who made it over
&c., &c., &c.--As short as I can tell, this way it happened: the captain
woke me one bright Sunday morning to say there was a ship floating keel
uppermost half a mile off; they lowered a boat, made ropes fast to some
floating canvas, and towed her towards our vessel. Both met halfway, and
the little air that had risen an hour or two before, sank at once. Our
men made the wreck fast in high glee at having 'new trousers out of the
sails,' and quite sure she was a French boat, broken from her moorings
at Algiers, close by. Ropes were next hove (hang this sea-talk!) round
her stanchions, and after a quarter of an hour's pushing at the capstan,
the vessel righted suddenly, one dead body floating out; five more were
in the forecastle, and had probably been there a month under a blazing
African sun--don't imagine the wretched state of things. They were,
these six, the 'watch below'--(I give you the result of the day's
observation)--the rest, some eight or ten, had been washed overboard at
first. One or two were Algerines, the rest Spaniards. The vessel was a
smuggler bound for Gibraltar; there were two stupidly disproportionate
guns, taking up the whole deck, which was convex and--nay, look you!
(a rough pen-and-ink sketch of the different parts of the wreck is here
introduced) these are the gun-rings, and the black square the place
where the bodies lay. (All the 'bulwarks' or sides of the top, carried
away by the waves.) Well, the sailors covered up the hatchway, broke up
the aft-deck, hauled up tobacco and cigars, such heaps of them, and
then bale after bale of prints and chintz, don't you call it, till the
captain was half-frightened--he would get at the ship's papers, he said;
so these poor fellows were pulled up, piecemeal, and pitched into the
sea, the very sailors calling to each other to 'cover the faces',--no
papers of importance were found, however, but fifteen swords, powder
and ball enough for a dozen such boats, and bundles of cotton, &c., that
would have taken a day to get out, but the captain vowed that after five
o'clock she should be cut adrift: accordingly she was cast loose, not a
third of her cargo having been touched; and you hardly can conceive the
strange sight when the battered hulk turned round, actually, and
looked at us, and then reeled off, like a mutilated creature from some
scoundrel French surgeon's lecture-table, into the most gorgeous and
lavish sunset in the world: there; only thank me for not taking you at
your word, and giving you the whole 'story'.--'What I did?' I went to
Trieste, then Venice--then through Treviso and Bassano to the mountains,
delicious Asolo, all my places and castles, you will see. Then to
Vicenza, Padua, and Venice again. Then to Verona, Trent, Innspruck (the
Tyrol), Munich, Salzburg in Franconia, Frankfort and Mayence; down the
Rhine to Cologne, then to Aix-la-Chapelle, Liege and Antwerp--then home.
Shall you come to town, anywhere near town, soon? I shall be off again
as soon as my book is out, whenever that will be.

I never read that book of Miss Martineau's, so can't understand what
you mean. Macready is looking well; I just saw him the other day for a
minute after the play; his Kitely was Kitely--superb from his flat cap
down to his shining shoes. I saw very few Italians, 'to know', that is.
Those I did see I liked. Your friend Pepoli has been lecturing here, has
he not?

I shall be vexed if you don't write soon, a long Elstree letter. What
are you doing, writing--drawing? Ever yours truly R. B. To Miss Haworth,
Barham Lodge, Elstree.


Miss Browning's account of this experience, supplied from memory of her
brother's letters and conversations, contains some vivid supplementary
details. The drifting away of the wreck put probably no effective
distance between it and the ship; hence the necessity of 'sailing away'
from it.


'Of the dead pirates, one had his hands clasped as if praying; another,
a severe gash in his head. The captain burnt disinfectants and blew
gunpowder, before venturing on board, but even then, he, a powerful man,
turned very sick with the smell and sight. They stayed one whole day
by the side, but the sailors, in spite of orders, began to plunder the
cigars, &c. The captain said privately to Robert, "I cannot restrain my
men, and they will bring the plague into our ship, so I mean quietly in
the night to sail away." Robert took two cutlasses and a dagger; they
were of the coarsest workmanship, intended for use. At the end of one of
the sheaths was a heavy bullet, so that it could be used as a sling.
The day after, to their great relief, a heavy rain fell and cleansed the
ship. Captain Davidson reported the sight of the wreck and its condition
as soon as he arrived at Trieste.'


Miss Browning also relates that the weather was stormy in the Bay of
Biscay, and for the first fortnight her brother suffered terribly. The
captain supported him on to the deck as they passed through the Straits
of Gibraltar, that he might not lose the sight. He recovered, as we
know, sufficiently to write 'How they brought the Good News from Ghent
to Aix'; but we can imagine in what revulsion of feeling towards firm
land and healthy motion this dream of a headlong gallop was born in
him. The poem was pencilled on the cover of Bartoli's "De' Simboli
trasportati al Morale", a favourite book and constant companion of his;
and, in spite of perfect effacement as far as the sense goes, the pencil
dints are still visible. The little poem 'Home Thoughts from the Sea'
was written at the same time, and in the same manner.

By the time they reached Trieste, the captain, a rough north-countryman,
had become so attached to Mr. Browning that he offered him a free
passage to Constantinople; and after they had parted, carefully
preserved, by way of remembrance, a pair of very old gloves worn by him
on deck. Mr. Browning might, on such an occasion, have dispensed with
gloves altogether; but it was one of his peculiarities that he could
never endure to be out of doors with uncovered hands. The captain also
showed his friendly feeling on his return to England by bringing to Miss
Browning, whom he had heard of through her brother, a present of six
bottles of attar of roses.

The inspirations of Asolo and Venice appear in 'Pippa Passes' and 'In
a Gondola'; but the latter poem showed, to Mr. Browning's subsequent
vexation, that Venice had been imperfectly seen; and the magnetism which
Asolo was to exercise upon him, only fully asserted itself at a much
later time.

A second letter to Miss Haworth is undated, but may have been written at
any period of this or the ensuing year.


I have received, a couple of weeks since, a present--an album large and
gaping, and as Cibber's Richard says of the 'fair Elizabeth': 'My
heart is empty--she shall fill it'--so say I (impudently?) of my grand
trouble-table, which holds a sketch or two by my fine fellow Monclar,
one lithograph--his own face of faces,--'all the rest was amethyst.' F.
H. everywhere! not a soul beside 'in the chrystal silence there,' and
it locks, this album; now, don't shower drawings on M., who has so many
advantages over me as it is: or at least don't bid _me_ of all others say
what he is to have.

The 'Master' is somebody you don't know, W. J. Fox, a magnificent and
poetical nature, who used to write in reviews when I was a boy, and
to whom my verses, a bookful, written at the ripe age of twelve and
thirteen, were shown: which verses he praised not a little; which praise
comforted me not a little. Then I lost sight of him for years and
years; then I published _anonymously_ a little poem--which he, to my
inexpressible delight, praised and expounded in a gallant article in a
magazine of which he was the editor; then I found him out again; he got
a publisher for 'Paracelsus' (I read it to him in manuscript) and is in
short 'my literary father'. Pretty nearly the same thing did he for
Miss Martineau, as she has said somewhere. God knows I forget what the
'talk', table-talk was about--I think she must have told you the results
of the whole day we spent tete-a-tete at Ascot, and that day's, the
dinner-day's morning at Elstree and St. Albans. She is to give me advice
about my worldly concerns, and not before I need it!

I cannot say or sing the pleasure your way of writing gives me--do go
on, and tell me all sorts of things, 'the story' for a beginning; but
your moralisings on 'your age' and the rest, are--now what _are_ they?
not to be reasoned on, disputed, laughed at, grieved about: they are
'Fanny's crotchets'. I thank thee, Jew (lia), for teaching me that word.

I don't know that I shall leave town for a month: my friend Monclar
looks piteous when I talk of such an event. I can't bear to leave him;
he is to take my portrait to-day (a famous one he _has_ taken!) and very
like he engages it shall be. I am going to town for the purpose. . . .

Now, then, do something for me, and see if I'll ask Miss M----to help
you! I am going to begin the finishing 'Sordello'--and to begin thinking
a Tragedy (an Historical one, so I shall want heaps of criticisms on
'Strafford') and I want to have _another_ tragedy in prospect, I write
best so provided: I had chosen a splendid subject for it, when I learned
that a magazine for next, this, month, will have a scene founded on my
story; vulgarizing or doing no good to it: and I accordingly throw it
up. I want a subject of the most wild and passionate love, to contrast
with the one I mean to have ready in a short time. I have many
half-conceptions, floating fancies: give me your notion of a thorough
self-devotement, self-forgetting; should it be a woman who loves thus,
or a man? What circumstances will best draw out, set forth this feeling?
. . .


The tragedies in question were to be 'King Victor and King Charles', and
'The Return of the Druses'.

This letter affords a curious insight into Mr. Browning's mode of work;
it is also very significant of the small place which love had hitherto
occupied in his life. It was evident, from his appeal to Miss Haworth's
'notion' on the subject, that he had as yet no experience, even
imaginary, of a genuine passion, whether in woman or man. The experience
was still distant from him in point of time. In circumstance he was
nearer to it than he knew; for it was in 1839 that he became acquainted
with Mr. Kenyon.

When dining one day at Serjeant Talfourd's, he was accosted by a
pleasant elderly man, who, having, we conclude, heard who he was, asked
leave to address to him a few questions: 'Was his father's name Robert?
had he gone to school at the Rev. Mr. Bell's at Cheshunt, and was he
still alive?' On receiving affirmative answers, he went on to say that
Mr. Browning and he had been great chums at school, and though they had
lost sight of each other in after-life, he had never forgotten his
old playmate, but even alluded to him in a little book which he had
published a few years before.*

     * The volume is entitled 'Rhymed Plea for Tolerance' (1833),
     and contains a reference to Mr. Kenyon's schooldays,
     and to the classic fights which Mr. Browning had instituted.

The next morning the poet asked his father if he remembered a
schoolfellow named John Kenyon. He replied, 'Certainly! This is his
face,' and sketched a boy's head, in which his son at once recognized
that of the grown man. The acquaintance was renewed, and Mr. Kenyon
proved ever afterwards a warm friend. Mr. Browning wrote of him, in a
letter to Professor Knight of St. Andrews, Jan. 10, 1884: 'He was one
of the best of human beings, with a general sympathy for excellence
of every kind. He enjoyed the friendship of Wordsworth, of Southey, of
Landor, and, in later days, was intimate with most of my contemporaries
of eminence.' It was at Mr. Kenyon's house that the poet saw most of
Wordsworth, who always stayed there when he came to town.

In 1840 'Sordello' appeared. It was, relatively to its length, by far
the slowest in preparation of Mr. Browning's poems. This seemed, indeed,
a condition of its peculiar character. It had lain much deeper in the
author's mind than the various slighter works which were thrown off in
the course of its inception. We know from the preface to 'Strafford'
that it must have been begun soon after 'Paracelsus'. Its plan may have
belonged to a still earlier date; for it connects itself with 'Pauline'
as the history of a poetic soul; with both the earlier poems, as the
manifestation of the self-conscious spiritual ambitions which were
involved in that history. This first imaginative mood was also
outgrowing itself in the very act of self-expression; for the tragedies
written before the conclusion of 'Sordello' impress us as the product of
a different mental state--as the work of a more balanced imagination and
a more mature mind.

It would be interesting to learn how Mr. Browning's typical poet became
embodied in this mediaeval form: whether the half-mythical character
of the real Sordello presented him as a fitting subject for imaginative
psychological treatment, or whether the circumstances among which he
moved seemed the best adapted to the development of the intended type.
The inspiration may have come through the study of Dante, and his
testimony to the creative influence of Sordello on their mother-tongue.
That period of Italian history must also have assumed, if it did not
already possess, a great charm for Mr. Browning's fancy, since he
studied no less than thirty works upon it, which were to contribute
little more to his dramatic picture than what he calls 'decoration', or
'background'. But the one guide which he has given us to the reading of
the poem is his assertion that its historical circumstance is only to
be regarded as background; and the extent to which he identified himself
with the figure of Sordello has been proved by his continued belief that
its prominence was throughout maintained. He could still declare,
so late as 1863, in his preface to the reprint of the work, that his
'stress' in writing it had lain 'on the incidents in the development of
a soul, little else' being to his mind 'worth study'. I cannot therefore
help thinking that recent investigations of the life and character of
the actual poet, however in themselves praiseworthy and interesting,
have been often in some degree a mistake; because, directly or
indirectly, they referred Mr. Browning's Sordello to an historical
reality, which his author had grasped, as far as was then possible, but
to which he was never intended to conform.

Sordello's story does exhibit the development of a soul; or rather,
the sudden awakening of a self-regarding nature to the claims of other
men--the sudden, though slowly prepared, expansion of the narrower into
the larger self, the selfish into the sympathetic existence; and this
takes place in accordance with Mr. Browning's here expressed belief that
poetry is the appointed vehicle for all lasting truths; that the true
poet must be their exponent. The work is thus obviously, in point of
moral utterance, an advance on 'Pauline'. Its metaphysics are,
also, more distinctly formulated than those of either 'Pauline' or
'Paracelsus'; and the frequent use of the term Will in its metaphysical
sense so strongly points to German associations that it is difficult to
realize their absence, then and always, from Mr. Browning's mind. But
he was emphatic in his assurance that he knew neither the German
philosophers nor their reflection in Coleridge, who would have seemed a
likely medium between them and him. Miss Martineau once said to him
that he had no need to study German thought, since his mind was German
enough--by which she possibly meant too German--already.

The poem also impresses us by a Gothic richness of detail,* the
picturesque counterpart of its intricacy of thought, and, perhaps for
this very reason, never so fully displayed in any subsequent work. Mr.
Browning's genuinely modest attitude towards it could not preclude
the consciousness of the many imaginative beauties which its unpopular
character had served to conceal; and he was glad to find, some years
ago, that 'Sordello' was represented in a collection of descriptive
passages which a friend of his was proposing to make. 'There is a great
deal of that in it,' he said, 'and it has always been overlooked.'

     * The term Gothic has been applied to Mr. Browning's work, I
     believe, by Mr. James Thomson, in writing of 'The Ring and
     the Book', and I do not like to use it without saying so.
     But it is one of those which must have spontaneously
     suggested themselves to many other of Mr. Browning's
     readers.

It was unfortunate that new difficulties of style should have added
themselves on this occasion to those of subject and treatment; and the
reason of it is not generally known. Mr. John Sterling had made some
comments on the wording of 'Paracelsus'; and Miss Caroline Fox, then
quite a young woman, repeated them, with additions, to Miss Haworth,
who, in her turn, communicated them to Mr. Browning, but without making
quite clear to him the source from which they sprang. He took the
criticism much more seriously than it deserved, and condensed the
language of this his next important publication into what was nearly its
present form.

In leaving 'Sordello' we emerge from the self-conscious stage of Mr.
Browning's imagination, and his work ceases to be autobiographic in the
sense in which, perhaps erroneously, we have hitherto felt it to be.
'Festus' and 'Salinguerra' have already given promise of the world of
'Men and Women' into which he will now conduct us. They will be inspired
by every variety of conscious motive, but never again by the old (real
or imagined) self-centred, self-directing Will. We have, indeed, already
lost the sense of disparity between the man and the poet; for the
Browning of 'Sordello' was growing older, while the defects of the poem
were in many respects those of youth. In 'Pippa Passes', published one
year later, the poet and the man show themselves full-grown. Each has
entered on the inheritance of the other.

Neither the imagination nor the passion of what Mr. Gosse so fitly calls
this 'lyrical masque'* gives much scope for tenderness; but the quality
of humour is displayed in it for the first time; as also a strongly
marked philosophy of life--or more properly, of association--from
which its idea and development are derived. In spite, however, of these
evidences of general maturity, Mr. Browning was still sometimes boyish
in personal intercourse, if we may judge from a letter to Miss Flower
written at about the same time.

     * These words, and a subsequent paragraph, are quoted from
     Mr. Gosse's 'Personalia'.


Monday night, March 9 (? 1841).

My dear Miss Flower,--I have this moment received your very kind
note--of course, I understand your objections. How else? But they are
somewhat lightened already (confess--nay 'confess' is vile--you will
be rejoiced to holla from the house-top)--will go on, or rather go
off, lightening, and will be--oh, where _will_ they be half a dozen years
hence?

Meantime praise what you can praise, do me all the good you can, you and
Mr. Fox (as if you will not!) for I have a head full of projects--mean
to song-write, play-write forthwith,--and, believe me, dear Miss Flower,
Yours ever faithfully, Robert Browning.

By the way, you speak of 'Pippa'--could we not make some arrangement
about it? The lyrics _want_ your music--five or six in all--how say you?
When these three plays are out I hope to build a huge Ode--but 'all
goeth by God's Will.'


The loyal Alfred Domett now appears on the scene with a satirical poem,
inspired by an impertinent criticism on his friend. I give its first two
verses:


On a Certain Critique on 'Pippa Passes'.

(Query--Passes what?--the critic's comprehension.)

     Ho! everyone that by the nose is led,
     Automatons of which the world is full,
     Ye myriad bodies, each without a head,
     That dangle from a critic's brainless skull,
     Come, hearken to a deep discovery made,
     A mighty truth now wondrously displayed.

     A black squat beetle, vigorous for his size,
     Pushing tail-first by every road that's wrong
     The dung-ball of his dirty thoughts along
     His tiny sphere of grovelling sympathies--
     Has knocked himself full-butt, with blundering trouble,
     Against a mountain he can neither double
     Nor ever hope to scale.  So like a free,
     Pert, self-conceited scarabaeus, he
     Takes it into his horny head to swear
     There's no such thing as any mountain there.

The writer lived to do better things from a literary point of view; but
these lines have a fine ring of youthful indignation which must have
made them a welcome tribute to friendship.

There seems to have been little respectful criticism of 'Pippa Passes';
it is less surprising that there should have been very little of
'Sordello'. Mr. Browning, it is true, retained a limited number of
earnest appreciators, foremost of whom was the writer of an admirable
notice of these two works, quoted from an 'Eclectic Review' of 1847, in
Dr. Furnivall's 'Bibliography'. I am also told that the series of poems
which was next to appear was enthusiastically greeted by some poets
and painters of the pre-Raphaelite school; but he was now entering on
a period of general neglect, which covered nearly twenty years of his
life, and much that has since become most deservedly popular in his
work.

'Pippa Passes' had appeared as the first instalment of 'Bells and
Pomegranates', the history of which I give in Mr. Gosse's words. This
poem, and the two tragedies, 'King Victor and King Charles' and 'The
Return of the Druses'--first christened 'Mansoor, the Hierophant'--were
lying idle in Mr. Browning's desk. He had not found, perhaps not very
vigorously sought, a publisher for them.


'One day, as the poet was discussing the matter with Mr. Edward Moxon,
the publisher, the latter remarked that at that time he was bringing out
some editions of the old Elizabethan dramatists in a comparatively
cheap form, and that if Mr. Browning would consent to print his poems
as pamphlets, using this cheap type, the expense would be very
inconsiderable. The poet jumped at the idea, and it was agreed that each
poem should form a separate brochure of just one sheet--sixteen pages
in double columns--the entire cost of which should not exceed twelve or
fifteen pounds. In this fashion began the celebrated series of 'Bells
and Pomegranates', eight numbers of which, a perfect treasury of fine
poetry, came out successively between 1841 and 1846. 'Pippa Passes'
led the way, and was priced first at sixpence; then, the sale being
inconsiderable, at a shilling, which greatly encouraged the sale;
and so, slowly, up to half-a-crown, at which the price of each number
finally rested.'


Mr. Browning's hopes and intentions with respect to this series are
announced in the following preface to 'Pippa Passes', of which, in later
editions, only the dedicatory words appear:


'Two or three years ago I wrote a Play, about which the chief matter I
care to recollect at present is, that a Pit-full of good-natured people
applauded it:--ever since, I have been desirous of doing something in
the same way that should better reward their attention. What follows
I mean for the first of a series of Dramatical Pieces, to come out at
intervals, and I amuse myself by fancying that the cheap mode in which
they appear will for once help me to a sort of Pit-audience again.
Of course, such a work must go on no longer than it is liked; and to
provide against a certain and but too possible contingency, let me
hasten to say now--what, if I were sure of success, I would try to say
circumstantially enough at the close--that I dedicate my best intentions
most admiringly to the author of "Ion"--most affectionately to Serjeant
Talfourd.'


A necessary explanation of the general title was reserved for the last
number: and does something towards justifying the popular impression
that Mr. Browning exacted a large measure of literary insight from his
readers.


'Here ends my first series of "Bells and Pomegranates": and I take the
opportunity of explaining, in reply to inquiries, that I only meant
by that title to indicate an endeavour towards something like an
alternation, or mixture, of music with discoursing, sound with sense,
poetry with thought; which looks too ambitious, thus expressed, so the
symbol was preferred. It is little to the purpose, that such is
actually one of the most familiar of the many Rabbinical (and Patristic)
acceptations of the phrase; because I confess that, letting authority
alone, I supposed the bare words, in such juxtaposition, would
sufficiently convey the desired meaning. "Faith and good works" is
another fancy, for instance, and perhaps no easier to arrive at: yet
Giotto placed a pomegranate fruit in the hand of Dante, and Raffaelle
crowned his Theology (in the 'Camera della Segnatura') with blossoms of
the same; as if the Bellari and Vasari would be sure to come after,
and explain that it was merely "simbolo delle buone opere--il qual
Pomogranato fu pero usato nelle vesti del Pontefice appresso gli
Ebrei."'


The Dramas and Poems contained in the eight numbers of 'Bells and
Pomegranates' were:

    I.  Pippa Passes.  1841.
   II.  King Victor and King Charles.  1842.
  III.  Dramatic Lyrics.  1842.
          Cavalier Tunes; I. Marching Along; II. Give a Rouse;
            III. My Wife Gertrude.  ['Boot and Saddle'.]
          Italy and France; I. Italy; II. France.
          Camp and Cloister; I. Camp (French); II. Cloister (Spanish).
          In a Gondola.
          Artemis Prologuizes.
          Waring; I.; II.
          Queen Worship; I. Rudel and The Lady of Tripoli; II. Cristina.
          Madhouse Cells; I. [Johannes Agricola.]; II. [Porphyria.]
          Through the Metidja to Abd-el-Kadr.  1842.
          The Pied Piper of Hamelin; a Child's Story.
   IV.  The Return of the Druses.  A Tragedy, in Five Acts.  1843.
    V.  A Blot in the 'Scutcheon.  A Tragedy, in Three Acts.  1843.
          [Second Edition, same year.]
   VI.  Colombe's Birthday.  A Play, in Five Acts.  1844.
  VII.  Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.  1845.
          'How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.  (16--.)'
          Pictor Ignotus.  (Florence, 15--.)
          Italy in England.
          England in Italy.  (Piano di Sorrento.)
          The Lost Leader.
          The Lost Mistress.
          Home Thoughts, from Abroad.
          The Tomb at St. Praxed's:  (Rome, 15--.)
          Garden Fancies; I. The Flower's Name;
            II. Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis.
          France and Spain; I. The Laboratory (Ancien Regime);
            II. Spain--The Confessional.
          The Flight of the Duchess.
          Earth's Immortalities.
          Song.  ('Nay but you, who do not love her.')
          The Boy and the Angel.
          Night and Morning; I. Night; II. Morning.
          Claret and Tokay.
          Saul.  (Part I.)
          Time's Revenges.
          The Glove.  (Peter Ronsard loquitur.)
 VIII. and last.  Luria; and A Soul's Tragedy.  1846.


This publication has seemed entitled to a detailed notice, because it is
practically extinct, and because its nature and circumstance confer on
it a biographical interest not possessed by any subsequent issue of Mr.
Browning's works. The dramas and poems of which it is composed belong to
that more mature period of the author's life, in which the analysis of
his work ceases to form a necessary part of his history. Some few of
them, however, are significant to it; and this is notably the case with
'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon'.



Chapter 8

1841-1844

'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon'--Letters to Mr. Frank Hill; Lady
Martin--Charles Dickens--Other Dramas and Minor Poems--Letters to Miss
Lee; Miss Haworth; Miss Flower--Second Italian Journey; Naples--E. J.
Trelawney--Stendhal.



'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' was written for Macready, who meant to
perform the principal part; and we may conclude that the appeal for it
was urgent, since it was composed in the space of four or five days.
Macready's journals must have contained a fuller reference to both the
play and its performance (at Drury Lane, February 1843) than appears in
published form; but considerable irritation had arisen between him and
Mr. Browning, and he possibly wrote something which his editor, Sir
Frederick Pollock, as the friend of both, thought it best to omit. What
occurred on this occasion has been told in some detail by Mr. Gosse, and
would not need repeating if the question were only of re-telling it on
the same authority, in another person's words; but, through the kindness
of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hill, I am able to give Mr. Browning's direct
statement of the case, as also his expressed judgment upon it. The
statement was made more than forty years later than the events to
which it refers, but will, nevertheless, be best given in its direct
connection with them.

The merits, or demerits, of 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' had been freshly
brought under discussion by its performance in London through the action
of the Browning Society, and in Washington by Mr. Laurence Barrett; and
it became the subject of a paragraph in one of the theatrical articles
prepared for the 'Daily News'. Mr. Hill was then editor of the paper,
and when the article came to him for revision, he thought it right
to submit to Mr. Browning the passages devoted to his tragedy, which
embodied some then prevailing, but, he strongly suspected, erroneous
impressions concerning it. The results of this kind and courteous
proceeding appear in the following letter.


19, Warwick Crescent: December 15, 1884.

My dear Mr. Hill,--It was kind and considerate of you to suppress the
paragraph which you send me,--and of which the publication would
have been unpleasant for reasons quite other than as regarding my own
work,--which exists to defend or accuse itself. You will judge of the
true reasons when I tell you the facts--so much of them as contradicts
the statements of your critic--who, I suppose, has received a stimulus
from the notice, in an American paper which arrived last week, of
Mr. Laurence Barrett's intention 'shortly to produce the play' in New
York--and subsequently in London: so that 'the failure' of forty-one
years ago might be duly influential at present--or two years hence
perhaps. The 'mere amateurs' are no high game.

Macready received and accepted the play, while he was engaged at the
Haymarket, and retained it for Drury Lane, of which I was ignorant that
he was about to become the manager: he accepted it 'at the instigation'
of nobody,--and Charles Dickens was not in England when he did so: it
was read to him after his return, by Forster--and the glowing letter
which contains his opinion of it, although directed by him to be shown
to myself, was never heard of nor seen by me till printed in Forster's
book some thirty years after. When the Drury Lane season began, Macready
informed me that he should act the play when he had brought out two
others--'The Patrician's Daughter', and 'Plighted Troth': having
done so, he wrote to me that the former had been unsuccessful in
money-drawing, and the latter had 'smashed his arrangements altogether':
but he would still produce my play. I had--in my ignorance of certain
symptoms better understood by Macready's professional acquaintances--I
had no notion that it was a proper thing, in such a case, to 'release
him from his promise'; on the contrary, I should have fancied that such
a proposal was offensive. Soon after, Macready begged that I would call
on him: he said the play had been read to the actors the day before,
'and laughed at from beginning to end': on my speaking my mind about
this, he explained that the reading had been done by the Prompter, a
grotesque person with a red nose and wooden leg, ill at ease in the love
scenes, and that he would himself make amends by reading the play next
morning--which he did, and very adequately--but apprised me that, in
consequence of the state of his mind, harassed by business and various
trouble, the principal character must be taken by Mr. Phelps; and again
I failed to understand,--what Forster subsequently assured me was plain
as the sun at noonday,--that to allow at Macready's Theatre any
other than Macready to play the principal part in a new piece was
suicidal,--and really believed I was meeting his exigencies by accepting
the substitution. At the rehearsal, Macready announced that Mr.
Phelps was ill, and that he himself would read the part: on the third
rehearsal, Mr. Phelps appeared for the first time, and sat in a chair
while Macready more than read, rehearsed the part. The next morning Mr.
Phelps waylaid me at the stage-door to say, with much emotion, that it
never was intended that _he_ should be instrumental in the success of a
new tragedy, and that Macready would play Tresham on the ground that
himself, Phelps, was unable to do so. He added that he could not expect
me to waive such an advantage,--but that, if I were prepared to waive
it, 'he would take ether, sit up all night, and have the words in his
memory by next day.' I bade him follow me to the green-room, and hear
what I decided upon--which was that as Macready had given him the part,
he should keep it: this was on a Thursday; he rehearsed on Friday and
Saturday,--the play being acted the same evening,--_of the fifth day
after the 'reading' by MacReady_. Macready at once wished to reduce the
importance of the 'play',--as he styled it in the bills,--tried to leave
out so much of the text, that I baffled him by getting it printed in
four-and-twenty hours, by Moxon's assistance. He wanted me to call it
'The Sister'!--and I have before me, while I write, the stage-acting
copy, with two lines of his own insertion to avoid the tragical
ending--Tresham was to announce his intention of going into a monastery!
all this, to keep up the belief that Macready, and Macready alone, could
produce a veritable 'tragedy', unproduced before. Not a shilling was
spent on scenery or dresses--and a striking scene which had been used
for the 'Patrician's Daughter', did duty a second time. If your critic
considers this treatment of the play an instance of 'the failure of
powerful and experienced actors' to ensure its success,--I can only say
that my own opinion was shown by at once breaking off a friendship of
many years--a friendship which had a right to be plainly and simply told
that the play I had contributed as a proof of it, would through a change
of circumstances, no longer be to my friend's advantage,--all I could
possibly care for. Only recently, when by the publication of Macready's
journals the extent of his pecuniary embarrassments at that time
was made known, could I in a measure understand his motives for such
conduct--and less than ever understand why he so strangely disguised and
disfigured them. If 'applause' means success, the play thus maimed
and maltreated was successful enough: it 'made way' for Macready's own
Benefit, and the Theatre closed a fortnight after.

Having kept silence for all these years, in spite of repeated
explanations, in the style of your critic's, that the play 'failed in
spite of the best endeavours' &c. I hardly wish to revive a very painful
matter: on the other hand,--as I have said; my play subsists, and is as
open to praise or blame as it was forty-one years ago: is it necessary
to search out what somebody or other,--not improbably a jealous adherent
of Macready, 'the only organizer of theatrical victories', chose to say
on the subject? If the characters are 'abhorrent' and 'inscrutable'--and
the language conformable,--they were so when Dickens pronounced
upon them, and will be so whenever the critic pleases to re-consider
them--which, if he ever has an opportunity of doing, apart from the
printed copy, I can assure you is through no motion of mine. This
particular experience was sufficient: but the Play is out of my power
now; though amateurs and actors may do what they please.

Of course, this being the true story, I should desire that it were told
_thus_ and no otherwise, if it must be told at all: but _not_ as a statement
of mine,--the substance of it has been partly stated already by more
than one qualified person, and if I have been willing to let the poor
matter drop, surely there is no need that it should be gone into now
when Macready and his Athenaeum upholder are no longer able to speak
for themselves: this is just a word to you, dear Mr. Hill, and may be
brought under the notice of your critic if you think proper--but only
for the facts--not as a communication for the public.

Yes, thank you, I am in full health, as you wish--and I wish you and
Mrs. Hill, I assure you, all the good appropriate to the season. My
sister has completely recovered from her illness, and is grateful for
your enquiries.

With best regards to Mrs. Hill, and an apology for this long letter,
which however,--when once induced to write it,--I could not well
shorten,--believe me, Yours truly ever Robert Browning.


I well remember Mr. Browning's telling me how, when he returned to the
green-room, on that critical day, he drove his hat more firmly on to his
head, and said to Macready, 'I beg pardon, sir, but you have given the
part to Mr. Phelps, and I am satisfied that he should act it;' and how
Macready, on hearing this, crushed up the MS., and flung it on to the
ground. He also admitted that his own manner had been provocative; but
he was indignant at what he deemed the unjust treatment which Mr. Phelps
had received. The occasion of the next letter speaks for itself.


December 21, 1884.

My dear Mr. Hill,--Your goodness must extend to letting me have the last
word--one of sincere thanks. You cannot suppose I doubted for a moment
of a good-will which I have had abundant proof of. I only took the
occasion your considerate letter gave me, to tell the simple truth which
my forty years' silence is a sign I would only tell on compulsion. I
never thought your critic had any less generous motive for alluding to
the performance as he did than that which he professes: he doubtless
heard the account of the matter which Macready and his intimates gave
currency to at the time; and which, being confined for a while to their
limited number, I never chose to notice. But of late years I have got to
_read_,--not merely _hear_,--of the play's failure 'which all the efforts
of my friend the great actor could not avert;' and the nonsense of this
untruth gets hard to bear. I told you the principal facts in the letter
I very hastily wrote: I could, had it been worth while, corroborate them
by others in plenty, and refer to the living witnesses--Lady Martin,
Mrs. Stirling, and (I believe) Mr. Anderson: it was solely through the
admirable loyalty of the two former that . . . a play . . . deprived
of every advantage, in the way of scenery, dresses, and
rehearsing--proved--what Macready himself declared it to be--'a complete
success'. _So_ he sent a servant to tell me, 'in case there was a call for
the author at the end of the act'--to which I replied that the author
had been too sick and sorry at the whole treatment of his play to do any
such thing. Such a call there truly _was_, and Mr. Anderson had to come
forward and 'beg the author to come forward if he were in the house--a
circumstance of which he was not aware:' whereat the author laughed at
him from a box just opposite. . . . I would submit to anybody drawing a
conclusion from one or two facts past contradiction, whether that play
could have thoroughly failed which was not only not withdrawn at
once but acted three nights in the same week, and years afterwards,
reproduced at his own theatre, during my absence in Italy, by Mr.
Phelps--the person most completely aware of the untoward circumstances
which stood originally in the way of success. Why not enquire how it
happens that, this second time, there was no doubt of the play's doing
as well as plays ordinarily do? for those were not the days of a 'run'.

. . . . .

. . . This 'last word' has indeed been an Aristophanic one of fifty
syllables: but I have spoken it, relieved myself, and commend all that
concerns me to the approved and valued friend of whom I am proud to
account myself in corresponding friendship, His truly ever Robert
Browning.


Mr. Browning also alludes to Mr. Phelps's acting as not only not having
been detrimental to the play, but having helped to save it, in the
conspiracy of circumstances which seemed to invoke its failure. This was
a mistake, since Macready had been anxious to resume the part, and would
have saved it, to say the least, more thoroughly. It must, however, be
remembered that the irritation which these letters express was due much
less to the nature of the facts recorded in them than to the manner in
which they had been brought before Mr. Browning's mind. Writing on the
subject to Lady Martin in February 1881, he had spoken very temperately
of Macready's treatment of his play, while deprecating the injustice
towards his own friendship which its want of frankness involved: and
many years before this, the touch of a common sorrow had caused the old
feeling, at least momentarily, to well up again. The two met for the
first time after these occurrences when Mr. Browning had returned, a
widower, from Italy. Mr. Macready, too, had recently lost his wife; and
Mr. Browning could only start forward, grasp the hand of his old friend,
and in a voice choked with emotion say, 'O Macready!'

Lady Martin has spoken to me of the poet's attitude on the occasion of
this performance as being full of generous sympathy for those who were
working with him, as well as of the natural anxiety of a young author
for his own success. She also remains convinced that this sympathy led
him rather to over-than to under-rate the support he received. She wrote
concerning it in 'Blackwood's Magazine', March 1881:


'It seems but yesterday that I sat by his [Mr. Elton's] side in the
green-room at the reading of Robert Browning's beautiful drama, 'A Blot
in the 'Scutcheon'. As a rule Mr. Macready always read the new plays.
But owing, I suppose, to some press of business, the task was entrusted
on this occasion to the head prompter,--a clever man in his way, but
wholly unfitted to bring out, or even to understand, Mr. Browning's
meaning. Consequently, the delicate, subtle lines were twisted,
perverted, and sometimes even made ridiculous in his hands. My "cruel
father" [Mr. Elton] was a warm admirer of the poet. He sat writhing and
indignant, and tried by gentle asides to make me see the real meaning of
the verse. But somehow the mischief proved irreparable, for a few of
the actors during the rehearsals chose to continue to misunderstand the
text, and never took the interest in the play which they would have done
had Mr. Macready read it.'


Looking back on the first appearance of his tragedy through the widening
perspectives of nearly forty years, Mr. Browning might well declare as
he did in the letter to Lady Martin to which I have just referred, that
her '_perfect_ behaviour as a woman' and her 'admirable playing as an
actress' had been (or at all events were) to him 'the one gratifying
circumstance connected with it.'

He also felt it a just cause of bitterness that the letter from Charles
Dickens,* which conveyed his almost passionate admiration of 'A Blot in
the 'Scutcheon', and was clearly written to Mr. Forster in order that
it might be seen, was withheld for thirty years from his knowledge, and
that of the public whose judgment it might so largely have influenced.
Nor was this the only time in the poet's life that fairly earned honours
escaped him.

     * See Forster's 'Life of Dickens'.

'Colombe's Birthday' was produced in 1853 at the Haymarket;* and
afterwards in the provinces, under the direction of Miss Helen Faucit,
who created the principal part. It was again performed for the Browning
Society in 1885,** and although Miss Alma Murray, as Colombe, was almost
entirely supported by amateurs, the result fully justified Miss
Mary Robinson (now Madame James Darmesteter) in writing immediately
afterwards in the Boston 'Literary World':***

     * Also in 1853 or 1854 at Boston.

     ** It had been played by amateurs, members of the Browning
     Society, and their friends, at the house of Mr. Joseph King,
     in January 1882.

     *** December 12, 1885; quoted in Mr. Arthur Symons'
     'Introduction to the Study of Browning'.


'"Colombe's Birthday" is charming on the boards, clearer, more direct in
action, more full of delicate surprises than one imagines it in print.
With a very little cutting it could be made an excellent acting play.'


Mr. Gosse has seen a first edition copy of it marked for acting, and
alludes in his 'Personalia' to the greatly increased knowledge of the
stage which its minute directions displayed. They told also of sad
experience in the sacrifice of the poet which the play-writer so often
exacts: since they included the proviso that unless a very good Valence
could be found, a certain speech of his should be left out. That speech
is very important to the poetic, and not less to the moral, purpose
of the play: the triumph of unworldly affections. It is that in which
Valence defies the platitudes so often launched against rank and power,
and shows that these may be very beautiful things--in which he pleads
for his rival, and against his own heart. He is the better man of
the two, and Colombe has fallen genuinely in love with him. But the
instincts of sovereignty are not outgrown in one day however eventful,
and the young duchess has shown herself amply endowed with them. The
Prince's offer promised much, and it held still more. The time may come
when she will need that crowning memory of her husband's unselfishness
and truth, not to regret what she has done.

'King Victor and King Charles' and 'The Return of the Druses' are both
admitted by competent judges to have good qualifications for the stage;
and Mr. Browning would have preferred seeing one of these acted to
witnessing the revival of 'Strafford' or 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon',
from neither of which the best amateur performance could remove the
stigma of past, real or reputed, failure; and when once a friend
belonging to the Browning Society told him she had been seriously
occupied with the possibility of producing the Eastern play, he assented
to the idea with a simplicity that was almost touching, 'It _was_ written
for the stage,' he said, 'and has only one scene.' He knew, however,
that the single scene was far from obviating all the difficulties of
the case, and that the Society, with its limited means, did the best it
could.

I seldom hear any allusion to a passage in 'King Victor and King
Charles' which I think more than rivals the famous utterance of Valence,
revealing as it does the same grasp of non-conventional truth, while its
occasion lends itself to a far deeper recognition of the mystery,
the frequent hopeless dilemma of our moral life. It is that in which
Polixena, the wife of Charles, entreats him for _duty's_ sake to retain
the crown, though he will earn, by so doing, neither the credit of a
virtuous deed nor the sure, persistent consciousness of having performed
one.

Four poems of the 'Dramatic Lyrics' had appeared, as I have said, in the
'Monthly Repository'. Six of those included in the 'Dramatic Lyrics and
Romances' were first published in 'Hood's Magazine' from June 1844
to April 1845, a month before Hood's death. These poems were, 'The
Laboratory', 'Claret and Tokay', 'Garden Fancies', 'The Boy and the
Angel', 'The Tomb at St. Praxed's', and 'The Flight of the Duchess'. Mr.
Hood's health had given way under stress of work, and Mr. Browning
with other friends thus came forward to help him. The fact deserves
remembering in connection with his subsequent unbroken rule never to
write for magazines. He might always have made exceptions for friendly
or philanthropic objects; the appearance of 'Herve Riel' in the
'Cornhill Magazine', 1870, indeed proves that it was so. But the offer
of a blank cheque would not have tempted him, for his own sake, to this
concession, as he would have deemed it, of his integrity of literary
purpose.

'In a Gondola' grew out of a single verse extemporized for a picture by
Maclise, in what circumstances we shall hear in the poet's own words.

The first proof of 'Artemis Prologuizes' had the following note:


'I had better say perhaps that the above is nearly all retained of a
tragedy I composed, much against my endeavour, while in bed with a fever
two years ago--it went farther into the story of Hippolytus and Aricia;
but when I got well, putting only thus much down at once, I soon forgot
the remainder.'*

     * When Mr. Browning gave me these supplementary details for
     the 'Handbook', he spoke as if his illness had interrupted
     the work, not preceded its conception.  The real fact is, I
     think, the more striking.

Mr. Browning would have been very angry with himself if he had known he
ever wrote 'I _had_ better'; and the punctuation of this note, as well as
of every other unrevised specimen which we possess of his early writing,
helps to show by what careful study of the literary art he must have
acquired his subsequent mastery of it.

'Cristina' was addressed in fancy to the Spanish queen. It is to be
regretted that the poem did not remain under its original heading of
'Queen Worship': as this gave a practical clue to the nature of the love
described, and the special remoteness of its object.

'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' and another poem were written in May 1842
for Mr. Macready's little eldest son, Willy, who was confined to the
house by illness, and who was to amuse himself by illustrating the poems
as well as reading them;* and the first of these, though not intended
for publication, was added to the 'Dramatic Lyrics', because some
columns of that number of 'Bells and Pomegranates' still required
filling. It is perhaps not known that the second was 'Crescentius, the
Pope's Legate': now included in 'Asolando'.

     * Miss Browning has lately found some of the illustrations,
     and the touching childish letter together with which
     her brother received them.

Mr. Browning's father had himself begun a rhymed story on the subject of
'The Pied Piper'; but left it unfinished when he discovered that his son
was writing one. The fragment survives as part of a letter addressed to
Mr. Thomas Powell, and which I have referred to as in the possession of
Mr. Dykes Campbell.

'The Lost Leader' has given rise to periodical questionings continued
until the present day, as to the person indicated in its title. Mr.
Browning answered or anticipated them fifteen years ago in a letter to
Miss Lee, of West Peckham, Maidstone. It was his reply to an application
in verse made to him in their very young days by herself and two other
members of her family, the manner of which seems to have unusually
pleased him.


Villers-sur-mer, Calvados, France: September 7, '75.

Dear Friends,--Your letter has made a round to reach me--hence the delay
in replying to it--which you will therefore pardon. I have been asked
the question you put to me--tho' never asked so poetically and so
pleasantly--I suppose a score of times: and I can only answer, with
something of shame and contrition, that I undoubtedly had Wordsworth in
my mind--but simply as 'a model'; you know, an artist takes one or two
striking traits in the features of his 'model', and uses them to start
his fancy on a flight which may end far enough from the good man or
woman who happens to be 'sitting' for nose and eye.

I thought of the great Poet's abandonment of liberalism, at an unlucky
juncture, and no repaying consequence that I could ever see. But--once
call my fancy-portrait 'Wordsworth'--and how much more ought one to
say,--how much more would not I have attempted to say!

There is my apology, dear friends, and your acceptance of it will
confirm me Truly yours, Robert Browning.


Some fragments of correspondence, not all very interesting, and his
own allusion to an attack of illness, are our only record of the poet's
general life during the interval which separated the publication of
'Pippa Passes' from his second Italian journey.

An undated letter to Miss Haworth probably refers to the close of 1841.


'. . . I am getting to love painting as I did once. Do you know I was
a young wonder (as are eleven out of the dozen of us) at drawing? My
father had faith in me, and over yonder in a drawer of mine lies, I
well know, a certain cottage and rocks in lead pencil and black currant
jam-juice (paint being rank poison, as they said when I sucked my
brushes) with his (my father's) note in one corner, "R. B., aetat. two
years three months." "How fast, alas, our days we spend--How vain
they be, how soon they end!" I am going to print "Victor", however, by
February, and there is one thing not so badly painted in there--oh, let
me tell you. I chanced to call on Forster the other day, and he pressed
me into committing verse on the instant, not the minute, in Maclise's
behalf, who has wrought a divine Venetian work, it seems, for the
British Institution. Forster described it well--but I could do nothing
better, than this wooden ware--(all the "properties", as we say, were
given, and the problem was how to catalogue them in rhyme and unreason).

     I send my heart up to thee, all my heart
     In this my singing!
     For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
     The very night is clinging
     Closer to Venice' streets to leave me space
     Above me, whence thy face
     May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.

Singing and stars and night and Venice streets and joyous heart, are
properties, do you please to see. And now tell me, is this below the
average of catalogue original poetry? Tell me--for to that end of being
told, I write. . . . I dined with dear Carlyle and his wife (catch
me calling people "dear" in a hurry, except in letter-beginnings!)
yesterday. I don't know any people like them. There was a son of Burns
there, Major Burns whom Macready knows--he sung "Of all the airts",
"John Anderson", and another song of his father's. . . .'


In the course of 1842 he wrote the following note to Miss Flower,
evidently relating to the publication of her 'Hymns and Anthems'.


New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey: Tuesday morning.

Dear Miss Flower,--I am sorry for what must grieve Mr. Fox; for myself,
I beg him earnestly not to see me till his entire convenience, however
pleased I shall be to receive the letter you promise on his part.

And how can I thank you enough for this good news--all this music I
shall be so thoroughly gratified to hear? Ever yours faithfully, Robert
Browning.


His last letter to her was written in 1845; the subject being a concert
of her own sacred music which she was about to give; and again, although
more slightly, I anticipate the course of events, in order to give it
in its natural connection with the present one. Mr. Browning was
now engaged to be married, and the last ring of youthful levity had
disappeared from his tone; but neither the new happiness nor the new
responsibility had weakened his interest in his boyhood's friend. Miss
Flower must then have been slowly dying, and the closing words of the
letter have the solemnity of a last farewell.


Sunday.

Dear Miss Flower,--I was very foolishly surprized at the sorrowful
finical notice you mention: foolishly; for, God help us, how else is
it with all critics of everything--don't I hear them talk and see them
write? I dare-say he admires you as he said.

For me, I never had another feeling than entire admiration for your
music--entire admiration--I put it apart from all other English music I
know, and fully believe in it as _the_ music we all waited for.

Of your health I shall not trust myself to speak: you must know what
is unspoken. I should have been most happy to see you if but for a
minute--and if next Wednesday, I might take your hand for a moment.--

But you would concede that, if it were right, remembering what is now
very old friendship. May God bless you for ever (The signature has been
cut off.)


In the autumn of 1844 Mr. Browning set forth for Italy, taking ship, it
is believed, direct to Naples. Here he made the acquaintance of a young
Neapolitan gentleman who had spent most of his life in Paris; and they
became such good friends that they proceeded to Rome together. Mr.
Scotti was an invaluable travelling companion, for he engaged their
conveyance, and did all such bargaining in their joint interest as the
habits of his country required. 'As I write,' Mr. Browning said in a
letter to his sister, 'I hear him disputing our bill in the next room.
He does not see why we should pay for six wax candles when we have
used only two.' At Rome they spent most of their evenings with an
old acquaintance of Mr. Browning's, then Countess Carducci, and she
pronounced Mr. Scotti the handsomest man she had ever seen. He certainly
bore no appearance of being the least prosperous. But he blew out his
brains soon after he and his new friend had parted; and I do not think
the act was ever fully accounted for.

It must have been on his return journey that Mr. Browning went to
Leghorn to see Edward John Trelawney, to whom he carried a letter of
introduction. He described the interview long afterwards to Mr. Val
Prinsep, but chiefly in his impressions of the cool courage which Mr.
Trelawney had displayed during its course. A surgeon was occupied all
the time in probing his leg for a bullet which had been lodged there
some years before, and had lately made itself felt; and he showed
himself absolutely indifferent to the pain of the operation. Mr.
Browning's main object in paying the visit had been, naturally, to speak
with one who had known Byron and been the last to see Shelley alive; but
we only hear of the two poets that they formed in part the subject
of their conversation. He reached England, again, we suppose, through
Germany--since he avoided Paris as before.

It has been asserted by persons otherwise well informed, that on this,
if not on his previous Italian journey, Mr. Browning became acquainted
with Stendhal, then French Consul at Civita Vecchia, and that he imbibed
from the great novelist a taste for curiosities of Italian family
history, which ultimately led him in the direction of the Franceschini
case. It is certain that he profoundly admired this writer, and if he
was not, at some time or other, introduced to him it was because the
opportunity did not occur. But there is abundant evidence that no
introduction took place, and quite sufficient proof that none was
possible. Stendhal died in Paris in March 1842; and granting that he was
at Civita Vecchia when the poet made his earlier voyage--no certainty
even while he held the appointment--the ship cannot have touched there
on its way to Trieste. It is also a mistake to suppose that Mr. Browning
was specially interested in ancient chronicles, as such. This was one of
the points on which he distinctly differed from his father. He took his
dramatic subjects wherever he found them, and any historical research
which they ultimately involved was undertaken for purposes of
verification. 'Sordello' alone may have been conceived on a rather
different plan, and I have no authority whatever for admitting that it
was so. The discovery of the record of the Franceschini case was, as its
author has everywhere declared, an accident.

A single relic exists for us of this visit to the South--a shell picked
up, according to its inscription, on one of the Syren Isles, October
4, 1844; but many of its reminiscences are embodied in that vivid and
charming picture 'The Englishman in Italy', which appeared in the 'Bells
and Pomegranates' number for the following year. Naples always remained
a bright spot in the poet's memory; and if it had been, like Asolo, his
first experience of Italy, it must have drawn him in later years the
more powerfully of the two. At one period, indeed, he dreamed of it as a
home for his declining days.



Chapter 9

1844-1849

Introduction to Miss Barrett--Engagement--Motives for
Secrecy--Marriage--Journey to Italy--Extract of Letter from
Mr. Fox--Mrs. Browning's Letters to Miss Mitford--Life at
Pisa--Vallombrosa--Florence; Mr. Powers; Miss Boyle--Proposed British
Mission to the Vatican--Father Prout--Palazzo Guidi--Fano; Ancona--'A
Blot in the 'Scutcheon' at Sadler's Wells.



During his recent intercourse with the Browning family Mr. Kenyon had
often spoken of his invalid cousin, Elizabeth Barrett,* and had given
them copies of her works; and when the poet returned to England, late in
1844, he saw the volume containing 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship', which
had appeared during his absence. On hearing him express his admiration
of it, Mr. Kenyon begged him to write to Miss Barrett, and himself tell
her how the poems had impressed him; 'for,' he added, 'my cousin is a
great invalid, and sees no one, but great souls jump at sympathy.'
Mr. Browning did write, and, a few months, probably, after the
correspondence had been established, begged to be allowed to visit
her. She at first refused this, on the score of her delicate health and
habitual seclusion, emphasizing the refusal by words of such touching
humility and resignation that I cannot refrain from quoting them. 'There
is nothing to see in me, nothing to hear in me. I am a weed fit for the
ground and darkness.' But her objections were overcome, and their first
interview sealed Mr. Browning's fate.

     * Properly E. Barrett Moulton-Barrett.  The first of these
     surnames was that originally borne by the family, but
     dropped on the annexation of the second.  It has now for
     some years been resumed.

There is no cause for surprize in the passionate admiration with
which Miss Barrett so instantly inspired him. To begin with, he was
heart-whole. It would be too much to affirm that, in the course of his
thirty-two years, he had never met with a woman whom he could entirely
love; but if he had, it was not under circumstances which favoured the
growth of such a feeling. She whom he now saw for the first time had
long been to him one of the greatest of living poets; she was learned as
women seldom were in those days. It must have been apparent, in the most
fugitive contact, that her moral nature was as exquisite as her mind
was exceptional. She looked much younger than her age, which he only
recently knew to have been six years beyond his own; and her face was
filled with beauty by the large, expressive eyes. The imprisoned love
within her must unconsciously have leapt to meet his own. It would have
been only natural that he should grow into the determination to devote
his life to hers, or be swept into an offer of marriage by a sudden
impulse which his after-judgment would condemn. Neither of these things
occurred. The offer was indeed made under a sudden and overmastering
impulse. But it was persistently repeated, till it had obtained a
conditional assent. No sane man in Mr. Browning's position could have
been ignorant of the responsibilities he was incurring. He had, it
is true, no experience of illness. Of its nature, its treatment, its
symptoms direct and indirect, he remained pathetically ignorant to his
dying day. He did not know what disqualifications for active existence
might reside in the fragile, recumbent form, nor in the long years
lived without change of air or scene beyond the passage, not always even
allowed, from bed-room to sitting-room, from sofa to bed again. But he
did know that Miss Barrett received him lying down, and that his very
ignorance of her condition left him without security for her ever being
able to stand. A strong sense of sympathy and pity could alone entirely
justify or explain his act--a strong desire to bring sunshine into that
darkened life. We might be sure that these motives had been present with
him if we had no direct authority for believing it; and we have this
authority in his own comparatively recent words: 'She had so much need
of care and protection. There was so much pity in what I felt for her!'
The pity was, it need hardly be said, at no time a substitute for love,
though the love in its full force only developed itself later; but it
supplied an additional incentive.

Miss Barrett had made her acceptance of Mr. Browning's proposal
contingent on her improving in health. The outlook was therefore vague.
But under the influence of this great new happiness she did gain
some degree of strength. They saw each other three times a week; they
exchanged letters constantly, and a very deep and perfect understanding
established itself between them. Mr. Browning never mentioned his visits
except to his own family, because it was naturally feared that if
Miss Barrett were known to receive one person, other friends, or even
acquaintances, would claim admittance to her; and Mr. Kenyon, who was
greatly pleased by the result of his introduction, kept silence for the
same reason.

In this way the months slipped by till the summer of 1846 was drawing to
its close, and Miss Barrett's doctor then announced that her only chance
of even comparative recovery lay in spending the coming winter in the
South. There was no rational obstacle to her acting on this advice,
since more than one of her brothers was willing to escort her; but Mr.
Barrett, while surrounding his daughter with every possible comfort,
had resigned himself to her invalid condition and expected her also to
acquiesce in it. He probably did not believe that she would benefit by
the proposed change. At any rate he refused his consent to it. There
remained to her only one alternative--to break with the old home and
travel southwards as Mr. Browning's wife.

When she had finally assented to this course, she took a preparatory
step which, in so far as it was known, must itself have been
sufficiently startling to those about her: she drove to Regent's Park,
and when there, stepped out of the carriage and on to the grass. I do
not know how long she stood--probably only for a moment; but I well
remember hearing that when, after so long an interval, she felt earth
under her feet and air about her, the sensation was almost bewilderingly
strange.

They were married, with strict privacy, on September 12, 1846, at St.
Pancras Church.

The engaged pair had not only not obtained Mr. Barrett's sanction to
their marriage; they had not even invoked it; and the doubly clandestine
character thus forced upon the union could not be otherwise than
repugnant to Mr. Browning's pride; but it was dictated by the deepest
filial affection on the part of his intended wife. There could be no
question in so enlightened a mind of sacrificing her own happiness with
that of the man she loved; she was determined to give herself to him.
But she knew that her father would never consent to her doing so; and
she preferred marrying without his knowledge to acting in defiance of a
prohibition which, once issued, he would never have revoked, and which
would have weighed like a portent of evil upon her. She even kept the
secret of her engagement from her intimate friend Miss Mitford, and
her second father, Mr. Kenyon, that they might not be involved in its
responsibility. And Mr. Kenyon, who, probably of all her circle, best
understood the case, was grateful to her for this consideration.

Mr. Barrett was one of those men who will not part with their children;
who will do anything for them except allow them to leave the parental
home. We have all known fathers of this type. He had nothing to urge
against Robert Browning. When Mr. Kenyon, later, said to him that he
could not understand his hostility to the marriage, since there was no
man in the world to whom he would more gladly have given his daughter
if he had been so fortunate as to possess one,* he replied: 'I have no
objection to the young man, but my daughter should have been thinking of
another world;' and, given his conviction that Miss Barrett's state was
hopeless, some allowance must be made for the angered sense of fitness
which her elopement was calculated to arouse in him. But his attitude
was the same, under the varying circumstances, with all his daughters
and sons alike. There was no possible husband or wife whom he would
cordially have accepted for one of them.

     * Mr. Kenyon had been twice married, but he had no children.

Mr. Browning had been willing, even at that somewhat late age, to study
for the Bar, or accept, if he could obtain it, any other employment
which might render him less ineligible from a pecuniary point of view.
But Miss Barrett refused to hear of such a course; and the subsequent
necessity for her leaving England would have rendered it useless.

For some days after their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Browning returned to
their old life. He justly thought that the agitation of the ceremony
had been, for the moment, as much as she could endure, and had therefore
fixed for it a day prior by one week to that of their intended departure
from England. The only difference in their habits was that he did not
see her; he recoiled from the hypocrisy of asking for her under her
maiden name; and during this passive interval, fortunately short, he
carried a weight of anxiety and of depression which placed it among the
most painful periods of his existence.

In the late afternoon or evening of September 19, Mrs. Browning,
attended by her maid and her dog, stole away from her father's house.
The family were at dinner, at which meal she was not in the habit of
joining them; her sisters Henrietta and Arabel had been throughout in
the secret of her attachment and in full sympathy with it; in the case
of the servants, she was also sure of friendly connivance. There was no
difficulty in her escape, but that created by the dog, which might be
expected to bark its consciousness of the unusual situation. She took
him into her confidence. She said: 'O Flush, if you make a sound, I
am lost.' And Flush understood, as what good dog would not?--and crept
after his mistress in silence. I do not remember where her husband
joined her; we may be sure it was as near her home as possible. That
night they took the boat to Havre, on their way to Paris.

Only a short time elapsed before Mr. Barrett became aware of what had
happened. It is not necessary to dwell on his indignation, which at that
moment, I believe, was shared by all his sons. Nor were they the only
persons to be agitated by the occurrence. If there was wrath in the
Barrett family, there was consternation in that of Mr. Browning. He
had committed a crime in the eyes of his wife's father; but he had been
guilty, in the judgment of his own parents, of one of those errors which
are worse. A hundred times the possible advantages of marrying a Miss
Barrett could never have balanced for them the risks and dangers he
had incurred in wresting to himself the guardianship of that frail life
which might perish in his hands, leaving him to be accused of having
destroyed it; and they must have awaited the event with feelings never
to be forgotten.

It was soon to be apparent that in breaking the chains which bound her
to a sick room, Mr. Browning had not killed his wife, but was giving her
a new lease of existence. His parents and sister soon loved her dearly,
for her own sake as well as her husband's; and those who, if in a
mistaken manner, had hitherto cherished her, gradually learned, with one
exception, to value him for hers. It would, however, be useless to
deny that the marriage was a hazardous experiment, involving risks of
suffering quite other than those connected with Mrs. Browning's safety:
the latent practical disparities of an essentially vigorous and an
essentially fragile existence; and the time came when these were to make
themselves felt. Mrs. Browning had been a delicate infant. She had also
outgrown this delicacy and developed into a merry, and, in the harmless
sense, mischief-loving child. The accident which subsequently undermined
her life could only have befallen a very active and healthy girl.*
Her condition justified hope and, to a great extent, fulfilled it. She
rallied surprisingly and almost suddenly in the sunshine of her new
life, and remained for several years at the higher physical level: her
natural and now revived spirits sometimes, I imagine, lifting her beyond
it. But her ailments were too radical for permanent cure, as the weak
voice and shrunken form never ceased to attest. They renewed themselves,
though in slightly different conditions; and she gradually relapsed,
during the winters at least, into something like the home-bound
condition of her earlier days. It became impossible that she should
share the more active side of her husband's existence. It had to be
alternately suppressed and carried on without her. The deep heart-love,
the many-sided intellectual sympathy, preserved their union in rare
beauty to the end. But to say that it thus maintained itself as if by
magic, without effort of self-sacrifice on his part or of resignation on
hers, would be as unjust to the noble qualities of both, as it would be
false to assert that its compensating happiness had ever failed them.

     * Her family at that time lived in the country.  She was a
     constant rider, and fond of saddling her pony; and one day,
     when she was about fourteen, she overbalanced herself in
     lifting the saddle, and fell backward, inflicting injuries
     on her head, or rather spine, which caused her great
     suffering, but of which the nature remained for some time
     undiscovered.

Mr. Browning's troubles did not, even for the present, exhaust
themselves in that week of apprehension. They assumed a deeper reality
when his delicate wife first gave herself into his keeping, and the long
hours on steamboat and in diligence were before them. What she suffered
in body, and he in mind, during the first days of that wedding-journey
is better imagined than told. In Paris they either met, or were joined
by, a friend, Mrs. Anna Jameson (then also en route for Italy), and Mrs.
Browning was doubly cared for till she and her husband could once more
put themselves on their way. At Genoa came the long-needed rest in
southern land. From thence, in a few days, they went on to Pisa, and
settled there for the winter.

Even so great a friend as John Forster was not in the secret of Mr.
Browning's marriage; we learn this through an amusing paragraph in a
letter from Mr. Fox, written soon after it had taken place:


'Forster never heard of the Browning marriage till the proof of the
newspaper ('Examiner') notice was sent; when he went into one of his
great passions at the supposed hoax, ordered up the compositor to have a
swear at him, and demanded to see the MS. from which it was taken: so it
was brought, and he instantly recognised the hand of Browning's sister.
Next day came a letter from R. B., saying he had often meant to tell him
or write of it, but hesitated between the two, and neglected both.

'She was better, and a winter in Italy had been recommended some months
ago.

'It seems as if made up by their poetry rather than themselves.'


Many interesting external details of Mr. Browning's married life must
have been lost to us through the wholesale destruction of his letters to
his family, of which mention has been already made, and which he carried
out before leaving Warwick Crescent about four years ago; and Mrs.
Browning's part in the correspondence, though still preserved, cannot
fill the gap, since for a long time it chiefly consisted of
little personal outpourings, inclosed in her husband's letters and
supplementary to them. But she also wrote constantly to Miss Mitford;
and, from the letters addressed to her, now fortunately in Mr. Barrett
Browning's hands, it has been possible to extract many passages of a
sufficiently great, and not too private, interest for our purpose.
These extracts--in some cases almost entire letters--indeed constitute
a fairly complete record of Mr. and Mrs. Browning's joint life till
the summer of 1854, when Miss Mitford's death was drawing near, and the
correspondence ceased. Their chronological order is not always certain,
because Mrs. Browning never gave the year in which her letters were
written, and in some cases the postmark is obliterated; but the missing
date can almost always be gathered from their contents. The first letter
is probably written from Paris.


Oct. 2 ('46).

'. . . and he, as you say, had done everything for me--he 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 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 wakened me before
now--it is not a dream. . . .'


The three next speak for themselves.


Pisa: ('46).

'. . . 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 vine land. We have rooms close to the Duomo, and leaning
down on the great Collegio built by Facini. Three excellent bed-rooms
and a sitting-room matted and carpeted, looking comfortable even for
England. For the last fortnight, except the 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. Mrs. Jameson says
she won't call me improved but transformed rather. . . . 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--in this place are to be
seen the first steps of Art. . . .'



Pisa: Dec. 19 ('46).

'. . . Within these three or four days we have had frost--yes, and a
little snow--for the first time, say the Pisans, within five years.
Robert says the mountains are powdered towards Lucca. . . .'



Feb. 3 ('47).

'. . . Robert is a warm admirer of Balzac and has read most of his
books, but certainly he does not in a general way appreciate our French
people quite with my 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, you know, to
be amused without a strong pull on my admiration. So we have great wars
sometimes--I put up Dumas' flag or Soulie's or Eugene Sue's (yet he was
properly impressed by the 'Mysteres de Paris'), and carry it till my
arms ache. The plays and vaudevilles he knows far more of than I do,
and always maintains they are the happiest growth of the French school.
Setting aside the 'masters', observe; for Balzac and George Sand hold
all their honours. Then we read together the other day 'Rouge et Noir',
that powerful work of Stendhal's, and he observed that it was exactly
like Balzac 'in the raw'--in the material and undeveloped conception . . .
We leave Pisa in April, and pass through Florence towards the north of
Italy . . .'

(She writes out a long list of the 'Comedie Humaine' for Miss Mitford.)


Mr. and Mrs. Browning must have remained in Florence, instead of merely
passing through it; this is proved by the contents of the two following
letters:


Aug. 20 ('47).

'. . . We have spent one of 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 certainly it has been
and is, yet there have been cool intermissions, and as we have spacious
and airy rooms, 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.

We tried to make the monks of Vallombrosa let us stay with them for two
months, but the new abbot said or implied that Wilson and I stank in his
nostrils, being women. 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 fine
woods, supernaturally silent, with the ground black as ink. There were
eagles there too, and there was no road. Robert went on horseback,
and Wilson and I were drawn on 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 those wild places at four o'clock
in the morning! a little frightened, dreadfully tired, but in an ecstasy
of admiration. It was a sight to see before one died and went away into
another world. But being expelled ignominiously at the end of five days,
we had to come back to Florence to find a new apartment cooler than the
old, and wait for dear Mr. Kenyon, and dear Mr. Kenyon does not come
after all. And on the 20th of September we take up our knapsacks and
turn our faces towards Rome, 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 . . .'



Oct. ('47).

'. . . Very few acquaintances have we made in Florence, and very quietly
lived out our days. Mr. Powers, the sculptor, is our chief friend and
favourite. A most charming, simple, straightforward, genial American--as
simple as the man of genius he has proved himself to be. He sometimes
comes to talk and take coffee with us, and we like him much. The
sculptor has eyes like a wild Indian's, so black and full of light--you
would scarcely marvel if they clove the marble without the help of his
hands. We have seen, besides, the Hoppners, Lord Byron's friends at
Venice; and Miss Boyle, a niece of the Earl of Cork, an authoress and
poetess on her own account, having been introduced 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 . . .'


In this year, 1847, the question arose of a British mission to the
Vatican; and Mr. Browning wrote to Mr. Monckton Milnes begging him to
signify to the Foreign Office his more than willingness to take part
in it. He would be glad and proud, he said, to be secretary to such an
embassy, and to work like a horse in his vocation. The letter is given
in the lately published biography of Lord Houghton, and I am obliged to
confess that it has been my first intimation of the fact recorded there.
When once his 'Paracelsus' had appeared, and Mr. Browning had taken rank
as a poet, he renounced all idea of more active work; and the tone and
habits of his early married life would have seemed scarcely consistent
with a renewed impulse towards it. But the fact was in some sense due
to the very circumstances of that life: among them, his wife's probable
incitement to, and certain sympathy with, the proceeding.

The projected winter in Rome had been given up, I believe against the
doctor's advice, on the strength of the greater attractions of Florence.
Our next extract is dated from thence, Dec. 8, 1847.


'. . . Think what we have done since I last wrote to you. Taken two
houses, that is, two apartments, each for six months, presigning the
contract. You will set it down to excellent poet's work in the way
of domestic economy, but the fault was altogether mine, as usual. My
husband, to please me, took rooms which I could not be pleased with
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. So away we came into the blaze of him 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 in the Pitti till April, in small rooms yellow with sunshine
from morning till evening, and most days I am able to get out into the
piazza and walk up and down for twenty minutes without feeling a breath
of the actual winter . . . and Miss Boyle, ever and anon, comes at
night, at nine o'clock, to catch us at 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 she is too, and original; and a good deal of
laughing she and Robert make between them. And this is nearly all we see
of the Face Divine--I can't make Robert go out a single evening. . . .'


We have five extracts for 1848. One of these, not otherwise dated,
describes an attack of sore-throat which was fortunately Mr. Browning's
last; and the letter containing it must have been written in the course
of the summer.


'. . . My husband was laid up for nearly a month with fever and relaxed
sore-throat. Quite unhappy I have been over those burning hands and
languid eyes--the only unhappiness I ever had by him. And then he
wouldn't see a physician, and if it had not been that just at the right
moment Mr. Mahoney, 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 to us 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 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.'*

     * It had not been merely a case of relaxed sore-throat.
     There was an abscess, which burst during this first night of
     sleep.


May 28.

'. . . 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 summer 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 Arno, by our way
of taking furnished rooms, while to take an apartment and furnish it
would leave us a clear return of the furniture at the end of the
first year in exchange for our outlay, and all but a free residence
afterwards, the cheapness of furniture being quite fabulous at the
present crisis. . . . In fact we have really done it magnificently, and
planted ourselves in the Guidi Palace in the favourite suite of the last
Count (his arms are in scagliola on the floor of my bedroom). Though we
have six beautiful rooms and a kitchen, three of them quite palace rooms
and opening on a terrace, and though such furniture as comes by slow
degrees into them is antique and worthy of the place, we yet shall have
saved money by the end of this year. . . . Now I tell you all this lest
you should hear dreadful rumours of our having forsaken our native land,
venerable institutions and all, whereas we remember it so well (it's a
dear land in many senses), that we have done this thing chiefly in order
to make sure of getting back comfortably, . . . a stone's throw, too, it
is from the Pitti, and really in my present mind I would hardly exchange
with the Grand Duke himself. By the bye, as to street, we have no
spectators in windows in just the grey wall of a church called San
Felice for good omen.

'Now, have you heard enough of us? What I claimed first, in way of
privilege, was a spring-sofa to loll upon, and a supply of rain water to
wash in, and you shall see what a picturesque oil-jar they have given
us for the latter purpose; it would just hold the Captain of the
Forty Thieves. As for the chairs and tables, I yield the more especial
interest in them to Robert; only you would laugh to hear us correct
one another sometimes. "Dear, you get too many drawers, and not enough
washing-stands. Pray don't let us have any more drawers when we've
nothing more to put in them." There was no division on the necessity of
having six spoons--some questions passed themselves. . . .'



July.

'. . . I am quite well again and strong. Robert and I go out often 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. . . .'



Aug.

'. . . As for ourselves we have hardly 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 into
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 "does not 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 very beautiful, and a divine picture of Guercino's is worth going
all that way to see. . . . 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. . . .'


The one dated Florence, December 16, is interesting with reference to
Mr. Browning's attitude when he wrote the letters to Mr. Frank Hill
which I have recently quoted.


'We have been, at least I have been, a little anxious lately about the
fate of the 'Blot in the 'Scutcheon' which Mr. Phelps applied for
my husband's permission to revive at Sadler's. Of course putting the
request was mere form, as he had every right to act the play--only it
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 legitimate success. The play went straight to the hearts of the
audience, it seems, and we hear of its continuance on the stage, from
the papers. You may remember, or may not have heard, how Macready
brought it out and put his foot on it, in the flush 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 in his own
theatre. Mr. Chorley called his acting "fine". . . .'



Chapter 10

1849-1852

Death of Mr. Browning's Mother--Birth of his Son--Mrs. Browning's
Letters continued--Baths of Lucca--Florence again--Venice--Margaret
Fuller Ossoli--Visit to England--Winter in Paris--Carlyle--George
Sand--Alfred de Musset.


On March 9, 1849, Mr. Browning's son was born. With the joy of his
wife's deliverance from the dangers of such an event came also his
first great sorrow. His mother did not live to receive the news of
her grandchild's birth. The letter which conveyed it found her still
breathing, but in the unconsciousness of approaching death. There had
been no time for warning. The sister could only break the suddenness of
the shock. A letter of Mrs. Browning's tells what was to be told.


Florence: April 30 ('49).

'. . . This is the first packet of letters, except one to Wimpole
Street, which I have written since my confinement. You will have
heard how our joy turned suddenly into deep sorrow by the death of my
husband's mother. An unsuspected disease (ossification of the heart)
terminated in a fatal way--and she lay in the insensibility precursive
of the grave's when the letter written with such gladness by my poor
husband and announcing the birth of his child, reached her address. "It
would have made her heart bound," said her daughter to us. Poor tender
heart--the last throb was too near. The medical men would not allow
the news to be communicated. The next joy she felt was to be in heaven
itself. My husband has been in the deepest anguish, and indeed, except
for the courageous consideration of his sister who wrote two letters of
preparation, saying "She was not well" and she "was very ill" when in
fact all was over, I am frightened to think what the result would have
been to him. He has loved his mother as such passionate natures only
can love, and I never saw a man so bowed down in an extremity of
sorrow--never. Even now, the depression is great--and sometimes when I
leave him alone a little and return to the room, I find him in tears. I
do earnestly wish to change the scene and air--but where to go? England
looks terrible now. He says it would break his heart to see his mother's
roses over the wall and the place where she used to lay her scissors and
gloves--which I understand so thoroughly that I can't say "Let us go to
England." We must wait and see what his father and sister will choose to
do, or choose us to do--for of course a duty plainly seen would draw us
anywhere. My own dearest sisters will be painfully disappointed by any
change of plan--only they are too good and kind not to understand the
difficulty--not to see the motive. So do you, I am certain. It has been
very, very painful altogether, this drawing together of life and death.
Robert was too enraptured at my safety and with his little son, and the
sudden reaction was terrible. . . .'



Bagni di Lucca.

'. . . We have been wandering in search of cool air and a cool bough
among all the olive trees to build our summer nest on. My husband has
been suffering beyond what one could shut one's eyes to, in consequence
of the great mental shock of last March--loss of appetite, loss of
sleep--looks quite worn and altered. His spirits never rallied except
with an effort, and every letter from New Cross threw him back into deep
depression. I was very anxious, and feared much that the end of it
all would be (the intense heat of Florence assisting) nervous fever or
something similar; and I had the greatest difficulty in persuading
him to leave Florence for a month or two. He who generally delights in
travelling, had no mind for change or movement. I had to say and swear
that Baby and I couldn't bear the heat, and that we must and would go
away. "Ce que femme veut, _homme_ veut," if the latter is at all amiable,
or the former persevering. At last I gained the victory. It was agreed
that we two should go on an exploring journey, to find out where we
could have most shadow at least expense; and we left our child with
his nurse and Wilson, while we were absent. We went along the coast to
Spezzia, saw Carrara with the white marble mountains, passed through
the olive-forests and the vineyards, avenues of acacia trees, chestnut
woods, glorious surprises of the most exquisite scenery. I say
olive-forests advisedly--the olive grows like a forest-tree in those
regions, shading the ground with tints of silvery network. The olive
near Florence is but a shrub in comparison, and I have learnt to despise
a little too the Florentine vine, which does not swing such portcullises
of massive dewy green from one tree to another as along the whole road
where we travelled. Beautiful indeed it was. Spezzia wheels the blue sea
into the arms of the wooded mountains; and we had a glance at Shelley's
house at Lerici. It was melancholy to me, of course. I was not sorry
that the lodgings we inquired about were far above our means. We
returned on our steps (after two days in the dirtiest of possible inns),
saw Seravezza, a village in the mountains, where rock river and
wood enticed us to stay, and the inhabitants drove us off by their
unreasonable prices. It is curious--but just in proportion to the
want of civilization the prices rise in Italy. If you haven't cups and
saucers, you are made to pay for plate. Well--so finding no rest for the
soles of our feet, I persuaded Robert to go to the Baths of Lucca, only
to see them. We were to proceed afterwards to San Marcello, or some
safer wilderness. We had both of us, but he chiefly, the strongest
prejudice against the Baths of Lucca; taking them for a sort of wasp's
nest of scandal and gaming, and expecting to find everything trodden
flat by the continental English--yet, I wanted to see the place, because
it is a place to see, after all. So we came, and were so charmed by the
exquisite beauty of the scenery, by the coolness of the climate, and
the absence of our countrymen--political troubles serving admirably our
private requirements, that we made an offer for rooms on the spot, and
returned to Florence for Baby and the rest of our establishment
without further delay. Here we are then. We have been here more than
a fortnight. We have taken an apartment for the season--four months,
paying twelve pounds for the whole term, and hoping to be able to stay
till the end of October. The living is cheaper than even in Florence, so
that there has been no extravagance in coming here. In fact Florence is
scarcely tenable during the summer from the excessive heat by day and
night, even if there were no particular motive for leaving it. We have
taken a sort of eagle's nest in this place--the highest house of the
highest of the three villages which are called the Bagni di Lucca, and
which lie at the heart of a hundred mountains sung to continually by a
rushing mountain stream. The sound of the river and of the cicale is all
the noise we hear. Austrian drums and carriage-wheels cannot vex us, God
be thanked for it! The silence is full of joy and consolation. I think
my husband's spirits are better already, and his appetite improved.
Certainly little Babe's great cheeks are growing rosier and rosier. He
is out all day when the sun is not too strong, and Wilson will have it
that he is prettier than the whole population of babies here. . . . Then
my whole strength has wonderfully improved--just as my medical friends
prophesied,--and it seems like a dream when I find myself able to climb
the hills with Robert, and help him to lose himself in the forests.
Ever since my confinement I have been growing stronger and stronger, and
where it is to stop I can't tell really. I can do as much or more than
at any point of my life since I arrived at woman's estate. The air of
the place seems to penetrate the heart, and not the lungs only: it
draws you, raises you, excites you. Mountain air without its
keenness--sheathed in Italian sunshine--think what that must be! And
the beauty and the solitude--for with a few paces we get free of
the habitations of men--all is delightful to me. What is peculiarly
beautiful and wonderful, is the variety of the shapes of the mountains.
They are a multitude--and yet there is no likeness. None, except where
the golden mist comes and transfigures them into one glory. For the
rest, the mountain there wrapt in the chestnut forest is not like that
bare peak which tilts against the sky--nor like the serpent-twine of
another which seems to move and coil in the moving coiling shadow. . . .'


She writes again:


Bagni di Lucca: Oct. 2 ('49).

'. . . I have performed a great exploit--ridden on a donkey five miles
deep into the mountain, to an almost inaccessible volcanic ground not
far from the stars. Robert on horseback, and Wilson and the nurse (with
Baby) on other donkies,--guides of course. We set off at eight in the
morning, and returned at six P.M. after dining on the mountain pinnacle,
I dreadfully tired, but the child laughing as usual, burnt brick colour
for all bad effect. No horse or ass untrained for the mountains could
have kept foot a moment where we penetrated, and even as it was, one
could not help the natural thrill. No road except the bed of exhausted
torrents--above and through the chestnut forests precipitous beyond
what you would think possible for ascent or descent. Ravines tearing the
ground to pieces under your feet. The scenery, sublime and wonderful,
satisfied us wholly, as we looked round on the world of innumerable
mountains, bound faintly with the grey sea--and not a human habitation.
. . .'


The following fragment, which I have received quite without date, might
refer to this or to a somewhat later period.


'If he is vain about anything in the world it is about my improved
health, and I say to him, "But you needn't talk so much to people, of
how your wife walked here with you, and there with you, as if a wife
with a pair of feet was a miracle of nature."'



Florence: Feb. 18 ('50).

'. . . You can scarcely imagine to yourself the retired life we live,
and how we have retreated from the kind advances of the English society
here. Now people seem to understand that we are to be left alone. . . .'



Florence: April 1 ('50).

'. . . We drive day by day through the lovely Cascine, just sweeping
through the city. Just such a window where Bianca Capello looked out
to see the Duke go by--and just such a door where Tasso stood and where
Dante drew his chair out to sit. Strange to have all that old world life
about us, and the blue sky so bright. . . .'



Venice: June 4 (probably '50).

'. . . I have been between Heaven and Earth since our arrival at Venice.
The Heaven of it is ineffable--never had I touched the skirts of so
celestial a place. The beauty of the architecture, the silver trails of
water up between all that gorgeous colour and carving, the enchanting
silence, the music, the gondolas--I mix it all up together and maintain
that nothing is like it, nothing equal to it, not a second Venice in the
world.

'Do you know when I came first I felt as if I never could go away. But
now comes the earth-side.

'Robert, after sharing the ecstasy, grows uncomfortable and nervous,
unable to eat or sleep, and poor Wilson still worse, in a miserable
condition of sickness and headache. Alas for these mortal Venices, so
exquisite and so bilious. Therefore I am constrained away from my joys
by sympathy, and am forced to be glad that we are going away on Friday.
For myself, it did not affect me at all. Take the mild, soft, relaxing
climate--even the scirocco does not touch me. And the baby grows
gloriously fatter in spite of everything. . . . As for Venice, you can't
get even a "Times", much less an "Athenaeum". We comfort ourselves by
taking a box at the opera (a whole box on the grand tier, mind) for
two shillings and eightpence, English. Also, every evening at half-past
eight, Robert and I are sitting under the moon in the great piazza of
St. Mark, taking excellent coffee and reading the French papers.'


If it were possible to draw more largely on Mrs. Browning's
correspondence for this year, it would certainly supply the record of
her intimacy, and that of her husband, with Margaret Fuller Ossoli. A
warm attachment sprang up between them during that lady's residence in
Florence. Its last evenings were all spent at their house; and, soon
after she had bidden them farewell, she availed herself of a two days'
delay in the departure of the ship to return from Leghorn and be with
them one evening more. She had what seemed a prophetic dread of the
voyage to America, though she attached no superstitious importance to
the prediction once made to her husband that he would be drowned; and
learned when it was too late to change her plans that her presence there
was, after all, unnecessary. Mr. Browning was deeply affected by the
news of her death by shipwreck, which took place on July 16, 1850; and
wrote an account of his acquaintance with her, for publication by her
friends. This also, unfortunately, was lost. Her son was of the same
age as his, little more than a year old; but she left a token of the
friendship which might some day have united them, in a small Bible
inscribed to the baby Robert, 'In memory of Angelo Ossoli.'

The intended journey to England was delayed for Mr. Browning by the
painful associations connected with his mother's death; but in the
summer of 1851 he found courage to go there: and then, as on each
succeeding visit paid to London with his wife, he commemorated his
marriage in a manner all his own. He went to the church in which it had
been solemnized, and kissed the paving-stones in front of the door. It
needed all this love to comfort Mrs. Browning in the estrangement from
her father which was henceforth to be accepted as final. He had held no
communication with her since her marriage, and she knew that it was
not forgiven; but she had cherished a hope that he would so far relent
towards her as to kiss her child, even if he would not see her. Her
prayer to this effect remained, however, unanswered.

In the autumn they proceeded to Paris; whence Mrs. Browning wrote,
October 22 and November 12.


138, Avenue des Champs Elysees.

'. . . It was a long time before we could settle ourselves in a private
apartment. . . . At last we came off to these Champs Elysees, to a very
pleasant apartment, the window looking over a large terrace (almost
large enough to serve the purpose of a garden) to the great drive and
promenade of the Parisians when they come out of the streets to sun
and shade and show themselves off among the trees. A pretty little
dining-room, a writing and dressing-room for Robert beside it, a
drawing-room beyond that, with two excellent bedrooms, and third
bedroom for a "femme de menage", kitchen, &c. . . . So this answers all
requirements, and the sun suns us loyally as in duty bound considering
the southern aspect, and we are glad to find ourselves settled for six
months. We have had lovely weather, and have seen a fire only yesterday
for the first time since we left England. . . . We have seen nothing in
Paris, except the shell of it. Yet, two evenings ago we hazarded going
to a reception at Lady Elgin's, in the Faubourg St. Germain, and saw
some French, but nobody of distinction.

'It is a good house, I believe, and she has an earnest face which must
mean something. We were invited to go every Monday between eight and
twelve. We go on Friday to Madame Mohl's, where we are to have some of
the "celebrites". . . . Carlyle, for instance, I liked infinitely more
in his personality than I expected to like him, and I saw a great deal
of him, for he travelled with us to Paris, and spent several evenings
with us, we three together. He is one of the most interesting men I
could imagine, even deeply interesting to me; and you come to understand
perfectly when you know him, that his bitterness is only melancholy, and
his scorn, sensibility. Highly picturesque, too, he is in conversation;
the talk of writing men is very seldom so good.

'And, do you know, I was much taken, in London, with a young authoress,
Geraldine Jewsbury. You have read her books. . . . She herself is quiet
and simple, and drew my heart out of me a good deal. I felt inclined to
love her in our half-hour's intercourse. . . .'



138, Avenue des Champs Elysees: (Nov. 12).

'. . . Robert's father and sister have been paying us a visit during the
last three weeks. They are very affectionate to me, and I love them for
his sake and their own, and am very sorry at the thought of losing them,
as we are on the point of doing. We hope, however, to establish them in
Paris, if we can stay, and if no other obstacle should arise before the
spring, when they must leave Hatcham. Little Wiedemann 'draws', as you
may suppose . . . he is adored by his grandfather, and then, Robert!
They are an affectionate family, and not easy when removed one from
another. . . .'


On their journey from London to Paris, Mr. and Mrs. Browning had been
joined by Carlyle; and it afterwards struck Mr. Browning as strange
that, in the 'Life' of Carlyle, their companionship on this occasion
should be spoken of as the result of a chance meeting. Carlyle not only
went to Paris with the Brownings, but had begged permission to do so;
and Mrs. Browning had hesitated to grant this because she was afraid her
little boy would be tiresome to him. Her fear, however, proved mistaken.
The child's prattle amused the philosopher, and led him on one occasion
to say: 'Why, sir, you have as many aspirations as Napoleon!' At
Paris he would have been miserable without Mr. Browning's help, in his
ignorance of the language, and impatience of the discomforts which this
created for him. He couldn't ask for anything, he complained, but they
brought him the opposite.

On one occasion Mr. Carlyle made a singular remark. He was walking with
Mr. Browning, either in Paris or the neighbouring country, when they
passed an image of the Crucifixion; and glancing towards the figure of
Christ, he said, with his deliberate Scotch utterance, 'Ah, poor fellow,
_your_ part is played out!'

Two especially interesting letters are dated from the same address,
February 15 and April 7, 1852.


'. . . Beranger lives close to us, and Robert has seen him in his white
hat, wandering along the asphalte. I had a notion, somehow, that he was
very old, but he is only elderly--not much above sixty (which is the
prime of life, nowadays) and he lives quietly and keeps out of scrapes
poetical and political, and if Robert and I had a little less modesty we
are assured that we should find access to him easy. But we can't make
up our minds to go to his door and introduce ourselves as vagrant
minstrels, when he may probably not know our names. We could never
follow the fashion of certain authors, who send their books about with
intimations of their being likely to be acceptable or not--of which
practice poor Tennyson knows too much for his peace. If, indeed, a
letter of introduction to Beranger were vouchsafed to us from any benign
quarter, we should both be delighted, but we must wait patiently for
the influence of the stars. Meanwhile, we have at last sent our letter
[Mazzini's] to George Sand, accompanied with a little note signed by
both of us, though written by me, as seemed right, being the woman. We
half-despaired in doing this--for it is most difficult, it appears,
to get at her, she having taken vows against seeing strangers, in
consequence of various annoyances and persecutions, in and out of print,
which it's the mere instinct of a woman to avoid--I can understand it
perfectly. Also, she is in Paris for only a few days, and under a new
name, to escape from the plague of her notoriety. People said, "She will
never see you--you have no chance, I am afraid." But we determined
to try. At least I pricked Robert up to the leap--for he was really
inclined to sit in his chair and be proud a little. "No," said I, "you
_sha'n't_ be proud, and I _won't_ be proud, and we _will_ see her--I won't
die, if I can help it, without seeing George Sand." So we gave our
letter to a friend, who was to give it to a friend who was to place it
in her hands--her abode being a mystery, and the name she used unknown.
The next day came by the post this answer:

'"Madame, j'aurai l'honneur de vous recevoir Dimanche prochain, rue
Racine, 3. C'est le seul jour que je puisse passer chez moi; et encore
je n'en suis pas absolument certaine--mais je ferai tellement mon
possible, que ma bonne etoile m'y aidera peut-etre un peu. Agreez
mille remerciments de coeur ainsi que Monsieur Browning, que j'espere
voir avec vous, pour la sympathie que vous m'accordez. George Sand.
Paris: 12 fevrier '52."

'This is graceful and kind, is it not?--and we are going to-morrow--I,
rather at the risk of my life, but I shall roll myself up head and all
in a thick shawl, and we shall go in a close carriage, and I hope I
shall be able to tell you the result before shutting up this letter.

'Monday.--I have seen G. S. She received us in a room with a bed in it,
the only room she has to occupy, I suppose, during her short stay in
Paris. She received us very cordially with her hand held out, which
I, in the emotion of the moment, stooped and kissed--upon which she
exclaimed, "Mais non! je ne veux pas," and kissed me. I don't think
she is a great deal taller than I am,--yes, taller, but not a great
deal--and a little over-stout for that height. The upper part of the
face is fine, the forehead, eyebrows and eyes--dark glowing eyes as they
should be; the lower part not so good. The beautiful teeth project a
little, flashing out the smile of the large characteristic mouth, and
the chin recedes. It never could have been a beautiful face Robert and
I agree, but noble and expressive it has been and is. The complexion is
olive, quite without colour; the hair, black and glossy, divided with
evident care and twisted back into a knot behind the head, and she wore
no covering to it. Some of the portraits represent her in ringlets, and
ringlets would be much more becoming to the style of face, I fancy, for
the cheeks are rather over-full. She was dressed in a sort of woollen
grey gown, with a jacket of the same material (according to the ruling
fashion), the gown fastened up to the throat, with a small linen
collarette, and plain white muslin sleeves buttoned round the wrists.
The hands offered to me were small and well-shaped. Her manners were
quite as simple as her costume. I never saw a simpler woman. Not a shade
of affectation or consciousness, even--not a suffusion of coquetry, not
a cigarette to be seen! Two or three young men were sitting with her,
and I observed the profound respect with which they listened to every
word she said. She spoke rapidly, with a low, unemphatic voice. Repose
of manner is much more her characteristic than animation is--only,
under all the quietness, and perhaps by means of it, you are aware of an
intense burning soul. She kissed me again when we went away. . . .'



'April 7.--George Sand we came to know a great deal more of. I think
Robert saw her six times. Once he met her near the Tuileries, offered
her his arm and walked with her the whole length of the gardens. She was
not on that occasion looking as well as usual, being a little too much
"endimanchee" in terrestrial lavenders and super-celestial blues--not,
in fact, dressed with the remarkable taste which he has seen in her
at other times. Her usual costume is both pretty and quiet, and the
fashionable waistcoat and jacket (which are respectable in all the
"Ladies' Companions" of the day) make the only approach to masculine
wearings to be observed in her.

'She has great nicety and refinement in her personal ways, I think--and
the cigarette is really a feminine weapon if properly understood.

'Ah! but I didn't see her smoke. I was unfortunate. I could only go with
Robert three times to her house, and once she was out. He was really
very good and kind to let me go at all after he found the sort of
society rampant around her. He didn't like it extremely, but being the
prince of husbands, he was lenient to my desires, and yielded the point.
She seems to live in the abomination of desolation, as far as regards
society--crowds of ill-bred men who adore her, 'a genoux bas', betwixt
a puff of smoke and an ejection of saliva--society of the ragged red,
diluted with the low theatrical. She herself so different, so apart, so
alone in her melancholy disdain. I was deeply interested in that poor
woman. I felt a profound compassion for her. I did not mind much
even the Greek, in Greek costume, who 'tutoyed' her, and kissed her I
believe, so Robert said--or the other vulgar man of the theatre, who
went down on his knees and called her "sublime". "Caprice d'amitie,"
said she with her quiet, gentle scorn. A noble woman under the mud, be
certain. _I_ would kneel down to her, too, if she would leave it all,
throw it off, and be herself as God made her. But she would not care for
my kneeling--she does not care for me. Perhaps she doesn't care much
for anybody by this time, who knows? She wrote one or two or three kind
notes to me, and promised to 'venir m'embrasser' before she left Paris,
but she did not come. We both tried hard to please her, and she told a
friend of ours that she "liked us". Only we always felt that we couldn't
penetrate--couldn't really _touch_ her--it was all vain.

'Alfred de Musset was to have been at M. Buloz' where Robert was a
week ago, on purpose to meet him, but he was prevented in some way. His
brother, Paul de Musset, a very different person, was there instead, but
we hope to have Alfred on another occasion. Do you know his poems? He is
not capable of large grasps, but he has poet's life and blood in him,
I assure you. . . . We are expecting a visit from Lamartine, who does a
great deal of honour to both of us in the way of appreciation, and was
kind enough to propose to come. I will tell you all about it.'


Mr. Browning fully shared his wife's impression of a want of frank
cordiality on George Sand's part; and was especially struck by it in
reference to himself, with whom it seemed more natural that she should
feel at ease. He could only imagine that his studied courtesy towards
her was felt by her as a rebuke to the latitude which she granted to
other men.

Another eminent French writer whom he much wished to know was Victor
Hugo, and I am told that for years he carried about him a letter of
introduction from Lord Houghton, always hoping for an opportunity of
presenting it. The hope was not fulfilled, though, in 1866, Mr. Browning
crossed to Saint Malo by the Channel Islands and spent three days in
Jersey.



Chapter 11

1852-1855

M. Joseph Milsand--His close Friendship with Mr. Browning; Mrs.
Browning's Impression of him--New Edition of Mr. Browning's
Poems--'Christmas Eve and Easter Day'--'Essay' on Shelley--Summer in
London--Dante Gabriel Rossetti--Florence; secluded Life--Letters from
Mr. and Mrs. Browning--'Colombe's Birthday'--Baths of Lucca--Mrs.
Browning's Letters--Winter in Rome--Mr. and Mrs. Story--Mrs.
Sartoris--Mrs. Fanny Kemble--Summer in London--Tennyson--Ruskin.



It was during this winter in Paris that Mr. Browning became acquainted
with M. Joseph Milsand, the second Frenchman with whom he was to be
united by ties of deep friendship and affection. M. Milsand was at that
time, and for long afterwards, a frequent contributor to the 'Revue
des Deux Mondes'; his range of subjects being enlarged by his, for
a Frenchman, exceptional knowledge of English life, language, and
literature. He wrote an article on Quakerism, which was much approved by
Mr. William Forster, and a little volume on Ruskin called 'L'Esthetique
Anglaise', which was published in the 'Bibliotheque de Philosophie
Contemporaine'.* Shortly before the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Browning
in Paris, he had accidentally seen an extract from 'Paracelsus'. This
struck him so much that he procured the two volumes of the works and
'Christmas Eve', and discussed the whole in the 'Revue' as the second
part of an essay entitled 'La Poesie Anglaise depuis Byron'. Mr.
Browning saw the article, and was naturally touched at finding his poems
the object of serious study in a foreign country, while still so little
regarded in his own. It was no less natural that this should lead to
a friendship which, the opening once given, would have grown up
unassisted, at least on Mr. Browning's side; for M. Milsand united the
qualities of a critical intellect with a tenderness, a loyalty, and a
simplicity of nature seldom found in combination with them.

     * He published also an admirable little work on the
     requirements of secondary education in France, equally
     applicable in many respects to any country and to any time.

The introduction was brought about by the daughter of William Browning,
Mrs. Jebb-Dyke, or more directly by Mr. and Mrs. Fraser Corkran, who
were among the earliest friends of the Browning family in Paris. M.
Milsand was soon an 'habitue' of Mr. Browning's house, as somewhat later
of that of his father and sister; and when, many years afterwards, Miss
Browning had taken up her abode in England, he spent some weeks of the
early summer in Warwick Crescent, whenever his home duties or personal
occupations allowed him to do so. Several times also the poet and his
sister joined him at Saint-Aubin, the seaside village in Normandy which
was his special resort, and where they enjoyed the good offices of
Madame Milsand, a home-staying, genuine French wife and mother, well
acquainted with the resources of its very primitive life. M. Milsand
died, in 1886, of apoplexy, the consequence, I believe, of heart-disease
brought on by excessive cold-bathing. The first reprint of 'Sordello',
in 1863, had been, as is well known, dedicated to him. The 'Parleyings',
published within a year of his death, were inscribed to his memory. Mr.
Browning's affection for him finds utterance in a few strong words which
I shall have occasion to quote. An undated fragment concerning him from
Mrs. Browning to her sister-in-law, points to a later date than the
present, but may as well be inserted here.


'. . . I quite love M. Milsand for being interested in Penini. What a
perfect creature he is, to be sure! He always stands in the top place
among our gods--Give him my cordial regards, always, mind. . . .
He wants, I think--the only want of that noble nature--the sense of
spiritual relation; and also he puts under his feet too much the worth
of impulse and passion, in considering the powers of human nature. For
the rest, I don't know such a man. He has intellectual conscience--or
say--the conscience of the intellect, in a higher degree than I ever
saw in any man of any country--and this is no less Robert's belief than
mine. When we hear the brilliant talkers and noisy thinkers here and
there and everywhere, we go back to Milsand with a real reverence. Also,
I never shall forget his delicacy to me personally, nor his tenderness
of heart about my child. . . .'


The criticism was inevitable from the point of view of Mrs. Browning's
nature and experience; but I think she would have revoked part of it if
she had known M. Milsand in later years. He would never have agreed with
her as to the authority of 'impulse and passion', but I am sure he did
not underrate their importance as factors in human life.

M. Milsand was one of the few readers of Browning with whom I have
talked about him, who had studied his work from the beginning, and had
realized the ambition of his first imaginative flights. He was
more perplexed by the poet's utterance in later years. 'Quel homme
extraordinaire!' he once said to me; 'son centre n'est pas au milieu.'
The usual criticism would have been that, while his own centre was in
the middle, he did not seek it in the middle for the things of which
he wrote; but I remember that, at the moment in which the words were
spoken, they impressed me as full of penetration. Mr. Browning had so
much confidence in M. Milsand's linguistic powers that he invariably
sent him his proof-sheets for final revision, and was exceedingly
pleased with such few corrections as his friend was able to suggest.

With the name of Milsand connects itself in the poet's life that of a
younger, but very genuine friend of both, M. Gustave Dourlans: a man of
fine critical and intellectual powers, unfortunately neutralized by bad
health. M. Dourlans also became a visitor at Warwick Crescent, and a
frequent correspondent of Mr. or rather of Miss Browning. He came from
Paris once more, to witness the last sad scene in Westminster Abbey.

The first three years of Mr. Browning's married life had been
unproductive from a literary point of view. The realization and
enjoyment of the new companionship, the duties as well as interests
of the dual existence, and, lastly, the shock and pain of his mother's
death, had absorbed his mental energies for the time being. But by the
close of 1848 he had prepared for publication in the following year a
new edition of 'Paracelsus' and the 'Bells and Pomegranates' poems. The
reprint was in two volumes, and the publishers were Messrs. Chapman and
Hall; the system, maintained through Mr. Moxon, of publication at the
author's expense, being abandoned by Mr. Browning when he left home.
Mrs. Browning writes of him on this occasion that he is paying 'peculiar
attention to the objections made against certain obscurities.' He
himself prefaced the edition by these words: 'Many of these pieces were
out of print, the rest had been withdrawn from circulation, when the
corrected edition, now submitted to the reader, was prepared. The
various Poems and Dramas have received the author's most careful
revision. December 1848.'

In 1850, in Florence, he wrote 'Christmas Eve and Easter Day'; and
in December 1851, in Paris, the essay on Shelley, to be prefixed to
twenty-five supposed letters of that poet, published by Moxon in 1852.*

     * They were discovered, not long afterwards, to be spurious,
     and the book suppressed.

The reading of this Essay might serve to correct the frequent
misapprehension of Mr. Browning's religious views which has been
based on the literal evidence of 'Christmas Eve', were it not that its
companion poem has failed to do so; though the tendency of 'Easter Day'
is as different from that of its precursor as their common Christianity
admits. The balance of argument in 'Christmas Eve' is in favour of
direct revelation of religious truth and prosaic certainty regarding it;
while the 'Easter Day' vision makes a tentative and unresting attitude
the first condition of the religious life; and if Mr. Browning has meant
to say--as he so often did say--that religious certainties are required
for the undeveloped mind, but that the growing religious intelligence
walks best by a receding light, he denies the positive basis of
Christian belief, and is no more orthodox in the one set of reflections
than in the other. The spirit, however, of both poems is ascetic: for
the first divorces religious worship from every appeal to the poetic
sense; the second refuses to recognize, in poetry or art, or the
attainments of the intellect, or even in the best human love, any
practical correspondence with religion. The dissertation on Shelley is,
what 'Sordello' was, what its author's treatment of poets and poetry
always must be--an indirect vindication of the conceptions of human life
which 'Christmas Eve and Easter Day' condemns. This double poem stands
indeed so much alone in Mr. Browning's work that we are tempted to ask
ourselves to what circumstance or impulse, external or internal, it has
been due; and we can only conjecture that the prolonged communion with
a mind so spiritual as that of his wife, the special sympathies and
differences which were elicited by it, may have quickened his religious
imagination, while directing it towards doctrinal or controversial
issues which it had not previously embraced.

The 'Essay' is a tribute to the genius of Shelley; it is also a
justification of his life and character, as the balance of evidence then
presented them to Mr. Browning's mind. It rests on a definition of the
respective qualities of the objective and the subjective poet. . . .
While both, he says, are gifted with the fuller perception of nature and
man, the one endeavours to

'reproduce things external (whether the phenomena of the scenic
universe, or the manifested action of the human heart and brain) with an
immediate reference, in every case, to the common eye and apprehension
of his fellow-men, assumed capable of receiving and profiting by this
reproduction'--the other 'is impelled to embody the thing he perceives,
not so much with reference to the many below, as to the One above him,
the supreme Intelligence which apprehends all things in their absolute
truth,--an ultimate view ever aspired to, if but partially attained, by
the poet's own soul. Not what man sees, but what God sees--the 'Ideas'
of Plato, seeds of creation lying burningly on the Divine Hand--it is
toward these that he struggles. Not with the combination of humanity in
action, but with the primal elements of humanity he has to do; and he
digs where he stands,--preferring to seek them in his own soul as the
nearest reflex of that absolute Mind, according to the intuitions of
which he desires to perceive and speak.'

The objective poet is therefore a fashioner, the subjective is best
described as a seer. The distinction repeats itself in the interest with
which we study their respective lives. We are glad of the biography of
the objective poet because it reveals to us the power by which he works;
we desire still more that of the subjective poet, because it presents us
with another aspect of the work itself. The poetry of such a one is an
effluence much more than a production; it is

'the very radiance and aroma of his personality, projected from it but
not separated. Therefore, in our approach to the poetry, we necessarily
approach the personality of the poet; in apprehending it we apprehend
him, and certainly we cannot love it without loving him.'

The reason of Mr. Browning's prolonged and instinctive reverence
for Shelley is thus set forth in the opening pages of the Essay: he
recognized in his writings the quality of a 'subjective' poet; hence, as
he understands the word, the evidence of a divinely inspired man.

Mr. Browning goes on to say that we need the recorded life in order
quite to determine to which class of inspiration a given work belongs;
and though he regards the work of Shelley as carrying its warrant within
itself, his position leaves ample room for a withdrawal of faith, a
reversal of judgment, if the ascertained facts of the poet's life should
at any future time bear decided witness against him. He is also careful
to avoid drawing too hard and fast a line between the two opposite kinds
of poet. He admits that a pure instance of either is seldom to be found;
he sees no reason why

'these two modes of poetic faculty may not issue hereafter from the same
poet in successive perfect works. . . . A mere running-in of the one
faculty upon the other' being, meanwhile, 'the ordinary circumstance.'

I venture, however, to think, that in his various and necessary
concessions, he lets slip the main point; and for the simple reason that
it is untenable. The terms 'subjective' and 'objective' denote a real
and very important difference on the ground of judgment, but one
which tends more and more to efface itself in the sphere of the higher
creative imagination. Mr. Browning might as briefly, and I think more
fully, have expressed the salient quality of his poet, even while he
could describe it in these emphatic words:

'I pass at once, therefore, from Shelley's minor excellencies to his
noblest and predominating characteristic.

'This I call his simultaneous perception of Power and Love in the
absolute, and of Beauty and Good in the concrete, while he throws, from
his poet's station between both, swifter, subtler, and more numerous
films for the connexion of each with each, than have been thrown by any
modern artificer of whom I have knowledge . . . I would rather consider
Shelley's poetry as a sublime fragmentary essay towards a presentment
of the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to the
spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal than . . .'

This essay has, in common with the poems of the preceding years, the
one quality of a largely religious and, in a certain sense, Christian
spirit, and in this respect it falls naturally into the general series
of its author's works. The assertion of Platonic ideas suggests,
however, a mood of spiritual thought for which the reference in
'Pauline' has been our only, and a scarcely sufficient preparation; nor
could the most definite theism to be extracted from Platonic beliefs
ever satisfy the human aspirations which, in a nature like that of
Robert Browning, culminate in the idea of God. The metaphysical aspect
of the poet's genius here distinctly reappears for the first time since
'Sordello', and also for the last. It becomes merged in the simpler
forms of the religious imagination.

The justification of the man Shelley, to which great part of the Essay
is devoted, contains little that would seem new to his more recent
apologists; little also which to the writer's later judgments continued
to recommend itself as true. It was as a great poetic artist, not as a
great poet, that the author of 'Prometheus' and 'The Cenci', of 'Julian
and Maddalo', and 'Epipsychidion' was finally to rank in Mr. Browning's
mind. The whole remains nevertheless a memorial of a very touching
affection; and whatever intrinsic value the Essay may possess, its main
interest must always be biographical. Its motive and inspiration are set
forth in the closing lines:

'It is because I have long held these opinions in assurance and
gratitude, that I catch at the opportunity offered to me of expressing
them here; knowing that the alacrity to fulfil an humble office conveys
more love than the acceptance of the honour of a higher one, and that
better, therefore, than the signal service it was the dream of my
boyhood to render to his fame and memory, may be the saying of a few,
inadequate words upon these scarcely more important supplementary
letters of _Shelley_.'

If Mr. Browning had seen reason to doubt the genuineness of the letters
in question, his Introduction could not have been written. That, while
receiving them as genuine, he thought them unimportant, gave it, as he
justly discerned, its full significance.

Mr. and Mrs. Browning returned to London for the summer of 1852, and we
have a glimpse of them there in a letter from Mr. Fox to his daughter.


July 16, '52.

'. . . I had a charming hour with the Brownings yesterday; more
fascinated with her than ever. She talked lots of George Sand, and so
beautifully. Moreover she silver-electroplated Louis Napoleon!! They are
lodging at 58 Welbeck Street; the house has a queer name on the door,
and belongs to some Belgian family.

'They came in late one night, and R. B. says that in the morning
twilight he saw three portraits on the bedroom wall, and speculated who
they might be. Light gradually showed the first, Beatrice Cenci, "Good!"
said he; "in a poetic region." More light: the second, Lord Byron! Who
can the third be? And what think you it was, but your sketch (engraved
chalk portrait) of me? He made quite a poem and picture of the affair.

'She seems much better; did not put her hand before her mouth, which I
took as a compliment: and the young Florentine was gracious . . .'


It need hardly be said that this valued friend was one of the first whom
Mr. Browning introduced to his wife, and that she responded with ready
warmth to his claims on her gratitude and regard. More than one joint
letter from herself and her husband commemorates this new phase of the
intimacy; one especially interesting was written from Florence in 1858,
in answer to the announcement by Mr. Fox of his election for Oldham; and
Mr. Browning's contribution, which is very characteristic, will appear
in due course.

Either this or the preceding summer brought Mr. Browning for the first
time into personal contact with an early lover of his works: Mr. D.
G. Rossetti. They had exchanged letters a year or two before, on the
subject of 'Pauline', which Rossetti (as I have already mentioned) had
read in ignorance of its origin, but with the conviction that only the
author of 'Paracelsus' could have produced it. He wrote to Mr. Browning
to ascertain the fact, and to tell him he had admired the poem so much
as to transcribe it whole from the British Museum copy. He now called
on him with Mr. William Allingham; and doubly recommended himself to the
poet's interest by telling him that he was a painter. When Mr. Browning
was again in London, in 1855, Rossetti began painting his portrait,
which he finished in Paris in the ensuing winter.

The winter of 1852-3 saw the family once more in Florence, and at Casa
Guidi, where the routine of quiet days was resumed. Mrs. Browning
has spoken in more than one of her letters of the comparative social
seclusion in which she and her husband had elected to live. This
seclusion was much modified in later years, and many well-known English
and American names become associated with their daily life. It referred
indeed almost entirely to their residence in Florence, where they found
less inducement to enter into society than in London, Paris, and Rome.
But it is on record that during the fifteen years of his married life,
Mr. Browning never dined away from home, except on one occasion--an
exception proving the rule; and we cannot therefore be surprised that
he should subsequently have carried into the experience of an unshackled
and very interesting social intercourse, a kind of freshness which a man
of fifty has not generally preserved.

The one excitement which presented itself in the early months of 1853
was the production of 'Colombe's Birthday'. The first allusion to this
comes to us in a letter from the poet to Lady, then Mrs. Theodore,
Martin, from which I quote a few passages.


Florence: Jan. 31, '53.

'My dear Mrs. Martin,--. . . be assured that I, for my part, have
been in no danger of forgetting my promises any more than your
performances--which were admirable of all kinds. I shall be delighted if
you can do anything for "Colombe"--do what you think best with it, and
for me--it will be pleasant to be in such hands--only, pray follow
the corrections in the last edition--(Chapman and Hall will give you a
copy)--as they are important to the sense. As for the condensation into
three acts--I shall leave that, and all cuttings and the like, to your
own judgment--and, come what will, I shall have to be grateful to you,
as before. For the rest, you will play the part to heart's content, I
_know_. . . . And how good it will be to see you again, and make my wife
see you too--she who "never saw a great actress" she says--unless it was
Dejazet! . . .'


Mrs. Browning writes about the performance, April 12:


'. . . I am beginning to be anxious about 'Colombe's Birthday'. I care
much more about it than Robert does. He says that no one will mistake it
for his speculation; it's Mr. Buckstone's affair altogether. True--but I
should like it to succeed, being Robert's play, notwithstanding. But the
play is subtle and refined for pits and galleries. I am nervous about
it. On the other hand, those theatrical people ought to know,--and what
in the world made them select it, if it is not likely to answer their
purpose? By the way, a dreadful rumour reaches us of its having been
"prepared for the stage by the author." Don't believe a word of it.
Robert just said "yes" when they wrote to ask him, and not a line
of communication has passed since. He has prepared nothing at all,
suggested nothing, modified nothing. He referred them to his new
edition, and that was the whole. . . .'


She communicates the result in May:


'. . . Yes, Robert's play succeeded, but there could be no "run" for a
play of that kind. It was a "succes d'estime" and something more, which
is surprising perhaps, considering the miserable acting of the men. Miss
Faucit was alone in doing us justice. . . .'


Mrs. Browning did see 'Miss Faucit' on her next visit to England. She
agreeably surprised that lady by presenting herself alone, one morning,
at her house, and remaining with her for an hour and a half. The only
person who had 'done justice' to 'Colombe' besides contributing to
whatever success her husband's earlier plays had obtained, was much more
than 'a great actress' to Mrs. Browning's mind; and we may imagine
it would have gone hard with her before she renounced the pleasure of
making her acquaintance.

Two letters, dated from the Baths of Lucca, July 15 and August 20, '53,
tell how and where the ensuing summer was passed, besides introducing
us, for the first time, to Mr. and Mrs. William Story, between whose
family and that of Mr. Browning so friendly an intimacy was ever
afterwards to subsist.


July 15.

'. . . We have taken a villa at the Baths of Lucca after a little
holy fear of the company there--but the scenery, and the coolness, and
convenience altogether prevail, and we have taken our villa for three
months or rather more, and go to it next week with a stiff resolve of
not calling nor being called upon. You remember perhaps that we were
there four years ago just after the birth of our child. The mountains
are wonderful in beauty, and we mean to buy our holiday by doing some
work.

'Oh yes! I confess to loving Florence, and to having associated with it
the idea of home. . . .'



Casa Tolomei, Alta Villa, Bagni di Lucca: Aug. 20.

'. . . We are enjoying the mountains here--riding the donkeys in the
footsteps of the sheep, and eating strawberries and milk by basinsful.
The strawberries succeed one another throughout the summer, through
growing on different aspects of the hills. If a tree is felled in
the forests, strawberries spring up, just as mushrooms might, and the
peasants sell them for just nothing. . . . Then our friends Mr. and
Mrs. Story help the mountains to please us a good deal. He is the son of
Judge Story, the biographer of his father, and for himself, sculptor and
poet--and she a sympathetic graceful woman, fresh and innocent in
face and thought. We go backwards and forwards to tea and talk at one
another's houses.

'. . . Since I began this letter we have had a grand donkey excursion to
a village called Benabbia, and the cross above it on the mountain-peak.
We returned in the dark, and were in some danger of tumbling down
various precipices--but the scenery was exquisite--past speaking of for
beauty. Oh, those jagged mountains, rolled together like pre-Adamite
beasts and setting their teeth against the sky--it was wonderful. . . .'


Mr. Browning's share of the work referred to was 'In a Balcony'; also,
probably, some of the 'Men and Women'; the scene of the declaration in
'By the Fireside' was laid in a little adjacent mountain-gorge to which
he walked or rode. A fortnight's visit from Mr., now Lord, Lytton, was
also an incident of this summer.

The next three letters from which I am able to quote, describe the
impressions of Mrs. Browning's first winter in Rome.


Rome: 43 Via Bocca di Leone, 30 piano. Jan. 18, 54.

'. . . Well, we are all well to begin with--and have been well--our
troubles came to us through sympathy entirely. A most exquisite journey
of eight days we had from Florence to Rome, seeing the great monastery
and triple church of Assisi and the wonderful Terni by the way--that
passion of the waters which makes the human heart seem so still. In the
highest spirits we entered Rome, Robert and Penini singing actually--for
the child was radiant and flushed with the continual change of air and
scene. . . . You remember my telling you of our friends the Storys--how
they and their two children helped to make the summer go pleasantly at
the Baths of Lucca. They had taken an apartment for us in Rome, so that
we arrived in comfort to lighted fires and lamps as if coming home,--and
we had a glimpse of their smiling faces that evening. In the morning
before breakfast, little Edith was brought over to us by the manservant
with a message, "the boy was in convulsions--there was danger." We
hurried to the house, of course, leaving Edith with Wilson. Too true!
All that first day we spent beside a death-bed; for the child never
rallied--never opened his eyes in consciousness--and by eight in the
evening he was gone. In the meanwhile, Edith was taken ill at our
house--could not be moved, said the physicians . . . gastric fever,
with a tendency to the brain--and within two days her life was almost
despaired of--exactly the same malady as her brother's. . . . Also the
English nurse was apparently dying at the Story's house, and Emma Page,
the artist's youngest daughter, sickened with the same disease.

'. . . To pass over the dreary time, I will tell you at once that the
three patients recovered--only in poor little Edith's case Roman
fever followed the gastric, and has persisted ever since in periodical
recurrence. She is very pale and thin. Roman fever is not dangerous to
life, but it is exhausting. . . . Now you will understand what ghostly
flakes of death have changed the sense of Rome to me. The first day by
a death-bed, the first drive-out, to the cemetery, where poor little Joe
is laid close to Shelley's heart ("Cor cordium" says the epitaph)
and where the mother insisted on going when she and I went out in the
carriage together--I am horribly weak about such things--I can't look
on the earth-side of death--I flinch from corpses and graves, and never
meet a common funeral without a sort of horror. When I look deathwards
I look _over_ death, and upwards, or I can't look that way at all. So that
it was a struggle with me to sit upright in that carriage in which the
poor stricken mother sat so calmly--not to drop from the seat. Well--all
this has blackened Rome to me. I can't think about the Caesars in the
old strain of thought--the antique words get muddled and blurred with
warm dashes of modern, everyday tears and fresh grave-clay. Rome
is spoilt to me--there's the truth. Still, one lives through one's
associations when not too strong, and I have arrived at almost enjoying
some things--the climate, for instance, which, though pernicious to the
general health, agrees particularly with me, and the sight of the blue
sky floating like a sea-tide through the great gaps and rifts of ruins.
. . . We are very comfortably settled in rooms turned to the sun, and do
work and play by turns, having almost too many visitors, hear excellent
music at Mrs. Sartoris's (A. K.) once or twice a week, and have Fanny
Kemble to come and talk to us with the doors shut, we three together.
This is pleasant. I like her decidedly.

'If anybody wants small talk by handfuls, of glittering dust swept out
of salons, here's Mr. Thackeray besides! . . .'



Rome: March 29.

'. . . We see a good deal of the Kembles here, and like them both,
especially Fanny, who is looking magnificent still, with her black hair
and radiant smile. A very noble creature indeed. Somewhat unelastic,
unpliant to the age, attached to the old modes of thought and
convention--but noble in qualities and defects. I like her much. She
thinks me credulous and full of dreams--but does not despise me for
that reason--which is good and tolerant of her, and pleasant too, for I
should not be quite easy under her contempt. Mrs. Sartoris is genial and
generous--her milk has had time to stand to cream in her happy family
relations, which poor Fanny Kemble's has not had. Mrs. Sartoris' house
has the best society in Rome--and exquisite music of course. We met
Lockhart there, and my husband sees a good deal of him--more than I
do--because of the access of cold weather lately which has kept me at
home chiefly. Robert went down to the seaside, on a day's excursion with
him and the Sartorises--and I hear found favour in his sight. Said the
critic, "I like Browning--he isn't at all like a damned literary man."
That's a compliment, I believe, according to your dictionary. It made me
laugh and think of you directly. . . . Robert has been sitting for his
picture to Mr. Fisher, the English artist who painted Mr. Kenyon and
Landor. You remember those pictures in Mr. Kenyon's house in London.
Well, he has painted Robert's, and it is an admirable likeness. The
expression is an exceptional expression, but highly characteristic. . . .'


May 19.

'. . . To leave Rome will fill me with barbarian complacency. I don't
pretend to have a ray of sentiment about Rome. It's a palimpsest Rome, a
watering-place written over the antique, and I haven't taken to it as a
poet should I suppose. And let us speak the truth above all things. I
am strongly a creature of association, and the associations of the place
have not been personally favourable to me. Among the rest, my child, the
light of my eyes, has been more unwell than I ever saw him. . . .
The pleasantest days in Rome we have spent with the Kembles, the two
sisters, who are charming and excellent both of them, in different ways,
and certainly they have given us some excellent hours in the Campagna,
upon picnic excursions--they, and certain of their friends; for
instance, M. Ampere, the member of the French Institute, who is witty
and agreeable, M. Goltz, the Austrian minister, who is an agreeable
man, and Mr. Lyons, the son of Sir Edmund, &c. The talk was almost too
brilliant for the sentiment of the scenery, but it harmonized entirely
with the mayonnaise and champagne. . . .'


It must have been on one of the excursions here described that an
incident took place, which Mr. Browning relates with characteristic
comments in a letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald, of July 15, 1882. The picnic
party had strolled away to some distant spot. Mrs. Browning was not
strong enough to join them, and her husband, as a matter of course,
stayed with her; which act of consideration prompted Mrs. Kemble to
exclaim that he was the only man she had ever known who behaved like a
Christian to his wife. She was, when he wrote this letter, reading his
works for the first time, and had expressed admiration for them; but, he
continued, none of the kind things she said to him on that subject could
move him as did those words in the Campagna. Mrs. Kemble would have
modified her statement in later years, for the sake of one English and
one American husband now closely related to her. Even then, perhaps, she
did not make it without inward reserve. But she will forgive me, I am
sure, for having repeated it.

Mr. Browning also refers to her Memoirs, which he had just read, and
says: 'I saw her in those [I conclude earlier] days much oftener than
is set down, but she scarcely noticed me; though I always liked her
extremely.'

Another of Mrs. Browning's letters is written from Florence, June 6
('54):


'. . . We mean to stay at Florence a week or two longer and then go
northward. I love Florence--the place looks exquisitely beautiful in
its garden ground of vineyards and olive trees, sung round by the
nightingales day and night. . . . If you take one thing with another,
there is no place in the world like Florence, I am persuaded, for a
place to live in--cheap, tranquil, cheerful, beautiful, within the
limits of civilization yet out of the crush of it. . . . We have spent
two delicious evenings at villas outside the gates, one with young
Lytton, Sir Edward's son, of whom I have told you, I think. I like him
. . . we both do . . . from the bottom of our hearts. Then, our friend,
Frederick Tennyson, the new poet, we are delighted to see again.

. . . . .

'. . . Mrs. Sartoris has been here on her way to Rome, spending most of
her time with us . . . singing passionately and talking eloquently. She
is really charming. . . .'


I have no record of that northward journey or of the experiences of the
winter of 1854-5. In all probability Mr. and Mrs. Browning remained in,
or as near as possible to, Florence, since their income was still too
limited for continuous travelling. They possibly talked of going to
England, but postponed it till the following year; we know that they
went there in 1855, taking his sister with them as they passed through
Paris. They did not this time take lodgings for the summer months,
but hired a house at 13 Dorset Street, Portman Square; and there, on
September 27, Tennyson read his new poem, 'Maud', to Mrs. Browning,
while Rossetti, the only other person present besides the family,
privately drew his likeness in pen and ink. The likeness has become well
known; the unconscious sitter must also, by this time, be acquainted
with it; but Miss Browning thinks no one except herself, who was near
Rossetti at the table, was at the moment aware of its being made. All
eyes must have been turned towards Tennyson, seated by his hostess on
the sofa. Miss Arabel Barrett was also of the party.

Some interesting words of Mrs. Browning's carry their date in the
allusion to Mr. Ruskin; but I cannot ascertain it more precisely:


'We went to Denmark Hill yesterday to have luncheon with them, and see
the Turners, which, by the way, are divine. I like Mr. Ruskin much, and
so does Robert. Very gentle, yet earnest,--refined and truthful. I like
him very much. We count him one among the valuable acquaintances made
this year in England.'



Chapter 12

1855-1858

'Men and Women'--'Karshook'--'Two in the Campagna'--Winter in
Paris; Lady Elgin--'Aurora Leigh'--Death of Mr. Kenyon and Mr.
Barrett--Penini--Mrs. Browning's Letters to Miss Browning--The
Florentine Carnival--Baths of Lucca--Spiritualism--Mr. Kirkup; Count
Ginnasi--Letter from Mr. Browning to Mr. Fox--Havre.



The beautiful 'One Word More' was dated from London in September; and
the fifty poems gathered together under the title of 'Men and Women'
were published before the close of the year, in two volumes, by Messrs.
Chapman and Hall.* They are all familiar friends to Mr. Browning's
readers, in their first arrangement and appearance, as in later
redistributions and reprints; but one curious little fact concerning
them is perhaps not generally known. In the eighth line of the
fourteenth section of 'One Word More' they were made to include
'Karshook (Ben Karshook's Wisdom)', which never was placed amongst them.
It was written in April 1854; and the dedication of the volume must have
been, as it so easily might be, in existence, before the author decided
to omit it. The wrong name, once given, was retained, I have no doubt,
from preference for its terminal sound; and 'Karshook' only became
'Karshish' in the Tauchnitz copy of 1872, and in the English edition of
1889.

     * The date is given in the edition of 1868 as London 185-;
     in the Tauchnitz selection of 1872, London and Florence 184-
     and 185-; in the new English edition 184-and 185-.

'Karshook' appeared in 1856 in 'The Keepsake', edited by Miss Power;
but, as we are told on good authority, has been printed in no edition or
selection of the Poet's works. I am therefore justified in inserting it
here.

     I

     'Would a man 'scape the rod?'
     Rabbi Ben Karshook saith,
     'See that he turn to God
     The day before his death.'

     'Ay, could a man inquire
     When it shall come!' I say.
     The Rabbi's eye shoots fire--
     'Then let him turn to-day!'


     II

     Quoth a young Sadducee:
     'Reader of many rolls,
     Is it so certain we
     Have, as they tell us, souls?'

     'Son, there is no reply!'
     The Rabbi bit his beard:
     'Certain, a soul have _I_--
     _We_ may have none,' he sneer'd.

     Thus Karshook, the Hiram's-Hammer,
     The Right-hand Temple-column,
     Taught babes in grace their grammar,
     And struck the simple, solemn.

Among this first collection of 'Men and Women' was the poem called
'Two in the Campagna'. It is a vivid, yet enigmatical little study of a
restless spirit tantalized by glimpses of repose in love, saddened and
perplexed by the manner in which this eludes it. Nothing that should
impress one as more purely dramatic ever fell from Mr. Browning's
pen. We are told, nevertheless, in Mr. Sharp's 'Life', that a personal
character no less actual than that of the 'Guardian Angel' has been
claimed for it. The writer, with characteristic delicacy, evades all
discussion of the question; but he concedes a great deal in his manner
of doing so. The poem, he says, conveys a sense of that necessary
isolation of the individual soul which resists the fusing power of
the deepest love; and its meaning cannot be personally--because it is
universally--true. I do not think Mr. Browning meant to emphasize this
aspect of the mystery of individual life, though the poem, in a certain
sense, expresses it. We have no reason to believe that he ever accepted
it as constant; and in no case could he have intended to refer its
conditions to himself. He was often isolated by the processes of his
mind; but there was in him no barrier to that larger emotional sympathy
which we think of as sympathy of the soul. If this poem were true, 'One
Word More' would be false, quite otherwise than in that approach to
exaggeration which is incidental to the poetic form. The true keynote
of 'Two in the Campagna' is the pain of perpetual change, and of the
conscious, though unexplained, predestination to it. Mr. Browning could
have still less in common with such a state, since one of the qualities
for which he was most conspicuous was the enormous power of anchorage
which his affections possessed. Only length of time and variety of
experience could fully test this power or fully display it; but the
signs of it had not been absent from even his earliest life. He loved
fewer people in youth than in advancing age: nature and circumstance
combined to widen the range, and vary the character of his human
interests; but where once love or friendship had struck a root, only a
moral convulsion could avail to dislodge it. I make no deduction from
this statement when I admit that the last and most emphatic words of the
poem in question,

     Only I discern--
     Infinite passion, and the pain
     Of finite hearts that yearn,

did probably come from the poet's heart, as they also found a deep echo
in that of his wife, who much loved them.

From London they returned to Paris for the winter of 1855-6. The younger
of the Kemble sisters, Mrs. Sartoris, was also there with her family;
and the pleasant meetings of the Campagna renewed themselves for Mr.
Browning, though in a different form. He was also, with his sister,
a constant visitor at Lady Elgin's. Both they and Mrs. Browning were
greatly attached to her, and she warmly reciprocated the feeling. As Mr.
Locker's letter has told us, Mr. Browning was in the habit of reading
poetry to her, and when his sister had to announce his arrival from
Italy or England, she would say: 'Robert is coming to nurse you, and
read to you.' Lady Elgin was by this time almost completely paralyzed.
She had lost the power of speech, and could only acknowledge the little
attentions which were paid to her by some graceful pathetic gesture of
the left hand; but she retained her sensibilities to the last; and Miss
Browning received on one occasion a serious lesson in the risk of ever
assuming that the appearance of unconsciousness guarantees its reality.
Lady Augusta Bruce had asked her, in her mother's presence, how Mrs.
Browning was; and, imagining that Lady Elgin was unable to hear or
understand, she had answered with incautious distinctness, 'I am afraid
she is very ill,' when a little sob from the invalid warned her of her
mistake. Lady Augusta quickly repaired it by rejoining, 'but she is
better than she was, is she not?' Miss Browning of course assented.

There were other friends, old and new, whom Mr. Browning occasionally
saw, including, I need hardly say, the celebrated Madame Mohl. In the
main, however, he led a quiet life, putting aside many inducements to
leave his home.

Mrs. Browning was then writing 'Aurora Leigh', and her husband must have
been more than ever impressed by her power of work, as displayed by her
manner of working. To him, as to most creative writers, perfect quiet
was indispensable to literary production. She wrote in pencil, on
scraps of paper, as she lay on the sofa in her sitting-room, open to
interruption from chance visitors, or from her little omnipresent son;
simply hiding the paper beside her if anyone came in, and taking it
up again when she was free. And if this process was conceivable in the
large, comparatively silent spaces of their Italian home, and amidst
habits of life which reserved social intercourse for the close of the
working day, it baffles belief when one thinks of it as carried on
in the conditions of a Parisian winter, and the little 'salon' of the
apartment in the Rue du Colisee in which those months were spent. The
poem was completed in the ensuing summer, in Mr. Kenyon's London house,
and dedicated, October 17, in deeply pathetic words to that faithful
friend, whom the writer was never to see again.

The news of his death, which took place in December 1856, reached Mr.
and Mrs. Browning in Florence, to be followed in the spring by that of
Mrs. Browning's father. Husband and wife had both determined to forego
any pecuniary benefit which might accrue to them from this event; but
they were not called upon to exercise their powers of renunciation. By
Mr. Kenyon's will they were the richer, as is now, I think, generally
known, the one by six thousand, the other by four thousand guineas.* Of
that cousin's long kindness Mrs. Browning could scarcely in after-days
trust herself to speak. It was difficult to her, she said, even to write
his name without tears.

     * Mr. Kenyon had considerable wealth, derived, like Mr.
     Barrett's, from West Indian estates.

I have alluded, perhaps tardily, to Mr. Browning's son, a sociable
little being who must for some time have been playing a prominent part
in his parents' lives. I saw him for the first time in this winter of
1855-6, and remember the grave expression of the little round face,
the outline of which was common, at all events in childhood, to all the
members of his mother's family, and was conspicuous in her, if we may
trust an early portrait which has recently come to light. He wore the
curling hair to which she refers in a later letter, and pretty frocks
and frills, in which she delighted to clothe him. It is on record that,
on one of the journeys of this year, a trunk was temporarily lost which
contained Peni's embroidered trousers, and the MS., whole or in part, of
'Aurora Leigh'; and that Mrs. Browning had scarcely a thought to spare
for her poem, in face of the damage to her little boy's appearance which
the accident involved.

How he came by his familiar name of Penini--hence Peni, and Pen--neither
signifies in itself, nor has much bearing on his father's family
history; but I cannot refrain from a word of comment on Mr. Hawthorne's
fantastic conjecture, which has been asserted and reasserted in
opposition to Mr. Browning's own statement of the case. According to Mr.
Hawthorne, the name was derived from Apennino, and bestowed on the child
in babyhood, because Apennino was a colossal statue, and he was so very
small. It would be strange indeed that any joke connecting 'Baby' with a
given colossal statue should have found its way into the family without
father, mother, or nurse being aware of it; or that any joke should have
been accepted there which implied that the little boy was not of normal
size. But the fact is still more unanswerable that Apennino could by no
process congenial to the Italian language be converted into Penini.
Its inevitable abbreviation would be Pennino with a distinct separate
sounding of the central n's, or Nino. The accentuation of Penini is also
distinctly German.

During this winter in Paris, little Wiedemann, as his parents tried to
call him--his full name was Robert Wiedemann Barrett--had developed a
decided turn for blank verse. He would extemporize short poems, singing
them to his mother, who wrote them down as he sang. There is no less
proof of his having possessed a talent for music, though it first
naturally showed itself in the love of a cheerful noise. His father had
once sat down to the piano, for a serious study of some piece, when
the little boy appeared, with the evident intention of joining in the
performance. Mr. Browning rose precipitately, and was about to leave the
room. 'Oh!' exclaimed the hurt mother, 'you are going away, and he
has brought his three drums to accompany you upon.' She herself would
undoubtedly have endured the mixed melody for a little time, though her
husband did not think she seriously wished him to do so. But if he did
not play the piano to the accompaniment of Pen's drums, he played piano
duets with him as soon as the boy was old enough to take part in them;
and devoted himself to his instruction in this, as in other and more
important branches of knowledge.

Peni had also his dumb companions, as his father had had before him.
Tortoises lived at one end of the famous balcony at Casa Guidi; and
when the family were at the Baths of Lucca, Mr. Browning would stow away
little snakes in his bosom, and produce them for the child's amusement.
As the child grew into a man, the love of animals which he had inherited
became conspicuous in him; and it gave rise to many amusing and some
pathetic little episodes of his artist life. The creatures which he
gathered about him were generally, I think, more highly organized than
those which elicited his father's peculiar tenderness; it was natural
that he should exact more pictorial or more companionable qualities from
them. But father and son concurred in the fondness for snakes, and in a
singular predilection for owls; and they had not been long established
in Warwick Crescent, when a bird of that family was domesticated there.
We shall hear of it in a letter from Mr. Browning.

Of his son's moral quality as quite a little child his father has told
me pretty and very distinctive stories, but they would be out of place
here.*

     * I am induced, on second thoughts, to subjoin one of these,
     for its testimony to the moral atmosphere into which the
     child had been born. He was sometimes allowed to play with a
     little boy not of his own class--perhaps the son of a
     'contadino'.  The child was unobjectionable, or neither
     Penini nor his parents would have endured the association;
     but the servants once thought themselves justified in
     treating him cavalierly, and Pen flew indignant to his
     mother, to complain of their behaviour.  Mrs. Browning at
     once sought little Alessandro, with kind words and a large
     piece of cake; but this, in Pen's eyes, only aggravated the
     offence; it was a direct reflection on his visitor's
     quality.  'He doesn't tome for take,' he burst forth; 'he
     tomes because he is my friend.'  How often, since I heard
     this first, have we repeated the words, 'he doesn't tome for
     take,' in half-serious definition of a disinterested person
     or act! They became a standing joke.

Mrs. Browning seems now to have adopted the plan of writing independent
letters to her sister-in-law; and those available for our purpose are
especially interesting. The buoyancy of tone which has habitually
marked her communications, but which failed during the winter in Rome,
reasserts itself in the following extract. Her maternal comments on Peni
and his perfections have hitherto been so carefully excluded, that a
brief allusion to him may be allowed on the present occasion.


1857.

'My dearest Sarianna, . . . Here is Penini's letter, which takes up
so much room that I must be sparing of mine--and, by the way, if you
consider him improved in his writing, give the praise to Robert, who
has been taking most patient pains with him indeed. You will see how
the little curly head is turned with carnival doings. So gay a carnival
never was in our experience, for until last year (when we were absent)
all masks had been prohibited, and now everybody has eaten of the tree
of good and evil till not an apple is left. Peni persecuted me to let
him have a domino--with tears and embraces--he "_almost never_ in all his
life had had a domino," and he would like it so. Not a black domino!
no--he hated black--but a blue domino, trimmed with pink! that was his
taste. The pink trimming I coaxed him out of, but for the rest, I let
him have his way. . . . For my part, the universal madness reached me
sitting by the fire (whence I had not stirred for three months), and you
will open your eyes when I tell you that I went (in domino and masked)
to the great opera-ball. Yes! I did, really. Robert, who had been
invited two or three times to other people's boxes, had proposed to
return their kindness by taking a box himself at the opera this night,
and entertaining two or three friends with galantine and champagne. Just
as he and I were lamenting the impossibility of my going, on that very
morning the wind changed, the air grew soft and mild, and he maintained
that I might and should go. There was no time to get a domino of my
own (Robert himself had a beautiful one made, and I am having it
metamorphosed into a black silk gown for myself!) so I sent out and
hired one, buying the mask. And very much amused I was. I like to see
these characteristic things. (I shall never rest, Sarianna, till I risk
my reputation at the 'bal de l'opera' at Paris). Do you think I was
satisfied with staying in the box? No, indeed. Down I went, and Robert
and I elbowed our way through the crowd to the remotest corner of
the ball below. Somebody smote me on the shoulder and cried "Bella
Mascherina!" and I answered as impudently as one feels under a mask.
At two o'clock in the morning, however, I had to give up and come away
(being overcome by the heavy air) and ingloriously left Robert and
our friends to follow at half-past four. Think of the refinement and
gentleness--yes, I must call it _superiority_ of this people--when no
excess, no quarrelling, no rudeness nor coarseness can be observed in
the course of such wild masked liberty; not a touch of licence anywhere,
and perfect social equality! Our servant Ferdinando side by side in the
same ball-room with the Grand Duke, and no class's delicacy offended
against! For the Grand Duke went down into the ball-room for a short
time. . . .'


The summer of 1857 saw the family once more at the Baths of Lucca, and
again in company with Mr. Lytton. He had fallen ill at the house
of their common friend, Miss Blagden, also a visitor there; and Mr.
Browning shared in the nursing, of which she refused to entrust any part
to less friendly hands. He sat up with the invalid for four nights; and
would doubtless have done so for as many more as seemed necessary, but
that Mrs. Browning protested against this trifling with his own health.

The only serious difference which ever arose between Mr. Browning and
his wife referred to the subject of spiritualism. Mrs. Browning held
doctrines which prepared her to accept any real or imagined phenomena
betokening intercourse with the spirits of the dead; nor could she
be repelled by anything grotesque or trivial in the manner of this
intercourse, because it was no part of her belief that a spirit still
inhabiting the atmosphere of our earth, should exhibit any dignity or
solemnity not belonging to him while he lived upon it. The question must
have been discussed by them on its general grounds at a very early stage
of their intimacy; but it only assumed practical importance when Mr.
Home came to Florence in 1857 or 1858. Mr. Browning found himself
compelled to witness some of the 'manifestations'. He was keenly
alive to their generally prosaic and irreverent character, and to the
appearance of jugglery which was then involved in them. He absolutely
denied the good faith of all the persons concerned. Mrs. Browning as
absolutely believed it; and no compromise between them was attainable,
because, strangely enough, neither of them admitted as possible that
mediums or witnesses should deceive themselves. The personal aspect
which the question thus received brought it into closer and more painful
contact with their daily life. They might agree to differ as to the
abstract merits of spiritualism; but Mr. Browning could not resign
himself to his wife's trustful attitude towards some of the individuals
who at that moment represented it. He may have had no substantial fear
of her doing anything that could place her in their power, though a
vague dread of this seems to have haunted him; but he chafed against the
public association of her name with theirs. Both his love for and his
pride in her resented it.

He had subsided into a more judicial frame of mind when he wrote 'Sludge
the Medium', in which he says everything which can excuse the liar and,
what is still more remarkable, modify the lie. So far back as the autumn
of 1860 I heard him discuss the trickery which he believed himself to
have witnessed, as dispassionately as any other non-credulous person
might have done so. The experience must even before that have passed
out of the foreground of his conjugal life. He remained, nevertheless,
subject, for many years, to gusts of uncontrollable emotion which would
sweep over him whenever the question of 'spirits' or 'spiritualism' was
revived; and we can only understand this in connection with the peculiar
circumstances of the case. With all his faith in the future, with all
his constancy to the past, the memory of pain was stronger in him than
any other. A single discordant note in the harmony of that married love,
though merged in its actual existence, would send intolerable vibrations
through his remembrance of it. And the pain had not been, in this
instance, that of simple disagreement. It was complicated by Mrs.
Browning's refusal to admit that disagreement was possible. She never
believed in her husband's disbelief; and he had been not unreasonably
annoyed by her always assuming it to be feigned. But his doubt of
spiritualistic sincerity was not feigned. She cannot have thought,
and scarcely can have meant to say so. She may have meant to say, 'You
believe that these are tricks, but you know that there is something real
behind them;' and so far, if no farther, she may have been in the
right. Mr. Browning never denied the abstract possibility of spiritual
communication with either living or dead; he only denied that such
communication had ever been proved, or that any useful end could
be subserved by it. The tremendous potentialities of hypnotism and
thought-reading, now passing into the region of science, were not then
so remote but that an imagination like his must have foreshadowed them.
The natural basis of the seemingly supernatural had not yet entered into
discussion. He may, from the first, have suspected the existence of some
mysterious force, dangerous because not understood, and for this reason
doubly liable to fall into dangerous hands. And if this was so, he
would necessarily regard the whole system of manifestations with
an apprehensive hostility, which was not entire negation, but which
rebelled against any effort on the part of others, above all of those
he loved, to interpret it into assent. The pain and anger which could be
aroused in him by an indication on the part of a valued friend of even
an impartial interest in the subject points especially to the latter
conclusion.

He often gave an instance of the tricks played in the name of
spiritualism on credulous persons, which may amuse those who have not
yet heard it. I give the story as it survives in the fresher memory of
Mr. Val Prinsep, who also received it from Mr. Browning.


'At Florence lived a curious old savant who in his day was well known
to all who cared for art or history. I fear now few live who recollect
Kirkup. He was quite a mine of information on all kinds of forgotten
lore. It was he who discovered Giotto's portrait of Dante in the
Bargello. Speaking of some friend, he said, "He is a most ignorant
fellow! Why, he does not know how to cast a horoscope!" Of him Browning
told me the following story. Kirkup was much taken up with spiritualism,
in which he firmly believed. One day Browning called on him to borrow a
book. He rang loudly at the storey, for he knew Kirkup, like Landor,
was quite deaf. To his astonishment the door opened at once and Kirkup
appeared.

'"Come in," he cried; "the spirits told me there was some one at the
door. Ah! I know you do not believe! Come and see. Mariana is in a
trance!"

'Browning entered. In the middle room, full of all kinds of curious
objects of "vertu", stood a handsome peasant girl, with her eyes fixed
as though she were in a trance.

'"You see, Browning," said Kirkup, "she is quite insensible, and has no
will of her own. Mariana, hold up your arm."

'The woman slowly did as she was bid.

'"She cannot take it down till I tell her," cried Kirkup.

'"Very curious," observed Browning. "Meanwhile I have come to ask you to
lend me a book."

'Kirkup, as soon as he was made to hear what book was wanted, said he
should be delighted.

'"Wait a bit. It is in the next room."

'The old man shuffled out at the door. No sooner had he disappeared than
the woman turned to Browning, winked, and putting down her arm leaned it
on his shoulder. When Kirkup returned she resumed her position and rigid
look.

'"Here is the book," said Kirkup. "Isn't it wonderful?" he added,
pointing to the woman.

'"Wonderful," agreed Browning as he left the room.

'The woman and her family made a good thing of poor Kirkup's
spiritualism.'


Something much more remarkable in reference to this subject happened to
the poet himself during his residence in Florence. It is related in a
letter to the 'Spectator', dated January 30, 1869, and signed J. S. K.


'Mr. Robert Browning tells me that when he was in Florence some years
since, an Italian nobleman (a Count Ginnasi of Ravenna), visiting at
Florence, was brought to his house without previous introduction, by
an intimate friend. The Count professed to have great mesmeric and
clairvoyant faculties, and declared, in reply to Mr. Browning's avowed
scepticism, that he would undertake to convince him somehow or other of
his powers. He then asked Mr. Browning whether he had anything about him
then and there, which he could hand to him, and which was in any way
a relic or memento. This Mr. Browning thought was perhaps because he
habitually wore no sort of trinket or ornament, not even a watchguard,
and might therefore turn out to be a safe challenge. But it so happened
that, by a curious accident, he was then wearing under his coat-sleeves
some gold wrist-studs which he had quite recently taken into wear, in
the absence (by mistake of a sempstress) of his ordinary wrist-buttons.
He had never before worn them in Florence or elsewhere, and had found
them in some old drawer where they had lain forgotten for years. One of
these studs he took out and handed to the Count, who held it in his hand
a while, looking earnestly in Mr. Browning's face, and then he said,
as if much impressed, "C'equalche cosa che mi grida nell' orecchio
'Uccisione! uccisione!'" ("There is something here which cries out in my
ear, 'Murder! murder!'")

'"And truly," says Mr. Browning, "those very studs were taken from
the dead body of a great uncle of mine who was violently killed on his
estate in St. Kitt's, nearly eighty years ago. . . . The occurrence of
my great uncle's murder was known only to myself of all men in Florence,
as certainly was also my possession of the studs."'


A letter from the poet, of July 21, 1883, affirms that the account is
correct in every particular, adding, 'My own explanation of the matter
has been that the shrewd Italian felt his way by the involuntary help
of my own eyes and face.' The story has been reprinted in the Reports of
the Psychical Society.

A pleasant piece of news came to brighten the January of 1858. Mr. Fox
was returned for Oldham, and at once wrote to announce the fact. He
was answered in a joint letter from Mr. and Mrs. Browning, interesting
throughout, but of which only the second part is quite suited for
present insertion.

Mrs. Browning, who writes first and at most length, ends by saying
she must leave a space for Robert, that Mr. Fox may be compensated for
reading all she has had to say. The husband continues as follows:


. . . 'A space for Robert' who has taken a breathing space--hardly more
than enough--to recover from his delight; he won't say surprise, at your
letter, dear Mr. Fox. But it is all right and, like you, I wish from my
heart we could get close together again, as in those old days, and what
times we would have here in Italy! The realization of the children's
prayer of angels at the corner of your bed (i.e. sofa), one to read
and one (my wife) to write,* and both to guard you through the night of
lodging-keeper's extortions, abominable charges for firing, and so on.
(Observe, to call oneself 'an angel' in this land is rather humble,
where they are apt to be painted as plumed cutthroats or celestial
police--you say of Gabriel at his best and blithesomest, 'Shouldn't
admire meeting _him_ in a narrow lane!')

     * Mr. Fox much liked to be read to, and was in the habit
     of writing his articles by dictation.

I say this foolishly just because I can't trust myself to be earnest
about it. I would, you know, I would, always would, choose you out of
the whole English world to judge and correct what I write myself; my
wife shall read this and let it stand if I have told her so these twelve
years--and certainly I have not grown intellectually an inch over the
good and kind hand you extended over my head how many years ago! Now it
goes over my wife's too.

How was it Tottie never came here as she promised? Is it to be some
other time? Do think of Florence, if ever you feel chilly, and hear
quantities about the Princess Royal's marriage, and want a change. I
hate the thought of leaving Italy for one day more than I can help--and
satisfy my English predilections by newspapers and a book or two.
One gets nothing of that kind here, but the stuff out of which books
grow,--it lies about one's feet indeed. Yet for me, there would be one
book better than any now to be got here or elsewhere, and all out of a
great English head and heart,--those 'Memoirs' you engaged to give us.
Will you give us them?

Goodbye now--if ever the whim strikes you to 'make beggars happy'
remember us.

Love to Tottie, and love and gratitude to you, dear Mr. Fox, From yours
ever affectionately, Robert Browning.


In the summer of this year, the poet with his wife and child joined his
father and sister at Havre. It was the last time they were all to be
together.



Chapter 13

1858-1861

Mrs. Browning's Illness--Siena--Letter from Mr. Browning to Mr. Leighton
--Mrs. Browning's Letters continued--Walter Savage Landor--Winter
in Rome--Mr. Val Prinsep--Friends in Rome: Mr. and Mrs.
Cartwright--Multiplying Social Relations--Massimo d'Azeglio--Siena
again--Illness and Death of Mrs. Browning's Sister--Mr. Browning's
Occupations--Madame du Quaire--Mrs. Browning's last Illness and Death.



I cannot quite ascertain, though it might seem easy to do so, whether
Mr. and Mrs. Browning remained in Florence again till the summer of
1859, or whether the intervening months were divided between Florence
and Rome; but some words in their letters favour the latter supposition.
We hear of them in September from Mr. Val Prinsep, in Siena or its
neighbourhood; with Mr. and Mrs. Story in an adjacent villa, and Walter
Savage Landor in a 'cottage' close by. How Mr. Landor found himself
of the party belongs to a little chapter in Mr. Browning's history for
which I quote Mr. Colvin's words.* He was then living at Fiesole with
his family, very unhappily, as we all know; and Mr. Colvin relates
how he had thrice left his villa there, determined to live in Florence
alone; and each time been brought back to the nominal home where so
little kindness awaited him.

     * 'Life of Landor', p. 209.


'. . . The fourth time he presented himself in the house of Mr. Browning
with only a few pauls in his pocket, declaring that nothing should ever
induce him to return.

'Mr. Browning, an interview with the family at the villa having
satisfied him that reconciliation or return was indeed past question,
put himself at once in communication with Mr. Forster and with Landor's
brothers in England. The latter instantly undertook to supply the needs
of their eldest brother during the remainder of his life. Thenceforth an
income sufficient for his frugal wants was forwarded regularly for his
use through the friend who had thus come forward at his need. To Mr.
Browning's respectful and judicious guidance Landor showed himself
docile from the first. Removed from the inflictions, real and imaginary,
of his life at Fiesole, he became another man, and at times still seemed
to those about him like the old Landor at his best. It was in July,
1859, that the new arrangements for his life were made. The remainder
of that summer he spent at Siena, first as the guest of Mr. Story, the
American sculptor and poet, next in a cottage rented for him by Mr.
Browning near his own. In the autumn of the same year Landor removed to
a set of apartments in the Via Nunziatina in Florence, close to the
Casa Guidi, in a house kept by a former servant of Mrs. Browning's, an
Englishwoman married to an Italian.* Here he continued to live during
the five years that yet remained to him.'

     * Wilson, Mrs. Browning's devoted maid, and another most
          faithful servant
     of hers and her husband's, Ferdinando Romagnoli.

Mr. Landor's presence is also referred to, with the more important
circumstance of a recent illness of Mrs. Browning's, in two
characteristic and interesting letters of this period, one written
by Mr. Browning to Frederic Leighton, the other by his wife to her
sister-in-law. Mr.-- now Sir F.-- Leighton had been studying art during
the previous winter in Italy.


Kingdom of Piedmont, Siena: Oct. 9, '59.

'My dear Leighton--I hope--and think--you know what delight it gave
me to hear from you two months ago. I was in great trouble at the time
about my wife who was seriously ill. As soon as she could bear removal
we brought her to a villa here. She slowly recovered and is at last _well_
--I believe--but weak still and requiring more attention than usual. We
shall be obliged to return to Rome for the winter--not choosing to risk
losing what we have regained with some difficulty. Now you know why I
did not write at once--and may imagine why, having waited so long, I put
off telling you for a week or two till I could say certainly what we do
with ourselves. If any amount of endeavour could induce you to join us
there--Cartwright, Russell, the Vatican and all--and if such a step were
not inconsistent with your true interests--you should have it: but I
know very well that you love Italy too much not to have had weighty
reasons for renouncing her at present--and I want your own good and
not my own contentment in the matter. Wherever you are, be sure I shall
follow your proceedings with deep and true interest. I heard of your
successes--and am now anxious to know how you get on with the great
picture, the 'Ex voto'--if it does not prove full of beauty and power,
two of us will be shamed, that's all! But _I_ don't fear, mind! Do
keep me informed of your progress, from time to time--a few lines will
serve--and then I shall slip some day into your studio, and buffet the
piano, without having grown a stranger. Another thing--do take proper
care of your health, and exercise yourself; give those vile indigestions
no chance against you; keep up your spirits, and be as distinguished and
happy as God meant you should. Can I do anything for you at Rome--not to
say, Florence? We go thither (i.e. to Florence) to-morrow, stay there a
month, probably, and then take the Siena road again.'


The next paragraph refers to some orders for photographs, and is not
specially interesting.


Cartwright arrived here a fortnight ago--very pleasant it was to see
him: he left for Florence, stayed a day or two and returned to Mrs.
Cartwright (who remained at the Inn) and they all departed prosperously
yesterday for Rome. Odo Russell spent two days here on his way
thither--we liked him much. Prinsep and Jones--do you know them?--are in
the town. The Storys have passed the summer in the villa opposite,--and
no less a lion than dear old Landor is in a house a few steps off. I
take care of him--his amiable family having clawed him a little
too sharply: so strangely do things come about! I mean his Fiesole
'family'--a trifle of wife, sons and daughter--not his English
relatives, who are generous and good in every way.

Take any opportunity of telling dear Mrs. Sartoris (however
unnecessarily) that I and my wife remember her with the old feeling--I
trust she is well and happy to heart's content. Pen is quite well and
rejoicing just now in a Sardinian pony on which he gallops like Puck on
a dragon-fly's back. My wife's kind regard and best wishes go with those
of, Dear Leighton, yours affectionately ever, R. Browning.



October 1859.

Mrs. to Miss Browning.

'. . . After all, it is not a cruel punishment to have to go to Rome
again this winter, though it will be an undesirable expense, and we
did wish to keep quiet this winter,--the taste for constant wanderings
having passed away as much for me as for Robert. We begin to see that
by no possible means can one spend as much money to so small an end--and
then we don't work so well, don't live to as much use either for
ourselves or others. Isa Blagden bids us observe that we pretend to live
at Florence, and are not there much above two months in the year, what
with going away for the summer and going away for the winter. It's
too true. It's the drawback of Italy. To live in one place there is
impossible for us, almost just as to live out of Italy at all, is
impossible for us. It isn't caprice on our part. Siena pleases us very
much--the silence and repose have been heavenly things to me, and the
country is very pretty--though no more than pretty--nothing marked or
romantic--no mountains, except so far off as to be like a cloud only
on clear days--and no water. Pretty dimpled ground, covered with low
vineyards, purple hills, not high, with the sunsets clothing them. . . .
We shall not leave Florence till November--Robert must see Mr. Landor
(his adopted son, Sarianna) settled in his new apartments with Wilson
for a duenna. It's an excellent plan for him and not a bad one for
Wilson. . . . Forgive me if Robert has told you this already. Dear
darling Robert amuses me by talking of his "gentleness and sweetness".
A most courteous and refined gentleman he is, of course, and very
affectionate to Robert (as he ought to be), but of self-restraint, he
has not a grain, and of suspiciousness, many grains. Wilson will run
many risks, and I, for one, would rather not run them. What do you say
to dashing down a plate on the floor when you don't like what's on it?
And the contadini at whose house he is lodging now have been already
accused of opening desks. Still upon that occasion (though there
was talk of the probability of Mr. Landor's "throat being cut in his
sleep"--) as on other occasions, Robert succeeded in soothing him--and
the poor old lion is very quiet on the whole, roaring softly, to beguile
the time, in Latin alcaics against his wife and Louis Napoleon. He
laughs carnivorously when I tell him that one of these days he will have
to write an ode in honour of the Emperor, to please me.'


Mrs. Browning writes, somewhat later, from Rome:


'. . . We left Mr. Landor in great comfort. I went to see his apartment
before it was furnished. Rooms small, but with a look-out into a little
garden, quiet and cheerful, and he doesn't mind a situation rather out
of the way. He pays four pounds ten (English) the month. Wilson has
thirty pounds a year for taking care of him--which sounds a good deal,
but it is a difficult position. He has excellent, generous, affectionate
impulses--but the impulses of the tiger, every now and then. Nothing
coheres in him--either in his opinions, or, I fear, his affections. It
isn't age--he is precisely the man of his youth, I must believe. Still,
his genius gives him the right of gratitude on all artists at least, and
I must say that my Robert has generously paid the debt. Robert always
said that he owed more as a writer to Landor than to any contemporary.
At present Landor is very fond of him--but I am quite prepared for his
turning against us as he has turned against Forster, who has been so
devoted for years and years. Only one isn't kind for what one gets by
it, or there wouldn't be much kindness in this world. . . .'


Mr. Browning always declared that his wife could impute evil to no one,
that she was a living denial of that doctrine of original sin to which
her Christianity pledged her; and the great breadth and perfect charity
of her views habitually justified the assertion; but she evidently
possessed a keen insight into character, which made her complete
suspension of judgment on the subject of Spiritualism very difficult to
understand.

The spiritualistic coterie had found a satisfactory way of explaining
Mr. Browning's antagonistic attitude towards it. He was jealous, it was
said, because the Spirits on one occasion had dropped a crown on to his
wife's head and none on to his own. The first instalment of his
long answer to this grotesque accusation appears in a letter of Mrs.
Browning's, probably written in the course of the winter of 1859-60.


'. . . My brother George sent me a number of the "National Magazine"
with my face in it, after Marshall Wood's medallion. My comfort is that
my greatest enemy will not take it to be like me, only that does not go
far with the indifferent public: the portrait I suppose will have its
due weight in arresting the sale of "Aurora Leigh" from henceforth. You
never saw a more determined visage of a strong-minded woman with the
neck of a vicious bull. . . . Still, I am surprised, I own, at the
amount of success, and that golden-hearted Robert is in ecstasies about
it, far more than if it all related to a book of his own. The form of
the story, and also, something in the philosophy, seem to have caught
the crowd. As to the poetry by itself, anything good in that repels
rather. I am not so blind as Romney, not to perceive this . . . Give
Peni's and my love to the dearest 'nonno' (grandfather) whose sublime
unselfishness and want of common egotism presents such a contrast to
what is here. Tell him I often think of him, and always with touched
feeling. (When _he_ is eighty-six or ninety-six, nobody will be pained or
humbled by the spectacle of an insane self-love resulting from a long
life's ungoverned will.) May God bless him!--. . . Robert has made his
third bust copied from the antique. He breaks them all up as they are
finished--it's only matter of education. When the power of execution is
achieved, he will try at something original. Then reading hurts him; as
long as I have known him he has not been able to read long at a time--he
can do it now better than at the beginning. The consequence of which
is that an active occupation is salvation to him. . . . Nobody exactly
understands him except me, who am in the inside of him and hear him
breathe. For the peculiarity of our relation is, that he thinks aloud
with me and can't stop himself. . . . I wanted his poems done this
winter very much, and here was a bright room with three windows
consecrated to his use. But he had a room all last summer, and did
nothing. Then, he worked himself out by riding for three or four hours
together--there has been little poetry done since last winter, when
he did much. He was not inclined to write this winter. The modelling
combines body-work and soul-work, and the more tired he has been, and
the more his back ached, poor fellow, the more he has exulted and been
happy. So I couldn't be much in opposition against the sculpture--I
couldn't in fact at all. He has material for a volume, and will work at
it this summer, he says.

'His power is much in advance of "Strafford", which is his poorest work
of art. Ah, the brain stratifies and matures, even in the pauses of the
pen.

'At the same time, his treatment in England affects him, naturally, and
for my part I set it down as an infamy of that public--no other word.
He says he has told you some things you had not heard, and which I
acknowledge I always try to prevent him from repeating to anyone. I
wonder if he has told you besides (no, I fancy not) that an English lady
of rank, an acquaintance of ours, (observe that!) asked, the other
day, the American minister, whether "Robert was not an American." The
minister answered--"is it possible that _you_ ask me this? Why, there is
not so poor a village in the United States, where they would not tell
you that Robert Browning was an Englishman, and that they were sorry
he was not an American." Very pretty of the American minister, was it
not?--and literally true, besides. . . . Ah, dear Sarianna--I don't
complain for myself of an unappreciating public. I _have no reason_. But,
just for _that_ reason, I complain more about Robert--only he does not
hear me complain--to _you_ I may say, that the blindness, deafness and
stupidity of the English public to Robert are amazing. Of course Milsand
had heard his name--well the contrary would have been strange. Robert
_is_. All England can't prevent his existence, I suppose. But nobody
there, except a small knot of pre-Raffaellite men, pretend to do him
justice. Mr. Forster has done the best,--in the press. As a sort of
lion, Robert has his range in society--and--for the rest, you should
see Chapman's returns!--While, in America he is a power, a writer, a
poet--he is read--he lives in the hearts of the people.

'"Browning readings" here in Boston--"Browning evenings" there. For the
rest, the English hunt lions, too, Sarianna, but their lions are chiefly
chosen among lords and railway kings. . . .'


We cannot be surprised at Mrs. Browning's desire for a more sustained
literary activity on her husband's part. We learn from his own
subsequent correspondence that he too regarded the persevering exercise
of his poetic faculty as almost a religious obligation. But it becomes
the more apparent that the restlessness under which he was now labouring
was its own excuse; and that its causes can have been no mystery even
to those 'outside' him. The life and climate of Italy were beginning
to undermine his strength. We owe it perhaps to the great and sorrowful
change, which was then drawing near, that the full power of work
returned to him.

During the winter of 1859-60, Mr. Val Prinsep was in Rome. He had gone
to Siena with Mr. Burne Jones, bearing an introduction from Rossetti to
Mr. Browning and his wife; and the acquaintance with them was renewed
in the ensuing months. Mr. Prinsep had acquired much knowledge of the
popular, hence picturesque aspects of Roman life, through a French
artist long resident in the city; and by the help of the two young men
Mr. Browning was also introduced to them. The assertion that during his
married life he never dined away from home must be so far modified, that
he sometimes joined Mr. Prinsep and his friend in a Bohemian meal, at an
inn near the Porta Pinciana which they much frequented; and he gained in
this manner some distinctive experiences which he liked long afterwards
to recall. I am again indebted to Mr. Prinsep for a description of some
of these.


'The first time he honoured us was on an evening when the poet of
the quarter of the "Monte" had announced his intention of coming to
challenge a rival poet to a poetical contest. Such contests are, or
were, common in Rome. In old times the Monte and the Trastevere, the
two great quarters of the eternal city, held their meetings on the Ponte
Rotto. The contests were not confined to the effusions of the poetical
muse. Sometimes it was a strife between two lute-players, sometimes
guitarists would engage, and sometimes mere wrestlers. The rivalry was
so keen that the adverse parties finished up with a general fight. So
the Papal Government had forbidden the meetings on the old bridge.
But still each quarter had its pet champions, who were wont to meet in
private before an appreciative, but less excitable audience, than in
olden times.

'Gigi (the host) had furnished a first-rate dinner, and his usual tap
of excellent wine. ('Vino del Popolo' he called it.) The 'Osteria' had
filled; the combatants were placed opposite each other on either side
of a small table on which stood two 'mezzi'--long glass bottles holding
about a quart apiece. For a moment the two poets eyed each other like
two cocks seeking an opportunity to engage. Then through the crowd a
stalwart carpenter, a constant attendant of Gigi's, elbowed his way.
He leaned over the table with a hand on each shoulder, and in a neatly
turned couplet he then addressed the rival bards.

'"You two," he said, "for the honour of Rome, must do your best, for
there is now listening to you a great Poet from England."

'Having said this, he bowed to Browning, and swaggered back to his place
in the crowd, amid the applause of the on-lookers.

'It is not necessary to recount how the two Improvisatori poetized, even
if I remembered, which I do not.

'On another occasion, when Browning and Story were dining with us, we
had a little orchestra (mandolins, two guitars, and a lute,) to play to
us. The music consisted chiefly of well-known popular airs. While they
were playing with great fervour the Hymn to Garibaldi--an air strictly
forbidden by the Papal Government, three blows at the door resounded
through the 'Osteria'. The music stopped in a moment. I saw Gigi was
very pale as he walked down the room. There was a short parley at the
door. It opened, and a sergeant and two Papal gendarmes marched solemnly
up to the counter from which drink was supplied. There was a dead
silence while Gigi supplied them with large measures of wine, which the
gendarmes leisurely imbibed. Then as solemnly they marched out again,
with their heads well in the air, looking neither to the right nor the
left. Most discreet if not incorruptible guardians of the peace! When
the door was shut the music began again; but Gigi was so earnest in
his protestations, that my friend Browning suggested we should get into
carriages and drive to see the Coliseum by moonlight. And so we sallied
forth, to the great relief of poor Gigi, to whom it meant, if reported,
several months of imprisonment, and complete ruin.

'In after-years Browning frequently recounted with delight this night
march.

'"We drove down the Corso in two carriages," he would say. "In one were
our musicians, in the other we sat. Yes! and the people all asked, 'who
are these who make all this parade?' At last some one said, 'Without
doubt these are the fellows who won the lottery,' and everybody cried,
'Of course these are the lucky men who have won.'"'


The two persons whom Mr. Browning saw most, and most intimately, during
this and the ensuing winter, were probably Mr. and Mrs. Story. Allusion
has already been made to the opening of the acquaintance at the Baths
of Lucca in 1853, to its continuance in Rome in '53 and '54, and to the
artistic pursuits which then brought the two men into close and frequent
contact with each other. These friendly relations were cemented by their
children, who were of about the same age; and after Mrs. Browning's
death, Miss Browning took her place in the pleasant intercourse which
renewed itself whenever their respective visits to Italy and to England
again brought the two families together. A no less lasting and truly
affectionate intimacy was now also growing up with Mr. Cartwright and
his wife--the Cartwrights (of Aynhoe) of whom mention was made in the
Siena letter to F. Leighton; and this too was subsequently to include
their daughter, now Mrs. Guy Le Strange, and Mr. Browning's sister. I
cannot quite ascertain when the poet first knew Mr. Odo Russell, and his
mother, Lady William Russell, who was also during this, or at all
events the following winter, in Rome; and whom afterwards in London
he regularly visited until her death; but the acquaintance was already
entering on the stage in which it would spread as a matter of course
through every branch of the family. His first country visit, when he had
returned to England, was paid with his son to Woburn Abbey.

We are now indeed fully confronted with one of the great difficulties
of Mr. Browning's biography: that of giving a sufficient idea of the
growing extent and growing variety of his social relations. It is
evident from the fragments of his wife's correspondence that during, as
well as after, his married life, he always and everywhere knew everyone
whom it could interest him to know. These acquaintances constantly
ripened into friendliness, friendliness into friendship. They were
necessarily often marked by interesting circumstances or distinctive
character. To follow them one by one, would add not chapters, but
volumes, to our history. The time has not yet come at which this could
even be undertaken; and any attempt at systematic selection would create
a false impression of the whole. I must therefore be still content to
touch upon such passages of Mr. Browning's social experience as lie in
the course of a comparatively brief record; leaving all such as are not
directly included in it to speak indirectly for themselves.

Mrs. Browning writes again, in 1859:


'Massimo d'Azeglio came to see us, and talked nobly, with that noble
head of his. I was far prouder of his coming than of another personal
distinction you will guess at,* though I don't pretend to have been
insensible to that.'

     * An invitation to Mr. Browning to dine in company
     with the young Prince of Wales.

Dr.--afterwards Cardinal--Manning was also among the distinguished or
interesting persons whom they knew in Rome.

Another, undated extract might refer to the early summer of 1859 or
1860, when a meeting with the father and sister must have been once more
in contemplation.


Casa Guidi.

'My dearest Sarianna,--I am delighted to say that we have arrived, and
see our dear Florence--the Queen of Italy, after all . . . A comfort
is that Robert is considered here to be looking better than he ever was
known to look--and this, notwithstanding the greyness of his beard . . .
which indeed, is, in my own mind, very becoming to him, the argentine
touch giving a character of elevation and thought to the whole
physiognomy. This greyness was suddenly developed--let me tell you how.
He was in a state of bilious irritability on the morning of his arrival
in Rome, from exposure to the sun or some such cause, and in a fit of
suicidal impatience shaved away his whole beard . . . whiskers and all!!
I _cried_ when I saw him, I was so horror-struck. I might have gone into
hysterics and still been reasonable--for no human being was ever so
disfigured by so simple an act. Of course I said when I recovered heart
and voice, that everything was at an end between him and me if he didn't
let it all grow again directly, and (upon the further advice of his
looking-glass) he yielded the point,--and the beard grew--but it grew
white--which was the just punishment of the gods--our sins leave their
traces.

'Well, poor darling Robert won't shock you after all--you can't choose
but be satisfied with his looks. M. de Monclar swore to me that he was
not changed for the intermediate years. . . .'


The family returned, however, to Siena for the summer of 1860, and from
thence Mrs. Browning writes to her sister-in-law of her great anxiety
concerning her sister Henrietta, Mrs. Surtees Cook,* then attacked by a
fatal disease.

     * The name was afterwards changed to Altham.


'. . . There is nothing or little to add to my last account of my
precious Henrietta. But, dear, you think the evil less than it
is--be sure that the fear is too reasonable. I am of a very hopeful
temperament, and I never could go on systematically making the worst of
any case. I bear up here for a few days, and then comes the expectation
of a letter, which is hard. I fight with it for Robert's sake, but all
the work I put myself to do does not hinder a certain effect. She is
confined to her bed almost wholly and suffers acutely. . . . In fact,
I am living from day to day, on the merest crumbs of hope--on the daily
bread which is very bitter. Of course it has shaken me a good deal, and
interfered with the advantages of the summer, but that's the least. Poor
Robert's scheme for me of perfect repose has scarcely been carried out.
. . .'


This anxiety was heightened during the ensuing winter in Rome, by just
the circumstance from which some comfort had been expected--the second
postal delivery which took place every day; for the hopes and fears
which might have found a moment's forgetfulness in the longer absence of
news, were, as it proved, kept at fever-heat. On one critical occasion
the suspense became unbearable, because Mr. Browning, by his wife's
desire, had telegraphed for news, begging for a telegraphic answer. No
answer had come, and she felt convinced that the worst had happened, and
that the brother to whom the message was addressed could not make up
his mind to convey the fact in so abrupt a form. The telegram had been
stopped by the authorities, because Mr. Odo Russell had undertaken
to forward it, and his position in Rome, besides the known Liberal
sympathies of Mr. and Mrs. Browning and himself, had laid it open to
political suspicion.

Mrs. Surtees Cook died in the course of the winter. Mr. Browning always
believed that the shock and sorrow of this event had shortened his
wife's life, though it is also possible that her already lowered
vitality increased the dejection into which it plunged her. Her own
casual allusions to the state of her health had long marked arrested
progress, if not steady decline. We are told, though this may have been
a mistake, that active signs of consumption were apparent in her even
before the illness of 1859, which was in a certain sense the beginning
of the end. She was completely an invalid, as well as entirely a
recluse, during the greater part if not the whole of this last stay in
Rome.

She rallied nevertheless sufficiently to write to Miss Browning in
April, in a tone fully suggestive of normal health and energy.


'. . . In my own opinion he is infinitely handsomer and more attractive
than when I saw him first, sixteen years ago. . . . I believe people in
general would think the same exactly. As to the modelling--well, I told
you that I grudged a little the time from his own particular art. But it
does not do to dishearten him about his modelling. He has given a great
deal of time to anatomy with reference to the expression of form, and
the clay is only the new medium which takes the place of drawing. Also,
Robert is peculiar in his ways of work as a poet. I have struggled a
little with him on this point, for I don't think him right; that is
to say, it would not be right for me . . . But Robert waits for an
inclination, works by fits and starts; he can't do otherwise he says,
and his head is full of ideas which are to come out in clay or marble. I
yearn for the poems, but he leaves that to me for the present. . . . You
will think Robert looking very well when you see him; indeed, you may
judge by the photographs meanwhile. You know, Sarianna, how I used to
forbid the moustache. I insisted as long as I could, but all artists
were against me, and I suppose that the bare upper lip does not
harmonise with the beard. He keeps the hair now closer, and the beard is
pointed. . . . As to the moony whiteness of the beard, it is beautiful,
_I_ think, but then I think him all beautiful, and always. . . .'


Mr. Browning's old friend, Madame du Quaire,* came to Rome in December.
She had visited Florence three years before, and I am indebted to her
for some details of the spiritualist controversy by which its English
colony was at that time divided. She was now a widow, travelling with
her brother; and Mr. Browning came whenever he could, to comfort her in
her sorrow, and, as she says, discourse of nature, art, the beautiful,
and all that 'conquers death'. He little knew how soon he would need the
same comfort for himself. He would also declaim passages from his wife's
poems; and when, on one of these occasions, Madame du Quaire had said,
as so many persons now say, that she much preferred his poetry to hers,
he made this characteristic answer, to be repeated in substance some
years afterwards to another friend: 'You are wrong--quite wrong--she has
genius; I am only a painstaking fellow. Can't you imagine a clever sort
of angel who plots and plans, and tries to build up something--he wants
to make you see it as he sees it--shows you one point of view, carries
you off to another, hammering into your head the thing he wants you to
understand; and whilst this bother is going on God Almighty turns you
off a little star--that's the difference between us. The true creative
power is hers, not mine.'

     * Formerly Miss Blackett, and sister of the member for New
     Castle.

Mrs. Browning died at Casa Guidi on June 29, 1861, soon after their
return to Florence. She had had a return of the bronchial affection to
which she was subject; and a new doctor who was called in discovered
grave mischief at the lungs, which she herself had long believed to
be existent or impending. But the attack was comparatively, indeed
actually, slight; and an extract from her last letter to Miss Browning,
dated June 7, confirms what her family and friends have since asserted,
that it was the death of Cavour which gave her the final blow.


'. . . We come home into a cloud here. I can scarcely command voice or
hand to name 'Cavour'. That great soul which meditated and made Italy
has gone to the diviner Country. If tears or blood could have saved
him to us, he should have had mine. I feel yet as if I could scarcely
comprehend the greatness of the vacancy. A hundred Garibaldis for such a
man!'


Her death was signalized by the appearance--this time, I am told,
unexpected--of another brilliant comet, which passed so near the earth
as to come into contact with it.



Chapter 14

1861-1863

Miss Blagden--Letters from Mr. Browning to Miss Haworth and Mr.
Leighton--His Feeling in regard to Funeral Ceremonies--Establishment
in London--Plan of Life--Letter to Madame du Quaire--Miss Arabel
Barrett--Biarritz--Letters to Miss Blagden--Conception of 'The Ring and
the Book'--Biographical Indiscretion--New Edition of his Works--Mr. and
Mrs. Procter.



The friend who was nearest, at all events most helpful, to Mr. Browning
in this great and sudden sorrow was Miss Blagden--Isa Blagden, as she
was called by all her intimates. Only a passing allusion to her could
hitherto find place in this fragmentary record of the Poet's life; but
the friendship which had long subsisted between her and Mrs. Browning
brings her now into closer and more frequent relation to it. She was
for many years a centre of English society in Florence; for her genial,
hospitable nature, as well as literary tastes (she wrote one or two
novels, I believe not without merit), secured her the acquaintance of
many interesting persons, some of whom occasionally made her house their
home; and the evenings spent with her at her villa on Bellosguardo live
pleasantly in the remembrance of those of our older generation who were
permitted to share in them.

She carried the boy away from the house of mourning, and induced his
father to spend his nights under her roof, while the last painful duties
detained him in Florence. He at least gave her cause to deny, what has
been so often affirmed, that great griefs are necessarily silent. She
always spoke of this period as her 'apocalyptic month', so deeply poetic
were the ravings which alternated with the simple human cry of the
desolate heart: 'I want her, I want her!' But the ear which received
these utterances has long been closed in death. The only written
outbursts of Mr. Browning's frantic sorrow were addressed, I believe, to
his sister, and to the friend, Madame du Quaire, whose own recent loss
most naturally invoked them, and who has since thought best, so far as
rested with her, to destroy the letters in which they were contained. It
is enough to know by simple statement that he then suffered as he did.
Life conquers Death for most of us; whether or not 'nature, art,
and beauty' assist in the conquest. It was bound to conquer in Mr.
Browning's case: first through his many-sided vitality; and secondly,
through the special motive for living and striving which remained to
him in his son. This note is struck in two letters which are given me to
publish, written about three weeks after Mrs. Browning's death; and we
see also that by this time his manhood was reacting against the blow,
and bracing itself with such consoling remembrance as the peace and
painlessness of his wife's last moments could afford to him.


Florence: July 19, '61.

Dear Leighton,--It is like your old kindness to write to me and to say
what you do--I know you feel for me. I can't write about it--but there
were many alleviating circumstances that you shall know one day--there
seemed no pain, and (what she would have felt most) the knowledge of
separation from us was spared her. I find these things a comfort indeed.

I shall go away from Italy for many a year--to Paris, then London for a
day or two just to talk with her sister--but if I can see you it will be
a great satisfaction. Don't fancy I am 'prostrated', I have enough to do
for the boy and myself in carrying out her wishes. He is better than one
would have thought, and behaves dearly to me. Everybody has been very
kind.

Tell dear Mrs. Sartoris that I know her heart and thank her with all
mine. After my day or two at London I shall go to some quiet place in
France to get right again and then stay some time at Paris in order to
find out leisurely what it will be best to do for Peni--but eventually I
shall go to England, I suppose. I don't mean to live with anybody, even
my own family, but to occupy myself thoroughly, seeing dear friends,
however, like you. God bless you. Yours ever affectionately, Robert
Browning.


The second is addressed to Miss Haworth.


Florence: July 20, 1861.

My dear Friend,--I well know you feel as you say, for her once and for
me now. Isa Blagden, perfect in all kindness to me, will have told you
something perhaps--and one day I shall see you and be able to tell you
myself as much as I can. The main comfort is that she suffered very
little pain, none beside that ordinarily attending the simple attacks
of cold and cough she was subject to--had no presentiment of the result
whatever, and was consequently spared the misery of knowing she was
about to leave us; she was smilingly assuring me she was 'better',
'quite comfortable--if I would but come to bed,' to within a few minutes
of the last. I think I foreboded evil at Rome, certainly from the
beginning of the week's illness--but when I reasoned about it, there
was no justifying fear--she said on the last evening 'it is merely the
old attack, not so severe a one as that of two years ago--there is no
doubt I shall soon recover,' and we talked over plans for the summer,
and next year. I sent the servants away and her maid to bed--so little
reason for disquietude did there seem. Through the night she slept
heavily, and brokenly--that was the bad sign--but then she would sit
up, take her medicine, say unrepeatable things to me and sleep again. At
four o'clock there were symptoms that alarmed me, I called the maid and
sent for the doctor. She smiled as I proposed to bathe her feet, 'Well,
you _are_ determined to make an exaggerated case of it!' Then came what
my heart will keep till I see her again and longer--the most perfect
expression of her love to me within my whole knowledge of her. Always
smilingly, happily, and with a face like a girl's--and in a few minutes
she died in my arms; her head on my cheek. These incidents so sustain
me that I tell them to her beloved ones as their right: there was no
lingering, nor acute pain, nor consciousness of separation, but God took
her to himself as you would lift a sleeping child from a dark, uneasy
bed into your arms and the light. Thank God. Annunziata thought by her
earnest ways with me, happy and smiling as they were, that she must have
been aware of our parting's approach--but she was quite conscious, had
words at command, and yet did not even speak of Peni, who was in
the next room. Her last word was when I asked 'How do you feel?'
--'Beautiful.' You know I have her dearest wishes and interests to
attend to _at once_--her child to care for, educate, establish properly;
and my own life to fulfil as properly,--all just as she would require
were she here. I shall leave Italy altogether for years--go to London
for a few days' talk with Arabel--then go to my father and begin to try
leisurely what will be the best for Peni--but no more 'housekeeping'
for me, even with my family. I shall grow, still, I hope--but my root is
taken and remains.

I know you always loved her, and me too in my degree. I shall always be
grateful to those who loved her, and that, I repeat, you did.

She was, and is, lamented with extraordinary demonstrations, if one
consider it. The Italians seem to have understood her by an instinct.
I have received strange kindness from everybody. Pen is very well--very
dear and good, anxious to comfort me as he calls it. He can't know his
loss yet. After years, his will be worse than mine--he will want what he
never had--that is, for the time when he could be helped by her wisdom,
and genius and piety--I _have_ had everything and shall not forget.

God bless you, dear friend. I believe I shall set out in a week. Isa
goes with me--dear, true heart. You, too, would do what you could for us
were you here and your assistance needful. A letter from you came a day
or two before the end--she made me enquire about the Frescobaldi Palace
for you,--Isa wrote to you in consequence. I shall be heard of at 151,
rue de Grenelle St. Germain. Faithfully and affectionately yours, Robert
Browning.


The first of these displays even more self-control, it might be thought
less feeling, than the second; but it illustrates the reserve which, I
believe, habitually characterized Mr. Browning's attitude towards men.
His natural, and certainly most complete, confidants were women. At
about the end of July he left Florence with his son; also accompanied by
Miss Blagden, who travelled with them as far as Paris. She herself must
soon have returned to Italy; since he wrote to her in September on the
subject of his wife's provisional disinterment,* in a manner which shows
her to have been on the spot.

     * Required for the subsequent placing of the monument
     designed by F. Leighton.


Sept. '61.

'. . . Isa, may I ask you one favour? Will you, whenever these dreadful
preliminaries, the provisional removement &c. when they are proceeded
with,--will you do--all you can--suggest every regard to decency and
proper feeling to the persons concerned? I have a horror of that man
of the grave-yard, and needless publicity and exposure--I rely on you,
dearest friend of ours, to at least lend us your influence when the
time shall come--a word may be invaluable. If there is any show made,
or gratification of strangers' curiosity, far better that I had left
the turf untouched. These things occur through sheer thoughtlessness,
carelessness, not anything worse, but the effect is irreparable. I won't
think any more of it--now--at least. . . .'


The dread expressed in this letter of any offence to the delicacies of
the occasion was too natural to be remarked upon here; but it connects
itself with an habitual aversion for the paraphernalia of death, which
was a marked peculiarity of Mr. Browning's nature. He shrank, as his
wife had done, from the 'earth side' of the portentous change; but truth
compels me to own that her infinite pity had little or no part in his
attitude towards it. For him, a body from which the soul had passed,
held nothing of the person whose earthly vesture it had been. He had no
sympathy for the still human tenderness with which so many of us regard
the mortal remains of those they have loved, or with the solemn or
friendly interest in which that tenderness so often reflects itself in
more neutral minds. He would claim all respect for the corpse, but he
would turn away from it. Another aspect of this feeling shows itself in
a letter to one of his brothers-in-law, Mr. George Moulton-Barrett, in
reference to his wife's monument, with which Mr. Barrett had professed
himself pleased. His tone is characterized by an almost religious
reverence for the memory which that monument enshrines. He nevertheless
writes:


'I hope to see it one day--and, although I have no kind of concern as to
where the old clothes of myself shall be thrown, yet, if my fortune be
such, and my survivors be not unduly troubled, I should like them to lie
in the place I have retained there. It is no matter, however.'


The letter is dated October 19, 1866. He never saw Florence again.

Mr. Browning spent two months with his father and sister at St.-Enogat,
near Dinard, from which place the letter to Miss Blagden was written;
and then proceeded to London, where his wife's sister, Miss Arabel
Barrett, was living. He had declared in his first grief that he would
never keep house again, and he began his solitary life in lodgings
which at his request she had engaged for him; but the discomfort of this
arrangement soon wearied him of it; and before many months had passed,
he had sent to Florence for his furniture, and settled himself in the
house in Warwick Crescent, which possessed, besides other advantages,
that of being close to Delamere Terrace, where Miss Barrett had taken up
her abode.

This first period of Mr. Browning's widowed life was one of unutterable
dreariness, in which the smallest and yet most unconquerable element was
the prosaic ugliness of everything which surrounded him. It was fifteen
years since he had spent a winter in England; he had never spent one in
London. There had been nothing to break for him the transition from the
stately beauty of Florence to the impressions and associations of the
Harrow and Edgware Roads, and of Paddington Green. He might have
escaped this neighbourhood by way of Westbourne Terrace; but his
walks constantly led him in an easterly direction; and whether in an
unconscious hugging of his chains, or, as was more probable, from the
desire to save time, he would drag his aching heart and reluctant body
through the sordidness or the squalor of this short cut, rather than
seek the pleasanter thoroughfares which were open to him. Even the
prettiness of Warwick Crescent was neutralized for him by the atmosphere
of low or ugly life which encompassed it on almost every side. His
haunting dream was one day to have done with it all; to have fulfilled
his mission with his son, educated him, launched him in a suitable
career, and to go back to sunshine and beauty again. He learned by
degrees to regard London as a home; as the only fitting centre for the
varied energies which were reviving in him; to feel pride and pleasure
in its increasingly picturesque character. He even learned to appreciate
the outlook from his house--that 'second from the bridge' of which so
curious a presentment had entered into one of the poems of the 'Men and
Women'*--in spite of the refuse of humanity which would sometimes yell
at the street corner, or fling stones at his plate-glass. But all this
had to come; and it is only fair to admit that twenty-nine years ago the
beauties of which I have spoken were in great measure to come also. He
could not then in any mood have exclaimed, as he did to a friend two or
three years ago: 'Shall we not have a pretty London if things go on in
this way?' They were driving on the Kensington side of Hyde Park.

     * 'How it strikes a Contemporary'.

The paternal duty, which, so much against his inclination, had
established Mr. Browning in England, would in every case have lain very
near to his conscience and to his heart; but it especially urged itself
upon them through the absence of any injunction concerning it on his
wife's part. No farewell words of hers had commended their child to his
father's love and care; and though he may, for the moment, have imputed
this fact to unconsciousness of her approaching death, his deeper
insight soon construed the silence into an expression of trust, more
binding upon him than the most earnest exacted promise could have been.
The growing boy's education occupied a considerable part of his time and
thoughts, for he had determined not to send him to school, but, as far
as possible, himself prepare him for the University. He must also, in
some degree, have supervised his recreations. He had therefore, for the
present, little leisure for social distractions, and probably at first
very little inclination for them. His plan of life and duty, and the
sense of responsibility attendant on it, had been communicated to Madame
du Quaire in a letter written also from St.-Enogat.


M. Chauvin, St.-Enogat pres Dinard, Ile et Vilaine: Aug. 17, '61.

Dear Madame du Quaire,--I got your note on Sunday afternoon, but found
myself unable to call on you as I had been intending to do. Next morning
I left for this place (near St.-Malo, but I give what they say is the
proper address). I want first to beg you to forgive my withholding so
long your little oval mirror--it is safe in Paris, and I am vexed at
having stupidly forgotten to bring it when I tried to see you. I shall
stay here till the autumn sets in, then return to Paris for a few
days--the first of which will be the best, if I can see you in the
course of it--afterward, I settle in London.

When I meant to pass the winter in Paris, I hoped, the first thing
almost, to be near you--it now seems to me, however, that the best
course for the Boy is to begin a good English education at once. I shall
take quiet lodgings (somewhere near Kensington Gardens, I rather
think) and get a Tutor. I want, if I can (according to my present
very imperfect knowledge) to get the poor little fellow fit for the
University without passing thro' a Public School. I, myself, could never
have done much by either process, but he is made differently--imitates
and emulates and all that. How I should be grateful if you would help me
by any word that should occur to you! I may easily do wrong, begin ill,
thro' too much anxiety--perhaps, however, all may be easier than seems
to me just now.

I shall have a great comfort in talking to you--this writing is stiff,
ineffectual work. Pen is very well, cheerful now,--has his little horse
here. The place is singularly unspoiled, fresh and picturesque, and
lovely to heart's content. I wish you were here!--and if you knew
exactly what such a wish means, you would need no assuring in addition
that I am Yours affectionately and gratefully ever Robert Browning.


The person of whom he saw most was his sister-in-law, whom he visited, I
believe, every evening. Miss Barrett had been a favourite sister of Mrs.
Browning's, and this constituted a sufficient title to her husband's
affection. But she was also a woman to be loved for her own sake. Deeply
religious and very charitable, she devoted herself to visiting the
poor--a form of philanthropy which was then neither so widespread nor so
fashionable as it has since become; and she founded, in 1850, the first
Training School or Refuge which had ever existed for destitute little
girls. It need hardly be added that Mr. and Miss Browning co-operated in
the work. The little poem, 'The Twins', republished in 1855 in 'Men and
Women', was first printed (with Mrs. Browning's 'Plea for the Ragged
Schools of London') for the benefit of this Refuge. It was in Miss
Barrett's company that Mr. Browning used to attend the church of Mr.
Thomas Jones, to a volume of whose 'Sermons and Addresses' he wrote a
short introduction in 1884.

On February 15, 1862, he writes again to Miss Blagden.


Feb. 15, '62.

'. . . While I write, my heart is sore for a great calamity just
befallen poor Rossetti, which I only heard of last night--his wife, who
had been, as an invalid, in the habit of taking laudanum, swallowed
an overdose--was found by the poor fellow on his return from the
working-men's class in the evening, under the effects of it--help was
called in, the stomach-pump used; but she died in the night, about a
week ago. There has hardly been a day when I have not thought, "if I
can, to-morrow, I will go and see him, and thank him for his book, and
return his sister's poems." Poor, dear fellow! . . .

'. . . Have I not written a long letter, for me who hate the sight of
a pen now, and see a pile of unanswered things on the table before me?
--on this very table. Do you tell me in turn all about yourself. I shall
be interested in the minutest thing you put down. What sort of weather
is it? You cannot but be better at your new villa than in the large
solitary one. There I am again, going up the winding way to it, and
seeing the herbs in red flower, and the butterflies on the top of the
wall under the olive-trees! Once more, good-bye. . . .'


The hatred of writing of which he here speaks refers probably to the
class of letters which he had lately been called upon to answer, and
which must have been painful in proportion to the kindness by which
they were inspired. But it returned to him many years later, in simple
weariness of the mental and mechanical act, and with such force that he
would often answer an unimportant note in person, rather than make the
seemingly much smaller exertion of doing so with his pen. It was the
more remarkable that, with the rarest exceptions, he replied to every
letter which came to him.

The late summer of the former year had been entirely unrefreshing, in
spite of his acknowledgment of the charms of St.-Enogat. There was more
distraction and more soothing in the stay at Cambo and Biarritz, which
was chosen for the holiday of 1862. Years afterwards, when the thought
of Italy carried with it less longing and even more pain, Mr. Browning
would speak of a visit to the Pyrenees, if not a residence among them,
as one of the restful possibilities of his later and freer life. He
wrote to Miss Blagden:


Biarritz, Maison Gastonbide: Sept. 19, '62.

'. . . I stayed a month at green pleasant little Cambo, and then came
here from pure inability to go elsewhere--St.-Jean de Luz, on which
I had reckoned, being still fuller of Spaniards who profit by the new
railway. This place is crammed with gay people of whom I see nothing
but their outsides. The sea, sands, and view of the Spanish coast and
mountains, are superb and this house is on the town's outskirts. I stay
till the end of the month, then go to Paris, and then get my neck back
into the old collar again. Pen has managed to get more enjoyment out of
his holiday than seemed at first likely--there was a nice French family
at Cambo with whom he fraternised, riding with the son and escorting
the daughter in her walks. His red cheeks look as they should. For me, I
have got on by having a great read at Euripides--the one book I brought
with me, besides attending to my own matters, my new poem that is about
to be; and of which the whole is pretty well in my head,--the Roman
murder story you know.

'. . . How I yearn, yearn for Italy at the close of my life! . . .'


The 'Roman murder story' was, I need hardly say, to become 'The Ring and
the Book'.

It has often been told, though with curious confusion as regards the
date, how Mr. Browning picked up the original parchment-bound record of
the Franceschini case, on a stall of the Piazza San Lorenzo. We read
in the first section of his own work that he plunged instantly into the
study of this record; that he had mastered it by the end of the day; and
that he then stepped out on to the terrace of his house amid the sultry
blackness and silent lightnings of the June night, as the adjacent
church of San Felice sent forth its chants, and voices buzzed in the
street below,--and saw the tragedy as a living picture unfold itself
before him. These were his last days at Casa Guidi. It was four years
before he definitely began the work. The idea of converting the story
into a poem cannot even have occurred to him for some little time, since
he offered it for prose treatment to Miss Ogle, the author of 'A Lost
Love'; and for poetic use, I am almost certain, to one of his leading
contemporaries. It was this slow process of incubation which gave
so much force and distinctness to his ultimate presentment of the
characters; though it infused a large measure of personal imagination,
and, as we shall see, of personal reminiscence, into their historical
truth.

Before 'The Ring and the Book' was actually begun, 'Dramatis Personae'
and 'In a Balcony' were to be completed. Their production had been
delayed during Mrs. Browning's lifetime, and necessarily interrupted by
her death; but we hear of the work as progressing steadily during this
summer of 1862.

A painful subject of correspondence had been also for some time engaging
Mr. Browning's thoughts and pen. A letter to Miss Blagden written
January 19, '63, is so expressive of his continued attitude towards the
questions involved that, in spite of its strong language, his family
advise its publication. The name of the person referred to will alone be
omitted.


'. . . Ever since I set foot in England I have been pestered with
applications for leave to write the Life of my wife--I have refused--and
there an end. I have last week received two communications from friends,
enclosing the letters of a certain . . . of . . ., asking them for
details of life and letters, for a biography he is engaged in--adding,
that he "has secured the correspondence with her old friend . . ." Think
of this beast working away at this, not deeming my feelings or those of
her family worthy of notice--and meaning to print letters written years
and years ago, on the most intimate and personal subjects to an "old
friend"--which, at the poor . . . [friend's] death fell into the hands
of a complete stranger, who, at once wanted to print them, but desisted
through Ba's earnest expostulation enforced by my own threat to take
law proceedings--as fortunately letters are copyright. I find this woman
died last year, and her son writes to me this morning that . . . got
them from him as autographs merely--he will try and get them back. . . ,
evidently a blackguard, got my letter, which gave him his deserts, on
Saturday--no answer yet,--if none comes, I shall be forced to advertise
in the 'Times', and obtain an injunction. But what I suffer in feeling
the hands of these blackguards (for I forgot to say another man has been
making similar applications to friends) what I undergo with their paws
in my very bowels, you can guess, and God knows! No friend, of course,
would ever give up the letters--if anybody ever is forced to do that
which _she_ would have writhed under--if it ever _were_ necessary, why, _I_
should be forced to do it, and, with any good to her memory and fame,
my own pain in the attempt would be turned into joy--I should _do_ it at
whatever cost: but it is not only unnecessary but absurdly useless--and,
indeed, it shall not be done if I can stop the scamp's knavery along
with his breath.

'I am going to reprint the Greek Christian Poets and another
essay--nothing that ought to be published shall be kept back,--and this
she certainly intended to correct, augment, and re-produce--but _I_ open
the doubled-up paper! Warn anyone you may think needs the warning of the
utter distress in which I should be placed were this scoundrel, or
any other of the sort, to baffle me and bring out the letters--I can't
prevent fools from uttering their folly upon her life, as they do on
every other subject, but the law protects property,--as these letters
are. Only last week, or so, the Bishop of Exeter stopped the publication
of an announced "Life"--containing extracts from his correspondence--and
so I shall do. . . .'


Mr. Browning only resented the exactions of modern biography in the
same degree as most other right-minded persons; but there was, to
his thinking, something specially ungenerous in dragging to light any
immature or unconsidered utterance which the writer's later judgment
would have disclaimed. Early work was always for him included in this
category; and here it was possible to disagree with him; since the
promise of genius has a legitimate interest from which no distance
from its subsequent fulfilment can detract. But there could be no
disagreement as to the rights and decencies involved in the present
case; and, as we hear no more of the letters to Mr. . . ., we may
perhaps assume that their intending publisher was acting in ignorance,
but did not wish to act in defiance, of Mr. Browning's feeling in the
matter.

In the course of this year, 1863, Mr. Browning brought out, through
Chapman and Hall, the still well-known and well-loved three-volume
edition of his works, including 'Sordello', but again excluding
'Pauline'. A selection of his poems which appeared somewhat earlier, if
we may judge by the preface, dated November 1862, deserves mention as a
tribute to friendship. The volume had been prepared by John Forster and
Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall), 'two friends,' as the preface
states, 'who from the first appearance of 'Paracelsus' have regarded its
writer as among the few great poets of the century.' Mr. Browning had
long before signalized his feeling for Barry Cornwall by the dedication
of 'Colombe's Birthday'. He discharged the present debt to Mr. Procter,
if such there was, by the attentions which he rendered to his infirm old
age. For many years he visited him every Sunday, in spite of a deafness
ultimately so complete that it was only possible to converse with him in
writing. These visits were afterwards, at her urgent request, continued
to Mr. Procter's widow.



Chapter 15

1863-1869

Pornic--'James Lee's Wife'--Meeting at Mr. F. Palgrave's--Letters to
Miss Blagden--His own Estimate of his Work--His Father's Illness and
Death; Miss Browning--Le Croisic--Academic Honours; Letter to the Master
of Balliol--Death of Miss Barrett--Audierne--Uniform Edition of his
Works--His rising Fame--'Dramatis Personae'--'The Ring and the Book';
Character of Pompilia.



The most constant contributions to Mr. Browning's history are supplied
during the next eight or nine years by extracts from his letters to Miss
Blagden. Our next will be dated from Ste.-Marie, near Pornic, where he
and his family again spent their holiday in 1864 and 1865. Some idea
of the life he led there is given at the close of a letter to Frederic
Leighton, August 17, 1863, in which he says:


'I live upon milk and fruit, bathe daily, do a good morning's work, read
a little with Pen and somewhat more by myself, go to bed early, and get
up earlyish--rather liking it all.'


This mention of a diet of milk and fruit recalls a favourite habit of
Mr. Browning's: that of almost renouncing animal food whenever he went
abroad. It was partly promoted by the inferior quality of foreign meat,
and showed no sign of specially agreeing with him, at all events in his
later years, when he habitually returned to England looking thinner and
more haggard than before he left it. But the change was always congenial
to his taste.

A fuller picture of these simple, peaceful, and poetic Pornic days comes
to us through Miss Blagden, August 18:


'. . . This is a wild little place in Brittany, something like that
village where we stayed last year. Close to the sea--a hamlet of a dozen
houses, perfectly lonely--one may walk on the edge of the low rocks by
the sea for miles. Our house is the Mayor's, large enough, clean and
bare. If I could, I would stay just as I am for many a day. I feel out
of the very earth sometimes as I sit here at the window; with the little
church, a field, a few houses, and the sea. On a weekday there is nobody
in the village, plenty of hay-stacks, cows and fowls; all our butter,
eggs, milk, are produced in the farm-house. Such a soft sea, and such a
mournful wind!

'I wrote a poem yesterday of 120 lines, and mean to keep writing whether
I like it or not. . . .'


That 'window' was the 'Doorway' in 'James Lee's Wife'. The sea, the
field, and the fig-tree were visible from it.

A long interval in the correspondence, at all events so far as we are
concerned, carries us to the December of 1864, and then Mr. Browning
wrote:


'. . . on the other hand, I feel such comfort and delight in doing the
best I can with my own object of life, poetry--which, I think, I never
could have seen the good of before, that it shows me I have taken the
root I _did_ take, _well_. I hope to do much more yet--and that the
flower of it will be put into Her hand somehow. I really have great
opportunities and advantages--on the whole, almost unprecedented ones--I
think, no other disturbances and cares than those I am most grateful for
being allowed to have. . . .'


One of our very few written reminiscences of Mr. Browning's social life
refers to this year, 1864, and to the evening, February 12, on which
he signed his will in the presence of Mr. Francis Palgrave and Alfred
Tennyson. It is inscribed in the diary of Mr. Thomas Richmond, then
chaplain to St. George's Hospital; and Mr. Reginald Palgrave has kindly
procured me a copy of it. A brilliant party had met at dinner at the
house of Mr. F. Palgrave, York Gate, Regent's Park; Mr. Richmond, having
fulfilled a prior engagement, had joined it later. 'There were, in
order,' he says, 'round the dinner-table (dinner being over), Gifford
Palgrave, Tennyson, Dr. John Ogle, Sir Francis H. Doyle, Frank Palgrave,
W. E. Gladstone, Browning, Sir John Simeon, Monsignor Patterson,
Woolner, and Reginald Palgrave.'

Mr. Richmond closes his entry by saying he will never forget that
evening. The names of those whom it had brought together, almost all to
be sooner or later numbered among the Poet's friends, were indeed
enough to stamp it as worthy of recollection. One or two characteristic
utterances of Mr. Browning are, however, the only ones which it
seems advisable to repeat here. The conversation having turned on the
celebration of the Shakespeare ter-centenary, he said: 'Here we are
called upon to acknowledge Shakespeare, we who have him in our very
bones and blood, our very selves. The very recognition of Shakespeare's
merits by the Committee reminds me of nothing so apt as an illustration,
as the decree of the Directoire that men might acknowledge God.'

Among the subjects discussed was the advisability of making schoolboys
write English verses as well as Latin and Greek. 'Woolner and Sir
Francis Doyle were for this; Gladstone and Browning against it.'

Work had now found its fitting place in the Poet's life. It was no
longer the overflow of an irresistible productive energy; it was the
deliberate direction of that energy towards an appointed end. We hear
something of his own feeling concerning this in a letter of August '65,
again from Ste.-Marie, and called forth by some gossip concerning him
which Miss Blagden had connected with his then growing fame.


'. . . I suppose that what you call "my fame within these four years"
comes from a little of this gossiping and going about, and showing
myself to be alive: and so indeed some folks say--but I hardly think it:
for remember I was uninterruptedly (almost) in London from the time
I published 'Paracelsus' till I ended that string of plays with
'Luria'--and I used to go out then, and see far more of merely literary
people, critics &c. than I do now,--but what came of it? There were
always a few people who had a certain opinion of my poems, but nobody
cared to speak what he thought, or the things printed twenty-five years
ago would not have waited so long for a good word; but at last a new set
of men arrive who don't mind the conventionalities of ignoring one and
seeing everything in another--Chapman says, "the new orders come from
Oxford and Cambridge," and all my new cultivators are young men--more
than that, I observe that some of my old friends don't like at all
the irruption of outsiders who rescue me from their sober and private
approval, and take those words out of their mouths "which they always
meant to say" and never did. When there gets to be a general feeling of
this kind, that there must be something in the works of an author, the
reviews are obliged to notice him, such notice as it is--but what poor
work, even when doing its best! I mean poor in the failure to give a
general notion of the whole works; not a particular one of such and
such points therein. As I begun, so I shall end,--taking my own course,
pleasing myself or aiming at doing so, and thereby, I hope, pleasing
God.

'As I never did otherwise, I never had any fear as to what I did going
ultimately to the bad,--hence in collected editions I always reprinted
everything, smallest and greatest. Do you ever see, by the way, the
numbers of the selection which Moxons publish? They are exclusively
poems omitted in that other selection by Forster; it seems little use
sending them to you, but when they are completed, if they give me a
few copies, you shall have one if you like. Just before I left London,
Macmillan was anxious to print a third selection, for his Golden
Treasury, which should of course be different from either--but _three_
seem too absurd. There--enough of me--

'I certainly will do my utmost to make the most of my poor self before
I die; for one reason, that I may help old Pen the better; I was
much struck by the kind ways, and interest shown in me by the Oxford
undergraduates,--those introduced to me by Jowett.--I am sure they would
be the more helpful to my son. So, good luck to my great venture, the
murder-poem, which I do hope will strike you and all good lovers of
mine. . . .'


We cannot wonder at the touch of bitterness with which Mr. Browning
dwells on the long neglect which he had sustained; but it is at first
sight difficult to reconcile this high positive estimate of the value of
his poetry with the relative depreciation of his own poetic genius which
constantly marks his attitude towards that of his wife. The facts
are, however, quite compatible. He regarded Mrs. Browning's genius as
greater, because more spontaneous, than his own: owing less to life and
its opportunities; but he judged his own work as the more important,
because of the larger knowledge of life which had entered into its
production. He was wrong in the first terms of his comparison: for he
underrated the creative, hence spontaneous element in his own nature,
while claiming primarily the position of an observant thinker; and he
overrated the amount of creativeness implied by the poetry of his wife.
He failed to see that, given her intellectual endowments, and the lyric
gift, the characteristics of her genius were due to circumstances as
much as those of his own. Actual life is not the only source of poetic
inspiration, though it may perhaps be the best. Mrs. Browning as a poet
became what she was, not in spite of her long seclusion, but by help of
it. A touching paragraph, bearing upon this subject, is dated October
'65.


'. . . Another thing. I have just been making a selection of Ba's poems
which is wanted--how I have done it, I can hardly say--it is one dear
delight to know that the work of her goes on more effectually than
ever--her books are more and more read--certainly, sold. A new edition
of Aurora Leigh is completely exhausted within this year. . . .'


Of the thing next dearest to his memory, his Florentine home, he had
written in the January of this year:


'. . . Yes, Florence will never be _my_ Florence again. To build over or
beside Poggio seems barbarous and inexcusable. The Fiesole side don't
matter. Are they going to pull the old walls down, or any part of them,
I want to know? Why can't they keep the old city as a nucleus and build
round and round it, as many rings of houses as they please,--framing the
picture as deeply as they please? Is Casa Guidi to be turned into any
Public Office? I should think that its natural destination. If I am at
liberty to flee away one day, it will not be to Florence, I dare say.
As old Philipson said to me once of Jerusalem--"No, I don't want to go
there,--I can see it in my head." . . . Well, goodbye, dearest Isa. I
have been for a few minutes--nay, a good many,--so really with you in
Florence that it would be no wonder if you heard my steps up the lane to
your house. . . .'


Part of a letter written in the September of '65 from Ste.-Marie may be
interesting as referring to the legend of Pornic included in 'Dramatis
Personae'.


'. . . I suppose my "poem" which you say brings me and Pornic together
in your mind, is the one about the poor girl--if so, "fancy" (as I
hear you say) they have pulled down the church since I arrived last
month--there are only the shell-like, roofless walls left, for a few
weeks more; it was very old--built on a natural base of rock--small
enough, to be sure--so they build a smart new one behind it, and down
goes this; just as if they could not have pitched down their brick
and stucco farther away, and left the old place for the fishermen--so
here--the church is even more picturesque--and certain old Norman
ornaments, capitals of pillars and the like, which we left erect in the
doorway, are at this moment in a heap of rubbish by the road-side. The
people here are good, stupid and dirty, without a touch of the sense of
picturesqueness in their clodpolls. . . .'


The little record continues through 1866.


Feb. 19, '66.

'. . . I go out a great deal; but have enjoyed nothing so much as a
dinner last week with Tennyson, who, with his wife and one son, is
staying in town for a few weeks,--and she is just what she was and
always will be--very sweet and dear: he seems to me better than ever. I
met him at a large party on Saturday--also Carlyle, whom I never met at
a "drum" before. . . . Pen is drawing our owl--a bird that is the light
of our house, for his tameness and engaging ways. . . .'



May 19, '66.

'. . . My father has been unwell,--he is better and will go into
the country the moment the east winds allow,--for in Paris,--as
here,--there is a razor wrapped up in the flannel of sunshine. I hope to
hear presently from my sister, and will tell you if a letter comes: he
is eighty-five, almost,--you see! otherwise his wonderful constitution
would keep me from inordinate apprehension. His mind is absolutely as
I always remember it,--and the other day when I wanted some information
about a point of mediaeval history, he wrote a regular bookful of notes
and extracts thereabout. . . .'



June 20, '66.

'My dearest Isa, I was telegraphed for to Paris last week, and arrived
time enough to pass twenty-four hours more with my father: he died on
the 14th--quite exhausted by internal haemorrhage, which would have
overcome a man of thirty. He retained all his faculties to the last--was
utterly indifferent to death,--asking with surprise what it was we were
affected about since he was perfectly happy?--and kept his own strange
sweetness of soul to the end--nearly his last words to me, as I was
fanning him, were "I am so afraid that I fatigue you, dear!" this, while
his sufferings were great; for the strength of his constitution seemed
impossible to be subdued. He wanted three weeks exactly to complete his
eighty-fifth year. So passed away this good, unworldly, kind-hearted,
religious man, whose powers natural and acquired would so easily have
made him a notable man, had he known what vanity or ambition or the
love of money or social influence meant. As it is, he was known by
half-a-dozen friends. He was worthy of being Ba's father--out of the
whole world, only he, so far as my experience goes. She loved him,--and
_he_ said, very recently, while gazing at her portrait, that only that
picture had put into his head that there might be such a thing as the
worship of the images of saints. My sister will come and live with
me henceforth. You see what she loses. All her life has been spent in
caring for my mother, and seventeen years after that, my father. You may
be sure she does not rave and rend hair like people who have plenty to
atone for in the past; but she loses very much. I returned to London
last night. . . .'


During his hurried journey to Paris, Mr. Browning was mentally blessing
the Emperor for having abolished the system of passports, and thus
enabled him to reach his father's bedside in time. His early Italian
journeys had brought him some vexatious experience of the old order of
things. Once, at Venice, he had been mistaken for a well-known Liberal,
Dr. Bowring, and found it almost impossible to get his passport 'vise';
and, on another occasion, it aroused suspicion by being 'too good';
though in what sense I do not quite remember.

Miss Browning did come to live with her brother, and was thenceforward
his inseparable companion. Her presence with him must therefore be
understood wherever I have had no special reason for mentioning it.

They tried Dinard for the remainder of the summer; but finding it
unsuitable, proceeded by St.-Malo to Le Croisic, the little sea-side
town of south-eastern Brittany which two of Mr. Browning's poems have
since rendered famous.

The following extract has no date.


Le Croisic, Loire Inferieure.

'. . . We all found Dinard unsuitable, and after staying a few days at
St. Malo resolved to try this place, and well for us, since it serves
our purpose capitally. . . . We are in the most delicious and peculiar
old house I ever occupied, the oldest in the town--plenty of great
rooms--nearly as much space as in Villa Alberti. The little town, and
surrounding country are wild and primitive, even a trifle beyond Pornic
perhaps. Close by is Batz, a village where the men dress in white from
head to foot, with baggy breeches, and great black flap hats;--opposite
is Guerande, the old capital of Bretagne: you have read about it in
Balzac's 'Beatrix',--and other interesting places are near. The sea is
all round our peninsula, and on the whole I expect we shall like it very
much. . . .'

Later.

'. . . We enjoyed Croisic increasingly to the last--spite of three
weeks' vile weather, in striking contrast to the golden months at Pornic
last year. I often went to Guerande--once Sarianna and I walked from it
in two hours and something under,--nine miles:--though from our house,
straight over the sands and sea, it is not half the distance. . . .'


In 1867 Mr. Browning received his first and greatest academic honours.
The M.A. degree by diploma, of the University of Oxford, was conferred
on him in June;* and in the month of October he was made honorary Fellow
of Balliol College. Dr. Jowett allows me to publish the, as he terms it,
very characteristic letter in which he acknowledged the distinction. Dr.
Scott, afterwards Dean of Rochester, was then Master of Balliol.

     * 'Not a lower degree than that of D.C.L., but a much higher
     honour, hardly given since Dr. Johnson's time except to
     kings and royal personages. . . .'  So the Keeper of the
     Archives wrote to Mr. Browning at the time.


19, Warwick Crescent: Oct. 21, '67.

Dear Dr. Scott,--I am altogether unable to say how I feel as to the
fact you communicate to me. I must know more intimately than you can how
little worthy I am of such an honour,--you hardly can set the value of
that honour, you who give, as I who take it.

Indeed, there _are_ both 'duties and emoluments' attached to this
position,--duties of deep and lasting gratitude, and emoluments through
which I shall be wealthy my life long. I have at least loved learning
and the learned, and there needed no recognition of my love on their
part to warrant my professing myself, as I do, dear Dr. Scott, yours
ever most faithfully, Robert Browning.


In the following year he received and declined the virtual offer of the
Lord Rectorship of the University of St. Andrews, rendered vacant by the
death of Mr. J. S. Mill.

He returned with his sister to Le Croisic for the summer of 1867.

In June 1868, Miss Arabel Barrett died, of a rheumatic affection of
the heart. As did her sister seven years before, she passed away in
Mr. Browning's arms. He wrote the event to Miss Blagden as soon as it
occurred, describing also a curious circumstance attendant on it.


19th June, '68.

'. . . You know I am not superstitious--here is a note I made in a book,
Tuesday, July 21, 1863. "Arabel told me yesterday that she had been much
agitated by a dream which happened the night before, Sunday, July
19. She saw Her and asked 'when shall I be with you?' the reply was,
'Dearest, in five years,' whereupon Arabella woke. She knew in her dream
that it was not to the living she spoke."--In five years, within a
month of their completion--I had forgotten the date of the dream, and
supposed it was only three years ago, and that two had still to run.
Only a coincidence, but noticeable. . . .'


In August he writes again from Audierne, Finisterre (Brittany).


'. . . You never heard of this place, I daresay. After staying a
few days at Paris we started for Rennes,--reached Caen and halted a
little--thence made for Auray, where we made excursions to Carnac,
Lokmariaker, and Ste.-Anne d'Auray; all very interesting of their kind;
then saw Brest, Morlaix, St.-Pol de Leon, and the sea-port Roscoff,--our
intended bathing place--it was full of folk, however, and otherwise
impracticable, so we had nothing for it, but to "rebrousser chemin" and
get to the south-west again. At Quimper we heard (for a second time)
that Audierne would suit us exactly, and to it we came--happily, for
"suit" it certainly does. Look on the map for the most westerly point
of Bretagne--and of the mainland of Europe--there is niched Audierne, a
delightful quite unspoiled little fishing-town, with the open ocean in
front, and beautiful woods, hills and dales, meadows and lanes behind
and around,--sprinkled here and there with villages each with its fine
old Church. Sarianna and I have just returned from a four hours' walk
in the course of which we visited a town, Pont Croix, with a beautiful
cathedral-like building amid the cluster of clean bright Breton
houses,--and a little farther is another church, "Notre Dame de
Comfort", with only a hovel or two round it, worth the journey from
England to see; we are therefore very well off--at an inn, I should say,
with singularly good, kind, and liberal people, so have no cares for the
moment. May you be doing as well! The weather has been most propitious,
and to-day is perfect to a wish. We bathe, but somewhat ingloriously, in
a smooth creek of mill-pond quietude, (there being no cabins on the bay
itself,) unlike the great rushing waves of Croisic--the water is much
colder. . . .'


The tribute contained in this letter to the merits of le Pere
Batifoulier and his wife would not, I think, be endorsed by the few
other English travellers who have stayed at their inn. The writer's
own genial and kindly spirit no doubt partly elicited, and still more
supplied, the qualities he saw in them.

The six-volume, so long known as 'uniform' edition of Mr. Browning's
works, was brought out in the autumn of this year by Messrs. Smith,
Elder & Co.; practically Mr. George Murray Smith, who was to be
thenceforward his exclusive publisher and increasingly valued friend. In
the winter months appeared the first two volumes (to be followed in the
ensuing spring by the third and fourth) of 'The Ring and the Book'.

With 'The Ring and the Book' Mr. Browning attained the full recognition
of his genius. The 'Athenaeum' spoke of it as the 'opus magnum' of
the generation; not merely beyond all parallel the supremest poetic
achievement of the time, but the most precious and profound spiritual
treasure that England had produced since the days of Shakespeare.
His popularity was yet to come, so also the widespread reading of his
hitherto neglected poems; but henceforth whatever he published was sure
of ready acceptance, of just, if not always enthusiastic, appreciation.
The ground had not been gained at a single leap. A passage in another
letter to Miss Blagden shows that, when 'The Ring and the Book'
appeared, a high place was already awaiting it outside those higher
academic circles in which its author's position was secured.


'. . . I want to get done with my poem. Booksellers are making me pretty
offers for it. One sent to propose, last week, to publish it at his
risk, giving me _all_ the profits, and pay me the whole in advance--"for
the incidental advantages of my name"--the R. B. who for six months
once did not sell one copy of the poems! I ask 200 Pounds for the sheets
to America, and shall get it. . . .'


His presence in England had doubtless stimulated the public interest
in his productions; and we may fairly credit 'Dramatis Personae' with
having finally awakened his countrymen of all classes to the fact that a
great creative power had arisen among them. 'The Ring and the Book'
and 'Dramatis Personae' cannot indeed be dissociated in what was the
culminating moment in the author's poetic life, even more than
the zenith of his literary career. In their expression of all that
constituted the wide range and the characteristic quality of his genius,
they at once support and supplement each other. But a fact of more
distinctive biographical interest connects itself exclusively with the
later work.

We cannot read the emotional passages of 'The Ring and the Book' without
hearing in them a voice which is not Mr. Browning's own: an echo, not
of his past, but from it. The remembrance of that past must have
accompanied him through every stage of the great work. Its subject had
come to him in the last days of his greatest happiness. It had lived
with him, though in the background of consciousness, through those of
his keenest sorrow. It was his refuge in that aftertime, in which a
subsiding grief often leaves a deeper sense of isolation. He knew the
joy with which his wife would have witnessed the diligent performance
of this his self-imposed task. The beautiful dedication contained in the
first and last books was only a matter of course. But Mrs. Browning's
spiritual presence on this occasion was more than a presiding memory of
the heart. I am convinced that it entered largely into the conception
of 'Pompilia', and, so far as this depended on it, the character of the
whole work. In the outward course of her history, Mr. Browning proceeded
strictly on the ground of fact. His dramatic conscience would not have
allowed it otherwise. He had read the record of the case, as he has
been heard to say, fully eight times over before converting it into the
substance of his poem; and the form in which he finally cast it, was
that which recommended itself to him as true--which, within certain
limits, _was_ true. The testimony of those who watched by Pompilia's
death-bed is almost conclusive as to the absence of any criminal motive
to her flight, or criminal circumstance connected with it. Its time
proved itself to have been that of her impending, perhaps newly expected
motherhood, and may have had some reference to this fact. But the real
Pompilia was a simple child, who lived in bodily terror of her husband,
and had made repeated efforts to escape from him. Unless my memory much
deceives me, her physical condition plays no part in the historical
defence of her flight. If it appeared there at all, it was as a merely
practical incentive to her striving to place herself in safety. The
sudden rapturous sense of maternity which, in the poetic rendering of
the case, becomes her impulse to self-protection, was beyond her age
and her culture; it was not suggested by the facts; and, what is more
striking, it was not a natural development of Mr. Browning's imagination
concerning them.

The parental instinct was among the weakest in his nature--a fact which
renders the more conspicuous his devotion to his own son; it finds
little or no expression in his work. The apotheosis of motherhood which
he puts forth through the aged priest in 'Ivan Ivanovitch' was due to
the poetic necessity of lifting a ghastly human punishment into the
sphere of Divine retribution. Even in the advancing years which
soften the father into the grandfather, the essential quality of early
childhood was not that which appealed to him. He would admire its
flower-like beauty, but not linger over it. He had no special emotion
for its helplessness. When he was attracted by a child it was through
the evidence of something not only distinct from, but opposed to this.
'It is the soul' (I see) 'in that speck of a body,' he said, not many
years ago, of a tiny boy--now too big for it to be desirable that I
should mention his name, but whose mother, if she reads this, will know
to whom I allude--who had delighted him by an act of intelligent grace
which seemed beyond his years. The ingenuously unbounded maternal pride,
the almost luscious maternal sentiment, of Pompilia's dying moments
can only associate themselves in our mind with Mrs. Browning's personal
utterances, and some notable passages in 'Casa Guidi Windows'
and 'Aurora Leigh'. Even the exalted fervour of the invocation to
Caponsacchi, its blending of spiritual ecstasy with half-realized
earthly emotion, has, I think, no parallel in her husband's work.

'Pompilia' bears, still, unmistakably, the stamp of her author's genius.
Only he could have imagined her peculiar form of consciousness; her
childlike, wondering, yet subtle, perception of the anomalies of life.
He has raised the woman in her from the typical to the individual by
this distinguishing touch of his supreme originality; and thus infused
into her character a haunting pathos which renders it to many readers
the most exquisite in the whole range of his creations. For others
at the same time, it fails in the impressiveness because it lacks the
reality which habitually marks them.

So much, however, is certain: Mr. Browning would never have accepted
this 'murder story' as the subject of a poem, if he could not in some
sense have made it poetical. It was only in an idealized Pompilia that
the material for such a process could be found. We owe it, therefore, to
the one departure from his usual mode of dramatic conception, that the
Poet's masterpiece has been produced. I know no other instance of what
can be even mistaken for reflected inspiration in the whole range of his
work, the given passages in 'Pauline' excepted.

The postscript of a letter to Frederic Leighton written so far back as
October 17, 1864, is interesting in its connection with the preliminary
stages of this great undertaking.


'A favour, if you have time for it. Go into the church St. Lorenzo in
Lucina in the Corso--and look attentively at it--so as to describe it
to me on your return. The general arrangement of the building, if with a
nave--pillars or not--the number of altars, and any particularity there
may be--over the High Altar is a famous Crucifixion by Guido. It will be
of great use to me. I don't care about the _outsid_.'



Chapter 16

1869-1873

Lord Dufferin; Helen's Tower--Scotland; Visit to Lady Ashburton--Letters
to Miss Blagden--St.-Aubin; The Franco-Prussian War--'Herve
Riel'--Letter to Mr. G. M. Smith--'Balaustion's Adventure'; 'Prince
Hohenstiel-Schwangau'--'Fifine at the Fair'--Mistaken Theories of Mr.
Browning's Work--St.-Aubin; 'Red Cotton Nightcap Country'.



From 1869 to 1871 Mr. Browning published nothing; but in April 1870
he wrote the sonnet called 'Helen's Tower', a beautiful tribute to the
memory of Helen, mother of Lord Dufferin, suggested by the memorial
tower which her son was erecting to her on his estate at Clandeboye. The
sonnet appeared in 1883, in the 'Pall Mall Gazette', and was reprinted
in 1886, in 'Sonnets of the Century', edited by Mr. Sharp; and again
in the fifth part of the Browning Society's 'Papers'; but it is still I
think sufficiently little known to justify its reproduction.

     Who hears of Helen's Tower may dream perchance
     How the Greek Beauty from the Scaean Gate
     Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
     Death-doom'd because of her fair countenance.

     Hearts would leap otherwise at thy advance,
     Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate!
     Like hers, thy face once made all eyes elate,
     Yet, unlike hers, was bless'd by every glance.

     The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange;
     A transitory shame of long ago;
     It dies into the sand from which it sprang;
     But thine, Love's rock-built Tower, shall fear no change.
     God's self laid stable earth's foundations so,
     When all the morning-stars together sang.

April 26, 1870.


Lord Dufferin is a warm admirer of Mr. Browning's genius. He also held
him in strong personal regard.

In the summer of 1869 the poet, with his sister and son, changed the
manner of his holiday, by joining Mr. Story and his family in a tour in
Scotland, and a visit to Louisa, Lady Ashburton, at Loch Luichart Lodge;
but in the August of 1870 he was again in the primitive atmosphere of a
French fishing village, though one which had little to recommend it but
the society of a friend; it was M. Milsand's St.-Aubin. He had written,
February 24, to Miss Blagden, under the one inspiration which naturally
recurred in his correspondence with her.


'. . . So you, too, think of Naples for an eventual resting-place! Yes,
that is the proper basking-ground for "bright and aged snakes." Florence
would be irritating, and, on the whole, insufferable--Yet I never hear
of any one going thither but my heart is twitched. There is a good,
charming, little singing German lady, Miss Regan, who told me the other
day that she was just about revisiting her aunt, Madame Sabatier, whom
you may know, or know of--and I felt as if I should immensely like to
glide, for a long summer-day through the streets and between the old
stone-walls,--unseen come and unheard go--perhaps by some miracle, I
shall do so--and look up at Villa Brichieri as Arnold's Gypsy-Scholar
gave one wistful look at "the line of festal light in Christ Church
Hall," before he went to sleep in some forgotten grange. . . . I am so
glad I can be comfortable in your comfort. I fancy exactly how you feel
and see how you live: it _is_ the Villa Geddes of old days, I find. I well
remember the fine view from the upper room--that looking down the steep
hill, by the side of which runs the road you describe--that path was
always my preferred walk, for its shortness (abruptness) and the fine
old wall to your left (from the Villa) which is overgrown with weeds and
wild flowers--violets and ground-ivy, I remember. Oh, me! to find
myself some late sunshiny Sunday afternoon, with my face turned to
Florence--"ten minutes to the gate, ten minutes _home_!" I think I should
fairly end it all on the spot. . . .'


He writes again from St.-Aubin, August 19, 1870:


'Dearest Isa,--Your letter came prosperously to this little wild place,
where we have been, Sarianna and myself, just a week. Milsand lives in a
cottage with a nice bit of garden, two steps off, and we occupy another
of the most primitive kind on the sea-shore--which shore is a good sandy
stretch for miles and miles on either side. I don't think we were ever
quite so thoroughly washed by the sea-air from all quarters as here--the
weather is fine, and we do well enough. The sadness of the war and its
consequences go far to paralyse all our pleasure, however. . . .

'Well, you are at Siena--one of the places I love best to remember. You
are returned--or I would ask you to tell me how the Villa Alberti wears,
and if the fig-tree behind the house is green and strong yet. I have
a pen-and-ink drawing of it, dated and signed the last day Ba was ever
there--"my fig tree--" she used to sit under it, reading and writing.
Nine years, or ten rather, since then! Poor old Landor's oak, too,
and his cottage, ought not to be forgotten. Exactly opposite this
house,--just over the way of the water,--shines every night the
light-house of Havre--a place I know well, and love very moderately:
but it always gives me a thrill as I see afar, _exactly_ a particular spot
which I was at along with her. At this moment, I see the white streak of
the phare in the sun, from the window where I write and I _think_. . . .
Milsand went to Paris last week, just before we arrived, to transport
his valuables to a safer place than his house, which is near the
fortifications. He is filled with as much despondency as can be--while
the old dear and perfect kindness remains. I never knew or shall know
his like among men. . . .'


The war did more than sadden Mr. and Miss Browning's visit to St.-Aubin;
it opposed unlooked-for difficulties to their return home. They had
remained, unconscious of the impending danger, till Sedan had been
taken, the Emperor's downfall proclaimed, and the country suddenly
placed in a state of siege. One morning M. Milsand came to them in
anxious haste, and insisted on their starting that very day. An order,
he said, had been issued that no native should leave the country, and
it only needed some unusually thick-headed Maire for Mr. Browning to be
arrested as a runaway Frenchman or a Prussian spy. The usual passenger
boats from Calais and Boulogne no longer ran; but there was, he
believed, a chance of their finding one at Havre. They acted on this
warning, and discovered its wisdom in the various hindrances which they
found on their way. Everywhere the horses had been requisitioned for the
war. The boat on which they had relied to take them down the river
to Caen had been stopped that very morning; and when they reached the
railroad they were told that the Prussians would be at the other end
before night. At last they arrived at Honfleur, where they found an
English vessel which was about to convey cattle to Southampton; and in
this, setting out at midnight, they made their passage to England.

Some words addressed to Miss Blagden, written I believe in 1871, once
more strike a touching familiar note.


'. . . But _no_, dearest Isa. The simple truth is that _she_ was the poet,
and I the clever person by comparison--remember her limited experience
of all kinds, and what she made of it. Remember on the other hand, how
my uninterrupted health and strength and practice with the world have
helped me. . . .'


'Balaustion's Adventure' and 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau' were
published, respectively, in August and December 1871. They had been
preceded in the March of the same year by a ballad, 'Herve Riel',
afterwards reprinted in the 'Pacchiarotto' volume, and which Mr.
Browning now sold to the 'Cornhill Magazine' for the benefit of the
French sufferers by the war.

The circumstances of this little transaction, unique in Mr. Browning's
experience, are set forth in the following letter:


Feb. 4, '71.

'My dear Smith,--I want to give something to the people in Paris, and
can afford so very little just now, that I am forced upon an expedient.
Will you buy of me that poem which poor Simeon praised in a letter
you saw, and which I like better than most things I have done of
late?--Buy,--I mean,--the right of printing it in the Pall Mall and,
if you please, the Cornhill also,--the copyright remaining with me. You
remember you wanted to print it in the Cornhill, and I was obstinate:
there is hardly any occasion on which I should be otherwise, if the
printing any poem of mine in a magazine were purely for my own sake: so,
any liberality you exercise will not be drawn into a precedent against
you. I fancy this is a case in which one may handsomely puff one's own
ware, and I venture to call my verses good for once. I send them to
you directly, because expedition will render whatever I contribute more
valuable: for when you make up your mind as to how liberally I shall be
enabled to give, you must send me a cheque and I will send the same as
the "Product of a Poem"--so that your light will shine deservedly. Now,
begin proceedings by reading the poem to Mrs. Smith,--by whose judgment
I will cheerfully be bound; and, with her approval, second my endeavour
as best you can. Would,--for the love of France,--that this were a "Song
of a Wren"--then should the guineas equal the lines; as it is, do what
you safely may for the song of a Robin--Browning--who is yours very
truly, into the bargain.

'P.S. The copy is so clear and careful that you might, with a good
Reader, print it on Monday, nor need my help for corrections: I shall
however be always at home, and ready at a moment's notice: return the
copy, if you please, as I promised it to my son long ago.'


Mr. Smith gave him 100 guineas as the price of the poem.

He wrote concerning the two longer poems, first probably at the close of
this year, and again in January 1872, to Miss Blagden.


'. . . By this time you have got my little book ('Hohenstiel') and seen
for yourself whether I make the best or worst of the case. I think, in
the main, he meant to do what I say, and, but for weakness,--grown more
apparent in his last years than formerly,--would have done what I say he
did not.* I thought badly of him at the beginning of his career, _et pour
cause_: better afterward, on the strength of the promises he made, and
gave indications of intending to redeem. I think him very weak in the
last miserable year. At his worst I prefer him to Thiers' best. I am
told my little thing is succeeding--sold 1,400 in the first five days,
and before any notice appeared. I remember that the year I made the
little rough sketch in Rome, '60, my account for the last six months
with Chapman was--_nil_, not one copy disposed of! . . .

     * This phrase is a little misleading.

'. . . I am glad you like what the editor of the Edinburgh calls my
eulogium on the second empire,--which it is not, any more than what
another wiseacre affirms it to be "a scandalous attack on the old
constant friend of England"--it is just what I imagine the man might, if
he pleased, say for himself.'


Mr. Browning continues:


'Spite of my ailments and bewailments I have just all but finished
another poem of quite another kind, which shall amuse you in the spring,
I hope! I don't go sound asleep at all events. 'Balaustion'--the second
edition is in the press I think I told you. 2,500 in five months, is a
good sale for the likes of me. But I met Henry Taylor (of Artevelde)
two days ago at dinner, and he said he had never gained anything by his
books, which surely is a shame--I mean, if no buyers mean no
readers. . . .'

'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau' was written in Scotland, where Mr.
Browning was the guest of Mr. Ernest Benzon: having left his sister to
the care of M. and Madame Milsand at St.-Aubin. The ailment he speaks
of consisted, I believe, of a severe cold. Another of the occurrences
of 1871 was Mr. Browning's election as Life Governor of the London
University.

A passage from a letter dated March 30, '72, bears striking testimony to
the constant warmth of his affections.


'. . . The misfortune, which I did not guess when I accepted the
invitation, is that I shall lose some of the last days of Milsand, who
has been here for the last month: no words can express the love I have
for him, you know. He is increasingly precious to me. . . . Waring
came back the other day, after thirty years' absence, the same as
ever,--nearly. He has been Prime Minister at New Zealand for a year and
a half, but gets tired, and returns home with a poem.'*

     * 'Ranolf and Amohia'.

This is my last extract from the correspondence with Miss Blagden. Her
death closed it altogether within the year.


It is difficult to infer from letters, however intimate, the dominant
state of the writer's mind: most of all to do so in Mr. Browning's case,
from such passages of his correspondence as circumstances allow me
to quote. Letters written in intimacy, and to the same friend, often
express a recurrent mood, a revived set of associations, which for the
moment destroys the habitual balance of feeling. The same effect is
sometimes produced in personal intercourse; and the more varied the
life, the more versatile the nature, the more readily in either case
will a lately unused spring of emotion well up at the passing touch.
We may even fancy we read into the letters of 1870 that eerie, haunting
sadness of a cherished memory from which, in spite of ourselves, life
is bearing us away. We may also err in so doing. But literary creation,
patiently carried on through a given period, is usually a fair
reflection of the general moral and mental conditions under which it has
taken place; and it would be hard to imagine from Mr. Browning's work
during these last ten years that any but gracious influences had been
operating upon his genius, any more disturbing element than the sense of
privation and loss had entered into his inner life.

Some leaven of bitterness must, nevertheless, have been working within
him, or he could never have produced that piece of perplexing cynicism,
'Fifine at the Fair'--the poem referred to as in progress in a letter to
Miss Blagden, and which appeared in the spring of 1872. The disturbing
cause had been also of long standing; for the deeper reactive processes
of Mr. Browning's nature were as slow as its more superficial response
was swift; and while 'Dramatis Personae', 'The Ring and the Book',
and even 'Balaustion's Adventure', represented the gradually perfected
substance of his poetic imagination, 'Fifine at the Fair' was as the
froth thrown up by it during the prolonged simmering which was to leave
it clear. The work displays the iridescent brightness as well as the
occasional impurity of this froth-like character. Beauty and ugliness
are, indeed, almost inseparable in the moral impression which it leaves
upon us. The author has put forth a plea for self-indulgence with a
much slighter attempt at dramatic disguise than his special pleadings
generally assume; and while allowing circumstances to expose the
sophistry of the position, and punish its attendant act, he does not
sufficiently condemn it. But, in identifying himself for the moment with
the conception of a Don Juan, he has infused into it a tenderness and
a poetry with which the true type had very little in common, and which
retard its dramatic development. Those who knew Mr. Browning, or who
thoroughly know his work, may censure, regret, fail to understand
'Fifine at the Fair'; they will never in any important sense misconstrue
it.

But it has been so misconstrued by an intelligent and not unsympathetic
critic; and his construction may be endorsed by other persons in the
present, and still more in the future, in whom the elements of a truer
judgment are wanting. It seems, therefore, best to protest at once
against the misjudgment, though in so doing I am claiming for it an
attention which it may not seem to deserve. I allude to Mr. Mortimer's
'Note on Browning' in the 'Scottish Art Review' for December 1889. This
note contains a summary of Mr. Browning's teaching, which it resolves
into the moral equivalent of the doctrine of the conservation of force.
Mr. Mortimer assumes for the purpose of his comparison that the exercise
of force means necessarily moving on; and according to him Mr. Browning
prescribes action at any price, even that of defying the restrictions
of moral law. He thus, we are told, blames the lovers in 'The Statue and
the Bust' for their failure to carry out what was an immoral intention;
and, in the person of his 'Don Juan', defends a husband's claim to
relieve the fixity of conjugal affection by varied adventure in the
world of temporary loves: the result being 'the negation of that
convention under which we habitually view life, but which for some
reason or other breaks down when we have to face the problems of a
Goethe, a Shelley, a Byron, or a Browning.'

Mr. Mortimer's generalization does not apply to 'The Statue and the
Bust', since Mr. Browning has made it perfectly clear that, in this
case, the intended act is postponed without reference to its morality,
and simply in consequence of a weakness of will, which would have been
as paralyzing to a good purpose as it was to the bad one; but it is not
without superficial sanction in 'Fifine at the Fair'; and the part which
the author allowed himself to play in it did him an injustice only to be
measured by the inference which it has been made to support. There could
be no mistake more ludicrous, were it less regrettable, than that of
classing Mr. Browning, on moral grounds, with Byron or Shelley; even
in the case of Goethe the analogy breaks down. The evidence of the
foregoing pages has rendered all protest superfluous. But the suggested
moral resemblance to the two English poets receives a striking comment
in a fact of Mr. Browning's life which falls practically into the
present period of our history: his withdrawal from Shelley of the
devotion of more than forty years on account of an act of heartlessness
towards his first wife which he held to have been proved against him.

The sweet and the bitter lay, indeed, very close to each other at the
sources of Mr. Browning's inspiration. Both proceeded, in great measure,
from his spiritual allegiance to the past--that past by which it was
impossible that he should linger, but which he could not yet leave
behind. The present came to him with friendly greeting. He was
unconsciously, perhaps inevitably, unjust to what it brought. The
injustice reacted upon himself, and developed by degrees into the
cynical mood of fancy which became manifest in 'Fifine at the Fair'.

It is true that, in the light of this explanation, we see an effect very
unlike its cause; but the chemistry of human emotion is like that of
natural life. It will often form a compound in which neither of its
constituents can be recognized. This perverse poem was the last as well
as the first manifestation of an ungenial mood of Mr. Browning's mind.
A slight exception may be made for some passages in 'Red Cotton Nightcap
Country', and for one of the poems of the 'Pacchiarotto' volume; but
otherwise no sign of moral or mental disturbance betrays itself in his
subsequent work. The past and the present gradually assumed for him a
more just relation to each other. He learned to meet life as it offered
itself to him with a more frank recognition of its good gifts, a more
grateful response to them. He grew happier, hence more genial, as the
years advanced.

It was not without misgiving that Mr. Browning published 'Fifine at
the Fair'; but many years were to pass before he realized the kind of
criticism to which it had exposed him. The belief conveyed in the
letter to Miss Blagden that what proceeds from a genuine inspiration is
justified by it, combined with the indifference to public opinion
which had been engendered in him by its long neglect, made him slow to
anticipate the results of external judgment, even where he was in some
degree prepared to endorse them. For his value as a poet, it was best
so.

The August of 1872 and of 1873 again found him with his sister at
St.-Aubin, and the earlier visit was an important one: since it supplied
him with the materials of his next work, of which Miss Annie Thackeray,
there also for a few days, suggested the title. The tragic drama which
forms the subject of Mr. Browning's poem had been in great part enacted
in the vicinity of St.-Aubin; and the case of disputed inheritance to
which it had given rise was pending at that moment in the tribunals of
Caen. The prevailing impression left on Miss Thackeray's mind by this
primitive district was, she declared, that of white cotton nightcaps
(the habitual headgear of the Normandy peasants). She engaged to write
a story called 'White Cotton Nightcap Country'; and Mr. Browning's quick
sense of both contrast and analogy inspired the introduction of
this emblem of repose into his own picture of that peaceful, prosaic
existence, and of the ghastly spiritual conflict to which it had served
as background. He employed a good deal of perhaps strained ingenuity in
the opening pages of the work, in making the white cap foreshadow the
red, itself the symbol of liberty, and only indirectly connected with
tragic events; and he would, I think, have emphasized the irony of
circumstance in a manner more characteristic of himself, if he had laid
his stress on the remoteness from 'the madding crowd', and repeated
Miss Thackeray's title. There can, however, be no doubt that his poetic
imagination, no less than his human insight, was amply vindicated by his
treatment of the story.

On leaving St.-Aubin he spent a month at Fontainebleau, in a house
situated on the outskirts of the forest; and here his principal indoor
occupation was reading the Greek dramatists, especially Aeschylus, to
whom he had returned with revived interest and curiosity. 'Red Cotton
Nightcap Country' was not begun till his return to London in the later
autumn. It was published in the early summer of 1873.



Chapter 17

1873-1878

London Life--Love of Music--Miss Egerton-Smith--Periodical Nervous
Exhaustion--Mers; 'Aristophanes' Apology'--'Agamemnon'--'The
Inn Album'--'Pacchiarotto and other Poems'--Visits to Oxford and
Cambridge--Letters to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald--St. Andrews; Letter
from Professor Knight--In the Savoyard Mountains--Death of Miss
Egerton-Smith--'La Saisiaz'; 'The Two Poets of Croisic'--Selections from
his Works.



The period on which we have now entered, covering roughly the ten or
twelve years which followed the publication of 'The Ring and the Book',
was the fullest in Mr. Browning's life; it was that in which the varied
claims made by it on his moral, and above all his physical energies,
found in him the fullest power of response. He could rise early and go
to bed late--this, however, never from choice; and occupy every hour of
the day with work or pleasure, in a manner which his friends recalled
regretfully in later years, when of two or three engagements which
ought to have divided his afternoon, a single one--perhaps only the most
formally pressing--could be fulfilled. Soon after his final return to
England, while he still lived in comparative seclusion, certain habits
of friendly intercourse, often superficial, but always binding, had
rooted themselves in his life. London society, as I have also implied,
opened itself to him in ever-widening circles, or, as it would be truer
to say, drew him more and more deeply into its whirl; and even before
the mellowing kindness of his nature had infused warmth into the least
substantial of his social relations, the imaginative curiosity of the
poet--for a while the natural ambition of the man--found satisfaction in
it. For a short time, indeed, he entered into the fashionable routine of
country-house visiting. Besides the instances I have already given,
and many others which I may have forgotten, he was heard of, during the
earlier part of this decade, as the guest of Lord Carnarvon at Highclere
Castle, of Lord Shrewsbury at Alton Towers, of Lord Brownlow and his
mother, Lady Marian Alford, at Belton and Ashridge. Somewhat later,
he stayed with Mr. and Lady Alice Gaisford at a house they temporarily
occupied on the Sussex downs; with Mr. Cholmondeley at Condover, and,
much more recently, at Aynhoe Park with Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright. Kind
and pressing, and in themselves very tempting invitations of this nature
came to him until the end of his life; but he very soon made a practice
of declining them, because their acceptance could only renew for him the
fatigues of the London season, while the tantalizing beauty and
repose of the country lay before his eyes; but such visits, while they
continued, were one of the necessary social experiences which brought
their grist to his mill.

And now, in addition to the large social tribute which he received, and
had to pay, he was drinking in all the enjoyment, and incurring all the
fatigue which the London musical world could create for him. In Italy
he had found the natural home of the other arts. The one poem, 'Old
Pictures in Florence', is sufficiently eloquent of long communion with
the old masters and their works; and if his history in Florence and Rome
had been written in his own letters instead of those of his wife, they
must have held many reminiscences of galleries and studios, and of the
places in which pictures are bought and sold. But his love for music
was as certainly starved as the delight in painting and sculpture was
nourished; and it had now grown into a passion, from the indulgence of
which he derived, as he always declared, some of the most beneficent
influences of his life. It would be scarcely an exaggeration to say that
he attended every important concert of the season, whether isolated or
given in a course. There was no engagement possible or actual, which did
not yield to the discovery of its clashing with the day and hour fixed
for one of these. His frequent companion on such occasions was Miss
Egerton-Smith.

Miss Smith became only known to Mr. Browning's general acquaintance
through the dedicatory 'A. E. S.' of 'La Saisiaz'; but she was, at the
time of her death, one of his oldest women friends. He first met her as
a young woman in Florence when she was visiting there; and the love
for and proficiency in music soon asserted itself as a bond of sympathy
between them. They did not, however, see much of each other till he had
finally left Italy, and she also had made her home in London. She there
led a secluded life, although free from family ties, and enjoying a
large income derived from the ownership of an important provincial
paper. Mr. Browning was one of the very few persons whose society she
cared to cultivate; and for many years the common musical interest took
the practical, and for both of them convenient form, of their going to
concerts together. After her death, in the autumn of 1877, he almost
mechanically renounced all the musical entertainments to which she had
so regularly accompanied him. The special motive and special facility
were gone--she had been wont to call for him in her carriage; the
habit was broken; there would have been first pain, and afterwards an
unwelcome exertion in renewing it. Time was also beginning to sap his
strength, while society, and perhaps friendship, were making increasing
claims upon it. It may have been for this same reason that music after
a time seemed to pass out of his life altogether. Yet its almost sudden
eclipse was striking in the case of one who not only had been so
deeply susceptible to its emotional influences, so conversant with
its scientific construction and its multitudinous forms, but who was
acknowledged as 'musical' by those who best knew the subtle and complex
meaning of that often misused term.

Mr. Browning could do all that I have said during the period through
which we are now following him; but he could not quite do it with
impunity. Each winter brought its searching attack of cold and cough;
each summer reduced him to the state of nervous prostration or physical
apathy of which I have already spoken, and which at once rendered change
imperative, and the exertion of seeking it almost intolerable. His
health and spirits rebounded at the first draught of foreign air; the
first breath from an English cliff or moor might have had the same
result. But the remembrance of this fact never nerved him to the
preliminary effort. The conviction renewed itself with the close of
every season, that the best thing which could happen to him would be to
be left quiet at home; and his disinclination to face even the idea
of moving equally hampered his sister in her endeavour to make timely
arrangements for their change of abode.

This special craving for rest helped to limit the area from which their
summer resort could be chosen. It precluded all idea of 'pension'-life,
hence of any much-frequented spot in Switzerland or Germany. It was
tacitly understood that the shortening days were not to be passed in
England. Italy did not yet associate itself with the possibilities of
a moderately short absence; the resources of the northern French coast
were becoming exhausted; and as the August of 1874 approached, the
question of how and where this and the following months were to be spent
was, perhaps, more than ever a perplexing one. It was now Miss Smith who
became the means of its solution. She had more than once joined Mr. and
Miss Browning at the seaside. She was anxious this year to do so again,
and she suggested for their meeting a quiet spot called Mers, almost
adjoining the fashionable Treport, but distinct from it. It was agreed
that they should try it; and the experiment, which they had no reason
to regret, opened also in some degree a way out of future difficulties.
Mers was young, and had the defect of its quality. Only one desirable
house was to be found there; and the plan of joint residence became
converted into one of joint housekeeping, in which Mr. and Miss Browning
at first refused to concur, but which worked so well that it was renewed
in the three ensuing summers: Miss Smith retaining the initiative in
the choice of place, her friends the right of veto upon it. They stayed
again together in 1875 at Villers, on the coast of Normandy; in 1876 at
the Isle of Arran; in 1877 at a house called La Saisiaz--Savoyard for
the sun--in the Saleve district near Geneva.

The autumn months of 1874 were marked for Mr. Browning by an important
piece of work: the production of 'Aristophanes' Apology'. It was far
advanced when he returned to London in November, after a visit to
Antwerp, where his son was studying art under M. Heyermans; and its much
later appearance must have been intended to give breathing time to the
readers of 'Red Cotton Nightcap Country'. Mr. Browning subsequently
admitted that he sometimes, during these years, allowed active literary
occupation to interfere too much with the good which his holiday might
have done him; but the temptations to literary activity were this time
too great to be withstood. The house occupied by him at Mers (Maison
Robert) was the last of the straggling village, and stood on a rising
cliff. In front was the open sea; beyond it a long stretch of down;
everywhere comparative solitude. Here, in uninterrupted quiet, and in a
room devoted to his use, Mr. Browning would work till the afternoon was
advanced, and then set forth on a long walk over the cliffs, often in
the face of a wind which, as he wrote of it at the time, he could lean
against as if it were a wall. And during this time he was living, not
only in his work, but with the man who had inspired it. The image of
Aristophanes, in the half-shamed insolence, the disordered majesty, in
which he is placed before the reader's mind, was present to him from
the first moment in which the Defence was conceived. What was still more
interesting, he could see him, hear him, think with him, speak for him,
and still inevitably condemn him. No such instance of always ingenious,
and sometimes earnest pleading foredoomed to complete discomfiture,
occurs in Mr. Browning's works.

To Aristophanes he gave the dramatic sympathy which one lover of life
can extend to another, though that other unduly extol its lower forms.
To Euripides he brought the palm of the higher truth, to his work the
tribute of the more pathetic human emotion. Even these for a moment
ministered to the greatness of Aristophanes, in the tear shed by him to
the memory of his rival, in the hour of his own triumph; and we may be
quite sure that when Mr. Browning depicted that scene, and again when he
translated the great tragedian's words, his own eyes were dimmed. Large
tears fell from them, and emotion choked his voice, when he first
read aloud the transcript of the 'Herakles' to a friend, who was often
privileged to hear him.

Mr. Browning's deep feeling for the humanities of Greek literature, and
his almost passionate love for the language, contrasted strongly with
his refusal to regard even the first of Greek writers as models of
literary style. The pretensions raised for them on this ground were
inconceivable to him; and his translation of the 'Agamemnon', published
1877, was partly made, I am convinced, for the pleasure of exposing
these claims, and of rebuking them. His preface to the transcript gives
evidence of this. The glee with which he pointed to it when it first
appeared was no less significant.

At Villers, in 1875, he only corrected the proofs of 'The Inn Album' for
publication in November. When the party started for the Isle of Arran,
in the autumn of 1876, the 'Pacchiarotto' volume had already appeared.

When Mr. Browning discontinued his short-lived habit of visiting away
from home, he made an exception in favour of the Universities. His
occasional visits to Oxford and Cambridge were maintained till the very
end of his life, with increasing frequency in the former case; and the
days spent at Balliol and Trinity afforded him as unmixed a pleasure
as was compatible with the interruption of his daily habits, and with a
system of hospitality which would detain him for many hours at table.
A vivid picture of them is given in two letters, dated January 20 and
March 10, 1877, and addressed to one of his constant correspondents,
Mrs. Fitz-Gerald, of Shalstone Manor, Buckingham.


Dear Friend, I have your letter of yesterday, and thank you all I can
for its goodness and graciousness to me unworthy . . . I returned on
Thursday--the hospitality of our Master being not easy to set aside.
But to begin with the beginning: the passage from London to Oxford was
exceptionally prosperous--the train was full of men my friends. I was
welcomed on arriving by a Fellow who installed me in my rooms,--then
came the pleasant meeting with Jowett who at once took me to tea with
his other guests, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of London, Dean
of Westminster, the Airlies, Cardwells, male and female. Then came the
banquet--(I enclose you the plan having no doubt that you will recognise
the name of many an acquaintance: please return it)--and, the dinner
done, speechifying set in vigorously. The Archbishop proposed the
standing 'Floreat domus de Balliolo'--to which the Master made due
and amusing answer, himself giving the health of the Primate. Lord
Coleridge, in a silvery speech, drank to the University, responded to by
the Vice-Chancellor. I forget who proposed the visitors--the Bishop of
London, perhaps Lord Cardwell. Professor Smith gave the two Houses
of Parliament,--Jowett, the Clergy, coupling with it the name of your
friend Mr. Rogers--on whom he showered every kind of praise, and Mr.
Rogers returned thanks very characteristically and pleasantly. Lord
Lansdowne drank to the Bar (Mr. Bowen), Lord Camperdown to--I really
forget what: Mr. Green to Literature and Science delivering a most
undeserved eulogium on myself, with a more rightly directed one on
Arnold, Swinburne, and the old pride of Balliol, Clough: this was
cleverly and almost touchingly answered by dear Mat Arnold. Then the
Dean of Westminster gave the Fellows and Scholars--and then--twelve
o'clock struck. We were, counting from the time of preliminary
assemblage, six hours and a half engaged: _fully_ five and a half nailed
to our chairs at the table: but the whole thing was brilliant, genial,
and suggestive of many and various thoughts to me--and there was
a warmth, earnestness, and yet refinement about it which I never
experienced in any previous public dinner. Next morning I breakfasted
with Jowett and his guests, found that return would be difficult: while
as the young men were to return on Friday there would be no opposition
to my departure on Thursday. The morning was dismal with rain, but after
luncheon there was a chance of getting a little air, and I walked for
more than two hours, then heard service in New Coll.--then dinner again:
my room had been prepared in the Master's house. So, on Thursday, after
yet another breakfast, I left by the noon-day train, after all sorts of
kindly offices from the Master. . . . No reporters were suffered to be
present--the account in yesterday's Times was furnished by one or more
of the guests; it is quite correct as far as it goes. There were,
I find, certain little paragraphs which must have been furnished by
'guessers': Swinburne, set down as present--was absent through his
Father's illness: the Cardinal also excused himself as did the Bishop of
Salisbury and others. . . . Ever yours R. Browning.


The second letter, from Cambridge, was short and written in haste, at
the moment of Mr. Browning's departure; but it tells the same tale of
general kindness and attention. Engagements for no less than six meals
had absorbed the first day of the visit. The occasion was that of
Professor Joachim's investiture with his Doctor's degree; and Mr.
Browning declares that this ceremony, the concert given by the great
violinist, and his society, were 'each and all' worth the trouble of
the journey. He himself was to receive the Cambridge degree of LL.D. in
1879, the Oxford D.C.L. in 1882. A passage in another letter addressed
to the same friend, refers probably to a practical reminiscence of 'Red
Cotton Nightcap Country', which enlivened the latter experience, and
which Mrs. Fitz-Gerald had witnessed with disapprobation.*

     * An actual red cotton nightcap had been made to flutter
     down on to the Poet's head.


. . . You are far too hard on the very harmless drolleries of the young
men, licensed as they are moreover by immemorial usage. Indeed there
used to be a regularly appointed jester, 'Filius Terrae' he was called,
whose business it was to jibe and jeer at the honoured ones, by way of
reminder that all human glories are merely gilded bubbles and must not
be fancied metal. You saw that the Reverend Dons escaped no more than
the poor Poet--or rather I should say than myself the poor Poet--for
I was pleased to observe with what attention they listened to the
Newdigate. . . . Ever affectionately yours, R. Browning.


In 1875 he was unanimously nominated by its Independent Club, to the
office of Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow; and in 1877 he again
received the offer of the Rectorship of St. Andrews, couched in very
urgent and flattering terms. A letter addressed to him from this
University by Dr. William Knight, Professor of Moral Philosophy there,
which I have his permission to publish, bears witness to what had
long been and was always to remain a prominent fact of Mr. Browning's
literary career: his great influence on the minds of the rising
generation of his countrymen.


The University, St. Andrews N.B.: Nov. 17, 1877.

My dear Sir,--. . . The students of this University, in which I have
the honour to hold office, have nominated you as their Lord Rector; and
intend unanimously, I am told, to elect you to that office on Thursday.

I believe that hitherto no Rector has been chosen by the undivided
suffrage of any Scottish University. They have heard however that you
are unable to accept the office: and your committee, who were deeply
disappointed to learn this afternoon of the way in which you have been
informed of their intentions, are, I believe, writing to you on the
subject. So keen is their regret that they intend respectfully to wait
upon you on Tuesday morning by deputation, and ask if you cannot waive
your difficulties in deference to their enthusiasm, and allow them to
proceed with your election.

Their suffrage may, I think, be regarded as one sign of how the
thoughtful youth of Scotland estimate the work you have done in the
world of letters.

And permit me to say that while these Rectorial elections in the other
Universities have frequently turned on local questions, or been inspired
by political partisanship, St. Andrews has honourably sought to choose
men distinguished for literary eminence, and to make the Rectorship a
tribute at once of intellectual and moral esteem.

May I add that when the 'perfervidum ingenium' of our northern race
takes the form not of youthful hero-worship, but of loyal admiration and
respectful homage, it is a very genuine affair. In the present instance
I may say it is no mere outburst of young undisciplined enthusiasm, but
an honest expression of intellectual and moral indebtedness, the genuine
and distinct tribute of many minds that have been touched to some higher
issues by what you have taught them. They do not presume to speak of
your place in English literature. They merely tell you by this proffered
honour (the highest in their power to bestow), how they have felt your
influence over them.

My own obligations to you, and to the author of Aurora Leigh, are such,
that of them 'silence is golden'. Yours ever gratefully. William Knight.


Mr. Browning was deeply touched and gratified by these professions of
esteem. He persisted nevertheless in his refusal. The Glasgow nomination
had also been declined by him.

On August 17, 1877, he wrote to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald from La Saisiaz:


'How lovely is this place in its solitude and seclusion, with its trees
and shrubs and flowers, and above all its live mountain stream which
supplies three fountains, and two delightful baths, a marvel of delicate
delight framed in with trees--I bathe there twice a day--and then what
wonderful views from the chalet on every side! Geneva lying under
us, with the lake and the whole plain bounded by the Jura and our own
Saleve, which latter seems rather close behind our house, and yet takes
a hard hour and a half to ascend--all this you can imagine since you
know the environs of the town; the peace and quiet move me the most--And
I fancy I shall drowse out the two months or more, doing no more of
serious work than reading--and that is virtuous renunciation of the
glorious view to my right here--as I sit aerially like Euripides, and
see the clouds come and go and the view change in correspondence with
them. It will help me to get rid of the pain which attaches itself to
the recollections of Lucerne and Berne "in the old days when the Greeks
suffered so much," as Homer says. But a very real and sharp pain touched
me here when I heard of the death of poor Virginia March whom I knew
particularly, and parted with hardly a fortnight ago, leaving her
affectionate and happy as ever. The tones of her voice as on one
memorable occasion she ejaculated repeatedly 'Good friend!' are fresh
still. Poor Virginia! . . .'


Mr. Browning was more than quiescent during this stay in the Savoyard
mountains. He was unusually depressed, and unusually disposed to regard
the absence from home as a banishment; and he tried subsequently to
account for this condition by the shadow which coming trouble sometimes
casts before it. It was more probably due to the want of the sea air
which he had enjoyed for so many years, and to that special oppressive
heat of the Swiss valleys which ascends with them to almost their
highest level. When he said that the Saleve seemed close behind the
house, he was saying in other words that the sun beat back from, and the
air was intercepted by it. We see, nevertheless, in his description
of the surrounding scenery, a promise of the contemplative delight in
natural beauty to be henceforth so conspicuous in his experience, and
which seemed a new feature in it. He had hitherto approached every
living thing with curious and sympathetic observation--this hardly
requires saying of one who had animals for his first and always familiar
friends. Flowers also attracted him by their perfume. But what he loved
in nature was essentially its prefiguring of human existence, or
its echo of it; and it never appeared, in either his works or his
conversation, that he was much impressed by its inanimate forms--by even
those larger phenomena of mountain and cloud-land on which the latter
dwells. Such beauty as most appealed to him he had left behind with
the joys and sorrows of his Italian life, and it had almost inevitably
passed out of his consideration. During years of his residence in London
he never thought of the country as a source of pleasurable emotions,
other than those contingent on renewed health; and the places to which
he resorted had often not much beyond their health-giving qualities to
recommend them; his appetite for the beautiful had probably dwindled for
lack of food. But when a friend once said to him: 'You have not a great
love for nature, have you?' he had replied: 'Yes, I have, but I love
men and women better;' and the admission, which conveyed more than it
literally expressed, would have been true I believe at any, up to the
present, period of his history. Even now he did not cease to love men
and women best; but he found increasing enjoyment in the beauties of
nature, above all as they opened upon him on the southern slopes of the
Alps; and the delight of the aesthetic sense merged gradually in the
satisfied craving for pure air and brilliant sunshine which marked his
final struggle for physical life. A ring of enthusiasm comes into his
letters from the mountains, and deepens as the years advance; doubtless
enhanced by the great--perhaps too great--exhilaration which the Alpine
atmosphere produced, but also in large measure independent of it. Each
new place into which the summer carries him he declares more beautiful
than the last. It possibly was so.

A touch of autumnal freshness had barely crept into the atmosphere of
the Saleve, when a moral thunderbolt fell on the little group of persons
domiciled at its base: Miss Egerton-Smith died, in what had seemed
for her unusually good health, in the act of preparing for a mountain
excursion with her friends--the words still almost on her lips in
which she had given some directions for their comfort. Mr. Browning's
impressionable nervous system was for a moment paralyzed by the shock.
It revived in all the emotional and intellectual impulses which gave
birth to 'La Saisiaz'.

This poem contains, besides its personal reference and association,
elements of distinctive biographical interest. It is the author's
first--as also last--attempt to reconstruct his hope of immortality by
a rational process based entirely on the fundamental facts of his own
knowledge and consciousness--God and the human soul; and while the very
assumption of these facts, as basis for reasoning, places him at issue
with scientific thought, there is in his way of handling them a tribute
to the scientific spirit, perhaps foreshadowed in the beautiful epilogue
to 'Dramatis Personae', but of which there is no trace in his earlier
religious works. It is conclusive both in form and matter as to his
heterodox attitude towards Christianity. He was no less, in his way, a
Christian when he wrote 'La Saisiaz' than when he published 'A Death
in the Desert' and 'Christmas Eve and Easter Day'; or at any period
subsequent to that in which he accepted without questioning what he had
learned at his mother's knee. He has repeatedly written or declared in
the words of Charles Lamb:* 'If Christ entered the room I should fall
on my knees;' and again, in those of Napoleon: 'I am an understander of
men, and _he_ was no man.' He has even added: 'If he had been, he would
have been an impostor.' But the arguments, in great part negative, set
forth in 'La Saisiaz' for the immortality of the soul, leave no place
for the idea, however indefinite, of a Christian revelation on the
subject. Christ remained for Mr. Browning a mystery and a message of
Divine Love, but no messenger of Divine intention towards mankind.

     * These words have more significance when taken with their
     context. 'If Shakespeare was to come into the room, we
     should all rise up to meet him; but if that Person [meaning
     Christ] was to come into the room, we should all fall down
     and try to kiss the hem of his garment.'

The dialogue between Fancy and Reason is not only an admission of
uncertainty as to the future of the Soul: it is a plea for it; and as
such it gathers up into its few words of direct statement, threads of
reasoning which have been traceable throughout Mr. Browning's work. In
this plea for uncertainty lies also a full and frank acknowledgment of
the value of the earthly life; and as interpreted by his general views,
that value asserts itself, not only in the means of probation which
life affords, but in its existing conditions of happiness. No one, he
declares, possessing the certainty of a future state would patiently and
fully live out the present; and since the future can be only the ripened
fruit of the present, its promise would be neutralized, as well as
actual experience dwarfed, by a definite revelation. Nor, conversely,
need the want of a certified future depress the present spiritual and
moral life. It is in the nature of the Soul that it would suffer from
the promise. The existence of God is a justification for hope. And
since the certainty would be injurious to the Soul, hence destructive
to itself, the doubt--in other words, the hope--becomes a sufficient
approach to, a working substitute for it. It is pathetic to see how
in spite of the convictions thus rooted in Mr. Browning's mind, the
expressed craving for more knowledge, for more light, will now and then
escape him.

Even orthodox Christianity gives no assurance of reunion to those whom
death has separated. It is obvious that Mr. Browning's poetic creed
could hold no conviction regarding it. He hoped for such reunion in
proportion as he wished. There must have been moments in his life when
the wish in its passion overleapt the bounds of hope. 'Prospice' appears
to prove this. But the wide range of imagination, no less than the lack
of knowledge, forbade in him any forecast of the possibilities of the
life to come. He believed that if granted, it would be an advance on the
present--an accession of knowledge if not an increase of happiness. He
was satisfied that whatever it gave, and whatever it withheld, it would
be good. In his normal condition this sufficed to him.

'La Saisiaz' appeared in the early summer of 1878, and with it 'The
Two Poets of Croisic', which had been written immediately after it. The
various incidents of this poem are strictly historical; they lead the
way to a characteristic utterance of Mr. Browning's philosophy of life
to which I shall recur later.

In 1872 Mr. Browning had published a first series of selections from his
works; it was to be followed by a second in 1880. In a preface to the
earlier volume, he indicates the plan which he has followed in the
choice and arrangement of poems; and some such intention runs also
through the second; since he declined a suggestion made to him for the
introduction or placing of a special poem, on the ground of its not
conforming to the end he had in view. It is difficult, in the one case
as in the other, to reconstruct the imagined personality to which his
preface refers; and his words on the later occasion pointed rather to
that idea of a chord of feeling which is raised by the correspondence of
the first and last poems of the respective groups. But either clue may
be followed with interest.



Chapter 18

1878-1884

He revisits Italy; Asolo; Letters to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald--Venice--Favourite
Alpine Retreats--Mrs. Arthur Bronson--Life in Venice--A Tragedy at
Saint-Pierre--Mr. Cholmondeley--Mr. Browning's Patriotic
Feeling; Extract from Letter to Mrs. Charles Skirrow--'Dramatic
Idyls'--'Jocoseria'--'Ferishtah's Fancies'.



The catastrophe of La Saisiaz closed a comprehensive chapter in Mr.
Browning's habits and experience. It impelled him finally to break with
the associations of the last seventeen autumns, which he remembered
more in their tedious or painful circumstances than in the unexciting
pleasure and renewed physical health which he had derived from them. He
was weary of the ever-recurring effort to uproot himself from his home
life, only to become stationary in some more or less uninteresting
northern spot. The always latent desire for Italy sprang up in him,
and with it the often present thought and wish to give his sister the
opportunity of seeing it.

Florence and Rome were not included in his scheme; he knew them both
too well; but he hankered for Asolo and Venice. He determined, though as
usual reluctantly, and not till the last moment, that they should move
southwards in the August of 1878. Their route lay over the Spluegen; and
having heard of a comfortable hotel near the summit of the Pass, they
agreed to remain there till the heat had sufficiently abated to allow
of the descent into Lombardy. The advantages of this first arrangement
exceeded their expectations. It gave them solitude without the sense
of loneliness. A little stream of travellers passed constantly over the
mountain, and they could shake hands with acquaintances at night, and
know them gone in the morning. They dined at the table d'hote, but took
all other meals alone, and slept in a detached wing or 'dependance'
of the hotel. Their daily walks sometimes carried them down to the Via
Mala; often to the top of the ascent, where they could rest, looking
down into Italy; and would even be prolonged over a period of five
hours and an extent of seventeen miles. Now, as always, the mountain air
stimulated Mr. Browning's physical energy; and on this occasion it also
especially quickened his imaginative powers. He was preparing the first
series of 'Dramatic Idylls'; and several of these, including 'Ivan
Ivanovitch', were produced with such rapidity that Miss Browning refused
to countenance a prolonged stay on the mountain, unless he worked at a
more reasonable rate.

They did not linger on their way to Asolo and Venice, except for a
night's rest on the Lake of Como and two days at Verona. In their
successive journeys through Northern Italy they visited by degrees all
its notable cities, and it would be easy to recall, in order and detail,
most of these yearly expeditions. But the account of them would chiefly
resolve itself into a list of names and dates; for Mr. Browning had
seldom a new impression to receive, even from localities which he had
not seen before. I know that he and his sister were deeply struck by
the deserted grandeurs of Ravenna; and that it stirred in both of them
a memorable sensation to wander as they did for a whole day through the
pinewoods consecrated by Dante. I am nevertheless not sure that when
they performed the repeated round of picture-galleries and palaces, they
were not sometimes simply paying their debt to opportunity, and as much
for each other's sake as for their own. Where all was Italy, there
was little to gain or lose in one memorial of greatness, one object
of beauty, visited or left unseen. But in Asolo, even in Venice, Mr.
Browning was seeking something more: the remembrance of his own actual
and poetic youth. How far he found it in the former place we may infer
from a letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald.


Sept. 28, 1878.

And from 'Asolo', at last, dear friend! So can dreams come _false_.--S.,
who has been writing at the opposite side of the table, has told you
about our journey and adventures, such as they were: but she cannot
tell you the feelings with which I revisit this--to me--memorable place
after above forty years' absence,--such things have begun and ended with
me in the interval! It was _too_ strange when we reached the ruined tower
on the hill-top yesterday, and I said 'Let me try if the echo still
exists which I discovered here,' (you can produce it from only _one_
particular spot on a remainder of brickwork--) and thereupon it answered
me plainly as ever, after all the silence: for some children from the
adjoining 'podere', happening to be outside, heard my voice and its
result--and began trying to perform the feat--calling 'Yes, yes'--all in
vain: so, perhaps, the mighty secret will die with me! We shall probably
stay here a day or two longer,--the air is so pure, the country so
attractive: but we must go soon to Venice, stay our allotted time there,
and then go homeward: you will of course address letters to Venice, not
this place: it is a pleasure I promise myself that, on arriving I shall
certainly hear you speak in a letter which I count upon finding.

The old inn here, to which I would fain have betaken myself, is
gone--levelled to the ground: I remember it was much damaged by a recent
earthquake, and the cracks and chasms may have threatened a downfall.
This Stella d'Oro is, however, much such an unperverted 'locanda' as its
predecessor--primitive indeed are the arrangements and unsophisticate
the ways: but there is cleanliness, abundance of goodwill, and the sweet
Italian smile at every mistake: we get on excellently. To be sure never
was such a perfect fellow-traveller, for my purposes, as S., so that
I have no subject of concern--if things suit me they suit her--and
vice-versa. I daresay she will have told you how we trudged together,
this morning to Possagno--through a lovely country: how we saw all the
wonders--and a wonder of detestability is the paint-performance of the
great man!--and how, on our return, we found the little town enjoying
high market day, and its privilege of roaring and screaming over a
bargain. It confuses me altogether,--but at Venice I may write more
comfortably. You will till then, Dear Friend, remember me ever as yours
affectionately, Robert Browning.


If the tone of this does not express disappointment, it has none of the
rapture which his last visit was to inspire. The charm which forty years
of remembrance had cast around the little city on the hill was dispelled
for, at all events, the time being. The hot weather and dust-covered
landscape, with the more than primitive accommodation of which he spoke
in a letter to another friend, may have contributed something to this
result.

At Venice the travellers fared better in some essential respects.
A London acquaintance, who passed them on their way to Italy, had
recommended a cool and quiet hotel there, the Albergo dell' Universo.
The house, Palazzo Brandolin-Rota, was situated on the shady side of
the Grand Canal, just below the Accademia and the Suspension Bridge. The
open stretches of the Giudecca lay not far behind; and a scrap of garden
and a clean and open little street made pleasant the approach from back
and side. It accommodated few persons in proportion to its size, and
fewer still took up their abode there; for it was managed by a lady of
good birth and fallen fortunes whose home and patrimony it had been; and
her husband, a retired Austrian officer, and two grown-up daughters
did not lighten her task. Every year the fortunes sank lower; the upper
storey of the house was already falling into decay, and the fine old
furniture passing into the brokers' or private buyers' hands. It still,
however, afforded sufficiently comfortable, and, by reason of its very
drawbacks, desirable quarters to Mr. Browning. It perhaps turned the
scale in favour of his return to Venice; for the lady whose hospitality
he was to enjoy there was as yet unknown to him; and nothing would have
induced him to enter, with his eyes open, one of the English-haunted
hotels, in which acquaintance, old and new, would daily greet him in the
public rooms or jostle him in the corridors.

He and his sister remained at the Universo for a fortnight; their
programme did not this year include a longer stay; but it gave them time
to decide that no place could better suit them for an autumn holiday
than Venice, or better lend itself to a preparatory sojourn among the
Alps; and the plan of their next, and, though they did not know it, many
a following summer, was thus sketched out before the homeward journey
had begun.

Mr. Browning did not forget his work, even while resting from it; if
indeed he did rest entirely on this occasion. He consulted a Russian
lady whom he met at the hotel, on the names he was introducing in
'Ivan Ivanovitch'. It would be interesting to know what suggestions or
corrections she made, and how far they adapted themselves to the rhythm
already established, or compelled changes in it; but the one alternative
would as little have troubled him as the other. Mrs. Browning told Mr.
Prinsep that her husband could never alter the wording of a poem without
rewriting it, indeed, practically converting it into another; though he
more than once tried to do so at her instigation. But to the end of his
life he could at any moment recast a line or passage for the sake of
greater correctness, and leave all that was essential in it untouched.

Seven times more in the eleven years which remained to him, Mr. Browning
spent the autumn in Venice. Once also, in 1882, he had proceeded towards
it as far as Verona, when the floods which marked the autumn of that
year arrested his farther course. Each time he had halted first in some
more or less elevated spot, generally suggested by his French friend,
Monsieur Dourlans, himself an inveterate wanderer, whose inclinations
also tempted him off the beaten track. The places he most enjoyed were
Saint-Pierre la Chartreuse, and Gressoney Saint-Jean, where he stayed
respectively in 1881 and 1882, 1883 and 1885. Both of these had the
drawbacks, and what might easily have been the dangers, of remoteness
from the civilized world. But this weighed with him so little, that he
remained there in each case till the weather had broken, though there
was no sheltered conveyance in which he and his sister could travel
down; and on the later occasions at least, circumstances might easily
have combined to prevent their departure for an indefinite time. He
became, indeed, so attached to Gressoney, with its beautiful outlook
upon Monte Rosa, that nothing I believe would have hindered his
returning, or at least contemplating a return to it, but the great
fatigue to his sister of the mule ride up the mountain, by a path which
made walking, wherever possible, the easier course. They did walk _down_
it in the early October of 1885, and completed the hard seven hours'
trudge to San Martino d'Aosta, without an atom of refreshment or a
minute's rest.

One of the great attractions of Saint-Pierre was the vicinity of the
Grande Chartreuse, to which Mr. Browning made frequent expeditions,
staying there through the night in order to hear the midnight mass. Miss
Browning also once attempted the visit, but was not allowed to enter the
monastery. She slept in the adjoining convent.

The brother and sister were again at the Universo in 1879, 1880, and
1881; but the crash was rapidly approaching, and soon afterwards it
came. The old Palazzo passed into other hands, and after a short period
of private ownership was consigned to the purposes of an Art Gallery.

In 1880, however, they had been introduced by Mrs. Story to an American
resident, Mrs. Arthur Bronson, and entered into most friendly
relations with her; and when, after a year's interval, they were again
contemplating an autumn in Venice, she placed at their disposal a suite
of rooms in the Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati, which formed a supplement
to her own house--making the offer with a kindly urgency which forbade
all thought of declining it. They inhabited these for a second time in
1885, keeping house for themselves in the simple but comfortable foreign
manner they both so well enjoyed, only dining and spending the evening
with their friend. But when, in 1888, they were going, as they thought,
to repeat the arrangement, they found, to their surprise, a little
apartment prepared for them under Mrs. Bronson's own roof. This act
of hospitality involved a special kindness on her part, of which Mr.
Browning only became aware at the close of a prolonged stay; and a sense
of increased gratitude added itself to the affectionate regard with
which his hostess had already inspired both his sister and him. So
far as he is concerned, the fact need only be indicated. It is fully
expressed in the preface to 'Asolando'.

During the first and fresher period of Mr. Browning's visits to Venice,
he found a passing attraction in its society. It held an historical
element which harmonized well with the decayed magnificence of the city,
its old-world repose, and the comparatively simple modes of intercourse
still prevailing there. Mrs. Bronson's 'salon' was hospitably open
whenever her health allowed; but her natural refinement, and the
conservatism which so strongly marks the higher class of Americans,
preserved it from the heterogeneous character which Anglo-foreign
sociability so often assumes. Very interesting, even important names
lent their prestige to her circle; and those of Don Carlos and his
family, of Prince and Princess Iturbide, of Prince and Princess
Metternich, and of Princess Montenegro, were on the list of her
'habitues', and, in the case of the royal Spaniards, of her friends. It
need hardly be said that the great English poet, with his fast spreading
reputation and his infinite social charm, was kindly welcomed and warmly
appreciated amongst them.

English and American acquaintances also congregated in Venice, or passed
through it from London, Florence, and Rome. Those resident in Italy
could make their visits coincide with those of Mr. Browning and his
sister, or undertake the journey for the sake of seeing them; while the
outward conditions of life were such as to render friendly intercourse
more satisfactory, and common social civilities less irksome than they
could be at home. Mr. Browning was, however, already too advanced in
years, too familiar with everything which the world can give, to be long
affected by the novelty of these experiences. It was inevitable that
the need of rest, though often for the moment forgotten, should assert
itself more and more. He gradually declined on the society of a small
number of resident or semi-resident friends; and, due exception being
made for the hospitalities of his temporary home, became indebted to the
kindness of Sir Henry and Lady Layard, of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis of Palazzo
Barbaro, and of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Eden, for most of the social
pleasure and comfort of his later residences in Venice.

Part of a letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald gives an insight into the character
of his life there: all the stronger that it was written under a
temporary depression which it partly serves to explain.


Albergo dell' Universo, Venezia, Italia: Sept. 24, '81.

'Dear Friend,--On arriving here I found your letter to my great
satisfaction--and yesterday brought the 'Saturday Review'--for which,
many thanks.

'We left our strange but lovely place on the 18th, reaching Chambery at
evening,--stayed the next day there,--walking, among other diversions
to "Les Charmettes", the famous abode of Rousseau--kept much as when he
left it: I visited it with my wife perhaps twenty-five years ago, and
played so much of "Rousseau's Dream" as could be effected on his antique
harpsichord: this time I attempted the same feat, but only two notes or
thereabouts out of the octave would answer the touch. Next morning we
proceeded to Turin, and on Wednesday got here, in the middle of the
last night of the Congress Carnival--rowing up the Canal to our Albergo
through a dazzling blaze of lights and throng of boats,--there being, if
we are told truly, 50,000 strangers in the city. Rooms had been
secured for us, however: and the festivities are at an end, to my great
joy,--for Venice is resuming its old quiet aspect--the only one I value
at all. Our American friends wanted to take us in their gondola to see
the principal illuminations _after_ the "Serenade", which was not
over before midnight--but I was contented with _that_--being tired and
indisposed for talking, and, having seen and heard quite enough from
our own balcony, went to bed: S. having betaken her to her own room long
before.

'Next day we took stock of our acquaintances,--found that the Storys,
on whom we had counted for company, were at Vallombrosa, though the
two sons have a studio here--other friends are in sufficient number
however--and last evening we began our visits by a very classical
one--to the Countess Mocenigo, in her palace which Byron occupied: she
is a charming widow since two years,--young, pretty and of the prettiest
manners: she showed us all the rooms Byron had lived in,--and I wrote
my name in her album _on_ the desk himself wrote the last canto of 'Ch.
Harold' and 'Beppo' upon. There was a small party: we were taken
and introduced by the Layards who are kind as ever, and I met old
friends--Lord Aberdare, Charles Bowen, and others. While I write comes
a deliciously fresh 'bouquet' from Mrs. Bronson, an American lady,--in
short we shall find a week or two amusing enough; though--where are the
pinewoods, mountains and torrents, and wonderful air? Venice is under
a cloud,--dull and threatening,--though we were apprehensive of heat,
arriving, as we did, ten days earlier than last year. . . .'


The evening's programme was occasionally varied by a visit to one of
the theatres. The plays given were chiefly in the Venetian dialect, and
needed previous study for their enjoyment; but Mr. Browning assisted at
one musical performance which strongly appealed to his historical and
artistic sensibilities: that of the 'Barbiere' of Paisiello in the
Rossini theatre and in the presence of Wagner, which took place in the
autumn of 1880.

Although the manner of his sojourn in the Italian city placed all the
resources of resident life at his command, Mr. Browning never abjured
the active habits of the English traveller. He daily walked with his
sister, as he did in the mountains, for walking's sake, as well as for
the delight of what his expeditions showed him; and the facilities which
they supplied for this healthful pleasurable exercise were to his mind
one of the great merits of his autumn residences in Italy. He explored
Venice in all directions, and learned to know its many points of beauty
and interest, as those cannot who believe it is only to be seen from
a gondola; and when he had visited its every corner, he fell back on
a favourite stroll along the Riva to the public garden and back again;
never failing to leave the house at about the same hour of the day.
Later still, when a friend's gondola was always at hand, and air and
sunshine were the one thing needful, he would be carried to the Lido,
and take a long stretch on its farther shore.

The letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald, from which I have already quoted,
concludes with the account of a tragic occurrence which took place at
Saint-Pierre just before his departure, and in which Mr. Browning's
intuitions had played a striking part.


'And what do you think befell us in this abode of peace and innocence?
Our journey was delayed for three hours in consequence of the one mule
of the village being requisitioned by the 'Juge d'Instruction' from
Grenoble, come to enquire into a murder committed two days before.
My sister and I used once a day to walk for a couple of hours up a
mountain-road of the most lovely description, and stop at the
summit whence we looked down upon the minute hamlet of St.-Pierre
d'Entremont,--even more secluded than our own: then we got back to our
own aforesaid. And in this Paradisial place, they found, yesterday week,
a murdered man--frightfully mutilated--who had been caught apparently in
the act of stealing potatoes in a field: such a crime had never occurred
in the memory of the oldest of our folk. Who was the murderer is the
mystery--whether the field's owner--in his irritation at discovering
the robber,--or one of a band of similar 'charbonniers' (for they
suppose the man to be a Piedmontese of that occupation) remains to
be proved: they began by imprisoning the owner, who denies his guilt
energetically. Now the odd thing is, that, either the day of, or after
the murder,--as I and S. were looking at the utter solitude, I had the
fancy "What should I do if I suddenly came upon a dead body in this
field? Go and proclaim it--and subject myself to all the vexations
inflicted by the French way of procedure (which begins by assuming
that you may be the criminal)--or neglect an obvious duty, and return
silently." I, of course, saw that the former was the only proper course,
whatever the annoyance involved. And, all the while, there was just
about to be the very same incident for the trouble of somebody.'


Here the account breaks off; but writing again from the same place,
August 16, 1882, he takes up the suspended narrative with this question:

'Did I tell you of what happened to me on the last day of my stay here
last year?' And after repeating the main facts continues as follows:


'This morning, in the course of my walk, I entered into conversation
with two persons of whom I made enquiry myself. They said the accused
man, a simple person, had been locked up in a high chamber,--protesting
his innocence strongly,--and troubled in his mind by the affair
altogether and the turn it was taking, had profited by the gendarme's
negligence, and thrown himself out of the window--and so died,
continuing to the last to protest as before. My presentiment of what
such a person might have to undergo was justified you see--though
I should not in any case have taken _that_ way of getting out of the
difficulty. The man added, "it was not he who committed the murder, but
the companions of the man, an Italian charcoal-burner, who owed him a
grudge, killed him, and dragged him to the field--filling his sack with
potatoes as if stolen, to give a likelihood that the field's owner had
caught him stealing and killed him,--so M. Perrier the greffier told
me." Enough of this grim story.

. . . . .

'My sister was anxious to know exactly where the body was found: "Vouz
savez la croix au sommet de la colline? A cette distance de cela!" That
is precisely where I was standing when the thought came over me.'


A passage in a subsequent letter of September 3 clearly refers to
some comment of Mrs. Fitz-Gerald's on the peculiar nature of this
presentiment:


'No--I attribute no sort of supernaturalism to my fancy about the thing
that was really about to take place. By a law of the association of
ideas--_contraries_ come into the mind as often as _similarities_--and the
peace and solitude readily called up the notion of what would most jar
with them. I have often thought of the trouble that might have befallen
me if poor Miss Smith's death had happened the night before, when we
were on the mountain alone together--or next morning when we were on the
proposed excursion--only _then_ we should have had companions.'


The letter then passes to other subjects.


'This is the fifth magnificent day--like magnificence, unfit for turning
to much account--for we cannot walk till sunset. I had two hours' walk,
or nearly, before breakfast, however: It is the loveliest country I ever
had experience of, and we shall prolong our stay perhaps--apart from
the concern for poor Cholmondeley and his friends, I should be glad
to apprehend no long journey--besides the annoyance of having to pass
Florence and Rome unvisited, for S.'s sake, I mean: even Naples would
have been with its wonderful environs a tantalizing impracticability.

'Your "Academy" came and was welcomed. The newspaper is like an electric
eel, as one touches it and expects a shock. I am very anxious about the
Archbishop who has always been strangely kind to me.'


He and his sister had accepted an invitation to spend the month of
October with Mr. Cholmondeley at his villa in Ischia; but the party
assembled there was broken up by the death of one of Mr. Cholmondeley's
guests, a young lady who had imprudently attempted the ascent of
a dangerous mountain without a guide, and who lost her life in the
experiment.

A short extract from a letter to Mrs. Charles Skirrow will show that
even in this complete seclusion Mr. Browning's patriotism did not go to
sleep. There had been already sufficient evidence that his friendship
did not; but it was not in the nature of his mental activities that they
should be largely absorbed by politics, though he followed the course of
his country's history as a necessary part of his own life. It needed
a crisis like that of our Egyptian campaign, or the subsequent Irish
struggle, to arouse him to a full emotional participation in current
events. How deeply he could be thus aroused remained yet to be seen.


'If the George Smiths are still with you, give them my love, and tell
them we shall expect to see them at Venice,--which was not so likely
to be the case when we were bound for Ischia. As for Lady Wolseley--one
dares not pretend to vie with her in anxiety just now; but my own pulses
beat pretty strongly when I open the day's newspaper--which, by some new
arrangement, reaches us, oftener than not, on the day after publication.
Where is your Bertie? I had an impassioned letter, a fortnight ago,
from a nephew of mine, who is in the second division [battalion?] of
the Black Watch; he was ordered to Edinburgh, and the regiment not
dispatched, after all,--it having just returned from India; the poor
fellow wrote in his despair "to know if I could do anything!" He may be
wanted yet: though nothing seems wanted in Egypt, so capital appears to
be the management.'


In 1879 Mr. Browning published the first series of his 'Dramatic Idyls';
and their appearance sent a thrill of surprised admiration through
the public mind. In 'La Saisiaz' and the accompanying poems he had
accomplished what was virtually a life's work. For he was approaching
the appointed limit of man's existence; and the poetic, which had been
nourished in him by the natural life--which had once outstripped its
developments, but on the whole remained subject to them--had therefore,
also, passed through the successive phases of individual growth. He had
been inspired as dramatic poet by the one avowed conviction that little
else is worth study but the history of a soul; and outward act or
circumstance had only entered into his creations as condition or
incident of the given psychological state. His dramatic imagination
had first, however unconsciously, sought its materials in himself; then
gradually been projected into the world of men and women, which his
widening knowledge laid open to him; it is scarcely necessary to say
that its power was only fully revealed when it left the remote regions
of poetical and metaphysical self-consciousness, to invoke the not less
mysterious and far more searching utterance of the general human heart.
It was a matter of course that in this expression of his dramatic
genius, the intellectual and emotional should exhibit the varying
relations which are developed by the natural life: that feeling should
begin by doing the work of thought, as in 'Saul', and thought end by
doing the work of feeling, as in 'Fifine at the Fair'; and that the two
should alternate or combine in proportioned intensity in such works of
an intermediate period as 'Cleon', 'A Death in the Desert', the 'Epistle
of Karshish', and 'James Lee's Wife'; the sophistical ingenuities of
'Bishop Blougram', and 'Sludge'; and the sad, appealing tenderness of
'Andrea del Sarto' and 'The Worst of It'.

It was also almost inevitable that so vigorous a genius should sometimes
falsify calculations based on the normal life. The long-continued
force and freshness of Mr. Browning's general faculties was in itself
a protest against them. We saw without surprise that during the decade
which produced 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau', 'Fifine at the Fair', and
'Red Cotton Nightcap Country', he could give us 'The Inn Album', with
its expression of the higher sexual love unsurpassed, rarely equalled,
in the whole range of his work: or those two unique creations of airy
fancy and passionate symbolic romance, 'Saint Martin's Summer', and
'Numpholeptos'. It was no ground for astonishment that the creative
power in him should even ignore the usual period of decline, and defy,
so far as is humanly possible, its natural laws of modification. But in
the 'Dramatic Idyls' he did more than proceed with unflagging powers on
a long-trodden, distinctive course; he took a new departure.

Mr. Browning did not forsake the drama of motive when he imagined and
worked out his new group of poems; he presented it in a no less
subtle and complex form. But he gave it the added force of picturesque
realization; and this by means of incidents both powerful in themselves,
and especially suited for its development. It was only in proportion to
this higher suggestiveness that a startling situation ever seemed to
him fit subject for poetry. Where its interest and excitement exhausted
themselves in the external facts, it became, he thought, the property
of the chronicler, but supplied no material for the poet; and he often
declined matter which had been offered him for dramatic treatment
because it belonged to the more sensational category.

It is part of the vital quality of the 'Dramatic Idyls' that, in them,
the act and the motive are not yet finally identified with each other.
We see the act still palpitating with the motive; the motive dimly
striving to recognize or disclaim itself in the act. It is in this that
the psychological poet stands more than ever strongly revealed. Such at
least is the case in 'Martin Relph', and the idealized Russian legend,
'Ivan Ivanovitch'. The grotesque tragedy of 'Ned Bratts' has also its
marked psychological aspects, but they are of a simpler and broader
kind.

The new inspiration slowly subsided through the second series of
'Idyls', 1880, and 'Jocoseria', 1883. In 'Ferishtah's Fancies', 1884,
Mr. Browning returned to his original manner, though carrying into it
something of the renewed vigour which had marked the intervening change.
The lyrics which alternate with its parables include some of the most
tender, most impassioned, and most musical of his love-poems.

The moral and religious opinions conveyed in this later volume may be
accepted without reserve as Mr. Browning's own, if we subtract from them
the exaggerations of the figurative and dramatic form. It is indeed
easy to recognize in them the under currents of his whole real and
imaginative life. They have also on one or two points an intrinsic value
which will justify a later allusion.



Chapter 19

1881-1887

The Browning Society; Mr. Furnivall; Miss E. H. Hickey--His Attitude
towards the Society; Letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald--Mr. Thaxter, Mrs. Celia
Thaxter--Letter to Miss Hickey; 'Strafford'--Shakspere and Wordsworth
Societies--Letters to Professor Knight--Appreciation in Italy;
Professor Nencioni--The Goldoni Sonnet--Mr. Barrett Browning;
Palazzo Manzoni--Letters to Mrs. Charles Skirrow--Mrs. Bloomfield
Moore--Llangollen; Sir Theodore and Lady Martin--Loss of old
Friends--Foreign Correspondent of the Royal Academy--'Parleyings with
certain People of Importance in their Day'.



This Indian summer of Mr. Browning's genius coincided with the highest
manifestation of public interest, which he, or with one exception, any
living writer, had probably yet received: the establishment of a Society
bearing his name, and devoted to the study of his poetry. The idea arose
almost simultaneously in the mind of Dr., then Mr. Furnivall, and of
Miss E. H. Hickey. One day, in the July of 1881, as they were on their
way to Warwick Crescent to pay an appointed visit there, Miss Hickey
strongly expressed her opinion of the power and breadth of Mr.
Browning's work; and concluded by saying that much as she loved
Shakespeare, she found in certain aspects of Browning what even
Shakespeare could not give her. Mr. Furnivall replied to this by asking
what she would say to helping him to found a Browning Society; and it
then appeared that Miss Hickey had recently written to him a letter,
suggesting that he should found one; but that it had miscarried, or, as
she was disposed to think, not been posted. Being thus, at all events,
agreed as to the fitness of the undertaking, they immediately spoke of
it to Mr. Browning, who at first treated the project as a joke; but did
not oppose it when once he understood it to be serious. His only proviso
was that he should remain neutral in respect to its fulfilment. He
refused even to give Mr. Furnivall the name or address of any friends,
whose interest in himself or his work might render their co-operation
probable.

This passive assent sufficed. A printed prospectus was now issued. About
two hundred members were soon secured. A committee was elected, of which
Mr. J. T. Nettleship, already well known as a Browning student, was
one of the most conspicuous members; and by the end of October a small
Society had come into existence, which held its inaugural meeting in
the Botanic Theatre of University College. Mr. Furnivall, its principal
founder, and responsible organizer, was Chairman of the Committee, and
Miss E. H. Hickey, the co-founder, was Honorary Secretary. When, two or
three years afterwards, illness compelled her to resign this position,
it was assumed by Mr. J. Dykes Campbell.

Although nothing could be more unpretending than the action of this
Browning Society, or in the main more genuine than its motive, it did
not begin life without encountering ridicule and mistrust. The formation
of a Ruskin Society in the previous year had already established a
precedent for allowing a still living worker to enjoy the fruits of his
work, or, as some one termed it, for making a man a classic during his
lifetime. But this fact was not yet generally known; and meanwhile a
curious contradiction developed itself in the public mind. The outer
world of Mr. Browning's acquaintance continued to condemn the too great
honour which was being done to him; from those of the inner circle he
constantly received condolences on being made the subject of proceedings
which, according to them, he must somehow regard as an offence.

This was the last view of the case which he was prepared to take. At
the beginning, as at the end, he felt honoured by the intentions of the
Society. He probably, it is true, had occasional misgivings as to its
future. He could not be sure that its action would always be judicious,
still less that it would be always successful. He was prepared for its
being laughed at, and for himself being included in the laughter.
He consented to its establishment for what seemed to him the one
unanswerable reason, that he had, even on the ground of taste, no just
cause for forbidding it. No line, he considered, could be drawn between
the kind of publicity which every writer seeks, which, for good or
evil, he had already obtained, and that which the Browning Society was
conferring on him. His works would still, as before, be read, analyzed,
and discussed 'viva voce' and in print. That these proceedings would
now take place in other localities than drawing-rooms or clubs, through
other organs than newspapers or magazines, by other and larger groups
of persons than those usually gathered round a dinner-or a tea-table,
involved no real change in the situation. In any case, he had made
himself public property; and those who thus organized their study of him
were exercising an individual right. If his own rights had been assailed
he would have guarded them also; but the circumstances of the case
precluded such a contingency. And he had his reward. How he felt towards
the Society at the close of its first session is better indicated in the
following letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald than in the note to Mr. Yates which
Mr. Sharp has published, and which was written with more reserve and, I
believe, at a rather earlier date. Even the shade of condescension which
lingers about his words will have been effaced by subsequent experience;
and many letters written to Dr. Furnivall must, since then, have
attested his grateful and affectionate appreciation of kindness intended
and service done to him.


. . . They always treat me gently in 'Punch'--why don't you do the
same by the Browning Society? I see you emphasize Miss Hickey's
acknowledgement of defects in time and want of rehearsal: but I look
for no great perfection in a number of kindly disposed strangers to
me personally, who try to interest people in my poems by singing and
reading them. They give their time for nothing, offer their little
entertainment for nothing, and certainly get next to nothing in the way
of thanks--unless from myself who feel grateful to the faces I shall
never see, the voices I shall never hear. The kindest notices I have
had, or at all events those that have given me most pleasure, have been
educed by this Society--A. Sidgwick's paper, that of Professor Corson,
Miss Lewis' article in this month's 'Macmillan'--and I feel grateful for
it all, for my part,--and none the less for a little amusement at the
wonder of some of my friends that I do not jump up and denounce the
practices which must annoy me so much. Oh! my 'gentle Shakespeare', how
well you felt and said--'never anything can be amiss when simpleness and
duty tender it.' So, dear Lady, here is my duty and simplicity tendering
itself to you, with all affection besides, and I being ever yours, R.
Browning.


That general disposition of the London world which left the ranks of the
little Society to be three-fourths recruited among persons, many living
at a distance, whom the poet did not know, became also in its way
a satisfaction. It was with him a matter of course, though never of
indifference, that his closer friends of both sexes were among its
members; it was one of real gratification that they included from
the beginning such men as Dean Boyle of Salisbury, the Rev. Llewellyn
Davies, George Meredith, and James Cotter Morison--that they enjoyed the
sympathy and co-operation of such a one as Archdeacon Farrar. But he had
an ingenuous pride in reading the large remainder of the Society's lists
of names, and pointing out the fact that there was not one among them
which he had ever heard. It was equivalent to saying, 'All these people
care for me as a poet. No social interest, no personal prepossession,
has attracted them to my work.' And when the unknown name was not only
appended to a list; when it formed the signature of a paper--excellent
or indifferent as might be--but in either case bearing witness to
a careful and unobtrusive study of his poems, by so much was the
gratification increased. He seldom weighed the intrinsic merit of such
productions; he did not read them critically. No man was ever more
adverse to the seeming ungraciousness of analyzing the quality of a
gift. In real life indeed this power of gratitude sometimes defeated its
own end, by neutralizing his insight into the motive or effort involved
in different acts of kindness, and placing them all successively on the
same plane.

In the present case, however, an ungraduated acceptance of the labour
bestowed on him was part of the neutral attitude which it was his
constant endeavour to maintain. He always refrained from noticing any
erroneous statement concerning himself or his works which might appear
in the Papers of the Society: since, as he alleged, if he once began to
correct, he would appear to endorse whatever he left uncorrected, and
thus make himself responsible, not only for any interpretation that
might be placed on his poems, but, what was far more serious, for
every eulogium that was bestowed upon them. He could not stand aloof as
entirely as he or even his friends desired, since it was usual with some
members of the Society to seek from him elucidations of obscure passages
which, without these, it was declared, would be a stumbling-block to
future readers. But he disliked being even to this extent drawn into
its operation; and his help was, I believe, less and less frequently
invoked. Nothing could be more false than the rumour which once arose
that he superintended those performances of his plays which took place
under the direction of the Society. Once only, and by the urgent desire
of some of the actors, did he witness a last rehearsal of one of them.

It was also a matter of course that men and women brought together by
a pre-existing interest in Mr. Browning's work should often ignore its
authorized explanations, and should read and discuss it in the light of
personal impressions more congenial to their own mind; and the various
and circumstantial views sometimes elicited by a given poem did not
serve to render it more intelligible. But the merit of true poetry lies
so largely in its suggestiveness, that even mistaken impressions of
it have their positive value and also their relative truth; and the
intellectual friction which was thus created, not only in the parent
society, but in its offshoots in England and America, was not their
least important result.

These Societies conferred, it need hardly be said, no less real benefits
on the public at large. They extended the sale of Mr. Browning's works,
and with it their distinct influence for intellectual and moral good.
They not only created in many minds an interest in these works, but
aroused the interest where it was latent, and gave it expression where
it had hitherto found no voice. One fault, alone, could be charged
against them; and this lay partly in the nature of all friendly
concerted action: they stirred a spirit of enthusiasm in which it
was not easy, under conditions equally genuine, to distinguish the
individual element from that which was due to contagion; while the
presence among us of the still living poet often infused into that
enthusiasm a vaguely emotional element, which otherwise detracted from
its intellectual worth. But in so far as this was a drawback to the
intended action of the Societies, it was one only in the most negative
sense; nor can we doubt, that, to a certain extent, Mr. Browning's best
influence was promoted by it. The hysterical sensibilities which, for
some years past, he had unconsciously but not unfrequently aroused in
the minds of women, and even of men, were a morbid development of that
influence, which its open and systematic extension tended rather to
diminish than to increase.

It is also a matter of history that Robert Browning had many deep and
constant admirers in England, and still more in America,* long before
this organized interest had developed itself. Letters received from
often remote parts of the United States had been for many years a detail
of his daily experience; and even when they consisted of the request for
an autograph, an application to print selections from his works, or a
mere expression of schoolboy pertness or schoolgirl sentimentality, they
bore witness to his wide reputation in that country, and the high esteem
in which he was held there.** The names of Levi and Celia Thaxter of
Boston had long, I believe, been conspicuous in the higher ranks of his
disciples, though they first occur in his correspondence at about
this date. I trust I may take for granted Mrs. Thaxter's permission to
publish a letter from her.

     * The cheapening of his works in America, induced by the
     absence of international copyright, accounts of course in
     some degree for their wider diffusion, and hence earlier
     appreciation there.

     ** One of the most curious proofs of this was the
     Californian Railway time-table edition of his poems.


Newtonville, Massachusetts: March 14, 1880.

My dear Mr. Browning:

Your note reached me this morning, but it belonged to my husband, for it
was he who wrote to you; so I gave it to him, glad to put into his hands
so precious a piece of manuscript, for he has for you and all your work
an enthusiastic appreciation such as is seldom found on this planet: it
is not possible that the admiration of one mortal for another can exceed
his feeling for you. You might have written for him,

     I've a friend over the sea,
     .    .    .    .

     It all grew out of the books I write, &c.

You should see his fine wrath and scorn for the idiocy that doesn't at
once comprehend you!

He knows every word you have ever written; long ago 'Sordello' was
an open book to him from title-page to closing line, and _all_ you have
printed since has been as eagerly and studiously devoured. He reads you
aloud (and his reading is a fine art) to crowds of astonished people,
he swears by you, he thinks no one save Shakspere has a right to be
mentioned in the same century with you. You are the great enthusiasm of
his life.

Pardon me, you are smiling, I dare say. You hear any amount of such
things, doubtless. But a genuine living appreciation is always worth
having in this old world, it is like a strong fresh breeze from off the
brine, that puts a sense of life and power into a man. You cannot be the
worse for it. Yours very sincerely, Celia Thaxter.


When Mr. Thaxter died, in February 1885, his son wrote to Mr. Browning
to beg of him a few lines to be inscribed on his father's tombstone. The
little poem by which the request was answered has not yet, I believe,
been published.


'Written to be inscribed on the gravestone of Levi Thaxter.'

Thou, whom these eyes saw never,--say friends true Who say my soul,
helped onward by my song, Though all unwittingly, has helped thee too?
I gave but of the little that I knew: How were the gift requited, while
along Life's path I pace, could'st thou make weakness strong, Help me
with knowledge--for Life's old, Death's new! R. B. April 19, '85.


A publication which connected itself with the labours of the Society,
without being directly inspired by it, was the annotated 'Strafford'
prepared by Miss Hickey for the use of students. It may be agreeable to
those who use the little work to know the estimate in which Mr. Browning
held it. He wrote as follows:


19, Warwick Crescent, W.: February 15, 1884.

Dear Miss Hickey,--I have returned the Proofs by post,--nothing can be
better than your notes--and with a real wish to be of use, I read
them carefully that I might detect never so tiny a fault,--but I found
none--unless (to show you how minutely I searched,) it should be one
that by 'thriving in your contempt,' I meant simply 'while you despise
them, and for all that, they thrive and are powerful to do you harm.'
The idiom you prefer--quite an authorized one--comes to much the same
thing after all.

You must know how much I grieve at your illness--temporary as I will
trust it to be--I feel all your goodness to me--or whatever in my books
may be taken for me--well, I wish you knew how thoroughly I feel it--and
how truly I am and shall ever be Yours affectionately, Robert Browning.


From the time of the foundation of the New Shakspere Society, Mr.
Browning was its president. In 1880 he became a member of the Wordsworth
Society. Two interesting letters to Professor Knight, dated respectively
1880 and 1887, connect themselves with the working of the latter; and,
in spite of their distance in time, may therefore be given together.
The poem which formed the subject of the first was 'The Daisy';* the
selection referred to in the second was that made in 1888 by Professor
Knight for the Wordsworth Society, with the co-operation of Mr. Browning
and other eminent literary men.

     * That beginning 'In youth from rock to rock, I went.'


19, Warwick Crescent, W.: July 9, '80.

My dear Sir,--You pay me a compliment in caring for my opinion--but,
such as it is, a very decided one it must be. On every account, your
method of giving the original text, and subjoining in a note the
variations, each with its proper date, is incontestably preferable
to any other. It would be so, if the variations were even
improvements--there would be pleasure as well as profit in seeing what
was good grow visibly better. But--to confine ourselves to the single
'proof' you have sent me--in every case the change is sadly for the
worse: I am quite troubled by such spoilings of passage after passage
as I should have chuckled at had I chanced upon them in some copy
pencil-marked with corrections by Jeffrey or Gifford: indeed, they are
nearly as wretched as the touchings-up of the 'Siege of Corinth' by the
latter. If ever diabolic agency was caught at tricks with 'apostolic'
achievement (see page 9)--and 'apostolic', with no 'profanity' at all, I
esteem these poems to be--surely you may bid it 'aroint' 'about and all
about' these desecrated stanzas--each of which, however, thanks to your
piety, we may hail, I trust, with a hearty

     Thy long-lost praise thou shalt regain
     Nor be less dear to future men
     Than in old time!

Believe me, my dear Sir, Yours very sincerely, Robert Browning.



19, Warwick Crescent, W.: March 23, '87.

Dear Professor Knight,--I have seemed to neglect your commission
shamefully enough: but I confess to a sort of repugnance to classifying
the poems as even good and less good: because in my heart I fear I
should do it almost chronologically--so immeasureably superior seem to
me the 'first sprightly runnings'. Your selection would appear to be
excellent; and the partial admittance of the later work prevents one
from observing the too definitely distinguishing black line between
supremely good and--well, what is fairly tolerable--from Wordsworth,
always understand! I have marked a few of the early poems, not included
in your list--I could do no other when my conscience tells me that I
never can be tired of loving them: while, with the best will in the
world, I could never do more than try hard to like them.*

     * By 'them' Mr. Browning clearly means the later poems, and
     probably has omitted a few words which would have shown
     this.

You see, I go wholly upon my individual likings and distastes: that
other considerations should have their weight with other people is
natural and inevitable. Ever truly yours, Robert Browning.

Many thanks for the volume just received--that with the correspondence.
I hope that you restore the swan simile so ruthlessly cut away from
'Dion'.


In 1884 he was again invited, and again declined, to stand for the
Lord Rectorship of the University of St. Andrews. In the same year he
received the LL.D. degree of the University of Edinburgh; and in the
following was made Honorary President of the Associated Societies of
that city.* During the few days spent there on the occasion of his
investiture, he was the guest of Professor Masson, whose solicitous
kindness to him is still warmly remembered in the family.

     * This Association was instituted in 1833, and is a union of
     literary and debating societies.  It is at present composed
     of five: the Dialectic, Scots Law, Diagnostic,
     Philosophical, and Philomathic.

The interest in Mr. Browning as a poet is beginning to spread in
Germany. There is room for wonder that it should not have done so
before, though the affinities of his genius are rather with the older
than with the more modern German mind. It is much more remarkable that,
many years ago, his work had already a sympathetic exponent in Italy.
Signor Nencioni, Professor of Literature in Florence, had made his
acquaintance at Siena, and was possibly first attracted to him through
his wife, although I never heard that it was so. He was soon, however,
fascinated by Mr. Browning's poetry, and made it an object of serious
study; he largely quoted from, and wrote on it, in the Roman paper
'Fanfulla della Domenica', in 1881 and 1882; and published last winter
what is, I am told, an excellent article on the same subject, in the
'Nuova Antologia'. Two years ago he travelled from Rome to Venice
(accompanied by Signor Placci), for the purpose of seeing him. He is
fond of reciting passages from the works, and has even made attempts at
translation: though he understands them too well not to pronounce them,
what they are for every Latin language, untranslatable.

In 1883 Mr. Browning added another link to the 'golden' chain of verse
which united England and Italy. A statue of Goldoni was about to be
erected in Venice. The ceremonies of the occasion were to include the
appearance of a volume--or album--of appropriate poems; and Cavaliere
Molmenti, its intending editor, a leading member of the 'Erection
Committee', begged Mr. Browning to contribute to it. It was also desired
that he should be present at the unveiling.* He was unable to grant
this request, but consented to write a poem. This sonnet to Goldoni also
deserves to be more widely known, both for itself and for the manner of
its production. Mr. Browning had forgotten, or not understood, how
soon the promise concerning it must be fulfilled, and it was actually
scribbled off while a messenger, sent by Signor Molmenti, waited for it.

     * It was, I think, during this visit to Venice that he
     assisted at a no less interesting ceremony:  the unveiling
     of a commemorative tablet to Baldassaro Galuppi, in his
     native island of Burano.


Goldoni,--good, gay, sunniest of souls,--Glassing half Venice in that
verse of thine,--What though it just reflect the shade and shine Of
common life, nor render, as it rolls Grandeur and gloom? Sufficient for
thy shoals Was Carnival: Parini's depths enshrine Secrets unsuited to
that opaline Surface of things which laughs along thy scrolls. There
throng the people: how they come and go Lisp the soft language, flaunt
the bright garb,--see,--On Piazza, Calle, under Portico And over Bridge!
Dear king of Comedy, Be honoured! Thou that didst love Venice so,
Venice, and we who love her, all love thee!

Venice, Nov. 27, 1883.


A complete bibliography would take account of three other sonnets,
'The Founder of the Feast', 1884, 'The Names', 1884, and 'Why I am a
Liberal', 1886, to which I shall have occasion to refer; but we
decline insensibly from these on to the less important or more
fugitive productions which such lists also include, and on which it is
unnecessary or undesirable that any stress should be laid.

In 1885 he was joined in Venice by his son. It was 'Penini's' first
return to the country of his birth, his first experience of the city
which he had only visited in his nurse's arms; and his delight in it was
so great that the plan shaped itself in his father's mind of buying a
house there, which should serve as 'pied-a-terre' for the family, but
more especially as a home for him. Neither the health nor the energies
of the younger Mr. Browning had ever withstood the influence of the
London climate; a foreign element was undoubtedly present in his
otherwise thoroughly English constitution. Everything now pointed to his
settling in Italy, and pursuing his artist life there, only interrupting
it by occasional visits to London and Paris. His father entered into
negotiations for the Palazzo Manzoni, next door to the former Hotel de
l'Univers; and the purchase was completed, so far as he was concerned,
before he returned to England. The fact is related, and his own position
towards it described in a letter to Mrs. Charles Skirrow, written from
Venice.


Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati, S. Moise: Nov. 15, '85.

My two dear friends will have supposed, with plenty of reason, that I
never got the kind letter some weeks ago. When it came, I was in the
middle of an affair, conducted by letters of quite another kind, with
people abroad: and as I fancied that every next day might bring me
news very interesting to me and likely to be worth telling to the dear
friends, I waited and waited--and only two days since did the matter
come to a satisfactory conclusion--so, as the Irish song has it, 'Open
your eyes and die with surprise' when I inform you that I have purchased
the Manzoni Palace here, on the Canal Grande, of its owner, Marchese
Montecucculi, an Austrian and an absentee--hence the delay of
communication. I did this purely for Pen--who became at once simply
infatuated with the city which won my whole heart long before he was
born or thought of. I secure him a perfect domicile, every facility for
his painting and sculpture, and a property fairly worth, even here and
now, double what I gave for it--such is the virtue in these parts of
ready money! I myself shall stick to London--which has been so eminently
good and gracious to me--so long as God permits; only, when the
inevitable outrage of Time gets the better of my body--(I shall not
believe in his reaching my soul and proper self)--there will be a
capital retreat provided: and meantime I shall be able to 'take mine
ease in mine own inn' whenever so minded. There, my dear friends! I
trust now to be able to leave very shortly; the main business cannot be
formally concluded before two months at least--through the absence of
the Marchese,--who left at once to return to his duties as commander
of an Austrian ship; but the necessary engagement to sell and buy at a
specified price is made in due legal form, and the papers will be sent
to me in London for signature. I hope to get away the week after next at
latest,--spite of the weather in England which to-day's letters report
as 'atrocious',--and ours, though variable, is in the main very
tolerable and sometimes perfect; for all that, I yearn to be at home in
poor Warwick Crescent, which must do its best to make me forget my new
abode. I forget you don't know Venice. Well then, the Palazzo Manzoni
is situate on the Grand Canal, and is described by Ruskin,--to give
no other authority,--as 'a perfect and very rich example of Byzantine
Renaissance: its warm yellow marbles are magnificent.' And again--'an
exquisite example (of Byzantine Renaissance) as applied to domestic
architecture.' So testify the 'Stones of Venice'. But we will talk about
the place, over a photograph, when I am happy enough to be with you
again.

Of Venetian gossip there is next to none. We had an admirable Venetian
Company,--using the dialect,--at the Goldoni Theatre. The acting
of Zago, in his various parts, and Zenon-Palladini, in her especial
character of a Venetian piece of volubility and impulsiveness in the
shape of a servant, were admirable indeed. The manager, Gallina, is a
playwright of much reputation, and gave us some dozen of his own pieces,
mostly good and clever. S. is very well,--much improved in health: we
walk sufficiently in this city where walking is accounted impossible by
those who never attempt it. Have I tired your good temper? No! you ever
wished me well, and I love you both with my whole heart. S.'s love goes
with mine--who am ever yours Robert Browning.


He never, however, owned the Manzoni Palace. The Austrian gentlemen*
whose property it was, put forward, at the last moment, unexpected and
to his mind unreasonable claims; and he was preparing to contest
the position, when a timely warning induced him to withdraw from it
altogether. The warning proceeded from his son, who had remained on the
spot, and was now informed on competent authority that the foundations
of the house were insecure.

     * Two or three brothers.

In the early summer of 1884, and again in 1886, Miss Browning had a
serious illness; and though she recovered, in each case completely, and
in the first rapidly, it was considered desirable that she should not
travel so far as usual from home. She and her brother therefore accepted
for the August and September of 1884 the urgent invitation of an
American friend, Mrs. Bloomfield Moore, to stay with her at a villa
which she rented for some seasons at St. Moritz. Mr. Browning was
delighted with the Engadine, where the circumstances of his abode,
and the thoughtful kindness of his hostess, allowed him to enjoy the
benefits of comparative civilization together with almost perfect
repose. The weather that year was brilliant until the end of September,
if not beyond it; and his letters tell the old pleasant story of long
daily walks and a general sense of invigoration. One of these,
written to Mr. and Mrs. Skirrow, also contains some pungent remarks on
contemporary events, with an affectionate allusion to one of the chief
actors in them.


'Anyhow, I have the sincerest hope that Wolseley may get done as
soon, and kill as few people, as possible,--keeping himself safe and
sound--brave dear fellow--for the benefit of us all.'


He also speaks with great sympathy of the death of Mr. Charles Sartoris,
which had just taken place at St.-Moritz.

In 1886, Miss Browning was not allowed to leave England; and she and
Mr. Browning established themselves for the autumn at the Hand Hotel at
Llangollen, where their old friends, Sir Theodore and Lady Martin, would
be within easy reach. Mr. Browning missed the exhilarating effects of
the Alpine air; but he enjoyed the peaceful beauty of the Welsh valley,
and the quiet and comfort of the old-fashioned English inn. A new source
of interest also presented itself to him in some aspects of the life
of the English country gentleman. He was struck by the improvements
effected by its actual owner* on a neighbouring estate, and by the
provisions contained in them for the comfort of both the men and the
animals under his care; and he afterwards made, in reference to them,
what was for a professing Liberal, a very striking remark: 'Talk of
abolishing that class of men! They are the salt of the earth!' Every
Sunday afternoon he and his sister drank tea--weather permitting--on
the lawn with their friends at Brintysilio; and he alludes gracefully
to these meetings in a letter written in the early summer of 1888, when
Lady Martin had urged him to return to Wales.

     * I believe a Captain Best.

The poet left another and more pathetic remembrance of himself in the
neighbourhood of Llangollen: his weekly presence at the afternoon Sunday
service in the parish church of Llantysilio. Churchgoing was, as I have
said, no part of his regular life. It was no part of his life in London.
But I do not think he ever failed in it at the Universities or in the
country. The assembling for prayer meant for him something deeper in
both the religious and the human sense, where ancient learning and piety
breathed through the consecrated edifice, or where only the figurative
'two or three' were 'gathered together' within it. A memorial tablet now
marks the spot at which on this occasion the sweet grave face and the
venerable head were so often seen. It has been placed by the direction
of Lady Martin on the adjoining wall.

It was in the September of this year that Mr. Browning heard of the
death of M. Joseph Milsand. This name represented for him one of the few
close friendships which were to remain until the end, unclouded in
fact and in remembrance; and although some weight may be given to those
circumstances of their lives which precluded all possibility of friction
and risk of disenchantment, I believe their rooted sympathy, and Mr.
Browning's unfailing powers of appreciation would, in all possible
cases, have maintained the bond intact. The event was at the last
sudden, but happily not quite unexpected.

Many other friends had passed by this time out of the poet's life--those
of a younger, as well as his own and an older generation. Miss Haworth
died in 1883. Charles Dickens, with whom he had remained on the most
cordial terms, had walked between him and his son at Thackeray's
funeral, to receive from him, only seven years later, the same pious
office. Lady Augusta Stanley, the daughter of his old friend, Lady
Elgin, was dead, and her husband, the Dean of Westminster. So also were
'Barry Cornwall' and John Forster, Alfred Domett, and Thomas Carlyle,
Mr. Cholmondeley and Lord Houghton; others still, both men and women,
whose love for him might entitle them to a place in his Biography, but
whom I could at most only mention by name.

For none of these can his feeling have been more constant or more
disinterested than that which bound him to Carlyle. He visited him
at Chelsea in the last weary days of his long life, as often as their
distance from each other and his own engagements allowed. Even the man's
posthumous self-disclosures scarcely availed to destroy the affectionate
reverence which he had always felt for him. He never ceased to defend
him against the charge of unkindness to his wife, or to believe that in
the matter of their domestic unhappiness she was the more responsible
of the two.* Yet Carlyle had never rendered him that service, easy as it
appears, which one man of letters most justly values from another:
that of proclaiming the admiration which he privately expresses for his
works. The fact was incomprehensible to Mr. Browning--it was so foreign
to his own nature; and he commented on it with a touch, though merely a
touch, of bitterness, when repeating to a friend some almost extravagant
eulogium which in earlier days he had received from him tete-a-tete. 'If
only,' he said, 'those words had been ever repeated in public, what good
they might have done me!'

     * He always thought her a hard and unlovable woman, and I
     believe little liking was lost between them.  He told a
     comical story of how he had once, unintentionally but rather
     stupidly, annoyed her. She had asked him, as he was standing
     by her tea-table, to put the kettle back on the fire.  He
     took it out of her hands, but, preoccupied by the
     conversation he was carrying on, deposited it on the
     hearthrug.  It was some time before he could be made to see
     that this was wrong; and he believed Mrs. Carlyle never
     ceased to think that he had a mischievous motive for doing
     it.

In the spring of 1886, he accepted the post of Foreign Correspondent to
the Royal Academy, rendered vacant by the death of Lord Houghton. He had
long been on very friendly terms with the leading Academicians, and a
constant guest at the Banquet; and his fitness for the office admitted
of no doubt. But his nomination by the President, and the manner in
which it was ratified by the Council and general body, gave him sincere
pleasure.

Early in 1887, the 'Parleyings' appeared. Their author is still the same
Robert Browning, though here and there visibly touched by the hand
of time. Passages of sweet or majestic music, or of exquisite fancy,
alternate with its long stretches of argumentative thought; and the
light of imagination still plays, however fitfully, over statements
of opinion to which constant repetition has given a suggestion of
commonplace. But the revision of the work caused him unusual trouble.
The subjects he had chosen strained his powers of exposition; and I
think he often tried to remedy by mere verbal correction, what was a
defect in the logical arrangement of his ideas. They would slide into
each other where a visible dividing line was required. The last stage of
his life was now at hand; and the vivid return of fancy to his
boyhood's literary loves was in pathetic, perhaps not quite accidental,
coincidence with the fact. It will be well to pause at this beginning
of his decline, and recall so far as possible the image of the man who
lived, and worked, and loved, and was loved among us, during that brief
old age, and the lengthened period of level strength which had preceded
it. The record already given of his life and work supplies the outline
of the picture; but a few more personal details are required for its
completion.



Chapter 20

Constancy to Habit--Optimism--Belief in Providence--Political
Opinions--His Friendships--Reverence for Genius--Attitude towards
his Public--Attitude towards his Work--Habits of Work--His
Reading--Conversational Powers--Impulsiveness and Reserve--Nervous
Peculiarities--His Benevolence--His Attitude towards Women.



When Mr. Browning wrote to Miss Haworth, in the July of 1861, he had
said: 'I shall still grow, I hope; but my root is taken, and remains.'
He was then alluding to a special offshoot of feeling and association,
on the permanence of which it is not now necessary to dwell; but it
is certain that he continued growing up to a late age, and that the
development was only limited by those general roots, those fixed
conditions of his being, which had predetermined its form. This
progressive intellectual vitality is amply represented in his works; it
also reveals itself in his letters in so far as I have been allowed to
publish them. I only refer to it to give emphasis to a contrasted or
corresponding characteristic: his aversion to every thought of change. I
have spoken of his constancy to all degrees of friendship and love. What
he loved once he loved always, from the dearest man or woman to whom his
allegiance had been given, to the humblest piece of furniture which had
served him. It was equally true that what he had done once he was wont,
for that very reason, to continue doing. The devotion to habits of
feeling extended to habits of life; and although the lower constancy
generally served the purposes of the higher, it also sometimes clashed
with them. It conspired with his ready kindness of heart to make him
subject to circumstances which at first appealed to him through that
kindness, but lay really beyond its scope. This statement, it is true,
can only fully apply to the latter part of his life. His powers of
reaction must originally have been stronger, as well as freer from the
paralysis of conflicting motive and interest. The marked shrinking from
effort in any untried direction, which was often another name for his
stability, could scarcely have coexisted with the fresher and more
curious interest in men and things; we know indeed from recorded facts
that it was a feeling of later growth; and it visibly increased with the
periodical nervous exhaustion of his advancing years. I am convinced,
nevertheless, that, when the restiveness of boyhood had passed away,
Mr. Browning's strength was always more passive than active; that he
habitually made the best of external conditions rather than tried to
change them. He was a 'fighter' only by the brain. And on this point,
though on this only, his work is misleading.

The acquiescent tendency arose in some degree from two equally prominent
characteristics of Mr. Browning's nature: his optimism, and his belief
in direct Providence; and these again represented a condition of
mind which was in certain respects a quality, but must in others be
recognized as a defect. It disposed him too much to make a virtue of
happiness. It tended also to the ignoring or denying of many incidental
possibilities, and many standing problems of human suffering. The first
part of this assertion is illustrated by 'The Two Poets of Croisic',
in which Mr. Browning declares that, other conditions being equal,
the greater poet will have been he who led the happier life, who most
completely--and we must take this in the human as well as religious
sense--triumphed over suffering. The second has its proof in the
contempt for poetic melancholy which flashes from the supposed utterance
of Shakespeare in 'At the Mermaid'; its negative justification in the
whole range of his work.

Such facts may be hard to reconcile with others already known of Mr.
Browning's nature, or already stated concerning it; but it is in the
depths of that nature that the solution of this, as of more than one
other anomaly, must be sought. It is true that remembered pain dwelt
longer with him than remembered pleasure. It is true that the last great
sorrow of his life was long felt and cherished by him as a religion, and
that it entered as such into the courage with which he first confronted
it. It is no less true that he directly and increasingly cultivated
happiness; and that because of certain sufferings which had been
connected with them, he would often have refused to live his happiest
days again.

It seems still harder to associate defective human sympathy with his
kind heart and large dramatic imagination, though that very imagination
was an important factor in the case. It forbade the collective and
mathematical estimate of human suffering, which is so much in favour
with modern philanthropy, and so untrue a measure for the individual
life; and he indirectly condemns it in 'Ferishtah's Fancies' in the
parable of 'Bean Stripes'. But his dominant individuality also barred
the recognition of any judgment or impression, any thought or feeling,
which did not justify itself from his own point of view. The barrier
would melt under the influence of a sympathetic mood, as it would
stiffen in the atmosphere of disagreement. It would yield, as did in his
case so many other things, to continued indirect pressure, whether from
his love of justice, the strength of his attachments, or his power
of imaginative absorption. But he was bound by the conditions of an
essentially creative nature. The subjectiveness, if I may for once use
that hackneyed word, had passed out of his work only to root itself more
strongly in his life. He was self-centred, as the creative nature must
inevitably be. He appeared, for this reason, more widely sympathetic in
his works than in his life, though even in the former certain grounds of
vicarious feeling remained untouched. The sympathy there displayed was
creative and obeyed its own law. That which was demanded from him by
reality was responsive, and implied submission to the law of other
minds.

Such intellectual egotism is unconnected with moral selfishness, though
it often unconsciously does its work. Were it otherwise, I should have
passed over in silence this aspect, comprehensive though it is, of Mr.
Browning's character. He was capable of the largest self-sacrifice and
of the smallest self-denial; and would exercise either whenever love
or duty clearly pointed the way. He would, he believed, cheerfully have
done so at the command, however arbitrary, of a Higher Power; he often
spoke of the absence of such injunction, whether to endurance or action,
as the great theoretical difficulty of life for those who, like himself,
rejected or questioned the dogmatic teachings of Christianity. This
does not mean that he ignored the traditional moralities which have so
largely taken their place. They coincided in great measure with his own
instincts; and few occasions could have arisen in which they would not
be to him a sufficient guide. I may add, though this is a digression,
that he never admitted the right of genius to defy them; when such a
right had once been claimed for it in his presence, he rejoined
quickly, 'That is an error! _noblesse oblige_.' But he had difficulty in
acknowledging any abstract law which did not derive from a Higher Power;
and this fact may have been at once cause and consequence of the special
conditions of his own mind. All human or conventional obligation appeals
finally to the individual judgment; and in his case this could easily be
obscured by the always militant imagination, in regard to any subject
in which his feelings were even indirectly concerned. No one saw
more justly than he, when the object of vision was general or remote.
Whatever entered his personal atmosphere encountered a refracting medium
in which objects were decomposed, and a succession of details, each held
as it were close to the eye, blocked out the larger view.

We have seen, on the other hand, that he accepted imperfect knowledge as
part of the discipline of experience. It detracted in no sense from his
conviction of direct relations with the Creator. This was indeed the
central fact of his theology, as the absolute individual existence had
been the central fact of his metaphysics; and when he described the
fatal leap in 'Red Cotton Nightcap Country' as a frantic appeal to the
Higher Powers for the 'sign' which the man's religion did not afford,
and his nature could not supply, a special dramatic sympathy was at
work within him. The third part of the epilogue to 'Dramatis Personae'
represented his own creed; though this was often accentuated in the
sense of a more personal privilege, and a perhaps less poetic mystery,
than the poem conveys. The Evangelical Christian and the subjective
idealist philosopher were curiously blended in his composition.

The transition seems violent from this old-world religion to any system
of politics applicable to the present day. They were, nevertheless,
closely allied in Mr. Browning's mind. His politics were, so far as they
went, the practical aspect of his religion. Their cardinal doctrine was
the liberty of individual growth; removal of every barrier of prejudice
or convention by which it might still be checked. He had been a Radical
in youth, and probably in early manhood; he remained, in the truest
sense of the word, a Liberal; and his position as such was defined in
the sonnet prefixed in 1886 to Mr. Andrew Reid's essay, 'Why I am a
Liberal', and bearing the same name. Its profession of faith did not,
however, necessarily bind him to any political party. It separated him
from all the newest developments of so-called Liberalism. He respected
the rights of property. He was a true patriot, hating to see his country
plunged into aggressive wars, but tenacious of her position among the
empires of the world. He was also a passionate Unionist; although the
question of our political relations with Ireland weighed less with him,
as it has done with so many others, than those considerations of law and
order, of honesty and humanity, which have been trampled under foot in
the name of Home Rule. It grieved and surprised him to find himself on
this subject at issue with so many valued friends; and no pain of Lost
Leadership was ever more angry or more intense, than that which came to
him through the defection of a great statesman whom he had honoured and
loved, from what he believed to be the right cause.

The character of Mr. Browning's friendships reveals itself in great
measure in even a simple outline of his life. His first friends of
his own sex were almost exclusively men of letters, by taste if not by
profession; the circumstances of his entrance into society made this a
matter of course. In later years he associated on cordial terms with
men of very various interests and professions; and only writers of
conspicuous merit, whether in prose or poetry, attracted him as such. No
intercourse was more congenial to him than that of the higher class of
English clergymen. He sympathized in their beliefs even when he did not
share them. Above all he loved their culture; and the love of culture in
general, of its old classic forms in particular, was as strong in him as
if it had been formed by all the natural and conventional associations
of a university career. He had hearty friends and appreciators among the
dignitaries of the Church--successive Archbishops and Bishops, Deans
of Westminster and St. Paul's. They all knew the value of the great
freelance who fought like the gods of old with the regular army. No
name, however, has been mentioned in the poet's family more frequently
or with more affection than that of the Rev. J. D. W. Williams, Vicar
of Bottisham in Cambridgeshire. The mutual acquaintance, which was made
through Mr. Browning's brother-in-law, Mr. George Moulton-Barrett,
was prepared by Mr. Williams' great love for his poems, of which he
translated many into Latin and Greek; but I am convinced that Mr.
Browning's delight in his friend's classical attainments was quite as
great as his gratification in the tribute he himself derived from them.

His love of genius was a worship: and in this we must include his whole
life. Nor was it, as this feeling so often is, exclusively exercised
upon the past. I do not suppose his more eminent contemporaries ever
quite knew how generous his enthusiasm for them had been, how free from
any under-current of envy, or impulse to avoidable criticism. He could
not endure even just censure of one whom he believed, or had believed
to be great. I have seen him wince under it, though no third person was
present, and heard him answer, 'Don't! don't!' as if physical pain were
being inflicted on him. In the early days he would make his friend, M.
de Monclar, draw for him from memory the likenesses of famous writers
whom he had known in Paris; the sketches thus made of George Sand and
Victor Hugo are still in the poet's family. A still more striking
and very touching incident refers to one of the winters, probably the
second, which he spent in Paris. He was one day walking with little Pen,
when Beranger came in sight, and he bade the child 'run up to' or 'run
past that gentleman, and put his hand for a moment upon him.' This was
a great man, he afterwards explained, and he wished his son to be able
by-and-by to say that if he had not known, he had at all events touched
him. Scientific genius ranked with him only second to the poetical.

Mr. Browning's delicate professional sympathies justified some
sensitiveness on his own account; but he was, I am convinced, as free
from this quality as a man with a poet-nature could possibly be. It may
seem hazardous to conjecture how serious criticism would have affected
him. Few men so much 'reviewed' have experienced so little. He was by
turns derided or ignored, enthusiastically praised, zealously analyzed
and interpreted: but the independent judgment which could embrace at
once the quality of his mind and its defects, is almost absent--has been
so at all events during later years--from the volumes which have been
written about him. I am convinced, nevertheless, that he would have
accepted serious, even adverse criticism, if it had borne the impress of
unbiassed thought and genuine sincerity. It could not be otherwise with
one in whom the power of reverence was so strongly marked.

He asked but one thing of his reviewers, as he asked but one thing of
his larger public. The first demand is indicated in a letter to Mrs.
Frank Hill, of January 31, 1884.


Dear Mrs. Hill,--Could you befriend me? The 'Century' prints a little
insignificance of mine--an impromptu sonnet--but prints it _correctly_.
The 'Pall Mall' pleases to extract it--and produces what I enclose:
one line left out, and a note of admiration (!) turned into an I, and
a superfluous 'the' stuck in--all these blunders with the correctly
printed text before it! So does the charge of unintelligibility attach
itself to your poor friend--who can kick nobody. Robert Browning.


The carelessness often shown in the most friendly quotation could hardly
be absent from that which was intended to support a hostile view; and
the only injustice of which he ever complained, was what he spoke of
as falsely condemning him out of his own mouth. He used to say: 'If a
critic declares that any poem of mine is unintelligible, the reader
may go to it and judge for himself; but, if it is made to appear
unintelligible by a passage extracted from it and distorted by
misprints, I have no redress.' He also failed to realize those
conditions of thought, and still more of expression, which made him
often on first reading difficult to understand; and as the younger
generation of his admirers often deny those difficulties where they
exist, as emphatically as their grandfathers proclaimed them where they
did not, public opinion gave him little help in the matter.

The second (unspoken) request was in some sense an antithesis to the
first. Mr. Browning desired to be read accurately but not literally. He
deprecated the constant habit of reading him into his work; whether in
search of the personal meaning of a given passage or poem, or in the
light of a foregone conclusion as to what that meaning must be. The
latter process was that generally preferred, because the individual mind
naturally seeks its own reflection in the poet's work, as it does in the
facts of nature. It was stimulated by the investigations of the Browning
Societies, and by the partial familiarity with his actual life which
constantly supplied tempting, if untrustworthy clues. It grew out of the
strong personal as well as literary interest which he inspired. But the
tendency to listen in his work for a single recurrent note always struck
him as analogous to the inspection of a picture gallery with eyes blind
to every colour but one; and the act of sympathy often involved in this
mode of judgment was neutralized for him by the limitation of his genius
which it presupposed. His general objection to being identified with
his works is set forth in 'At the Mermaid', and other poems of the same
volume, in which it takes the form of a rather captious protest against
inferring from the poet any habit or quality of the man; and where also,
under the impulse of the dramatic mood, he enforces the lesson by saying
more than he can possibly mean. His readers might object that his
human personality was so often plainly revealed in his poetic utterance
(whether or not that of Shakespeare was), and so often also avowed by
it, that the line which divided them became impossible to draw. But he
again would have rejoined that the Poet could never express himself with
any large freedom, unless a fiction of impersonality were granted to
him. He might also have alleged, he often did allege, that in his case
the fiction would hold a great deal of truth; since, except in
the rarest cases, the very fact of poetic, above all of dramatic
reproduction, detracts from the reality of the thought or feeling
reproduced. It introduces the alloy of fancy without which the fixed
outlines of even living experience cannot be welded into poetic form. He
claimed, in short, that in judging of his work, one should allow for the
action in it of the constructive imagination, in the exercise of which
all deeper poetry consists. The form of literalism, which showed itself
in seeking historical authority for every character or incident which he
employed by way of illustration, was especially irritating to him.

I may (as indeed I must) concede this much, without impugning either
the pleasure or the gratitude with which he recognized the increasing
interest in his poems, and, if sometimes exhibited in a mistaken form,
the growing appreciation of them.

There was another and more striking peculiarity in Mr. Browning's
attitude towards his works: his constant conviction that the latest must
be the best, because the outcome of the fullest mental experience, and
of the longest practice in his art. He was keenly alive to the necessary
failings of youthful literary production; he also practically denied to
it that quality which so often places it at an advantage over that, not
indeed of more mature manhood, but at all events of advancing age. There
was much in his own experience to blind him to the natural effects of
time; it had been a prolonged triumph over them. But the delusion, in so
far as it was one, lay deeper than the testimony of such experience, and
would I think have survived it. It was the essence of his belief that
the mind is superior to physical change; that it may be helped or
hindered by its temporary alliance with the body, but will none the less
outstrip it in their joint course; and as intellect was for him the life
of poetry, so was the power of poetry independent of bodily progress and
bodily decline. This conviction pervaded his life. He learned, though
happily very late, to feel age an impediment; he never accepted it as a
disqualification.

He finished his work very carefully. He had the better right to
resent any garbling of it, that this habitually took place through
his punctuation, which was always made with the fullest sense of its
significance to any but the baldest style, and of its special importance
to his own. I have heard him say: 'People accuse me of not taking pains!
I take nothing _but_ pains!' And there was indeed a curious contrast
between the irresponsible, often strangely unquestioned, impulse to
which the substance of each poem was due, and the conscientious labour
which he always devoted to its form. The laborious habit must have grown
upon him; it was natural that it should do so as thought gained the
ascendency over emotion in what he had to say. Mrs. Browning told Mr.
Val Prinsep that her husband 'worked at a great rate;' and this fact
probably connected itself with the difficulty he then found in altering
the form or wording of any particular phrase; he wrote most frequently
under that lyrical inspiration in which the idea and the form are least
separable from each other. We know, however, that in the later editions
of his old work he always corrected where he could; and if we notice
the changed lines in 'Paracelsus' or 'Sordello', as they appear in the
edition of 1863, or the slighter alterations indicated for the last
reprint of his works, we are struck by the care evinced in them for
greater smoothness of expression, as well as for greater accuracy and
force.

He produced less rapidly in later life, though he could throw off
impromptu verses, whether serious or comical, with the utmost ease.
His work was then of a kind which required more deliberation; and other
claims had multiplied upon his time and thoughts. He was glad to have
accomplished twenty or thirty lines in a morning. After lunch-time, for
many years, he avoided, when possible, even answering a note. But he
always counted a day lost on which he had not written something; and in
those last years on which we have yet to enter, he complained bitterly
of the quantity of ephemeral correspondence which kept him back from
his proper work. He once wrote, on the occasion of a short illness which
confined him to the house, 'All my power of imagination seems gone. I
might as well be in bed!' He repeatedly determined to write a poem every
day, and once succeeded for a fortnight in doing so. He was then in
Paris, preparing 'Men and Women'. 'Childe Roland' and 'Women and Roses'
were among those produced on this plan; the latter having been suggested
by some flowers sent to his wife. The lyrics in 'Ferishtah's Fancies'
were written, I believe, on consecutive days; and the intention renewed
itself with his last work, though it cannot have been maintained.

He was not as great a reader in later as in earlier years; he had
neither time nor available strength to be so if he had wished; and he
absorbed almost unconsciously every item which added itself to the
sum of general knowledge. Books had indeed served for him their most
important purpose when they had satisfied the first curiosities of his
genius, and enabled it to establish its independence. His mind was made
up on the chief subjects of contemporary thought, and what was novel or
controversial in its proceeding had no attraction for him. He would read
anything, short of an English novel, to a friend whose eyes required
this assistance; but such pleasure as he derived from the act was more
often sympathetic than spontaneous, even when he had not, as he often
had, selected for it a book which he already knew. In the course of his
last decade he devoted himself for a short time to the study of Spanish
and Hebrew. The Spanish dramatists yielded him a fund of new enjoyment;
and he delighted in his power of reading Hebrew in its most difficult
printed forms. He also tried, but with less result, to improve his
knowledge of German. His eyesight defied all obstacles of bad paper and
ancient type, and there was anxiety as well as pleasure to those about
him in his unfailing confidence in its powers. He never wore spectacles,
nor had the least consciousness of requiring them. He would read an
old closely printed volume by the waning light of a winter afternoon,
positively refusing to use a lamp. Indeed his preference of the faintest
natural light to the best that could be artificially produced was
perhaps the one suggestion of coming change. He used for all purposes
a single eye; for the two did not combine in their action, the right
serving exclusively for near, the left for distant objects. This was why
in walking he often closed the right eye; while it was indispensable
to his comfort in reading, not only that the light should come from
the right side, but that the left should be shielded from any luminous
object, like the fire, which even at the distance of half the length of
a room would strike on his field of vision and confuse the near sight.

His literary interest became increasingly centred on records of the
lives of men and women; especially of such men and women as he had
known; he was generally curious to see the newly published biographies,
though often disappointed by them. He would also read, even for his
amusement, good works of French or Italian fiction. His allegiance to
Balzac remained unshaken, though he was conscious of lengthiness when he
read him aloud. This author's deep and hence often poetic realism was,
I believe, bound up with his own earliest aspirations towards dramatic
art. His manner of reading aloud a story which he already knew was
the counterpart of his own method of construction. He would claim his
listener's attention for any apparently unimportant fact which had a
part to play in it: he would say: 'Listen to this description: it will
be important. Observe this character: you will see a great deal more of
him or her.' We know that in his own work nothing was thrown away; no
note was struck which did not add its vibration to the general utterance
of the poem; and his habitual generosity towards a fellow-worker
prompted him to seek and recognize the same quality, even in productions
where it was less conspicuous than in his own. The patient reading which
he required for himself was justified by that which he always demanded
for others; and he claimed it less in his own case for his possible
intricacies of thought or style, than for that compactness of living
structure in which every detail or group of details was essential to the
whole, and in a certain sense contained it. He read few things with so
much pleasure as an occasional chapter in the Old Testament.

Mr. Browning was a brilliant talker; he was admittedly more a talker
than a conversationalist. But this quality had nothing in common with
self-assertion or love of display. He had too much respect for the
acquirements of other men to wish to impose silence on those who
were competent to speak; and he had great pleasure in listening to a
discussion on any subject in which he was interested, and on which
he was not specially informed. He never willingly monopolized the
conversation; but when called upon to take a prominent part in it,
either with one person or with several, the flow of remembered knowledge
and revived mental experience, combined with the ingenuous eagerness to
vindicate some point in dispute would often carry him away; while his
hearers, nearly as often, allowed him to proceed from absence of any
desire to interrupt him. This great mental fertility had been prepared
by the wide reading and thorough assimilation of his early days; and it
was only at a later, and in certain respects less vigorous period, that
its full bearing could be seen. His memory for passing occurrences, even
such as had impressed him, became very weak; it was so before he had
grown really old; and he would urge this fact in deprecation of any want
of kindness or sympathy, which a given act of forgetfulness might seem
to involve. He had probably always, in matters touching his own life,
the memory of feelings more than that of facts. I think this has been
described as a peculiarity of the poet-nature; and though this memory
is probably the more tenacious of the two, it is no safe guide to the
recovery of facts, still less to that of their order and significance.
Yet up to the last weeks, even the last conscious days of his life,
his remembrance of historical incident, his aptness of literary
illustration, never failed him. His dinner-table anecdotes supplied,
of course, no measure for this spontaneous reproductive power; yet some
weight must be given to the number of years during which he could
abound in such stories, and attest their constant appropriateness by not
repeating them.

This brilliant mental quality had its drawback, on which I have already
touched in a rather different connection: the obstacle which it created
to even serious and private conversation on any subject on which he was
not neutral. Feeling, imagination, and the vividness of personal points
of view, constantly thwarted the attempt at a dispassionate exchange of
ideas. But the balance often righted itself when the excitement of
the discussion was at an end; and it would even become apparent that
expressions or arguments which he had passed over unheeded, or as it
seemed unheard, had stored themselves in his mind and borne fruit there.

I think it is Mr. Sharp who has remarked that Mr. Browning combined
impulsiveness of manner with much real reserve. He was habitually
reticent where his deeper feelings were concerned; and the impulsiveness
and the reticence were both equally rooted in his poetic and human
temperament. The one meant the vital force of his emotions, the other
their sensibility. In a smaller or more prosaic nature they must have
modified each other. But the partial secretiveness had also occasionally
its conscious motives, some unselfish, and some self-regarding; and from
this point of view it stood in marked apparent antagonism to the more
expansive quality. He never, however, intentionally withheld from others
such things as it concerned them to know. His intellectual and religious
convictions were open to all who seriously sought them; and if, even
on such points, he did not appear communicative, it was because he took
more interest in any subject of conversation which did not directly
centre in himself.

Setting aside the delicacies which tend to self-concealment, and for
which he had been always more or less conspicuous; excepting also the
pride which would co-operate with them, all his inclinations were in
the direction of truth; there was no quality which he so much loved
and admired. He thought aloud wherever he could trust himself to do so.
Impulse predominated in all the active manifestations of his nature. The
fiery child and the impatient boy had left their traces in the man; and
with them the peculiar childlike quality which the man of genius never
outgrows, and which, in its mingled waywardness and sweetness, was
present in Robert Browning till almost his dying day. There was also a
recurrent touch of hardness, distinct from the comparatively ungenial
mood of his earlier years of widowhood; and this, like his reserve,
seemed to conflict with his general character, but in reality harmonized
with it. It meant, not that feeling was suspended in him, but that it
was compressed. It was his natural response to any opposition which his
reasonings could not shake nor his will overcome, and which, rightly
or not, conveyed to him the sense of being misunderstood. It reacted in
pain for others, but it lay with an aching weight on his own heart, and
was thrown off in an upheaval of the pent-up kindliness and affection,
the moment their true springs were touched. The hardening power in his
composition, though fugitive and comparatively seldom displayed, was in
fact proportioned to his tenderness; and no one who had not seen him
in the revulsion from a hard mood, or the regret for it, knew what that
tenderness could be.

Underlying all the peculiarities of his nature, its strength and its
weakness, its exuberance and its reserves, was the nervous excitability
of which I have spoken in an earlier chapter. I have heard him say:
'I am nervous to such a degree that I might fancy I could not enter a
drawing-room, if I did not know from long experience that I can do it.'
He did not desire to conceal this fact, nor need others conceal it for
him; since it was only calculated to disarm criticism and to
strengthen sympathy. The special vital power which he derived from this
organization need not be reaffirmed. It carried also its inevitable
disablements. Its resources were not always under his own control; and
he frequently complained of the lack of presence of mind which would
seize him on any conventional emergency not included in the daily social
routine. In a real one he was never at fault. He never failed in a
sympathetic response or a playful retort; he was always provided with
the exact counter requisite in a game of words. In this respect indeed
he had all the powers of the conversationalist; and the perfect ease and
grace and geniality of his manner on such occasions, arose probably
far more from his innate human and social qualities than from even his
familiar intercourse with the world. But he could not extemporize a
speech. He could not on the spur of the moment string together the
more or less set phrases which an after-dinner oration demands. All his
friends knew this, and spared him the necessity of refusing. He had
once a headache all day, because at a dinner, the night before, a false
report had reached him that he was going to be asked to speak. This
alone would have sufficed to prevent him from accepting any public
post. He confesses the disability in a pretty note to Professor Knight,
written in reference to a recent meeting of the Wordsworth Society.


19, Warwick Crescent, W.: May 9, '84.

My dear Professor Knight,--I seem ungracious and ungrateful, but am
neither; though, now that your festival is over, I wish I could have
overcome my scruples and apprehensions. It is hard to say--when kind
people press one to 'just speak for a minute'--that the business,
so easy to almost anybody, is too bewildering for oneself. Ever truly
yours, Robert Browning.


A Rectorial Address need probably not have been extemporized, but it
would also have been irksome to him to prepare. He was not accustomed
to uttering himself in prose except within the limits, and under
the incitements, of private correspondence. The ceremonial publicity
attaching to all official proceedings would also have inevitably been a
trial to him. He did at one of the Wordsworth Society meetings speak a
sentence from the chair, in the absence of the appointed chairman,
who had not yet arrived; and when he had received his degree from the
University of Edinburgh he was persuaded to say a few words to the
assembled students, in which I believe he thanked them for their warm
welcome; but such exceptions only proved the rule.

We cannot doubt that the excited stream of talk which sometimes flowed
from him was, in the given conditions of mind and imagination, due to
a nervous impulse which he could not always restrain; and that the
effusiveness of manner with which he greeted alike old friends and new,
arose also from a momentary want of self-possession. We may admit this
the more readily that in both cases it was allied to real kindness
of intention, above all in the latter, where the fear of seeming cold
towards even a friend's friend, strove increasingly with the defective
memory for names and faces which were not quite familiar to him. He was
also profoundly averse to the idea of posing as a man of superior
gifts; having indeed, in regard to social intercourse, as little of the
fastidiousness of genius as of its bohemianism. He, therefore, made it
a rule, from the moment he took his place as a celebrity in the London
world, to exert himself for the amusement of his fellow-guests at a
dinner-table, whether their own mental resources were great or small;
and this gave rise to a frequent effort at conversation, which converted
itself into a habit, and ended by carrying him away. This at least was
his own conviction in the matter. The loud voice, which so many persons
must have learned to think habitual with him, bore also traces of this
half-unconscious nervous stimulation.* It was natural to him in anger
or excitement, but did not express his gentler or more equable states
of feeling; and when he read to others on a subject which moved him,
his utterance often subsided into a tremulous softness which left it
scarcely audible.

     * Miss Browning reminds me that loud speaking had become
     natural to him through the deafness of several of his
     intimate friends: Landor, Kirkup, Barry Cornwall, and
     previously his uncle Reuben, whose hearing had been impaired
     in early life by a blow from a cricket ball. This fact
     necessarily modifies my impression of the case, but does not
     quite destroy it.

The mental conditions under which his powers of sympathy were exercised
imposed no limits on his spontaneous human kindness. This characteristic
benevolence, or power of love, is not fully represented in Mr.
Browning's works; it is certainly not prominent in those of the later
period, during which it found the widest scope in his life; but he has
in some sense given its measure in what was intended as an illustration
of the opposite quality. He tells us, in 'Fifine at the Fair', that
while the best strength of women is to be found in their love, the best
product of a man is only yielded to hate. It is the 'indignant wine'
which has been wrung from the grape plant by its external mutilation. He
could depict it dramatically in more malignant forms of emotion; but he
could only think of it personally as the reaction of a nobler feeling
which has been gratuitously outraged or repressed.

He more directly, and still more truly, described himself when he said
at about the same time, 'I have never at any period of my life been deaf
to an appeal made to me in the name of love.' He was referring to an
experience of many years before, in which he had even yielded his better
judgment to such an appeal; and it was love in the larger sense for
which the concession had been claimed.

It was impossible that so genuine a poet, and so real a man, should be
otherwise than sensitive to the varied forms of feminine attraction. He
avowedly preferred the society of women to that of men; they were, as
I have already said, his habitual confidants, and, evidently, his most
frequent correspondents; and though he could have dispensed with woman
friends as he dispensed with many other things--though he most often won
them without knowing it--his frank interest in their sex, and the often
caressing kindness of manner in which it was revealed, might justly
be interpreted by individual women into a conscious appeal to their
sympathy. It was therefore doubly remarkable that on the ground of
benevolence, he scarcely discriminated between the claim on him of a
woman, and that of a man; and his attitude towards women was in this
respect so distinctive as to merit some words of notice. It was large,
generous, and unconventional; but, for that very reason, it was not,
in the received sense of the word, chivalrous. Chivalry proceeds on
the assumption that women not only cannot, but should not, take care
of themselves in any active struggle with life; Mr. Browning had no
theoretical objection to a woman's taking care of herself. He saw no
reason why, if she was hit, she should not hit back again, or even
why, if she hit, she should not receive an answering blow. He responded
swiftly to every feminine appeal to his kindness or his protection,
whether arising from physical weakness or any other obvious cause of
helplessness or suffering; but the appeal in such cases lay first to his
humanity, and only in second order to his consideration of sex. He would
have had a man flogged who beat his wife; he would have had one flogged
who ill-used a child--or an animal: he was notedly opposed to any
sweeping principle or practice of vivisection. But he never quite
understood that the strongest women are weak, or at all events
vulnerable, in the very fact of their sex, through the minor traditions
and conventions with which society justly, indeed necessarily,
surrounds them. Still less did he understand those real, if impalpable,
differences between men and women which correspond to the difference
of position. He admitted the broad distinctions which have become
proverbial, and are therefore only a rough measure of the truth. He
could say on occasion: 'You ought to _be_ better; you are a woman; I ought
to _know_ better; I am a man.' But he had had too large an experience of
human nature to attach permanent weight to such generalizations; and
they found certainly no expression in his works. Scarcely an instance of
a conventional, or so-called man's woman, occurs in their whole range.
Excepting perhaps the speaker in 'A Woman's Last Word', 'Pompilia' and
'Mildred' are the nearest approach to it; and in both of these we
find qualities of imagination or thought which place them outside the
conventional type. He instinctively judged women, both morally and
intellectually, by the same standards as men; and when confronted by
some divergence of thought or feeling, which meant, in the woman's case,
neither quality nor defect in any strict sense of the word, but simply
a nature trained to different points of view, an element of perplexity
entered into his probable opposition. When the difference presented
itself in a neutral aspect, it affected him like the casual
peculiarities of a family or a group, or a casual disagreement between
things of the same kind. He would say to a woman friend: 'You women are
so different from men!' in the tone in which he might have said, 'You
Irish, or you Scotch, are so different from Englishmen;' or again, 'It
is impossible for a man to judge how a woman would act in such or such
a case; you are so different;' the case being sometimes one in which
it would be inconceivable to a normal woman, and therefore to the
generality of men, that she should act in any but one way.

The vague sense of mystery with which the poet's mind usually invests
a being of the opposite sex, had thus often in him its counterpart in
a puzzled dramatic curiosity which constituted an equal ground of
interest.

This virtual admission of equality between the sexes, combined with his
Liberal principles to dispose him favourably towards the movement for
Female Emancipation. He approved of everything that had been done for
the higher instruction of women, and would, not very long ago,
have supported their admission to the Franchise. But he was so much
displeased by the more recent action of some of the lady advocates of
Women's Rights, that, during the last year of his life, after various
modifications of opinion, he frankly pledged himself to the opposite
view. He had even visions of writing a tragedy or drama in support of
it. The plot was roughly sketched, and some dialogue composed, though I
believe no trace of this remains.

It is almost implied by all I have said, that he possessed in every mood
the charm of perfect simplicity of manner. On this point he resembled
his father. His tastes lay also in the direction of great simplicity of
life, though circumstances did not allow of his indulging them to the
same extent. It may interest those who never saw him to know that he
always dressed as well as the occasion required, and always with great
indifference to the subject. In Florence he wore loose clothes which
were adapted to the climate; in London his coats were cut by a good
tailor in whatever was the prevailing fashion; the change was simply
with him an incident of the situation. He had also a look of dainty
cleanliness which was heightened by the smooth healthy texture of the
skin, and in later life by the silvery whiteness of his hair.

His best photographic likenesses were those taken by Mr. Fradelle in
1881, Mr. Cameron and Mr. William Grove in 1888 and 1889.



Chapter 21

1887-1889

Marriage of Mr. Barrett Browning--Removal to De Vere Gardens--Symptoms
of failing Strength--New Poems; New Edition of his Works--Letters to Mr.
George Bainton, Mr. Smith, and Lady Martin--Primiero and Venice--Letters
to Miss Keep--The last Year in London--Asolo--Letters to Mrs.
Fitz-Gerald, Mrs. Skirrow, and Mr. G. M. Smith.



The last years of Mr. Browning's life were introduced by two auspicious
events, in themselves of very unequal importance, but each in its own
way significant for his happiness and his health. One was his son's
marriage on October 4, 1887, to Miss Fannie Coddington, of New York, a
lady towards whom Mr. Barrett Browning had been strongly attracted when
he was a very young man and she little more than a child; the other, his
own removal from Warwick Crescent to De Vere Gardens, which took place
in the previous June. The change of residence had long been with him
only a question of opportunity. He was once even in treaty for a piece
of ground at Kensington, and intended building a house. That in which
he had lived for so many years had faults of construction and situation
which the lapse of time rendered only more conspicuous; the Regent's
Canal Bill had also doomed it to demolition; and when an opening
presented itself for securing one in all essentials more suitable, he
was glad to seize it, though at the eleventh hour. He had mentally fixed
on the new locality in those earlier days in which he still thought his
son might eventually settle in London; and it possessed at the same time
many advantages for himself. It was warmer and more sheltered than any
which he could have found on the north side of the Park; and, in that
close vicinity to Kensington Gardens, walking might be contemplated as a
pleasure, instead of mere compulsory motion from place to place. It was
only too soon apparent that the time had passed when he could reap much
benefit from the event; but he became aware from the first moment of his
installation in the new home that the conditions of physical life had
become more favourable for him. He found an almost pathetic pleasure
in completing the internal arrangements of the well-built, commodious
house. It seems, on looking back, as if the veil had dropped before his
eyes which sometimes shrouds the keenest vision in face of an impending
change; and he had imagined, in spite of casual utterances which
disclaimed the hope, that a new lease of life was being given to him. He
had for several years been preparing for the more roomy dwelling which
he would probably some day inhabit; and handsome pieces of old furniture
had been stowed away in the house in Warwick Crescent, pending the
occasion for their use. He loved antiquities of this kind, in a manner
which sometimes recalled his father's affection for old books; and most
of these had been bought in Venice, where frequent visits to the
noted curiosity-shops had been his one bond of habit with his tourist
countrymen in that city. They matched the carved oak and massive
gildings and valuable tapestries which had carried something of Casa
Guidi into his first London home. Brass lamps that had once hung inside
chapels in some Catholic church, had long occupied the place of the
habitual gaselier; and to these was added in the following year one of
silver, also brought from Venice--the Jewish 'Sabbath lamp'. Another
acquisition, made only a few months, if indeed so long, before he left
London for the last time, was that of a set of casts representing the
Seasons, which were to stand at intervals on brackets in a certain
unsightly space on his drawing-room wall; and he had said of these,
which I think his son was procuring for him: 'Only my four little heads,
and then I shall not buy another thing for the house'--in a tone of
childlike satisfaction at his completed work.

This summer he merely went to St. Moritz, where he and his sister were,
for the greater part of their stay, again guests of Mrs. Bloomfield
Moore. He was determined to give the London winter a fuller trial in the
more promising circumstances of his new life, and there was much to
be done in De Vere Gardens after his return. His father's six thousand
books, together with those he had himself accumulated, were for the
first time to be spread out in their proper array, instead of crowding
together in rows, behind and behind each other. The new bookcases, which
could stand in the large new study, were waiting to receive them. He did
not know until he tried to fulfil it how greatly the task would tax his
strength. The library was, I believe, never completely arranged.

During this winter of 1887-8 his friends first perceived that a change
had come over him. They did not realize that his life was drawing to a
close; it was difficult to do so when so much of the former elasticity
remained; when he still proclaimed himself 'quite well' so long as he
was not definitely suffering. But he was often suffering; one terrible
cold followed another. There was general evidence that he had at last
grown old. He, however, made no distinct change in his mode of life. Old
habits, suspended by his longer imprisonments to the house, were resumed
as soon as he was set free. He still dined out; still attended the
private view of every, or almost every art exhibition. He kept up his
unceasing correspondence--in one or two cases voluntarily added to it;
though he would complain day after day that his fingers ached from
the number of hours through which he had held his pen. One of the
interesting letters of this period was written to Mr. George Bainton, of
Coventry, to be used, as that gentleman tells me, in the preparation of
a lecture on the 'Art of Effective Written Composition'. It confirms the
statement I have had occasion to make, that no extraneous influence ever
permanently impressed itself on Mr. Browning's style.


29, De Vere Gardens: Oct. 6, '87.

Dear Sir,--I was absent from London when your kind letter reached
this house, to which I removed some time ago--hence the delay in
acknowledging your kindness and replying, in some degree, to your
request. All I can say, however, is this much--and very little--that,
by the indulgence of my father and mother, I was allowed to live my own
life and choose my own course in it; which, having been the same from
the beginning to the end, necessitated a permission to read nearly all
sorts of books, in a well-stocked and very miscellaneous library. I had
no other direction than my parents' taste for whatever was highest and
best in literature; but I found out for myself many forgotten fields
which proved the richest of pastures: and, so far as a preference of
a particular 'style' is concerned, I believe mine was just the same
at first as at last. I cannot name any one author who exclusively
influenced me in that respect,--as to the fittest expression of
thought--but thought itself had many impulsions from very various
sources, a matter not to your present purpose. I repeat, this is
very little to say, but all in my power--and it is heartily at your
service--if not as of any value, at least as a proof that I gratefully
feel your kindness, and am, dear Sir Yours very truly, Robert Browning.


In December 1887 he wrote 'Rosny', the first poem in 'Asolando', and
that which perhaps most displays his old subtle dramatic power; it was
followed by 'Beatrice Signorini' and 'Flute-Music'. Of the 'Bad Dreams'
two or three were also written in London, I think, during that winter.
The 'Ponte dell' Angelo' was imagined during the next autumn in Venice.
'White Witchcraft' had been suggested in the same summer by a letter
from a friend in the Channel Islands which spoke of the number of toads
to be seen there. In the spring of 1888 he began revising his works for
the last, and now entirely uniform edition, which was issued in monthly
volumes, and completed by the July of 1889. Important verbal corrections
were made in 'The Inn Album', though not, I think, in many of the later
poems; but that in which he found most room for improvement was, very
naturally, 'Pauline'; and he wrote concerning it to Mr. Smith the
following interesting letter.


29, De Vere Gardens, W.: Feb. 27, '88.

My dear Smith,--When I received the Proofs of the 1st. vol. on Friday
evening, I made sure of returning them next day--so accurately are they
printed. But on looking at that unlucky 'Pauline', which I have not
touched for half a century, a sudden impulse came over me to take the
opportunity of just correcting the most obvious faults of expression,
versification and construction,--letting the _thoughts_--such as they
are--remain exactly as at first: I have only treated the imperfect
expression of these just as I have now and then done for an amateur
friend, if he asked me and I liked him enough to do so. Not a line
is displaced, none added, none taken away. I have just sent it to the
printer's with an explanatory word: and told him that he will have less
trouble with all the rest of the volumes put together than with this
little portion. I expect to return all the rest to-morrow or next day.

As for the sketch--the portrait--it admits of no very superior
treatment: but, as it is the only one which makes me out youngish,--I
should like to know if an artist could not strengthen the thing by a
pencil touch or two in a few minutes--improve the eyes, eyebrows, and
mouth somewhat. The head too wants improvement: were Pen here he could
manage it all in a moment. Ever truly yours, Robert Browning.


Any attempt at modifying the expressed thoughts of his twenty-first year
would have been, as he probably felt, a futile tampering with the work
of another man; his literary conscience would have forbidden this, if it
had been otherwise possible. But he here proves by his own words what I
have already asserted, that the power of detail correction either was,
or had become by experience, very strong in him.

The history of this summer of 1888 is partly given in a letter to Lady
Martin.


29, De Vere Gardens, W.: Aug. 12, '88.

Dear Lady Martin,--The date of your kind letter,--June 18,--would affect
me indeed, but for the good conscience I retain despite of appearances.
So uncertain have I been as to the course we should take,--my sister and
myself--when the time came for leaving town, that it seemed as if
'next week' might be the eventful week when all doubts would
disappear--perhaps the strange cold weather and interminable rain made
it hard to venture from under one's roof even in fancy of being better
lodged elsewhere. This very day week it was the old story--cold--then
followed the suffocating eight or nine tropical days which forbade any
more delay, and we leave to-morrow for a place called Primiero, near
Feltre--where my son and his wife assure us we may be comfortably--and
coolly--housed, until we can accompany them to Venice, which we may stay
at for a short time. You remember our troubles at Llangollen about the
purchase of a Venetian house . . . ? My son, however, nothing daunted,
and acting under abler counsels than I was fortunate enough to obtain,*
has obtained a still more desirable acquisition, in the shape of the
well-known Rezzonico Palace (that of Pope Clement 13th)--and, I believe,
is to be congratulated on his bargain. I cannot profess the same
interest in this as in the earlier object of his ambition, but am quite
satisfied by the evident satisfaction of the 'young people'. So,--by the
old law of compensation,--while we may expect pleasant days abroad--our
chance is gone of once again enjoying your company in your own lovely
Vale of Llangollen;--had we not been pulled otherwise by the inducements
we could not resist,--another term of delightful weeks--each tipped
with a sweet starry Sunday at the little church leading to the
House Beautiful where we took our rest of an evening spent always
memorably--this might have been our fortunate lot once again! As it is,
perhaps we need more energetic treatment than we should get with you
--for both of us are more oppressed than ever by the exigencies of
the lengthy season, and require still more bracing air than the
gently lulling temperature of Wales. May it be doing you, and dear Sir
Theodore, all the good you deserve--throwing in the share due to us, who
must forego it! With all love from us both, ever affectionately yours
Robert Browning.

     * Those of Mr. Alexander Malcolm.

He did start for Italy on the following day, but had become so ill, that
he was on the point of postponing his departure. He suffered throughout
the journey as he had never suffered on any journey before; and during
his first few days at Primiero, could only lead the life of an invalid.
He rallied, however, as usual, under the potent effects of quiet,
fresh air, and sunshine; and fully recovered his normal state before
proceeding to Venice, where the continued sense of physical health
combined with many extraneous circumstances to convert his proposed
short stay into a long one. A letter from the mountains, addressed to a
lady who had never been abroad, and to whom he sometimes wrote with more
descriptive detail than to other friends, gives a touching glimpse of
his fresh delight in the beauties of nature, and his tender constant
sympathy with the animal creation.


Primiero: Sept. 7, '88.

. . . . .

'The weather continues exquisitely temperate, yet sunny, ever since the
clearing thunderstorm of which I must have told you in my last. It is, I
am more and more confirmed in believing, the most beautiful place I
was ever resident in: far more so than Gressoney or even St.-Pierre de
Chartreuse. You would indeed delight in seeing the magnificence of the
mountains,--the range on either side, which morning and evening, in
turn, transmute literally to gold,--I mean what I say. Their utterly
bare ridges of peaks and crags of all shape, quite naked of verdure,
glow like yellow ore; and, at times, there is a silver change, as the
sun prevails or not.

'The valley is one green luxuriance on all sides; Indian corn, with
beans, gourds, and even cabbages, filling up the interstices; and the
flowers, though not presenting any novelty to my uninstructed eyes,
yet surely more large and purely developed than I remember to have seen
elsewhere. For instance, the tiger-lilies in the garden here must be
above ten feet high, every bloom faultless, and, what strikes me as
peculiar, every leaf on the stalk from bottom to top as perfect as if no
insect existed to spoil them by a notch or speck. . . .

'. . . Did I tell you we had a little captive fox,--the most engaging
of little vixens? To my great joy she has broken her chain and escaped,
never to be recaptured, I trust. The original wild and untameable nature
was to be plainly discerned even in this early stage of the whelp's
life: she dug herself, with such baby feet, a huge hole, the use
of which was evident, when, one day, she pounced thence on a stray
turkey--allured within reach by the fragments of fox's breakfast,--the
intruder escaping with the loss of his tail. The creature came back one
night to explore the old place of captivity,--ate some food and retired.
For myself,--I continue absolutely well: I do not walk much, but for
more than amends, am in the open air all day long.'


No less striking is a short extract from a letter written in Venice to
the same friend, Miss Keep.


Ca' Alvise: Oct. 16, '88.

'Every morning at six, I see the sun rise; far more wonderfully, to my
mind, than his famous setting, which everybody glorifies. My bedroom
window commands a perfect view: the still, grey lagune, the few seagulls
flying, the islet of S. Giorgio in deep shadow, and the clouds in a
long purple rack, behind which a sort of spirit of rose burns up till
presently all the rims are on fire with gold, and last of all the orb
sends before it a long column of its own essence apparently: so my day
begins.'


We feel, as we read these late, and even later words, that the lyric
imagination was renewing itself in the incipient dissolution of other
powers. It is the Browning of 'Pippa Passes' who speaks in them.

He suffered less on the whole during the winter of 1888-9. It was
already advanced when he returned to England; and the attacks of cold
and asthma were either shorter or less frequent. He still maintained
throughout the season his old social routine, not omitting his yearly
visit, on the anniversary of Waterloo, to Lord Albemarle, its
last surviving veteran. He went for some days to Oxford during the
commemoration week, and had for the first, as also last time, the
pleasure of Dr. Jowett's almost exclusive society at his beloved Balliol
College. He proceeded with his new volume of poems. A short letter
written to Professor Knight, June 16, and of which the occasion speaks
for itself, fitly closes the labours of his life; for it states his view
of the position and function of poetry, in one brief phrase, which might
form the text to an exhaustive treatise upon them.


29, De Vere Gardens, W.: June 16, 1889.

My dear Professor Knight,--I am delighted to hear that there is a
likelihood of your establishing yourself in Glasgow, and illustrating
Literature as happily as you have expounded Philosophy at St. Andrews.
It is certainly the right order of things: Philosophy first, and Poetry,
which is its highest outcome, afterward--and much harm has been done by
reversing the natural process. How capable you are of doing justice
to the highest philosophy embodied in poetry, your various studies of
Wordsworth prove abundantly; and for the sake of both Literature and
Philosophy I wish you success with all my heart.

Believe me, dear Professor Knight, yours very truly, Robert Browning.


But he experienced, when the time came, more than his habitual
disinclination for leaving home. A distinct shrinking from the fatigue
of going to Italy now added itself to it; for he had suffered when
travelling back in the previous winter, almost as much as on the outward
journey, though he attributed the distress to a different cause: his
nerves were, he thought, shaken by the wearing discomforts incidental
on a broken tooth. He was for the first time painfully sensitive to
the vibration of the train. He had told his friends, both in Venice and
London, that so far as he was able to determine, he would never return
to Italy. But it was necessary he should go somewhere, and he had no
alternative plan. For a short time in this last summer he entertained
the idea of a visit to Scotland; it had indeed definitely shaped itself
in his mind; but an incident, trivial in itself, though he did not think
it so, destroyed the first scheme, and it was then practically too late
to form another. During the second week in August the weather broke.
There could no longer be any question of the northward journey without
even a fixed end in view. His son and daughter had taken possession of
their new home, the Palazzo Rezzonico, and were anxious to see him and
Miss Browning there; their wishes naturally had weight. The casting vote
in favour of Venice was given by a letter from Mrs. Bronson, proposing
Asolo as the intermediate stage. She had fitted up for herself a little
summer retreat there, and promised that her friends should, if they
joined her, be also comfortably installed. The journey was this time
propitious. It was performed without imprudent haste, and Mr. Browning
reached Asolo unfatigued and to all appearance well.

He saw this, his first love among Italian cities, at a season of the
year more favourable to its beauty than even that of his first visit;
yet he must himself have been surprised by the new rapture of admiration
which it created in him, and which seemed to grow with his lengthened
stay. This state of mind was the more striking, that new symptoms of his
physical decline were now becoming apparent, and were in themselves of a
depressing kind. He wrote to a friend in England, that the atmosphere
of Asolo, far from being oppressive, produced in him all the effects of
mountain air, and he was conscious of difficulty of breathing whenever
he walked up hill. He also suffered, as the season advanced, great
inconvenience from cold. The rooms occupied by himself and his sister
were both unprovided with fireplaces; and though the daily dinner with
Mrs. Bronson obviated the discomfort of the evenings, there remained
still too many hours of the autumnal day in which the impossibility of
heating their own little apartment must have made itself unpleasantly
felt. The latter drawback would have been averted by the fulfilment of
Mr. Browning's first plan, to be in Venice by the beginning of October,
and return to the comforts of his own home before the winter had quite
set in; but one slight motive for delay succeeded another, till at last
a more serious project introduced sufficient ground of detention. He
seemed possessed by a strange buoyancy--an almost feverish joy in life,
which blunted all sensations of physical distress, or helped him to
misinterpret them. When warned against the imprudence of remaining where
he knew he suffered from cold, and believed, rightly or wrongly, that
his asthmatic tendencies were increased, he would reply that he was
growing acclimatized--that he was quite well. And, in a fitful or
superficial sense, he must have been so.

His letters of that period are one continuous picture, glowing with
his impressions of the things which they describe. The same words will
repeat themselves as the same subject presents itself to his pen; but
the impulse to iteration scarcely ever affects us as mechanical.
It seems always a fresh response to some new stimulus to thought or
feeling, which he has received. These reach him from every side. It is
not only the Asolo of this peaceful later time which has opened before
him, but the Asolo of 'Pippa Passes' and 'Sordello'; that which first
stamped itself on his imagination in the echoes of the Court life of
Queen Catharine,* and of the barbaric wars of the Eccelini. Some of his
letters dwell especially on these early historical associations: on the
strange sense of reopening the ancient chronicle which he had so deeply
studied fifty years before. The very phraseology of the old Italian
text, which I am certain he had never glanced at from that distant time,
is audible in an account of the massacre of San Zenone, the scene of
which he has been visiting. To the same correspondent he says that
his two hours' drive to Asolo 'seemed to be a dream;' and again, after
describing, or, as he thinks, only trying to describe some beautiful
feature of the place, 'but it is indescribable!'

     * Catharine Cornaro, the dethroned queen of Cyprus.

A letter addressed to Mrs. FitzGerald, October 8, 1889, is in part a
fitting sequel to that which he had written to her from the same spot,
eleven years before.


'. . . Fortunately there is little changed here: my old
Albergo,--ruinous with earthquake--is down and done with--but few
novelties are observable--except the regrettable one that the silk
industry has been transported elsewhere--to Cornuda and other places
nearer the main railway. No more Pippas--at least of the silk-winding
sort!

'But the pretty type is far from extinct.

'Autumn is beginning to paint the foliage, but thin it as well; and
the sea of fertility all round our height, which a month ago showed
pomegranates and figs and chestnuts,--walnuts and apples all rioting
together in full glory,--all this is daily disappearing. I say nothing
of the olive and the vine. I find the Turret rather the worse for
careful weeding--the hawks which used to build there have been "shot for
food"--and the echo is sadly curtailed of its replies; still, things
are the same in the main. Shall I ever see them again, when--as I
suppose--we leave for Venice in a fortnight? . . .'


In the midst of this imaginative delight he carried into his walks the
old keen habits of observation. He would peer into the hedges for what
living things were to be found there. He would whistle softly to the
lizards basking on the low walls which border the roads, to try his old
power of attracting them.

On the 15th of October he wrote to Mrs. Skirrow, after some preliminary
description:


Then--such a view over the whole Lombard plain; not a site in view, or
_approximate_ view at least, without its story. Autumn is now painting all
the abundance of verdure,--figs, pomegranates, chestnuts, and vines, and
I don't know what else,--all in a wonderful confusion,--and now glowing
with all the colours of the rainbow. Some weeks back, the little town
was glorified by the visit of a decent theatrical troop who played in a
theatre _in_side the old palace of Queen Catharine Cornaro--utilized also
as a prison in which I am informed are at present full five if not six
malefactors guilty of stealing grapes, and the like enormities. Well,
the troop played for a fortnight together exceedingly well--high tragedy
and low comedy--and the stage-box which I occupied cost 16 francs. The
theatre had been out of use for six years, for we are out of the way
and only a baiting-place for a company pushing on to Venice. In fine, we
shall stay here probably for a week or more,--and then proceed to Pen,
at the Rezzonico; a month there, and then homewards! . . .

I delight in finding that the beloved Husband and precious friend
manages to do without the old yoke about his neck, and enjoys himself as
never anybody had a better right to do. I continue to congratulate him
on his emancipation and ourselves on a more frequent enjoyment of his
company in consequence.* Give him my true love; take mine, dearest
friend,--and my sister's love to you both goes with it. Ever
affectionately yours Robert Browning.

     * Mr. Skirrow had just resigned his post of Master in
     Chancery.

The cry of 'homewards!' now frequently recurs in his letters. We find it
in one written a week later to Mr. G. M. Smith, otherwise very
expressive of his latest condition of mind and feeling.


Asolo, Veneto, Italia:  Oct. 22, '89.

My dear Smith,--I was indeed delighted to get your letter two days ago--
for there _are_ such accidents as the loss of a parcel, even when it has
been despatched from so important a place as this city--for a regular
city it is, you must know, with all the rights of one,--older far than
Rome, being founded by the Euganeans who gave their name to the
adjoining hills.  'Fortified' is was once, assuredly, and the walls
still surround it most picturesquely though mainly in utter ruin, and
you even overrate the population, which does not now much exceed 900
souls--in the city Proper, that is--for the territory below and around
contains some 10,000.  But we are at the very top of things, garlanded
about, as it were, with a narrow line of houses,--some palatial, such as
you would be glad to see in London,--and above all towers the old
dwelling of Queen Cornaro, who was forced to exchange her Kingdom of
Cyprus for this pretty but petty dominion where she kept state in a
mimic Court, with Bembo, afterwards Cardinal, for her secretary--who has
commemorated the fact in his 'Asolani' or dialogues inspired by the
place:  and I do assure you that, after some experience of beautiful
sights in Italy and elsewhere I know nothing comparable to the view from
the Queen's tower and palace, still perfect in every respect.  Whenever
you pay Pen and his wife the visit you are pledged to, * it will go hard
but you spend five hours in a journey to Asolo.  The one thing I am
disappointed in is to find that the silk-cultivation with all the pretty
girls who were engaged in it are transported to Cornuda and other
places,--nearer the railway, I suppose: and to this may be attributed
the decrease in the number of inhabitants. The weather when I wrote last
_was_ 'blue and blazing--(at noon-day)--' but we share in the general
plague of rain,--had a famous storm yesterday: while to-day is blue and
sunny as ever.  Lastly, for your admonition: we _have_ a perfect
telegraphic communication; and at the passage above, where I put a * I
was interrupted by the arrival of a telegram: thank you all the same for
your desire to relieve my anxiety. And now, to our immediate business--
which is only to keep thanking you for your constant goodness, present
and future:  do with the book just as you will.  I fancy it is bigger in
bulk than usual. As for the 'proofs'--I go at the end of the month to
Venice, whither you will please to send whatever is necessary. . . . I
shall do well to say as little as possible of my good wishes for you and
your family, for it comes to much the same thing as wishing myself
prosperity:  no matter, my sister's kindest regards shall excuse mine,
and I will only add that I am, as ever, Affectionately yours Robert
Browning.


A general quickening of affectionate impulse seemed part of this last
leap in the socket of the dying flame.



Chapter 22

1889

Proposed Purchase of Land at Asolo--Venice--Letter to Mr. G.
Moulton-Barrett--Lines in the 'Athenaeum'--Letter to Miss
Keep--Illness--Death-- Funeral Ceremonial at Venice--Publication
of 'Asolando'--Interment in Poets' Corner.



He had said in writing to Mrs. FitzGerald, 'Shall I ever see them' (the
things he is describing) 'again?'  If not then, soon afterwards, he
conceived a plan which was to insure his doing so. On a piece of ground
belonging to the old castle, stood the shell of a house. The two
constituted one property which the Municipality of Asolo had hitherto
refused to sell.  It had been a dream of Mr. Browning's life to possess
a dwelling, however small, in some beautiful spot, which should place
him beyond the necessity of constantly seeking a new summer resort, and
above the alternative of living at an inn, or accepting--as he sometimes
feared, abusing--the hospitality of his friends.  He was suddenly
fascinated by the idea of buying this piece of ground; and, with the
efficient help which his son could render during his absence, completing
the house, which should be christened 'Pippa's Tower'.  It was evident,
he said in one of his letters, that for his few remaining years his
summer wanderings must always end in Venice.  What could he do better
than secure for himself this resting-place by the way?

His offer of purchase was made through Mrs. Bronson, to Count Loredano
and other important members of the municipality, and their personal
assent to it secured.  But the town council was on the eve of
re-election; no important business could be transacted by it till after
this event; and Mr. Browning awaited its decision till the end of
October at Asolo, and again throughout November in Venice, without fully
understanding the delay.  The vote proved favourable; but the night on
which it was taken was that of his death.

The consent thus given would have been only a first step towards the
accomplishment of his wish.  It was necessary that it should be ratified
by the Prefecture of Treviso, in the district of which Asolo lies; and
Mr. Barrett Browning, who had determined to carry on the negotiations,
met with subsequent opposition in the higher council.  This has now,
however, been happily overcome.

A comprehensive interest attaches to one more letter of the Asolo time.
It was addressed to Mr. Browning's brother-in-law, Mr. George
Moulton-Barrett.


Asolo, Veneto:  Oct. 22, '89.

My dear George,--It was a great pleasure to get your kind letter; though
after some delay.  We were not in the Tyrol this year, but have been for
six weeks or more in this little place which strikes me,--as it did
fifty years ago, which is something to say, considering that, properly
speaking, it was the first spot of Italian soil I ever set foot upon--
having proceeded to Venice by sea--and thence here.  It is an ancient
city, older than Rome, and the scene of Queen Catharine Cornaro's exile,
where she held a mock court, with all its attendants, on a miniature
scale; Bembo, afterwards Cardinal, being her secretary.  Her palace is
still above us all, the old fortifications surround the hill-top, and
certain of the houses are stately--though the population is not above
1,000 souls: the province contains many more of course.  But the immense
charm of the surrounding country is indescribable--I have never seen its
like--the Alps on one side, the Asolan mountains all round,--and
opposite, the vast Lombard plain,--with indications of Venice, Padua,
and the other cities, visible to a good eye on a clear day; while
everywhere are sites of battles and sieges of bygone days, described in
full by the historians of the Middle Ages.

We have a valued friend here, Mrs. Bronson, who for years has been our
hostess at Venice, and now is in possession of a house here (built into
the old city wall)--she was induced to choose it through what I have
said about the beauties of the place: and through her care and kindness
we are comfortably lodged close by. We think of leaving in a week or so
for Venice--guests of Pen and his wife; and after a short stay with them
we shall return to London. Pen came to see us for a couple of days:  I
was hardly prepared for his surprise and admiration which quite equalled
my own and that of my sister.  All is happily well with them--their
palazzo excites the wonder of everybody, so great is Pen's cleverness,
and extemporised architectural knowledge, as apparent in all he has done
there; why, _why_ will you not go and see him there? He and his wife are
very hospitable and receive many visitors. Have I told you that there
was a desecrated chapel which he has restored in honour of his mother--
putting up there the inscription by Tommaseo now above Casa Guidi?

Fannie is all you say,--and most dear and precious to us all. . . .
Pen's medal to which you refer, is awarded to him in spite of his
written renunciation of any sort of wish to contend for a prize. He will
now resume painting and sculpture--having been necessarily occupied with
the superintendence of his workmen--a matter capitally managed, I am
told.  For the rest, both Sarianna and myself are very well; I have just
sent off my new volume of verses for publication. The complete edition
of the works of E. B. B. begins in a few days.


The second part of this letter is very forcibly written, and, in a
certain sense, more important than the first; but I suppress it by the
desire of Mr. Browning's sister and son, and in complete concurrence
with their judgment in the matter. It was a systematic defence of the
anger aroused in him by a lately published reference to his wife's
death; and though its reasonings were unanswerable as applied to the
causes of his emotion, they did not touch the manner in which it had
been displayed. The incident was one which deserved only to be
forgotten; and if an injudicious act had not preserved its memory, no
word of mine should recall it.  Since, however, it has been thought fit
to include the 'Lines to Edward Fitzgerald' in a widely circulated
Bibliography of Mr. Browning's Works,* I owe it to him to say--what I
believe is only known to his sister and myself--that there was a moment
in which he regretted those lines, and would willingly have withdrawn
them. This was the period, unfortunately short, which intervened between
his sending them to the 'Athenaeum', and their appearance there. When
once public opinion had expressed itself upon them in its too extreme
forms of sympathy and condemnation, the pugnacity of his mind found
support in both, and regret was silenced if not destroyed.  In so far as
his published words remained open to censure, I may also, without
indelicacy, urge one more plea in his behalf. That which to the merely
sympathetic observer appeared a subject for disapprobation, perhaps
disgust, had affected him with the directness of a sharp physical blow.
He spoke of it, and for hours, even days, was known to feel it, as such.
The events of that distant past, which he had lived down, though never
forgotten, had flashed upon him from the words which so unexpectedly met
his eye, in a vividness of remembrance which was reality.  'I felt as if
she had died yesterday,' he said some days later to a friend, in half
deprecation, half denial, of the too great fierceness of his reaction.
He only recovered his balance in striking the counter-blow.  That he
could be thus affected at an age usually destructive of the more violent
emotions, is part of the mystery of those closing days which had already
overtaken him.

     * That contained in Mr. Sharp's 'Life'.  A still more recent
          publication
     gives the lines in full.

By the first of November he was in Venice with his son and daughter; and
during the three following weeks was apparently well, though a physician
whom he met at a dinner party, and to whom he had half jokingly given
his pulse to feel, had learned from it that his days were numbered. He
wrote to Miss Keep on the 9th of the month:


'. . . Mrs. Bronson has bought a house at Asolo, and beautified it
indeed,--niched as it is in an old tower of the fortifications still
partly surrounding the city (for a city it is), and eighteen towers,
more or less ruinous, are still discoverable there: it is indeed a
delightful place. Meantime, to go on,--we came here, and had a pleasant
welcome from our hosts--who are truly magnificently lodged in this
vast palazzo which my son has really shown himself fit to possess, so
surprising are his restorations and improvements: the whole is all but
complete, decorated,--that is, renewed admirably in all respects.

'What strikes me as most noteworthy is the cheerfulness and comfort of
the huge rooms.

'The building is warmed throughout by a furnace and pipes.

'Yesterday, on the Lido, the heat was hardly endurable: bright sunshine,
blue sky,--snow-tipped Alps in the distance. No place, I think, ever
suited my needs, bodily and intellectual, so well.

'The first are satisfied--I am _quite_ well, every breathing inconvenience
gone: and as for the latter, I got through whatever had given me trouble
in London. . . .'


But it was winter, even in Venice, and one day began with an actual fog.
He insisted, notwithstanding, on taking his usual walk on the Lido. He
caught a bronchial cold of which the symptoms were aggravated not only
by the asthmatic tendency, but by what proved to be exhaustion of the
heart; and believing as usual that his liver alone was at fault, he took
little food, and refused wine altogether.*

     * He always declined food when he was unwell; and maintained
     that in this respect the instinct of animals was far more
     just than the idea often prevailing among human beings that
     a failing appetite should be assisted or coerced.

He did not yield to the sense of illness; he did not keep his bed. Some
feverish energy must have supported him through this avoidance of every
measure which might have afforded even temporary strength or relief. On
Friday, the 29th, he wrote to a friend in London that he had waited thus
long for the final answer from Asolo, but would wait no longer. He would
start for England, if possible, on the Wednesday or Thursday of the
following week. It was true 'he had caught a cold; he felt sadly
asthmatic, scarcely fit to travel; but he hoped for the best, and would
write again soon.' He wrote again the following day, declaring himself
better. He had been punished, he said, for long-standing neglect of
his 'provoking liver'; but a simple medicine, which he had often taken
before, had this time also relieved the oppression of his chest; his
friend was not to be uneasy about him; 'it was in his nature to get
into scrapes of this kind, but he always managed, somehow or other, to
extricate himself from them.' He concluded with fresh details of his
hopes and plans.

In the ensuing night the bronchial distress increased; and in the
morning he consented to see his son's physician, Dr. Cini, whose
investigation of the case at once revealed to him its seriousness. The
patient had been removed two days before, from the second storey of the
house, which the family then inhabited, to an entresol apartment just
above the ground-floor, from which he could pass into the dining-room
without fatigue. Its lower ceilings gave him (erroneously) an impression
of greater warmth, and he had imagined himself benefited by the change.
A freer circulation of air was now considered imperative, and he was
carried to Mrs. Browning's spacious bedroom, where an open fireplace
supplied both warmth and ventilation, and large windows admitted all
the sunshine of the Grand Canal. Everything was done for him which
professional skill and loving care could do. Mrs. Browning, assisted
by her husband, and by a young lady who was then her guest,* filled the
place of the trained nurses until these could arrive; for a few days
the impending calamity seemed even to have been averted. The bronchial
attack was overcome. Mr. Browning had once walked from the bed to
the sofa; his sister, whose anxiety had perhaps been spared the full
knowledge of his state, could send comforting reports to his friends
at home. But the enfeebled heart had made its last effort. Attacks
of faintness set in. Special signs of physical strength maintained
themselves until within a few hours of the end. On Wednesday, December
11, a consultation took place between Dr. Cini, Dr. da Vigna, and Dr.
Minich; and the opinion was then expressed for the first time
that recovery, though still possible, was not within the bounds of
probability. Weakness, however, rapidly gained upon him towards the
close of the following day. Two hours before midnight of this Thursday,
December 12, he breathed his last.

     * Miss Evelyn Barclay, now Mrs. Douglas Giles.

He had been a good patient. He took food and medicine whenever they were
offered to him. Doctors and nurses became alike warmly interested in
him. His favourite among the latter was, I think, the Venetian, a widow,
Margherita Fiori, a simple kindly creature who had known much sorrow. To
her he said, about five hours before the end, 'I feel much worse. I
know now that I must die.' He had shown at intervals a perception, even
conviction, of his danger; but the excitement of the brain, caused by
exhaustion on the one hand and the necessary stimulants on the other,
must have precluded all systematic consciousness of approaching death.
He repeatedly assured his family that he was not suffering.

A painful and urgent question now presented itself for solution: Where
should his body find its last rest? He had said to his sister in the
foregoing summer, that he wished to be buried wherever he might die: if
in England, with his mother; if in France, with his father; if in Italy,
with his wife. Circumstances all pointed to his removal to Florence; but
a recent decree had prohibited further interment in the English Cemetery
there, and the town had no power to rescind it. When this was known
in Venice, that city begged for itself the privilege of retaining the
illustrious guest, and rendering him the last honours. For the moment
the idea even recommended itself to Mr. Browning's son. But he felt
bound to make a last effort in the direction of the burial at Florence;
and was about to despatch a telegram, in which he invoked the mediation
of Lord Dufferin, when all difficulties were laid at rest by a message
from the Dean of Westminster, conveying his assent to an interment in
the Abbey.* He had already telegraphed for information concerning the
date of the funeral, with a view to the memorial service, which he
intended to hold on the same day. Nor would the further honour have
remained for even twenty-four hours ungranted, because unasked, but for
the belief prevailing among Mr. Browning's friends that there was no
room for its acceptance.

     * The assent thus conveyed had assumed the form of an offer,
     and was characterized as such by the Dean himself.

It was still necessary to provide for the more immediate removal of the
body. Local custom forbade its retention after the lapse of two days and
nights; and only in view of the special circumstances of the case could
a short respite be granted to the family. Arrangements were therefore at
once made for a private service, to be conducted by the British Chaplain
in one of the great halls of the Rezzonico Palace; and by two o'clock of
the following day, Sunday, a large number of visitors and residents had
assembled there. The subsequent passage to the mortuary island of San
Michele had been organized by the city, and was to display so much of
the character of a public pageant as the hurried preparation allowed.
The chief municipal officers attended the service. When this had been
performed, the coffin was carried by eight firemen (pompieri), arrayed
in their distinctive uniform, to the massive, highly decorated municipal
barge (Barca delle Pompe funebri) which waited to receive it. It was
guarded during the transit by four 'uscieri' in 'gala' dress, two
sergeants of the Municipal Guard, and two of the firemen bearing
torches: the remainder of these following in a smaller boat. The barge
was towed by a steam launch of the Royal Italian Marine. The chief
officers of the city, the family and friends in their separate gondolas,
completed the procession. On arriving at San Michele, the firemen again
received their burden, and bore it to the chapel in which its place had
been reserved.


When 'Pauline' first appeared, the Author had received, he never learned
from whom, a sprig of laurel enclosed with this quotation from the poem,

     Trust in signs and omens.

Very beautiful garlands were now piled about his bier, offerings of
friendship and affection. Conspicuous among these was the ceremonial
structure of metallic foliage and porcelain flowers, inscribed 'Venezia
a Roberto Browning', which represented the Municipality of Venice. On
the coffin lay one comprehensive symbol of the fulfilled prophecy: a
wreath of laurel-leaves which his son had placed there.


A final honour was decreed to the great English Poet by the city in
which he had died; the affixing of a memorial tablet to the outer wall
of the Rezzonico Palace. Since these pages were first written, the
tablet has been placed. It bears the following inscription:

     A
     ROBERTO BROWNING

     MORTO IN QUESTO PALAZZO
     IL 12 DICEMBRE 1889
     VENEZIA
     POSE

Below this, in the right-hand corner appear two lines selected from his
works:

     Open my heart and you will see
     Graved inside of it, 'Italy'.

Nor were these the only expressions of Italian respect and sympathy. The
municipality of Florence sent its message of condolence. Asolo, poor
in all but memories, itself bore the expenses of a mural tablet for
the house which Mr. Browning had occupied. It is now known that Signor
Crispi would have appealed to Parliament to rescind the exclusion
from the Florentine cemetery, if the motive for doing so had been less
promptly removed.

Mr. Browning's own country had indeed opened a way for the reunion of
the husband and wife. The idea had rapidly shaped itself in the public
mind that, since they might not rest side by side in Italy, they
should be placed together among the great of their own land; and it was
understood that the Dean would sanction Mrs. Browning's interment in
the Abbey, if a formal application to this end were made to him. But
Mr. Barrett Browning could not reconcile himself to the thought of
disturbing his mother's grave, so long consecrated to Florence by her
warm love and by its grateful remembrance; and at the desire of both
surviving members of the family the suggestion was set aside.

Two days after his temporary funeral, privately and at night, all that
remained of Robert Browning was conveyed to the railway station; and
thence, by a trusted servant, to England. The family followed within
twenty-four hours, having made the necessary preparations for a long
absence from Venice; and, travelling with the utmost speed, arrived in
London on the same day. The house in De Vere Gardens received its master
once more.


'Asolando' was published on the day of Mr. Browning's death. The report
of his illness had quickened public interest in the forthcoming work,
and his son had the satisfaction of telling him of its already realized
success, while he could still receive a warm, if momentary, pleasure
from the intelligence. The circumstances of its appearance place it
beyond ordinary criticism; they place it beyond even an impartial
analysis of its contents. It includes one or two poems to which we would
gladly assign a much earlier date; I have been told on good authority
that we may do this in regard to one of them. It is difficult to refer
the 'Epilogue' to a coherent mood of any period of its author's life. It
is certain, however, that by far the greater part of the little volume
was written in 1888-89, and I believe all that is most serious in it
was the product of the later year. It possesses for many readers the
inspiration of farewell words; for all of us it has their pathos.


He was buried in Westminster Abbey, in Poets' Corner, on the 31st
of December, 1889. In this tardy act of national recognition England
claimed her own. A densely packed, reverent and sympathetic crowd of his
countrymen and countrywomen assisted at the consignment of the dead poet
to his historic resting place. Three verses of Mrs. Browning's poem,
'The Sleep', set to music by Dr. Bridge, were sung for the first time on
this occasion.



Conclusion



A few words must still be said upon that purport and tendency of Robert
Browning's work, which has been defined by a few persons, and felt by
very many as his 'message'.

The definition has been disputed on the ground of Art. We are told by
Mr. Sharp, though in somewhat different words, that the poet, qua poet,
cannot deliver a 'message' such as directly addresses itself to the
intellectual or moral sense; since his special appeal to us lies not
through the substance, but through the form, or presentment, of what he
has had to say; since, therefore (by implication), in claiming for it
an intellectual--as distinct from an aesthetic--character, we ignore its
function as poetry.

It is difficult to argue justly, where the question at issue turns
practically on the meaning of a word. Mr. Sharp would, I think, be the
first to admit this; and it appears to me that, in the present case, he
so formulates his theory as to satisfy his artistic conscience, and yet
leave room for the recognition of that intellectual quality so peculiar
to Mr. Browning's verse. But what one member of the aesthetic school may
express with a certain reserve is proclaimed unreservedly by many more;
and Mr. Sharp must forgive me, if for the moment I regard him as one of
these; and if I oppose his arguments in the words of another poet
and critic of poetry, whose claim to the double title is I believe
undisputed--Mr. Roden Noel. I quote from an unpublished fragment of a
published article on Mr. Sharp's 'Life of Browning'.


'Browning's message is an integral part of himself as writer; (whether
as poet, since we agree that he is a poet, were surely a too curious
and vain discussion;) but some of his finest things assuredly are the
outcome of certain very definite personal convictions. "The question,"
Mr. Sharp says, "is not one of weighty message, but of artistic
presentation." There seems to be no true contrast here. "The primary
concern of the artist must be with his vehicle of expression"--no--not
the primary concern. Since the critic adds--(for a poet) "this vehicle
is language emotioned to the white heat of rhythmic music by impassioned
thought or sensation." Exactly--"thought" it may be. Now part of this
same "thought" in Browning is the message. And therefore it is part of
his "primary concern". "It is with presentment," says Mr. Sharp, "that
the artist has fundamentally to concern himself." Granted: but it must
surely be presentment of _something_. . . . I do not understand how
to separate the substance from the form in true poetry. . . . If the
message be not well delivered, it does not constitute literature. But
if it be well delivered, the primary concern of the poet lay with the
message after all!'


More cogent objection has been taken to the character of the 'message'
as judged from a philosophic point of view. It is the expression or
exposition of a vivid a priori religious faith confirmed by positive
experience; and it reflects as such a double order of thought, in which
totally opposite mental activities are often forced into co-operation
with each other. Mr. Sharp says, this time quoting from Mr. Mortimer
('Scottish Art Review', December 1889):


'His position in regard to the thought of the age is paradoxical, if not
inconsistent. He is in advance of it in every respect but one, the most
important of all, the matter of fundamental principles; in these he
is behind it. His processes of thought are often scientific in their
precision of analysis; the sudden conclusion which he imposes upon them
is transcendental and inept.'


This statement is relatively true. Mr. Browning's positive reasonings
often do end with transcendental conclusions. They also start from
transcendental premises. However closely his mind might follow the
visible order of experience, he never lost what was for him the
consciousness of a Supreme Eternal Will as having existed before it; he
never lost the vision of an intelligent First Cause, as underlying all
minor systems of causation. But such weaknesses as were involved in
his logical position are inherent to all the higher forms of natural
theology when once it has been erected into a dogma. As maintained by
Mr. Browning, this belief held a saving clause, which removed it from
all dogmatic, hence all admissible grounds of controversy: the more
definite or concrete conceptions of which it consists possessed no
finality for even his own mind; they represented for him an absolute
truth in contingent relations to it. No one felt more strongly than he
the contradictions involved in any conceivable system of Divine creation
and government. No one knew better that every act and motive which we
attribute to a Supreme Being is a virtual negation of His existence.
He believed nevertheless that such a Being exists; and he accepted His
reflection in the mirror of the human consciousness, as a necessarily
false image, but one which bears witness to the truth.

His works rarely indicate this condition of feeling; it was not often
apparent in his conversation. The faith which he had contingently
accepted became absolute for him from all practical points of view; it
became subject to all the conditions of his humanity. On the ground of
abstract logic he was always ready to disavow it; the transcendental
imagination and the acknowledged limits of human reason claimed the last
word in its behalf. This philosophy of religion is distinctly suggested
in the fifth parable of 'Ferishtah's Fancies'.

But even in defending what remains, from the most widely accepted point
of view, the validity of Mr. Browning's 'message', we concede the fact
that it is most powerful when conveyed in its least explicit form; for
then alone does it bear, with the full weight of his poetic utterance,
on the minds to which it is addressed. His challenge to Faith and Hope
imposes itself far less through any intellectual plea which he can
advance in its support, than through the unconscious testimony of all
creative genius to the marvel of conscious life; through the passionate
affirmation of his poetic and human nature, not only of the goodness and
the beauty of that life, but of its reality and its persistence.

We are told by Mr. Sharp that a new star appeared in Orion on the night
on which Robert Browning died. The alleged fact is disproved by the
statement of the Astronomer Royal, to whom it has been submitted; but it
would have been a beautiful symbol of translation, such as affectionate
fancy might gladly cherish if it were true. It is indeed true that
on that twelfth of December, a vivid centre of light and warmth was
extinguished upon our earth. The clouded brightness of many lives
bears witness to the poet spirit which has departed, the glowing human
presence which has passed away. We mourn the poet whom we have lost far
less than we regret the man: for he had done his appointed work; and
that work remains to us. But the two beings were in truth inseparable.
The man is always present in the poet; the poet was dominant in the man.
This fact can never be absent from our loving remembrance of him. No
just estimate of his life and character will fail to give it weight.



Index

[The Index is included only as a rough guide to what is in this book.
The numbers in brackets indicate the number of index entries: as
each reference, short or long, is counted as one, the numbers may be
misleading if observed too closely.]


     Abel, Mr. (musician) [1]
     Adams, Mrs. Sarah Flower [2]
     Albemarle, Lord [1]
     Alford, Lady Marian [1]
     Allingham, Mr. William [1]
     American appreciation of Browning [1]
     Ampere, M. [1]
     Ancona [1]
     Anderson, Mr. (actor) [1]
     Arnold, Matthew [1]
     Arnould, Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) [1]
     Ashburton, Lady [1]
     Asolo [4]
     Associated Societies of Edinburgh, the [1]
     Athenaeum, the (review of 'Pauline') [2]
     Audierne (Finisterre, Brittany) [1]
     Azeglio, Massimo d' [1]

     Balzac's works, the Brownings' admiration of [2]
     Barrett, Miss Arabel [4]
     Barrett, Miss Henrietta (afterwards Mrs. Surtees Cook [Altham]) [2]
     Barrett, Mr. (the poet's father-in-law) [3]
     Barrett, Mr. Laurence (actor) [1]
     Bartoli's 'De' Simboli trasportati al Morale' [1]
     Benckhausen, Mr. (Russian consul-general) [1]
     Benzon, Mr. Ernest [1]
     Beranger, M. [2]
     Berdoe, Dr. Edward:  his paper on 'Paracelsus, the Reformer of
          Medicine' [1]
     Biarritz [1]
     Blackwood's Magazine (on 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon') [1]
     Blagden, Miss Isa [5]
     Blundell, Dr. (physician) [1]
     Boyle, Dean (Salisbury) [1]
     Boyle, Miss (niece of the Earl of Cork) [2]
     Bridell-Fox, Mrs. [3]
     Bronson, Mrs. Arthur [5]
     Browning, Robert (grandfather of the poet):  account of his life,
     two marriages, and two families [1]
     Browning, Mrs. (step-grandmother of the poet) [2]
     Browning, Robert (father of the poet):  marriage;
     clerk in the Bank of England; comparison between him and his son;
     scholarly and artistic tastes; simplicity and genuineness of
          his character;
     his strong health; Mr. Locker-Lampson's account of him;
     his religious opinions; renewed relations with his father's widow
     and second family; death [10]
     Browning, Mrs. (the poet's mother):  her family; her nervous
          temperament
     transmitted to her son; her death [3]
     Browning, Mr. Reuben (the poet's uncle),
     (incl. Lord Beaconsfield's appreciation of his Latinity) [2]
     Browning, Mr. William Shergold (the poet's uncle),
     (incl. his literary work) [2]
     Browning, Miss Jemima (the poet's aunt) [1]
     Browning, Miss (the poet's sister),
     (incl. comes to live with her brother) [16]
     Browning, Robert:  1812-33--the notion of his Jewish
          extraction disproved;
     his family anciently established in Dorsetshire; his carelessness
     as to genealogical record; account of his grandfather's life
     and second marriage; his father's unhappy youth; his paternal
          grandmother;
     his father's position; comparison of father and son;
     the father's use of grotesque rhymes in teaching him;
     qualities he inherited from his mother; weak points in regard
          to health
     throughout his life; characteristics in early childhood;
     great quickness in learning; an amusing prank; passion for his
          mother;
     fondness for animals; his collections; experiences of school life;
     extensive reading in his father's library; early acquaintance
     with old books; his early attempts in verse; spurious poems in
          circulation;
     'Incondita', the production of the twelve-year-old poet;
     introduction to Mr. Fox; his boyish love and lasting affection
     for Miss Flower; first acquaintance with Shelley's and Keats'
          works;
     his admiration for Shelley; home education under masters,
     his manly accomplishments; his studies chiefly literary; love
          of home;
     associates of his youth:  Arnould and Domett; the Silverthornes;
     his choice of poetry as a profession; other possible
          professions considered;
     admiration for good acting; his father's support in his
          literary career;
     reads and digests Johnson's Dictionary by way of preparation [37]
     Browning, Robert:  1833-35--publication of 'Pauline';
     correspondence with Mr. Fox; the poet's later opinion of it;
     characteristics of the poem; Mr. Fox's review of it; other notices;
     Browning's visit to Russia; contributions to the 'Monthly
          Repository':
     his first sonnet; the 'Trifler' (amateur periodical);
     a comic defence of debt; preparing to publish 'Paracelsus';
          friendship with
     Count de Ripert-Monclar; Browning's treatment of 'Paracelsus';
     the original Preface; John Forster's article on it in the
          'Examiner' [16]
     Browning, Robert:  1835-38--removal of the family to Hatcham;
     renewed intimacy with his grandfather's second family;
     friendly relations with Carlyle; recognition by men of the day;
     introduction to Macready; first meeting with Forster;
     Miss Euphrasia Fanny Haworth; at the 'Ion' supper; prospects
          of 'Strafford';
     its production and reception; a personal description of him at
          this period;
     Mr. John Robertson and the 'Westminster Review' [11]
     Browning, Robert:  1838-44--first Italian journey; a striking
          experience
     of the voyage; preparations for writing other tragedies;
     meeting with Mr. John Kenyon; appearance of 'Sordello';
     mental developments; 'Pippa Passes'; Alfred Domett on the critics;
     'Bells and Pomegranates'; explanation of its title.
     List of the poems; 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon', written for
          Macready;
     Browning's later account and discussion of the breach between him
     and Macready; 'Colombe's Birthday'; other dramas; The
          'Dramatic Lyrics';
     'The Lost Leader'; Browning's life before his second Italian
          journey;
     in Naples; visit to Mr. Trelawney at Leghorn [19]
     Browning, Robert:  1844-55--introduction to Miss Barrett;
     his admiration for her poetry; his proposal to her;
     reasons for concealing the engagement; their marriage; journey
          to Italy;
     life at Pisa; Florence; Browning's request for appointment
     on a British mission to the Vatican; settling in Casa Guidi;
     Fano and Ancona; 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' at Sadler's Wells;
     birth of Browning's son, and death of his mother; wanderings
          in Italy:
     the Baths of Lucca; Venice; friendship with Margaret Fuller Ossoli;
     winter in Paris; Carlyle; George Sand.  Close friendship
     with M. Joseph Milsand; Milsand's appreciation of Browning;
     new edition of Browning's poems; 'Christmas Eve and Easter Day';
     the Essay on Shelley; summer in London; introduction to Dante
          G. Rossetti;
     again in Florence; production of 'Colombe's Birthday' (1853);
     again at Lucca, Mr. and Mrs. W. Story; first winter in Rome;
          the Kembles;
     again in London (1855):  Tennyson, Ruskin [32]
     Browning, Robert:  1855-61--publication of 'Men and Women';
     'Karshook'; 'Two in the Campagna'; another winter in Paris:
          Lady Elgin;
     legacies to the Brownings from Mr. Kenyon; Mr. Browning's
          little son;
     a carnival masquerade; Spiritualism; 'Sludge the Medium';
     Count Ginnasi's clairvoyance; at Siena; Walter Savage Landor;
     illness of Mrs. Browning; American appreciation of Browning's
          works;
     his social life in Rome; last winter in Rome; Madame du Quaire;
     Mrs. Browning's illness and death; the comet of 1861 [18]
     Browning, Robert:  1861-69--Miss Blagden's helpful sympathy;
     journey to England; feeling in regard to funeral ceremonies;
     established in London with his son; Miss Arabel Barrett;
     visit to Biarritz; origin of 'The Ring and the Book';
     his views as to the publication of letters; new edition of his
          works,
     selection of poems.  Residence at Pornic; a meeting at Mr. F.
          Palgrave's;
     his literary position in 1865; his own estimate of it;
     death of his father; with his sister at Le Croisic;
     Academic honours:  letter to the Master of Balliol (Dr. Scott);
     curious circumstance connected with the death of Miss A. Barrett;
     at Audierne; the uniform edition of his works; publication of
     'The Ring and the Book'; inspiration of Pompilia [21]
     Browning, Robert:  1869-73--'Helen's Tower'; at St.-Aubin;
     escape from France during the war (1870); publication of
     'Balaustion's Adventure' and 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau';
     'Herve Riel' sold for the benefit of French sufferers by the war;
     'Fifine at the Fair'; mistaken theories of that work;
     'Red Cotton Nightcap Country' [8]
     Browning, Robert:  1873-78--his manner of life in London;
     his love of music; friendship with Miss Egerton-Smith;
     summers spent at Mers, Villers, Isle of Arran, and La Saisiaz;
     'Aristophanes' Apology'; 'Pacchiarotto', 'The Inn Album',
     the translation of the 'Agamemnon'; description of a visit to
          Oxford;
     visit to Cambridge; offered the Rectorships of the Universities
     of Glasgow and St. Andrews; description of La Saisiaz;
     sudden death of Miss Egerton-Smith; the poem 'La Saisiaz':
     Browning's position towards Christianity; 'The Two Poets of
          Croisic',
     and Selections from his Works [13]
     Browning, Robert:  1878-81--he revisits Italy; Spluegen;
     Asolo; Venice; favourite Alpine retreats; friendly relations
     with Mrs. Arthur Bronson; life in Venice; a tragedy at
          Saint-Pierre;
     the first series of 'Dramatic Idyls'; the second series,
     'Jocoseria', and 'Ferishtah's Fancies' [10]
     Browning, Robert:  1881-87--the Browning Society; Browning's
          attitude
     in regard to it; similar societies in England and America;
     wide diffusion of Browning's works in America; lines for the
          gravestone
     of Mr. Levi Thaxter; President of the New Shakspere Society,
     and member of the Wordsworth Society; Honorary President of
     the Associated Societies of Edinburgh; appreciation of his
          works in Italy;
     sonnet to Goldoni; attempt to purchase the Palazzo Manzoni, Venice;
     Saint-Moritz; Mrs. Bloomfield Moore; at Llangollen; loss of
          old friends;
     Foreign Correspondent to the Royal Academy; publication of
          'Parleyings' [15]
     Browning, Robert:  his character--constancy in friendship;
     optimism and belief in a direct Providence; political principles;
     character of his friendships; attitude towards his reviewers
     and his readers; attitude towards his works; his method of work;
     study of Spanish, Hebrew, and German; conversational powers
     and the stores of his memory; nervous peculiarities; his
          innate kindliness;
     attitude towards women; final views on the Women's Suffrage
          question [13]
     Browning, Robert:  his last years--marriage of his son;
     his change of abode; symptoms of declining strength;
     new poems, and revision of the old; journey to Italy:
          Primiero and Venice;
     last winter in England:  visit to Balliol College;
     last visit to Italy:  Asolo once more; proposed purchase of
          land there;
     the 'Lines to Edward Fitzgerald'; with his son at Palazzo
          Rezzonico;
     last illness; death; funeral honours in Italy; 'Asolando' published
     on the day of his death; his burial in Westminster Abbey;
     the purport and tendency of his work [16]
     Browning, Robert:  letters to--Bainton, Mr. George (Coventry) [1]
     Blagden, Miss Isa [12]
     Fitz-Gerald, Mrs. [8]
     Flower, Miss [2]
     Fox, Mr. [4]
     Haworth, Miss E. F. [3]
     Hickey, Miss E. H. [1]
     Hill, Mr. Frank (editor of the 'Daily News') [2]
     Hill, Mrs. Frank [1]
     Keep, Miss [3]
     Knight, Professor (St. Andrews) [5]
     Lee, Miss (Maidstone) [1]
     Leighton, Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederic) [4]
     Martin, Mrs. Theodore (afterwards Lady) [2]
     Moulton-Barrett, Mr. G. [2]
     Quaire, Madame du [1]
     Robertson, Mr. John (editor of 'Westminster Review', 1838) [1]
     Scott, Rev. Dr. [1]
     Skirrow, Mrs. Charles [4]
     Smith, Mr. G. M. [3]
     Browning, Robert:  Works of--'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' [2]
     'A Death in the Desert' [2]
     'Agamemnon' [1]
     'Andrea del Sarto' [1]
     'Aristophanes' Apology' [1]
     'Artemis Prologuizes' [1]
     'Asolando' [5]
     'At the Mermaid' [2]
     'A Woman's Last Word' [1]
     'Bad Dreams' [1]
     'Balaustion's Adventure' [3]
     'Bean Stripes' [1]
     'Beatrice Signorini' [1]
     'Bells and Pomegranates' (incl. meaning of the title,
     and list of the dramas and poems) [7]
     'Ben Karshook's Wisdom' [1]
     'Bishop Blougram' [1]
     'By the Fireside' [1]
     'Childe Roland' [1]
     'Christmas Eve and Easter Day' [2]
     'Cleon' [1]
     'Colombe's Birthday' [4]
     'Crescentius, the Pope's Legate' [1]
     'Cristina' [1]
     'Dramatic Idyls' [4]
     'Dramatic Lyrics' [1]
     'Dramatis Personae' [5]
     'Essay on Shelley' [1]
     'Ferishtah's Fancies' [2]
     'Fifine at the Fair' [2]
     'Flute-Music' [1]
     'Goldoni', sonnet to [1]
     'Helen's Tower' (sonnet) [1]
     'Herve Riel' (ballad) [2]
     'Home Thoughts from the Sea' [1]
     'How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix' [1]
     'In a Balcony' [2]
     'In a Gondola' [2]
     'Ivan Ivanovitch' [3]
     'James Lee's Wife' [3]
     'Jocoseria' [1]
     'Johannes Agricola in Meditation' [1]
     'King Victor and King Charles' [3]
     'La Saisiaz' [4]
     'Luria' [1]
     'Madhouse Cells' [1]
     'Martin Relph' [1]
     'May and Death' [1]
     'Men and Women' [3]
     'Ned Bratts' [1]
     'Numpholeptos' [1]
     'One Word More' [2]
     'Pacchiarotto' [3]
     'Paracelsus' [8]
     'Parleyings' [2]
     'Pauline' [10]
     'Pippa Passes' (incl. the Preface to) [5]
     'Ponte dell' Angelo' [1]
     'Porphyria's Lover' [1]
     'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau' [3]
     'Red Cotton Nightcap Country' [3]
     'Rosny' [1]
     'Saint Martin's Summer' [1]
     'Saul' [1]
     'Sludge the Medium' [2]
     'Sordello' [7]
     'Strafford' [3]
     'The Epistle of Karshish' [1]
     'The Flight of the Duchess' [1]
     'The Inn Album' [3]
     'The Lost Leader' [1]
     'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' [1]
     'The Return of the Druses' [3]
     'The Ring and the Book' [3]
     'The Two Poets of Croisic' [2]
     'The Worst of It' [1]
     'Two in the Campagna' [1]
     'White Witchcraft' [1]
     'Why I am a Liberal' (sonnet) [2]
     'Women and Roses' [1]
     Browning, Mrs. (the poet's wife:  Elizabeth Barrett
          Moulton-Barrett):
     Browning's introduction to her; her ill health;
     the reasons for their secret marriage; causes of her ill health;
     happiness of her married life; estrangement from her father;
     her visit to Mrs. Theodore Martin; 'Aurora Leigh':  her
          methods of work;
     a legacy from Mr. Kenyon; her feeling about Spiritualism;
     success of 'Aurora Leigh'; her sister's illness and death;
     her own death; proposed reinterment in Westminster Abbey [14]
     Browning, Mrs.:  extracts from her letters--on her husband's
          devotion;
     life in Pisa, and on French literature; Vallombrosa; their
          acquaintances
     in Florence; their dwelling in Piazza Pitti; 'Father Prout's' cure
     for a sore throat; apartments in the Casa Guidi; visits to
          Fano and Ancona;
     Phelps's production of 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon';
     birth of her son; the effect of his mother's death on her husband;
     wanderings in northern Italy; the neighbourhood of Lucca;
     Venice; life in Paris (1851); esteem for her husband's family;
     description of George Sand; the personal appearance of that lady;
     her impression of M. Joseph Milsand; the first performance
     of 'Colombe's Birthday' (1853); Rome:  death in the Story family;
     Mrs. Sartoris and the Kembles; society in Rome; a visit to Mr.
          Ruskin;
     about 'Penini'; description of a carnival masquerade
          (Florence, 1857);
     impressions of Landor; tribute to the unselfish character
     of her father-in-law; on her husband's work; on the contrast
     of his (then) appreciation in England and America;
     Massimo d' Azeglio; on her sister Henrietta (Mrs. Surtees Cook);
     on the death of Count Cavour [34]
     Browning, Mr. Robert Wiedemann Barrett (the poet's son):  his
          birth;
     incidents of his childhood; his pet-name--Penini, Peni, Pen;
     in charge of Miss Isa Blagden on his mother's death;
     taken to England by his father; manner of his education;
     studying art in Antwerp; with his father in Venice (1885); his
          marriage;
     purchase of the Rezzonico Palace (Venice); death of his father
          there [14]
     Browning, Mrs. R. Barrett [2]
     Browning, Mr. Robert Jardine (Crown Prosecutor in New South
          Wales) [1]
     Browning Society, the:  its establishment [1]
     Brownlow, Lord [1]
     Bruce, Lady Augusta [1]
     Bruce, Lady Charlotte (wife of Mr. F. Locker) [1]
     Buckstone, Mr. (actor) [1]
     Buloz, M. [1]
     Burne Jones, Mr. [2]
     Burns, Major (son of the poet) [1]

     Californian Railway time-table edition of Browning's poems [1]
     Cambo [1]
     Cambridge, Browning's visit to [1]
     Campbell Dykes, Mr. J. [6]
     Carducci, Countess (Rome) [1]
     Carlyle, Mr. Thomas [6]
     Carlyle, Mrs. Thomas (incl. anecdote) [2]
     Carnarvon, Lord [1]
     Carnival masquerade, a [1]
     Cartwright, Mr. and Mrs. (of Aynhoe) [3]
     Casa Guidi (Browning's residence at Florence) [2]
     Cattermole, Mr. [1]
     Cavour, Count, death of [1]
     Channel, Mr. (afterwards Sir William), and Frank [1]
     Chapman & Hall, Messrs. (publishers) [2]
     Cholmondeley, Mr. (Condover) [3]
     Chorley, Mr. [1]
     Cini, Dr. (Venice) [1]
     Clairvoyance, an instance of [1]
     Coddington, Miss Fannie (afterwards Mrs. R. Barrett Browning) [1]
     Colvin, Mr. Sidney [1]
     Corkran, Mrs. Fraser [2]
     Cornaro, Catharine [3]
     Cornhill Magazine:  why 'Herve Riel' appeared in it [2]
     Corson, Professor [1]
     Crosse, Mrs. Andrew [1]
     'Croxall's Fables', Browning's early fondness for [1]
     Curtis, Mr. [1]

     Dale, Mr. (actor) [1]
     Davidson, Captain (of the 'Norham Castle', 1838) [2]
     Davies, Rev. Llewellyn [1]
     Debt, Browning's mock defence of (in the 'Trifler') [1]
     Dickens, Charles [5]
     Domett, Alfred (incl. 'On a certain Critique of Pippa Passes') [3]
     Dourlans, M. Gustave [1]
     Doyle, Sir Francis H. [1]
     Dufferin, Lord [1]
     Dulwich Gallery [1]

     Eclectic Review, the (review of Browning's works) [1]
     Eden, Mr. Frederic [1]
     Egerton-Smith, Miss [2]
     Elgin, Lady [3]
     Elstree (Macready's residence) [2]
     Elton, Mr. (actor) [1]
     Engadine, the [2]
     Examiner (review of 'Paracelsus') [1]

     Fano [1]
     'Father Prout' (Mr. Mahoney) [1]
     Faucit, Miss Helen--as Lady Carlisle in 'Strafford'; as Mildred
     in 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon'; as Colombe in 'Colombe's
          Birthday' [3]
     Fiori, Margherita (Browning's nurse) [1]
     Fisher, Mr. (artist) [1]
     Fitzgerald, Mr. Edward [1]
     Fitz-Gerald, Mrs. [1]
     Florence [6]
     Flower, Miss [5]
     Flower, Mr. Benjamin (editor of the 'Cambridge Intelligencer') [1]
     Fontainebleau [1]
     Forster, Mr. John [11]
     Fortia, Marquis de [1]
     Fox, Miss Caroline [1]
     Fox, Miss Sarah [1]
     Fox, Mr. W. J. (incl. election for Oldham) [10]
     Furnivall, Dr. [5]

     Gaisford, Mr., and Lady Alice [1]
     Galuppi, Baldassaro [1]
     Gibraltar [1]
     Ginnasi, Count (Ravenna) [1]
     Giustiniani-Recanati, Palazzo (Venice) [1]
     Gladstone, Mr. [1]
     Glasgow, University of [1]
     Goldoni, Browning's sonnet to [1]
     Goltz, M. (Austrian Minister at Rome) [1]
     Gosse's 'Personalia' [4]
     Green, Mr. [1]
     Gressoney Saint-Jean [1]
     Guerande (Brittany) [1]
     Guidi Palace (Casa Guidi) [1]
     Gurney, Rev. Archer [1]

     Hanmer, Sir John (afterwards Lord Hanmer) [1]
     Haworth, Miss Euphrasia Fanny [2]
     Haworth, Mr. Frederick [1]
     Hawthorne, Nathaniel [1]
     Hazlitt, Mr. [1]
     Heyermans, M. (artist; Antwerp) [1]
     Hickey, Miss E. H. [2]
     Hill, Mr. Frank (editor of the 'Daily News', 1884) [1]
     Hood, Mr. Thomas [1]
     Horne, Mr. [1]
     Hugo, Victor [1]

     Ion, the Ion supper [1]

     Jameson, Mrs. Anna [1]
     Jebb-Dyke, Mrs. [1]
     Jerningham, Miss [1]
     Jersey [1]
     Jewsbury, Miss Geraldine [1]
     Joachim, Professor [1]
     Jones, Mr. Edward Burne [1]
     Jones, Rev. Thomas [1]
     Jowett, Dr. [3]

     Kean, Mr. Edmund [1]
     Keats [1]
     Keepsake, The [1]
     Kemble, Mrs. Fanny [1]
     Kenyon, Mr. John [5]
     King, Mr. Joseph [1]
     Kirkup, Mr. [2]
     Knight, Professor (St. Andrews) [2]

     Lamartine, M. de [1]
     Lamb, Charles [1]
     Landor, Walter Savage [5]
     La Saisiaz [2]
     Layard, Sir Henry and Lady [2]
     Le Croisic (Brittany) [1]
     Leigh Hunt [1]
     Leighton, Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederic) [2]
     'Les Charmettes' (Chambery:  Rousseau's residence) [1]
     Le Strange, Mrs. Guy [1]
     Lewis, Miss (Harpton) [1]
     Literary Gazette (review of 'Pauline') [1]
     Literary World, the Boston, U.S. (on 'Colombe's Birthday') [1]
     Llangollen [2]
     Llantysilio Church [1]
     Lloyd, Captain [1]
     Locker, Mr. F. (now Mr. Locker-Lampson) [2]
     Lockhart [1]
     Lucca [4]
     Lyons, Mr. (son of Sir Edmund) [1]
     Lytton, Mr. (now Lord) [3]

     Maclise, Mr. (artist) [2]
     Macready, Mr. [5]
     Macready, Willy (eldest son of the actor):  his illustrations
     to the 'Pied Piper' [1]
     Mahoney, Rev. Francis ('Father Prout') [1]
     Manning, Rev. Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) [1]
     Manzoni Palace (Venice) [1]
     Martin, Lady [3]
     Martin, Sir Theodore [1]
     Martineau, Miss [4]
     Mazzini, Signor [1]
     Melvill, Rev. H. (afterwards Canon) [2]
     Meredith, Mr. George [1]
     Mill, Mr. J. S. [3]
     Milnes, Mr. Monckton (afterwards Lord Houghton) [4]
     Milsand, M. Joseph [4]
     Minich, Dr. (Venice) [1]
     Mitford, Miss [3]
     Mocenigo, Countess (Venice) [1]
     Mohl, Madame [2]
     Monthly Repository (incl. Browning's contributions to) [4]
     Moore, Mrs. Bloomfield [2]
     Morgan, Lady [1]
     Morison, Mr. James Cotter [1]
     Mortimer, Mr. [2]
     Moulton-Barrett, Mr. George [3]
     Moxon, Mr. (publisher) [4]
     Murray, Miss Alma (actress) [1]
     Musset, Alfred and Paul de [1]

     Naples [1]
     National Magazine, the:  Mrs. Browning's portrait in (1859) [1]
     Nencioni, Professor (Florence) [1]
     Nettleship, Mr. J. T. [1]
     New Shakspere Society [1]
     Noel, Mr. Roden [1]

     Ogle, Dr. John [1]
     Ogle, Miss (author of 'A Lost Love') [1]
     Osbaldistone, Mr. (manager of Covent Garden Theatre, 1836) [1]
     Ossoli, Countess Margaret Fuller [1]
     Oxford (incl. Browning's visit to, 1877) [2]

     Palgrave, Mr. Francis [1]
     Palgrave, Mr. Reginald [1]
     Paris [2]
     Patterson, Monsignor [1]
     Phelps, Mr. (actor) [3]
     Pirate-ship, wreck of [1]
     Pisa [1]
     Poetical contest, a Roman [1]
     Pollock, Sir Frederick (1843) [1]
     Pornic [2]
     Powell, Mr. Thomas [2]
     Power, Miss (editor of 'The Keepsake') [1]
     Powers, Mr. (American sculptor) [1]
     Primiero [1]
     Prinsep, Mr. Val [6]
     Pritchard, Captain [1]
     Procter, Mr. Bryan Waller (Barry Cornwall) [4]

     Quaire, Madame du [2]
     Quarles' Emblemes [1]

     Ravenna [1]
     Ready, the two Misses, preparatory school [3]
     Ready, Rev. Thomas (Browning's first schoolmaster) [2]
     Regan, Miss [1]
     Reid, Mr. Andrew [1]
     Relfe, Mr. John (musician) [1]
     Rezzonico Palace (Venice), the [2]
     Richmond, Rev. Thomas [1]
     Ripert-Monclar, Count de [4]
     Robertson, Mr. John (editor of 'Westminster Review', 1838) [1]
     Robinson, Miss Mary (now Mrs. James Darmesteter) [1]
     Rome [2]
     Rossetti, Mr. Dante Gabriel (incl. death of his wife) [4]
     Ruskin, Mr. [1]
     Russell, Lady William [1]
     Russell, Mr. Odo (afterwards Lord Ampthill) [2]

     Sabatier, Madame [1]
     Saleve, the [2]
     Sand, George [2]
     Sartoris, Mrs. [4]
     Saunders & Otley, Messrs. [2]
     Scott, Rev. Dr. (Master of Balliol, 1867) [1]
     Scotti, Mr. [1]
     Scottish Art Review, the, Mr. Mortimer's 'Note on Browning' in [1]
     Seraverra [1]
     Sharp, Mr. [4]
     Shelley (incl. Browning's Essay on; his grave) [4]
     Shrewsbury, Lord [1]
     Sidgwick, Mr. A. [1]
     Siena [2]
     Silverthorne, Mrs. [2]
     Simeon, Sir John [1]
     Smith, Miss (second wife of the poet's grandfather) [1]
     Smith, Mr. George Murray [1]
     Southey [1]
     Spezzia [1]
     Spiritualism (incl. a pretending medium) [2]
     Spluegen [1]
     St. Andrews University [1]
     St.-Aubin (M. Milsand's residence) [2]
     St.-Enogat (near Dinard) [1]
     St.-Pierre la Chartreuse (incl. a tragic occurrence there) [2]
     Stanley, Dean [1]
     Stanley, Lady Augusta [1]
     Stendhal, Henri [2]
     Sterling, Mr. John [1]
     Stirling, Mrs. (actress) [1]
     Story, Mr. and Mrs. William [7]
     Sturtevant, Miss [1]
     Sue, Eugene [1]

     Tablets, Memorial [3]
     Tait's Magazine [1]
     Talfourd, Serjeant [3]
     Taylor, Sir Henry [1]
     Tennyson, Mr. Alfred (afterwards Lord Tennyson) [2]
     Tennyson, Mr. Frederick [1]
     Thackeray, Miss Annie [1]
     Thackeray, Mr. W. M. [2]
     Thaxter, Mrs. (Celia) (Boston, U.S.) [1]
     Thaxter, Mr. Levi (Boston, U.S.) [1]
     Thomson, Mr. James:  his application of the term 'Gothic'
     to Browning's work [1]
     Tittle, Miss Margaret [1]
     Trelawney, Mr. E. J. (1844) [1]
     Trifler, The (amateur magazine) [1]
     True Sun, the (review of 'Strafford') [1]

     Universo, Hotel dell' (Venice) [1]

     Vallombrosa [1]
     Venice [6]
     Vigna, Dr. da (Venice) [1]

     Wagner [1]
     Warburton, Mr. Eliot [1]
     Watts, Dr. [1]
     Westminster, Dean of [2]
     Widman, Counts [1]
     Wiedemann, Mr. William [1]
     Williams, Rev. J. D. W. (vicar of Bottisham, Cambs.) [1]
     Wilson (Mrs. Browning's maid) [6]
     Wilson, Mr. Effingham (publisher) [1]
     Wiseman, Mrs. (mother of Cardinal Wiseman) [1]
     Wolseley, Lady [1]
     Wolseley, Lord [1]
     Woolner, Mr. [1]
     Wordsworth [3]
     Wordsworth Society, the [2]





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