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Title: The Brownings - Their Life and Art
Author: Whiting, Lilian, 1847-1942
Language: English
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Their Life and Art

[Illustration: ROBERT BROWNING

_From a drawing made by Field Talfourd, in Rome, 1855_]


Their Life and Art



Author of "The World Beautiful," "Italy
the Magic Land," "The Spiritual
Significance," Etc.


Little, Brown, and Company

Copyright, 1911,
by Little, Brown, and Company.

All rights reserved

Published, October, 1911

S. J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, U.S.A.


  June, 1911


The present volume was initiated in Florence, and, from its first
inception, invested with the cordial assent and the sympathetic
encouragement of Robert Barrett Browning. One never-to-be-forgotten day,
all ethereal light and loveliness, has left its picture in memory, when,
in company with Mr. Browning and his life-long friend, the Marchesa
Peruzzi di' Medici (_náta_ Story), the writer of this biography strolled
with them under the host's orange trees and among the riotous roses of his
Florentine villa, "La Torre All' Antella," listening to their sparkling
conversation, replete with fascinating reminiscences. To Mr. Browning the
tribute of thanks, whose full scope is known to the Recording Angel alone,
is here offered; and there is the blending of both privilege and duty in
grateful acknowledgements to Messrs. Smith, Elder, & Company for their
courtesy in permitting the somewhat liberal drawing on their published
Letters of both the Brownings, on which reliance had to be based in any
effort to

  "Call up the buried Past again,"

and construct the story, from season to season, so far as might be, of
that wonderful interlude of the wedded life of the poets.

Yet any formality of thanks to this house is almost lost sight of in the
rush of memories of that long and mutually-trusting friendship between the
late George Murray Smith, the former head of this firm, and Robert
Browning, a friendship which was one of the choicest treasures in both
their lives.

To The Macmillan Company, the publishers for both the first and the
present Lord Tennyson; To Houghton Mifflin Company; to Messrs. Dodd, Mead,
& Company; to The Cornhill Magazine (to which the writer is indebted for
some data regarding Browning and Professor Masson); to each and all,
acknowledgments are offered for their courtesy which has invested with
added charm a work than which none was ever more completely a labor of

To Edith, Contessa Rucellai (_náta_ Bronson), whose characteristically
lovely kindness placed at the disposal of this volume a number of letters
written by Robert Browning to her mother, Mrs. Arthur Bronson, special
gratitude is offered.

"Poetry," said Mrs. Browning, "is its own exceeding great reward." Any
effort, however remote its results from the ideal that haunted the writer,
to interpret the lives of such transcendent genius and nobleness as those
of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, must also be its own exceeding
reward in leading to a passion of pursuit of all that is highest and
holiest in the life that now is, and in that which is to come.


      Midsummer Days, 1911




The Most Exquisite Romance of Modern Life--Ancestry and Youth of
    Robert Browning--Love of Music--Formative Influences--The
    Fascination of Byron--A Home "Crammed with Books"--The Spell
    of Shelley--"Incondita"--Poetic Vocation Definitely
    Chosen--"Pauline"                                                    1



Childhood and Early Youth of Elizabeth Barrett--Hope End--"Summer
    Snow of Apple-Blossoms"--Her Bower of White Roses--"Living
    with Visions"--The Malvern Hills--Hugh Stuart Boyd--Love of
    Learning--"Juvenilia"--Impassioned Devotion to Poetry               16



Browning Visits Russia--"Paracelsus"--Recognition of Wordsworth
    and Landor--"Strafford"--First Visit to Italy--Mrs. Carlyle's
    Baffled Reading of "Sordello"--Lofty Motif of the Poem--The
    Universal Problem of Life--Enthusiasm for Italy--The
    Sibylline Leaves Yet to Unfold                                      26



Elizabeth Barrett's Love for the Greek Poets--Lyrical Work--
    Serious Entrance on Professional Literature--Noble Ideal
    of Poetry--London Life--Kenyon--First Knowledge of Robert
    Browning                                                            44



"Bells and Pomegranates"--Arnould and Domett--"A Blot in the
    'Scutcheon"--Macready--Second Visit to Italy--Miss Barrett's
    Poetic Work--"Colombe's Birthday"--"Lady Geraldine's
    Courtship"--"Romances and Lyrics"--Browning's First Letter
    to Miss Barrett--The Poets Meet--Letters of Robert Browning
    and Elizabeth Barrett--"Loves of the Poets"--Vita Nuova             67



Marriage and Italy--"In That New World"--The Haunts of
    Petrarca--The Magic Land--In Pisa--Vallombrosa--"Un Bel
    Giro"--Guercino's Angel--Casa Guidi--Birth of Robert Barrett
    Browning--Bagni di Lucca--"Sonnets from the Portuguese"--The
    Enchantment of Italy                                                92



"Casa Guidi Windows"--Society in Florence--Marchesa d'Ossoli--
    Browning's Poetic Creed--Villeggiatura in Siena--Venice--
    Brilliant Life in London--Paris and Milsand--Browning on
    Shelley--In Florence--Idyllic Days in Bagni di Lucca--Mrs.
    Browning's Spiritual Outlook--Delightful Winter in Rome--A
    Poetic Pilgrimage--Harriet Hosmer--Characteristics of Mrs.
    Browning                                                           115



London Life--An Interlude in Paris--"Aurora Leigh"--Florentine
    Days--"Men and Women"--The Hawthornes--"The Old Yellow
    Book"--A Summer in Normandy--The Eternal City--The Storys and
    Other Friends--Lilies of Florence--"It Is Beautiful!"              163



The Completed Cycle--Letters to Friends--Browning's Devotion to
    His Son--Warwick Crescent--"Dramatis Personæ"--London Life--
    Death of the Poet's Father--Sarianna Browning--Oxford Honors
    the Poet--Death of Arabel Barrett--Audierne--"The Ring and
    the Book"                                                          199



In Scotland with the Storys--Browning's Conversation--An Amusing
    Incident--With Milsand at St. Aubin's--"The Red Cotton
    Night-cap Country"--Robert Barrett Browning's Gift for Art--
    Alfred Domett ("Waring")--"Balaustion's Adventure"--Browning
    and Tennyson--"Pacchiarotto"--Visits Jowett at Oxford--
    Declines Lord Rectorship of St. Andrews--"La Saisiaz"--Italy
    Revisited--The Dream of Asolo--"Ivanovitch"--Pride in His
    Son's Success--"Dramatic Idylls"                                   221



"Les Charmettes"--Venetian Days--Dr. Hiram Corson--The Browning
    Society--Oxford Honors Browning--Katherine DeKay Bronson--
    Honors from Edinburgh--Visit to Professor Masson--Italian
    Recognition--Nancioni--The Goldoni Sonnet--At St. Moritz--
    In Palazzo Giustiniani--"Ferishtah's Fancies"--Companionship
    with His Son--Death of Milsand--Letters to Mrs. Bronson--
    DeVere Gardens--Palazzo Rezzonico--Sunsets from the Lido--
    Robert Barrett Browning's Gift in Portraiture                      238



"Asolando"--Last Days in DeVere Gardens--Letters of Browning and
    Tennyson--Venetian Lingerings and Friends--Mrs. Bronson's
    Choice Circle--Browning's Letters to Mrs. Bronson--Asolo--
    "In Ruby, Emerald, Chrysopras"--Last Meeting of Browning and
    Story--In Palazzo Rezzonico--Last Meeting with Dr. Corson--
    Honored by Westminster Abbey--A Cross of Violets--Choral
    Music to Mrs. Browning's Poem, "The Sleep"--"And with God Be
    the Rest!"                                                         269

Index                                                                  297


_In Photogravure_


  Robert Browning                                           _Frontispiece_
    From a drawing by Field Talfourd, Rome, 1855

  Elizabeth Barrett Browning                                            39
    From a drawing by Field Talfourd, Rome, 1855


  Busts of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning                         2

  Monument to Michael Angelo, by Vasari                                 80
    Church of Santa Croce, Florence

  Old Monastery at Vallombrosa                                          98

  The Guardian Angel, Guercino                                         103
    Church of San Agostino, Fano

  Monument to Dante, by Stefano Ricci                                  108
    Piazza di Santa Croce, Florence

  Palazzo Vecchio, Florence                                            113

  Statue of Savonarola, by E. Pazzi                                    116
    Sala dei Cinquecento, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

  Fresco of Dante, by Giotto                                           121
    The Bargello, Florence

  Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (known as
  the Duomo)                                                           126

  The Ponte Vecchio and the Arno, Florence                             142

  Casa Guidi                                                           146

  The Clasped Hands of the Brownings                                   153
    Cast in bronze from the model taken by Harriet Hosmer in
    Rome, 1853

  The Campagna and Ruins of the Claudian Aqueducts, Rome               156

  The Coronation of the Virgin, by Filippo Lippi                       166
    Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence

  Andrea del Sarto. Portrait of the Artist and his Wife                170
    Pitti Gallery, Florence

  Equestrian Statue of Ferdinando de' Medici, by Giovanni
  da Bologna                                                           174
    Piazza dell' Annunziata, Florence

  Villa Petraja, near Florence                                         178

  Church of San Miniato, near Florence                                 182

  The Palazzo Barberini, Via Quattro Fontane, Rome                     188

  The English Cemetery, Florence                                       197

  Tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning                                   200

  Kate Field                                                           208
    From the portrait by Elihu Vedder, Florence, 1860

  The Pallazzo Riccardi, Florence                                      214

  Bust of Robert Browning, by his Son                                  226

  Portrait of Robert Browning in 1882, by his Son                      242

  Church of San Lorenzo, Florence                                      246

  Portrait of Robert Barrett Browning, as a Child, 1859                263

  Portrait of Robert Browning, by George Frederick Watts, R.A.         270

  Mrs. Arthur Bronson, by Ellen Montalba, in Asolo                     274

  Miss Edith Bronson, (Comtessa Rucellai)                              280

  Portrait of Professor Hiram Corson, by J. Colin Forbes, R.A.         290

  Palazzo Rezzonico, Venice                                            294

  Engraved Facsimile of a letter from Robert Browning to
  Professor Hiram Corson                                               260




  "Allons! after the Great Companions! and to belong to them!"

  "To know the universe itself as a road--as many roads--as
  roads for travelling souls."


Such a very page _de Contes_ is the life of the wedded poets, Robert and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that it is difficult to realize that this
immortal idyl of Poetry, Genius, and Love was less than fifteen years in
duration, out of his seventy-seven, and her fifty-five years of life. It
is a story that has touched the entire world

          "... with mystic gleams,
  Like fragments of forgotten dreams,"

this story of beautiful associations and friendships, of artistic
creation, and of the entrance on a wonderful realm of inspiration and
loveliness. At the time of their marriage he was in his thirty-fifth, and
she in her forty-first year, although she is described as looking so
youthful that she was like a girl, in her slender, flower-like grace; and
he lived on for twenty-eight years after

  "Clouds and darkness
  Fell upon Camelot,"

with the death of his "Lyric Love." The story of the most beautiful
romance that the world has ever known thus falls into three distinctive
periods,--that of the separate life of each up to the time of their
marriage; their married life, with its scenic setting in the enchantment
of Italy; and his life after her withdrawal from earthly scenes. The story
is also of duplex texture; for the outer life, rich in associations,
travel, impressions, is but the visible side of the life of great creative
art. A delightful journey is made, but its record is not limited to the
enjoyment of friends and place; a poem is written whose charm and power
persist through all the years.


Made in 1861 by William Wetmore Story]

No adequate word could be written of the Brownings that did not take
account of this twofold life of the poets. It is almost unprecedented that
the power and resplendence and beauty of the life of art should find, in
the temporal environment, so eminent a correspondence of beauty as it did
with Robert and Elizabeth Browning. Not that they were in any wise exempt
from sorrow and pain; the poet, least of all, would choose to be
translated, even if he might, to some enchanted region remote from all the
mingled experiences of humanity; it is the common lot of destiny, with its
prismatic blending of failure and success, of purpose and achievement, of
hope and defeat, of love and sorrow, out of which the poet draws his song.
He would not choose

  "That jar of violet wine set in the air,
  That palest rose sweet in the night of life,"

to the exclusion of the common experiences of the day.

  "Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
    Who never spent the darksome hours
  Weeping, and watching for the morrow,
    He knows you not, ye unseen Powers."

But to those who, poets or otherwise, see life somewhat in the true
proportion of its lasting relations, events are largely transmuted into
experiences, and are realized in their extended relations. The destiny of
the Brownings led them into constantly picturesque surroundings; and the
force and manliness of his nature, the tender sweetness and playful
loveliness of hers, combined with their vast intellectual range, their
mutual genius for friendships, their devotion to each other and to their
son, their reverence for their art, and their lofty and noble spirituality
of nature,--all united to produce this exquisite and unrivaled romance of

  "A Beauty passing the earth's store."

The rapture of the poet's dream pervaded every experience.

  "O Life, O Poetry,
  Which means life in life."

The transmutation of each into the other, both Life and Poetry, as
revealed in their lives, is something as exceptional as it is beautiful in
the world's history.

It is only to those who live for something higher than merely personal
ends, that the highest happiness can come; and the aim of these wedded
poets may well be read in the lines from "Aurora Leigh":

      "... Beloved, let us love so well,
  Our work shall still be better for our love,
  And still our love be sweeter for our work,
  And both commended, for the sake of each,
  By all true workers and true lovers born."

In the ancestry of Robert Browning there was nothing especially
distinctive, although it is representative of the best order of people; of
eminently reputable life, of moderate means, of culture, and of assured
intelligence. It is to the Brownings of Dorsetshire, who were large
manor-owners in the time of Henry VII, that the poet's family is traced.
Robert Browning, the grandfather of the poet, was a clerk in the Bank of
England, a position he obtained through the influence of the Earl of
Shaftesbury. Entering on this work at the age of twenty, he served
honorably for fifty years, and was promoted to the position of the Bank
Stock office, a highly responsible place, that brought him in constant
contact with the leading financiers of the day. Born in 1749, he had
married, in 1778, Margaret Tittle, the inheritor of some property in the
West Indies, where she was born of English parentage. The second Robert,
the father of the poet, was the son of this union. In his early youth he
was sent out to take charge of his mother's property, and his grandson,
Robert Barrett Browning, relates with pardonable pride how he resigned the
post, which was a lucrative one, because he could not tolerate the system
of slave labor prevailing there. By this act he forfeited all the estate
designed for him, and returned to England to face privation and to make
his own way. He, too, became a clerk in the Bank of England, and in 1811,
at the age of thirty, married Sarah Anna Wiedemann, the daughter of a
ship-owner in Dundee. Mr. Wiedemann was a German of Hamburg, who had
married a Scotch lady; and thus, on his maternal side, the poet had
mingled Scotch and German ancestry. The new household established itself
in Southampton Street, Camberwell, and there were born their two children,
Robert, on May 7, 1812, and on January 7, 1814, Sarah Anna, who came to be
known as Sarianna through all her later life.

The poet's father was not only an efficient financier, but he was also a
man of scholarly culture and literary tastes. He was a lover of the
classics, and was said to have known by heart the first book of the Iliad,
and the Odes of Horace. There is a legend that he often soothed his little
son to sleep by humming to him an ode of Anacreon. He wrote verse, he was
a very clever draughtsman, and he was a collector of rare books and
prints. Mr. W. J. Stillman, in his "Autobiography of a Journalist," refers
to the elder Browning, whom he knew in his later years, as "a serene,
untroubled soul,... as gentle as a gentle woman, a man to whom, it seemed
to me, no moral conflict could ever have arisen to cloud his frank
acceptance of life as he found it come to him.... His unworldliness had
not a flaw." In Browning's poem entitled "Development" (in "Asolando") he
gives this picture of his father and of his own childhood:

  "My Father was a scholar and knew Greek.
  When I was five years old, I asked him once
  'What do you read about?'
                           'The siege of Troy.'
  'What is a siege, and what is Troy?'
  He piled up chairs and tables for a town,
  Set me a-top for Priam, called our cat
  --Helen, enticed away from home (he said)
  By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere close
  Under the footstool....

     *       *       *       *       *

  This taught me who was who and what was what;
  So far I rightly understood the case
  At five years old; a huge delight it proved
  And still proves--thanks to that instructor sage
  My Father...."

The poet's mother was a true gentlewoman, characterized by fervent
religious feeling, delicacy of perception, and a great love for music. She
was reared in the Scottish kirk, and her husband in the Church of
England, but they both connected themselves after their marriage with an
"Independent" body that held their meetings in York Street, where the
Robert Browning Hall now stands. They were, however, greatly attached to
the Rev. Henry Melvill (later Canon at St. Paul's), whose evening service
they habitually attended. While the poet's mother had little training in
music, she was a natural musician, and was blessed with that keen,
tremulous susceptibility to musical influence that was so marked a trait
in her son. William Sharp pictures a late afternoon, when, playing softly
to herself in the twilight, she was startled to hear a sound in the room.
"Glancing around, she beheld a little white figure distinctly outlined
against an oak bookcase, and could just discern two large wistful eyes
looking earnestly at her. The next moment the child had sprung into her
arms, sobbing passionately at he knew not what, but, as his paroxysm of
emotion subsided, whispering over and over,'Play! Play!'"

The elder Browning was an impassioned lover of medieval legend and story.
He was deeply familiar with Paracelsus, with Faust, and with many of the
Talmudic tales. His library was large and richly stored,--the house,
indeed, "crammed with books," in which the boy browsed about at his own
will. It was the best of all possible educations, this atmosphere of
books. And the wealth of old engravings and prints fascinated the child.
He would sit among these before a glowing fire, while from the adjoining
room floated strains "of a wild Gaelic lament, with its insistent falling
cadences." It is recorded as his mother's chief happiness,--"her hour of
darkness and solitude and music." Of such fabric are poetic impressions
woven. The atmosphere was what Emerson called the "immortal ichor." The
boy was companioned by the "liberating gods." Something mystic and
beautiful beckoned to him, and incantations, unheard by the outer sense,
thronged about him, pervading the air. The lad began to recast in English
verse the Odes of Horace. From his school, on holiday afternoons, he
sought a lonely spot, elm-shaded, where he could dimly discern London in
the distance, with the gleam of sunshine on the golden cross of St.
Paul's,--lying for hours on the grass whence, perchance, he

  "Saw distant gates of Eden gleam
  And did not dream it was a dream."

Meantime the boy read Junius, Voltaire, Walpole's Letters, the "Emblems"
of Quarles (a book that remained as a haunting influence all his life),
and Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees." The first book of his own purchase
was a copy of Ossian's poems, and his initial effort in literary creation
was in likeness of the picturesque imaginations that appealed with
peculiar fascination to his mind.

"The world of books is still the world," wrote Mrs. Browning in "Aurora
Leigh," and this was the world of Robert Browning's early life. The
genesis of many of his greatest poems can be traced directly to this
atmosphere of books, and their constant use and reference in his
childhood. Literature and life, are, indeed, so absolutely interpenetrated
and so interdependent that they can almost invariably be contemplated as
cause and effect, each reacting upon the other in determining sequences.
By the magic of some spiritual alchemy, reading is transmuted into the
qualities that build up character, and these qualities, in turn, determine
the continued choice of books, so that selection and result perpetuate
themselves, forming an unceasing contribution to the nature of life. If
with these qualities is united the kindling imagination, the gift that
makes its possessor the creative artist, the environment of books and
perpetual reference to them act as a torch that ignites the divine fire.
Browning's early stimulus owes much, not only to the book-loving father,
but to his father's brother, his uncle Reuben Browning, who was a
classical scholar and who took great interest in the boy. Preserved to the
end of the poet's life was a copy of the Odes of Horace, in translation,
given to him as a lad of twelve, with his uncle's autograph inscription on
the fly-leaf. This was the translation made by Christopher Smart, whose
"Song of David" soon became one of the boy's favorites, and it is curious
to trace how, more than sixty years later, Browning embodied Smart in his
"Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day," as one with

            "... truth found vent
  In words for once with you...."

Browning, with the poet's instant insight, read the essential story of his
boyhood into the lines:

          "... Dreaming, blindfold led
  By visionary hand, did soul's advance
  Precede my body's, gain inheritance
  Of fact by fancy...?"

No transcription of the poet's childhood could even suggest the fortunate
influences surrounding him that did not emphasize the rare culture and
original power of his father. The elder Browning was familiar with old
French and with both Spanish and Italian literature. "His wonderful store
of information might really be compared to an inexhaustible mine," said
one who knew him well.

It is easy to see how out of such an atmosphere the future poet drew
unconsciously the power to weave his "magic web" of such poems as the
"Parleyings," "Abt Vogler," "Ferishtah's Fancies," and was lured on into
that realm of marvelous creation out of which sprang his transcendent
masterpiece, "The Ring and the Book."

The elder Browning's impassioned love of books was instanced by the
curious fact that he could go in the dark to his library, and out of many
hundreds of volumes select some particular one to which conversational
reference had incidentally been made regarding some point which he wished
to verify. He haunted all the old book-stalls in London, and knew their
contents better than did their owners.

Books are so intimately associated with the very springs of both character
and achievement that no adequate idea of the formative influences of the
life and poetry of Robert Browning could be gained without familiarity
with this most determining and conspicuous influence of his boyhood. The
book with which a man has lived becomes an essential factor in his growth.
"None of us yet know," said Ruskin, "for none of us have yet been taught
in early youth, what fairy palaces we may build of beautiful thought,
proof against all adversity, bright fancies, satisfied memories, noble
histories, faithful sayings, treasure-houses of precious and restful
thoughts,... houses built without hands for our souls to live in." These
houses for the soul, built in thought, will be transposed into outer form
and semblance.

There is a nebulous but none the less pernicious tradition that great
literature is formidable, and presents itself as a task rather than as a
privilege to the reader. Devotion to the best books has been regarded as
something of a test of mental endurance, for which the recompense, if not
the antidote, must be sought in periods of indulgence in the frivolous and
the sensational. Never was there a more fatal misconception. It is the
inconsequential, the crude, the obtuse, that are dull in literature, as in
life; and stupidity in various languages might well be entitled to rank
among the Seven Deadly Sins of Dante. Even in the greatest literature
there is much that the child may easily learn to appreciate and to love.

  "Great the Master
  And sweet the Magic"

that opens the golden door of literary stimulus. Books are to the mind as
is food to the body. Emerson declares that the poet is the only teller of
news, and Mrs. Browning pronounced poets as

  "The only truth-tellers now left to God."

Familiarity with noble thought and beautiful expression influences the
subconscious nature to an incalculable degree, and leads "the spirit
finely touched" on "to all fine issues."

Browning lived in this stimulating atmosphere. He warmed his hands at the
divine fire; and the fact that all this richness of resource stimulated
rather than stifled him is greatly to the credit of his real power.
Favorable surroundings and circumstances did not serve him as a cushion on
which to go to sleep, but rather as the pedestal on which he might climb
to loftier altitudes. It was no lotus-eating experience into which the lad
was lulled, but the vital activity of the life of creative thought. The
Heavenly Powers are not invariably, even if frequently, sought in sorrow
only, and in the mournful midnight hours. There are natures that grow by
affluence as well as by privation, and that develop their best powers in

"Even in a palace life can be well lived," said Marcus Aurelius. The
spirit formed to dwell in the starry spaces is not allured to the mere
enjoyment of the senses, even when material comfort and intellectual
luxuries may abound. Not that the modest abundance of the elder Browning's
books and pictures could take rank as intellectual luxury. It was
stimulus, not satiety, that these suggested.

Pictures and painters had their part, too, in the unconscious culture that
surrounded the future poet. London in that day afforded little of what
would be called art; the National Gallery was not opened until Browning
was in his young manhood; the Tate and other modern galleries were then
undreamed of. But, to the appropriating temperament, one picture may do
more than a city full of galleries might for another, and to the small
collection of some three or four hundred paintings in the Dulwich Gallery,
Browning was indebted for great enjoyment, and for the art that fostered
his sympathetic appreciation. In after years he referred to his gratitude
for being allowed its privileges when under the age (fourteen) at which
these were supposed to be granted. Small as was the collection, it was
representative of the Italian and Spanish, the French and the Dutch
schools, as well as of the English, and the boy would fix on some one
picture and sit before it for an hour, lost in its suggestion. It was the
more imaginative art that enchained him. In later years, speaking of these
experiences in a letter to Miss Barrett, he wrote of his ecstatic
contemplation of "those two Guidos, the wonderful Rembrandt's 'Jacob's
Vision,' such a Watteau...." An old engraving from Correggio, in his
father's home, was one of the sources of inspiration of Browning's
boyhood. The story fascinated him; he never tired of asking his father to
repeat it, and something of its truth so penetrated into his consciousness
that in later years he had the old print hung in his room that it might be
before him as he wrote. It became to him, perhaps, one of

            "the unshaped images that lie
  Within my mind's cave."

The profound significance of the picture evidently haunted him, as is made
evident by a passage in "Pauline" that opens:

  "But I must never grieve whom wing can waft
  Far from such thoughts--as now. Andromeda!
  And she is with me; years roll, I shall change,
  But change can touch her not--so beautiful
  With her fixed eyes...."

Is there gained another glimpse of Browning's boyhood in those lines in

  "I am made up of an intensest life,
  Of a most clear idea of consciousness
  Of self, distinct from all its qualities,
  From all affections, passions, feelings, powers."

The various and complex impressions, influences, and shaping factors of
destiny that any biographer discerns in the formative years of his subject
are as indecipherable as a palimpsest, and as little to be classified as
the contents of Pandora's box; nor is it on record that the man himself
can look into his own history and rightly appraise the relative values of
these. Nothing, certainly, could be more remote from the truth than the
reading of autobiographic significance into any stray line a poet may
write; for imagination is frequently more real than reality. Yet many of
the creations of after life may trace their germination to some incident
or impression. William Sharp offers a beautiful and interesting instance
of one of these when he ascribes the entrancing fantasy of "The Flight of
the Duchess" to a suggestion made on the poet's mind as a child on a Guy
Fawkes day, when he followed across the fields a woman singing a strange
song, whose refrain was: "Following the Queen of the Gypsies, O!" The
haunting line took root in his memory and found its inflorescence in that
memorable poem.

It was not conducive to poetic fancy when the lad was placed in the school
of a Mr. Ready, at Peckham, where he solaced himself for the rules and
regulations which he abhorred by writing little plays, and persuading his
school-fellows to act in them with him.

Browning's first excursion into Shelley's poems, brought home to him one
night as a gift from his mother, was in one of the enchanting evenings of
May; where, at the open window by which he sat, there floated in the
melody of two nightingales, one in a laburnum, "heavy with its weight of
gold," and the other in a copper-beech, at the opposite side of the
garden. Such an hour mirrors itself unconsciously in a poet's memory, and
affords, in future years, "such stuff as dreams are made of."

Byron, who, as Mazzini says, "led the genius of Britain on a pilgrimage
throughout all Europe," stamped an impress upon the youthful Browning that
may be traced throughout his entire life. There was something in the
genius of Byron that acted as an enormous force on the nature in response
to it, that transformed nebulous and floating ideals and imaginings into
hope and resolution, that burned away barriers and revealed truth. By its
very nature influence is determined as much by the receiver as by the
inspirer, and if a light is applied to a torch, the torch, too, must be
prepared to ignite, or there will be no blaze.

  "A deft musician does the breeze become
    Whenever an Æolian harp it finds;
  Hornpipe and hurdygurdy both are dumb
    Unto the most musicianly of winds."

The fire of Byron, the spirituality of Shelley, illuminated that world of
drift and dream in which Robert Browning dwelt; and while Shelley, with
his finer spirit, his glorious, impassioned imagination,

  "A creature of impetuous breath,"

incited poetic ardors and unmeasured rapture of vision, Byron penetrated
his soul with a certain effective energy that awakened in him creative
power. The spell of Shelley's poetry acted upon Browning as a vision
revealed of beauty and radiance. For Shelley himself, who, as Tennyson
said, "did yet give the world another heart and new pulses," Browning's
feeling was even more intense.

In the analysis of Shelley's poetic nature Browning offers the critical
reader a key to his own. He asserts that it is the presence of the highest
faculty, even though less developed, that gives rank to nature, rather
than a lower faculty more developed. Although it was in later years that
the impression Shelley made upon his boyhood found adequate expression in
his noted essay, the spell reflected itself in "Pauline," and is to be
distinctly traced in many of his poems throughout his entire life. He was
aware from the first of that peculiarly kindling quality in Shelley, the
flash of life in his work:

  "He spurreth men, he quickeneth
       To splendid strife."

Under the title of "Incondita" was collected a group of the juvenile
verses of Robert Browning, whose special claim to interest is in the
revelation of the impress made upon the youth by Byron and Shelley.

Among the early friends of the youthful poet were Alfred Domett (the
"Waring" of his future poem), and Joseph Arnould, who became a celebrated
judge in India.

With Browning there was never any question about his definite vocation as
a poet. "Pauline" was published in 1833, before he had reached his
twenty-first birthday. Rejected by publishers, it was brought out at the
expense of his aunt, Mrs. Silverthorne; and his father paid for the
publication of "Paracelsus," "Sordello," and for the first eight parts of
"Bells and Pomegranates." On the appearance of "Pauline," it was reviewed
by Rev. William Johnson Fox, as the "work of a poet and a genius." Allan
Cunningham and other reviewers gave encouraging expressions. The design
of "Pauline" is that spiritual drama to which Browning was always
temperamentally drawn. It is supposed to be the confessions and
reminiscences of a dying man, and while it is easy to discern its
crudeness and inconsistencies, there are in it, too, many detached
passages of absolute and permanent value. As this:

  "Sun-treader, life and light be thine for ever!
  Thou art gone from us; years go by and spring
  Gladdens, and the young earth is beautiful,
  Yet thy songs come not...."

Mr. Browning certainly gave hostages to poetic art when he produced
"Pauline," in which may be traced the same conceptions of life as those
more fully and clearly presented in "Paracelsus" and "Sordello." It
embodies the conviction which is the very essence and vital center of all
Browning's work--that ultimate success is attained through partial
failures. From first to last Browning regards life as an adventure of the
soul, which sinks, falls, rises, recovers itself, relapses into
faithlessness to its higher powers, yet sees the wrong and aims to
retrieve it; gropes through darkness to light; and though "tried,
troubled, tempted," never yields to alien forces and ignominious failure.
The soul, being divine, must achieve divinity at last. That is the
crystallization of the message of Browning.

The poem "Pauline," lightly as Mr. Browning himself seemed in after life
to regard it, becomes of tremendous importance in the right approach to
the comprehension of his future work. It reveals to us in what manner the
youthful poet discerned "the Gleam." Like Tennyson, he felt "the magic of
Merlin,"--of that spirit of the poetic ideal that bade him follow.

  "The Master whisper'd
  'Follow The Gleam.'"

And what unguessed sweetness and beauty of life and love awaited the poet
in the unfolding years!



  "Here's the garden she walked across.

     *       *       *       *       *

  Roses ranged in a valiant row,
  I will never think she passed you by!"


The literature of childhood presents nothing more beautiful than the
records of the early years of Elizabeth Barrett. Fragmentary though they
be, yet, gathered here and there, they fall into a certain consecutive
unity, from which one may construct a mosaic-like picture of the daily
life of the little girl who was born on March 6, 1806, in Coxhoe Hall,
Durham, whence the family soon removed to Hope End, a home of stately
beauty and modest luxury. There were brothers to the number of eight; and
two sisters, Henrietta and Arabel, all younger than herself. Edward, the
eldest son, especially cared for Elizabeth, holding her in tender and
almost reverential love, and divining, almost from his infancy, her
exquisite gifts. Apparently, the eldest sister was also greatly beloved by
the whole troop of the younger brothers,--Charles, Samuel, George, Henry,
Alfred, and the two younger, who were named Septimus and Octavius.

With three daughters and eight sons, the household did not lack in
merriment and overflowing life; and while the little Elizabeth was born
to love books and dreams, and assimilated learning as naturally as she
played with her dolls, she was no prodigy, set apart because of fantastic
qualities, but an eager, earnest little maid, who, although she read Homer
at eight years of age, yet read him with her doll clasped closely in one
hand, and who wrote her childish rhymes as unconsciously as a bird sings.
It is a curious coincidence that this love of the Greeks, as to history,
literature, and mythology, characterized the earliest childhood of both
Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. Pope's Homer was the childish
favorite of each. "The Greeks were my demigods," she herself said, in
later life, of her early years, "and haunted me out of Pope's Homer, until
I dreamt more of Agamemnon than of Moses the black pony."

The house at Hope End has been described by Lady Carmichael as "a
luxurious home standing in a lovely park, among trees and sloping hills,"
and the earliest account that has been preserved of the little girl
reveals her sitting on a hassock, propped against the wall, in a lofty
room called "Elizabeth's chamber," with a stained glass oriel window
through which golden gleams of light fell, lingering on the long curls
that drooped over her face as she sat absorbed in a book. She was also an
eager worker in her garden, the children all being given a plot to
cultivate for themselves, and Elizabeth won special fame for her bower of
white roses.

There are few data about the parents of Elizabeth Barrett, and the legal
name, Moulton-Barrett, by which she signed her marriage register and by
which her father is commonly known, has been a source of some confused
statements. Her father, Edward Barrett Moulton, came into an inheritance
of property by which he was required to add the name of Barrett again,
hyphenating it, and was thus known as Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett. He
married Mary Graham Clarke, a native of Newcastle-on-the-Tyne, a woman of
gentle loveliness, who died on October 1, 1828. Mr. Moulton-Barrett lived
until 1860, his death occurring only a year before that of his famous
daughter, who was christened Elizabeth Barrett Moulton, and who thus
became, after her father's added name, Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett,
although, except when a legal signature was necessary, she signed her name
as Elizabeth Barrett. The family are still known by the hyphenated name;
and Mrs. Browning's namesake niece, a very scholarly and charming young
woman, now living in Rome, is known as Elizabeth Moulton-Barrett. She is
the daughter of Mrs. Browning's youngest brother, Alfred, and her mother,
who is still living, is the original of Mrs. Browning's poem, "A
Portrait." While Miss Moulton-Barrett never saw her aunt (having been born
after her death), she is said to resemble Mrs. Browning both in
temperament and character. By a curious coincidence the Barrett family,
like the Brownings, had been for generations the owners of estates in the
West Indies, and it is said that Elizabeth Barrett was the first child of
their family to be born in England for more than a hundred years.

Her father, though born in Jamaica, was brought to England as a young
child, and he was the ward of Chief Baron Lord Abinger. He was sent to
Harrow, and afterwards to Cambridge, but he did not wait to finish his
university course, and married when young. One of his sisters was painted
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and this portrait is now in the possession of
Octavius Moulton-Barrett, Esq., of the Isle of Wight.

Elizabeth's brother Edward was but two years her junior. It was he who was
drowned at Torquay, almost before her eyes, and who is commemorated in her
"De Profundis." Of the other brothers only three lived to manhood. When
Elizabeth was three years of age, the family removed to Hope End in
Herefordshire, a spacious and stately house with domes and minarets
embowered in a grove of ancient oaks. It was a place calculated to appeal
to the imagination of a child, and in later years she wrote of it:

  "Green the land is where my daily
    Steps in jocund childhood played,
  Dimpled close with hill and valley,
    Dappled very close with shade,--
  Summer-snow of apple-blossoms,
    Running up from glade to glade."

Here all her girlhood was passed, and it was in the garden of Hope End
that she stood, holding up an apron filled with flowers, when that lovely
picture was painted representing her as a little girl of nine or ten years
of age. Much of rather apochryphal myth and error has grown up about Mrs.
Browning's early life. However gifted, she was in no wise abnormal, and
she galloped on Moses, her black pony, through the Herefordshire lanes,
and offered pagan sacrifices to some imaginary Athene, "with a bundle of
sticks from the kitchen fire and a match begged from an indulgent
housemaid." In a letter to Richard Hengist Home, under date of October 5,
1843, in reply to a request of his for data for a biographical sketch of
her for "The New Spirit of the Age," she wrote:

    "... And then as to stories, mine amounts to the knife-grinder's, with
    nothing at all for a catastrophe. A bird in a cage would have as good
    a story. Most of my events, and nearly all my intense pleasures, have
    passed in my thoughts. I wrote verses--as I dare say many have done
    who never wrote any poems--very early, at eight years of age, and
    earlier. But, what is less common, the early fancy turned into a will,
    and remained with me, and from that day to this, poetry has been a
    distinct object with me,--an object to read, think, and live for."

When she was eleven or twelve, she amused herself by writing a great epic
in four books, called "The Battle of Marathon," which possessed her fancy.
Her father took great pride in this, and, "bent upon spoiling me," she
laughingly said in later years, had fifty copies of this childish
achievement printed, and there is one in the British Museum library
to-day. No creator of prose romance could invent more curious coincidences
than those of the similar trend of fancy that is seen between the
childhood of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. Her "Battle of
Marathon" revealed how the Greek stories enchanted her fancy, and how
sensitive was her ear in the imitation of the rhythm caught from Pope.
This led her to the delighted study of Greek, that she might read its
records at first hand; and Greek drew her into Latin, and from this
atmosphere of classic lore, which, after all, is just as interesting to
the average child as is the (too usual) juvenile pabulum, she drew her
interest in thought and dream. The idyllic solitude in which she lived
fostered all these mental excursions. "I had my fits of Pope and Byron and
Coleridge," she has related, "and read Greek as hard under the trees as
some of your Oxonians in the Bodleian; gathered visions from Plato and the
dramatists, and ate and drank Greek.... Do you know the Malvern Hills? The
Hills of Piers Plowman's Visions? They seem to me my native hills.
Beautiful, beautiful they were, and I lived among them till I had passed
twenty by several years."

Mr. Moulton-Barrett was one of the earliest of social reformers. So much
has been said, and, alas! with too much justice, it must be conceded, of
his eccentric tyranny, his monomania,--for it amounted to that, in
relation to the marriage of any of his children regarding which his
refusal was insanely irrational,--that it is pleasant to study him for a
moment in his more normal life. In Ledbury, the nearest village, he would
hold meetings for the untaught people, read and pray with them, and this
at a period when for a man of wealth to concern himself in social
betterment was almost unknown. He was truly "the friend of the unfriended
poor," and by his side, with wondering, upturned, childish eyes, was the
little Elizabeth, an ardent and sympathetic companion. Until quite
recently there were still living those who remembered Mr. Barrett as this
intelligent and active helper; and in the parish church is a monument to
him, by the side of a gloriously decorated tomb of the fourteenth century,
with an inscription to his memory that vividly recalls the work of one who
strove to revive the simple faith in God that has always, in all nations
and in all centuries, met every real need of life.

Mrs. Barrett, a sweet and gentle woman, without special force of
character, died when Elizabeth was but twenty years of age; and it was
some five years before her mother's death that Elizabeth met with the
accident, from the fall from her saddle when trying to mount her pony,
that caused her life-long delicacy of health. Her natural buoyancy of
spirits, however, never failed, and she was endowed with a certain
resistless energy which is quite at variance with the legendary traditions
that she was a nervous invalid.

Hardly less than Browning in his earliest youth, was Elizabeth Barrett
"full of an intensest life." Her Italian master one day told her that
there was an unpronounceable English word that expressed her exactly, but
which, as he could not give in English, he would express in his own
tongue,--_testa lunga_. Relating this to Mr. Browning in one of her
letters, she says: "Of course the signor meant headlong!--and now I have
had enough to tame me, and might be expected to stand still in my stall.
But you see I do not. Headlong I was at first, and headlong I
continue,--precipitately rushing forward through all manner of nettles and
briers instead of keeping the path; guessing at the meaning of unknown
words instead of looking into the dictionary,--tearing open letters, and
never untying a string,--and expecting everything to be done in a minute,
and the thunder to be as quick as the lightning."

Impetuous, vivacious, with an inimitable sense of humor, full of
impassioned vitality,--this was the real Elizabeth Barrett, whose
characteristics were in no wise changed during her entire life. Always was

  "A creature of impetuous breath,"

full of vivacious surprises, and witty repartee.

Hope End was in the near vicinity of Eastnor Castle, a country seat of the
Somersets; it is to-day one of the present homes of Lady Henry Somerset,
and there are family records of long, sunny days that the young girl-poet
passed at the castle, walking on the terraces that lead down to the still
water, or lying idly in the boat as the ripples of the little lake lapped
against the reeds and rushes that grew on the banks. In the castle library
is preserved to-day an autograph copy of the first volume of Elizabeth
Barrett's poems, published when she was twenty, and containing that
didactic "Essay on Mind" written when she was but seventeen, and of which
she afterward said that it had "a pertness and a pedantry which did not
even then belong to the character of the author," and which she regretted,
she went on to say, "even more than the literary defectiveness." This
volume was presented by her to a member of the Somerset family whose name
is inscribed over that of her own signature.

During these years Hugh Stuart Boyd, the blind scholar, was living in
Great Malvern, and one of Miss Barrett's greatest pleasures was to visit
and read Greek with him. He was never her "tutor," in the literal sense,
as has so widely been asserted, for her study of Greek was made with her
brother Edward, under his tutor, a Mr. MacSweeney; but she read and
talked of Greek literature (especially of the Christian poets) with him,
and she loved to record her indebtedness to him "for many happy hours."
She wrote of him as one "enthusiastic for the good and the beautiful, and
one of the most simple and upright of human beings." The memory of her
discussions with him is embalmed in her poem, "Wine of Cyprus," which was
addressed to him:

  "And I think of those long mornings
    Which my thought goes far to seek,
  When, betwixt the folio's turnings,
    Solemn flowed the rhythmic Greek."

Elizabeth Barrett was more than a student, however scholarly, of Greek.
She had a temperamental affinity for the Greek poets, and such
translations as hers of "Prometheus Bound" and Bion's "Lament for Adonis,"
identify her with the very life itself of Æschylus and Bion. In her essay
on "The Greek Christian Poets" we find her saying: "We want the touch of
Christ's hand upon our literature, as it touched other dead things ...
Something of a yearning after this may be seen among the Greek Christian
poets,... religious poets of whom the universal church and the world's
literature would gladly embrace more names than can be counted to either."

All her work of these early years is in that same delicate microscopic
handwriting of her later life. She laughingly professed a theory that "an
immense amount of physical energy must go to the making of those immense,
sweeping hand-writings achieved by some persons." She instanced that of
Landor, "who writes as if he had the sky for a copy-book and dotted his
i's in proportion."

Poetry as a serious art was the most earnest object in the life of
Elizabeth Barrett. To her poetry meant "life in life."

  "Art's a service,--mark."

The poetic vocation could hardly be said to be so much a conscious and
definite choice with her as a predetermined destiny, and still it was
both. The possibility of not being a poet could never have occurred to
her. There could have been as little question of Beethoven's being other
than a musician or of Raphael as being other than a painter. In poetry
Elizabeth Barrett recognized the most potent form of service; and she held
that poetic art existed for the sake of human co-operation with the Divine

The opening chapters of her life in the lovely seclusion of Hope End
closed in 1832 with the removal of the family to Sidmouth in Devonshire.
Here they were bestowed in a house which had been occupied by the Grand
Duchess Helena. It commanded a splendid sea view, on which four
drawing-room windows looked out, and there were green hills and trees
behind. They met a few friends,--Sir John Kean, the Herrings,--and the
town abounded in green lanes, "some of them quite black with foliage,
where it is twilight in the middle of the day, and others letting in
beautiful glimpses of the hills and the sunny sea." Henrietta Barrett took
long walks, Elizabeth accompanying her sister, mounted on her donkey. The
brothers and sisters were all fond of boating and passed much time on the
water. They would row as far as Dawlish, ten miles distant, and back; and
after the five o'clock dinner there were not infrequently moonlight
excursions on the sea. During these first months at Sidmouth Miss Barrett
read Bulwer's novels, which she asserts "quite delighted" her; as she
found in them "all the dramatic talent which Scott has, and all the
passion which he has not." Bulwer seemed to her, also, "a far more
profound discriminator of character" than Scott. She read Mrs. Trollope,
"that maker of books," whose work she characterized as not novels but
"libels." She found in Mrs. Trollope "neither the delicacy nor the candor
which constitute true nobility of mind," and thought that her talent
formed but "a scanty veil to shadow her other defects."

Miss Barrett grew to love Sidmouth, with its walks on the seashore; and
letters, reading, poetic production, and family interests filled the time.
Here, too, she found time to enter on a task dear to her, the translation
of the "Prometheus Bound" of Æschylus.

Some years later, however, she entirely revised this early translation, of
which she wrote to Hugh Stuart Boyd that it was "as cold as Caucasus, and
flat as the neighboring plain," and that "a palinodia, a recantation," was
necessary to her. In her preface to the later translation she begged that
her reader would forgive her English for not being Greek, and herself for
not being Æschylus.



                  "... I press God's lamp
  Close to my breast; its splendor, soon or late,
  Will pierce the gloom; I shall emerge one day."


From Camberwell to St. Petersburg was somewhat of a transition. This was
Mr. Browning's initial excursion into a wider world of realities, as
distinguished from that mirage which rises in the world of dreams and
mental nebulæ. "To know the universe itself as a road,--as many roads," is
the way in which the beckoning future prefigures itself to the artist

  "All around him Patmos lies
  Who hath spirit-gifted eyes."

The eyes thus touched with the chrism of poetic art see the invisible
which is peopled with forms unseen to others, and which offers a panorama
of living drama. It is the poet who overhears the "talk of the gods," and
when he shall report

  "Some random word they say,"

he becomes

          "... the fated man of men
  Whom the ages must obey."

This was the undreamed destiny hovering over the young poet, luring him on
like a guiding cloud which became a pillar of fire by night.

Among his London friends was the Chevalier George de Benkhausen, the
Russian Consul-General, who, being suddenly summoned to Russia on some
secret mission of state, invited Browning to accompany him. Browning went
"nominally in the character of secretary," Mrs. Orr says, and they fared
forth on March 1, by steamer to Rotterdam, and then journeyed more than
fifteen hundred miles by diligence, drawn by relays of galloping horses.
The expedition was to Browning a rich mine of poetic material. The
experience sank into the subconsciousness as seed to await fruition. In
his "Ivan Ivanovitch," where is seen

  "This highway broad and straight e'en from the Neva's mouth
  To Moscow's gates of gold,"

and in which the unending pine forests rising from the snow-covered ground
are so vividly pictured; and in "Colombe's Birthday," where is seen the
region of the heroine,--

                           "Castle Ravestein--
  That sleeps out trustfully its extreme age
  On the Meuse' quiet bank, where she lived queen
  Over the water-buds,..."

and the place

        "... when he hid his child
  Among the river-flowers at Ravestein,"

it can be seen how all this country impressed his imagination. Professor
Hall Griffin finds in the fifth book of "Sordello" an unmistakable
description of the most famous and oldest portrait of Charlemagne, which
hangs in the Council Hall of the Rath-haus, in Aix, which Mr. Browning saw
on this trip. During these three months he saw something of Russian
society, and on the breaking up of the ice in the Neva in spring,
witnessed the annual ceremony of the Czar's drinking the first glass of
water from it. Much of the gorgeous, barbaric splendor of Russian fairs
and booths, "with droshkies and fish-pies" on the one hand, and stately
palaces on the other, haunted him, and reflected themselves in several of
his poems. Especially did the Russian music and strains of folk-song
linger in his memory for all the after years.

On his return from Russia Browning had some fancy for entering on a
diplomatic career, and was momentarily disappointed at not receiving an
appointment to Persia, which he had in mind; fortunately for him and for
the world he was held to the orbit of his poetic gift. Diplomacy has an
abundance of recruits without devastating poetic genius to furnish them.
The winter of 1834 found him deeply absorbed in "Paracelsus." This poem is
dedicated to the Marquis Amédée de Ripert-Monclar, who was a great friend
of Browning at this time. The Marquis was four years his senior; he was in
England as a private agent for the Duchesse de Berri and the Royalist
party in France to the English government. The subject of the poem is said
to have been suggested by the Marquis, although the fact that all this
medieval lore had been familiar to Browning from his earliest childhood
must be accounted the pre-determining factor in its creation. William
Sharp quotes Browning as having once said of his father: "The old
gentleman's brain was a storehouse of literary and philosophical
antiquities. He was completely versed in medieval legend, and seemed to
have known Paracelsus, Faustus, and even Talmudic personages, personally,"
and his son assimilated unconsciously this entire atmosphere.

Both "Paracelsus" and "Sordello" seem to spring, as by natural poetic
evolution, from "Pauline"; all three of these poems are, in varying
degree, a drama of the soul's progress. They all suggest, and
"Paracelsus," especially, in a great degree embodies, the Hegelian
philosophy; yet Mr. Barrett Browning expresses his rather positive
conviction that his father never read Hegel at any period of his life. Dr.
Corson regarded these early poems of Browning as of peculiar value in
showing his attitude toward things. "We see in what direction the poet has
set his face," said Dr. Corson, "what his philosophy of life is, what
soul-life means with him, what regeneration means, what edification means
in its deepest sense of building up within us the spiritual temple." Dr.
Corson further illuminated this attitude of the poet by pointing out that
he emphasized the approach to perfection as something that cannot be
brought out through what is born and resides in the brain; but it must be
by "the attracting power of magnetic personalities, the ultimate, absolute
personality being the God-man, Christ. The human soul is regarded in
Browning's poetry," continued Dr. Corson, "as a complexly organized,
individualized, divine force, destined to gravitate toward the Infinite.
How is this force with its numberless checks and counter-checks, its
centripetal and centrifugal tendencies, best determined in its necessarily
oblique way? How much earthly ballast must it carry to keep it
sufficiently steady, and how little, that it may not be weighed down with
materialistic heaviness?" Incredibly enough, in the revelations of the
retrospective view, "Paracelsus" made little impression on the literary
critics of the day; the _Athenæum_ devoting to it less space even than to
"the anonymous Pauline," while the "Philip van Artevelde" of Henry Taylor
(now hardly remembered) received fifteen columns of tribute, in which the
critic confided to the public his enthusiastic estimate of that
production. Neither _Blackwood's_, the _Quarterly_, nor the _Edinburgh_
even mentioned "Paracelsus"; the _Athenæum_ admitted that it had talent,
but admonished the poet that "Writers would do well to remember that
though it is not difficult to imitate the mysticism and vagueness of
Shelley, we love him--not because of these characteristics, but in spite
of them." The one gleam of consolation to the young poet in all this
general neglect or unfavorable comment was that of a three-column article
from the pen of John Forster in the _Examiner_, then conducted by Leigh
Hunt, and on whose staff were Sergeant Talfourd and Proctor (Barry
Cornwall) beside Forster, who was then a rising young journalist of
twenty-three, only one month the senior of Browning. But Forster spoke
with no uncertain note; rather, with authority, and in this critique he

    "Since the publication of 'Philip van Artevelde' we have met with no
    such evidences of poetical genius ... and we may safely predict for
    its author a brilliant career, if he continues true to the present
    promise of his genius."

The immediate effect of the publication of "Paracelsus" was of a social
rather than of a literary character, for something in it seemed magnetic
to the life of the day, and the young poet found himself welcomed by a
brilliant literary circle. He met Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor,
Dickens, Monckton Milnes (later Lord Houghton), Proctor (Barry Cornwall),
Horne, Sergeant Talfourd, Leigh Hunt, and others. Hunt was then domiciled
in Cheyne Row, in close proximity to the Carlyles, with whom Browning had
already formed a friendship.

Rev. William Johnson Fox, one of Browning's earliest friends, was at this
time living at Craven Hill, Bayswater, and on an evening when Macready had
dined with him, Browning came in. This evening (November 27, 1835) is
noted in Macready's diary, and after speaking of Mr. Fox as an "original
and profound thinker," he adds:

    "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."

Later (under date of December 7), Mr. Macready records:

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

On New Year's Eve Mr. Macready invited a little house party, among whom
were Forster and Browning. "Mr. Browning was very popular with the whole
party," writes Mr. Macready in his journal; "his simple and enthusiastic
manner engaged attention and won golden opinions from all present; he
looks and speaks more like a youthful poet than any man I ever saw."

Browning's personal appearance, "slim, and dark, and very handsome," as
Mary Cowden Clarke said, is pictured by many of his friends of that time.
"As a young man," writes William Sharp, "he seems to have had a certain
ivory delicacy of coloring ... and he appeared taller than he really was,
partly because of his rare grace of movement, and partly from a
characteristic high poise of the head when listening intently to music or
conversation.... His hair was so beautiful in its heavy sculpturesque
waves as to attract frequent notice. Another, and more subtle personal
charm, was his voice, then with a rare, flute-like tone, clear, sweet, and

Macready was not only a notable figure on the stage at this period, but he
was also (what every great actor must be) a man of thought, intense
sensibility, and wide culture. Soon after Macready had appeared in
Talfourd's "Ion" (the _première_ being on the playwright's birthday),
Talfourd gave a supper at his house, at which Browning for the first time
met Wordsworth and Landor. Macready himself sat between these two
illustrious poets, with Browning opposite to him. The guests included
Ellen Tree, Miss Mitford, and Forster. Macready, recording this night in
his diary, writes of "Wordsworth who pinned me." Landor, it seems, talked
of constructing drama, and said he "had not the faculty," that he "could
only set persons to talking; all the rest was chance." But an ever
remembered moment came for the young poet when the host proposed a toast
to the author of "Paracelsus," and Wordsworth, rising, said: "I am proud
to drink to your health, Mr. Browning," and Landor bowed with his
inimitable, courteous grace, raising his glass to his lips. For some
years, whenever Wordsworth visited London, Forster invited Browning to
meet him. The younger poet was never an enthusiast in his mild friendship
for the elder, although in after years (1875) he replied to a question by
Rev. A. B. Grosart, the editor of Wordsworth's works, that while in hasty
youth he did "presume to use the great and venerated personality of
Wordsworth as a sort of painter's model," he intended in "The Lost Leader"
no portrait of the entire man. While Wordsworth's political attitude did
not please the young disciple of Shelley, for Landor he conceived the most
profound admiration and sympathetic affection. It was a striking sequel to
this youthful attraction that in Landor's desolate old age it should be
Browning who tenderly cared for him, and surrounded his last days with
unfailing comfort and solicitude.

At this memorable supper, just as Browning was about to take his leave,
Macready laid his hand on the young man's shoulder, saying earnestly:
"Write a play for me, and keep me from going to America." The thought
appealed to the poet, who replied: "Shall it be historical and English?
What do you say to 'Strafford' for a subject?" Forster was then bringing
out his biography of Strafford, on which Browning had assisted, so that
the theme had already engaged his imagination. A few days after the supper
Macready records in his diary receiving a note from Browning and adds:
"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, honor I have through life received."

A certain temperamental sympathy between the two men is evident, though
Macready sounded no such fathomless depths as lay, however unsuspected, in
Browning; but Macready gives many indications of poetic sympathies, as,
for instance, when he records in his diary how he had been looking through
Coleridge's translation of Wallenstein, "abounding with noble passages and
beautiful scenes," to see if it would lend itself to stage representation.

On November 19 of this autumn Macready notes in his journal that Browning
came that night to bring his tragedy of "Strafford," of which the fourth
act was incomplete. "I requested him to write in the plot of what was
deficient," says Macready, and drove to the Garrick Club while Browning
wrote out this story. Later, there was a morning call from Browning, who
gave him an interesting old print of Richard, from some tapestry, and they
talked of "La Vallière." All the time we get glimpses of an interesting
circle: Bulwer and Forster call, and they discuss Cromwell; Bulwer's play
of "Virginius" is in rehearsal; Macready acts Cardinal Wolsey; there is a
dinner at Lady Blessington's, where are met Lord Canterbury, Count
D'Orsay, Bulwer, Trelawney, and Proctor; there is a call on Miss
Martineau, and meetings with Thackeray and Dickens; Kenyon appears in the
intersecting circles; Marston (the father of the blind poet) writes his
play, "The Patrician's Daughter"; Mr. Longfellow, "a Professor at one of
the U. S. Universities," appears on the scene, and there is a dinner at
which "Mr. and Mrs. N. P. Willis sat next to Longfellow." On a night when
Browning came with some alterations for "Strafford," a stranger called,
"saying he was a Greek, a great lover of the drama; I introduced Browning
to him as a great tragic poet," records Macready, "and the youth wrote
down his name, telling us he was setting off for Athens directly."

The rehearsals of "Strafford" came on, but Macready seems already to have
had misgivings. "In Shakespeare," he writes, "the great poet has only
introduced such events as act on the individuals concerned; but in
Browning's play we have a long scene of passion--upon what? A plan
destroyed, a parliament dissolved...." It is easy to see how Browningesque
this was; for to the poet no events of the objective life were so real and
significant as those of the purely mental drama of thought, feeling, and
purpose. The rehearsals were, however, gratifying to the author, it seems,
for Macready records in his diary (that recurs like the chorus in a Greek
tragedy) that he was happy "with the extreme delight Browning testified at
the rehearsal of my part, which he said to him was a full recompense for
having written the play, as he had seen his utmost hopes of character
perfectly embodied." The play was performed at the Covent Garden Theater
on the night of May 3, 1837.

Both Edmund Gosse and William Sharp deny that Browning's plays failed on
the stage; at all events, with each attempt there were untoward
circumstances which alone would have contributed to or even doomed a play
to a short tenure.

In 1886 "Strafford" was produced in London under the auspices of the
Browning Society, and the real power of the play surprised as well as
deeply impressed the audiences who saw it. But "Pauline," "Paracelsus,"
and "Strafford" all have a peculiar element of reminiscent importance, if
it may be so termed, in that they were the forerunners, the indications of
the great work to come.

There is no dramatic poem of Browning's that has not passages of superb
acting effects, as well as psychological fascinations for the thinker; and
the future years were to touch him with new power to produce work whose
dramatic power lives in imperishable significance. "Strafford" had a run
of only five nights at this first time of its production; Macready
received and accepted an offer to go to America, and other things
happened. Browning became absorbed in his "Sordello," and suddenly, on
Good Friday of 1838, he sailed for Venice, "intending to finish my poem
among the scenes it describes," he wrote to John Robertson, who had been
introduced to Browning by Miss Martineau. On a sailing ship, bound for
Trieste, the poet found himself the only passenger. It was on this voyage,
while between Gibraltar and Naples, that he wrote "How They Brought the
Good News from Ghent to Aix." It was written on deck, penciled on the
fly-leaf of Bartoli's _De' Simboli trasportati al Morale_. When Dr. Corson
first visited Browning in 1881, in his London home in Warwick Crescent,
Browning showed his guest this identical copy of the book, with the
penciled poem on the fly-leaves, of which Dr. Corson said, in a private
letter to a friend:

    "One book in the library I was particularly interested in,--Bartoli's
    _Simboli_, or, rather, in what the poet had written in pencil on its
    fly-leaves, front and back, namely, 'How they brought the good news
    from Ghent to Aix.'"

Dr. Corson added that he had been so often asked as to what this "good
news" was, that he put the question to Mr. Browning, who replied:

    "'I don't remember whether I had in my mind any in particular, when I
    wrote the poem'; and then, after a pause," continued Dr. Corson, "he
    said, with a dash of expression characteristic of him, 'Of course,
    very important news were carried between those two cities during that

In Mrs. Orr's biography of Browning she quotes a long letter written by
him to Miss Haworth, in the late summer of 1838, after his return from
this Italian trip, in which he says:

    "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 through the straits of Gibraltar), but I did hammer
    out some four, two of which are addressed to you,... I saw the most
    gorgeous and lavish sunset in the world.... I went to Trieste, then to
    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, Frankfort and Mayence; down the Rhine to Cologne,
    then to Aix-le-Chapelle, Liège, and Antwerp; then home.... I saw very
    few Italians, 'to know,' that is. Those I did see I liked...."

It is related that the captain of the ship became so much attached to
Browning that he offered him a free passage to Constantinople; and that
his friendly attraction to his youthful passenger was such that on
returning to England he brought to the poet's sister a gift of six bottles
of attar of roses. The poems of "Pippa Passes" and "In a Gondola" may be
directly traced to this visit, and Browning seemed so invigorated by it
that his imagination was aflame with a multitude of ideas at once.

Meanwhile "Paracelsus" was winning increasing appreciation. The poet did
not escape the usual sweeping conclusion generally put forth regarding any
unusual work, that the author has made extensive studies for it,--as if
ideas and imagination drew their inspiration from the outer world, and
were solely to be appraised, as to their results, by the capacity for
cramming. So much cramming, so much genius! He who thus mistakes
inspiration for industry certainly proves how very remote is his mind from
the former. With this marvelous work by a young man of twenty-three the
usual literary legends were set afloat, like thistledown in the air, which
seem to have floated and alighted everywhere, and which now, more than
seventy-five years later, are apparently still floating and alighting on
the pens of various writers, to the effect that "Paracelsus" is the result
of "vast research among contemporary records," till the poem added another
to the Seven Labors of Hercules. As a matter of fact, and as has already
been noted, Browning had merely browsed about his father's library.

Dr. Berdoe points out that the real "Paracelsus" cannot be understood
without considerable excursions into the occult sciences, and he is quite
right as to the illumination these provide, in proportionate degree as
they are acquired by the reader; as a matter of course they enlarge his
horizon, and offer him clues to unsuspected labyrinths; and so fine and
complete is Dr. Berdoe's own commentary on "Paracelsus" that it might not
unduly be held as supplementary to the reader's entire enjoyment of the
poem. Dr. Berdoe notes that the Bishop of Spanheim, who was the instructor
of Paracelsus, defined "divine magic," as another name for alchemy, "and
lays down the great doctrine of all medieval 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 sympathetic
reader of Browning's "Paracelsus" will realize, however, that the drama he
presents is spiritual, rather than occult. It is not the search for the
possible mysteries, or achievements of the crucible. It is the adventure
of the soul, not the penetration into the secrets of unknown elementals.

In the autumn of 1835 the Browning family removed from Camberwell to
Hatcham. They bestowed themselves in a spacious, delightful old house,
with "long, low rooms," wherein the household gods, inclusive of the six
thousand books of the elder Browning's treasured library, found abundant
accommodation; and the outlook on the Surrey hills gratified them all.
During these years we catch a few glimpses of the poet's only sister,
Sarianna, who was two years younger than her brother, and quite as fond of
listening to the conversation of an uncle, William Shergold Browning, who
had removed to Paris. Here he was connected with the Rothschild banking
house, and had achieved some distinction as the author of a "History of
the Huguenots." He also wrote two historical novels, entitled "Hoel Mar en
Morven" and "Provost of Paris," and compiled one of those harmless volumes
entitled "Leisure Hours." It was this uncle who had brought about the
introduction of his nephew and Marquis Amédée de Ripert-Monclar, whose
uncle, the Marquis de Fortia, a member of the Institut, was a special
friend of William Shergold Browning. In later years a grandson of the
Paris Browning, after graduating at Lincoln College, became Crown
prosecutor in New South Wales. He is known as Robert Jardine Browning, and
he was on terms of intimacy with his cousins, Robert and Sarianna, whom he
often visited.


_From a drawing made by Field Talfourd, in Rome, 1855_]

The family friendship with Carlyle was a source of great pleasure to Mrs.
Browning, the poet's mother, and there is on record a night when Carlyle
and his brother dined with the Brownings at Hatcham. Another family friend
and habitué was the Rev. Archer Gurney, who at a later time became
Chaplain to the British Embassy in Paris. Mr. Gurney was a writer of poems
and plays, lyrics and dramatic verse, and a volume of his work entitled
"Fra Cipollo and Other Poems" was published, from which Browning drew his
motto for "Colombe's Birthday." Mr. Gurney was deeply interested in
young Browning's poetry, and there is a nebulous trace of his having
something to do with the publication of "Bells and Pomegranates." Another
friend of the poet was Christopher Dowson, who married the sister of
Alfred Domett; at their homes, Albion Terrace, and their summer cottage in
Epping Forest, Browning was a frequent visitor. Dowson died early; but
Field Talfourd (a brother of the author of "Ion" and the artist who made
those crayon portraits of Browning and his wife, in the winter of 1859, in
Rome), Joseph Arnould, and Alfred Domett, with one or two other young men,
comprised the poet's more intimate circle at this time. Arnould and Domett
were both studying for the Bar; Arnould had gained the Newdigate in 1834,
and had won great applause by his recital (in the Sheldonian Theater) of
his "Hospice of St. Bernard." Later he was offered the editorship of the
_Daily News_, founded by Forster and Dickens, but he kept true to his
legal studies and in time became the Judge of the High Court at Bombay,
and was knighted by the Crown.

There was a dinner given by Macready at which Browning, Carlyle, and Miss
Martineau were guests, and later a dinner at the Carlyles' where Browning
met a son of Burns "who sang some of his father's songs." To a friend
Browning wrote: "I dined with dear Carlyle and his wife (catch me calling
people 'dear' in a hurry) yesterday. I don't know any people like them."

Browning passed a day with Miss Martineau at Ascot, and again visited her
in Elstree, where she was staying with the Macreadys. She greatly admired
"Paracelsus," and spoke of her first acquaintance with his poetry as a
"wonderful event." He dined with her at her home in Westminster, and there
met John Robertson, the assistant editor of the _Westminster Review_, to
which Miss Martineau was a valued contributor. Henry Chorley, a musical
critic of the day, was another guest that night, and soon after Browning
dined with him "in his bachellor abode," the other guests being Arnould,
Domett, and Bryan Proctor; later, at a musicale given by Chorley, Browning
met Charlotte Cushman and Adelaide Kemble. Chorley drew around him the
best musicians of the time: Mendelssohn, Moscheles, Liszt, David, and
other great composers were often rendered in his chambers. Proctor was
then living in Harley Street, and his house was a center for the literary
folk of the day.

George Eliot speaks of the indifference with which we gaze at our
unintroduced neighbor, "while Destiny stands by, sarcastic, with our
_dramatis personæ_ folded in her hands." It was such an hour of destiny as
this when, at a dinner given by Sergeant Talfourd, at his home (No. 56) in
Russell Square, Browning first met John Kenyon. Our great events mostly
come to us like gods in disguise, and this evening was no exception.
Unknown and undreamed of, the young poet had come to one of those partings
of the ways which are only recognized in the perspective of time.
Browning's life had been curiously free from any romance beyond that with
the muses. The one woman with whom he had seemed most intimate, Miss Fanny
Haworth, was eleven years his senior, and their intercourse, both
conversationally and in letters, had been as impersonal as literature
itself. She was a writer of stories and verse, and had celebrated her
young friend in two sonnets. This friendship was one of literary
attractions alone, and the poet had apparently devoted all his romance to
poetry rather than demanded it in life. But now, golden doors were to

At this dinner at Mr. Talfourd's, John Kenyon came over to the poet, after
they had left the dining-room, and inquired if he were not the son of his
old school-fellow, Robert Browning. Finding this surmise to be true, he
became greatly attached to him. Mr. Kenyon had lost his wife some time
previously; he had no children, and he was a prominent and favorite figure
in London society. Southey said of Kenyon that he was "one of the best and
pleasantest of men, whom every one likes better the longer he is known,"
and Kenyon, declaring that Browning "deserved to be a poet, being one in
heart and life," offered to him his "best and most precious gift,"--that
of an introduction to his second cousin, Elizabeth Barrett.

This was the first intimation of Destiny, but the meeting was still to
remain in the future. "Sordello" was published in 1840,--"a colossal
derelict on the ocean of poetry," as William Sharp terms it. The
impenetrable nature of the intricacies of the work has been the theme of
many anecdotes. Tennyson declared that there were only two lines in
it--the opening and the closing ones--which he understood, and "they are
both lies," he feelingly added. Douglas Jerrold tackled it when he was
just recovering from an illness, and despairingly set down his inability
to comprehend it to the probability that his mind was impaired by disease;
and thrusting the book into the hands of his wife he entreated her to read
it at once. He watched her breathlessly, and when she exclaimed, "I don't
know what this means; it is gibberish," Jerrold exclaimed, "Thank God, I
am not an idiot."

Still another edifying testimony to the general inability to understand
"Sordello" is given by a French critic, Odysse Barot, who quotes a passage
where the poet says, "God gave man two faculties," and adds, "I wish while
He was about it (_pendant qu'il était en train_) God had supplied
another--namely, the power of understanding Mr. Browning."

Mrs. Carlyle declared that she read "Sordello" attentively twice, but was
unable to discover whether the title referred to "a man, a city, or a
tree"; yet most readers of this poem will be able to recognize that
Sordello was a singer of the thirteenth century, whose fame suddenly
lures him from the safety of solitude to the perils of society in Mantua,
after which "immersion in worldliness" he again seeks seclusion, and
partially recovers himself. The _motif_ of the poem recalls the truth
expressed in the lines:

  "Who loves the music of the spheres
  And lives on earth, must close his ears
  To many voices that he hears."

Suddenly a dazzling political career opens before Sordello; he is
discovered to be--not a nameless minstrel, but the son of the great
Ghibelline chief, Salinguerra; more marvelous still, he is loved by Palma,
in her youthful beauty and fascination; and the crucial question comes, as
in some form it must come to every life, whether he shall choose all the
kingdoms of power and glory, or that kingdom which is not of earth, and
cometh not with observation.

It is easy to realize how such a problem would appeal to Robert Browning.
Notwithstanding the traditional "obscurity" of "Sordello," it offers to
the thoughtful reader a field of richest and most entrancing suggestion.

To Alfred Domett, under date of May 22, 1842, Browning writes:[1]

    "... I cannot well say nothing of my constant thoughts of you, most
    pleasant remembrances of you, earnest desires for you. I have a notion
    you will come back some bright morning a dozen years hence and find me
    just gone--to heaven, or Timbuctoo! I give way to this fancy, for it
    lets me write what, I dare say, I have written niggardly enough, of my
    real love for you, better love than I had supposed I was fit for.... I
    have read your poems; you can do anything, and I should think would do
    much. I will if I live. At present, if I stand on head or heels I
    don't know; what men require I know as little; and of what they are in
    possession I know not.... With this I send you your 'Sordello.' I
    suppose, I am sure, indeed, that the translation from Dante, on the
    fly-leaf, is your own...."

In another letter to Alfred Domett, Browning thus refers to Tennyson:

    "... But how good when good he is! That noble 'Locksley Hall!'"

Browning had already become enamored of Italy; and Mrs. Bridell-Fox,
writing to William Sharp, speaks of meeting the poet after his return, and
thus describes the impression he made upon her:[2]

    "I remember him as looking in often in the evenings, having just
    returned from his first visit to Venice. I cannot tell the date for
    certain. He was full of enthusiasm for that Queen of Cities. He used
    to illustrate his glowing descriptions of its beauties, the palaces,
    the sunsets, the moonrises, by a most original kind of etching. Taking
    up a bit of stray notepaper, he would hold it over a lighted candle,
    moving the paper about gently till it was cloudily smoked over, and
    then utilizing the darker smears for clouds, shadows, water, or what
    not, would etch with a dry pen the forms of lights on cloud and
    palace, on bridge or gondola, on the vague and dreamy surface he had
    produced. My own passionate longing to see Venice dates from those
    delightful, well-remembered evenings of my childhood."

This visit of the young poet to Italy forged the link of that golden chain
which was to unite all his future with that land of art and song which
held for him such wonderful Sibylline leaves of the yet undreamed-of
chapters of his life.



  "O Life, O Beyond,
    _Art_ thou fair, _art_ thou sweet?"

  "How the world is made for each of us!
    How all we perceive and know in it
  Tends to some moment's product thus,
    When a soul declares itself--to wit,
  By its fruit, the thing it does!"


Elizabeth Barrett was but twelve days in translating the "Prometheus
Bound" of Æschylus, and of the result of this swift achievement she
herself declared, when laughingly discussing this work with Home in later
years, that it ought to have been "thrown in the fire immediately
afterward as the only means of giving it a little warmth." Combined with a
few of her other poems, however, it was published (anonymously) in 1832,
and received from the _Athenæum_ the edifying verdict that "those who
adventure in the hazardous lists of poetic translation should touch any
one rather than Æschylus, and they may take warning from the writer before

The quiet life at Sidmouth goes on,--goes on, in fact, for three
years,--and the life is not an unmixed joy to Miss Barrett. "I like the
greenness and the tranquillity and the sea," she writes to a friend.
"Sidmouth is a nest among elms; and the lulling of the sea and the shadow
of the hills make it a peaceful one; but there are no majestic features in
the country. The grandeur is concentrated upon the ocean without deigning
to have anything to do with the earth...."

In the summer of 1835 the Barretts left Sidmouth for London, locating at
first in Gloucester Place (No. 74) where they remained for three years.
Hugh Stuart Boyd had, in the meantime, removed to St. John's Wood; Mr.
Kenyon and Miss Mitford became frequent visitors. Miss Barrett's literary
activity was stimulated by London life, and she began contributing to a
number of periodicals, and her letter-writing grew more and more
voluminous. To Mr. Boyd she wrote soon after their arrival in London:

    "As George is going to do what I am afraid I shall not be able to do
    to-day,--to visit you,--he must take with him a few lines from me, to
    say how glad I am to feel myself again only at a short distance from
    you; and gladder I shall be when the same room holds both of us. But I
    cannot open the window and fly.... How much you will have to say to me
    about the Greeks, unless you begin first to abuse me about the Romans.
    If you begin that, the peroration will be a very pathetic one, in my
    being turned out of your doors. Such is my prophecy.

    "Papa has been telling me of your abusing my stanzas on Mrs. Hemans's
    death. I had a presentiment that you would...."

If the classic lore and ponderous scholarship unfitted Mr. Boyd to feel
the loveliness of this lyric, those who enter into its pathos may find
some compensation for not being great classicists. It is in this poem that
the lines occur,--

  "Nor mourn, O living One, because her part in life was mourning:
  Would she have lost the poet's fire, for anguish of the burning?

       *       *       *       *       *

  Albeit softly in our ears her silver song was ringing,
  The foot-fall of her parting soul is softer than her singing."

Miss Barrett's fugitive poems of this time tell much of the story of her
days. She sees Haydon's portrait of Wordsworth, and it suggests the sonnet

  "Wordsworth upon Helvellyn!..."

The poems written previously to "A Drama of Exile" do not at all indicate
the power and beauty and the depth of significance for which all her
subsequent work is so remarkable. "The Seraphim," "Isobel's Child," "The
Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus," however much they may contain occasional
glimpses of poetic fire, would never have established her rank. Yet "The
Sleep" belongs to this period, and that poem of exquisite pathos,
"Cowper's Grave." Anticipating a little, there came that poem which
awakened England and the modern world, indeed, to a sense of the suffering
of children in factory life, "The Cry of the Children," which appeared
almost simultaneously with Lord Shaftesbury's great speech in Parliament
on child labor. The poem and the statesman and philanthropist together
aroused England.

A poem called "Confessions" is full of a mysterious power that haunts the
reader in a series of pictures:

  "Face to face in my chamber, my silent chamber, I saw her:
  God and she and I only, there I sate down to draw her
  Soul through the clefts of confession--'Speak, I am holding thee fast,
  As the angel of resurrection shall do at the last.'"

And what touching significance is in these lines:

  "The least touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it by day and
      by night;
  Their least step on the stair, at the door, still throbs through me,
      if ever so light."

There were the "Crowned and Wedded" that celebrated the marriage of
England's beloved queen; "Bertha in the Lane," which has been one of the
most universal favorites of any of her lyrics; still later, "The Dead
Pan," which essentially embodies her highest convictions regarding the
poetic art: that Poetry must be real, and, above all, true.

  "O brave poets, keep back nothing,
  Nor mix falsehood with the whole!

     *       *       *       *

  Hold, in high poetic duty,
  Truest Truth the fairest Beauty!"

In such lines as these she expressed her deepest feeling.

Then appeared "Comfort," "Futurity," and "An Apprehension"; the dainty
little picture of her childish days in "Hector in the Garden"; the sonnets
to George Sand, on which the French biographer[3] of Mrs. Browning, in
recent years, has commented, translating the first line,--

  "_Vrai genie, mais vraie femme!_"

and adding that these words, addressed to George Sand, are illustrated by
her own life.

The sonnet "Insufficiency," of this period, closes with the lines,

  "And what we best conceive we fail to speak.
  Wait, soul, until thine ashen garments fall,
  And then resume thy broken strains, and seek
  Fit peroration without let or thrall."

In all this work that deep religious note, that exaltation of spirituality
which so completely characterized Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is felt by
the reader. Religion was always to her a life, not a litany. The Divine
Love was as the breath of life to her, wherein she lived and moved, and on
which she relied for her very being.

The poem called "A Rhapsody of Life's Progress," though not often noted
by the critical writers on Mrs. Browning, is one full of impressive lines,
with that haunting refrain of every stanza,--

  "O Life, O Beyond,
  Thou art strange, thou art sweet!"

Albeit, a candid view must also recognize that this poem reveals those
early faults, the redundancy, the almost recklessness of color and rhythm,
that are much less frequently encountered in the poems of Mrs. Browning
than they were in those of Miss Barrett. For poetic work is an art as well
as a gift, and while "Poets are born, not made," yet, being born, the poet
must proceed also to make himself. In this "Rhapsody" occur the lines that
are said to have thrown cultured Bostonians into a bewilderment
exceptional; a baffled and despairing state not to be duplicated in all
history, unless by that of the Greeks before the Eleusinian mysteries; the
lines running,--

  "Let us sit on the thrones
    In a purple sublimity,
  And grind down men's bones
    To a pale unanimity."

Polite circles in Boston pondered unavailingly upon this medley, and were
apparently reduced to the same mental condition as was Mrs. Carlyle when
she read "Sordello." Unfortunately for Jane Carlyle there were in her day
no Browning societies, with their all-embracing knowledge, to which
Browning himself conveniently referred all persons who questioned him as
to the meaning of certain passages. One Boston woman, not unknown to fame,
recalls even now that she walked the Common, revolving these cryptic lines
in her mind, and meeting Dr. Holmes, asked if he understood them, to which
the Autocrat replied, "God forbid!"

This very affluence of feeling, however, or even recklessness of imagery,
was not without its place as a chastened and subdued factor in the power
of Miss Barrett later on. From her earliest childhood she had the
scholar's instinct and love of learning; she read fluently French, German,
and Italian; she was well grounded in Latin, and for the Greek she had
that impassioned love that made its literature to her an assimilation
rather than an acquirement. Its rich intellectual treasure entered into
her inmost life. She also read Hebrew, and all her life kept with her a
little Hebrew Bible, as well as a Greek Testament, the margins of both of
which are filled with her notes and commentaries in her clear, microscopic
handwriting. Miss Barrett's earliest work, published anonymously, at her
father's expense, rather to gratify himself and a few friends than to make
any appeal to the public, had no special claim to literary immortality,
whatever its promise; but once in London, something in the very atmosphere
seemed to act as a solvent to precipitate her nebulous dreams and
crystallize them into definite and earnest aims. Poetry had always been to
her "its own exceeding great reward," but she was now conscious of a
desire to enter into the stress and storm of the professional writer, who
must sink or swim, accept the verdict of success or failure, and launch
forth on that career whose very hardships and uncertainties are a part of
its fascination. To Elizabeth Barrett, secure in her father's home, there
was little possibility of the hardships and privations on the material
side not unfrequently incidental to the pursuit of letters, but to every
serious worker life prefigures itself as something not unlike the Norse
heaven with its seven floors, each of which must be conquered.

  "Here a star, and there a star,
    Some lose their way,--
  Here a mist, and there a mist,
    Afterwards ... day!"

Miss Barrett finds London "wrapped up like a mummy, in a yellow mist," but
she tries to like it, and "looks forward to seeing those here whom we
might see nowhere else." Her brother George, who had recently graduated
from the University of Glasgow, was now a barrister student at the Inner
Temple. Henrietta and Arabel, the two sisters, found interest and delight
in the new surroundings.

Retrospectively viewed, Mrs. Browning's life falls easily into three
periods, which seem to name themselves as a prelude, an interlude, and a
realization. She was just past her twenty-ninth birthday when the family
came up to London, and up to that time she had, indeed, lived with dreams
and visions for her company. These years were but the prelude, the
preparatory period. She then entered on the experimental phase, the
testing of her powers, the interlude that lay between early promise and
later fulfillment. In her forty-first year came her marriage to Robert
Browning and the beginning of those nearly fifteen years of marvelous
achievement, during which the incomparable "Sonnets from the Portuguese"
and "Aurora Leigh" were written,--the period of realization.

Before the beginning of the London period Miss Barrett's literary work had
been largely that of the amateur, though in the true meaning of that
somewhat misused term, as the lover, rather than as merely the more or
less crude experimenter. For Poetry to Elizabeth Barrett was a divine
commission no less than an inborn gift. Under any circumstances, she would
have poured her life "with passion into music," and with the utmost
sincerity could she have said, with George Eliot's "Armgart,"

  "I am not glad with that mean vanity
  Which knows no good beyond its appetite
  Full feasting upon praise! I am only glad,
  Being praised for what I know is worth the praise;
  Glad of the proof that I myself have part
  In what I worship!"

As is revealed and attested in many expressions of her maturer years,
Poetry was to her the most serious, as well as the most enthralling, of
pursuits, while she was also a very accomplished scholar. A special gift,
and a facility for the acquirement of scholarly knowledge in the academic
sense, do not invariably go together; often is the young artist so
bewitched with his gift, so entranced with the glory and the splendor of a
dream, that the text-book, by contrast, is a dull page, to which he cannot
persuade himself to turn. To him the air is peopled with visions and
voices that fascinate his attention. In the college days of James Russell
Lowell is seen an illustration of this truth, the young student being
temporarily suspended, and sent--not to Coventry, but to Concord. Perhaps
the banishment of a Harvard student for the high crime and misdemeanor of
being addicted to rhyme rather than mathematics, and his penalty in the
form of exile to Concord, the haunt of Emerson and the Muses, may have
made Pan laugh. But, at all events, Miss Barrett was as naturally a
scholar, in the fullest significance of the term, as she was a poet. This
splendid equipment was a tremendous factor in that splendor of
achievement, and in that universally recognized success, that has made the
name of Elizabeth Barrett Browning immortal in all ages, as the greatest
woman poet the world has ever known.

The professional literary life is a drama in itself,--comedy, or tragedy,
as may be, and usually a mixture of both. It ranges over wide areas of
experience, from that of the author of "Richard Feverel," who is said to
have written that novel on a diet of oatmeal and cold water, to that of
the luxurious author whose _séances_ with the Muses are decorously
conducted in irreproachable interiors, with much garnishing, old rose and
ivory, ebony carvings, and inlaid desks, at which the marvelous being who
now and then condescends to "dictate" a "best seller," is apt to be
surprised by a local photographer. But as a noted educator defined a
University as "a log,--with Mark Hopkins sitting on the other end," so the
"real thing" in a literary career may not inaptly be typified by Louisa
Alcott sitting on the back stairs, writing on an old atlas; and it was
into actualities somewhat like these that Elizabeth Barrett desired to
plunge. The question that she voiced in later years, in "Aurora Leigh,"--

  "My own best poets, am I one with you,
  That thus I love you,--or but one through love?
  Does all this smell of thyme about my feet
  Conclude my visit to your holy hill
  In personal presence, or but testify
  The rustling of your vesture through my dreams
  With influent odours?"--

this question, in substance, stirred now in her life, and insisted upon
reply. She must, like all real poets, proceed to "hang her verses in the
wind," and watch if perchance there are

                "... the five
  Which five hundred will survive."

Elizabeth Barrett was of a simplicity that had no affinities with the
_poseur_ in any respect, and she had an inimitable sense of humor that
pervaded all her days. Wit and pathos are, indeed, so closely allied that
it would be hardly possible that the author of the "De Profundis," a poem
that sounds the profoundest depths of the human soul, should not have the
corresponding quality of the swiftest perception of the humorous. It was
somewhere about this time that Poe sent to her a volume of his poems with
an inscription on the fly-leaf that declared her to be "the noblest of her

"And what could I say in reply," she laughingly remarked, "but 'Sir, you
are the most discerning of yours!'"

The first poem of hers that was offered in a purely professional way was
"The Romaunt of Margret." It appeared in the _New Monthly Magazine_, then
edited by Bulwer, who was afterward known as the first Lord Lytton. At
this time Richard Hengist Horne was basking in the fame of his "Orion,"
and to him Miss Barrett applied, through a mutual friend, as to whether
her enclosed poem had any title to that name, or whether it was mere
verse. "As there could be no doubt in the mind of the recipient on that
point," said Mr. Horne, "the poem was forwarded to Bulwer, and duly
appeared. The next one sent," continues Mr. Horne, "started the poetess at
once on her bright and noble career." This "next one" appears to have been
"The Poet's Vow," and a confirmation of this supposition is seen in a
letter of hers at this date to Mr. Boyd, in which she explains her not
having at hand a copy of the _Athenæum_ that he had wished to see, and

    "I can give you, from memory, the _Athenæum's_ review in that number.
    The critic says 'It is rich in poetry ... including a fine, although
    too dreamy, ballad, The Poet's Vow. We are almost tempted to pause and
    criticise the work of an artist of so much inspiration and promise as
    the author of this poem, and to exhort him to a greater clearness of
    expression, and less quaintness in the choice of his phraseology, but
    this is not the time or place for digression.'

    "You see my critic has condemned me with a very gracious countenance.
    Do put on yours."

Again, under date of October, 1836, she writes to Mr. Boyd:

    "... But what will you say to me when I confess that in the face of
    all your kind encouragement, my Drama of the Angels (The Seraphim)
    has not been touched until the last three days? It was not out of pure
    idleness on my part, nor of disregard to your admonition; but when my
    thoughts were distracted with other things, books just began enclosing
    me all around, a whole load of books upon my conscience, and I could
    not possibly rise to the gate of heaven and write about my angels. You
    know one can't sometimes sit down to the sublunary occupation of even
    reading Greek, unless one feels free to it. And writing poetry
    requires a double liberty, and an inclination which comes only of

    "... I have had another note from the editor--very flattering, and
    praying for farther supplies. The 'Angels' were not ready, and I was
    obliged to send something else."

A discussion arises in the family regarding the taking of a house in
Wimpole Street, and Elizabeth remarks that for her part she would rather
go on inhabiting castles in the air than to live in that particular house,
"whose walls look so much like Newgate's turned inside out." She
continues, however, that if it is decided upon, she has little doubt she
will wake and sleep very much as she would anywhere else. With a strong
will, and an intense, resistless kind of energy in holding any conviction,
and an independence of character only equalled by its preeminent justice
and generous magnanimity, she was singularly free from any tenacious
insistence upon the matters of external life. She had her preferences; but
she always accommodated herself to the decision or the necessity of the
hour, and there was an end of it. She had that rare power of instantaneous
mental adjustment; and if a given thing were right and best, or if it were
not best but was still inevitable, she accepted it and did not make life a
burden to every one concerned by endless discussion.

London itself did not captivate her fancy. "Did Dr. Johnson in his
paradise in Fleet Street love the pavements and the walls?" she
questioned. "I doubt that," she added; "the place, the privileges, don't
mix in one's love as is done by the hills and the seaside."

The privileges, however, became more and more interesting to her. One of
these was when she met Wordsworth, whom she describes as being "very
kind," and that he "let her hear his conversation."

This conversation she did not find "prominent," for she saw at the same
time Landor, "the brilliant Landor," she notes, and felt the difference
"between great genius and eminent talent." But there was a day on which
she went to Chiswick with Wordsworth and Miss Mitford, and all the way she
thought she must be dreaming. It was Landor, though, who captivated her
fancy at once, as he already had that of her future poet-lover and
husband, who was yet unrevealed to her. Landor, "in whose hands the ashes
of antiquity burn again," she writes, gave her two Greek epigrams he had
recently written. All this time she is reading everything,--Sheridan
Knowles's play of "The Wreckers," which Forrest had rejected, "rather for
its unfitness to his own personal talent than for its abstract demerit,"
she concludes; and "Ion," which she finds beautiful morally rather than
intellectually, and thinks that, as dramatic poetry, it lacks power,
passion, and condensation. Reading Combe's "Phrenology," she refers to his
theory that slowness of the pulse is a sign of the poetical impulse. If
this be true, she fears she has no hope of being a poet, "for my pulse is
in a continual flutter," she notes; and she explains to Mr. Boyd that the

  "One making one in strong compass"

in "The Poet's Vow," which he found incomprehensible, really means that
"the oneness of God, 'in Whom are all things,' produces a oneness, or
sympathy, with all things. The unity of God preserves a unity in man."

All in all, Miss Barrett is coming to enjoy her London life. There was
the Royal Academy, "and real live poets, with their heads full of the
trees and birds, and sunshine of Paradise"; and she has "stood face to
face with Wordsworth and Landor"; Miss Mitford has become a dear friend,
but she visits London only at intervals, as she lives--shades of benighted
days!--thirty miles from London. A twentieth century residence across the
continent could hardly seem more remote.

The removal to Wimpole Street was decided upon, and to that house (No.
50), gloomy or the reverse, the Barretts migrated. Miss Barrett's new
book, under the title of "The Seraphim and Other Poems," was published,
marking her first professional appearance before the public over her own
name. "I feel very nervous about it," she said; "far more than I did when
my 'Prometheus' crept out of the Greek."

Mr. Kenyon was about to go to Rydal Mount on a visit to Wordsworth, and
Miss Barrett begs him to ask, as for himself, two garden cuttings of
myrtle or geranium, and send to her--two, that she may be sure of saving

Autographs had value in those days, and in a note to Mr. Bray Miss Barrett
alludes to one of Shakespeare's that had been sold for a hundred pounds
and asks if he feels sure of the authenticity of his own Shakespearean

A new poetic era had dawned about the time that "The Seraphim" appeared.
Tennyson had written "Audley Court," and was beginning to be known in
America, owing this first introduction to Emerson, who visited Landor in
Florence and made some sojourn afterward in England. The Boston publishing
house of C. C. Little and Company (now Little, Brown, and Company) had
written to Tennyson (under date of April 27, 1838) regarding a
republishing of his volume, as the future laureate was already recognized
for the musical quality and perfection of art in his work. Browning had
published only "Pauline," "Paracelsus," and "Strafford." Shelley and Keats
were dead, their mortal remains reposing in the beautiful English cemetery
in Rome, under the shadow of the tall cypresses, by the colossal pyramid
of Caius Cestus. Byron and Scott and Coleridge had also died. There were
Landor and Southey, Rogers and Campbell; but with Miss Barrett there came
upon the scene a new minstrelsy that compelled its own recognition. Some
of her shorter poems had caught the popular ear; notably, her "Cowper's
Grave," which remains, to-day, one of her most appealing and exquisite

  "It is a place where poets crowned may feel the heart's decaying;
  It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying."

The touching pathos of the line,

  "O Christians, at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging!"

moves every reader. And what music and touching appeal in the succeeding

  "And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story,
  How discord on the music fell and darkness on the glory,
  And how when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
  He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted."

In seeing, "on Cowper's grave,... his rapture in a vision," Miss Barrett
pictured his strength--

  "... to sanctify the poet's high vocation."

Her reverence for poetic art finds expression in almost every poem that
she has written.

Among other shorter poems included with "The Seraphim" were "The Poet's
Vow," "Isobel's Child," and others, including, also, "The Romaunt of
Margret." _The Athenæum_ pronounced the collection an "extraordinary
volume,--especially welcome as an evidence of female genius and
accomplishment,--but hardly less disappointing than extraordinary. Miss
Barrett's genius is of a high order," the critic conceded; but he found
her language "wanting in simplicity." One reviewer castigated her for
presuming to take such a theme as "The Seraphim" "from which Milton would
have shrank!" All the critics agree in giving her credit for genius of no
ordinary quality; but the general consensus of opinion was that this
genius manifested itself unevenly, that she was sometimes led into errors
of taste. That she was ever intentionally obscure, she denied.
"Unfortunately obscure" she admitted that she might be, but "willingly

Of the personal friends of Elizabeth Barrett one of the nearest was Mary
Russell Mitford, who was nineteen years her senior. Miss Mitford describes
her at the time of their meeting as having "such a look of youthfulness
that she had some difficulty in persuading a friend that Miss Barrett was
old enough to be introduced into society." Miss Mitford added that she was
"certainly one of the most interesting persons" she had ever seen; "of a
slight, delicate figure,... large, tender eyes, and a smile like a

Mr. Kenyon brought Andrew Crosse, a noted electrician of the day, to see
Miss Barrett; and in some reminiscences[4] written by Mrs. Andrew Crosse
there is a chapter on "John Kenyon and his Friends" that offers the best
comprehension, perhaps, of this man who was so charming and beloved a
figure in London society,--a universal favorite. Born in 1784 in Jamaica,
the son of a wealthy land-owner, he was sent to England as a lad, educated
there, and in 1815 he set out for a tour of the continent. In 1817, in
Paris, he met and became intimate with Professor George Ticknor of
Harvard University, the Spanish historian; and through this friendship Mr.
Kenyon came to know many of the distinguished Americans of the day,
including Emerson, Longfellow, and Willis. Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth,
and Landor were among Kenyon's most intimate circle; and there is a record
of one of his dinners at which the guests were Daniel Webster, Professor
and Mrs. Ticknor, Dickens, Montalembert, and Lady Mary Shepherd. In 1823
Kenyon married Miss Curteis, and they lived for some years in Devonshire
Place, with frequent interludes of travel on the continent. Mrs. Kenyon
died in 1835, but when the Barretts came up to London Kenyon had resumed
his delightful hospitalities, of which he made fairly a fine art.
Professor Ticknor has left an allusion to another dinner at Kenyon's where
he met Miss Barrett. In the autumn of 1839 Miss Barrett, accompanied by
her brother Edward, went to Torquay, for the warmer climate, and Mr.
Kenyon also had gone there for the winter. Around him were gathered a
group of notable friends, with whom Miss Barrett, his cousin (with one
remove), was constantly associated,--Landor, Andrew Crosse, Theodosia
Garrow (afterwards the wife of Thomas Adolphus Trollope), and Bezzi, an
accomplished Italian, who was afterward associated with Seymour Kirkup in
discovering Dante's portrait concealed under the whitewash applied to the
walls of the Bargello in Florence. Miss Barrett was at this time entering
into that notable correspondence with Richard Hengist Horne, many of these
letters containing passages of interest. For instance, of poetry we find
her saying:

    "If poetry under any form be exhaustible, Nature is; and if Nature is,
    we are near a blasphemy, and I, for one, could not believe in the
    immortality of the soul.

      '_Si l'âme est immortelle,_
       _L'amour ne l'est-il-pas?_'

    Extending _l'amour_ into all love of the ideal, and attendant power of
    idealizing.... I don't believe in mute, inglorious Miltons, and far
    less in mute, inglorious Shakespeares."

Referring to some correspondence with Miss Martineau, Miss Barrett
characterizes her as "the noblest female intelligence between the seas,"
and of Tennyson, in relation to some mention of him, she wrote that "if
anything were to happen to Tennyson, the whole world should go into

A project (said to have originated with Wordsworth) was launched to
"modernize" Chaucer, in which Miss Barrett, Leigh Hunt, Monckton Milnes,
Mr. Horne, and one or two others enthusiastically united, the only
dissenter being Landor, who characteristically observed that any one who
was fit to read Chaucer at all could read him in the original. Later on
the co-operation of Browning, Tennyson, Talfourd, Bulwer, Mary Howitt, and
the Cowden Clarkes was solicited and in part obtained. But Landor held
firm, and of his beloved Chaucer he said: "I will have no hand in breaking
his dun, but rich-painted glass, to put in thinner (if clearer) panes." A
great deal of correspondence ensued in connection with this Herculean
labor, most of which is of less interest to the general reader than it
might well be to the literary antiquarian.

The next special literary enthusiasm of Mr. Horne and Miss Barrett was the
projection of a work of criticism, to be issued anonymously, and entitled
"The New Spirit of the Age." They collaborated on the critique on
Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt, and for the one on Landor Miss Barrett was
mainly responsible, in which she says he "writes poetry for poets, and
criticism for critics;... and as if poetry were not, in English, a
sufficiently unpopular dead language, he has had recourse to writing
poetry in Latin." She speaks of his "Pericles and Aspasia" and his
"Pentameron" as "books for the world and for all time, complete in beauty
of sentiment and subtlety of criticism." Two of Landor's works, very
little known, the "Poems from the Arabic and Persian" and "A Satire upon
Satirists," are here noted. "It will be delightful to me to praise
Tennyson,--although, by Saint Eloy, I never imitated him," she writes to
Mr. Horne; "and I take that oath because the _Quarterly_ was sure that if
it had not been for him I should have hung a lady's hair 'blackly' instead
of 'very blackly.'" Miss Mitford was somewhat concerned with this
hazardous venture, but she had no desire to discuss Dickens, as she "could
not admire his love of low life!" Miss Barrett's appreciation of Tennyson
is much on record. She finds him "a divine poet." Monckton Milnes, whose
first work she liked extremely, seemed to her in his later poems as
wanting in fire and imagination, and as being too didactic. Barry
Cornwall's lyrics impressed her "like embodied music." Mr. Horne finally
wrote the critique on Dickens, and of it Miss Barrett said: "I think the
only omission of importance in your admirable essay is the omission of the
influence of the French school of imaginative literature upon the mind of
Dickens, which is manifest and undeniable.... Did you ever read the
powerful _Trois Jours d'un Condamné_, and will you confront that with the
tragic saliences of 'Oliver Twist'?... We have no such romance writer as
Victor Hugo ... George Sand is the greatest female genius of the world, at
least since Sappho." (At this time George Eliot had not appeared.) Miss
Barrett appreciatively alludes to Sir Henry Taylor (the author of "Philip
van Artevelde") as "an infidel in poetry," and to the author of "Festus"
as "a man of great thoughts." She finds part of the poem "weak," but,
"when all is said," she continues, "what poet-stuff remains! what power!
what fire of imagination, worth the stealing of Prometheus!"

In relation to some strictures on Carlyle, Miss Barrett vivaciously
replies that his object is to discover the sun, not to specify the
landscape, and that it would be a strange reproach to bring against the
morning star that it does not shine in the evening.

The idea of a lyrical drama, "Psyche Apocalypte," was entertained by Mr.
Horne and Miss Barrett, but, fortunately, no fragment of it was
materialized into public light. There was a voluminous correspondence
between them concerning this possible venture. Meanwhile Miss Barrett's
poems won success past her "expectation or hope. _Blackwood's_ high help
was much," she writes, "and I continue to have the kindest letters from
unknown readers.... The American publisher has printed fifteen hundred
copies. If I am a means of ultimate loss to him, I shall sit in

In another of her letters to Mr. Horne we read that Wordsworth is in a
fever because of a projected railroad through the Lake Country, and that
Carlyle calls Harriet Martineau "quite mad," because of her belief in
Mesmerism. "For my own part," adds Miss Barrett, "I am not afraid to say
that I almost believe in Mesmerism, and quite believe in Harriet
Martineau." She is delighted that Horne's "Orion" is to be published in
New York. "I love the Americans," she asserts, "a noble and cordial

Miss Barrett remained for three years in Torquay, the climate being
regarded as better for her health. But the tragedy of her life took place
there in the drowning of her brother Edward, who went out one day with two
friends in a boat and never returned. Three days later the boat was found
floating, overturned, and the bodies of the three young men were
recovered. This sad event occurred in the August of 1840, and it was more
than a year before she was able to resume her literary work and her
correspondence. In the September of 1841 she returned to London, and in a
letter to Mr. Boyd soon after she replied to his references to Gregory as
a poet, saying she has not much admiration even for his grand _De
Virginitate_, and chiefly regards him as one who is only poetical in

Miss Barrett's delicacy of health through all these years has been so
universally recorded (and, according to her own words, so exaggerated)
that it needs no more than passing allusion here. So far as possible she
herself ignored it, and while it was always a factor to be reckoned with,
yet her boundless mental energy tided her over illness and weakness to a
far greater degree than has usually been realized. "My time goes to the
best music when I read or write," she says, "and whatever money I can
spend upon my own pleasures flows away in books."

Elizabeth Barrett was the most sympathetic and affectionate of friends,
and her devotion to literature resulted in no mere academic and abnormal
life. Her letters are filled with all the little inquiries and interests
of household affection and sweetness of sympathy with the personal matters
of relatives and friends, and if those are not here represented, it is
simply that they are in their nature colloquial, and to be taken for
granted rather than repeated for reading, when so long separated by time
from the conditions and circumstances that called them forth. She was glad
to return from Torquay to her family again. "Papa's domestic comfort is
broken up by the separation," she said, "and the associations of Torquay
lie upon me, struggle against them as I may, like a nightmare.... Part of
me is worn out; but the poetical part--that is, the love of poetry--is
growing in me as freshly every day. Did anybody ever love poetry and stop
in the middle? I wonder if any one ever could?... besides, I am becoming
better. Dear Mr. Boyd," she entreats, "do not write another word about my
illness either to me or to others. I am sure you would not willingly
disturb me. I can't let ... prescribe anything for me except her own
affection." These words illustrate the spirit in which Miss Barrett
referred to her own health. No one could be more remote from a morbid
invalidism too often associated with her.

One of her first efforts after her return from Torquay was to send to the
_Athenæum_ some Greek translations, which, to her surprise, were accepted,
and she writes to Mr. Boyd that she would enclose to him the editor's
letter "if it were legible to anybody except people used to learn reading
from the Pyramids." It must have been due to a suggestion from the editor
of the _Athenæum_ at this time that she wrote her noble and affluent essay
on "The Greek Christian Poets," which is perhaps her finest work in prose.
Something in the courteous editorial note suggested this to her, and she
discusses the idea with Mr. Boyd.

Mr. Dilke was then the editor of the _Athenæum_. He quite entered into the
idea of this essay, only begging Miss Barrett to keep away from theology.
Mr. Dilke also suggests that she write a review of English poetical
literature, from Chaucer to contemporary times, and this initiated her
essay called "The Book of the Poets." For her Greek review she desired a
copy of the _Poetæ Christiani_, but found the price (fourteen guineas)
ruinous. But whether she had all the needful data or not, the first paper
was a signal success, and she fancied that some _bona avis_, as good as a
nightingale, had shaken its wings over her. Of the three Greek tragedians,
Æschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, Elizabeth Barrett had read every line.
Plato she loved and read exhaustively; of Aristotle at this time she had
read his Ethics, Poetics, and his work on Rhetoric, and of Aristophanes a
few, only, of his plays. But Miss Barrett was also a great novel-reader,
keeping her "pillows stuffed with novels," as she playfully declared. Her
room, in the upper part of the house, revealed the haunt of the scholar.
Upon a bracket the bust of Homer looked down; her bookcase showed one
entire shelf occupied by the Greek poets; another relegated wholly to the
English poets; and philosophy, ethics, science, and criticism were
liberally represented. A bust of Chaucer companioned that of Homer. By her
sofa nestled Flush, her dog, Miss Mitford's gift.

It was in this year of 1841 that there penetrated into her atmosphere and
consciousness the first intimation of Robert Browning. "Pippa Passes" had
just been published, and John Kenyon, ever alert to bring any happiness
into the lives of his friends (Kenyon, "the joy-giver," as he was well
termed), suggested introducing the young poet to her, but on the plea of
her ill-health she declined. A little later, in a letter to Mr. Boyd, she
mentions one or two comments made on her essay, "The Greek Christian
Poets,"--that Mr. Horne, and also "Mr. Browning, the poet," had both, as
she was told, expressed approval. "Mr. Browning is said to be learned in
Greek," she adds, "especially the dramatists." So already the air begins
to stir and tremble with the coming of him of whom in later days she

  "I yield the grave for thy sake, and resign
  My near sweet view of heaven for earth with thee."

The entrancing thrill of that wonderful Wagner music that ushers in the
first appearance of the knight in the music-drama of "Lohengrin" is
typical of the vibrations that thrill the air in some etherial
announcement of experiences that are on the very threshold, and which are
recognized by a nature as sensitive and impressionable as was that of
Elizabeth Barrett. A new element with its transfiguring power awaited her,
and some undefined prescience of that

  "... most gracious singer of high poems"

whose music was to fall at her door

  "... in folds of golden fulness"

haunted her like "an odor from Dreamland sent."

She pondered on

                 "... how Theocritus had sung
  Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,"

but she dared not dream that the "mystic Shape" that drew her backward,
and whose voice spoke "in mastery," had come to lead her,--not to Death,
but Love.



        "... If a man could feel,
  Not one day in the artist's ecstasy,
  But every day,--feast, fast, or working-day,
  The spiritual significance burn through
  The hieroglyphic of material shows,
  Henceforward he would paint the globe with wings."


The appearance of "Bells and Pomegranates" made a deep impression on
Elizabeth Barrett, as the numbers, opening with "Pippa Passes,"
successively appeared between 1841 and 1846. Of "Pippa" she said she could
find it in her heart to covet the authorship, and she felt all the
combinations of effect to be particularly "striking and noble." In a paper
that Miss Barrett wrote in these days for the _Athenæum_, critically
surveying the poetic outlook of the time, she referred to Browning and
Tennyson as "among those high and gifted spirits who would still work and
wait." When this London journal reviewed (not too favorably) Browning's
"Romances and Lyrics," Miss Barrett took greatly to heart the injustice
that she felt was done him, and reverted to it in a number of personal
letters, expressing her conviction that "it would be easier to find a more
faultless writer than a poet of equal genius." An edition of Tennyson, in
two volumes, came out, including the "Ulysses," "Morte d'Arthur,"
"Locksley Hall," and "OEnone," of which she says no one quite appeals to
her as does "OEnone," and she expresses her belief that philosophic
thinking, like music, is always involved in high ideality of any kind.
Wordsworth she insisted upon estimating from his best, not from his
poorest work, and his "Ode" was to her so grand as to atone for a
multitude of poetic sins. "I confess," she wrote to Boyd, "that he is not
unfrequently heavy and dull, and that Coleridge has an intenser genius."
To her cousin, Kenyon, Miss Barrett sent the manuscript of her poem, "The
Dead Pan," which he showed to Browning, who wrote of it to Kenyon with
ardent admiration. This note was sent to Miss Barrett, who displayed it to
Horne that he might see the opinion of the poet whom they both admired.
Still later, Horne published in his "New Spirit of the Age" sketches of
several writers with their portraits; and those of Carlyle, Miss
Martineau, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning, Miss Barrett had framed for
her own room. She asked Kenyon if that of Browning were a good one.
"Rather like," he replied. So here and there the Fates were invisibly at
work, forging the subtle threads that were drawing the poets unconsciously

It was the suggestion of Browning's publisher, Moxon, that "Bells and
Pomegranates" might be issued in pamphlet form, appearing at intervals, as
this plastic method would be comparatively inexpensive, and would also
permit the series to be stopped at any time if its success was not of a
degree to warrant continuance. The poet found his title, as he afterward
explained in a letter to Miss Barrett, in Exodus, "... upon the hem of the
robe thou shalt make pomegranates of blue and of purple, and of scarlet,
and bells of gold between them round about." After "Pippa Passes" there
followed "King Victor and King Charles," a number of Lyrics, "The Return
of the Druses," "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon," "Luria," and "A Soul's
Tragedy." On each of the title-pages the author was named as the writer of
"Paracelsus," "Sordello" being ignored. Among the dedications of these
several numbers those so honored included John Kenyon, Proctor, and

Browning offered "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon" to Macready (whose stage
fortunes at this period were not brilliant), with the remark that "The
luck of the third venture is proverbial." The actor consulted Forster, who
passed the play on to Dickens, to whom it deeply appealed. Under date of
November 25, 1842, Dickens wrote of it to Forster in the most enthusiastic
words, saying the reading of it had thrown him "into a perfect passion of
sorrow," and that it was "full of genius, natural, and great thoughts,...
and I swear it is a tragedy that must be played, and played by Macready,"
continued the novelist. "And tell Browning that I believe from my soul
there is no man living (and not many dead) who could produce such a work."
Forster did not, however, administer this consolation to the young author,
who was only to learn of Dickens's admiration thirty years later, when
Forster's biography of him appeared. The story of the production of the
play is told in a letter from Joseph Arnould to Alfred Domett (then in New
Zealand), written under date of May, 1843, dated from Arnould's home in
Victoria Square, Pimlico:

    "As one must begin somewhere, suppose we take Browning.... In February
    his play, 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' was announced as forthcoming at
    Drury Lane.... Meantime, judicious friends had a habit of asking when
    the play was coming out...."[5]

A long chapter of vexations is humorously described by Domett, who
concludes his letter with this tribute to the play.

    "... With some of the finest situations and grandest passages you can
    conceive, it does undoubtedly want a sustained interest to the end of
    the third act; in fact the whole of that act on the stage is a falling
    off from the second, which I need not tell you is, for purposes of
    performance, the most unpardonable fault. Still, it will no
    doubt--nay, it must--have done this, viz., produced a higher opinion
    than ever of Browning's genius and the great things he is yet to do,
    in the minds not only of a clique, but of the general world of
    readers. This man will go far yet...."

While this vexation cancelled the friendly relations that had existed
between Browning and Macready, it fostered the friendship between the poet
and Helen Faucit (later Lady Martin), who remembered Browning's attitude
"as full of generous sympathy" for the actors of the cast; while he
recalled Miss Faucit's "perfect behavior as a woman, and her admirable
playing, as the one gratifying factor" in the affair. But Browning was too
noble by nature for any lasting resentment, and meeting Macready soon
after the death of both his own wife, in Italy, and of Mrs. Macready, he
could only grasp his old friend's hand and exclaim with emotion, "Oh,

In the autumn of 1844 Browning set forth for Italy on his second visit.
Two years before his friend Domett had left England for New Zealand,
commemorated by the poet in the lines,--

  "How, forsooth, was I to know it
  If Waring meant to glide away
  Like a ghost at break of day."

Browning landed at Naples, and there, according to Mrs. Orr, he became
acquainted with a young Neapolitan, Signor Scotti, who took the
bargaining of their tour upon himself, after they had agreed to travel
together, "and now as I write," said Mr. Browning in a letter from his
Naples hotel to his sister Sarianna, "I hear him disputing our bill. He
does not see why we should pay for six wax candles when we have used only
two." The pair wandered over the enchanting shores of all the Naples
region, lingered in Sorrento, drove over the picturesque road to Amalfi,
and listened to the song of the sirens along the shore. Their arrival in
Rome was Browning's first sight of the Eternal City. Here Mr. Browning
found an old friend, the Contessa Carducci, with whom the two passed most
of their evenings. He made his poetic pilgrimage to the graves of Shelley
and Keats, as do all later pilgrims, and he visited the grotto of Egeria
in memory of Byron. He loitered in the old _chiesa_ near Santa Maria
Maggiore, where the sixteenth century Bishop "ordered his tomb," and he
visited Trelawney in Leghorn. There exists little record of this trip save
in the poem "The Englishman in Italy," and his return to England through
Germany is alike unrecorded.

Six years had passed since the publication of "The Seraphim and Other
Poems," and on Mr. Browning's arrival at home again, he found two new
volumes of Miss Barrett's, entitled simply "Poems," in which were "A Drama
of Exile," "Bertha in the Lane," "Catarina to Camoens," "A Vision of
Poets," nearly all of the sonnets that she ever wrote save that immortal
sequence, "Sonnets from the Portuguese," and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship."
These volumes absolutely established her poetic rank with that of Tennyson
and Browning. She "heard the nations praising her far off." While she had
many expressions of grateful gladness for all this chorus of praise with
hardly a dissenting voice, the verdict did not affect her own high
standards. "I have written these poems as well as I could," she says, "and
I hope to write others better. I have not reached my own ideal ... but I
love poetry more than I love my own successes in it."

Her love of absolute truth, and the absence of any petty self-love in her
character, stand out in any study of her life. "Why, if you had told me
that my books were without any value in your eyes, do you imagine that I
should not have valued you, reverenced you ever after for your truth, so
sacred a thing in friendship?" she writes to a friend.

The reviews are eminently appreciative and satisfying. _Blackwood's_ gave
a long critique in a special article, frankly pointing out faults, but
asserting that her merits far outweighed her defects, and that her genius
"was profound, unsullied, and without a flaw." The long poem, "A Drama of
Exile" was pronounced the least successful of all, and the prime favorite
was "Lady Geraldine's Courtship." Of this poem of ninety-two stanzas, with
eleven more in its "Conclusion," thirty-five of the stanzas, or one
hundred and forty-four lines, were written in one day.

Though lack of health largely restricted Miss Barrett to her room, her
sympathies and interests were world-wide. She read the reviews of the
biography of Dr. Arnold, a work she desired to read, entire, and records
that "Dr. Arnold must have been a man in the largest and noblest sense."
She rejoices in the refutation of Puseyism that is offered in the
_Edinburgh Review_; she reads "an admirable paper by Macaulay" in the same
number; she comments on the news that Newman has united himself with the
Catholic Church; and in one letter she writes that Mr. Horne has not
returned to England and adds: "Mr. Browning is not in England, either, so
that whatever you send for him must await his return from the east, or
west, or south, wherever he is; Dickens is in Italy; even Miss Mitford
talks of going to France, and the 'New Spirit of the Age' is a wandering

In her "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" had occurred the lines:

  "Or from Browning some 'Pomegranate,' which, if cut deep down the
  Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity."

A certain consciousness of each other already stirred in the air for
Browning and Miss Barrett, and still closer were the Fates drawing the
subtle threads of destiny.

It was in this November that Mrs. Jameson first came into Miss Barrett's
life, coming to the door with a note, and "overcoming by kindness was let
in." This initiated a friendship that was destined in the near future to
play its salient part in the life of Elizabeth Barrett. In what orderly
sequence the links of life appear, viewed retrospectively!

She "gently wrangles" with Mr. Boyd for addressing her as "Miss Barrett,"
deprecating such cold formality, and offering him his choice of her little
pet name "Ba" or of Elizabeth.

She reads Hans Christian Andersen's "Improvisatore," and in reply to some
expressed wonder at her reading so many novels she avows herself "the most
complete and unscrupulous romance reader" possible; and adds that her love
of fiction began with her breath, and will end with it; "and it goes on
increasing. On my tombstone may be written," she continued, "'_Ci gît_ the
greatest novel reader in the world,' and nobody will forbid the

And so the prelude of her life draws to a close, and the future is to be
no more the mere living "with visions for her company," for now, in this
January of 1845, she has a letter from Browning, and she writes: "I had a
letter from Browning, the poet, last night, which threw me into
ecstasies,--Browning, the author of 'Paracelsus,' and king of the
mystics." Not long after she writes that she is getting deeper and deeper
into correspondence with Robert Browning, and that they are growing to be
the truest of friends. Lowell writes to Miss Barrett regarding her poems,
though the letter does not seem to be anywhere on record, and she writes
to Mr. Westwood that in her view Mr. Browning's power is of a very high
order, and that he must read "Paracelsus." In its author she finds one who
"speaks true oracles." She finds "Colombe's Birthday" exquisite, and
"Pippa Passes" she "kneels to, with deepest reverence."

The first letter of Browning to Miss Barrett was written on January 10 of
this year (1845), and he began with the words: "I love your verses with
all my heart, dear Miss Barrett." He enters into the "fresh strange music,
the exquisite pathos, and true, brave thought" of her work; and reminds
her that Kenyon once asked him if he would like to see Miss Barrett, but
that she did not feel able, and he felt as if close to some world's
wonder, but the half-opened door shut. Her reply, which is dated the next
day, thanks him for his sympathy and offers him her gratitude, "agreeing
that of all the commerce from Tyre to Carthage, the exchange of sympathy
for gratitude is the most princely thing." And she craves a lasting
obligation in that he shall suggest her master-faults in poetry. She does
not pretend to any extraordinary meekness under criticism, and possibly
might not be at all obedient to it, but she has such high respect for his
power in Art, and his experience as an artist. She refers to Mr. Kenyon as
her friend and helper, and her books' friend and helper, "critic and
sympathizer, true friend at all hours!" and she adds that "while I live to
follow this divine art of poetry ... I must be a devout student and
admirer of your works."

Browning is made very happy by her words, and he feels that his poor
praise "was nearly as felicitously brought out as a certain tribute to
Tasso, which amused me in Rome some weeks ago," he says. "In a neat
penciling on the wall by his tomb at Sant' Onofrio--'_Alla cara
memoria--di--Torquato Tasso--il Dottore Bernardini--offriva--il sequente
Carme--tu_'--and no more; the good man, it would seem, breaking down with
the over-load of love here! But my '_O tu_' was breathed out most
sincerely, and now you have taken it in gracious part, the rest will come
after." And then he must repeat (to himself) that her poetry must be
infinitely more to him than his could be to her, "for you do what I have
only hoped to do." And he hopes she will nevermore talk of "the honor" of
his acquaintance, but he will joyfully wait for the delight of her
friendship. And to his fear that she may hate letter-writing she replies
suggesting that nobody likes writing to everybody, but it would be strange
and contradictory if she were not always delighted to hear from and to
write to him; and she can read any manuscript except the writing on the
pyramids, and if he will only treat her _en bon camarade_ "without
reference to the conventionalities of 'ladies and gentlemen'"; taking no
thought for his sentences (or hers), "nor for your badd speling nor for
mine," she is ready to sign and seal the contract of correspondence. And
while she throws off the ceremony, she holds faster to the kindness. She
is overjoyed with this cordial sympathy. "Is it true," she asks, "that I
know so little of you? And is it true that the productions of an artist do
not partake of his real nature? It is not true to my mind,--and therefore
it is not true that I know little of you, except in so far as it is true
that your greatest works are to come.... I think--if I may dare name
myself with you in the poetic relation--that we both have high views of
the Art we follow and steadfast purpose in the pursuit of it.... And that
neither of us would be likely to be thrown from the course by the casting
of any Atalanta ball of speedy popularity.

"And after all that has been said and mused upon the anxiety experienced
by the true artist,--is not the good immeasurably greater than the evil?
For my part I sometimes wonder how, without such an object and purpose of
life, people contrive to live at all."

And her idea of happiness "lies deep in poetry and its associations." And
he replies that what he has printed "gives no knowledge of me," and that
he has never begun what he hopes he was born to begin and end--"R. B. a

"Do you know Tennyson?" she asks, "that is, with a face to face knowledge?
I have great admiration for him," she continues. "In execution he is
exquisite,--and in music a most subtle weigher out to the ear of fine
airs." And she asks if he knows what it is to covet his neighbor's
poetry,--not his fame, but his poetry. It delights her to hear of his
garden full of roses and his soul full of comforts. She finds the
conception of his Pippa "most exquisite, and altogether original."

In one of Miss Barrett's letters a few weeks later there seems discernible
a forecast of "Aurora Leigh," when she writes that her chief intention is
the writing "of a sort of novel-poem," and one "as completely modern as
'Geraldine's Courtship,' running into the midst of our conventions, and
rushing into drawing-rooms and the like 'where angels fear to tread'; and
so meeting face to face and without mask the Humanity of the age, and
speaking the truth, as I conceive of it, out plainly." She is waiting for
a story; she will not take one, because she likes to make her own. Here is
without doubt the first conception of "Aurora Leigh."

Touching on Life in another letter, she records her feeling that "the
brightest place in the house is the leaning out of the window."

Browning replies: "And pray you not to lean out of the window when my own
foot is only on the stair."...

"But I did not mean to strike a tragic chord," she replies; "indeed I did
not. As to 'escaping with my life,' it was just a phrase ... for the rest
I am essentially better ... and feel as if it were intended for me to live
and not to die." And referring to a passage relating to Prometheus she
asks: "And tell me, if Æschylus is not the divinest of all the divine
Greek souls?" She continues:

    "But to go back to the view of Life with the blind Hopes; you are not
    to think--whatever I may have written or implied--that I lean either
    to the philosophy or affectation which beholds the world through
    darkness instead of light ... and after a course of bitter mental
    discipline and long bodily seclusion I come out with two lessons
    learned--the wisdom of cheerfulness and the duty of social
    intercourse. Anguish has instructed me in joy, and solitude in
    society.... What we call life is a condition of the soul, and the soul
    must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault.... And
    I do like to hear testimonies like yours, to happiness, and I feel it
    to be a testimony of a higher sort than the obvious one.... Remember,
    that as you owe your unscathed joy to God, you should pay it back to
    His world. I thank you for some of it already."

And she feels how kind he is,--how gently and kindly he speaks to her. In
his next letter he alludes with much feeling to her idea of the

    "The Poem you propose to make; the fresh, fearless, living work you
    describe, is the only Poem to be undertaken now by you or any one who
    is a poet at all; the only reality, only effective piece of service to
    be rendered God or man; it is what I have been all my life intending
    to do, and now shall be much nearer doing since you will be along with
    me. And you can do it, I know and am sure,--so sure that I could find
    it in my heart to be jealous of your stopping on the way even to
    translate the Prometheus...."

The lovers, for such they already are, however unconsciously to both, fall
into a long discussion of Prometheus, and the Greek drama in general, and
in another letter, with allusion to his begging her to take her own good
time in writing, she half playfully proffers that it is her own bad time
to which she must submit. "This implacable weather!" she writes; "this
east wind that seems to blow through the sun and the moon!... There will
be a May and June if we live to see such things," and then she speaks of
seeing him besides, and while she recognizes it is morbid to shrink and
grow pale in the spirit, yet not all her fine philosophy about social
duties quite carries her through. But "if he thinks she shall not like to
see him, he is wrong, for all his learning." What pathos of revelation of
this brave, celestial spirit, tenanting the most fragile of bodies, is
read in the ensuing passage:

    "What you say of society draws me on to many comparative thoughts of
    your life and mine. You seem to have drunken of the cup of life full
    with the sun shining on it. I have lived only inwardly, or with sorrow
    for a strong emotion. Before this seclusion of my illness I was
    secluded still, and there are few of the youngest women in the world
    who have not seen more, known more, of society, than I, who am hardly
    to be called young now. I grew up in the country, had no social
    opportunities, had my heart in books and poetry, and my experience in
    reveries.... Books and dreams were what I lived in--and domestic life
    seemed to buzz gently around, like the bees about the grass.... Why,
    if I live on and escape this seclusion, do you not perceive that I
    labor under signal disadvantages, that I am, in a manner, a blind
    poet?... I have had much of the inner life ... but how willingly would
    I exchange some of this ponderous, helpless knowledge of books for
    some experience of life.... But grumbling is a vile thing, and we
    should all thank God for our measures of life, and think them
    enough.... Like to write? Of course, of course I do. I seem to live
    while I write--it is life for me. Why, what is it to live? Not to eat
    and drink and breathe,--but to feel the life in you down all the
    fibers of being, passionately and joyfully....

    "Ah, you tempt me with a grand vision of Prometheus!... I am inclined
    to think that we want new forms.... The old gods are dethroned. Why
    should we go back to the antique moulds? If it is a necessity of Art
    to do this, then those critics are right who hold that Art is
    exhausted.... I do not believe this; and I believe the so-called
    necessity of Art to be the mere feebleness of the artist. Let us all
    aspire rather to Life.... For there is poetry everywhere...."

Miss Barrett writes to him, continuing the discussion of poetry as an Art,
that she does not want "material as material, but that every life requires
a full experience," and she has a profound conviction that a poet is at a
lamentable disadvantage if he has been shut from most of the outer aspects
of life. And he, replying, deprecates a little the outward life for a
poet, with amusing references to a novel of D'Israeli's, where, "lo,
dinner is done, and Vivian Grey is here, and Violet Fane there, and a
detachment of the party is drafted off to catch butterflies." But still he
partly agrees, and feels that her Danish novel ("The Improvisatore") must
be full of truth and beauty, and "that a Dane should write so, confirms me
in a belief that Italy is stuff for the use of the North and no more--pure
Poetry there is none, as near as possible none, in Dante, even;... and
Alfieri,... with a life of travel, writes you some fifteen tragedies as
colorless as salad grown under a garden glass...." But she--if she asks
questions about novels it is because she wants to see him by the refracted
lights, as well as by the direct ones; and Dante's poetry--"only material
for northern rhymers?" She must think of that before she agrees with him.

As for Browning, he bids her remember that he writes letters to no one but
her; but there is never enough of telling her.... And she, noting his
sitting up in the morning till six, and sleeping only till nine, wants to
know "how 'Lurias' can be made out of such ungodly imprudences? And what
is the reasonableness of it," she questions, "when we all know that
thinking, dreaming, creative people, like yourself, have two lives to bear
instead of one, and therefore ought to sleep more than others"; and he is
anticipating the day when he shall see her with his own eyes, and now a
day is named on which he will call, and he begs her not to mind his coming
in the least, for if she does not feel able to see him he will come again,
and again, as his time is of no importance.

It was on the afternoon of May 20 (1845) that Robert Browning and
Elizabeth Barrett first met, and of them it could almost have been said,
in words ascribed to Michael Angelo for Vittoria Colonna,--

    "We are the only two, that, face to face,
  Do know each other, as God doth know us both."

It is said that the first letter of Browning's to her after this meeting
is the only one destroyed of all this wonderful correspondence; and this
was such a letter as could only be interpreted into a desire for marriage,
which she, all tender thoughtfulness always for others, characteristically
felt would be fatal to his happiness because of her invalid state. He
begged her to return the letter, and he then destroyed it; and again
pleaded that their friendship and intellectual comradeship should
continue. "Your friendship and sympathy will be dear and precious to me
all my life, if you indeed leave them with me so long, or so little," she
writes; and she utterly forbids any further expression or she must do this
"to be in my own eyes and before God a little more worthy, or a little
less unworthy, of a generosity...." And he discreetly veils his ardors for
the time, and the wonderful letters run on.



    "_They are safe in heaven...._
  _The Michaels and Rafaels...._"

Old Pictures in Florence.]

He is writing "The Flight of the Duchess," and sending it to her by
installments; she finds it "past speaking of," and she also refers to
"exquisite pages" of Landor's in the "Pentameron." And poems which he has
left with her,--she must have her own gladness from them in her own way.
And did he go to Chelsea, and hear the divine philosophy?

Apparently he did, for he writes:

    "Yes, I went to Chelsea and found dear Carlyle alone--his wife is in
    the country where he will join her as soon as the book's last proof
    sheets are corrected.... He was all kindness, and talked like his own
    self while he made me tea--and would walk as far as Vauxhall Bridge
    with me on my way home."

She writes:

    "I had a letter yesterday from Charles Hemans, the son of Felicia, ...
    who says his mother's memory is surrounded to him 'with almost a
    divine lustre,'... and is not that better than your tradition about
    Shelley's son? and is it not pleasant to know that the noble,
    pure-hearted woman, the Vittoria Colonna of our country, should be so
    loved and comprehended by one, at least, of her own house?"

Under date of August 25, Miss Barrett has been moved to write out the
pathetic story of her brother Edward's death. He had accompanied her to
Torquay,--he, "the kindest, the noblest, the dearest, and when the time
came for him to return I, weakened by illness, could not master my spirits
or drive back my tears," and he then decided not to leave her. "And ten
days from that day," she continued, "the boat left the shore which never
returned--and he had left me! For three days we waited,--oh, that awful
agony of three days!... Do not notice what I have written to you, my
dearest friend. I have never said so much to a living being--I never could
speak or write of it...."

But he writes her that "better than being happy in her happiness, is it
to participate in her sorrow." And the very last day of that August he
writes that he has had such power over himself as to keep silent ... but
"Let me say now--this only once,--that I loved you from my soul, and gave
you my life, as much of it as you would take, and all that ... is
independent of any return on your part." She assures him that he has
followed the most generous of impulses toward her, "yet I cannot help
adding that, of us two, yours has not been quite the hardest part." She
confesses how deeply she is affected by his words, "but what could I
speak," she questions, "that would not be unjust to you?... Your life! if
you gave it to me and I put my whole heart into it, what should I put in
but anxiety, and more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you
which it would not be ungenerous to give?"

There was a partial plan that Miss Barrett should pass that next winter in
Pisa, but owing to the strange and incalculable disposition of her father,
who, while he loved her, was singularly autocratic in his treatment, the
plan was abandoned. All this sorrow may have contributed to her confession
to Browning that no man had ever been to her feelings what he was; and
that if she were different in some respects she would accept the great
trust of his happiness.... "But we may be friends always," she continues,
"and cannot be so separated that the knowledge of your happiness will not
increase mine.... Worldly thoughts these are not at all, there need be no
soiling of the heart with any such;... you cannot despise the gold and
gauds of the world more than I do,... and even if I wished to be very
poor, in the world's sense of poverty, I could not, with three or four
hundred a year, of which no living will can dispossess me. And is not the
chief good of money, the being free from the need of thinking of it?" But
he, perfect in his beautiful trust and tenderness, was "joyfully
confident" that the way would open, and he thanks God that, to the utmost
of his power, he has not been unworthy of having been introduced to her.
He is "no longer in the first freshness of his life" and had for years
felt it impossible that he should ever love any woman. But he will wait.
That she "cannot dance like Cerito" does not materially disarrange his
plan! And by the last of those September days she confesses that she is
his "for everything but to do him harm," he has touched her so profoundly,
and now "none, except God and your own will, shall interpose between you
and me." And he answered her in such words as these:

    "When I come back from seeing you and think over it all, there is
    never a least word of yours I could not occupy myself with...."

In a subsequent letter Elizabeth Barrett questions: "Could it be that
heart and life were devastated to make room for you? if so it was well
done." And she sends thanks to Browning's sister, Sarianna, for a copy of
Landor's verses.

And with all these gracious and tenderly exquisite personal matters, the
letters are yet brilliant in literary allusion and criticism.

During these three years from 1844 to 1847 were written the greater number
of Miss Barrett's finest lyrics. Those two remarkable poems, "A Rhapsody
of Life's Progress" and "Confessions"; "Loved Once"; "The Sleep" (the poem
which was read at her burial in the lovely, cypress-crowned cemetery in
Florence, and whose stanzas, set to music, were chanted by the choir in
Westminster Abbey when the body of her husband was laid in the "Poets'
Corner"), "The Dead Pan," and that most exquisite lyric of all, "Catarina
to Camoens," were all written during this period.

The title of the latter was but a transparent veil for her own feelings
toward Robert Browning, and had she died in his absence, as Catarina did
in that of Camoens, the words would have expressed her own feeling. What
profound pathos is in the line,

  "Death is near me,--and not _you_,"

and how her own infinite sweetness of spirit is mirrored in the stanza,

  "I will look out to his future;
    I will bless it till it shine,
  Should he ever be a suitor
    Unto sweeter eyes than mine."

And read her own self-revelation again in "A Denial,"

  "We have met late--it is too late to meet,
      O friend, not more than friend!"

But the denial breaks down, and the last lines tell the story:

  "Here's no more courage in my soul to say
      'Look in my face and see.'"

And in that last line of "Insufficiency,"

  "I love thee so, Dear, that I only can leave thee."

In "Question and Answer," in "Proof and Disproof," "A Valediction," "Loved
Once," and "Inclusions," he who reads between the lines and has the magic
of divination may read the story of her inner life.

In the poem "Confessions" is touched a note of mystical, spiritual
romance, spiritual tragedy, wholly of the inner life, that entirely
differentiates from any other poetic expression of Mrs. Browning. In one
stanza occur these lines:

  "The least touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it by day and
      by night;
  Their least step on the stair, at the door, still throbs through me,
      if ever so light."

Even with all allowance for the imagination of the poet, these lines
reveal such feeling, such tremulous susceptibility, that with less
intellectual balance than was hers, combined with such lack of physical
vigor, would almost inevitably have resulted in failure of poise. The
current of spiritual energy was so strong with Elizabeth Barrett as to
largely take the place of greater physical strength. That she never
relapsed into the conditions of morbid invalidism is a marvel, and it is
also an impressive testimony to the power of spiritual energy to control
and determine physical conditions.

All through that summer the letters run on, daily, semi-daily. Of his work
Browning writes that he shall be "prouder to begin one day,--may it be
soon!--with your hand in mine from the beginning." Miss Barrett, referring
to the Earl of Compton, who is reported from Rome as having achieved some
prominence as a painter, proceeds to say:

    "People in general would rather be Marquises than Roman artists,
    consulting their own wishes and inclination. I, for my part, ever
    since I could speak my mind and knew it, always openly and inwardly
    preferred the glory of those who live by their heads, to the opposite
    glory of those who carry other people's arms. So much for glory.
    Happiness goes the same way to my fancy. There is something
    fascinating to me in that Bohemian way of living.... All the
    conventions of society cut so close and thin, that the soul can see
    through.... Beyond, above. It is real life as you say ... whether at
    Rome or elsewhere. I am very glad that you like simplicity in habits
    of life--it has both reasonableness and sanctity.... I am glad that
    you--who have had temptation enough, more than enough, I am sure, in
    every form--have lived in the midst of this London of ours, close to
    the great social vortex, yet have kept so safe, and free, and calm,
    and pure from the besetting sins of our society."

Browning, in one letter, alluding to the prevailing stupidity of the idea
that genius and domestic happiness are incompatible, says: "We will live
the real answer, will we not?... A man of genius mistreats his wife; well,
take away the genius,--does he so instantly improve?"

Of the attitude of his family toward their marriage he writes:

    "My family all love you, dearest,--you cannot conceive my father's and
    mother's childlike faith in goodness--and my sister is very
    high-spirited, and quick of apprehension--so as to seize the true
    point of the case at once.... Last night I asked my father, who was
    absorbed over some old book, if he should not be glad to see his new
    daughter?--to which he, starting, replied, 'Indeed I shall'; with such
    a fervor as to make my mother laugh,--not abated by his adding: 'And
    how I should be glad of her seeing Sarianna!'"

And she writes:

    "Shall we go to Greece, then, Robert? Let us, if you like it. When we
    have used a little the charm of your Italy,... I should like to see
    Athens with my living eyes.... Athens was in all the dreams I dreamed,
    before I knew you. Why should we not see Athens, and Egypt, too, and
    float down the mystical Nile, and stand in the shadow of the Pyramids?
    All of it is more possible now, than walking up the street seemed to
    me last year."

And he writes that he always felt her "Wine of Cyprus" poem to fill his
heart "with unutterable desires."

To book-lovers the question as to how many books may be taken on a
journey, or what volumes, indeed, may be left behind, is a vital one. The
reader will smile sympathetically at Miss Barrett's consultation with
Browning as to whether, if they do "achieve the peculiar madness of going
to Italy," they could take any books? And whether it would be well to so
arrange that they should not take duplicates? He advises the narrowest
compass for luggage. "We can return for what we want, or procure it
abroad," he says, made wise by his two Italian journeys; and he adds:

    "I think the fewer books we take the better; they take up room,--and
    the wise way always seemed to me to read at home, and open one's eyes
    and see abroad. A critic somewhere mentioned that as my
    characteristic--there were two other poets he named placed in novel
    circumstances ... in a great wood, for instance, Mr. Trench would
    begin opening books to see how woods were treated ... the other man
    would set to writing poetry forthwith,--and R. B. would sit still and
    learn how to write after! A pretty compliment, I thought that. But,
    seriously, there must be a great library at Pisa (with that
    University) and abroad they are delighted to facilitate such
    matters.... I have read in a chamber of the Doges' palace at Venice
    painted all over by Tintoretto, walls and ceiling, and at Rome there
    is a library with a learned priest always kept ready 'to solve any
    doubts that may arise.'"

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were married on September 12, 1846,
in the church of St. Pancras, Marylebone, the only witnesses being his
cousin, James Silverthorne, and her maid, Wilson. To have taken her
sisters into her confidence would have been to expose them to the fairly
insane wrath of her father. "I hate and loathe everything which is
clandestine--we both do, Robert and I," said Mrs. Browning later; but this
was the only possible way. Had Mr. Browning spoken to her father in the
usual manner, "he would have been forbidden the house without a moment's
scruple," she explained to a friend; "and I should have been incapacitated
from any after exertion by the horrible scenes to which, as a thing of
course, I should have been exposed.... I cannot bear some words. In my
actual state of physical weakness, it would have been the sacrifice of my
whole life--of my convictions, of my affections, and, above all, of what
the person dearest to me persisted in calling his life, and the good of
it--if I had observed that 'form.' Therefore I determined not to observe
it, and I consider that in not doing so, I sinned against no duty. That I
was _constrained_ to act clandestinely, and did not _choose_ to do so, God
is my witness. Also, up to the very last, we stood in the light of day for
the whole world, if it please, to judge us. I never saw him out of the
Wimpole Street house. He came twice a week to see me, openly in the sight
of all."

In no act of her life did Mrs. Browning more impressively reveal her good
sense than in this of her marriage. "I had long believed such an act," she
said, "the most strictly personal of one's life,--to be within the rights
of every person of mature age, man or woman, and I had resolved to
exercise that right in my own case by a resolution which had slowly
ripened. All the other doors of life were shut to me, and shut me as in a
prison, and only before this door stood one whom I loved best and who
loved me best, and who invited me out through it for the good's sake he
thought I could do him."... To a friend she explained her long refusal to
consent to the marriage, fearing that her delicate health would make it
"ungenerous" in her to yield to his entreaty; but he replied that

    "he would not tease me, he would wait twenty years if I pleased, and
    then, if life lasted so long for both of us, then, when it was ending,
    perhaps, I might understand him and feel that I might have trusted
    him.... He preferred, he said, of free and deliberate choice, to be
    allowed to sit only an hour a day by my side, to the fulfillment of
    the brightest dream which should exclude me, in any possible world."

She continues:

    "I tell you so much that you may see the manner of man I had to do
    with, and the sort of attachment which for nearly two years has been
    drawing and winning me. I know better than any in the world, indeed,
    what Mr. Kenyon once unconsciously said before me, that 'Robert
    Browning is great in every thing.'... Now may I not tell you that his
    genius, and all but miraculous attainments, are the least things in
    him, the moral nature being of the very noblest, as all who ever knew
    him admit."

After the marriage ceremony Mrs. Browning drove with her maid to the home
of Mr. Boyd, resting there, as if making a morning call on a familiar
friend, until joined by her sisters, who took her for a little drive on
Hampstead Heath. For five days she remained in her father's house, and
during this time Browning could not bring himself to call and ask for his
wife as "Miss Barrett," so they arranged all the details of their journey
by letter. On September 19 they left for Paris, and the last one of these
immortal letters, written the evening before their departure, from Mrs.
Browning to her husband, contains these words:

    "By to-morrow at this time I shall have you, only, to love me, my
    beloved! You, only! As if one said, God, only! And we shall have Him
    beside, I pray of Him!"

With her maid, Mrs. Browning walked out of her father's house the next
day, meeting her husband at a bookseller's around the corner of the
street, and they drove to the station, leaving for Southampton to catch
the night boat to Havre.

Never could the world have understood the ineffable love and beauty and
nobleness of the characters of both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
had these letters been withheld from the public. Quite aside from the
deeper interest of their personal revelation,--the revelation of such
nobleness and such perfect mutual comprehension and tenderness of sympathy
as are here revealed,--the pages are full of interesting literary allusion
and comment, of wit, repartee, and of charm that defies analysis. It was a
wise and generous gift when the son of the poets, Robert Barrett
Browning, gave these wonderful letters to the reading public. The supreme
test of literature is that which contributes to the spiritual wealth of
the world. Measured by this standard, these are of the highest literary
order. No one can fail to realize how all that is noblest in manhood, all
that is holiest in womanhood, is revealed in this correspondence.

Edmund Clarence Stedman, after reading these letters, said: "It would have
been almost a crime to have permitted this wonderful, exceptional
interchange of soul and mind, between these two strong, 'excepted' beings,
to leave no trace forever."

Robert Barrett Browning, in referring to his publication of this
correspondence in a conversation with the writer of this volume, remarked
that he really had no choice in the matter, as the Apochryphal legends and
myths and improvisations that had even then begun to weave themselves
about the remarkable and unusual story of the acquaintance, courtship, and
marriage of his parents, could only be dissipated by the simple truth, as
revealed in their own letters.

Their love took its place in the spiritual order; it was a bond that made
itself the mystic force in their mutual development and achievement; and
of which the woman, whose reverence for the Divine Life was the strongest
element in her nature, could yet say,--

  "And I, who looked for only God, found thee!"

Life, as well as Literature, would have been the poorer had not Mr.
Barrett Browning so wisely and generously enriched both by the publication
of this correspondence.

Not the least among the beautiful expressions that have been made by those
spirits so touched to fine issues as to enter into the spiritual
loveliness of these letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, is
a sonnet by a New England poet, Rev. William Brunton,--a poet who "died
too soon," but whose love for the poetry of the Brownings was as ardent as
it was finely appreciative:

  "Oh! dear departed saints of highest song,
    Behind the screen of time your love lay hid,
    Its fair unfoldment was in life forbid--
  As doing such divine affection wrong,
  But now we read with interest deep and strong,
    And lift from off the magic jar the lid,
    And lo! your spirit stands the clouds amid
  And speaks to us in some superior tongue!

  "Devotion such as yours is heavenly-wise,
    And yet the possible of earth ye show;
  Ye dwellers in the blue of summer skies,
    Through you a finer love of love we know;
  It is as if the angels moved with men,
  And key of Paradise were found again!"



  "And on her lover's arm she leant
    And round her waist she felt it fold,
  And far across the hills they went
    To that new world which is the old.
  Across the hills, and far away,
    Beyond their utmost purple rim,
  Beyond the night, beyond the day,
    Through all the world she followed him."


Paris, "and such a strange week it was," wrote Mrs. Browning to Miss
Mitford; "whether in the body, or out of the body, I can scarcely tell.
Our Balzac should be flattered beyond measure by my even thinking of him
at all." The journey from London to Paris was not then quite the swift and
easy affair it now is, the railroad between Paris and Havre not being then
completed beyond Rouen; still, such an elixir of life is happiness that
Mrs. Browning arrived in the French Capital feeling much better than when
she left London. Mrs. Jameson had only recently taken leave of Miss
Barrett on her sofa, and sympathetically offered to take her to Italy
herself for the winter with her niece; Miss Barrett had replied: "Not only
am I grateful to you, but happy to be grateful to you," but she had given
no hint of the impending marriage. Mrs. Jameson's surprise, on receiving
a note from Mrs. Browning, saying she was in Paris, was so great that her
niece, Geraldine Bate (afterward Mrs. MacPherson of Rome), asserted that
her aunt's amazement was "almost comical." Mrs. Jameson lost no time in
persuading the Brownings to join her and her niece at their quiet pension
in the Rue Ville l'Eveque, where they remained for a week,--this "strange
week" to Mrs. Browning.

In Paris they visited the galleries of the Louvre, but did little
sight-seeing beyond, "being satisfied with the idea of Paris," she said.

To a friend Mrs. Jameson wrote:

    "I have also here a poet and a poetess--two celebrities who have run
    away and married under circumstances peculiarly interesting, and such
    as render imprudence the height of prudence. Both excellent; but God
    help them! for I know not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will
    get on through this prosaic world."

As for ways and means, however, the Brownings were sufficiently provided.
He had a modest independence, and she also had in her own right a little
fortune of some forty thousand pounds, yielding three or four hundred
pounds a year; but in the July preceding their marriage Browning, with his
sensitive honor, insisted upon her making a will bequeathing this capital
to her own family. In a letter to him dated July 27 of that summer the
story of his insistence on this is revealed in her own words: "I will
write the paper as you bid me.... You are noble in all things ... but I
will not discuss it so as to tease you.... I send you the paper therefore,
to that end, and only to that end...." The "document," by Browning's
insistence, gave her property to her two sisters, in equal division, or,
in case of their death, to the surviving brothers. Nothing less than this
would satisfy Robert Browning.

Meantime, there was the natural London comment. Wordsworth observed: "So
Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett have gone off together! It is to be
hoped they can understand each other, for no one else can."

Mr. Kenyon wrote "the kindest letter" to them both, and pronounced them
"justified to the uttermost," and to Mrs. Browning he said: "I considered
that you had imperiled your life upon this undertaking and I still thought
you had done wisely!" But by that magic alchemy of love and happiness Mrs.
Browning only gained constantly in strength, and Mrs. Jameson pronounced
them "wise people, whether wild poets or not."

Among the interesting comments on the marriage was Joseph Arnould's letter
to Alfred Domett, under date of November of that year. He wrote:

    "... I think the last piece of news I told you of was Browning's
    marriage to Miss Barrett. She is, you know, our present greatest
    living English poetess: ... she has been in the most absolute and
    enforced seclusion from society; cultivating her mind to a wonderful
    amount of accomplishment, instructing herself in all languages,
    reading Chrysostom in the original Greek, and publishing the best
    metrical translation that has yet appeared of the 'Prometheus
    Bound'--having also found time to write three volumes of poetry, the
    last of which raised her name to a place second only to that of
    Browning and Tennyson, amongst all those who are not repelled by
    eccentricities of external form from penetrating into the soul and
    quintessential spirit of poetry that quickens the mould into which the
    poet has cast it. Well, this lady, so gifted, so secluded, so
    tyrannized over, fell in love with Browning in the spirit before ever
    she saw him in the flesh--in plain English, loved the writer, before
    she knew the man. Imagine, you who know him, the effect which his
    graceful bearing, high demeanor, and noble speech must have had on
    such a mind when first she saw the man of her visions in the twilight
    of her darkened room. She was at once in love as a poet-soul only can
    be; and Browning, as by contagion or electricity, was no less from
    the first interview wholly in love with her.... He is a glorious
    fellow! Oh, I forgot to say that the _soi-disante_ invalid, once
    emancipated from the paternal despotism, has had a wondrous revival,
    or rather, a complete metamorphosis; walks, rides, eats, and drinks
    like a young and healthy woman,--in fact, is a healthy woman of, I
    believe, some five and thirty. But one word covers all; they are in
    Love, who lends his own youth to everything."

The journey from Paris to Italy, if less comfortable and expeditious than
now, was certainly more romantic, and the Brownings, in company with Mrs.
Jameson and her niece, fared forth to Orleans, and thence to Avignon,
where they rested for two days, making a poetic pilgrimage to Vaucluse,
where Petrarca had sought solitude. "There at the very source of the
'_chiare, fresche e dolci acque_,'" records Mrs. MacPherson in her
biography of Mrs. Jameson, "Mr. Browning took his wife up in his arms, and
carrying her across through the shallow, curling waters, seated her on a
rock that rose throne-like in the middle of the stream. Thus Love and
Poetry took a new possession of the spot immortalized by Petrarca's

From Marseilles they sailed to Livorno (Leghorn), the port only a few
miles from Pisa. The voyage was a delight to Mrs. Browning. She was
enchanted with the beautiful panorama of the Riviera as they sailed down
the coast, where the terraces of mountains rise, with old castles and
ruins often crowning their summits, and the white gleam of the hill-towns
against a background of blue sky. All the Spezzia region was haunted by
memories of Shelley; Lerici, where last he had lived, was plainly in view,
and they gazed sadly at Viareggio, encircled by pine woods and mountains,
where the body of the poet had been found. In Pisa they took rooms in the
Collegio Fernandino, in the Piazza del Duomo, in that corner of Pisa
wherein are grouped the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Leaning Tower, and
the Campo Santo, all in this consummate beauty of silence and
seclusion,--a splendor of abandoned glory. All the stir of life (if,
indeed, one may dream of life in Pisa) is far away on the other side of
the city; to this corner is left the wraith-like haunted atmosphere, where
only shadows flit over the grass, and the sunset reflections linger on the
Tower. A statue of Cosimo di Medici was near; the Lanfranchi palace, where
Byron had lived, was not far away, on the banks of the Arno. They quite
preferred the Duomo and the Campo Santo to social festivities, and
Professor Ferrucci offered them all the hospitalities of the University
library. They had an apartment of four rooms, "matted and carpeted,"
coffee and rolls in the morning, dinner at the Trattoria, "thrushes and
chianti with a marvelous cheapness, no trouble, no cook, no kitchen; the
prophet Elijah, or the lilies of the field, took as little thought for
their dining," writes Mrs. Browning, "and it exactly suits us. At nine we
have our supper of roast chestnuts and grapes.... My head goes round
sometimes. I was never happy before in my life.... And when I am so good
as to let myself be carried up-stairs, and so angelical as to sit still on
the sofa, and so considerate as not to put my foot into a puddle, why, my
duty is considered done to a perfection worthy all adoration.... Mrs.
Jameson and Geraldine are staying in the hotel, and we manage to see them
every day; so good and true and affectionate she is, and so much we shall
miss her when she goes.... Our present residence we have taken for six
months, but we have dreams, and we discuss them like soothsayers over the
evening grapes and chestnuts."

That in London Mrs. Jameson, on her first call on Miss Barrett, should
have so winningly insisted on being admitted to her room as to be
successful, almost to Miss Barrett's own surprise, seems, when seen in
connection with the way in which Fate was to throw them together
afterward, in Italy, to have been one of those "foreordained" happenings
of life.

They heard a musical mass for the dead in the Campo Santo; they walked
under orange trees with golden fruit hanging above their heads; they took
drives to the foot of the mountains, and watched the reflections in the
little lake of Ascuno. Mrs. Browning, from her windows, could see the
cathedral summit glitter whitely, between the blue sky and its own yellow
marble walls. Beautiful and tender letters came to them both from Mr.
Kenyon, and they heard that Carlyle had said that he hoped more from
Robert Browning, for the people of England, than from any other living
English writer. All of these things entered into the very fiber of their
Pisan days. Pisa seemed to her a beautiful town,--it could not be less,
she felt, with Arno and its palaces, and it was to her full of repose, but
not desolate. Meantime, Mr. Browning was preparing for a new edition of
his collected poems.

Curiously, all the biographers of Robert Browning have recorded that it
was during this sojourn in Pisa that the "Sonnets from the Portuguese"
were first made known to him. Dr. Dowden quotes the story as given by Mr.
Edmund Gosse, and Mr. Gosse cites Browning himself as his authority. Yet
there was some mistake, as the Sonnets were not seen by Mr. Browning till
some time later.

Robert Barrett Browning, in Florence, in the spring of 1910, in reply to a
question asked by the writer of this book in regard to the accuracy of
this impression, replied that both Mr. Gosse and Dr. Dowden were mistaken;
as his mother did not show these "Sonnets" to his father until the summer
of 1849, when they were at Bagni di Lucca. Mr. Gosse must in some way have
mistaken Mr. Browning's words, and the error has perpetuated itself
through every successive biography of the poet.

The first home of the Brownings in Florence was in an apartment near
Santa Maria Novella, where the Italian sunshine burned fiercely, and where
Mrs. Browning exclaimed that she began to comprehend the possibility of
St. Lawrence's ecstasies on the gridiron. "Yet there have been cool
intermissions," she wrote, "and as we have spacious and airy rooms, and as
we can step out of the window on a balcony terrace which is quite private,
and swims over with moonlight in the evenings, and as we live upon
watermelons, and iced water, and figs, and all manner of fruit, we bear
the heat with angelic patience."

There was a five days' interlude at Vallombrosa, which the poets vainly
entreated the monks to prolong to two months, but the brethren would have
none of the presence of two women,--Mrs. Browning and her maid, Wilson. So
they perforce left these fascinating hills, "a sea of hills looking alive
among the clouds." Still further up above the monastery was the old
Hermitage now transformed into a hotel. It was here that Migliorotti
passed many years, asserting that he could only think of it as Paradise,
and thus it came to be known as Paradisino, the name it still bears. Far
below in a dim distance lies Florence, with her domes and towers on which
the sunshine glitters, or the white moonlight of the Val d'Arno shines;
and on every hand are the deep valleys and crevasses, the Val di Sieve,
the Val di Casentino, and the height of San Miniato in Alpe. Castles and
convents, or their ruins, abound; and here Dante passed, and there St.
Benedict, and again is the path still holy with the footsteps of St.
Francis. The murmuring springs that feed the Arno are heard in the hills;
and the vast solitudes of the wood, with their ruined chapels and shrines,
made this sojourn to the Brownings something to be treasured in memory
forever. They even wandered to that beautiful old fifteenth-century
church, Santa Maria delle Grazie Vallombrosella, "a daughter of the
monastery of Vallombrosa," where were works of Robbia, and saw the blue
hills rise out of the green forests in their infinite expanse.


  "_And Vallombrosa we two went to see_
  _Last June beloved companion..._"

Casa Guidi Windows.]

When they fared forth for Vallombrosa, it was at four o'clock in the
morning, Mrs. Browning being all eagerness and enthusiasm for this
matutinal pilgrimage. Reaching Pelago, their route wound for five miles
along a "_via non rotabile_," through the most enchanting scenery, to

    "Oh! such mountains," wrote Mrs. Browning of this
    never-to-be-forgotten journey, "as if the whole world were alive with
    mountains--such ravines--black in spite of flashing waters in
    them--such woods and rocks--traveled in basket sledges drawn by four
    white oxen--Wilson and I and the luggage--and Robert riding step by
    step. We were four hours doing the five miles, so you may fancy what
    rough work it was. Whether I was most tired or charmed was a _tug_
    between body and soul.

    "The worst was that," she continued, "there being a new abbot at the
    monastery--an austere man, jealous of his sanctity and the approach of
    women--our letter, and Robert's eloquence to boot, did nothing for us,
    and we were ingloriously and ignominiously expelled at the end of five

While the Brownings were in Vallombrosa Arnould wrote to Alfred Domett:

    "Browning is spending a luxurious year in Italy--is, at this present
    writing, with his poetess bride dwelling in some hermit hut in
    Vallombrosa, where the Etruscan shades high overarched embower. He
    never fails to ask pressingly about you, and I give him all your
    messages. I would to God he would purge his style of
    obscurities,--that the wide world would, and the gay world and even
    the less illuminated part of the thinking world, know his greatness
    even as we do. I find myself reading 'Paracelsus' and the 'Dramatic
    Lyrics' more often than anything else in verse."

They descended, perforce, into Florence again, burning sunshine and all,
the abbot of the monastery having someway confounded their pleadings with
the temptation of St. Anthony, as something to be as heroically resisted.
They set up their household gods in the shades of the Via delle Belle
Donne, near the Duomo, where dinners, "unordered," Mrs. Browning said,
"come through the streets, and spread themselves on our table, as hot as
if we had smelt cutlets hours before." She found Florence "unspeakably
beautiful," both by grace of nature and of art, but they planned to go to
Rome in the early autumn, taking an apartment "over the Tarpeian rock."
Later this plan was relinquished, and with an apartment on their hands for
six months they yet abandoned it, for want of sunshine, and removed to
Casa Guidi.

    "Think what we have done," wrote Mrs. Browning to Miss Mitford; "taken
    two houses, that is, two apartments, each for six months, pre-signing
    the contract. You will set it down to excellent poet's work in the way
    of domestic economy, but the fault was altogether mine, for my
    husband, to please me, took rooms with which I was not pleased for
    three days, through the absence of sunshine. The consequence was that
    we had to pay heaps of guineas away, for leave to go, ourselves, but
    you can scarcely fancy the wonderful difference which the sun makes in
    Italy. So away we came into the blaze of him into 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 for his being angry with me for any cause
    except not eating enough dinner, the said sun would turn the wrong way

Mrs. Browning's dog, Flush, was a member of the household not to be
ignored, and her one source of consolation, in being turned away from the
Vallombrosa summer, lay in the fact that "Flush hated it," and was
frightened by the vast and somber pine forests. "Flush likes civilized
life," said Mrs. Browning laughingly, "and the society of little dogs
with turned-up tails, such as abound in Florence."

So now they bestowed themselves in "rooms yellow with sunshine from
morning till night," in Casa Guidi, where, "for good omen," they looked
down on the old gray church of San Felice. There was a large, square
anteroom, where the piano was placed, with one large picture, picked up in
an obscure street in Florence; and a little dining-room, whose walls were
covered with tapestry, and where hung medallions of Tennyson, Carlyle, and
of Robert Browning; a long, narrow room, wraith-like with plaster casts
and busts, was Mr. Browning's study, while she had her place in the large
drawing-room, looking out upon the ancient church. Its old pictures of
saints, gazing sadly from their sepulchral frames of black wood, with here
and there a tapestry, and with the lofty, massive bookcases of Florentine
carving, all gave the room a medieval look. Almost could one fancy that it
enthroned the "fairy lady of Shalott," who might weave

          "... from day to day,
  A magic web of colors gay."

Dante's grave profile, a cast of the face of Keats taken after death, and
a few portraits of friends, added their interest to the atmosphere of a
salon that seemed made for poets' uses. There were vast expanses of
mirrors in the old carved Florentine frames, a colossal green velvet sofa,
suggesting a catafalque, and a supernaturally deep easy-chair, in the same
green velvet, which was Mrs. Browning's favorite seat when she donned her
singing robes. Near this low arm-chair was always her little table, strewn
with writing materials, books, and newspapers. Other tables in the
_salotto_ bore gayly bound volumes, the gifts of brother authors. On the
floor of a bedroom were the arms (in scabola), of the last count who had
lived in this apartment, and there was a picturesque oil-jar, to hold
rain-water, which Mrs. Browning declared would just hold the Captain of
the Forty Thieves. All in all, the poets vowed they would not change homes
with the Grand Duke himself, who was their neighbor in the Palazzo Pitti
at the distance of a stone's throw. In the late afternoons they would
wander out to the Loggia dei Lanzi, where Mrs. Browning greatly admired
Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa, and they watched "the divine
sunsets on the Arno, turning it to pure gold under the bridges." Sometimes
they were joined by Hiram Powers, who was one of their earliest friends in
Florence, "our chief friend and favorite," Mrs. Browning said of him, and
she found him a "simple, straightforward, genial American, as simple as
the man of genius he has proved himself need be." Another friend of these
early days was Miss Boyle, a niece of the Earl of Cork, somewhat a poet,
withal, who, with her mother, was domiciled in the Villa Careggi, in which
Lorenzo il Magnifico died, and which was loaned to the Boyles by Lord
Holland. Miss Boyle frequently dropped in on them in the evening, "to
catch us at hot chestnuts and mulled wine," said Mrs. Browning, "and a
good deal of laughing she and Robert make between them." On the terrace of
Casa Guidi orange trees and camellias bloomed, and the salons with their
"rococo chairs, spring sofas, carved bookcases, and satin from Cardinals'
beds," were a picturesque haunt. The ideal and poetic life of Mrs.
Browning, so far from isolating her from the ordinary day and daylight
duties, invested these, instead, with glow and charm and playful repartee;
and, indeed, her never-failing sense of humor transformed any
inconvenience or inadvertence into amusement. She, who is conceded to have
written the finest sonnets since Shakespeare, could also mend a coat for
her husband with a smile and a Greek epigram.

[Illustration: THE GUARDIAN ANGEL.


  "_Guercino drew this angel I saw teach_
  (_Alfred, dear friend!_) _that little child to pray._"

The Guardian Angel; A Picture at Fano.]

Joseph Arnould again wrote to their mutual friend, Domett:

    "Browning and his wife are still in Florence; both ravished with Italy
    and Italian life; so much so, that I think for some years they will
    make it the Paradise of their poetical exile. I hold fast to my faith
    in 'Paracelsus.' Browning and Carlyle are my two crowning men amongst
    the highest English minds of the day. Third comes Alfred Tennyson....
    By-the-bye, did you ever happen upon Browning's 'Pauline'? a strange,
    wild (in parts singularly magnificent) poet-biography; his own early
    life as it presented itself to his own soul viewed poetically; in
    fact, psychologically speaking, his 'Sartor Resartus'; it was written
    and published three years before 'Paracelsus,' when Shelley was his

A little later Arnould wrote again:

    "Browning and his wife are still in Florence, and stay there till the
    summer; he is bringing out another edition of his poems (except
    'Sordello'), Chapman and Hall being his publishers, Moxon having
    declined. He writes always most affectionately, and never forgets kind
    inquiries about and kind messages to you."

Allured by resplendent tales of Fano, the Brownings made a trip to that
seaside hamlet, but found it uninhabitable in the late summer heat. A
statue in the Piazza commemorated the ancient _Fanum Fortunæ_ of
tradition, and in the cathedral of San Fortunato were frescoes by
Domenichino, and in the _chiesa_ of Sant' Agostino was the celebrated
painting of Sant' Angelo Custode, by Guercino, which suggested to Browning
his poem "The Guardian Angel." The tender constancy of Browning's
friendship for Alfred Domett is in evidence in this poem, and the beauty
of his reference to his wife,--

  "My angel with me, too,..."

lingers with the reader.

In no poem of his entire work has Browning given so complete a revelation
of his own inner life as in this memorable lyric. The picture, dim as is
the light in which it is seen, is one of the most impressive of all
Guercino's works. In the little church of San Paterniano is a "Marriage of
the Virgin," by Guercino, and in the Palazzo del Municipio of Fano is
Guercino's "Betrothal of the Virgin," and the "David" of Domenichino.

The Brownings while in Fano made the excursion to the summit of Monte
Giove, an hour's drive from the Piazza, where was the old monastery and a
wonderful view of the Adriatic, and of the panorama of the Apennines. "We
fled from Fano after three days," wrote Mrs. Browning, "and finding
ourselves cheated out of our dream of summer coolness, we resolved on
substituting for it what the Italians call '_un bel giro_.' So we went to
Ancona ... where we stayed a week, living on fish and cold water." They
found Ancona "a straggling sea city, holding up against the brown rocks,
and elbowing out the purple tides," and Mrs. Browning felt an inclination
to visit it again when they might find a little air and shadow. They went
on to Loreto, and then to Ravenna, where in the early dawn of a summer
morning they stood by the tomb of Dante, deeply touched by the
inscription. All through this journey they had "wonderful visions of
beauty and glory." Returning to Florence, to their terraces, orange trees,
and divine sunsets, one of their earliest visitors in Casa Guidi was
Father Prout, who had chanced to be standing on the dock at Livorno when
they first landed in Italy, from the journey from France, and who now
appeared in Florence on his way to Rome. Mr. Browning had fallen ill after
their trip to Fano, and Father Prout prescribed for him "port wine and
eggs," which _régime_, combined with the racy conversation of the genial
priest, seemed efficacious.

In the meantime Mrs. Browning stood with her husband by the tomb of
Michael Angelo in Santa Croce; she saw the Venus, the "divine Raphaels."
The Peruzzi chapel had then recently been restored--some exquisite
frescoes by Giotto being among the successful restorations. The
"mountainous marble masses" of the Duomo, "tessellated marbles climbing
into the sky, self-crowned with that prodigy of marble domes," struck Mrs.
Browning as the wonder of all architecture.

The political conditions of Italy began to enlist her interest. In June of
1846 Pio Nono had ascended the Papal throne, preceded by a reputation for
a liberal policy, and it was even hoped that he would not oppose the
formation of a United Italy. The papal and the temporal government was
still one, but Pius IX was a statesman as well as a churchman. England had
especially commissioned Lord Minto to advocate reform, and the enthusiasts
for Italian liberty received him with acclaim. The disasters of 1848 were
still in the unrevealed future, and a new spirit was stirring all over the
Italian kingdom. Piedmont was looked to with hope; and the Grand Duke of
Tuscany had instituted a National Guard, as the first step toward popular
government. The great topic of the day was the new hope of Italy. In
Florence the streets and piazzas were vocal with praises of the Grand
Duke. On one night that Browning went to the opera the tumult grew
intense, and the Duke was escorted back to Palazzo Pitti with thousands of
wax torchlights and a blaze of glory and cries of "Eviva! Eviva!"
Browning, however, distrusted Pio Nono, thinking him weak, and events
proved that his opinion was justified.

The winter of 1847-1848 was passed by the Brownings in Casa Guidi. "I wish
you could see what rooms we have," wrote Mrs. Browning to her husband's
sister, Sarianna: "what ceilings, what height and breadth, what a double
terrace for orange trees; how cool, how likely to be warm, how perfect
every way!"

The poets were constantly engaged in their work. Mrs. Browning began her
long poem, "Casa Guidi Windows," and many of Browning's lyrics that
appeared in the collection called "Men and Women" were written at this
period. They passed much time in the galleries and churches. They drove in
the beautiful environs of Florence. The pictures, history, and legends
entered into their lives to serve in later days as poetic material. In the
brief twilight of winter days they often strolled into the old gray church
of San Felice, on which their windows looked out, where Browning would
gratify his passion for music by evolving from the throbbing keys of the
organ some faint Toccata of Galuppi's, while his wife smiled and listened,
and the tide of Florentine life flowed by in the streets outside. Casa
Guidi is almost opposite the Palazzo Pitti, so that Mrs. Browning had easy
access to her beloved Madonnas in the Pitti gallery, which to her husband,
also, was so unfailing a resource.

One of Mrs. Browning's American admirers, and one of the reviewers of her
poems, George Stillman Hillard, visited Florence that winter, and passed
more than one evening in Casa Guidi with the Brownings. Of Mrs. Browning
he wrote:

    "Mrs. Browning is in many respects the correlative of her husband....
    I have never seen a human frame which seemed so nearly a transparent
    veil for a celestial and immortal spirit. She is a soul of fire
    enclosed in a shell of pearl.... Nor is she more remarkable for genius
    and learning than for sweetness of temper, tenderness of heart, depth
    of feeling, and purity of spirit.... A union so complete as theirs--in
    which the mind has nothing to crave, nor the heart to sigh for--is
    cordial to behold and cheering to remember."

Of all Italy Mr. Hillard perhaps best loved Florence, finding there an
indescribable charm, "a blending of present beauty and traditional
interest; but then Florence is alive," he added, "and not enslaved." It
was probably Hillard who suggested to William Wetmore Story that he
should meet Browning. At all events this meeting took place, initiating
the friendship that endured "forty years, without a break," and that was
one of the choicest social companionships.

The spring of 1849 brought new joy to Casa Guidi, for on March 9 was born
their son, who was christened Robert Wiedemann Barrett, the middle name
(which in his manhood he dropped) being the maiden name of the poet's
mother. The passion of both husband and wife for poetry was now quite
equaled by that for parental duties, which they "caught up," said Mrs.
Browning, "with a kind of rapture." Mr. Browning would walk the terraces
where orange trees and oleanders blossomed, with the infant in his arms,
and in the summer, when they visited Spezzia, and the haunt of Shelley at
Lurici, they wandered five miles into the mountains, the baby with them,
on horseback and donkey-back. The child grew rounder and rosier; and Mrs.
Browning was able to climb hills and help her husband to lose himself in
the forests.

The death of Browning's mother immediately after the birth of his son was
a great sadness to the poet, and one fully shared by his wife, who wrote
to Miss Browning: "I grieve with you, as well as for you; for though I
never saw her face, I loved that pure and tender spirit.... Robert and I
dwell on the hope that you and your father will come to us at once.... If
Florence is too far off, is there any other place where we could meet and
arrange for the future?"

The Brownings went for the summer to Bagni di Lucca, after the little
_détour_ on the Mediterranean coast, where they lingered in the white
marble mountains of Carrara. In Lucca they passed long summer hours in the
beautiful Duomo, which had been consecrated by Pope Alexander II in the
eleventh century. The beauty and the solitude charmed the poets; the
little Penini was the "most popular of babies," and when Wilson carried
the child out in the sunshine the Italians would crowd around him and
exclaim, "_Che bel bambino!_" They had given him the pet Italian name
"Penini," which always persisted. The Austrians had then taken possession
of Florence, and Leopoldo, "L'intrepido," as the Italians asserted,
remained quietly in the Palazzo Pitti. Browning, writing to Mrs. Jameson,
says there is little for his wife to tell, "for she is not likely to
encroach upon my story which I could tell of her entirely angel nature, as
divine a heart as God ever made." The poet with his wife and Wilson and
the baby made almost daily excursions into the forests and mountains, up
precipitous fays and over headlong ravines; dining "with the goats," while
the baby "lay on a shawl, rolling and laughing." The contrast of this
mountain-climbing Mrs. Browning, with her husband and child, and the Miss
Barrett of three or four years before, lying on a sofa in a darkened room,
is rather impressive. The picture of one day is suggested by Mrs.
Browning's description in a letter to Miss Mitford, where she writes:

    "... I have performed a great exploit, ridden on a donkey five miles
    deep into the mountains, to an almost inaccessible volcanic ground not
    far from the stars. Robert on horseback, Wilson and the nurse with
    baby, on other donkeys; guides, of course. We set off at eight in the
    morning and returned at six P. M., after dining on the mountain
    pinnacle.... The scenery, sublime and wonderful,... innumerable
    mountains bound faintly with the gray sea, and not a human



  "_....The architect and hewer_
  _Did pile the empty marbles as thy tomb._"

Casa Guidi Windows.]

It was during this _villeggiatura_ that Mrs. Browning, one morning after
their breakfast, with shy sweetness, tucked the pages of the "Sonnets"
into her husband's pocket and swiftly vanished. Robert Barrett Browning,
who, as already noted, gave the history of this poetic interlude _viva
voce_, has also recorded it in writing, as follows:

What earthly vocabulary can offer fit words in which to speak of
celestial beauty? How these exquisite "Sonnets" tell the story of that
romance of Genius and Love,--from the woman's first thrill of interest in
the poetry of an unknown poet, to the hour when he, "the princely giver,"
brought to her "the gold and purple" of his heart

  "For such as I to take or leave withal,"

and she questions

  "Can it be right to give what I can give?"

with the fear that her delicacy of health should make such gifts

  "Be counted with the ungenerous."

But she thinks of how he "was in the world a year ago," and thus she

  "Of life's great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
  Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
  With personal act or speech,--

     *       *       *       *       *

  ... Atheists are as dull,
  Who cannot guess God's presence out of sight."

And the questioning,--

  "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
  I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
  My soul can reach,...
  ... I love thee with the breath,
  Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
  I shall but love thee better after death."

Returning to Florence in October, Browning soon began the preparation for
his poem, "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," and Mrs. Browning arranged for a
new one-volume edition of her poems, to include "The Seraphim," and the
poems that had appeared in the same volume, and also the poems appearing
in 1844, many of them revised.

Marchesa d'Ossoli, whom the Brownings had heretofore known as Margaret
Fuller, surprised them by appearing in Florence with her husband and
child, the private marriage having taken place some two years before. The
Greenoughs, the Storys, and Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Pearse Cranch were
all in Florence, and were all habitués of Casa Guidi. Mr. Cranch, poet,
painter, and musician, was the kindly friend of Longfellow and of Lowell
in their Cambridge homes, and the Greenoughs and Storys were also of the
Cambridge circle. To friends at home the Marchesa wrote of going to the
opera with the Greenoughs, and that she saw the Brownings often, "and I
love and admire them more and more," she continued. "Mr. Browning enriches
every hour passed with him, and he is a most true, cordial, and noble

The Florentine days have left their picturings: Mr. Story opens a studio,
and while he is modeling, Mrs. Story reads to him from Monckton Milnes's
Life of Keats, which Mr. Browning loaned them. Mrs. Story drives to Casa
Guidi to carry Mrs. Browning her copy of "Jane Eyre," and Mrs. Greenough
takes both Mrs. Story and Mrs. Browning to drive in the Cascine. Two
American painters, Frank Boott and Frank Heath, are in Florence, and are
more or less caught up in the Casa Guidi life; and the coterie all go to
Mrs. Trollope's to see fancy costumes arranged for a ball to be given at
Sir George Hamilton's. In one of the three villas on Bellosguardo Miss Isa
Blagden was now domiciled. For more than a quarter of a century Miss
Blagden was a central figure in English society in Florence. She became
Mrs. Browning's nearest and most intimate friend, and she was the ardently
prized friend of the Trollopes also, and of Miss Frances Power Cobbe, who
shared her villa during one spring when Florence was in her most radiant
beauty. "Isa was a very bright, warm-hearted, clever little woman," said
Thomas Adolphus Trollope of her; "who knew everybody, and was, I think,
more universally beloved among us than any other individual." Miss Blagden
had written one or two novels, of little claim, however, and after her
death a small volume of her poems was published, but all these had no more
than the mere _succès d'estime_, as apparently the pen was with her, as
with Margaret Fuller, a non-conductor; but as a choice spirit, of the most
beautiful and engaging qualities of companionship, "Isa," as she was
always caressingly called, is still held in memory. Madame Pasquale
Villari, the wife of the great historian and the biographer of Machiavelli
and of Savonarola, well remembers Miss Blagden, who died, indeed, in her
arms in the summer of 1872.

The intimate friendship between Mrs. Browning and Miss Blagden was
initiated in the early months of the residence of the Brownings in
Florence; but it was in this winter of 1849-1850 that they began to see
each other so constantly. The poems of Matthew Arnold were published that
winter, among which Mrs. Browning especially liked "The Deserted Merman"
and "The Sick King of Bokkara," and about this time the authorship of
"Jane Eyre" was revealed, and Charlotte Brontë discovered under the
_nom-de-plume_ of Currer Bell.

During the time that Mrs. Browning had passed at Torquay, before her
marriage, she had met Theodosia Garrow, whose family were on intimate
terms with Mr. Kenyon. Miss Barrett and Miss Garrow became friends, and
when they met again it was in Florence, Miss Garrow having become the wife
of Thomas Adolphus Trollope. Hiram Powers in these days was domiciled in
the Via dei Serragli, in close proximity to Casa Guidi, and he frequently
dropped in to have his morning coffee with the Brownings.


Landor had been for some years in his villa on the Fiesolean slope, not
far from Maiano, where Leigh Hunt had wandered, dreaming of Boccaccio. Two
scenes of the "Decameron" were laid in this region, and the deep ravine
at the foot of one of the neighboring hills was the original of the
"Valley of the Ladies." Not far away had been the house of Machiavelli;
and nestling among the blue hills was the little white village of
Settignano, where Michael Angelo was born. Leigh Hunt had been on terms of
the most cordial intimacy with Landor, whom he described as "living among
his paintings and hospitalities"; and Landor had also been visited by
Emerson, and by Lord and Lady Blessington, by Nathaniel Parker Willis
(introduced by Lady Blessington), by Greenough, Francis and Julius Hare,
and by that universal friend of every one, Mr. Kenyon, all before the
arrival of the Brownings in Florence. Landor had, however, been again in
England for several years, where Browning and Miss Barrett had both met
and admired him, as has been recorded.

The Florence on which the Brownings had entered differed little from the
Florence of to-day. The Palazzo Pitti, within a stone's throw of Casa
Guidi, stood in the same cyclopean massiveness as now; the piazza and
church of San Miniato, cypress-shaded, rose from the sweep of the hills,
and the miraculous crucifix of San Giovanni Gualberto was then, as now, an
object of pilgrimage. The wonder of the Italian sunsets, that "perished
silently of their own glory," burned away over the far hills, and the
strange, lofty tower of the Palazzo Vecchio caught the lingering rays.
Beyond the Porta Romana, not far from Casa Guidi, was the road to the Val
d'Emo, where the Certosa crowns an eminence. The stroll along the Arno at
sunset was a favorite one with the poets, and in late afternoons they
often climbed the slope to the Boboli Gardens for the view over Florence
and the Val d'Arno. Nor did they ever tire of lingering in the Piazza
della Signoria, before the marvelous palace with its medieval tower, and
standing before the colossal fountain of Neptune, just behind the spot
that is commemorated by a tablet in the pavement marking the martyrdom of
Savonarola. The great equestrian statue of Cosimo I always engaged their
attention in this historic piazza, which for four centuries had been the
center of the political life of the Florentines. All these places, the
churches, monuments, palaces, and the art of Florence, were fairly
mirrored in the minds of the wedded poets, impressing their imagination
with the fidelity of an image falling on a sensitized plate. To them, as
to all who love and enter into the ineffable beauty of the City of Lilies,
it was an atmosphere of enchantment.



  "I heard last night a little child go singing
    'Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,
   _O bella libertà, O bella!..._"

       "But Easter-Day breaks! But
  Christ rises! Mercy every way
  Is infinite,--and who can say?"


The Brownings were never for a moment caught up in the wave of popular
enthusiasm for Pio Nono that swept over Italy. Yet Mrs. Browning confessed
herself as having been fairly "taken in" by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Had
_Blackwood's Magazine_ published Part I of her "Casa Guidi Windows" at the
time that she sent it to this periodical, the poem would have been its own
proof of her distrust of the Pope, but it would also have offered the same
proof of her ill-founded trust in the Grand Duke; so that, on the whole,
she was well content to fail in having achieved the distinction of a
prophet regarding Pio Nono, as no Cassandra can afford to be convicted of
delusion in some portion of the details of her prophecy. To achieve
lasting reputation as a soothsayer, the prophecy must be accurate
throughout. The fact that there was an interval of three years between the
first and the second parts of this poem accounts for the discrepancy
between them. In her own words she confessed:

  "I wrote a meditation and a dream,
    Hearing a little child sing in the street:
  I leant upon his music as a theme,
    Till it gave way beneath my heart's full beat
  Which tried at an exultant prophecy,
    But dropped before the measure was complete--
  Alas for songs and hearts! O Tuscany,
    O Dante's Florence, is the type too plain?"

The flashing lightnings of a betrayed people gleam like an unsheathed
sword in another canto beginning:

  "From Casa Guidi windows I looked forth,
  And saw ten thousand eyes of Florentines
  Flash back the triumph of the Lombard north."

These ardent lines explain how she had been misled, for who could dream at
the time that Leopoldo ("_l'Intrepido_," as a poet of Viareggio called him
in a truly Italian fervor of enthusiasm) could have proved himself a
traitor to these trusting people,--these tender-hearted, gentle,
courteous, refined Italians? All these attributes pre-eminently
characterize the people; but also Mrs. Browning's insight that "the
patriots are not instructed, and the instructed are not patriots," was too
true. The adherents of the papal power were strong and influential, and
the personal character, whatever might be said of his political
principles,--the personal character of Pio Nono was singularly winning,
and this was by no means a negligible factor in the great problem then
before Italy.



Mrs. Browning very wisely decided to let "Casa Guidi Windows" stand as
written, with all the inconsistency between its first and second parts,
as each reflected what she believed true at the time of writing; and it
thus presents a most interesting and suggestive commentary on Italian
politics between 1850 and 1853. Its discrepancies are such "as we are
called upon to accept at every hour by the conditions of our nature," she
herself said of it, "implying the interval between aspiration and
performance, between faith and disillusion, between hope and fact." This
discrepancy was more painful to her than it can be even to the most
critical reader; but the very nature of the poem, its very fidelity to the
conditions and impressions of the moment, give it great value, though
these impressions were to be modified or canceled by those of a later
time; it should stand as it is, if given to the world at all. And the
courage to avow one's self mistaken is not the least of the forms that
moral courage may assume.

Regarding Pio Nono, Mrs. Browning is justified by history, notwithstanding
the many amiable and beautiful qualities of the Pontiff which forever
assure him a place in affection, if not in political confidence. Even his
most disastrous errors were the errors of judgment rather than those of
conscious intention. Pio Nono had the defects of his qualities, but loving
and reverent pilgrimages are constantly made to that little chapel behind
the iron railing in the old church of San Lorenzo _Fuori le Mura_ in Rome
(occupying the site of the church founded by Constantine), where his body
is entombed in a marble sarcophagus of the plainest design according to
his own instructions; but the interior of the vestibule is richly
decorated with mosaic paintings, the tribute of those who loved him.

Leopoldo was so kindly a man, so sincere in his work for the liberty of
the press and for other important reforms, that it is no marvel that Mrs.
Browning invested him with resplendence of gifts he did not actually
possess, but which it was only logical to feel that such a man must have.
Sometimes a too complete reliance on the _ex pede Herculem_ method of
judgment is misleading.

While the cause of Italian liberty had the entire sympathy of Robert
Browning, he was yet little moved to use it as a poetic motive. Professor
Hall Griffin suggests that it is possible that Browning deliberately chose
not to enter a field which his wife so particularly made her own; but that
is the less tenable as they never discussed their poetic work with each
other, and as a rule rarely showed to each other a single poem until it
was completed.

The foreign society in Florence at this time included some delightful
American sojourners, for, beside the Storys and Hiram Powers (an especial
friend of the Brownings), there were George S. Hillard, George William
Curtis, and the Marchesa d'Ossoli with her husband,--all of whom were
welcomed at Casa Guidi. The English society then in Florence was, as Mrs.
Browning wrote to Miss Mitford, "kept up much after the old English
models, with a proper disdain for continental simplicities of expense; and
neither my health nor our pecuniary circumstances," she says, "would admit
of our entering it. The fact is, we are not like our child, who kisses
everybody who smiles on him! You can scarcely imagine to yourself how we
have retreated from the kind advances of the English here, and struggled
with hands and feet to keep out of this gay society." But it is alluring
to imagine the charm of their chosen circle, the Storys always first and
nearest, and these other gifted and interesting friends.

Mr. Story is so universally thought of as a sculptor that it is not always
realized how eminent he was in the world of letters as well. Two volumes
of his poems contain many of value, and a few, as the "Cleopatra," "An
Estrangement," and the immortal "Io Victis," that the world would not
willingly let die; his "Roba di Roma" is one of those absolutely
indispensable works regarding the Eternal City; and several other books
of his, in sketch and criticism, enrich literature. A man of the most
courtly and distinguished manner, of flawless courtesy, an artist of
affluent expressions, it is not difficult to realize how congenial and
delightful was his companionship, as well as that of his accomplished
wife, to the Brownings. Indeed, no biographical record could be made of
either household, with any completeness, that did not largely include the
other. In all the lovely chronicles of literature and life there is no
more beautiful instance of an almost lifelong friendship than that between
Robert Browning and William Wetmore Story.

In this spring of 1850 Browning was at work on his "Christmas Eve and
Easter Day," and Casa Guidi preserved a liberal margin of quiet and
seclusion. "You can scarcely imagine," wrote Mrs. Browning, "the retired
life we live.... We drive day by day through the lovely Cascine, only
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."

When Curtis visited Florence he wrote to Browning begging to be permitted
to call, and he was one of the welcomed visitors in Casa Guidi. Browning
took him on many of those romantic excursions with which the environs of
Florence abound,--to Settignano, where Michael Angelo was born; to the old
Roman amphitheater in Fiesole; to that somber, haunted summit of San
Miniato, and to Vallombrosa, where he played to Curtis some of the old
Gregorian chants on an organ in the monastery. Afterward, in a
conversation with Longfellow, Mr. Curtis recalled a hymn by Pergolese that
Browning had played for him.

Tennyson's poem, "The Princess," went into the third edition that winter,
and Mrs. Browning observed that she knew of no poet, having claim _solely_
through poetry, who had attained so certain a success with so little
delay. Hearing that Tennyson had remarked that the public "hated poetry,"
Mrs. Browning commented that, "divine poet as he was, and no laurel being
too leafy for him," he must yet be unreasonable if he were not gratified
with "so immediate and so conspicuous a success."

Browning's "imprisoned splendor" found expression that winter in several
lyrics, which were included in the new (two volume) edition of his poems.

Among these were the "Meeting at Night," "Parting at Morning," "A Woman's
Last Word," and "Evelyn Hope." "Love among the Ruins," "Old Pictures in
Florence," "Saul," and his "A Toccata of Galuppi's," all belong to this
group. In that ardent love poem, "A Woman's Last Word," occur the lines:

  "Teach me, only teach, Love!
      As I ought
  I will speak thy speech, Love,
      Think thy thought--

  "Meet, if thou require it,
      Both demands,
  Laying flesh and spirit
      In thy hands."

No lyric that Robert Browning ever wrote is more haunting in its power and
sweetness, or more rich in significance, than "Evelyn Hope," with "that
piece of geranium flower" in the glass beside her beginning to die. The
whole scene is suggested by this one detail, and in characterization of
the young girl are these inimitable lines,--

  "The good stars met in your horoscope,
    Made you of spirit, fire, and dew--

     *       *       *       *       *

  Yet one thing, one, in my soul's full scope,
    Either I missed or itself missed me;

     *       *       *       *       *

  So, hush,--I will give you this leaf to keep;
      See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand!
  There, that is our secret: go to sleep!
      You will wake, and remember, and understand."


  "_.... With a softer brow_
  _Than Giotto drew upon the wall._"

Casa Guidi Windows.]

Mrs. Browning's touching lyric, "A Child's Grave at Florence," was
published in the _Athenæum_ that winter; and in this occur the simple but
appealing stanzas,--

  "Oh, my own baby on my knees,
      My leaping, dimpled treasure,

     *       *       *       *       *

  But God gives patience, Love learns strength,
      And Faith remembers promise;

     *       *       *       *       *

  Still mine! maternal rights serene
      Not given to another!
  The crystal bars shine faint between
      The souls of child and mother."

To this day, that little grave in the English cemetery in Florence, with
its "A. A. E. C." is sought out by the visitor. To Mrs. Browning the love
for her own child taught her the love of all mothers. In "Only a Curl" are
the lines:

  "O children! I never lost one,--
  But my arm's round my own little son,
  And Love knows the secret of Grief."

Florence "bristled with cannon" that winter, but nothing decisive
occurred. The faith of the Italian people in Pio Nono, however, grew less.
Mr. Kirkup, the antiquarian, still carried on his controversy with Bezzi
as to which of them were the more entitled to the glory of discovering the
Dante portrait, and in the spring there occurred the long-deferred
marriage of Mrs. Browning's sister Henrietta to Captain Surtees Cook, the
attitude of Mr. Barrett being precisely the same as on the marriage of his
daughter Elizabeth to Robert Browning. The death of Wordsworth was another
of the events of this spring, leaving vacant the Laureateship. The
_Athenæum_ at once advocated the appointment of Mrs. Browning, as one
"eminently suitable under a female sovereign." Other literary authorities
coincided with this view, it seeming a sort of poetic justice that a woman
poet should be Laureate to a Queen. The _Athenæum_ asserted that "there is
no living poet of either sex who can prefer a higher claim than Elizabeth
Barrett Browning," but the honor was finally conferred upon Tennyson, with
the ardent approbation of the Brownings, who felt that his claim was
rightly paramount.

In the early summer the Marchese and Marchesa d'Ossoli, with their child,
sailed on that ill-starred voyage whose tragic ending startled the
literary world of that day. Their last evening in Florence was passed with
the Brownings. The Marchesa expressed a fear of the voyage that, after its
fatal termination, was recalled by her friends as being almost prophetic.
Curiously she gave a little Bible to the infant son of the poets as a
presentation from her own little child; and Robert Barrett Browning still
treasures, as a strange relic, the book on whose fly-leaf is written "In
memory of Angelino d'Ossoli." Mrs. Browning had a true regard for the
Marchesa, of whom she spoke as "a very interesting person, thoughtful,
spiritual, in her habitual mode of mind."

In his poetic creed, Browning deprecated nothing more entirely (to use a
mild term where a stronger would not be inappropriate) than that the poet
should reveal his personal feeling in his poem; and to the dramatic
character of his own work he held tenaciously. He rebuked the idea that
Shakespeare "unlocked his heart" to his readers, and he warns them off
from the use of any fancied latch-key to his own inner citadel.

  "Which of you did I enable
    Once to slip inside my breast,
  There to catalogue and label
    What I like least, what love best?"

And in another poem the reader will recall how fervently he thanks God
that "even the meanest of His creatures"

  "Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
  One to show a woman when he loves her!"

It was the knowledge of this intense and pervading conviction of her
husband's that kept Mrs. Browning so long from showing to him her
exquisitely tender and sacred self-revelation in the "Sonnets from the
Portuguese." Yet it was in that very "One Word More" where Browning thanks
God for the "two soul-sides," that he most simply reveals himself, and
also in "Prospice" and in this "Christmas Eve and Easter Day." This poem,
with its splendor of vision, was published in 1850, with an immediate sale
of two hundred copies, after which for the time the demand ceased. William
Sharp well designates it as a "remarkable Apologia for Christianity," for
it can be almost thought of in connection with Newman's "Apologia pro vita
sua," and as not remote from the train of speculative thought which
Matthew Arnold wrought into his "Literature and Dogma." It is very
impressive to see how the very content of Hegelian Dialectic is the
key-note of Browning's art. "The concrete and material content of a life
of perfected knowledge and volition means one thing, only, love," teaches
Hegelian philosophy. This, too, is the entire message of Browning's
poetry. Man must love God in the imperfect manifestation which is all he
can offer of God. He must relate the imperfect expression to the perfect

  "All I aspired to be
  And was not--comforts me."

In the unfaltering search for the Divine Ideal is the true reward.

  "One great aim, like a guiding star, above--
  Which tasks strength, wisdom, stateliness, to lift
  His manhood to the height that takes the prize."

Browning conceived and presented the organic idea and ideal of life, in
its fullness, its intensity, as perhaps few poets have ever done. He would
almost place a positive sin above a negative virtue. To live intensely,
even if it be sinfully, was to Browning's vision to be on the upward way,
rather than to be in a state of negative good. The spirit of man is its
own witness of the presence of God. Life cannot be truly lived in any
fantastic isolation.

  "Just when we're safest, there's a sunset touch,
  A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
  A chorus ending from Euripides."

With Browning, as with Spinoza, there is an impatience, too, with the
perpetual references to death, and they both constantly turn to the
everlasting truth of life. "It is this harping on death that I despise so
much," exclaimed Browning, in the later years of his life, in a
conversation with a friend. "In fiction, in poetry, in art, in literature
this shadow of death, call it what you will,--despair, negation,
indifference,--is upon us. But what fools who talk thus!... Why, death is
life, just as our daily momentarily dying body is none the less alive, and
ever recruiting new forces of existence. Without death, which is our word
for change, for growth, there could be no prolongation of that which we
call life."

After the completion of "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," Mrs. Browning
questioned her husband about the apparent asceticism of the second part of
the poem, and he replied that he meant it to show only one side of the
matter. "Don't think," she wrote to a friend, "that Robert has taken to
the cilix,--indeed he has not, but it is his way to see things as
passionately as other people feel them."

Browning teaches in this poem that faith is an adventure of the spirit,
the aspiration felt, even if unnamed. But as to renunciation,--

  "'Renounce the world!'--Ah, were it done
  By merely cutting one by one
  Your limbs off, with your wise head last,
  How easy were it!"

The renunciation that the poet sees is not so simple. It is not to put
aside all the allurements of life, but to use them nobly; to persist in
the life of the spirit, to offer love for hatred, truth for falsehood,
generous self-sacrifice rather than to grasp advantages,--to live, not to
forsake the common daily lot. It is, indeed, the philosophy amplified that
is found in the words of Jesus, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them
out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."

The Brownings remained till late in the summer in their Casa Guidi home,
detained at first by the illness of Mrs. Browning, after which they
decided to postpone going to England until another year. In the late
summer they went for a few weeks to Siena, where, two miles outside the
walls, they found a seven-roomed villa with a garden and vineyard and
olive orchard, and "a magnificent view of a noble sweep of country,
undulating hills and verdure, and on one side the great Maremma extending
to the foot of the Roman mountains." They were located on a little hill
called Poggia dei venti, with all the winds of the heavens, indeed,
blowing about them, and with overflowing quantities of milk and bread and
wine, and a loggia at the top of the villa. Mrs. Browning found herself
rapidly recovering strength, and their comfort was further extended by
finding a library in Siena, where, for three francs a month, they had
access to the limited store of books which seem so luxurious in Italy. The
boy Browning was delighted with his new surroundings, his sole infelicity
being his inability to reach the grapes clustering over the trellises; he
missed the Austrian band that made music (or noise) for his delectation in
Florence, although to compensate for this privation he himself sang
louder than ever. In after years Mr. Browning laughingly related this
anecdote of his son's childhood: "I was one day playing a delicate piece
of Chopin's on the piano, and hearing a loud noise outside, hastily
stopped playing when my little boy ran in, and my wife exclaimed: 'How
could you leave off playing when Penini brought three drums to accompany

For all this bloom and beauty in Siena they paid a little less than
fifteen francs a week. Soon after their arrival they learned of the
shipwreck in which the Marchese and Marchesa d'Ossoli and the little
Angelino all perished, and the tragedy deeply impressed Mrs. Browning.
"The work that the Marchesa was preparing upon Italy would have been more
equal to her faculties than anything she has ever produced," said Mrs.
Browning, "her other writings being curiously inferior to the impression
made by her conversation."

Before returning to Florence the Brownings passed a week in the town of
Siena to visit the pictures and churches, but they found it pathetic to
leave the villa, and especially harrowing to their sensibilities to part
with the pig. There is consolation, however, for most mortal sorrows, and
the Brownings found it in their intense interest in Sienese art. The
wonderful pulpit of the Duomo, the work of Niccola Pisano; the font of San
Giovanni; the Sodomas, and the Libreria (the work of Pius III, which he
built when he was Cardinal, and in which, at the end of the aisle, is a
picture of his own elevation to the Papal throne, painted after his death)
fascinated their attention. The Brownings found it dazzling to enter this
interior, all gold and color, with the most resplendent decorative
effects. They followed in the footsteps of Saint Catherine, as do all
pilgrims to Siena, and climbed the hill to the Oratorio di Santa Caterina
in Fontebranda, and read that inscription: "Here she stood and touched
that precious vessel and gift of God, blessed Catherine, who in her
life did so many miracles." They lingered, too, in the Cappella Santa
Caterina in San Domenico, where Catherine habitually prayed, where she
beheld visions and received her mystic revelations. They loitered in the
piazza, watching the stars hang over that aerial tower, "Il Mangia," and
drove to San Gimignano, with its picturesque medieval atmosphere.

               KNOWN AS THE DUOMO.

  "_The most to praise and the best to see_
  _Was the startling bell-tower Giotto raised._"

Old Pictures in Florence.]

It was in the autumn of 1850 that Tennyson's "In Memoriam," first
privately and then anonymously printed, was acknowledged by the poet. The
Brownings read extracts from it in the _Examiner_, and they were deeply
moved by it. "Oh, there's a poet!" wrote Mrs. Browning. At last, "by a
sort of miracle," they obtained a copy, and Mrs. Browning was carried away
with its exquisite touch, its truth and earnestness. "The book has gone to
my heart and soul," she says, "I think it full of deep pathos and beauty."

An interesting visitor dropped in at Casa Guidi in the person of a
grandson of Goethe; and his mission to Florence, to meet the author of
"Paracelsus" and discuss with him the character of the poem, was a tribute
to its power. Mrs. Browning, whose poetic ideals were so high, writing to
a friend of their guest, rambled on into some allusions to poetic art, and
expressed her opinion that all poets should take care to teach the world
that poetry is a divine thing. "Rather perish every verse I ever wrote,
for one," she said, "than help to drag down an inch that standard of
poetry which, for the sake of humanity as well as literature, should be
kept high."

In "Aurora Leigh" she expresses the same sentiment in the lines:

                        "I, who love my art,
  Would never wish it lower to suit my stature."

Full of affection and interest are Mrs. Browning's letters to her
husband's sister, Sarianna, who, with her father, is now living in
Hatcham, near London. In the spring of 1852, after passing the winter in
Florence, the Brownings set out for England; the plan at first being to go
south to Naples, pause at Rome, and then go northward; but this was
finally abandoned, and they proceeded directly to Venice, where Mrs.
Browning was enchanted with life set in a scenic loveliness of "music and

"I have been between heaven and earth since our arrival in Venice," she
writes. "The heaven of it is ineffable. Never have I touched the skirts of
so celestial a place. The beauty of the architecture, the silver trails of
water between all that gorgeous color and carving, the enchanting silence,
the moonlight, the music, the gondolas,--I mix it all up together...."

In the divine beauty of Venetian evenings they sat in the white moonlight
in the piazza of San Marco, taking their coffee and the French papers
together. Or they would go to the opera, where for a ridiculously small
sum they had an entire box to themselves. But while Mrs. Browning longed
"to live and die in Venice, and never go away," the climate did not agree
with Mr. Browning, and they journeyed on toward Paris, stopping one night
at Padua and driving out to Arqua for Petrarca's sake. In Milan Mrs.
Browning climbed the three hundred and fifty steps, to the topmost
pinnacle of the glorious cathedral. At Como they abandoned the diligence
for the boat, sailing through that lovely chain of lakes to Flüelen, and
thence to Lucerne, the scenery everywhere impressing Mrs. Browning as
being so sublime that she "felt as if standing in the presence of God."
From Lucerne they made a _détour_ through Germany, pausing at Strasburg,
and arriving in Paris in July. This journey initiated an absence of almost
a year and a half from Italy. They had let their apartment, so they were
quite free to wander, and they were even considering the possibility of
remaining permanently in Paris, whose brilliant intellectual life
appealed to them both. After a brief sojourn in the French capital, they
went on to England, and they had rather an embarrassment of riches in the
number of houses proffered them, for Tennyson begged them to accept the
loan of his house and servants at Twickenham, and Joseph Arnould was
equally urgent that they should occupy his town house. But they took
lodgings, instead, locating in Devonshire Street, and London life proceeds
to swallow them up after its own absorbing fashion. They breakfast with
Rogers, and pass an evening with the Carlyles; Forster gives a
"magnificent dinner" for them; Mrs. Fanny Kemble calls, and sends them
tickets for her reading of "Hamlet"; and the Proctors, Mrs. Jameson, and
other friends abound. They go to New Cross, Hatcham, to visit Mr.
Browning's father and sister, where the little Penini "is taken into
adoration" by his grandfather. Mrs. Browning's sisters show her every
affection, and her brothers come; but her father, in reply to her own and
her husband's letter, simply sends back to her, with their seals unbroken,
all the letters she had written to him from Italy. "So there's the end,"
she says; "I cannot, of course, write again. God takes it all into His own
hands, and I wait." The warm affection of her sisters cheered her, Mrs.
Surtees Cook (Henrietta Barrett) coming up from Somersetshire for a week's
visit, and her sister Arabel being invited with her. It was during this
sojourn in London that Bayard Taylor, poet and critic, and afterward
American Minister Plenipotentiary to Germany, called upon the Brownings,
bringing a letter of introduction from Hillard.

The poet's wife impressed Taylor as almost a spirit figure, with her
pallor and slender grace, and the little Penini, "a blue-eyed,
golden-haired boy, babbling his little sentences in Italian," strayed in
like a sunbeam. While Taylor was with them, Mr. Kenyon called, and after
his departure Browning remarked to his guest: "There goes one of the most
splendid men living,--a man so noble in his friendship, so lavish in his
hospitality, so large-hearted and benevolent, that he deserves to be known
all over the world as Kenyon the Magnificent."

The poets were overwhelmed with London hospitalities, and as Mrs. Browning
gave her maid, Wilson, leave of absence to visit her own family, the care
of little Pen fell upon her. He was in a state of "deplorable grief" for
his nurse, "and after all," laughed Mrs. Browning, "the place of nursery
maid is more suitable to me than that of poetess (or even poet's wife) in
this obstreperous London."

In the late September the Brownings crossed to Paris, Carlyle being their
traveling companion, and after an effort to secure an apartment near the
Madeleine, they finally established themselves in the Avenue des Champs
Élysées (No. 128), where they had pretty, sunny rooms, tastefully
furnished, with the usual French lavishness in mirrors and clocks,--all
for two hundred francs a month, which was hardly more than they had paid
for the dreary Grosvenor Street lodgings in London. Mrs. Browning was very
responsive to that indefinable exhilaration of atmosphere that pervades
the French capital, and the little Penini was charmed with the gayety and
brightness. Mrs. Browning enjoyed the restaurant dining, _à la carte_,
"and mixing up one's dinner with heaps of newspapers, and the 'solution'
by Émile de Girardin," who suggested, it seems, "that the next President
of France should be a tailor." Meantime she writes to a friend that "the
'elf' is flourishing in all good fairyhood, with a scarlet rose leaf on
each cheek." They found themselves near neighbors of Béranger, and
frequently saw him promenading the avenue in a white hat, and they learned
that he lived very quietly and "kept out of scrapes, poetical and
political." Mrs. Browning notes that they would like to know Béranger,
were the stars propitious, and that no accredited letter of introduction
to him would have been refused, but that they could not make up their
minds to go to his door and introduce themselves as vagrant minstrels. To
George Sand they brought a letter from Mazzini, and although they heard
she "had taken vows against seeing strangers," Mrs. Browning declared she
would not die, if she could help it, without meeting the novelist who had
so captivated her. Mazzini's letter, with one from themselves, was sent to
George Sand through mutual friends, and the following reply came:

    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 étoile m'y aidera peut-être un peu. Agréez
    mille remerciments de coeur ainsi que Monsieur Browning, que
    j'espère voir avec vous, pour la sympathie que vous m'accordez.


    PARIS, 12 _fevrier_, 1852.

The visit must have been mutually satisfactory, for it was repeated two or
three times, and they found her simple, "without a shade of affectation or
consciousness." Another pleasure they had was in meeting Lamartine, who
took the initiative in asking to be allowed to call on them. After their
arrival in Paris Carlyle passed several evenings with them, and Mrs.
Browning felt, with her husband, that he was one of the most interesting
of men, "highly picturesque" in conversation. Her sympathetic insight gave
her always the key and the clue to character, and perhaps no one ever read
Carlyle more truly than she, when she interpreted his bitterness only as
melancholy, and his scorn as sensibility.

The Brownings had not been long in Paris before they were invited to a
reception at Lady Elgin's, where they met Madame Mohl, who at once
cordially urged their coming to her "evenings," to meet her French
celebrities. Lady Elgin was domiciled in the old Faubourg Saint Germain,
and received every Monday evening from eight to twelve, _sans façon_,
people being in morning dress, and being served with simple refreshment of
tea and cakes. Lady Elgin expressed the hope that the Brownings would come
to her on every one of these evenings, Mrs. Browning said that she had
expected "to see Balzac's duchesses and _hommes de lettres_ on all sides,"
but she found it less notable, though very agreeable. The elder Browning
and his daughter pay a visit to them, greatly to Mrs. Browning's
enjoyment. At this time they half contemplated living permanently in
Paris, if it seemed that Mrs. Browning could endure the climate, and she
records, during the visit of her husband's father and sister, that if they
do remain in Paris they hope to induce these beloved members of the family
to also establish themselves there. As it turned out, the Brownings passed
only this one winter in the French capital, but the next spring Mr.
Browning (_père_) and his daughter Sarianna took up their residence in
Paris, where they remained during the remainder of his life. Mrs. Browning
was always deeply attached to her husband's sister. "Sarianna is full of
accomplishment and admirable sense," she wrote of her, and the visit of
both gave her great pleasure. The _coup d'état_ took place early in
December, but they felt no alarm. Mrs. Browning expressed her great faith
in the French people, and declared the talk about "military despotism" to
be all nonsense. The defect she saw in M. Thiers was "a lack of breadth of
view, which helped to bring the situation to a dead lock, on which the
French had no choice than to sweep the board clean and begin again."

It was during this early winter, with French politics and French society
and occasional spectacles and processions extending from the Carrousel to
the Arc de l'Étoile, that Browning wrote that essay on Shelley, which his
publisher of that time, Mr. Moxon, had requested to accompany a series of
Shelley letters which had been discovered, but which were afterward found
to be fraudulent. The edition was at once suppressed; but a few copies had
already gone out, and, as Professor Dowden says, "The essay is interesting
as Browning's only considerable piece of prose;... for him the poet of
'Prometheus Unbound' was not that beautiful and ineffectual angel of
Matthew Arnold's fancy, beating in the void his luminous wings. A great
moral purpose looked forth from Shelley's work, as it does from all lofty
works of art." It was "the dream of boyhood," Browning tells us, to render
justice to Shelley; and he availed himself of this opportunity with
alluring eagerness. His interpretation of Shelley is singularly noble and
in accord with all the great spiritual teachings of his own poetic work.
Browning's plea that there is no basis for any adequate estimate of
Shelley, who "died before his youth was ended," cannot but commend its
justice; and he urges that in any measurement of Shelley as a man he must
be contemplated "at his ultimate spiritual stature" and not judged by the
mistakes of ten years before when in his entire immaturity of character.

How all that infinite greatness of spirit and almost divine breadth of
comprehension that characterize Robert Browning reveal themselves in this
estimate of Shelley. It is seeing human errors and mistakes as God sees
them,--the temporary faults, defects, imperfections of the soul on its
onward way to perfection. This was the attitude of Browning's profoundest
convictions regarding human life.

  "Eternal process moving on;
    From state to state the spirit walks."

This achievement of the divine ideal for man is not within the
possibilities of the brief sojourn on earth, but what does the transition
called death do for man but to

  "Interpose at the difficult moment, snatch Saul, the mistake,
  Saul, the failure, the ruin he seems now,--and bid him awake
  From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
  Clear and safe in new light and new life,--a new harmony yet
  To be run, and continued, and ended--who knows?--or endure!
  The man taught enough by life's dream, of the rest to make sure."

Browning's message in its completeness was invariably that which is
imaged, too, in these lines from Mrs. Browning's "Aurora Leigh":

  "And take for a worthier stage the soul itself,
  Its shifting fancies and celestial lights."

For it is only in this drama of the infinite life that the spiritual man
can be tested. It was from the standpoint of an actor on this celestial
stage that Browning considered Shelley. In the entire range of Browning's
art the spiritual man is imaged as a complex and individualized spark of
the divine force. He is seen for a flitting moment on his way toward a
divine destiny.

Professor Hall Griffin states as his belief that Browning's paper was to
some degree inspired by that of Joseph Milsand on himself, which appeared
in August, 1851, in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_ in which Milsand commended
Browning's work "as pervaded by an intense belief in the importance of the
individual soul."

To Browning this winter was enchanted by the initiation of his friendship
with Milsand, the distinguished French scholar and critic, who had already
made a name as a philosophic thinker and had published a book on Ruskin
(_L'Esthétique Anglaise_), and who was a discerner of spirits in poetic
art as well. About the time that "Paracelsus" appeared, Milsand had seen
an extract from the poem that captivated him, and he at once sent for the
volume. He had also read, with the deepest interest, Browning's "Christmas
Eve and Easter Day." He was contributing to the _Revue des Deux Mondes_
two papers on _La Poésie Anglaise depuis Byron_, the first of which, on
Tennyson, had appeared the previous August. Milsand was about completing
the second paper of this series (on Browning), and it happened just at
this time that Miss Mitford's "Recollections of a Literary Life" was
published, in which, writing of the Brownings, she had told the story of
that tragic death of Mrs. Browning's brother Edward, who had been drowned
at Torquay. In these days, when, as Emerson rhymes the fact,

  "Every thought is public,
    Every nook is wide,
  The gossips spread each whisper
    And the gods from side to side,"

it is a little difficult to quite comprehend, even in comprehending Mrs.
Browning's intense sensitiveness and the infinite sacredness of this
grief, why she should have been so grieved at Miss Mitford's tender
allusion to an accident that was, by its very nature, public, and which
must have been reported in the newspapers of the day. Mrs. Browning was
always singularly free from any morbid states, from any tendency to the
_idée fixe_, to which a semi-invalid condition is peculiarly and
pardonably liable; but she said, in an affectionate letter to Miss

    "I have lived heart to heart (for instance) with my husband these five
    years: I have never yet spoken out, in a whisper even, what is in me;
    never yet could find heart or breath; never yet could bear to hear a
    word of reference from his lips."

It is said there are no secrets in heaven, and in that respect, at least,
the twentieth century is not unlike the celestial state; and it is almost
as hard a task for the imagination to comprehend the reserve in all
personal matters that characterized the mid-nineteenth century as it
would be to enter into absolute comprehension of the medieval mind; but
Mrs. Browning's own pathetic deprecation of her feelings regarding this is
its own passport to the sympathy of the reader. To Miss Mitford's reply,
full of sympathetic comprehension and regret, Mrs. Browning replied that
she understood, "and I thank you," she added, "and love you, which is
better. Now, let us talk of reasonable things." For Mrs. Browning had that
rare gift and grace of instantly closing the chapter, and turning the
page, and ceasing from all allusion to any subject of regret, after the
inevitable reference of the moment had been made. She had the mental
energy and the moral buoyancy to drop the matter, and this characteristic
reveals how normal she was, and how far from any morbidness.

Milsand, with a delicacy that Robert Browning never forgot, came to him to
ask his counsel regarding the inclusion of this tragic accident that had
left such traces on his wife's genius and character (traces that are
revealed in immortal expression in her poem, "De Profundis," written some
years later), and Browning was profoundly touched by his consideration.
Grasping both Milsand's hands, he exclaimed, "Only a Frenchman could have
done this!" A friendship initiated under circumstances so unusual, and
with such reverent intuition of Mrs. Browning's feelings, could not but
hold its place apart to them both.

The Brownings found Paris almost as ineffable in beauty in the early
spring as was their Florence. "It's rather dangerous to let the charm of
Paris work," laughed Mrs. Browning; "the honey will be clogging our feet
soon, and we shall find it difficult to go away."

They had a delightful winter socially, as well; they went to Ary
Scheffer's and heard Madame Viardot, then in the height of her artistic
fame; George Sand sent them tickets for the _première_ of "Les Vacances de
Pandolphe"; they went to the Vaudeville to see the "Dame aux Camellias,"
of which Mrs. Browning said that she did not agree with the common cry
about its immorality. To her it was both moral and human, "but I never
will go to see it again," she says, "for it almost broke my heart. The
exquisite acting, the too literal truth to nature...." They met Paul de
Musset, but missed his brother Alfred that winter, whose poems they both
cared for.

The elder Browning retained through his life that singular talent for
caricature drawing that had amused and fascinated his son in the poet's
childhood; and during his visit to the Brownings in Paris he had produced
many of these drawings which became the delight of his grandson as well.
The Paris streets furnished him with some inimitable suggestions, and
Robert Barrett Browning, to this day, preserves many of these keen and
humorous and extremely clever drawings of his grandfather. Thierry, the
historian, who was suffering from blindness, sent to the Brownings a
request that they would call on him, with which they immediately complied,
and they were much interested in his views on France. The one
disappointment of that season was in not meeting Victor Hugo, whose fiery
hostility to the new _régime_ caused it to be more expedient for him to
reside quite beyond possible sight of the gilded dome of the Invalides.

In June the Brownings returned to London, where they domiciled themselves
in Welbeck Street (No. 58), Mrs. Browning's sisters both being near, Mrs.
Surtees Cook having established herself only twenty doors away, and Miss
Arabel Barrett being in close proximity in Wimpole Street. They were
invited to Kenyon's house at Wimbledon, where Landor was a guest, whom
Mrs. Browning found "looking as young as ever, and full of passionate
energy," and who talked with characteristic exaggeration of Louis Napoleon
and of the President of the French nation. Landor "detested" the one and
"loathed" the other; and as he did not accept Talleyrand's ideal of the
use of language, he by no means concealed these sentiments. Mazzini
immediately sought the Brownings, his "pale, spiritual face" shining, and
his "intense eyes full of melancholy illusions." He brought Mrs. Carlyle
with him, Mrs. Browning finding her "full of thought, and feeling, and
character." Miss Mulock, who had then written "The Ogilvies," and had also
read her title clear to some poetic recognition, was in evidence that
season, as were Mr. and Mrs. Monckton Milnes, and Fanny Kemble was also a
brilliant figure in the social life. Nor was the London of that day
apparently without a taste for the sorceress and the soothsayer, for no
less a personage than Lord Stanhope was, it seems, showing to the elect
the "spirits of the sun" in a crystal ball, which Lady Blessington had
bought from an Egyptian magician and had sold again. Lady Blessington
declared she had no understanding of the use of it, but it was on record
that the initiated could therein behold Oremus, Spirit of the Sun. Both
the crystal ball and the seers were immensely sought, notwithstanding the
indignation expressed by Mr. Chorley, who regarded the combination of
social festivities and crystal gazing as eminently scandalous. Which
element he considered the more dangerous is not on the palimpsest that
records the story of these days. Lord Stanhope invited the Brownings to
these occult occasions of intermingled attractions, and Mrs. Browning
writes: "For my part, I endured both luncheon and spiritual phenomena with
great equanimity." An optician of London took advantage of the popular
demand and offered a fine assortment of crystal ball spheres, at prices
which quite restricted their sale to the possessors of comfortable
rent-rolls, and Lord Stanhope asserted that a great number of persons
resorted to these balls to divine the future, without the courage to
confess it. One wonders as to whom "the American Corinna, in yellow silk,"
in London, that season, could have been?

The Brownings were invited to a country house in Farnham, to meet Charles
Kingsley, who impressed them with his genial and tender kindness, and
while they thought some of his social views wild and theoretical, they
loved his earnestness and originality, and believed he could not be
"otherwise than good and noble." It was during this summer (according to
William Michael Rossetti) that Browning and Dante Gabriel Rossetti first
met, Rossetti coming to call on them in company with William Allingham. On
August 30, from Chapel House, Twickenham, Tennyson wrote to Mrs. Browning
of the birth of his son, Hallam, to which she replied:

    "Thank you and congratulate you from my heart. May God bless you all
    three.... Will you say to dear Mrs. Tennyson how deeply I sympathize
    in her happiness...."

To this letter Browning added a postscript saying:

    "How happy I am in your happiness, and in the assurance that it is
    greater than even you can quite know yet. God bless, dear Tennyson,
    you and all yours."

Tennyson wrote again to Mrs. Browning, saying, "... How very grateful your
little note and Browning's epilogue made me." And he signs himself "Ever
yours and your husband's." There was a brilliant christening luncheon at
the home of Monckton Milnes, "and his baby," notes Mrs. Browning, "was
made to sweep, in India muslin and Brussels lace, among a very large
circle of admiring guests." The Brownings were especially invited to bring
their little Penini with them, "and he behaved like an angel, everybody
said," continued his mother, "and looked very pretty, I said myself; only
he disgraced us all at last by refusing to kiss the baby on the ground of
its being '_troppo grande_.'"

To Mrs. Tennyson's note of invitation to the Brownings to attend the
christening of their child, Mrs. Browning replied that they had planned to
leave England before that date; "but you offer us an irresistible motive
for staying, in spite of fogs and cold," she continued, "and we would not
miss the christening for the world." At the last, however, Mrs. Browning
was unable to go, so that the poet went alone. After the little ceremony
Browning took the boy in his arms and tossed him, while Tennyson, looking
on, exclaimed: "Ah, that is as good as a glass of champagne for him."

Florence Nightingale was a not infrequent visitor of the Brownings that
summer, and she always followed her calls by a gift of masses of flowers.
While "Morte d'Arthur" had been written more than ten years previously,
Tennyson was now evolving the entire plan of the "Idylls of the King."
Coventry Patmore, who brought the manuscript copy of his own poems,
published later, for Mr. Browning to read, mentioned to the poets that
Tennyson was writing a collection of poems on Arthur, which were to be
united by their subject, after the manner of "In Memoriam," which project
interested Mrs. Browning greatly. "The work will be full of beauty, I
don't doubt," she said.

Ruskin invited the Brownings to Denmark Hill to see his Turners, and they
found the pictures "divine." They liked Ruskin very much, finding him
"gentle, yet earnest."

During this London sojourn Mr. Browning's old friend, William Johnson Fox,
who had first encouraged the young poet by praising "not a little, which
praise comforted me not a little," the verses of his "Incondita"; who had
written a favorable review of "Pauline"; who had found a publisher for
"Paracelsus," and had introduced the poet to Macready, again appears, and
writes to his daughter that he has had "a charming hour" with the
Brownings, and that he is more fascinated than ever with Mrs. Browning.
"She talked lots of George Sand, and so beautifully, and she
silver-electroplated Louis Napoleon!" Mr. Fox adds:[6] "They came in to
their lodgings late at night, and R. B. says that in the morning twilight
he saw three pictures on the bedroom wall, and speculated as to whom they
might be. Light gradually showed the first to be 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? Your (Fox's) sketch (engraved
chalk portrait) of me?' He made quite a poem and picture of the affair.
She seems much better; and the young Florentine was gracious."

In November the Brownings again left London for Florence, pausing a week
in Paris on the way, where they witnessed the picturesque pomp of the
reception of Louis Napoleon, the day being brilliant with sunshine, and
the hero of the hour producing an impression by riding entirely alone,
with at least ten paces between himself and the nearest of his escort,
till even Charlotte Cushman, sitting at the side of Mrs. Browning,
watching the spectacle, declared this to be "fine." The "young Florentine"
was in a state of ecstasy, which he expressed in mingled French and

They journeyed to Florence by the Mont Cenis, stopping a week in Genoa,
where Mrs. Browning lay ill on her sofa; but the warmth of the Italian
sunshine soon restored her, and for two days before they left, she was
able to walk all about the beautiful old city. They visited together the
Andrea Doria palace, and enjoyed sauntering in a sunshine that was like
that of June days dropped into the heart of November. They were delighted
to hear the sound of their "dear Italian" again, and proceeded by
diligence to Florence, where they took possession of their Casa Guidi
home, which looked, wrote Mrs. Browning to her sister-in-law, as if they
had only left it yesterday. The little Penini was "in a state of complete
agitation" on entering Florence, through having heard so much talk of it,
and expressed his emotion by repeated caresses and embraces. Mrs. Browning
shared the same amazement at the contrast of climate between Turin and
Genoa that twentieth-century travelers experience; Turin having been so
cold that they were even obliged to have a fire all night, while at Genoa
they were "gasping for breath, with all the windows and doors open, blue
skies burning overhead, and no air stirring." But this very heat was
life-giving to Mrs. Browning as they lingered on the terraces, gazing on
the beautiful bay encircled by its sweep of old marble palaces. She even
climbed half-way up the lighthouse for the view, resting there while
Browning climbed to the top, for that incomparable outlook which every
visitor endeavors to enjoy. In Florence there were the "divine sunsets"
over the Arno, and Penini's Italian nurse rushing in to greet the child,
exclaiming, "_Dio mio, come e bellino!_" They "caught up their ancient
traditions" just where they left them, Mrs. Browning observes, though Mr.
Browning, "demoralized by the boulevards," missed the stir and intensity
of Parisian life. They found Powers, the sculptor, changing his location,
and Mr. Lytton (the future Earl), who was an attaché at the English
Embassy, became a frequent and a welcome visitor. In a letter to Mr.
Kenyon Mrs. Browning mentions that Mr. Lytton is interested in
manifestations of spiritualism, and had informed her that, to his father's
great satisfaction (his father being Sir E. Bulwer Lytton), these
manifestations had occurred at Knebworth, the Lytton home in England.
Tennyson's brother, who had married an Italian lady, was in Florence,
and the American Minister, Mr. Marsh. With young Lytton at this time,
Poetry was an article of faith, and nothing would have seemed to him more
improbable, even had any of his clairvoyants foretold it, than his future
splendid career as Viceroy of India.


Mrs. Browning was reading Prudhon that winter, and also Swedenborg,
Lamartine, and other of the French writers. Browning was writing from time
to time many of the lyrics that appear in the Collection entitled "Men and
Women," while on Mrs. Browning had already dawned the plan of "Aurora
Leigh." They read the novel of Dumas, _Diane de Lys_, Browning's verdict
on it being that it was clever, but outrageous as to the morals; and Mrs.
Browning rejoiced greatly in Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's
Cabin," saying of Mrs. Stowe, "No woman ever had such a success, such a
fame." All in all, this winter of 1852-1853 was a very happy one to the
poets, what with their work, their friends, playing with the little
Wiedemann (Penini), the names seeming interchangeably used, and their
reading, which included everything from poetry and romance to German
mysticism, social economics, and French criticism. Mrs. Browning found one
of the best apologies for Louis Napoleon in Lamartine's work on the
Revolution of '48; and she read, with equal interest, that of Louis Blanc
on the same period. In April "Colombe's Birthday" was produced at the
Haymarket Theater in London, the role of the heroine being taken by Miss
Helen Faucit, afterward Lady Martin. The author had no financial interest
in this production, which ran for two weeks, and was spoken of by London
critics as holding the house in fascinated attention, with other
appreciative phrases.

Mrs. Browning watches the drama of Italian politics, and while she
regarded Mazzini as noble, she also felt him to be unwise, a verdict that
time has since justified. "We see a great deal of Frederick Tennyson,"
she writes; "Robert is very fond of him, and so am I. He too writes poems,
and prints them, though not for the public." Their mutual love of music
was a strong bond between Browning and Mr. Tennyson, who had a villa on
the Fiesolean slope, with a large hall in which he was reported to "sit in
the midst of his forty fiddlers."

For the coming summer they had planned a retreat into Giotto's country,
the Casentino, but they finally decided on Bagni di Lucca again, where
they remained from July till October, Mr. Browning writing "In a Balcony"
during this _villeggiatura_. Before leaving Florence they enjoyed an
idyllic day at Pratolina with Mrs. Kinney, the wife of the American
Minister to the Court of Turin, and the mother of Edmund Clarence Stedman.
The royal residences of the old Dukes of Tuscany were numerous, but among
them all, that at Pratolina, so associated with Francesco Primo and Bianca
Capella, is perhaps the most interesting, and here Mrs. Kinney drove her
guests, where they picnicked on a hillside which their hostess called the
Mount of Vision because Mrs. Browning stood on it; Mr. Browning spoke of
the genius of his wife, "losing himself in her glory," said Mrs. Kinney
afterward, while Mrs. Browning lay on the grass and slept. The American
Minister and Mrs. Kinney were favorite guests in Casa Guidi, where they
passed with the Brownings the last evening before the poets set out for
their summer retreat. Mrs. Browning delighted in Mr. Kinney's views of
Italy, and his belief in its progress and its comprehension of liberty.
The youthful Florentine, Penini, was delighted at the thought of the
change, and his devotion to his mother was instanced one night when
Browning playfully refused to give his wife a letter, and Pen, taking the
byplay seriously, fairly smothered her in his clinging embrace,
exclaiming, "Never mind, mine darling Ba!" He had caught up his mother's
pet name, "Ba," and often used it. It was this name to which she refers
in the poem beginning,

  "I have a name, a little name,
      Uncadenced for the ear."

Beside the Pratolina excursion, Mr. Lytton gave a little reception for
them before the Florentine circle dissolved for the summer, asking a few
friends to meet the Brownings at his villa on Bellosguardo, where they all
sat out on the terrace, and Mrs. Browning made the tea, and they feasted
on nectar and ambrosia in the guise of cream and strawberries.

"Such a view!" said Mrs. Browning of that evening. "Florence dissolving in
the purple of the hills, and the stars looking on." Mrs. Browning's love
for Florence grew stronger with every year. That it was her son's native
city was to her a deeply significant fact, for playfully as they called
him the "young Florentine," there was behind the light jest a profound
recognition of the child's claim to his native country. Still, with all
this response to the enchantment of Florence, they were planning to live
in Paris, after another winter (which they wished to pass in Rome), as the
elder Browning and his daughter Sarianna were now to live in the French
capital, and Robert Browning was enamored of the brilliant, abounding
life, and the art, and splendor of privilege, and opportunity in Paris. "I
think it too probable that I may not be able to bear two successive
winters in the North," said Mrs. Browning, "but in that case it will be
easy to take a flight for a few winter months into Italy, and we shall
regard Paris, where Robert's father and sister are waiting for us, as our
fixed place of residence." This plan, however, was never carried out, as
Italy came to lay over them a still deeper spell, which it was impossible
to break. Mr. Lytton, with whom Mrs. Browning talked of all these plans
and dreams that evening on his terrace, had just privately printed his
drama, "Clytemnestra," which Mrs. Browning found "full of promise,"
although "too ambitious" because after Æschylus. But this young poet,
afterward to be so widely known in the realm of poetry as "Owen Meredith,"
and as Lord Lytton in the realm of diplomacy and statesmanship, impressed
her at the time as possessing an incontestable "faculty" in poetry, that
made her expect a great deal from him in the future. She invited him to
visit them in their sylvan retreat that summer at Bagni di Lucca, an
invitation that he joyously accepted. Some great _savant_, who was "strong
in veritable Chinese," found his way to Casa Guidi, as most of the
wandering minstrels of the time did, and "nearly assassinated" the
mistress of the _ménage_ with an interminable analysis of a Japanese
novel. Mr. Lytton, who was present, declared she grew paler and paler
every moment, which she afterward asserted was not because of sympathy
with the heroine of this complex tale! But this formidable scholar had a
passport to Mrs. Browning's consideration by bringing her a little black
profile of her beloved Isa, which gave "the air of her head," and then,
said Mrs. Browning, laughingly, "how could I complain of a man who rather
flattered me than otherwise, and compared me to Isaiah?"

But at last, after the middle of July, what with poets, and sunsets from
terraces, and savants, and stars, they really left their Florence
"dissolving in her purple hills" behind them, and bestowed themselves in
Casa Tolomei, at the Baths, where a row of plane trees stood before the
door, in which the cicale sang all day, and solemn, mysterious mountains
kept watch all day and night. There was a garden, lighted by the fireflies
at night, and Penini mistook the place for Eden. His happiness overflowed
in his prayers, and he thriftily united the petition that God would "mate
him dood" with the supplication that God would also "tate him on a
dontey," thus uniting all possible spiritual and temporal aspirations. The
little fellow was wild with happiness in this enchanted glade, where the
poets were "safe among mountains, shut in with a row of seven plane-trees
joined at top." Mr. Browning was still working on his lyrics, of which his
wife had seen very few. "We neither of us show our work to the other till
it is finished," she said. She recognized that an artist must work in
solitude until the actual result is achieved.

[Illustration: CASA GUIDI

  "_I heard last night a little child go singing_
  _'Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church._"

Casa Guidi Windows.]

It seems that Mr. Chorley in London had fallen into depressed spirits that
summer, indulging in the melancholy meditations that none of his friends
loved him, beyond seeing in him a "creature to be eaten," and that, having
furnished them with a banquet, their attentions to him were over (a most
regrettable state of mind, one may observe, _en passant_, and one of those
spiritual pitfalls which not only Mr. Chorley in particular, but all of us
in general would do particularly well to avoid). The letter that Mrs.
Browning wrote to him wonderfully reveals her all-comprehending sympathy
and her spiritual buoyancy and intellectual poise. "You are very wrong,"
she says to him, "and I am very right to upbraid you. I take the pen from
Robert--he would take it if I did not. We scramble a little for the pen
which is to tell you this, and be dull in the reiteration, rather than not
to instruct you properly.... I quite understand how a whole life may seem
rumpled and creased--torn for the moment; only you will live it smooth
again, dear Mr. Chorley, take courage. You have time and strength and good
aims; and human beings have been happy with much less.... I think we
belied ourselves to you in England. If you knew how, at that time, Robert
was vexed and worn! why, he was not the same, even to me!... But then and
now believe that he loved and loves you. Set him down as a friend, as
somebody to rest on, after all; and don't fancy that because we are away
here in the wilderness (which blossoms as the rose, to one of us, at
least) we may not be full of affectionate thoughts and feelings toward you
in your different sort of life in London." The lovely spirit goes on to
remind Mr. Chorley that they have a spare bedroom "which opens of itself
at the thought of you," and that if he can trust himself so far from home,
she begs him to try it for their sakes. "Come and look in our faces, and
learn us more by heart, and see whether we are not two friends?"

Surely, that life was rich, whatever else it might be denied, that had
Elizabeth Browning for a friend. Her genius for friendship was not less
marvelous, nor less to be considered, than her genius as a poet. Indeed,
truly speaking, the one, in its ideal fullness and completeness,
comprehends the other.

The summer days among the beautiful hills, and by the green, rushing
river, were made aboundingly happy to the Brownings by the presence of
their friends, the Storys, who shared these vast solitudes. The Storys had
a villa perched on the top of the hill, just above the Brownings', the
terrace shaded with vines, and the great mountains towering all around
them, while a swift mountain brook swept by under an arched bridge, its
force turning picturesque mills far down the valley. Under the shadow of
the chestnut trees fringing its banks, Shelley had once pushed his boat.
"Of society," wrote Story to Lowell, "there is none we care to meet but
the Brownings, and with them we have constant and delightful intercourse,
interchanging long evenings, two or three times a week, and driving and
walking whenever we meet. They are so simple, unaffected, and sympathetic.
Both are busily engaged in writing, he on a volume of lyrics, and she on a
tale or novel in verse."

This "tale" must have been "Aurora Leigh." The wives of the poet and the
sculptor held hilarious intercourse while going back and forth between
each other's houses on donkey-back, with an enjoyment hardly eclipsed by
that of Penini himself, whose prayer that God would let him ride on
"dontey-back" was so aboundingly granted that the child might well believe
in the lavishness of divine mercies. Browning and Story walked beside and
obediently held the reins of their wives' steeds, that no mishap might
occur. How the picture of these Arcadian days, in those vast leafy
solitudes, peopled only by gods and muses, the attendant "elementals" of
these choice spirits, flashes out through more than the half century that
has passed since those days of their joyous intercourse. There was a night
when Story went alone to take tea with the Brownings, staying till nearly
midnight, and Browning accompanied him home in the mystic moonlight. Mrs.
Browning, who apparently shared her little son's predilections for the
donkey as a means of transportation, would go for a morning ride, Browning
walking beside her as slowly as possible, to keep pace with the donkey's
degree of speed.

Into this Arcady came, by some untraced dispensation of the gods, a French
master of recitations, who had taught Rachel, and had otherwise allied
himself with the great. M. Alexandre brought his welcome with him, in his
delightful recitations from the poets. Mr. Lytton, having accepted Mrs.
Browning's invitation given to him on his Bellosguardo terrace, now
appeared; and the Storys and the Brownings organized a _festa_, in true
Italian spirit, in an excursion they should all make to Prato Fiortito.

Prato Fiortito is six miles from Bagni di Lucca, perpendicularly up and
down, "but such a vision of divine scenery," said Mrs. Browning. High
among the mountains, Bagni di Lucca is yet surrounded by higher peaks of
the Apennines. The journey to Prato Fiortito is like going up and down a
wall, the only path for the donkeys being in the beds of the torrents that
cut their way down in the spring.

Here, after "glorious climbing," in which Mrs. Browning distinguished
herself no less than the others, they arrived at the little old church,
set amid majestic limestone mountains and embowered in purple shade. Here
they feasted, Penini overcome with delight, and on shawls spread under the
great chestnut trees Mrs. Browning and Mrs. Story were made luxuriously
comfortable, while they all talked and read, M. Alexandre reciting from
the French dramatists, and Lytton reading from his "Clytemnestra." The
luncheon was adorned by a mass of wild strawberries, picked on the spot,
by Browning, Story, Lytton, and Alexandre, while the ladies co-operated in
the industry at this honestly earned feast by assisting to hull the
berries. The bottle of cream and package of sugar tucked away in the
picnic basket added all that heart could desire to this ambrosial
luncheon. Mrs. Story, whom Mrs. Browning described as "a sympathetic,
graceful woman, fresh and innocent in face and thought," was a most
agreeable companion; and she and Mrs. Browning frequently exchanged
feminine gossip over basins of strawberries and milk in each other's
houses, for strawberries abounded in these hills. "If a tree is felled in
the forests," said Mrs. Browning, "strawberries spring up just as
mushrooms might, and the peasants sell them for just nothing."

One night when the Brownings were having tea with the Storys, the talk
turned on Hawthorne. Story, of course, knew the great romancer, whom the
Brownings had not then met and about whom they were curious. "Hawthorne is
a man who talks with a pen," said Story; "he does not open socially to his
intimate friends any more than he does to strangers. It isn't his way to
converse." Mrs. Browning had then just been reading the "Blithedale
Romance," in which she had sought unavailingly, it seems, for some more
personal clue to the inner life of its author.

On a brilliant August day the Brownings and the Storys fared forth on a
grand excursion on donkey-back, to Benabbia, a hilltown, perched on one
of the peaks. Above it on the rocks is a colossal cross, traced by some
thunder-bolt of the gods, cut in the solid stone. From this excursion they
all returned after dark, in terror of their lives lest the donkeys slip
down the sheer precipices; but the scenery was "exquisite, past all
beauty." Mrs. Browning was spell-bound with its marvelous sublimity, as
they looked around "on the world of innumerable mountains bound faintly
with the gray sea, and not a human habitation."

Mrs. Browning was then reading the poems of Coventry Patmore, just
published, of which Browning had read the manuscript in London in the
previous year. The poems of Alexander Smith had also appeared at this
time, and in him Mrs. Browning found "an opulence of imagery," but a
defect as to the intellectual part of poetry. With her characteristic
tolerance, she instanced his youth in plea of this defect, and said that
his images were "flowers thrown to him by the gods, gods beautiful and
fragrant, but having no root either in Etna or Olympus." Enamored, as
ever, of novels, she was also reading "Vilette," which she thought a
strong story, though lacking charm, and Mrs. Gaskell's "Ruth," which
pleased her greatly.

With no dread of death, Mrs. Browning had a horror of the "rust of age,"
the touch of age "which is the thickening of the mortal mask between
souls. Why talk of age," she would say, "when we are all young in soul and
heart?... Be sure that it's highly moral to be young as long as possible.
Women who dress 'suitably to their years' (that is, as hideously as
possible) are a disgrace to their sex, aren't they now?" she would
laughingly declare.

This summer in the Apennines at Bagni di Lucca had been a fruitful one to
Browning in his poetic work. It became one of constant development, and,
as Edmund Gosse points out, "of clarification and increasing selection."
He had already written many of his finest lyrics, "Any Wife to Any
Husband," "The Guardian Angel," and "Saul"; and in these and succeeding
months he produced that miracle of beauty, the poem called "The Flight of
the Duchess"; and "A Grammarian's Funeral," "The Statue and the Bust,"
"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," "Fra Lippo Lippi," and "Andrea del
Sarto." To Milsand, Browning wrote that he was at work on lyrics "with
more music and painting than before."

The idyllic summer among the grand chestnut trees came to an end, as
summers always do, and October found the Brownings again in Casa Guidi,
though preparing to pass the winter in Rome. Verdi had just completed his
opera of "Trovatore," which was performed at the Pergola in Florence, and
the poets found it "very passionate and dramatic."

In November they fared forth for Rome, "an exquisite journey of eight
days," chronicled Mrs. Browning, "seeing the great monastery and triple
church of Assisi, and that wonderful passion of waters at Terni."

It was the picturesque Rome of the popes that still remained in that
winter, and the Eternal City was aglow with splendid festivals and
processions and with artistic interest. The Brownings caught something of
its spirit, even as they came within view of the colossal dome of St.
Peter's, and they entered the city in the highest spirits, "Robert and
Penini singing," related Mrs. Browning, "actually, for the child was
radiant and flushed with the continual change of air and scene." The
Storys had engaged an apartment for them, and they found "lighted fires
and lamps," and all comfort.


Cast in bronze from the model taken by Harriet Hosmer in Rome, 1853.

The original is in the possession of the author.]

That winter of 1853-1854 still stands out in the Roman panorama as one of
exceptional brilliancy. There was a galaxy of artists,--Story, who had
already won fame on two continents; William Page, who believed he had
discovered the secret of Titian's coloring; Crawford, and "young
Leighton," as Mrs. Browning called the future president of the Royal
Academy; Gibson, and his brilliant pupil, Harriet Hosmer; Fisher, who
painted a portrait of Browning, and also of Penini, for his own use to
exhibit in London. It was during this winter that Miss Hosmer took the
cast of the "Clasped Hands" of the Brownings, which was put into bronze,
and which must always remain a work of the most tender interest. Mrs.
Browning was very fond of "Hatty," as she called her, and in a letter to
her Isa she described a pretty scene when Lady Marian Alford, the daughter
of the Duke of Northampton, knelt before the girl sculptor and placed on
her finger a ring of diamonds surrounding a ruby. Browning's early friend,
M. de Ripert-Monclar, to whom he had dedicated his "Paracelsus," and
Lockhart, were also in Rome; and Leighton was completing his great canvas
of Cimabue's Madonna carried in procession through the streets of

The Brownings were domiciled in the Bocca di Leone, while the Storys were
in the Piazza di Spagna; Thackeray and his two daughters were close at
hand, in and out at the Brownings', with his "talk of glittering dust
swept out of salons." There were Hans Christian Andersen, and Fanny
Kemble, with her sister, Mrs. Sartoris, and Lady Oswald, a sister of Lord
Elgin. Thackeray's daughter, Miss Anne Thackeray (now Lady Ritchie), still
finds vivid her girlish memory of Mrs. Browning,--"a slight figure in a
thin black gown and the unpretentious implements of her magic," by her
sofa, on a little table. Lady Ritchie turns back to her diary of that
winter to find in it another of her early impressions of Mrs. Browning,
"in soft, falling flounces of black silk, with her heavy curls drooping,
and a thin gold chain around her neck." This chain held a tiny locket of
crystal set in coils of gold, which she had worn from childhood, not at
all as an ornament, but as a little souvenir. On her death Mr. Browning
put into it some of her hair, and gave the treasured relic to Kate Field,
from whom it came later into the possession of the writer of this book.
Lady Ritchie recalls one memorable evening that season in the salon of
Mrs. Sartoris, when the guests assembled in the lofty Roman drawing-room,
full of "flowers and light, of comfort and color." She recalls how the
swinging lamps were lighted, shedding a soft glow; how the grand piano
stood open, and there was music, and "tables piled with books," and
flowers everywhere. The hostess was in a pearl satin gown with flowing
train, and sat by a round table reading aloud from poems of Mr. Browning,
when the poet himself was announced, "and as she read, in her wonderful
muse-like way, he walked in." All the lively company were half laughing
and half protesting, and Mrs. Kemble, with her regal air, called him to
her side, to submit to him some disputed point, which he evaded. Mrs.
Sartoris had a story, with which she amused her guests, of a luncheon with
the Brownings, somewhere in Italy, where, when she rose to go, and
remarked how delightful it had been, and the other guests joined in their
expressions of enjoyment, Mr. Browning impulsively exclaimed: "Come back
and sup with us, do!" And Mrs. Browning, with the dismay of the housewife,
cried: "Oh, Robert, there is no supper, nothing but the remains of the
pie." To which the poet rejoined: "Then come back and finish the pie."

Mrs. Browning was deeply attached to Fanny Kemble. She describes her, at
this time, as "looking magnificent, with her black hair and radiant smile.
A very noble creature, indeed," added Mrs. Browning; "somewhat unelastic,
attached to the old modes of thought and convention, but noble in
qualities and defects.... Mrs. Sartoris is genial and generous ... and her
house has the best society in Rome, and exquisite music, of course."

Mrs. Browning often joined her husband in excursions to galleries,
villas, and ruins; and when in the Sistine Chapel, on a memorable
festival, they heard "the wrong Miserere," she yet found it "very fine,
right or wrong, and overcoming in its pathos." M. Goltz, the Austrian
Minister, was an acquaintance whom the Brownings found "witty and
agreeable," and Mrs. Browning called the city "a palimpsest Rome," with
its records written all over the antique.

The sorrow of the Storys over the death of a little son shadowed Mrs.
Browning, and she feared for her own Penini, but as the winter went on she
joyfully wrote of him that he "had not dropped a single rose-leaf from his
cheeks," and with her sweet tenderness of motherly love she adds that he
is "a poetical child, really, and in the best sense. He is full of
sweetness and vivacity together, of imagination and grace," and she
pictures his "blue, far-reaching eyes, and the innocent face framed in
golden ringlets." Mrs. Kemble came to them two or three times a week, and
they had long talks, "we three together," records Mrs. Browning. Mr. Page
occupied the apartment just over that of the Brownings, and they saw much
of him. "His portrait of Miss Cushman is a miracle," exclaimed Mrs.
Browning. Page begged to paint a portrait of the poet, of which Mrs.
Browning said that he "painted a picture of Robert like an Italian, and
then presented it to me like a prince." The coloring was Venetian, and the
picture was at first considered remarkable, but its color has entirely
vanished now, so that it seems its painter was not successful in
surprising the secret of Titian. In the spring of 1910 Mr. Barrett
Browning showed this picture to some friends in his villa near Florence,
and its thick, opaque surface hardly retained even a suggestion of color.

Not the least of Mrs. Browning's enjoyment of that winter was the pleasure
that Rome gave to her little son. "Penini is overwhelmed with attentions
and gifts of all kinds," she wrote, and she described a children's party
given for him by Mrs. Page, who decorated the table with a huge cake,
bearing "Penini" in sugar letters, where he sat at the head and did the
honors. Browning all this time was writing, although the social
allurements made sad havoc on his time. They wandered under the great ilex
trees of the Pincio, and gazed at the Monte Mario pine. Then, as now,
every one drove in that circular route on the Pincian hill, where
carriages meet each other in passing every five minutes. With the Storys
and other friends they often went for long drives and frequent picnics on
the wonderful Campagna, that vast green sea that surrounds Rome, the
Campagna Mystica. On one day Mr. Browning met "Hatty" Hosmer on the
Spanish Steps, and said to her: "Next Saturday Ba and I are going to
Albano on a picnic till Monday, and you and Leighton are to go with us."
"Why this extravagance?" laughingly questioned Miss Hosmer. "On account of
a cheque, a _buona grazia_, that Ticknor and Fields of Boston have
sent--one they were not in the least obliged to send," replied the poet.

In those days there was no international copyright, but Mr. Browning's
Boston publishers needed no legal constraint to act with ideal honor. So
on the appointed morning, a _partie carré_ of artists--two poets, one
sculptor, one painter--drove gayly through the Porta San Giovanni, on that
road to Albano, with its wonderful views of the Claudian aqueducts in the
distance, through whose arches the blue sky is bluer, and beyond which are
the violet-hued Alban hills. Then, as now, the road led by the Casa dei
Spirite, with its haunting associations, and its strange mural decorations
of specters and wraiths. Past that overhanging cliff, with its tragic
legend, they drove, encountering the long procession of wine carts, with
their tinkling bells, and the dogs guarding the sleeping padrones. Passing
the night in Albano, the next day they mounted donkeys for their excursion
into the Alban hills, past lonely monasteries, up the heights of Rocca
di Papa, where the traveler comes on the ancient camping-ground of
Hannibal, and where they see the padres and acolytes sunning themselves on
the slopes of Monte Cavo; on again, to the rocky terraces from which one
looks down on Alba Longa and the depths of Lago di Nemi, beneath whose
waters is still supposed to be the barque of Caligula, and across the
expanse of the green Campagna to where Æneas landed.


  "_There, branching from the brickwork's cleft,_
  _Some old tomb's ruin...._"

Two in the Campagna. ]

Miss Hosmer is the authority on this poetic pilgrimage, and she related
that they all talked of art, of the difficulties of art,--those
encountered by the poet, the sculptor, and the painter,--each regarding
his own medium of expression as the most difficult. Mrs. Browning's
"Hatty" had bestowed in her bag a volume of Mr. Browning's, and on the
homeward journey from Albano to Rome he read aloud to them his "Saul." At
the half-way house on the Campagna, the Torre di Mezza, they paused, to
gaze at the "weird watcher of the Roman Campagna," the monument to
Apuleia, whose ruins are said to have assumed her features.

Nothing in all the classic atmosphere of Rome, filled with the most
impressive associations of its mighty past, appealed more strongly to the
Brownings than the glorious Campagna, with its apparently infinite open
space, brilliant with myriads of flowers, and the vast billowing slopes
that break like green waves against the purple hills, in their changeful
panorama of clouds and mists and snow-crowned heights dazzling under a
glowing sun.

Fascinating as this winter in Rome had been to them, rich in friendships
and in art, the Brownings were yet glad to return to their Florence with
the May days, to give diligence and devotion to their poetic work, which
nowhere proceeded so felicitously as in Casa Guidi.

Browning was now definitely engaged on the poems that were to make up the
"Men and Women." Mrs. Browning was equally absorbed in "Aurora Leigh."
Each morning after their Arcadian repast of coffee and fruit, he went to
his study, and she to the _salotto_, whose windows opened on the terrace
looking out on old gray San Felice where she always wrote, to devote
themselves to serious work. "Aurora Leigh" proceeded rapidly some
mornings, and again its progress would remind her of the web of Penelope.
During this summer Browning completed "In a Balcony," and wrote the "Holy
Cross Day," the "Epistle of Karnish," and "Ben Karshook's Wisdom." Like
his wife, Browning held poetry to be above all other earthly interests; he
was a poet by nature and by grace, and his vast range of scholarship, his
"British-Museum-Library memory," and his artistic feeling and taste, all
conserved to this one end. But poetry to him was not outside, but
inclusive of the very fullest human life. Mrs. Browning's lines,

        "... No perfect artist is developed here
  From any imperfect woman,..."

embodied his convictions as well, for man and woman alike. He had that
royal gift of life in its fullness, an almost boundless capacity of
enjoyment, and to him life meant the completest development and exercise
of all its powers.

The Brownings found their Florentine circle all in evidence. Mr. Lytton, a
favorite and familiar visitor at Casa Guidi; Frederick Tennyson (and
perhaps his "forty fiddlers" as well), and the Trollopes, Isa Blagden, and
various wandering minstrels. They passed evenings with Mr. Lytton in his
villa, and would walk home "to the song of nightingales by starlight and
firefly light." To Mrs. Browning Florence looked more beautiful than ever
after Rome. "I love the very stones of it," she said. Limitations of
finance kept them in Florence all that summer. "A ship was to have brought
us in something, and brought us in nothing," she explained to a friend in
England, "and the nothing had a discount, beside." But she took comfort in
the fact that Penini was quite as well and almost as rosy as ever, despite
the intense heat; and the starlight and the song of the nightingales were
not without consolation. A letter from Milsand ("one of the noblest and
most intellectual men," says Mrs. Browning of him) came, and they were
interested in his arraignment of the paralysis of imagination in
literature. In September she hears from Miss Mitford of her failing
health, and tenderly writes: "May the divine love in the face of our Lord
Jesus Christ shine upon you day and night, with His ineffable tenderness."
Mrs. Browning's religious feeling was always of that perfect reliance on
the Divine Love that is the practical support of life. "For my own part,"
she continues, "I have been long convinced that what we call death is a
mere incident in life.... I believe that the body of flesh is a mere husk
that drops off at death, while the spiritual body emerges in glorious
resurrection at once. Swedenborg says some people do not immediately
realize that they have passed death, which seems to me highly probable. It
is curious that Frederick Denison Maurice takes this precise view of the
resurrection, with apparent unconsciousness of what Swedenborg has stated,
and that I, too, long before I had ever read Swedenborg, or had even heard
the name of Maurice, came to the same conclusion.... I believe in an
active, human life, beyond death, as before it, an uninterrupted life."
Mrs. Browning would have found herself in harmony with that spiritual
genius, Dr. William James, who said: "And if our needs outrun the visible
universe, why may not that be a sign that the invisible universe is there?
Often our faith in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the
result come true." Faith is the divine vision, and no one ever more
absolutely realized this truth than Elizabeth Browning.

  "Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
    My spirit beats her mortal bars,
  As down dark tides the glory slides,
    And star-like mingles with the stars."

At another time Mrs. Browning remarked that she should fear for a revealed
religion incapable of expansion, according to the needs of man; while Dr.
James has said, "Believe what is in the line of your needs." Many
similarities of expression reveal to how wonderful a degree Mrs. Browning
had intuitively grasped phases of truth that became the recognized
philosophy of a succeeding generation, and which were stamped by the
brilliant and profound genius of William James, the greatest psychologist
of the nineteenth century. "What comes from God has life in it," said Mrs.
Browning, "and certainly from the growth of all living things, spiritual
growth cannot be excepted."

The summer passed "among our own nightingales and fireflies," playfully
said Mrs. Browning, and in the autumn Mrs. Sartoris stopped to see them,
on her way to Rome, "singing passionately and talking eloquently."

Notwithstanding some illness, Mrs. Browning completed four thousand lines
of "Aurora Leigh" before the new year of 1855, in which were expressed all
her largest philosophic thought, and her deepest insight into the problems
of life. Fogazzaro, whose recent death has deprived Italy of her greatest
literary inspirer since Carducci, said of "Aurora Leigh" that he wished
the youth of Italy might study this great poem,--"those who desire poetic
fame that they might gain a high conception of poetry; the weak, in that
they might find stimulus for strength; the sad and discouraged, in that
they might find comfort and encouragement." It was this eminent Italian
novelist and Senator (the King of Italy naming a man as Senator, not in
the least because of any political reasons, but to confer on him the honor
of recognition of his genius in Literature, Science, or Art, and a very
inconvenient, however highly prized, honor he often finds it),--Senator
Antonio Fogazzaro, who contributed, to an Italian biography[7] of the
Brownings by Fanny Zampini, Contessa Salazar, an "Introduction" which is a
notable piece of critical appreciation of the wedded poets from the
Italian standpoint. The Senator records himself as believing that few
poets can be read "with so much intellectual pleasure and spiritual good;
for if the works of Robert and Elizabeth Browning surprise us by the
vigorous originality of their thought," he continues, "they also show us a
rare and salutary spectacle,--two souls as great in their moral character
as in their poetic imagination. 'Aurora Leigh' I esteem Mrs. Browning's
masterpiece.... The ideal poet is a prophet, inspired by God to proclaim
eternal truth...."

The student of Italian literature will find a number of critical
appreciations of the Brownings, written within the past forty or fifty
years, some of which offer no little interest. "Every man has two
countries, his own and Italy," and the land they had made their own in
love and devotion returned this devotion in measure overflowing.

Robert and Elizabeth Browning would have been great,--even immortally
great, as man and woman, if they had not been great poets. They both
lived, in a simple, natural way, the essential life of the spirit, the
life of scholarship and noble culture, of the profound significance of
thought, of creative energy, of wide interest in all the important
movements of the day, and of beautiful and sincere friendships.

  "O life, O poetry,
  Which means life in life,"

wrote Mrs. Browning.

The character of Mrs. Browning has been so often portrayed as that of some
abnormal being, half-nervous invalid, half-angel, as if she were a
special creation of nature with no particular relation to the great active
world of men and women, that it is quite time to do away with the category
of nonsense and literary hallucination. One does not become less than
woman by being more. Mrs. Browning fulfilled every sweetest relation in
life as daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother; and her life was not
the less normal in that it was one of exceptional power and exaltation.
She saw in Art the most potent factor for high service, and she held that
it existed for Love's sake, for the sake of human co-operation with the
purposes of God.



                  "Inward evermore
  To outward,--so in life, and so in art
  Which still is life."

            "... I love thee with the breath,
  Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
  I shall but love thee better after death."


The Florentine winter is by no means an uninterrupted dream of sunshine
and roses; the tramontana sweeps down from the encircling Apennines, with
its peculiarly piercing cold that penetrates the entire system with the
unerring precision of the Röentgen ray; torrents of icy rains fall; and
the purple hills, on whose crest St. Domenico met St. Benedict, are
shrouded in clouds and mist. All the loveliness of Florence seems to be
utterly effaced, till one questions if it existed except as a mirage; but
when the storm ceases, and the sun shines again, there is an instantaneous
transformation. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the spell of
enchantment resumes its sway over the Flower Town, and all is forgiven and

The winter of 1855 was bitterly cold, and by January the Brownings fairly
barricaded themselves in two rooms which could best be heated, and in
these fires were kept up by day as well as night. In April, however, the
divine days came again, and the green hillslope from the Palazzo Pitti to
the Boboli Gardens was gay with flowers. Mr. Browning gave four hours
every day to dictating his poems to a friend who was transcribing them for
him. Mrs. Browning had completed some seven thousand lines of "Aurora
Leigh," but not one of these had yet been copied for publication. Various
hindrances beset them, but finally in June they left for England, their
most important impedimenta being sixteen thousand lines of poetry, almost
equally divided between them, comprising his manuscript for "Men and
Women," and hers for "Aurora Leigh," complete, save for the last three
books. The change was by no means unalloyed joy. To give up, even
temporarily, their "dream-life of Florence," leaving the old tapestries
and pre-Giotto pictures, for London lodgings, was not exhilarating; but
after a week in Paris they found themselves in an apartment in No. 13
Dorset Street, Manchester Square, where they remained until October, every
hour filled with engagements or work. Proof-sheets were coming in at all
hours; likewise friends, with the usual contingent of the "devastators of
a day," and all that fatigue and interruption and turmoil that lies in
wait for the pilgrim returning to his former home, beset and entangled
them. Mrs. Browning's youngest brother, Alfred Barrett, was married that
summer to his cousin Lizzie, the "pretty cousin" to whom allusion has
already been made as the original of Mrs. Browning's poem, "A Portrait."
They were married in Paris at the English Embassy, and passed the summer
on the Continent. Mrs. Browning's sister Henrietta (Mrs. Surtees Cook) was
unable to come up to London, so that the hoped-for pleasure of seeing this
brother and sister was denied her; but Miss Arabel Barrett was close at
hand in the Wimpole Street home, and the sisters were much together. Mr.
Barrett had never changed his mental attitude regarding the marriage of
his daughter Elizabeth, nor that of any of his children, and while this
was a constant and never-forgotten grief with Mrs. Browning, there seems
no necessity for prolonged allusion to it. The matter can only be
relegated to the realms of non-comprehension as the idiosyncrasy of an
otherwise good man, of intelligence and much nobility of nature.

The Brownings were invited to Knebworth, to visit Lord Lytton, but they
were unable to avail themselves of the pleasure because of proof-sheets
and contingent demands which only writers with books in press can
understand. Proof-sheets are unquestionably endowed with some super-human
power of volition, and invariably arrive at the psychological moment when,
if their author were being married or buried, the ceremony would have to
be postponed until they were corrected. But the poets were not without
pleasant interludes, either; as when Tennyson came from the Isle of Wight
to London for three or four days, two of which he passed with the
Brownings. He "dined, smoked, and opened his heart" to them; and concluded
this memorable visit at the witching hour of half-past two in the morning,
after reading "Maud" aloud the evening before from the proof-sheets. The
date of this event is established by an inscription affixed to the back of
a pen-and-ink sketch of Tennyson, made on that night by Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, and which is now in the possession of Robert Barrett Browning.
This inscription, written by Robert Browning, reads: "Tennyson read his
poem 'Maud' to E. B. B., R. B., Arabel, and Rossetti, on the evening of
Sept. 27th, 1855, at 13, Dorset Street. Rossetti made this sketch of
Tennyson, as he sat, reading, on one end of the sofa, E. B. B. being on
the other end." And this is signed, "R. B. March 6th, 1874 ... 19, Warwick
Crescent." As the date is Mrs. Browning's birthday, it is easy to realize
how, in that March of 1874, he was recalling tender and beloved memories.
On the drawing itself Mrs. Browning had, at the time of the reading,
copied the first two lines of "Maud." Tennyson replied to a question from
William Sharp, who in 1882 wrote to the Laureate to ask about this night,
that he had "not the slightest recollection" of Rossetti's presence; but
the inscription on the picture establishes the fact. William Michael
Rossetti was also one of the group, and a record that he made quite
supports the fact of Tennyson's unconsciousness of his brother's presence,
for he says: "So far as I remember the Poet-Laureate neither saw what my
brother was doing nor knew of it afterward." And as if every one of this
gifted group present that night left on record some impression, Dante
Gabriel Rossetti has noted that, after Tennyson's reading, Browning read
his "Fra Lippo Lippi," and "with as much sprightly variation as there was
in Tennyson of sustained continuity." In a letter to Allingham, Rossetti
also alluded to this night, and infused a mild reproach to Mrs. Browning
in that her attention was diverted by "two not very exciting ladies"; and
in a letter to Mrs. Tennyson, Mrs. Browning speaks of being "interrupted
by some women friends whom I loved, but yet could not help wishing a
little further just then, that I might sit in the smoke, and listen to the
talk," after the reading. So, from putting together, mosaic fashion, all
the allusions made by the cloud of witnesses, the reader constructs a
rather accurate picture of that night of the gods. Mrs. Browning, who "was
born to poet-uses," like the suitor of her own "Lady Geraldine," was in a
rapture of pleasure that evening, and of "Maud" she wrote: "The close is
magnificent, full of power, and there are beautiful, thrilling lines all
through. If I had a heart to spare, the Laureate would have won mine."
Tennyson's voice she found "like an organ, music rather than speech," and
she was "captivated" by his _naïveté_, as he stopped every now and then
to say, "There's a wonderful touch!" Mrs. Browning writes to Mrs. Tennyson
of "the deep pleasure we had in Mr. Tennyson's visit to us." She adds:

    "He didn't come back, as he said he would, to teach me the 'Brook'
    (which I persist, nevertheless, in fancying I understand a little),
    but he did so much and left such a voice (both him 'and a voice!')
    crying out 'Maud' to us, and helping the effect of the poem by the
    personality, that it's an increase of joy and life to us ever."



  "_Ringed by a bowery, flowery angel-brood,_
  _Lilies and vestments and white faces...._"

Fra Lippo Lippi]

Deciding to pass the ensuing winter in Paris, the Brownings found
themselves anxious to make the change, that they might feel settled for
the time, as she needed entire freedom from demands that she might proceed
with her "Aurora Leigh." He had conceived the idea of revising and
recasting "Sordello." They passed an evening with Ruskin, however, and
presented "young Leighton" to him. They met Carlyle at Forster's, finding
him "in great force"--of denunciations. They met Kinglake, and were at the
Proctors, and of the young poet, Anne Adelaide Proctor, Mrs. Browning
says, "How I like Adelaide's face!" Mrs. Sartoris and Mrs. Kemble were
briefly in London, and Kenyon, the beloved friend, vanished to the Isle of
Wight. To Penini's great delight, Wilson, the maid, married a Florentine,
one Ferdinando Romagnoli, who captivated the boy by his talk of Florence,
and Penini caught up his pretty Italian enthusiasms, and discoursed of
Florentine skies, and the glories of the Cascine, to any one whom he could

In Paris they first established themselves in the Rue de Grenelle, in the
old Faubourg San Germain, a location they soon exchanged for a more
comfortable apartment in the Rue de Colisée, just off the Champs Élysées.
Here they renewed their intercourse with Lady Elgin (now an invalid) and
with her daughter, Lady Augusta Bruce, Madame Mohl, and with other
friends. Mrs. Browning was absorbed in her great poem, which she was able
to complete, however, only after their return to London the next June, and
never did an important literary work proceed with less visible craft. She
lay on her sofa, half supported by cushions, writing with pencil on little
scraps of paper, which she would slip under the pillows if any chance
visitor came in. "Elizabeth is lying on the sofa, writing like a spirit,"
Browning wrote to Harriet Hosmer. To Mrs. Browning Ruskin wrote, praising
her husband's poems, which gratified her deeply, and she replied, in part,
that when he wrote to praise her poems, of course she had to bear it. "I
couldn't turn around and say, 'Well, and why don't you praise him, who is
worth twenty of me?' One's forced," she continued, "to be rather decent
and modest for one's husband as well as for one's self, even if it's
harder. I couldn't pull at your coat to read 'Pippa Passes,' for
instance.... But you have put him on your shelf, so we have both taken
courage to send you his new volumes, 'Men and Women,'... that you may
accept them as a sign of the esteem and admiration of both of us." Mrs.
Browning considered these poems beyond any of his previous work, save
"Paracelsus," but there is no visible record left of what she must have
felt regarding that tender and exquisite dedication to her, that "One Word
More ... To E. B. B.," which must have been to her

  "The heart's sweet Scripture to be read at night."

These lines are, indeed, a fitting companion-piece to her "Sonnets from
the Portuguese." For all these poems, his "fifty men and women," were for
her,--his "moon of poets."

  "There they are, my fifty men and women
  Naming me the fifty poems finished!
  Take them, Love, the book and me together;
  Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also.

     *       *       *       *       *

  I shall never, in the years remaining,
  Paint you pictures, no, nor carve you statues,
  Make you music that should all-express me;

     *       *       *       *       *

  Verse and nothing else have I to give you.
  Other heights in other lives, God willing;
  All the gifts from all the heights, your own, Love!"

So he wrote to his "one angel,--borne, see, on my bosom!" For her alone
were the

  "Silent, silver lights and darks undreamed of,"

and while there was one side to face the world with, he thanked God that
there was another,--

  "One to show a woman when he loves her!"

It was Rossetti, however, who was the true interpreter of Browning to
Ruskin,--for if it requires a god to recognize a god, so likewise in
poetic recognitions. To Rossetti the poems comprised in "Men and Women"
were the "elixir of life." The moving drama of Browning's poetry
fascinated him. Some years before he had chanced upon "Pauline" in the
British Museum, and being unable to procure the book, had copied every
line of it. The "high seriousness" which Aristotle claims to be one of the
high virtues of poetry, impressed Rossetti in Browning. What a drama of
the soul universal was revealed in that "fifty men and women"! What art,
what music, coming down the ages, from Italy, from Germany, and what
pictures from dim frescoes, and long-forgotten paintings hid in niche and
cloister, were interpreted in these poems! How one follows "poor brother
Lippo" in his escapade:

           "... I could not paint all night--
  Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air.
  There came a hurry of feet and little feet,
  A sweep of lute-strings, laughs, and whifts of song,--
  _Flower o' the broom,_
  _Take away love, and our earth is a tomb!_
  _Flower o' the quince,_
  _I let Lisa go, and what good in life since?_"

And in "Andrea del Sarto" what passionate pathos of an ideal missed!

  "But all the play, the insight and the stretch--
  Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out?
  Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul,
  We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!

     *       *       *       *       *

  Had you ... but brought a mind!
  Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged
  'God and the glory! never care for gain.
  The present by the future, what is that?
  Live for fame, side by side with Agnolo!
  Rafael is waiting; up to God, all three!'
  I might have done it for you...."

And that exquisite idyl of "the love of wedded souls" in "By the
Fire-side." It requires no diviner to discover from whose image he drew
the line,

  "My perfect wife, my Leonor."

How Browning's art fused poetic truth and poetic beauty in all these
poems, vital with keen and shrewd observation, deep with significance, and
pervaded by the perpetual recognition of a higher range of achievements
than are realized on earth.

  "A man's grasp should exceed his reach,
  Or what's a heaven for?"

In all these poems can be traced the magic of Italy and happiness. (Are
the two more than half synonymous?) The perfect sympathy, the delicate
divination and intuitive comprehension with which Browning was surrounded
by his wife, were the supreme source of the stimulus and development of
his powers as a poet.



"_You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?_"

Andrea del Sarto.]

The Parisian winter was full of movement and interest. No
twentieth-century prophet had then arisen to instruct the populace how to
live on twenty-four hours a day, but the Brownings captured what time they
could rescue from the devouring elements, rose early, breakfasted at nine,
and gave the next hour and a half to Penini's lessons,--"the darling,
idle, distracted child," who was "blossoming like a rose" all this time;
who "learned everything by magnetism," and, however "idle," was still able
in seven weeks to read French "quite surprisingly." Mrs. Browning had
already finished and transcribed some six thousand lines (making five
books) of "Aurora Leigh "; but she planned at least two more books to
complete the poem, which must needs be ready by June; and when, by the
author's calendar, it is February, by some necromancy June is apt to come
in the next morning. The Brownings made it an invariable rule to receive
no visitors till after four, but the days had still a trick of vanishing
like the fleet angel who departs before he leaves his blessing. At all
events, the last days of May came before "Aurora Leigh" was completed, and
its author half despairingly realized that two weeks more were needed for
the transcription of her little slips to the pages ready for the press.

Meantime Browning had occupied himself for a time in an attempt to revise
"Sordello," an effort soon abandoned, as he saw that, for good or ill, the
work must stand as first written.

Madame Mohl's "evenings" continued to attract Browning, where he met a
most congenial and brilliant circle, and while his wife was unable to
accompany him to these mild festivities, she insisted that he should avail
himself of these opportunities for intercourse with French society. With
Lady Monson he went to see Ristori in "Medea," finding her great, but
not, in his impression, surpassing Rachel. Monckton Milnes comes over to
Paris, and a Frenchman of letters gives a dinner for him, at which
Browning meets George Sand and Cavour.

The success of "Men and Women" was by this time assured. Browning stood in
the full light of recognition on both sides the ocean. For America--or
rather, perhaps, one should say, Boston, for American recognition focused
in Boston (which was then, at all events, incontestably the center of all
"sweetness and light")--discerned the greatness of Robert Browning as
swiftly as any transatlantic dwellers on the watch-tower.

Rossetti, who from the days that he copied "Pauline" in the British Museum
Library, not knowing the author, was an ardent admirer of Browning, found
himself in Paris, and he and Browning passed long mornings in the Louvre.
The painter declared that Browning's knowledge of early Italian art was
beyond that of any one whom he had met, Ruskin not excepted.

Ruskin was a standard of artistic measurement in those days to a degree
hardly conceivable now; not that much of his judgment does not stand the
test of time, but that authoritative criticism has so many embodiments.
Mrs. Browning, to whom Ruskin was one of the nearest of her circle,
considered him a critic who was half a poet as well, and her clear insight
discerned what is now universally recognized, that he was "encumbered by a
burning imagination." She told him that he was apt to light up any object
he looked upon, "just as we, when we carried torches into the Vatican,
were not clear as to how much we brought to that wonderful Demosthenes,
folding the marble round him in its thousand folds," and questioned as to
where was the dividing line between the sculptor and the torch-bearer.
This fairly clairvoyant insight of Mrs. Browning into character, the
ability to discern defects as well as virtues where she loved, and to
love where she discerned defects, is still further illustrated by a letter
of hers to Ruskin on the death of Miss Mitford. "But no, her 'judgment'
was not 'unerring,'" wrote Mrs. Browning. "She was too intensely
sympathetic not to err often ... if she loved a person it was enough....
And yet ... her judgment could be fine and discriminating, especially upon
subjects connected with life and society and manners."

Again, to a friend who had met a great bereavement she also wrote in these
Paris days:

    "We get knowledge in losing what we hoped for, and liberty by losing
    what we love. This world is a fragment, or, rather, a segment, and it
    will be rounded presently. Not to doubt that is the greatest blessing
    it gives now. The common impression of death is as false as it is
    absurd. A mere change of circumstances,--what more? And how near these
    spirits are, how conscious of us, how full of active energy, of tender
    reminiscence and interest in us? Who shall dare to doubt? For myself,
    I do not doubt at all."

In that latest collection of Browning's poems, no one excited more
discussion at the time than "The Statue and the Bust." There being then no
Browning Societies to authoritatively decide the poet's real meaning on
any disputed point, the controversy assumed formidable proportions. Did
Browning mean this poem to be an _apologia_ for illegal love? was asked
with bated breath.

The statue of Fernandino di Medici, in the Piazza dell' Annunziata, in
Florence,--that magnificent equestrian group by Giovanni da Bologna,--is
one of the first monuments that the visitor who has a fancy for tracing
out poetic legends fares forth to see. As an example of plastic art,
alone, it is well worth a pilgrimage; but as touched by the magic of the
poet's art, it is magnetic with life. Dating back to 1608, it was left for
Robert Browning to invest it with immortality.

  "There's a palace in Florence, the world knows well
  And a statue watches it from the square."

In the poem Mr. Browning alludes to the cornice, "where now is the empty
shrine"; but his son believes that there never was any bust in this niche,
the bust being simply the poet's creation. The statue of the Grand Duke is
remarkable enough to inspire any story; and the Florentine noble may well
take pride in the manner that "John of Douay" has presented him, if he
still "contrives" to see it, and still "laughs in his tomb" at the
perpetual pilgrimage that is made to the scene of the legend, as well as
to the royal Villa Petraja, also immortalized in Browning's poem.

June came, the closing books of "Aurora Leigh" had been written, and under
the roof of her dear friend and cousin, Kenyon, who had begged the
Brownings to accept the loan of his house in Devonshire Place, the last
pages were transcribed, and the dedication made to the generous friend who
was the appointed good angel of their lives. They were saddened by
Kenyon's illness, which imprisoned him for that summer on the Isle of
Wight, and after seeing "Aurora Leigh" through the press, they passed a
little time with him at Cowes, and also visited Mrs. Browning's sister
Henrietta (Mrs. Surtees Cook), before setting out for Italy. No one in
London missed them more than Dante Gabriel Rossetti. "With them has gone
one of my delights," he said; "an evening resort where I never felt




  "_There's a palace in Florence the world knows well,_
  _And a statue watches it from the square._"

  The Ring and the Book.]

The success of "Aurora Leigh" was immediate, a second edition being called
for within a fortnight, and edition after edition followed. This work, of
which, twelve years before, she had a dim foreshadowing, as of a novel in
verse, has the twofold interest of a great dramatic poem and of a
philosophic commentary on art and life. To estimate it only as a social
treatise is to recognize but one element in its kaleidoscopic interest.
Yet the narrative, it must be confessed, is fantastic and unreal. When
the conception of the work first dawned upon her, she said she preferred
making her story to choosing that of any legend, for the theme; but the
plot is its one defect, and is only saved from being a serious defect by
the richness and splendor of thought with which it is invested. The poem
is to some degree a spiritual autobiography; its narrative part having no
foundation in reality, but on this foundation she has recorded her highest
convictions on the philosophy of life. Love, Art, Ethics, the Christianity
of Christ,--all are here, in this almost inexhaustible mine of
intellectual and spiritual wealth. It is a poem peculiarly calculated to
kindle and inspire. What a passage is this:

                            "... I can live
  At least my soul's life, without alms from men,
  And if it be in heaven instead of earth,
  Let heaven look to it,--I am not afraid."

A profound occult truth is embodied in the following:

  "Whate'er our state we must have made it first;
  And though the thing displease us,--aye, perhaps,
  Displease us warrantably, never doubt
  That other states, though possible once, and then
  Rejected by the instinct of our lives,
  If then adopted had displeased us more.

     *       *       *       *       *

  What we choose may not be good;
  But that we choose it, proves it good for us."

No Oriental savant could more forcibly present his doctrine of karma than
has Mrs. Browning in these lines. Her recognition of the power of poetry
is here expressed:

  "And plant a poet's word even deep enough
  In any man's breast, looking presently
  For offshoots, you have done more for the man
  Than if you dressed him in a broadcloth coat,
  And warmed his Sunday pottage at your fire."

Poetry was to her as serious a thing as life itself. "There has been no
playing at skittles for me in either poetry, or life," she said; "I never
mistook pleasure for the final cause of poetry; nor leisure, for the hour
of the poet."

In the success of "Aurora Leigh" she was herself surprised. Private
letters from strangers filled with the warmest, even if sometimes
indiscriminate, praises, rained down upon her, and she found the press
"astonishing in its good will." That her "golden-hearted Robert" was "in
ecstasies about it, far more than as if it had been a book of his own,"
was apparently her most precious reward. Milsand, who she had fancied
would hardly like this poem, wrote a critique of it for the _Revue_ which
touched her with its "extraordinary kindness." He asked and obtained
permission to translate it into French, and in a letter to Miss Sarianna
Browning she speaks of her happiness that he should thus distinguish the

Soon after their arrival in Florence came the saddest of news, that of the
death of John Kenyon, their beloved friend, whose last thoughtful kindness
was to endow them with a legacy insuring to them that freedom from
material care which is so indispensable to the best achievements in art.
During his life he had given to them one hundred pounds a year, and in his
will he left them ten thousand guineas,--the largest of the many legacies
that his generous will contained.

The carnival, always gay in Florence, was exceedingly so that year, and
Penini, whose ardor for a blue domino was gratified, and who thought of
nothing else for the time being, seemed to communicate his raptures, so
that Browning proposed taking a box at the opera ball, and entertaining
some invited friends with gallantina and champagne. Suddenly the air grew
very mild, and he decided that his wife might and must go; she sent out
hastily to buy a mask and domino (he had already a beautiful black silk
one, which she later transmuted into a black silk gown for herself), and
while her endurance and amusement kept her till two o'clock in the
morning, the poet and his friends remained till after four. The Italian
carnival, however wild and free it may be (and is), yet never degenerates
into rudeness. The inborn delicacy and gentle refinement of the people
render this impossible. Yet for the time being there is perfect social
equality, and at this ball the Grand Duke and Wilson's husband,
Ferdinando, were on terms of fellowship.

In the early April of that spring the summer suddenly dawned upon lovely
Florence like a transformation scene on a stage. The trees in the Cascine
were all a "green mist." Everywhere was that ethereal enchantment of the
Flower City, with her gleaming towers and domes, her encircling purple
hills and picturesque streets. And how, indeed, could any one who has
watched the loveliness of a Florentine springtime ever escape its haunting
spell? The dweller in Italy may see a thousand things to desire,--better
public privileges, more facilities for comfort, but the day comes when, if
he has learned to love the Italian atmosphere so intensely that all the
glories of earth could not begin to compensate for it, he would give every
conceivable achievement of modern art and progress for one hour among
those purple hills, for one hour with the sunset splendors over the
towers, and the olive-crowned heights of Fiesole and Bellosguardo; or to
hear again the impassioned strains of street singers ring out in pathetic
intensity in the bewildering moonlight. _La Bella Firenze_, lying
dream-enchanted among her amethyst hills, would draw her lover from the
wilds of Siberia, for even one of those etherial evenings, when the stars
blaze in a splendor over San Miniato, or one rose-crowned morning, when
the golden sunshine gilds the tower of the old cathedral on Fiesole.

In that spring Mrs. Stowe visited Florence, and the Brownings liked her
and rejoiced that she had moved the world for good. To Mrs. Jameson Mrs.
Browning wrote that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a "sign of the times." She
read Victor Hugo's "Contemplations," finding some of the personal poems
"overcoming in their pathos"; they went to tea on the terrace at
Bellosguardo, in April evenings, gazing over Florence veiled in
transparent blue haze in the valley below.

In this April Mrs. Browning's father died; she had never ceased to hope
for reconciliation, and her sorrow was great, but, as usual, she was
gently serene, "not despondingly calm," she said. Mrs. Jameson again came
to Florence, and there were more teas on overhanging terraces, and
enjoyments of the divine sunsets.

In August they went with Miss Blagden, Mr. Lytton, and one or two others
to again make _villeggiatura_ at Bagni di Lucca, where Mrs. Browning rose
every morning at six to bathe in the rapid little mountain
stream,--finding herself strengthened by this heroic practice,--and Penini
flourished "like a rose possessed by a fairy."

The succeeding winter was passed in Florence, Mrs. Browning instructing
her little son in German, and herself reveled in French and German
romances. Her rest was always gained in lying on the sofa and reading
novels; Browning, who cared little for fiction, found his relaxation in
drawing. He taught Penini on the piano, and the boy read French, German,
and Italian every day, and played in the open air under the very shadow of
the Palazzo Pitti.


  "_... Try if Petraja, cool and green._
  _Cure last night's fault with this morning's flowers._"

  The Statue and the Bust.]

The Hawthornes, who had met the Brownings in London at a breakfast given
by Lord Houghton, came up from Rome, and Mrs. Hawthorne declared that the
grasp of Browning's hand "gives a new value to life." They passed an
evening at Casa Guidi, and Mrs. Hawthorne recorded that in the corridor,
as they entered, was a little boy who answered in the affirmative as to
whether he were "Penini," and who "looked like a waif of poetry,
lovelier still in the bright light of the drawing-room." Mr. Browning
instantly appeared with his cordial welcome, leading them into the salon
that looked out on the terrace, filled with growing plants. From San
Felice there came the chanting of music, and the flowers, the melody, the
stars hanging low in the sky, all ablaze over San Miniato, with the poet
and his child, all conspired to entrance the sensitive and poetic Mrs.
Hawthorne. Then Mrs. Browning came in, "delicate, like a spirit, the
ethereal poet-wife, with a cloud of curls half concealing her face, and
with the fairy fingers that gave a warm, human pressure,--a very
embodiment of heart and intellect." Mrs. Hawthorne had brought her a
branch of pink roses, which Mrs. Browning pinned on her black velvet gown.

They were taken into the drawing-room, a lofty, spacious apartment where
Gobelin tapestries, richly carved furniture, pictures, and _vertu_ all
enchanted Mrs. Hawthorne, and they talked "on no very noteworthy topics,"
Hawthorne afterward recorded, though he added that he wondered that the
conversation of Browning should be so clear and so much to the purpose,
considering that in his poetry one ran "into the high grass of obscure
allusion." The poet Bryant and his daughter were present that evening, a
little to the regret of Mrs. Hawthorne, and there were tea and
strawberries, Mrs. Browning presiding at the tray, and Penini, "graceful
as Ganymede," passing the cake.

The Brownings left Florence soon after this evening. The summer of 1858
was passed in Normandy, in company with Mr. Browning's father and his
sister Sarianna, all of them occupying together a house on the shore of
the Channel, near Havre. They confessed themselves in a heavenly state of
mind, equally appreciative of the French people,--manners, cooking,
cutlets, and costumes, all regarded with perpetual admiration. Penini,
too, was by no means behind in his pretty, childish enthusiasms. He was
now nine years of age, reading easily French and German, as well as the
two languages, English and Italian--each of which was as much his native
tongue as the other--and with much proficiency at the piano. Browning
already played duets with his little son, while the happy mother looked
smilingly on. Mrs. Browning was one who lived daily her real life. For
there is much truth in the Oriental truism that our real life is that
which we do _not_ live,--in our present environment, at least. She always
gave of her best because she herself dwelt in the perpetual atmosphere of
high thought. Full of glancing humor and playfulness of expression, never
scorning homely conditions, she yet lived constantly in the realm of

  "Poets become such
  By scorning nothing,"

she has said.

The following winter found them again in Rome, where Mrs. Browning was
much occupied with Italian politics. Her two deepest convictions were
faith in the honest purposes of Louis Napoleon, and her enthusiasm for
Italian liberty and unity. In her poem, "A Tale of Villafranca," she
expressed her convictions and feelings. One of their nearer friends in
Rome was Massimo d'Azeglio, the Prime Minister of Piedmont from 1849 to
1852, one of the purest of Italian patriots, who was full of hope for
Italy. The English Minister Plenipotentiary to Rome at that time was Lord
Odo Russell, and when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) arrived
in Rome, the Minister (later Lord Ampthill) invited (through Colonel
Bruce) several gentlemen to meet him, Colonel Bruce said to Browning that
he knew it "would gratify the Queen that the Prince should make the
acquaintance of Mr. Browning." Mrs. Browning spoke of "the little prince"
in one of her letters to Isa Blagden as "a gentle, refined boy," and she
notes how Massimo d'Azeglio came to see them, and talked nobly, and
confesses herself more proud of his visit "than of another personal
distinction, though I don't pretend to have been insensible to that," she
adds, evidently referring to the meeting with the young prince.

Mrs. Browning's love for novels seemed to have been inherited by her son,
for this winter he was reading an Italian translation of "Monte Cristo"
with such enthusiasm as to resolve to devote his life to fiction. "Dear
Mama," he gravely remarked, "for the future I mean to read novels. I shall
read all Dumas's to begin."

On their return to Florence in the spring, Mrs. Browning gives William
Page a letter of introduction to Ruskin, commending Mr. Page "as a man
earnest, simple and noble, who "has not been successful in life, and when
I say life I include art, which is life to him. You will recognize in this
name _Page_," she continues, "the painter of Robert's portrait which you
praised for its Venetian color, and criticised in other respects," she
concluded. And she desires Ruskin to know the "wonder and light and color
and space and air" that Page had put into his "Venus Rising from the Sea,"
which the Paris salon of that summer had refused on the ground of its
nudity,--a scruple that certainly widely differentiates the Salon of 1858
from that of 1911.

Salvini, even then already recognized as a great artist, was playing in a
theater in Florence that spring, and the Brownings saw with great
enjoyment and admiration his impersonations of Hamlet and Othello.

On a glowing June morning Browning was crossing the Piazza San Lorenzo,
when the market-folk had all their curious wares of odds and ends spread
about on tables. At one of these he chanced on "the square old yellow
book" which held the story of the Franceschini tragedy, which the poet's
art transmuted into his greatest poem, "The Ring and the Book." No other
single work of Browning's can rival this in scope and power. It would seem
as if he had, at the moment, almost a prescience of the incalculable value
of this crumpled and dilapidated volume; as if he intuitively recognized
what he afterward referred to as "the predestination." On his way homeward
he opened the book;

                "... through street and street,
  At the Strozzi, at the Pillar, at the Bridge;
  Till, by the time I stood at home again
  In Casa Guidi by Felice Church,

     *       *       *       *       *

  I had mastered the contents, knew the whole truth."

In this brief time he had comprehended the entire story of the trial and
execution of Count Guido Franceschino, Nobleman of Arezzo, for the murder
of his wife, Pompilia, and apparently much of the conception of his great
work of future years, "The Ring and the Book," took possession of him at
once. But it was like the seed that must germinate and grow. Little indeed
did he dream that in this chance purchase he had been led to the material
for the supreme achievement of his art.

One evening before leaving Florence for Siena, where the Brownings had
taken the Villa Alberti for the summer, they had Walter Savage Landor to
tea, and also Miss Blagden and Kate Field, then a young girl, studying
music in Florence, who was under Miss Blagden's charge. Just as the tea
was placed on the table, Browning turned to his honored guest, and thanked
him for his defense of old songs; and opening Landor's latest book, "Last
Fruit," he read in a clear, vibrant voice from the "Idylls of Theocritus."
The chivalrous deference touched the aged poet. "Ah, you are kind," said
he; "you always find out the best bits in my books."


  "_Came she, our new crescent of a hair's breadth._
  _Full she flared it, lamping Samminiato._"

One Word More.]

The loyal homage rendered by the younger poet, in all the glow of his
power, to the "old master," was lovely to see. As will be recalled, Landor
had been one of the first to recognize the genius of Browning when his
youthful poem, "Paracelsus," appeared. Landor had then written to Southey:
"God grant that Robert Browning live to be much greater, high as he now
stands among most of the living."

It was one noon soon after this evening that Landor came to Casa Guidi,
desolate and distraught, declaring he had left his villa on the Fiesolean
slope never to return, because of his domestic difficulties. The Brownings
were about leaving for Siena and Mr. Browning decided to engage an
apartment for the venerable poet, when the Storys, who were making
_villeggiatura_ in the strange old medieval city, invited Landor to be
their guest. The villa where the Storys were domiciled was near the
Brownings, and Landor was much in both households. "He made us a long
visit," wrote Mrs. Story, "and was our honored and cherished guest. His
courtesy and high breeding never failed him." Landor would often be seen
astir in the early dawn, sitting under the olive trees in the garden,
writing Latin verses. To Kate Field, who had become a great favorite with
the Brownings, Mr. Browning wrote with some bit of verse of Landor's:


    DEAR MISS FIELD:--I have only a minute to say that Mr. Landor wrote
    these really pretty lines in your honor the other day,--you remember
    on what circumstances they turn. I know somebody who is ready to
    versify to double the extent at the same cost to you, and do his best,
    too, and you also know.

    Yours Affectionately Ever,

    R. B.

    The servant waits for this and stops the expansion of soul!

    P. S. ... What do you mean by pretending that we are not the obliged,
    the grateful people? Your stay had made us so happy, come and make us
    happy again, says (or would say were she not asleep) my wife, and
    yours also,--

    R. B.

Of Landor, while they were in Siena, Mrs. Browning wrote to a friend that
Robert always said he owed more to him than any other contemporary, and
that Landor's genius insured him the gratitude of all artists. In these
idyllic days Mr. Story's young daughter, Edith, (now the Marchesa Peruzzi
di Medici, of Florence,) had a birthday, which the poetic group all united
to celebrate. In honor of the occasion Landor not only wrote a Latin poem
for the charming girl, but he appeared in a wonderful flowered waistcoat,
one that dated back to the days of Lady Blessington, to the amusement of
all the group. From Isa Blagden, who remained in her villa on
Bellosguardo, came almost daily letters to Mrs. Browning, who constantly
gained strength in the life-giving air of Siena, where they looked afar
over a panorama of purple hills, with scarlet sunsets flaming in the west,
the wind blowing nearly every day, as now. The Cave of the Winds, as
celebrated by Virgil, might well have been located in Siena.

Mrs. Browning and Mrs. Story would go back and forth to visit each other,
mounted on donkeys, their husbands walking beside, as they had done in the
Arcadian days at Bagni di Lucca. Odo Russell passed two days with the
Brownings on his way from Rome to London, to their great enjoyment.
Landor's health and peace of mind became so far restored that he was able
to "write awful Latin alcaics." Penini, happy in his great friends, the
Story children, Julian, Waldo, and Edith, and hardly less so with the
_contadini_, whom he helped to herd the sheep and drive in the
grape-carts, galloped through lanes on his own pony, insisted on reading
to his _contadini_ from the poems of Dall' Ongaro, and grew apace in
happiness and stature. For two hours every day his father taught him
music, and the lad already played Beethoven sonatas, and music of
difficult execution from German composers.

The Brownings and the Storys passed many evenings together, "sitting on
the lawn under the ilexes and the cypresses, with tea and talk, until the
moon had made the circuit of the quarter of the sky." Mrs. Browning's
health grew better, and Story writes to Charles Eliot Norton that
"Browning is in good spirits about her, and Pen is well, and as I write,"
he continues, "I hear him laughing and playing with my boys and Edith on
the terrace below."

It was late in October before they returned to Florence, and then only for
a sojourn of six weeks before going to Rome for the winter. The Siena
summer had been a period of unalloyed delight to Mrs. Browning, whose
health was much improved, and not the least of the happiness of both had
been due to the congenial companionship of the Storys, and to their
delicate courtesies, which Mrs. Browning wrote to Mrs. Jameson that she
could never forget. Browning wrote to Mrs. Story saying to her that she
surely did not need to be told how entirely they owed "the delightful
summer" to her own and Mr. Story's kindness. "Ba is hardly so well," he
adds, "as when she was let thrive in that dear old villa and the pleasant
country it hardly shut out."

Mrs. Browning's small book, the "Poems before Congress," only eight in
all, was published in this early spring of 1860, and met with no cheering
reception. She felt this keenly, but said, "If I were ambitious of any
thing it would be to be wronged where, for instance, Cavour is wronged."
With Mrs. Browning a political question was equally a moral question. Her
devotion to Italy, and faith in the regeneration of the country, were
vital matters to her. She was deeply touched by the American attitude
toward her poem, "A Curse for a Nation," for the Americans, she noted,
rendered thanks to the reprover of ill deeds, "understanding the pure love
of the motive." These very "Poems before Congress" brought to her praises,
and the offer of high prices as well, and of this nation she said it was

A letter from Robert Browning written to Kate Field, who was then in
Florence with Miss Blagden, and which has never before been published, is
as follows:


    March 29th, 1860.

    DEAR MISS FIELD,--Do you really care to have the little photograph?
    Here it is with all my heart. I wonder I dare be so frank this
    morning, however, for a note just rec'd from Isa mentions an instance
    of your acuteness, that strikes me with a certain awe. "Kate," she
    says, "persists that the 'Curse for a Nation' is for America, and not
    England." You persist, do you? No doubt against the combined
    intelligence of our friends who show such hunger and thirst for a new
    poem of Ba's--and, when they get it, digest the same as you see.
    "Write a nation's curse for me," quoth the antislavery society five
    years ago, "and send it over the Western sea." "Not so," replied poor
    little Ba, "for my heart is sore for my own lands' sins, which are
    thus and thus,--what curse assign to another land when heavy for the
    sins of mine?" "Write it for that very reason," rejoined Ba's cheerer,
    "because thou hast strength to see and hate a foul thing done within
    thy gate," and so, after a little more dallying, she wrote and sent
    over the Western seas what all may read, but it appears only Kate
    Field, out of all Florence, can understand. It seems incredible. How
    did you find out, beside, the meaning of all these puzzling passages
    which I quote in the exact words of the poem? In short, you are not
    only the delightful Kate Field which I always knew you to be, but the
    sole understander of Ba in all Florence. I can't get over it....

    Browning, the husband, means to try increasingly and somewhat
    intelligibly to explain to all his intimates at Florence, with the
    sole exception of Kate Field; to whose comprehension he will rather
    endeavor to rise, than to stoop, henceforth. And so, with true love
    from Ba to Kate Field, and our united explanation to all other
    friends, that the subject matter of the present letter is by no means
    the annexation of Savoy and Nice, she will believe me,

    Hers very faithfully


To Kate Field Mrs. Browning wrote, the letter undated, but evidently about
this time, apparently in reply to some request of Miss Field's to be
permitted to write about them for publication:

    MY DEAR KATE,--I can't put a seal on your lips when I know them to be
    so brave and true. Take out your license, then, to name me as you
    please, only remembering, dear, that even kind words are not always
    best spoken. Here is the permission, then, to say nothing about your
    friends except that they are your friends, which they will always be
    glad to have said and believed. I had a letter from America to-day,
    from somebody who, hearing I was in ill health, desired to inform me
    that he wouldn't weep for me, were it not for Robert Browning and
    Penini! No, don't repeat that. It was kindly meant, and you are
    better, my dear Kate, and happier, and we are all thanking God for
    Italy. Love us here a little, and believe that we all love and think
    of you.

    Yours ever affectionately,

    E. B. B.

The American appreciation of Mrs. Browning constantly increased, and
editors offered her an hundred dollars each for any poem, long or short,
that might pass through their publications on its way to final destiny.

Theodore Parker had passed that winter in Rome, and Mrs. Browning felt
that he was "high and noble." Early in May he left for Florence, where his
death occurred before the return of the Brownings.

The education of Penini during these months was conducted by an old Abbé,
who was also the instructor of Mr. Story's only daughter, Edith, and the
two often shared their lessons, the lad going to Palazzo Barberini to join
Miss Edith in this pursuit of knowledge. Certain traditions of the
venerable Abbé have drifted down the years, indicating that his breviary
and meditations on ecclesiastical problems did not exclusively occupy his
mind, for the present Marchesa Peruzzi has more than one laughing
reminiscence of this saintly father, who at one time challenged his pupil
to hop around the large table on one foot. The hilarity of the festivity
was not lessened when the Reverendo himself joined in the frolic, his
robes flapping around him, as they all contributed to the merriment. The
Marchesa has many a dainty note written to her by Penini's mother. Once it
is as Pen's amanuensis that she serves, praying the loan of a "'Family
Robinson,' by Mayne Reid," to solace the boy in some indisposition. "I
doubt the connection between Mayne Reid and Robinson," says Mrs. Browning,
"but speak as I am bidden." And another note was to tell "Dearest Edith"
that Pen's papa wanted him for his music, and that there were lessons,
beside; and "thank dear Edith for her goodness," and "another day, with
less obstacles." The intercourse between the Brownings and the Storys was
always so full of mutual comprehension and perfect sympathy and delicate,
lovely recognition on both sides, that no life of either the sculptor or
the wedded poets could be presented that did not include these constant
amenities of familiar, affectionate intercourse.

Many English friends of the Brownings came and went that winter, and among
others was Lady Annabella Nöel, a granddaughter of Lord Byron, and a great
admirer of Mr. Browning. A new acquaintance of the Brownings was Lady
Marion Alford, a daughter of the Earl of Northampton, "very eager about
literature, and art, and Robert," laughed Mrs. Browning, and Lady Marion
and "Hatty" (Miss Hosmer) were, it seems, mutually captivated.


The home of William Wetmore Story and his family for nearly forty years.]

Some of the English artists came to Rome, Burne-Jones and Val Prinsep
among them, and they with Browning wandered about the classic byways of
the city and drove to see the Coliseum by moonlight.

In June the Brownings left Rome, by way of Orvieto and Chiusi. They
crossed that dead, mystic Campagna that flows, like a sea, all around
Rome--a sea of silence and mystery; with its splendid ruins of the old
aqueducts and tombs, its vast stretches of space that were all aglow, in
those June days, with scarlet poppies. They stopped one night at Viterbo,
the little city made famous since those days by Richard Bagot's tragic
novel, "Temptation," and where the convent is interesting from its
associations with Vittoria Colonna, who in 1541 made here a retreat for
meditation and prayer.

In Orvieto they rested for a day and night, and Mrs. Browning was able to
go with her husband into the marvelous cathedral, with its "jeweled and
golden façade" and its aerial Gothic construction. Mr. Browning, with his
little son, drove over to the wild, curious town of Bagnorgio, which,
though near Orvieto, is very little known. But this was the birthplace of
Giovanni da Fidenza, the "Seraphic Doctor," who was canonized as St.
Buonaventura, from the exclamation of San Francesco, who, on awakening
from a dream communion with Giovanni da Fidenza, exclaimed, "_O buona
ventura!_" Dante introduces this saint into the _Divina Commedia_, as
chanting the praises of San Domenico in Paradise:

  "_Io san vita di Bonaventura_
  _Du Bagnorgio, che ne grandi uffici,_
  _Sempre posposi la sinistra cura._"

Bagnorgio is, indeed, the heart of poetic legend and sacred story, but it
is so inaccessible, perched on its high hill, with deep chasms, evidently
the work of earthquakes, separating it from the route of travel, that from
a distance it seems impossible that any conveyance save an airship could
ever reach the town.

By either route, through the Umbrian region, by way of Assisi and Perugia,
or by way of Orvieto and Siena, the journey between Rome and Florence is
as beautiful as a dream. The Brownings paused for one night's rest at Lake
Thrasymene, the scenes of the battlefield of Hannibal and Flaminius, with
the town on a height overlooking the lake. "Beautiful scenery, interesting
pictures and tombs," said Mrs. Browning of this journey, "but a fatiguing
experience." She confessed to not feeling as strong as she had the
previous summer, but still they were planning their _villeggiatura_ in
Siena, taking the same villa they had occupied the previous season, where
Penini should keep tryst with the old Abbé, who was to come with the
Storys and with his Latin.

They found Landor well and fairly amenable to the new conditions of his
life. Domiciled with Isa Blagden was Miss Frances Power Cobbe, who was
drawn to Florence that spring largely to meet Theodore Parker, with whom
she had long corresponded. Mr. and Mrs. Lewes (George Eliot) were in
Florence that spring of 1860, the great novelist making her studies for
"Romola." They were the guests of the Thomas Adolphus Trollopes.

Landor, too, came frequently to take tea with Miss Blagden and Miss Cobbe
on their terrace, and discuss art with Browning. Dall' Ongaro and Thomas
Adolphus Trollope were frequently among the little coterie. His visits to
Casa Guidi and his talks with Mrs. Browning were among the most treasured
experiences of Mr. Trollope. "I was conscious, even then," he afterward
wrote in his reminiscences of this lovely Florentine life, "of coming
away from Casa Guidi a better man, with higher views and aims. The effect
was not produced by any talk of the nature of preaching, but simply by the
perception and appreciation of what Elizabeth Browning was: of the purity
of the spiritual atmosphere in which she habitually dwelt."

Miss Hosmer came, too, that spring, as the guest of Miss Blagden, and she
often walked down the hill to breakfast with her friends in Casa Guidi.
Browning, who was fond of an early walk, sometimes went out to meet her,
and on one occasion they had an escapade which "Hatty" related afterward
with great glee. It was on one of these morning encounters that Miss
Hosmer confessed to the poet that the one longing of her soul was to ride
behind Caretta, the donkey, and Browning replied that nothing could be
easier, as Girolamo, Caretta's owner, was the purveyor of vegetables to
Casa Guidi, and that they would appropriate his cart for a turn up Poggia
Imperiale. "_Di gustibus non_," began Browning. "Better let go Latin and
hold on to the cart," sagely advised the young sculptor. In the midst of
their disasters from the surprising actions of Caretta, they met her
owner. "_Dio mio_" exclaimed Girolamo, "it is Signor Browning. San
Antonio!" Girolamo launched forth into an enumeration of all the
diabolical powers possessed by Caretta, and called on all the saints to
witness that she was a disgrace to nature. Meantime the poet, the
sculptor, the vegetables, and the donkey were largely combined into one
hopeless mass, and Browning's narration and re-enactment of the tragedy,
after they reached Casa Guidi, threw Mrs. Browning into peals of laughter.

Again the Brownings sought their favorite Siena, where Miss Blagden joined
them, finding a rude stone villino, of two or three rooms only, the home
of some _contadini_, within fifteen minutes' walk of Mrs. Browning, and
taking it to be near her friend. But for the serious illness of Mrs.
Browning's sister Henrietta (Mrs. Surtees Cook) the summer would have been
all balm and sunshine. The Storys were very near, and Mr. Landor had been
comfortably housed not far from his friends, who gave the aged scholar the
companionship he best loved. Browning took long rides on horseback,
exploring all the romantic regions around Siena, such rides that he might
almost have exclaimed with his own hero, the Grand Duke Ferdinand,--

  "For I ride--what should I do but ride?"

Penini, too, galloped through the lanes on his pony, his curls flying in
the wind, and read Latin with the old Abbé. The lessons under this genial
tutor were again shared with Miss Edith Story, one of whose earliest
childish recollections is of sitting on a low hassock, leaning against
Mrs. Browning, while Penini sat on the other side, and his mother talked
with both the children. Mr. Story's two sons, the future painter and
sculptor respectively, were less interested at this time in canvas and
clay than they were in their pranks and sports. The Storys and Brownings,
Miss Blagden and Landor, all loaned each other their books and newspapers,
and discussed the news and literature of the day. The poet was much
occupied in modeling, and passed long mornings in Mr. Story's improvised
studio, where he copied two busts, the "Young Augustus" and the "Psyche,"
with notable success.

In the October of that year both the Brownings and the Storys returned to
Rome, the poets finding a new apartment in the Via Felice. Mrs. Browning's
sister Henrietta died that autumn, and in her grief she said that one of
the first things that did her good was a letter from Mrs. Stowe. She notes
her feeling that "how mere a line it is to overstep between the living and
the dead." Her spiritual insight never failed her, and of herself she
said: "I wish to live just so long, and no longer, than to grow in the

In the days of inevitable sadness after her sister's death, whatever the
consolations and reassurances of faith and philosophy, Mrs. Browning wrote
to a friend of the tender way in which her husband shielded her, and "for
the rest," she said, "I ought to have comfort, for I believe that love, in
its most human relations, is an eternal thing." She added: "One must live;
and the only way is to look away from one's self into the larger and
higher circle of life in which the merely personal grief or joy forgets

Penini and his friend, Miss Edith, continued their studies under the old
Abbé; his mother heard him read a little German daily, and his father
"sees to his music, and the getting up of arithmetic," noted Mrs.
Browning. The lad rode on his pony over Monte Pincio, and occasionally
cantered out on the Campagna with his father. But Mrs. Browning had come
to know that her stay on earth was to be very brief, and to her dear Isa
she wrote that for the first time she had pain in looking into her little
son's face--"which you will understand," she adds, but to her husband she
did not speak of this premonition. She urged him to go out into the great
world, for Rome was socially resplendent that winter. Among other notable
festivities there was a great ball given by Mrs. Hooker, where princes and
cardinals were present, and where the old Roman custom of attending the
princes of the church up and down the grand staircase with flaming torches
was observed. The beautiful Princess Rospoli was a guest that night,
appearing in the tri-color. Commenting on the Civil War that was
threatening America, Mrs. Browning said she "believed the unity of the
country should be asserted with a strong hand."

Val Prinsep, in Rome that winter, was impressed by Mr. Browning into the
long walks in which they both delighted, and they traversed Rome on both
sides the Tiber. The poet was not writing regularly in those days, though
his wife "gently wrangled" with him to give more attention to his art,
and held before him the alluring example of the Laureate who shut himself
up daily for prescribed work. Browning had "an enormous superfluity of
vital energy," which he had to work off in long walks, in modeling, and in
conversations. "I wanted his poems done this winter very much," said Mrs.
Browning; "and here was a bright room with three windows consecrated to
use.... There has been little poetry done since last winter." But in later
years Browning became one of the most regular of workers, and considered
that day lost on which he had not written at least some lines of poetry.
At this time the poet was fascinated by his modeling. "Nothing but clay
does he care for, poor, lost soul," laughed Mrs. Browning. Her "Hatty" ran
in one day with a sketch of a charming design for a fountain for Lady
Marion Alford. "The imagination is unfolding its wings in Hatty," said
Mrs. Browning.

In days when Mrs. Browning felt able to receive visitors, there were many
to avail themselves of the privilege. On one day came Lady Juliana Knox,
bringing Miss Sewell (Amy Herbert); and M. Carl Grun, a friend of the
poet, Dall' Ongaro, came with a letter from the latter, who wished to
translate into Italian some of the poems of Mrs. Browning. Lady Juliana
had that day been presented to the Holy Father, and she related to Mrs.
Browning how deeply touched she had been by his adding to the benediction
he gave her, "_Priez pour le pape._"

Penini had a choice diversion in that the Duchesse de Grammont, of the
French Embassy, gave a "_matinée d'enfants_," to which he received a card,
and went, resplendent in a crimson velvet blouse, and was presented to
small Italian princes of the Colonna, the Doria, Piombiono, and others,
and played leap-frog with his titled companions.

Mrs. Browning reads with eager interest a long speech of their dear
friend, Milsand, which filled seventeen columns of the _Moniteur_, a copy
of which his French friend sent to Browning.

The Brownings had planned to join the poet's father and sister in Paris
that summer, but a severe attack of illness in which for a few days her
life was despaired of made Mrs. Browning fear that she would be unable to
take the journey. Characteristically, her only thought was for the others,
never for herself, and she writes to Miss Browning how sad she is in the
thought of her husband's not seeing his father, and "If it were possible
for Robert to go with Pen," she continues, "he should, but he wouldn't go
without me."

When she had sufficiently recovered to start for Florence, they set out on
June 4, resting each night on the way, and reaching Siena four days later,
where they lingered. From there Mr. Browning wrote to the Storys that they
had traveled through exquisite scenery, and that Ba had borne the journey
fairly well. But on arriving in Florence and opening their apartment again
in Casa Guidi, it was apparent that the poet had decided rightly that
there was to be no attempt made to visit Paris. During these closing days
of Mrs. Browning's stay on earth, her constant aim was "to keep quiet, and
try not to give cause for trouble on my account, to be patient and live on
God's daily bread from day to day."

  "_O beauty of holiness,_
  _Of self-forgetfulness, of lowliness!_"

It is difficult to read unmoved her last words written to Miss Sarianna
Browning. "Don't fancy, dear," she said, "that this is the fault of my
will," and she adds:

    "Robert always a little exaggerates the difficulties of traveling, and
    there's no denying that I have less strength than is usual to me....
    What does vex me is that the dearest nonno should not see his Peni
    this year, and that you, dear, should be disappointed, _on my account
    again_. That's hard on us all. We came 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

For a week previous to her transition to that diviner world in which she
always dwelt, even on earth, she was unable to leave her couch; but she
smilingly assured them each day that she was better, and in the last
afternoon she received a visit from her beloved Isa, to whom she spoke
with somewhat of her old fire of generous enthusiasm of the new Premier,
who was devoted to the ideals of Cavour, and in whose influence she saw
renewed hope for Italy. The Storys were then at Leghorn, having left Rome
soon after the departure of the Brownings, and they were hesitating
between Switzerland for the summer, or going again to Siena, where they
and the Brownings might be together. The poet had been intending to meet
the Storys at Leghorn that night, but he felt that he could not leave his
wife, though with no prescience of the impending change. She was weak, but
they talked over their summer plans, decided they would soon go to Siena,
and agreed that they would give up Casa Guidi that year, and take a villa
in Florence, instead. They were endeavoring to secure an apartment in
Palazzo Barberini for the winter, the Storys being most anxious that they
should be thus near together, and Mrs. Browning discussed with him the
furnishing of the rooms in case they decided upon the Palazzo. Only that
morning Mr. Lytton had called, and while Mrs. Browning did not see him,
her husband talked with him nearly all the morning. Late in the evening
she seemed a little wandering, but soon she slept, waking again about
four, when they talked together, and she seemed to almost pass into a
state of ecstasy, expressing to him in the most ardent and tender words
her love and her happiness. The glow of the luminous Florentine dawn
brightened in the room, and with the words "It is beautiful!" she passed
into that realm of life and light and loveliness in which she had always
seemed to dwell.

  "And half we deemed she needed not
    The changing of her sphere,
  To give to heaven a Shining One,
    Who walked an angel here."


Curiously, Miss Blagden had not slept at all that night. After her return
from her visit to Mrs. Browning the previous afternoon, "every trace of
fatigue vanished," she wrote to a friend, "and all my faculties seemed
singularly alert. I was unable to sleep, and sat writing letters till
dawn, when a cabman came to tell me '_La Signora della Casa Guidi e

The Storys came immediately from Leghorn, and Miss Blagden took Edith
Story and Penini to her villa. It was touching to see his little friend's
endeavor to comfort the motherless boy. Mr. and Mrs. Story stayed with
Browning in the rooms where everything spoke of her presence: the table,
strewn with her letters and books; her little chair, a deep armchair of
dark green velvet, which her son now holds sacred among his treasures, was
drawn by the table just as she had left it, and in her portfolio was a
half-finished letter to Madame Mario, speaking of Cavour, and her noble
aspirations for Italy.

In the late afternoon of July 1, 1861, a group of English and American,
with many Italian friends gathered about the little casket in the lovely
cypress-shaded English cemetery of Florence, and as the sun was sinking
below the purple hills it was tenderly laid away, while the amethyst
mountains hid their faces in a misty veil.

  "What would we give to our beloved?
  The hero's heart to be unmoved,
  The poet's star-tuned harp to sweep.

     *       *       *       *       *

  God strikes a silence through you all,
  And giveth His beloved, sleep."

Almost could the friends gathered there hear her poet-voice saying:

  "And friends, dear friends, when it shall be
  That this low breath is gone from me,
  And round my bier ye come to weep,
  Let One, most loving of you all,
  Say 'Not a tear must o'er her fall!
  He giveth His beloved, sleep.'"



  "Think, when our one soul understands
    The great Word which makes all things new,
  When earth breaks up and heaven expands,
    How will the change strike me and you
  In the house not made with hands?

  "Oh, I must feel your brain prompt mine,
    Your heart anticipate my heart,
  You must be just before, in fine,
    See and make me see, for your part,
  New depths of the divine!"


"The cycle is complete," said Browning to the Storys, as they all stood in
those desolate rooms and gazed about. The salon was just as she had left
it; the table covered with books and magazines, her little chair drawn up
to it, the long windows open to the terrace, and the faint chant of nuns,
"made for midsummer nights," in San Felice, on the air. "Here we came
fifteen years ago," continued Mr. Browning; "here Ba wrote her poems for
Italy; here Pen was born; here we used to walk up and down this terrace on
summer evenings." The poet lingered over many tender reminiscences, and
after the Storys had taken leave, he and his son yielded to the
entreaties of Isa Blagden to stay with her in her villa on Bellosguardo
during the time that he was preparing to leave Florence, which he never
looked upon again.

When all matters of detail were concluded, Miss Blagden, "perfect in all
kindness," accompanied them to Paris, continuing her own journey to
England, while Browning with his son, his father, and sister, proceeded to
St. Enogat, near St. Malo, on the Normandy coast. Before Mrs. Browning's
illness there had been a plan that all the Brownings and Mr. and Mrs. W.
J. Stillman should pass the summer together at Fontainebleau.

There was something about St. Enogat singularly restful to Browning, the
sea, the solitude, the "unspoiled, fresh, and picturesque place," as he
described it in a letter to Madame Du Quaire. The mystic enchantment of it
wrought its spell, and Penini had his pony and was well and cheerful, and
Browning realized too well that the change called death is but the passing
through "the gates of new life," to be despairing in his sorrow. The
spirit of one

  "... who never turned his back, but marched breast forward,"

breathes through all the letters that he wrote at this time to friends.
"Don't fancy I am prostrated," he wrote to Leighton; "I have enough to do
for myself and the boy, in carrying out her wishes." Somewhat later he
expressed his wish that Mr. (later Sir Frederick) Leighton should design
the memorial tomb, in that little Florence cemetery, for his wife; and the
marble with only "E. B. B." inscribed on it, visited constantly by all
travelers in Florence and rarely found without flowers, is the one Sir
Frederick designed.


Designed by Sir Frederick Leighton, R.A.]

In a letter to his boyhood's friend, Miss Haworth, Browning alluded to the
future, when Penini would so need the help of "the wisdom, the genius, the
piety" of his mother; and the poet adds: "I have had everything, and
shall not forget." In reply to a letter of sympathy from Kate Field, he

    "DEAR FRIEND,--God bless you for all your kindness which I shall never
    forget. I cannot write now except to say this, and beside, that I have
    had great comfort from the beginning."

In the early autumn Browning took his son to London. The parting of the
ways had come, and already he dimly perceived that the future would not
copy fair the past. There are "reincarnations," in all practical effect,
that are realized in this life as well as, speculatively, hereafter; and
his days of Italian terraces and oleander blooms, of enchanting hours on
Bellosguardo, and lingerings in old palaces and galleries, and saunterings
down narrow streets crowded with _contadini_,--these days were as entirely
past as if he had been transported to another planet.

  "Not death; we do not call it so,
  Yet scarcely more with dying breath
  Do we forego;
  We pass an unseen line,
  And lo! another zone."

The sea and the sands and the sky prefigured themselves in those days to
Browning as all indistinguishably blended in an unreal world, from which
the past had receded and on which the Future had not yet dawned.

  "Gray rocks and grayer sea,
    And surf along the shore;
  And in my heart a name
    My lips shall speak no more."

To Story he wrote with assurances of affection, but saying, "I can't speak
about anything. I could, perhaps, if we were together, but to write
freezes me." Miss Blagden, in London, had taken rooms in Upper Westbourne
Terrace, and when in the late autumn Browning and his son went on to
England, he took an apartment in Chichester Road, almost opposite the
house where Miss Blagden was staying. But she had lived too long in
enchanted Florence to be content elsewhere, and she soon returned to her
villa on the heights of Bellosguardo, from which the view is one of the
most beautiful in all Europe. Browning soon took the house, No. 19 Warwick
Crescent, which for nearly all the rest of his life continued to be his
home. Here he was near Mrs. Browning's sister, Arabel Barrett, of whom he
was very fond, and whose love for her sister's little son was most
grateful to them both. Mr. Browning had his old tapestries, pictures, and
furniture of old Florentine carving, some of it black with age, sent on
from Casa Guidi, and he proceeded to transform a prim London house into an
interior of singular charm. He lined the staircase with Italian pictures;
books overflowed in all the rooms, and the glimpse of water in the canal
near reflected the green trees of the Crescent, giving the place a hint of
sylvan Arcadias. There was the grand piano on which Penini practiced, and
a tutor was engaged to prepare the lad for the university. The poet felt
that this was the critical time to give his son "the English stamp," in
"whatever it is good for," he added. But as a matter of fact the young
Florentine had little affinity with English ways. He was the child of
poets; a linguist from his infancy, an omnivorous reader, and with marked
talent for art, distinguishing himself later in both painting and
sculpture, but he had little inclination for the exact sciences.

In his London home Browning was soon again launched on a tide of
work,--the dearest of which was in preparing the "Last Poems" of his wife
for publication. He gave it a dedication to "Grateful Florence, and
Tommaseo, her spokesman." He was also preparing a new edition of his own
works to be issued in three volumes. The tutor he had secured for his son
was considered skillful in "grammatical niceties," which, he said, "was
much more to my mind than to Pen's." But he, as well as the boy, was
homesick for Italy, and he wrote to Story that his particular reward would
be "just to go back to Italy, to Rome"; and he adds:

    "Why should I not trust to you what I know you will keep to
    yourselves, but which will certainly amuse you as nothing else I could
    write is like to do? What good in our loving each other unless I do
    such a thing? So, O Story, O Emelyn, (dare I say, for the solemnity's
    sake?) and O Edie, the editorship has, under the circumstances, been
    offered to me: me! I really take it as a compliment because I am, by
    your indulgence, a bit of a poet, if you like, but a man of the world
    and able editor hardly!"[8]

The editorship in question was that of _Cornhill_, left vacant by the
death of Thackeray.

Browning was too great of spirit to sink into the recluse, and first
beguiled into Rossetti's studio, he soon met Millais, and by degrees he
responded again to friends and friendships, and life called to him with
many voices. In the late summer of 1862 the poet and his son were at
"green, pleasant little Cambo," and then at Biarritz. He was absorbed in
Euripides; and the supreme work of his life, "The Ring and the Book," the
Roman murder story, as he then called it, was constantly in his thought
and beginning to take shape. The sudden and intense impression that the
Franceschini tragedy had made on him, on first reading it, rushed back and
held him as under a spell. But the "Dramatis Personæ" and "In a Balcony"
were to be completed before the inauguration of this great work.

For more than four years the thrilling tragedy had lain in his mind,
impressing that subconscious realm of mental action where all great work
in art acquires its creative vitality. It is said that episodes of crime
had a great fascination for Browning, _père_, who would write out long
imaginary conversations regarding the facts, representing various persons
in discussion, the individual views of each being brought out. The analogy
of this to the treatment of the Franceschini tragedy in his son's great
poem is rather interesting to contemplate. With the poet it was less
dramatic interest in the crime, _per se_, than it was that the
complexities of crime afforded the basis from which to work out his
central and controlling purpose, his abiding and profound conviction that
life here is simply the experimental and preparatory stage for the life to
come; that all its events, even its lapses from the right, its fall into
terrible evil, are--

  "Machinery just meant
  To give thy soul its bent,"

a part of the mechanism to "try the soul's stuff on"; that man lives in an
environment of spiritual influences which act upon him in just that degree
to which he can recognize and respond to them; and that he must sometimes
learn the ineffable blessedness of the right through tragic experiences of
the wrong. In the very realities of man's imperfection Browning sees his
possibilities of

  "Progress, man's distinctive work alone."

When Browning asks:

  "And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
    For the fullness of the days?..."

he condenses in these lines his philosophy of life.

Many of the poems appearing in the "Dramatis Personæ" had already been
written: "Gold Hair" and "James Lee's Wife" at Pornic, and others at green
Cambo. In the splendor and power of "Abt Vogler," "Rabbi Ben Ezra," and
"A Death in the Desert," the poet expressed a philosophy that again
suggests his intuitive agreement with the Hegelian. "Rabbi Ben Ezra" holds
in absolute solution the Vedanta philosophy. To the question as to what
all this enigma of life means, the poet answers:

  "Thence shall I pass, approved
  A man, for aye removed
  From the developed brute; a god though in the germ.

     *       *       *       *       *

  He fixed thee 'mid this dance
  Of plastic circumstance,
  This Present, thou, forsooth, would fain arrest."

How keen the sense of humor and of the sharp contrasts of life in "Fra
Lippo Lippi," and what power of character analysis. The intellectual vigor
and the keen insight into the play of mental action in "Bishop Blougram's
Apology"--a poem that occasioned great discussion on its appearance (from
a real or fancied resemblance of the "Bishop" to Cardinal Wiseman)--are
almost unsurpassed in poetic literature. Many of the poems in the
"Dramatis Personæ" are aglow with the romance of life, as in the "Eurydice
to Orpheus," and "A Face," which refers to Emily Patmore. There are studio
traces as well in these, and in the "Deaf and Dumb," suggested by a group
of Woolner. The crowning power of all is revealed in the noble faith and
the exquisite tenderness of "Prospice," especially in those closing lines
when all of fear and pain and darkness and cold,--

  "Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
      Then a light, then thy breast,
  O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
      And with God be the rest!"

The references to his wife in this poem, in the enthralling "One Word
More," and in the dedication to "The Ring and the Book," as well as those
to be divined in his character drawing of "Pompilia," are incomparable in
their impressiveness and beauty, and must live so long as poetry is
enshrined in life. The vital drama, the splendor of movement, the color,
the impassioned exaltation of feeling, the pictorial vividness that are in
these poems grouped under "Dramatic Romances" and "Dramatis Personæ," give
them claim to the first rank in the poet's creations. Curiously, during
this period, the change in Browning's habits of work, which his wife used
to urge upon him, seemed to gradually take possession of him, so that he
came to count that day lost in which he had not written some lines of
poetry. Did he, perchance in dreams, catch something of "the rustling of
her vesture" that influenced his mind to the change? To Elizabeth Browning
poetry was not only a serious calling, but its "own exceeding great
reward," always.

Another change came to Browning, which redeemed him from the growing
tendency to become a recluse, and made him a familiar figure in the great
world. He seemed to become aware that there was something morbid and
unworthy in the avoidance of the world of men and women. Browning's
divinely commissioned work had to do with life, in its most absolute
actualities as well as its great spiritual realities, because the life
eternal in its nature was the theme on which he played his poetic
variations, and no revelation of human nature came amiss to him.

He had already supervised the publication of Mrs. Browning's essay on "The
Greek Christian Poets" and "The Book of the Poets," and "nothing," he
said, "that ought to be published, shall be kept back." He had also lent
Story considerable assistance in arranging with Blackwood for the serial
publication of "Roba di Roma."

For two or three summers Browning with his father, his sister, and his
son, passed the summers at St. Marie, near Pornic, from where in the
August of 1863 he wrote to Leighton that he was living on fruit and milk,
and that each day he completed some work, read a little with Pen, and
somewhat more by himself. St. Marie was a "wild little place" in Brittany,
on the very edge of the sea, a hamlet of hardly more than a dozen houses,
of which the Brownings had the privilege of occupying that of the mayor,
whose chief attraction, apparently, was that, though bare, it was clean.
The poet liked it all, and it was there that he wrote "In the Doorway" in
"James Lee's Wife," with the sea, the field, and the fig-tree visible from
his window.

In the late summer the Brownings are all again at St. Marie in Brittany,
and the poet writes to Isa Blagden that he supposes what she "calls fame
within these four years" has come somewhat from his going about and
showing himself alive, "but," he adds, "I was in London from the time that
I published 'Paracelsus' till I ended the writing of plays with
'Luria,'--and I used to go out then, and see far more of merely literary
people, critics, etc., than I do now,--but what came of it?" If in the
lines following there is a hint of sadness, who can blame him?

During this summer he revised "Sordello" for re-publication, not, however,
as he had once contemplated, making in it any significant changes. In the
dedication to his friend Milsand, he incorporated so clear an exposition
of his idea in the poem that this dedication will always be read with
special interest. In London again the next winter, Browning wrote to Isa
Blagden that he "felt comfort in doing the best he could with the object
of his life,--poetry. I hope to do much more yet," he continued; "and that
the flower of it will be put into _Her_ hand somehow."

The London spring found the poet much engaged, taking his son to studios,
and to the Royal Academy, to concerts, and for long walks, and in a letter
to Kate Field not heretofore published is indicated something of the
general trend of the days:



    DEAR KATE FIELD, (so let me call you, please, in regard to old times
    when I might have done it, and did not,) I know well enough that there
    is great stupidity in this way of mine, this putting off a thing
    because I hope to compass some other thing, as here, for had you not
    asked for some photographs which I supposed I could soon find time and
    inclination to get, I should have thanked you at once; as I do now,
    indeed, and with all my heart, but the review article is wavering and
    indistinct in my mind now, and though it is inside a drawer of this
    table where I write, I cannot bring myself to look at it again,--not
    from a motive which is disparaging to you, as I am sure you
    understand; the general impression is enough for me, also, if you care
    in the least how I feel toward you. The boy has certainly the likeness
    to which you refer, and an absolute sameness, almost, in feature as
    well as in look, with certain old portraits of hers,--here, older and
    younger; there is not a trace of me in him, thank God! I know that
    dear, teasing Isa, and how she won't answer your questions, but
    sometimes, for compensation, she tells you what you never asked for,
    and though I always, or very often, ask about you, yet I think it may
    have been in reply to curiosity about the price of Italian stock, that
    she lately described to me a photograph of you, yourself, and how you
    were: what? even that's over. And moreover, how you were your old self
    with additions, which, to be sure, I don't require.

    Give my true regard to your mother, and thank her for her goodness in
    understanding me. But I write only to have a pleasant chat with you,
    in a balcony, looking for fire-flies in the garden, wider between us
    than the slanting Pitti façade, now that it's warm and Maylike in

    Always yours,


[Illustration: KATE FIELD

From a portrait painted by Elihu Vedder, Florence, 1860.]

Mr. Browning had now begun to think of placing his son, who had passed his
sixteenth birthday, in Oxford. In quest of this desire the poet sought the
acquaintance of Dr. Jowett, afterward Master of Balliol College. This
initiated a friendship between Browning and Jowett that lasted all the
poet's life, and that has insured to Balliol many priceless treasures of
association with both Robert and Elizabeth Browning. Up to that time
Jowett had not been an admirer of Browning's poetry. But his keen interest
in the theme then engaging Browning was aroused, and he wrote to a friend:

    "I thought I was getting too old to make new friends, but I believe
    that I have made one,--Mr. Browning, the poet, who has been staying
    with me during the past few days. It is impossible to speak without
    enthusiasm of his open, generous nature, and his great ability and
    knowledge. I had no idea that there was a perfectly sensible poet in
    the world, entirely free from vanity, jealousy, or any other
    littleness, and thinking no more of himself than if he were an
    ordinary man. His great energy is very remarkable, as is his
    determination to make the most of the remainder of life. Of personal
    objects he seems to have none, except the education of his son, in
    which I hope in some degree to help him."[9]

After returning to London, Browning writes to Tennyson, in thanks for a
book received from the Laureate:[10]

    19, WARWICK CRESCENT, W., Oct. 10, 1865.

    MY DEAR TENNYSON,--When I came back last year from my holiday I found
    a gift from you, a book; this time I find only the blue and gold thing
    which, such as it is, I send you, you are to take from me. I could not
    even put in what I pleased but I have said all about it in the word or
    two of preface, as also that I beg leave to stick the bunch in your
    buttonhole. May I beg that Mrs. Tennyson will kindly remember me?

    Ever Affectionately Yours,


Tennyson wrote in reply that the nosegay was very welcome. "I stick it in
my buttonhole ... and feel ----'s cork heels added to my boots," he added.

Volumes of selections from the poems of both Browning and his wife were
now being demanded for the "Golden Treasury"; and to Miss Blagden Browning
says further that he will certainly do the utmost to make the most of
himself before he dies, "for one reason that I may help Pen the better."

Browning complies with his publisher's request to prepare a new selection
of his wife's poems. "How I have done it, I can hardly say," he noted,
"but it is one dear delight that the work of her goes on more effectually
than ever--her books are more and more read,"--and a new edition of her
"Aurora Leigh" was exhausted within a few months.

The winter was a very full and engaging one. On one evening he dined at
the deanery of St. Paul's, Sir John Lubbock and Tennyson being also
guests, but the Stanleys, who were invited, were not present. At another
dinner the poets met, Tennyson recording: "Mr. Browning gave me an
affectionate greeting after all these years," and Browning writing to a
friend: "... I 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 ... also
at Carlyle's...."

In May of 1866 Browning's father was in poor health, and on June 14 he
died, at his home in Paris, his son having arrived three days before.
Although nearly eighty-five years of age, the elder Browning had retained
all his clearness of mind, and only just before he passed away he had
responded to some question of his son regarding a disputed point in
medieval history with "a regular book-full of notes and extracts." His son
speaks of the aged man's "strange sweetness of soul," apparently a
transmitted trait, for the poet shared it, and has left it in liberal
heritage to his son, Robert Barrett Browning, the "Pen" of all these
pages. Of his father the poet said:

    "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."

Miss Browning came henceforth to live with her brother, and for the
remainder of his life she was his constant companion. She was a woman of
delightful qualities,--of poise, cheerfulness, of great intelligence and
of liberal culture. She was a very discriminating reader, and was
peculiarly gifted with that sympathetic comprehension that makes an ideal
companionship. Her presence now transformed the London house into a home.

The next summer they passed at Le Croisic, where Browning wrote "Hervé
Riel," in "the most delicious and peculiar old house," and he and his
sister, both very fond of the open air, walked once to Guerande, the old
capital of Bretagne, some nine miles from their house.

Browning had received his first academic honors that summer, Oxford having
conferred on him her degree of M.A. The next October Browning was made
Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, a distinction that he greatly prized.

During this summer Rev. Dr. Phillips Brooks (later Bishop of
Massachusetts) was in London, and visited Browning once or twice. To a
Boston friend who asked for his impressions of the great poet, Dr. Brooks

    "... I can't say anything now except that he is one of the nicest
    people to pass an evening with in London. He is a clear-headed and
    particularly clear-eyed man of the world, devoted to society, one of
    the greatest diners-out in London, cordial and hearty, shakes your
    hand as if he were really glad to see you.... As to his talk it wasn't
    'Sordello,' and it wasn't as fine as 'Paracelsus,' but nobody ever
    talked more nobly, truly, and cheerily than he. I went home and slept
    after hearing him as one does after a fresh starlight walk with a good
    cool breeze on his face."

In 1863, on July 19, a little more than two years after the death of Mrs.
Browning, Arabel Barrett had a dream, in which she was speaking with her
sister Elizabeth, and asked, "When shall I be with you?" "Dearest, in five
years," was the reply. She told this dream to Mr. Browning, who recorded
it at the time. In June of 1868 Miss Barrett died, the time lacking one
month only of being the five years. "Only a coincidence, but noticeable,"
Mr. Browning wrote to Isa Blagden. But in the larger knowledge that we now
have of the nature of life and the phenomena of sleep, that the ethereal
body is temporarily released from the physical (sleep being the same as
death, save that in the latter the magnetic cord is severed, and the
separation is final)--in the light of this larger knowledge it is easy to
realize that the two sisters actually met in the ethereal realm, and that
the question was asked and answered according to Miss Barrett's
impression. The event was sudden, its immediate cause being rheumatic
affection of the heart, and she died in Browning's arms, as did his wife.
Her companionship had been a great comfort to him, and Mr. Gosse notes
that for many years after her death he could not bear to pass Delamere

The late summer of that year was devoted to traveling from Cannes about
the coast, and they finally decided on Audierne for a sojourn. "Sarianna
and I have just returned from a four hours' walk," he writes to a friend
from this place; but here, as everywhere, he was haunted by Florentine
memories, and by intense longings for his vanished paradise. To Isa
Blagden he wrote:

    "I feel as if I should immensely like to glide along for a summer day
    through the streets and between the old stone walls, unseen come and
    unheard go,--perhaps by some miracle I shall do so ... Oh, me! to find
    myself some late sunshiny afternoon with my face turned toward

While at Audierne, Browning put the final touches to the new six-volume
edition of his works that was about to appear from the house of Smith,
Elder, and Company, on the title-page of which he signs himself as M.A.,
Honorary Fellow of Balliol College. Mr. Nettleship's volume of essays on
Browning's poems was published that season, indicating a strong interest
in the poet; and another very gratifying experience to him was the
interest in his work manifested by the undergraduates of both Oxford and
Cambridge. Undoubtedly the pleasant glow of this appreciation stimulated
his energy in the great poem on which he was now definitely at work, "The
Ring and the Book." Publishers were making him offers for its publication,
"the R. B. who for six months once did not sell a single copy of his
poems," he exclaimed in a letter to a friend, to whom he announced that he
should "ask two hundred pounds for the sheets to America, and get it!"
with an evident conviction that this was a high price for his work. The
increasing recognition of the poet was further indicated by a request from
Tauchnitz for the volumes of selections which Browning dedicated to the
Laureate in these graceful words: "To Alfred Tennyson. In
Poetry--illustrious and consummate; In Friendship--noble and sincere."

The publication of "The Ring and the Book" was the great literary event of
1869. Two numbers had appeared in the previous autumn, but when offered in
its completeness the poem was found to embody the most remarkable
interpretation of transfigured human life to be found in all the
literature of poetry. The fame of the poet rose to splendor. This work was
the inauguration of an epoch, of a period from which his work was to be
read, studied, discussed, to a degree that would have been incredible to
him, had any Cassandra of previous years lifted the veil of the future.
The great reviews united in a very choral pean of praise; the
_Fortnightly_, the _Quarterly_, the _Edinburgh Review_, the _Revue des
Deux Mondes_, and others were practically unanimous in their recognition
of a work which was at once felt to be the very epitome of the art and
life of Robert Browning. The poem is, indeed, a vast treasure into which
the poet poured all his searching, relentless analysis of character, and
grasp of motive; all his compassion, his sensitive susceptibility to human
emotion; all his gift of brilliant movement; all his heroic enthusiasms,
and his power of luminous perception. But all this wealth of feeling and
thought had been passed through the crucible of his critical creation; it
had been fused and recast by the alchemy of genius. He transmuted fact
into truth.

  "Do you see this Ring?
                         'T is Rome-work made to match
  (By Castellani's imitative craft)
  Etrurian circlets....

     *       *       *       *       *

  I fused my live soul and that inert stuff,
  Before attempting smithcraft...."

The "square old yellow book" which Browning had chanced upon in the
market-place of San Lorenzo, in that June of 1860, was not a volume, but a
"lawyer's file of documents and pamphlets." In relating how he found
the book Browning says, in the poem:

                             "... I found this book,
  Gave a _lira_ for it, eightpence English just,
  (Mark the predestination!) when a Hand,
  Always above my shoulder, pushed me once,

     *       *       *       *       *

  Across a Square in Florence, crammed with booths."

He stepped out on the narrow terrace, built

  "Over the street and opposite the church,

     *       *       *       *       *

  Whence came the clear voice of the cloistered ones
  Chanting a chant made for midsummer nights--"

and making his own the story.



  "_....Riccardi where they lived_
  _His race........_"

The Ring and the Book.]

In 1908 Dr. Charles W. Hodell was enabled by the courtesy of Balliol
College, to whom Browning left the "Old Yellow Book," to make a
photographic reproduction of the original documents, to which Dr. Hodell
added a complete and masterly translation, and a noble essay entitled "On
the Making of a Great Poem," the most marvelous analysis and commentary on
"The Ring and the Book" that has ever been produced. The photographed
pages of the original documents, the translation, and this essay were
published by the Carnegie Institution, in a large volume entitled "The Old
Yellow Book." In his preface Professor Hodell records that he was drawn to
the special study of this poem by Professor Hiram Corson, Litt.D., LL.D.,
to whom he reverently refers as "my Master." Of "The Ring and the Book"
Dr. Hodell says:

    "In the wide range of the work of Robert Browning no single poem can
    rival 'The Ring and the Book,' in scope and manifold power. The
    subject had fallen to his hands at the very fulness of his maturity,
    by 'predestination,' as it seemed to him. In the poem, as he planned
    his treatment, there was opportunity for every phase of his peculiar
    genius.... so that the completed masterpiece becomes the macrocosm of
    his work.... Without doubt it may be held to be the greatest poetic
    work, in a long poem, of the nineteenth century. It is a drama of
    profound spiritual realities.

      'So write a book shall mean beyond the facts,
      Suffice the eye, and save the soul beside.'

    Browning was the only important poet of the Victorian age who did not
    draw upon the Morte d'Arthur legends; and the rich mythology of the
    Greeks tempted him as little. The motive that always appealed to him
    most was that of the activity of the human spirit, its power to
    dominate all material barriers to transcend every temporary limit, by
    the very power of its own energy."

In his historic researches Professor Hodell found reason to believe that
the Pope, in "The Ring and the Book," was Stephen VI, and not VII; and
writing to Robert Barrett Browning to inquire regarding this point, he
received from the poet's son the following interesting letter, which, by
Dr. Hodell's generous courtesy, is permitted to appear in this book.


    MY DEAR SIR,--I wish I were able to give you the information you ask
    me for, but my father's books are in Venice, and I have not any here
    touching on the matter to refer to.

    If Pope Stephen was, as you say, the Sixth and not the Seventh, of
    course the mistake is obvious and perhaps attributable to an
    unconscious slip of the memory, which with my father was not at its
    best in dates and figures. It is not likely that such an error should
    have appeared in any old work, such as he would have consulted; and
    certainly it was not caused by carelessness, for he was painstaking to
    a degree, and had a proper horror of blundering, which is the word he
    would have used. I can only account for such a mistake as this--which
    he would have been the first to pronounce unpardonable--by his
    absent-mindedness, his attention being at the moment absorbed by
    something else. Absent-mindedness was one of his characteristics, over
    instances of which he used to laugh most heartily. My father's
    intention, I know, was to be scrupulously accurate about the facts in
    this poem. I may tell you as an instance that, wishing to be sure that
    there was moonlight on a particular night, he got a distinguished
    mathematician to make the necessary calculation. The description of
    the finding of the book is without doubt true in every detail. Indeed,
    to this day the market at San Lorenzo is very much what it was then
    and as I can remember it. Not long ago, I myself bought an old volume
    there off a barrow.

    The "Yellow Book" was probably picked up in June of 1860 before going
    to Rome for the winter--the last my father passed in Italy. As it had
    always been understood that the Book should be presented to Balliol, I
    went soon after my father's death to stay a few days with Jowett, and
    gave it to him.

    In the portrait that hangs in Balliol Hall I painted my father as he
    sat to me with the Book in his hands.

    Nothing would have gratified him more than what you tell me about the
    interest with which his works are studied in America, and I need not
    say how much pleasure this gives me.

    Believe me with many thanks for your kind letter,

    Yours Very Sincerely,


A very curious discovery was made in Rome, in the winter of 1900, by
Signer Giorgi, the Librarian of the Royal Casanatense Library, in an
ancient manuscript account of curious legal trials, among which were those
of Beatrice Cenci, of Miguel de Molinos (in 1686), and of the trial and
sentence of Guido Franceschini. The fact that taxes credulity in regard to
this manuscript, of whose existence, even, no one in modern times had ever
dreamed, is that the three points of view, as presented by Browning in
the "Half Rome," "The Other Half Rome," and "Tertium Quid," are in accord
with those given in this strange document, which for more than a century
had lain undisturbed in the archives.

In a little explanation regarding the significance of the closing lines of
"The Ring and the Book," also kindly given by Robert Barrett Browning, it
seems that his mother habitually wore a ring of Etruscan gold, wrought by
Castellani, with the letters "A. E. I." on it; and that after her death
the poet always wore it on his watch-chain, as does now his son. In the
tablet placed on Casa Guidi to the memory of Mrs. Browning (the
inscription of which was written by the Italian poet, Tommaseo) the source
of the other allusion, of the linking Italy and England, is found. As the
reader will recall, the lines run:

  "And save the soul! If this intent save mine,--
  If the rough ore be rounded to a ring,
  Render all duty which good ring should do,
  And, failing grace, succeed in guardianship,--
  Might mine but lie outside thine, Lyric Love,
  Thy rare gold ring of verse (the poet praised)
  Linking our England to his Italy!"

Dr. Corson especially notes Browning's opening invocation to his wife,
praying her aid and benediction in the work he has undertaken. "This
passage," says Dr. Corson, "has a remarkable movement, the unobtrusive but
distinctly felt alliteration contributing to the effect."

  "O lyric Love, half angel and half bird
  And all a wonder and a wild desire,--
  Boldest of hearts that ever braved the sun,
  Took sanctuary within the holier blue."

That Browning could never have created the character of Pompilia, save for
that all-enfolding influence of the character of his wife, all the
greater critics of "The Ring and the Book" agree. To Dr. Corson, Browning
said of her:

    "I am not sorry, now, to have lived so long after she went away, but I
    confess to you that all my types of women were beautiful and blessed
    by my perfect knowledge of one woman's pure soul. Had I never known
    Elizabeth, I never could have written 'The Ring and the Book.'"

Of Pompilia Dr. Hodell also says:

    "... But there is another influence in the creation of this ideal
    character beside that of the Madonna, it was the Madonna of his home,
    the mother of his own child, whose spiritual nature was as noteworthy
    as her intellect. And before this spiritual nature the poet bowed in
    humble reverence."

Mrs. Orr, too, has written:

    "Mrs. Browning's spiritual presence was more than a presiding memory
    in the heart. I am convinced that it entered largely into the
    conception of Pompilia.

    "It takes, however, both the throbbing humanity of Balaustion and the
    saintly glory of Pompilia to express fully the nature of Elizabeth
    Barrett Browning as she appeared to her husband."

Dr. Dowden, Brooke, Corson, Herford, Hodell, Chesterton, and other
authoritative critics allude to their recognition of Mrs. Browning in the
character of Pompilia; and no reader of this immortal masterpiece of
poetic art can ever fail to find his pulses thrilling with those
incomparable lines, spoken in her last hour on earth by Pompilia:

  "O lover of my life, O soldier-saint,
  No work begun shall ever pause for death!
  Love will be helpful to me more and more
  I' the coming course, the new path I must tread--

     *       *       *       *       *

  Tell him that if I seem without him now,
  That's the world's insight! Oh, he understands!

     *       *       *       *       *

  So let him wait God's instant men call years;
  Meantime hold hard by truth and his great soul,
  Do out the duty!..."

In the entire range of Browning's heroines Pompilia is the most exalted
and beautiful character.



  "I am strong in the spirit, deep-thoughted, clear-eyed;
  I could walk, step for step, with an angel beside,
      On the heaven-heights of truth.
      Oh, the soul keeps its youth

     *       *       *       *       *

  "'Twixt the heavens and the earth _can_ a poet despond?
          O Life, O Beyond,
      Thou art strange, thou art sweet!"


In the summer of 1869 the Storys, with their daughter, came from Rome and
joined Browning with his sister and his son, for a holiday in Scotland.
They passed some time at a little inn on Loch Achnault, where Lady Marian
Alford also came, and there are still vivid reminiscences of picnic
lunches on the heather, and of readings by the poet from "The Ring and the
Book." Chapters from "Rob Roy" also contributed to the enjoyment of
evenings when the three ladies of the party--Mrs. Story, Lady Marian, and
the lovely young girl, Miss Edith Story--were glad to draw a little nearer
to the blazing fire which, even in August, is not infrequently to be
desired in Scotland. Lord Dufferin was also a friend of those days, and
for the tower he had built at Clandeboye in the memory of his mother,
Helen, Countess of Gifford, Browning wrote, soon after, his poem entitled
"Helen's Tower." Mrs. Orr speaks of this poem as little known, and not
included in his published works; but it is now to be found in all the
complete editions of Browning. After this Arcadian sojourn Browning and
his son, with Miss Browning, were the guests of Lady Ashburton at Loch
Luichart Lodge.

For two or three years after the publication of "The Ring and the Book,"
Browning wrote little. The demands of friends and of an always enormous
correspondence occupied much time; his son was growing into young manhood,
and already manifesting his intense love of art, and his gifts as both
painter and sculptor.

Browning's conversation was always fascinating. It was full of glancing
allusion, wit, sparkle, and with that constant undertone of significance
that may be serious or gay, but which always lingers with a certain
impressiveness to haunt the mind of the listener. Dr. Hiram Corson, who
may perhaps be regarded as Browning's greatest interpreter, speaks of one
of his visits to the poet, in London, where the conversation turned from
Shelley to Shakespeare. "He spoke with regret of the strangely limited
reading of the Plays, even by those who believe themselves habitual and
devoted readers," says Dr. Corson.

    "At luncheon," continues Dr. Corson, "his talk was, as usual with him,
    rapid and off-hand. He gave but a _coup d'oeil_ to every subject
    that came up. In all subsequent talks with him, I never got the
    slightest impression from him of pride of intellect, though his was
    certainly one of the subtlest and most comprehensive intellects of his
    time. He was absolutely free from it; was saved from it by his
    spiritual vitality. His intellectual and his spiritual nature jointly
    operated. Nor did he ever show to me any pride of authorship; never
    made any independent allusion to his poetry. One might have supposed
    that his poetry, great and extensive as it was, was a parergon, a
    by-work, with him.

    "I have no recollection of any saying of his, such as might be
    recorded for its wisdom or profundity. Never a brilliant thought
    crystallized in a single sentence. His talk was especially
    characterized by its cordiality and rapid flow. The 'member of
    society' and the poet seemed to be quite distinct.

    "One day when Mrs. Corson and I were lunching with him in Warwick
    Crescent," said Dr. Corson, "he told us a most amusing incident. On
    that morning Browning was particularly 'an embodied joy.' He told
    several good stories, one of which showed that the enigmatical
    character attributed to his poetry by some of his critics was to him a
    good joke. I have no doubt he must have enjoyed the Douglas Jerrold
    story, that Jerrold, in endeavoring to read 'Sordello,' thought he had
    lost his mind.

    "But to Browning's story. He said, 'I was visited by the Chinese
    minister and his attachés, without having been previously informed of
    their coming. Before they entered, I had noticed from my window a
    crowd in the street, which had been attracted by the celestials in
    their national rigs, who were just then getting out of their
    carriages, I not knowing then what manner of visitors I was to have.
    Soon the interpreter announced at the drawing-room door, "His
    Excellency, the Chinese Minister and his attachés." As they entered,
    the interpreter presented them, individually, first, of course, his
    Excellency, the Minister, and then the rest in order of rank. It was
    quite an impressive occasion. Recovering myself, I said to the
    interpreter: "To what am I indebted for this great honor?" He replied:
    "You are a distinguished poet in your country, and so is his
    Excellency in his." We did obeisance to each other. I then asked the
    character of his Excellency's poetry. The interpreter replied,
    "Chiefly poetical enigmas." Grasping his Excellency's hand, I said, "I
    salute you as a brother."'

    "Browning told this story while walking up and down the room. When he
    said, 'I salute you as a brother,' he made the motion of a most hearty

Mrs. Arthur Bronson, than whom Mr. Browning never had a more sympathetic
and all-comprehending friend, said that if she tried to recall Robert
Browning's words it was as though she had talked to a being apart from
other men. "My feeling may seem exaggerated," she smiled, "but it was only
natural, when considering my vivid sense of his moral and intellectual
greatness. His talk was not abstruse and intricate, like some of his
writings. Far from it. As a rule he seemed rather to avoid deep and
serious subjects. There was no loss, for everything he chose to say was
well said. A familiar story, grave or gay, when clothed with his words,
and accentuated by his expressive gestures and the mobility of his
countenance, had all the charm of novelty; while a comic anecdote from his
lips sparkled with wit, born of his own keen sense of humor. I found in
him that most rare combination of a powerful personality united to a
nature tenderly sympathetic."

Another who knew him well perpetrated the _mot_ that "Tennyson hides
behind his laurels, and Browning behind the man of the world." Henry
James, whose gift of subtle analysis was never more felicitously revealed
than in his expressions about Browning, declared that the poet had two
personalities: one, the man of the world, who walked abroad, talked, did
his duty; the other, the Poet,--"an inscrutable personage,--who sat at
home and knew, as well he might, in what quarters of that sphere to look
for suitable company. The poet and the man of the world were disassociated
in him as they can rarely elsewhere have been."

For three or four summers after this sojourn in Scotland the Brownings
were at St. Aubin, in Brittany, where they had a cottage "not two steps
away" from that of his friend Milsand. In the early mornings Browning
would be seen pacing the sands, reading from his little Greek copy of
Homer; and in the late afternoons the two friends would stroll on the
Normandy beach with their arms around each other's shoulders. They are
described as very different in appearance,--Browning vigorous and buoyant,
Milsand nervous, thin, reserved,--but akin in a certain delicate
sensitiveness, a swift susceptibility to impressions. Of Browning Milsand
said that what he really valued most was his kindness, his simple, open,
radiant goodness. "All the chords of sympathy vibrated in his strong
voice," added Milsand. The French critic was very fond of the poet's son,
and in reference to him he once said: "The father has reason to be happy
that in walking before he has opened a path for his son, instead of making
him stumble." As has been seen, in Mrs. Browning's letters, she always
shared her husband's enthusiasm for Milsand, and the latter had said that
he felt in her "that shining superiority always concealing itself under
her unconscious goodness and lovely simplicity."

On Sundays at St. Aubin's, Browning frequently accompanied Milsand to the
little chapel of Château-Blagny, for Protestant worshipers. From his
cottage Browning could gaze across the bay to the lighthouse at Havre, and
he "saw with a thrill" the spot where he once passed a summer with his

Italian recollections sometimes rose before his inner vision. To Isa
Blagden, who had gone to Siena, he wrote that he could "see the fig-tree
under which Ba sat, reading and writing, poor old Landor's oak opposite."

Of Milsand he wrote to a friend: "I never knew or shall know his like
among men," and to Milsand, who had assisted him in some proof-reading, he
wrote acknowledging his "invaluable assistance," and said:

    "The fact is, in the case of a writer with my peculiarities and
    habits, somebody quite ignorant of what I may have meant to write, and
    only occupied with what is really written, ought to supervise the
    thing produced. I won't attempt to thank you, dearest friend.... The
    poem will reach you in about a fortnight. I look forward with all
    confidence and such delight to finding us all together again in the
    autumn. All love to your wife and daughter. R. B."

Milsand, writing of Browning in the _Revue_, revealed his high
appreciation of the poet when he said: "Browning suggests a power even
greater than his achievement. He speaks like a spirit who is able to do
that which to past centuries has been almost impossible."

It was St. Aubin that furnished Browning with material for his poem, "Red
Cotton Night-cap Country," the title of which was suggested by Miss
Thackeray (now Lady Ritchie) who had a cottage there one summer, near
those of Browning and Milsand. Browning and his sister occupied one of the
most primitive of cottages, but the location was beautiful, perched on the
cliff of St. Aubin, and commanded a changeful panorama of sea and sky.
"The sitting-room door opened to the garden and the sea beyond--a
fresh-swept bare floor, a table, three straw chairs, one book upon the
table,--the only book he had with him. The bedrooms were as bare as the
sitting-room, but there was a little dumb piano standing in a corner, on
which he used to practice in the early morning. Mr. Browning declared they
were perfectly satisfied with their little house; that his brains,
squeezed as dry as a sponge, were only ready for fresh air."[12] As all
Browning readers will remember, "Red Cotton Night-cap Country" is
dedicated to Miss Thackeray.

In the succeeding autumn Browning passed some weeks at Fontainebleau,
where he was absorbed in reading Æschylus, and in making an especial study
of the great dramatist. It was perhaps at this time that he conceived the
idea of translating the Agamemnon, which, he says in his preface, "was
commanded of me by my venerated friend Thomas Carlyle, and rewarded it
will be if I am permitted to dignify it by the prefatory insertion of his
dear and noble name."



In the possession of the sculptor at his villa near Florence.]

Before the close of this year Browning had also complied with a request
from Tauchnitz to prepare for publication a selection from the poems of
Mrs. Browning. This Tauchnitz Edition of Mrs. Browning will always retain
its interest as representing her husband's favorites among her poems. "The
Rhyme of the Duchess May," with its artistic symmetry and exquisite
execution, was of course included. This poem may be said to exhibit all
Mrs. Browning's poetic characteristics.

Encouraged by Millais, Robert Barrett Browning had seriously entered on
the study of painting, his first master being M. Heyermans in Antwerp. In
1875 Frederick Lehmann had expressed high appreciation of a work of the
young artist, the study of a monk absorbed in reading a book,--a picture
that he liked so well as subsequently to purchase it. Another picture by
Barrett Browning was entitled "The Armorer," and found a place in the
Royal Academy of that year, and was purchased by a Member of Parliament
who was also something of a connoisseur in art. In this season was
inaugurated the annual "private view" of the paintings of the poet's son,
which were exhibited in a house in Queen's Gate Gardens and attracted much
attention. In his son's success Browning took great pride and pleasure. On
the sale of the picture to the M. P., Browning wrote to Millais:

    19, WARWICK CRESCENT, May 10, 1878.

    MY BELOVED MILLAIS,--You will be gladdened in the kind heart of you to
    learn that Pen's picture has been bought by Mr. Fielder, a perfect
    stranger to both of us. You know what your share has been in his
    success, and it cannot but do a world of good to a young fellow whose
    fault was never that of being insensible to an obligation.

    Ever Affectionately Yours,


In 1871 Browning had been appointed Life Governor of the University of
London, an honor that he particularly appreciated as indicating the
interest of students in his poetry. In the late winter of 1872, after an
absence of thirty years, Alfred Domett again appeared. He had vanished

  "like a ghost at break of day,"

and like a ghost he returned, calling at once on his friend in Warwick
Crescent. A letter from Miss Browning to Domett explains itself:



    MY DEAR MR. DOMETT,--My brother was so sorry to miss you yesterday; he
    is a man of many engagements, and unfortunately is engaged every
    evening next week, or I would ask you to join our family dinner as
    soon as possible--but meanwhile, as he is impatient to see you, will
    you be very kind and come to lunch with us on Monday at one o'clock?
    We shall be delighted to meet you. If you cannot come on Monday, name
    some other morning.

    Always Yours Truly,


The old friendship between Browning and Domett was renewed with constant
intercourse and interchange of delightful letters. Milsand was in the
habit of passing a part of every spring with Browning in his home in
Warwick Crescent, and with the arrival of Domett a warm and sincere
friendship united all three.

Once, in Scotland, as the guest of Ernest Benzon, when Browning missed
part of a visit from Milsand, the poet said: "No words can express the
love I have for Milsand, increasingly precious as he is." The Benzons were
at that time in the hills above Loch Tummel, where Jowett was staying,
Swinburne also with the Master of Balliol. Had there been a phonograph to
register the conversation of such a trio as Jowett, Browning, and
Swinburne, its records would be eagerly sought.

A fragmentary record, indeed, remains in a note made by Edwin Harrison,
who was with Jowett at this time. In his diary Mr. Harrison recorded:

    "R. B. was in the neighborhood, staying at Little Milton, above Loch
    Tummel, where he was perpetrating 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau' at the
    rate of so many lines a day, neither more nor less. He walked over to
    see Jowett one afternoon, very keen about a fanciful rendering he had
    imagined for lines in the Alcestis. A few evenings later we met him
    and his son at dinner at Altaine House, by the foot of the loch. You
    may be sure that where Jowett and Browning were, the conversation was
    animated and interesting."

In "Balaustion's Adventure" the poet seemed to take captive the popular
appreciation of the day, for more than three thousand copies had been sold
within the first six months, and his sister told Domett that she regarded
it as the most swiftly appreciated poem of all her brother's works.
Certainly it is one of the most alluring of Browning's works,--this
delightful treatment of the interwoven life of mortals and of the immortal

The June of 1872 brought to Browning the sad news of the death of his
wife's dearest friend, Isa Blagden. "A little volume of Isabella Blagden's
poems was published after her death," writes Thomas Adolphus Trollope.
"They are not such as would take the world by storm, but it is impossible
to read them without perceiving how choice a spirit their author must
have been, and understanding how she was especially honored with the
friendship of Mrs. Browning."[14]

On the publication of "Red Cotton Night-cap Country," Browning sent a
first copy to Tennyson, and the Laureate's son says of it: "Among the
lines which my father liked were

  'Palatial, gloomy chambers for parade,
  And passage lengths of lost significance';

and he praised the simile about the man with his dead comrade in the
lighthouse. He wrote to Mr. Browning: 'My wife has just cut the leaves. I
have yet again to thank you, and feel rather ashamed that I have nothing
of my own to send you back.'"

An entry in Tennyson's diary in the following December notes: "Mr.
Browning dined with us. He was very affectionate and delightful. It was a
great pleasure to hear his words,--that he had not had so happy a time for
a long while as since we have been in town."

Tennyson's "Queen Mary" was published in 1875, and on receiving a copy
from the author Browning wrote expressing thanks for the gift, and even
more for "Queen Mary the poem." He found it "astonishingly fine"; and he
adds: "What a joy that such a poem should be, and be yours." The relations
between the two great poets of the Victorian age were always ideally
beautiful, in their cordial friendship and their warm mutual appreciation.

In a note dated in the Christmas days of 1876 Browning writes:

    MY DEAR TENNYSON,--True thanks again, this time for the best of
    Christmas presents, another great work, wise, good, and beautiful. The
    scene where Harold is overborne to take the oath is perfect, for one
    instance. What a fine new ray of light you are entwining with your
    many-colored wreath!...

    All happiness befall you and yours this good season and ever.[15]

The present Lord Tennyson, in his biography of his father, makes many
interesting allusions to the friendship and the pleasant intercourse
between the poets. "Browning frequently dined with us," he says, "and the
_tête-à-tête_ conversations between him and my father on every imaginable
topic were the best talk I have ever heard, so full of repartee, epigram,
anecdote, depth, and wisdom, too brilliant to be possible to reproduce.
These brother poets were two of the most widely read men of their time,
absolutely without a touch of jealousy, and reveling, as it were, in each
other's power.... Browning had a faculty for absurd and abstruse rhymes,
and I recall a dinner where Jebb, Miss Thackeray, and Browning were all
present, and Browning said he could make a rhyme for every word in the
language. We proposed rhinoceros, and without pause he said,

  'O, if you should see a rhinoceros
      And a tree be in sight,
      Climb quick, for his might
  Is a match for the gods,--he can toss Eros.'"

A London friend relates that on one occasion Browning chanced upon a
literal translation some one had made from the Norwegian:

  "The soul where love abideth not resembles
  A house by night, without a fire or torch,"

and remarked how easy it would be to put this into rhyme; and immediately
transmuted it into the couplet,

  "What seems the soul when love's outside the porch?
  A house by night, without a fire or torch."

When Browning's "Inn Album" appeared, and he sent a copy to Tennyson, the
Laureate responded:

    "MY DEAR BROWNING,--You are the most brotherly of poets, and your
    brother in the muses thanks you with the affection of a brother. She
    would thank you too, if she could put hand to pen."

Tennyson once remarked to his son, Hallam, that he wished he had written
Browning's lines:

  "The little more, and how much it is,
  The little less, and what worlds away."

There was an interval of twelve years between the appearance of the
"Dramatis Personæ" (in 1864) and the publication of "Pacchiarotto." In
this collection Browning's amusing play of rhyme is much in evidence.
Among Mr. Browning's most enjoyable experiences were his frequent visits
to Oxford and Cambridge, in both of which he was an honored guest. In the
spring of 1877 he had an especially delightful stay at Oxford, the
pleasure even beginning on the train, "full of men, all my friends," he
wrote of it; and continued: "I was welcomed on arrival 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, the Bishop of London, the Dean of Westminster, Lord Airlie,
and others."

There was a banquet and much postprandial eloquence that night, and
Browning mentions among the speakers Lord Coleridge, Professor Smith, Mr.
Green (on science and literature with a most complimentary appreciation of
Browning), and "a more rightly-directed one," says the poet, "on Arnold,
Swinburne, and the old pride of Balliol, Clough, which was cleverly and
almost touchingly answered by dear Matthew Arnold." The Dean of
Westminster responded to the toast of "The Fellows and the Scholars," and
the entire affair lasted over six hours. "But the whole thing," said
Browning, "was brilliant, genial, and there was a warmth, earnestness, and
refinement about it which I never experienced in any previous public

The profound impression that Browning made both by his personality and his
poetic work is further attested by his being again chosen Lord Rector of
the University of Glasgow. Dr. William Knight, the Professor of Moral
Philosophy at St. Andrews, urges Browning's acceptance of this office, and
begs the poet to realize "how the thoughtful youth of Scotland" estimate
his work. Professor Knight closes by saying that his own obligations to
Browning, "and to the author of 'Aurora Leigh' are such that of them
silence is golden." While Mr. Browning was deeply touched by this
testimonial of esteem, he still, for the second time, declined the honor.

Many readers and lovers of Robert Browning's poem "La Saisiaz" little
dream of the singular story connected with it. "La Saisiaz" is a chalet
above Geneva, high up in the Savoyard mountains, looking down on Geneva
and Lake Leman. It is a tall, white house, with a red roof that attracted
the lovers of beauty, solitude, and seclusion. Among the few habitués for
many years were Robert Browning and his sister, Sarianna, and their
friend, Miss Egerton-Smith. It was the bond of music that especially
united Browning and this lady, and in London they were apt to frequent
concerts together. "La Saisiaz" is surrounded by tall poplar trees, but
the balcony from a third-floor window, which was Browning's room, looked
through a space in the trees out on the blue lake, and on this balcony he
would draw out his chair and writing desk. Back of the chalet a steep
path ran up the mountains, where the three friends often climbed, to enjoy
a gorgeous and unrivaled sunset spectacle.

In 1877 they were all there as usual in August, and one evening had
planned that the next day they would start early in the morning and pass
the day on the mountain, going by carriage, a servant accompanying them
carrying the basket of luncheon. In the early evening Browning and Miss
Egerton-Smith were out, pacing up and down the "grass-grown path," and
talking of the infinite life which includes death and that which is beyond
death. The next morning she did not appear, and Browning and his sister
waited for her. They sat out on the terrace after having morning coffee,
expecting to see the "tall white figure," and finally Miss Browning went
to her room to ask if she were ill, and she lay dead on the floor. Miss
Egerton-Smith was buried in the neighboring cemetery of Collonge, where
her grave, over which a wonderful willow tree bends, is still seen--a
place of frequent pilgrimage to visitors in this region. Five days after
her death Browning made the excursion up the mountain alone,

  "But a bitter touched its sweetness, for the thought stung 'Even so
  Both of us had loved and wondered just the same, five days ago!'"

La Salève, the mountain overlooking the Arve and the Rhone Valley, is one
of the most wildly picturesque points in all the Alpine region. The chalet
of "La Saisiaz" was perched on this mountain spur, about half-way up the
mountain, on a shelving terrace, with vast and threatening rocks rising
behind. The poem called "La Saisiaz" is one of Browning's greatest. It is
full of mystical questioning and of his positive and radiant assertions of
faith; it abounds in vivid and exquisite scenic effects, and it has the
personal touches of tenderness. The morning after her death is thus

  "No, the terrace showed no figure, tall, white, leaning through the
  Tangle-twine of leaf and bloom that intercept the air one breathes."

Browning and Miss Egerton-Smith had first met in Florence. She was an
English lady of means (being part proprietor of the _Liverpool Mercury_)
and of a reserve of temperament which kept her aloof from people in
general. With the poet and his sister she was seen in all that cordial
sweetness of her nature which her sensitive reserve veiled from strangers.

Italy again! A sapphire sky bending over hills and peaks and terraces
swimming in violet shadows; villas, and sudden views, and arching
_pianterreni_, and winding roads between low stone walls hidden in their
riotous overgrowth of roses! And the soft air, the tall black cypresses
against the sky, the sunsets and the stars, and golden lights, and dear
Italian phrases! The trailing ivy vines all in a tangle; the wayside
shrine, the vast white monastery perched on an isolated mountain top; the
flaming scarlet of the poppies in the grass, the castles and battlements
dimly caught on the far horizon,--the poetry, the loveliness, the
ineffable beauty of Italy! Seventeen years had passed since that midsummer
day when the dear form of his "Lyric Love" had been laid under the
Florentine lilies, when Browning, in the spring of 1878, returned to his
Italy. What dreams and associations thronged upon him!

                  "Places are too much,
  Or else too little for immortal man,--

     *       *       *       *       *

           ... thinking how two hands before
  Had held up what is left to only one."

Seventeen years had passed, but Venice, the ethereal city, the mystic
dream of sea and sky, was unchanged, and, however unconsciously, the poet
was now to initiate another era, another new "state" in his life. He
never again went farther south than Venice; he could never see Florence
or Rome again, where _she_ had lived beside him; but the dream city now
became for him a second and dearer home. With his sister Sarianna, he
broke the journey by lingering in a hotel on the summit of the Splügen,
where he indulged himself in those long walks which he loved, Miss
Browning often accompanying him down the Via Cala Mala, or to the summit
where they could look down into Lombardy. Browning was at work on his
"Dramatic Idyls," and not only "Ivan Ivanovitch," but several others were
written on the Splügen. Pausing at Lago di Como, and a day in Verona, they
made their way to Asolo, "my very own of all Italian cities," the poet
would say of it. Asolo, which from its rocky hilltop, has an outlook over
all Veneto,--over all Italy, it would almost seem, for the towers and
domes of Venice are visible on a clear day,--gave its full measure of joy
to Browning, and when they descended into Venice they were domiciled in
the Palazzo Brandolin-Rota, on the Grand Canal, near the Accademia. In
Venice he met a Russian lady whom he consulted about some of the names he
was giving to the characters in his "Ivan Ivanovitch."

The success of his son in the Paris Salon and other exhibitions was a
continual happiness to Mr. Browning. Both in Paris and in London the
pictures of Barrett Browning were accorded an honorable place "on the
line"; he received a medal from the Salon, and there was not wanting,
either, that commercial side of success that sustains its theory. The
young artist had now seriously entered on sculpture, under Rodin, with
much prestige and promise.

The first series of "Dramatic Idyls" was published in the autumn of 1872,
closely following "La Saisiaz" and the "Two Poets of Croisic." The devoted
student of Browning could hardly fail to be impressed by one feature of
his poetry which, though a prominent one, has received little attention
from the critics. This feature is his doctrine of the sub-self, as the
source of man's highest spiritual knowledge. He has given his fullest
expression of this belief in his "Paracelsus," and it appears in
"Sordello" (especially in the fifth book), in "A Death in the Desert," in
"Fifine," and in "Christopher Smart," and is largely developed in "The
Ring and the Book." Again, in "Beatrice Signorini," contained in
"Asolando," published only on the day of his death, this theory is again
apparent, and these instances are only partial out of the many in which
the doctrine is touched or elaborated, showing how vital it was with him
from the earliest to the latest period of his work. Another striking
quality in Browning is that of the homogeneous spirit of his entire poetic
expression. It is the great unity in an equally great variety. It is
always clear as to the direction in which Browning is moving, and as to
the supreme message of his philosophy of life.



  "Moreover something is or seems,
  That touches me with mystic gleams,
  Like shadows of forgotten dreams."

  "Alas! our memories may retrace
  Each circumstance of time and place,
  Season and change come back again,
  And outward things unchanged remain;
  The rest we cannot re-instate;
  Ourselves we cannot re-create;
  Nor set our souls to the same key
  Of the remembered harmony!"


Twenty-five years after Robert Browning had visited the famous haunts of
Rousseau with his wife, he again made a little sojourn with his sister in
lovely Chambéry, making various excursions in all the picturesque region
about, and again visiting "Les Charmettes," which Miss Browning had not
before seen; as before, Browning sat down to the old harpsichord,
attempting to play "Rousseau's Dream," but only two notes of the antique
instrument responded to his touch. Through all the wonderful scenery of
the Mont Cenis pass they proceeded to Turin and thence to Venice, where
they arrived in the midst of the festivities of the Congress Carnival in
September of 1881. The Storys, whom Browning had anticipated meeting in
Venice, had gone to Vallombrosa, where their daughter (the Marchesa
Peruzzi di' Medici) had a villa, to which the family retired in summer
from their stately old palace in Florence. Mr. Story's two sons, the
painter and the sculptor, both had studios in Venice at this time, and Mr.
Browning often strolled into these. Among other friends Browning and his
sister visited the Countess Mocenigo, who was ensconced in the same palace
that Byron had occupied. She showed her guests through all the rooms with
their classic associations, and Browning sat down to the desk at which
Byron had written the last canto of "Childe Harold." To the satisfaction
of the Brownings, Venice soon regained her usual quiet,--that wonderful
silence broken only by the plash of water against marble steps, and the
cries of the gondoliers,--and he resumed his long walks, often accompanied
by Miss Browning, exploring every curious haunt and lingering in shops and
squares. The poet familiarized himself with the enchanting dream city, as
no tours in gondolas alone could ever do. To him Venice came to be dear
beyond words, and soon after he made all arrangements to purchase the
Palazzo Manzoni, an ancient Venetian palace of the fifteenth century,
whose façade was a faint glow of color from its medallions of colored
marbles, and whose balconies and arched windows seemed especially designed
for a poet's habitation. But the ancient structure was found to be in a
too perilous condition, and Browning, with never-failing regret, resigned
the prospect; nor was he ever consoled, it is said, until, some years
later, his son became the owner of the noble Palazzo Rezzonico.

Every day the poet saw Venice transformed into new splendor. "To see these
divine sunsets is the joy of life," he would say, as a city, flushed with
rose, reflected itself in pale green waters, and the golden sunset filled
with liquid light every narrow street and passage, contrasting sharply
with the dense black shadows. Browning had a love of the sky that made its
glorious panorama one of the delights of his life.

One of the crowning honors of the poet's life invested these days for him
with renewed vitality of interest,--that of the formation of the Browning
Society in London for the study and promulgation of his poetic work. This
was, indeed, a contrast to the public attitude of thirty years before.
Once, in a letter to Mrs. Millais (dated January 7, 1867) he had described
himself to her as "the most unpopular poet that ever was." The Browning
Society was due, in its first inception, to Dr. Furnivall and to Miss
Emily Hickey, and its founding was entirely without Browning's knowledge.
Although the poet avowed himself as "quite other than a Browningite," he
could not fail to be touched and gratified by such a mark of interest and

Dr. Hiram Corson, Professor of Literature at Cornell University, had,
however, formed a Browning Club, composed of professors and their wives
and many eminent scholars, some four or five years before the formation of
the Browning Society in London, and the notable Browning readings which
Professor Corson had given continually in many of the large cities and
before universities, had been of incalculable aid in making Robert
Browning's poetry known and understood in the United States. As an
interpreter of Browning, Dr. Corson stood unrivaled. His aim was to give
to his audience the spiritual meaning of the poem read. His rich voice had
the choral intonation without which no poem can be vocally interpreted.
His reading gave not only the articulated thought, but the spiritual
message of the poet. It is hardly too much to say that no one has ever
fully realized the dramatic power of Browning who has not listened to the
interpretation of Dr. Corson. Of his own part in the creation of the
Browning Society in London, Dr. Corson kindly contributed this record:

    "I was stopping with my wife at the Inns of Court Hotel, on High
    Holborn. A day or two before receiving Mr. Browning's invitation, Dr.
    Frederick James Furnivall dined with us, and after dinner we went over
    to the Inns of Court Gardens, just back of the hotel. There we walked
    about during the long evening twilight, and talked over the founding
    of a Society which Dr. Furnivall and Miss Emily Henriette Hickey, the
    poetess, had been contemplating, for the study of Browning's poetry. I
    told him of what I had done at Cornell University, the previous four
    or five years, in a Browning Club composed of Professors and their
    wives, and in my University classes. It was decided that the London
    Browning Society should be organized in October; and I engaged to go
    over to England the following June, and read a paper before the
    Society; which I did at its eighth meeting, on the 23d of June, the
    subject of the paper being 'The Idea of Personality as embodied in
    Robert Browning's Poetry, and of Art as an intermediate Agency of

Another source of joy to Browning, and one that far exceeded that of any
recognition of himself, was the increasing recognition of his son's
achievements in art. Barrett Browning was at this time a pupil of Rodin in
Paris, devoting himself to sculpture with the same ardor that he gave to
his painting. As to which expression in art was the more his métier, _chi
lo sa_? The young man was the child of the muses, and all forms of art
were to him a temperamental inheritance.

Oxford again honored Browning, this time in the June of 1882, with the
degree of D.C.L. "I never saw my father happier than on this occasion,"
Mr. Barrett Browning said to the writer of this volume when questioned
regarding it; and another observer who was present speaks of Browning's
distinction in his red Oxford gown, his shoulders thrown back, and his
swift, light step. One of the humors of the occasion was the dangling of a
red cotton night-cap over his head by one of the undergraduates, who was
in danger of a not ill-merited rebuke, but Browning interceded with the
Vice-Chancellor not to be too hard "on the harmless drolleries of the
young man." It was in this Oxford gown, holding in his hand "the square
old yellow book," that Robert Barrett Browning painted the portrait of his
father, which he presented to Oxford, and which now hangs, a treasured
possession, in Balliol Hall, to which portrait some allusion has already
been made.


Painted in 1882, and presented to Oxford University by the artist.]

One of the most beautiful of the friendships of the last decade of the
poet's life was that with Mrs. Arthur Bronson, a very cultivated and
charming American woman who for more than twenty years made her home in
Venice. Casa Alvisi, on the Grand Canal, opposite Santa Maria della
Salute, came to be such a delightful center of social life for the choice
circle that Mrs. Bronson gathered around her, that its records fairly
enter into the modern history of Venice. Adjoining Casa Alvisi was the old
Giustiniani Palace, in which Mrs. Bronson had taken a suite of rooms that
she might use them in dispensing her hospitalities. No one who has been
the privileged guest of Mrs. Bronson can ever lose the grateful
appreciation of her genius as a hostess. Her lovely hospitality was
dispensed with the quality that entitled it to be considered as absolutely
a special gift of the gods, and when she invited Browning and his sister
to occupy these rooms in the Palazzo Giustiniani Recanti, it was with a
grace that forestalled any refusal. At first Miss Browning did a little
housekeeping on their own account, except that they dined and passed
the evening with Mrs. Bronson; later on, for several seasons, they were
her house-guests in Casa Alvisi,--that unique and dream-enchanted interior
crowded with lovely Venetian things, and bibelots and bric-à-brac picked
up the world over. But the brother and sister always occupied the rooms in
the palace. It was after the first one of this series of annual visits
that Browning wrote to Mrs. Bronson the following letter after his return
to London:


    Nov. 18, '81.

    I would not write at first arriving, Dear Friend, because I fancied
    that I might say too much all at once, and afterward be afraid of
    beginning again till some interval; this fortnight since I saw you,
    however, must pass for a very long interval indeed, I will try to tell
    you as quietly as possible that I never shall feel your
    kindness,--such kindness!--one whit less than I do now; perhaps I feel
    it "now" even more deeply than I could, at all events, realize that I
    was feeling.

    You have given Venice an appreciation that will live in my mind with
    every delight of that dearest place in the world. But all the same you
    remain for me a dearest of friends, whether I see you framed by your
    Venice, or brightening up our bleak London, should you come there. In
    Venice, however, should I live and you be there next autumn, it will
    go hard with me if I do not meet you again.

    What a book of memories, and instigations to get still more memories,
    does your most beautiful and precious book prove to me! I never
    supposed that photographers would have the good sense to use their art
    on so many out-of-the-way scenes and sights, just those I love

    You--you have lost Lowell, and Field, and the rest of the good
    fellowship, but you will be sure of a succession of the sort.

On the poet's seventieth birthday he received, from the Browning Societies
of Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell University, and others, a gift of a
complete set of his own works, bound in olive green morocco, in a
beautifully carved oak case, with this inscription:

    "To Robert Browning on his seventieth birthday, May 7th, 1882, from
    some members of the Browning Societies. These members having
    ascertained that the works of a Great Modern Poet are never in Robert
    Browning's house, beg him to accept a set of these works which they
    assure him will be found worthy of his most serious attention."

Dr. Corson has related that when he visited the poet at one time Browning
showed him this case, placed against the wall of the drawing-room, with an
almost boyish delight.

In August of 1882, on their leisurely way to Venice, Browning and his
sister lingered at Saint-Pierre la Chartreuse and at Gressoney Saint-Jean,
where his enchanting outlook upon Monte Rosa was a continual joy, Mr.
Browning spent one night in the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse, in
order to hear the midnight mass; while Miss Browning, denied hospitality
in the monastery, received that of the convent near at hand, where she was
cordially entertained by the Mother Superior.

The Prologue of "Ferishtah's Fancies," published the next year, is dated
from Gressoney, Val d'Aosta, and the lines,

  "A fancy-freak by contrast born of thee,
     Delightful Gressoney!"

will recall themselves to the memory. Miss Browning was an ideal companion
in these mountain wanderings. She was equal to endless walks, and she had
the accomplishment of being able to ride a mule or a donkey as one to the
manor born. From Gressoney they looked up to the glaciers of Monte Rosa,
almost overhanging, and from Saint-Pierre Browning wrote to a friend that
they were in the roughest and most primitive inn, "but my sister bears it

Italian recognition of Browning was stimulated and extended, if not
primarily inspired, by Il Signor Dottore Nancioni, who had the Chair of
Literature in the University of Florence, and whom the Brownings had first
met in the old Siena days. As Milsand first made Browning known in France,
through his critical papers in the _Revue_, so Nancioni published, in the
_Nuova Antologia_, and in the _Fanfulla della Domenica_ of Rome, several
papers devoted to serious and critical study and interpretation of
Browning's work; and he made the journey from Rome to Venice to meet the
poet again. The recital of poetry was by no means ended in Italy in the
days of the _Improvvisatori_, and Professor Nanciani frequently gave
readings from Browning before cultivated Italian audiences.

When Venice honored Goldoni with a statue, Browning was invited to
contribute to that wonderful "Album" of letters, with which Italy
characteristically commemorates all scholarly events, with contributions
from literary men. The sonnet so pleased the Venetians that they gave it
the place of honor in the album.

The London seasons during all these years were of unrivaled brilliancy.
Browning was seen in all the great houses, and often for two weeks he
would dine out every consecutive night. Dr. Corson, whose first visit to
Browning was made in the early eighties, gave to a friend in a personal
letter this little transcription of his first meeting with the poet, with
whom he had long been in correspondence:

    "He received me in the drawing-room, on the second floor. After a few
    minutes' conversation, he showed me various interesting things, in the
    drawing-room, busts and portraits and mementoes of Mrs. Browning,
    keeping up a rapid and meandering current of talk. Something was said,
    I forget what, which caused me to allude to 'the Book,' the 'square
    old yellow book,' with 'crumpled vellum covers,' which he picked out
    of the market-day trumpery in the Piazza San Lorenzo, in Florence, and
    which led to the composition of his masterpiece, 'The Ring and the
    Book,' 'I'll take you down in a few minutes,' he said, 'to the
    library, and show it to you.' When we left the drawing-room and were
    at the top of the stairway, he, with an apparent unconsciousness, and
    as if I were a younger brother, put his arm over my off shoulder, and
    so descended with me, talking all the while at his usual rapid rate. I
    tell this little incident, as I observed later, on several occasions,
    such an expression of unconscious cordiality and good fellowship was a
    characteristic of him.

    "Beside his chair, at the writing table, stood Mrs. Browning's
    low-seated, high and straight-backed, black haircloth covered chair,
    on which were piled books almost to the top of the back, which most
    effectually excluded any one from the honor of sitting in it.

    "When showing me 'The Book,' he called my attention to passages in the
    Latin portion of it--the arguments of the two lawyers, Bottinius and
    Hyacinthus de Archangelis, and I was struck with the way in which he
    translated them, the rapid and close recasting of the thought in
    English, a rare gift even with the best Latin scholars. I had
    occasions to discover, in subsequent visits, that he read the Greek in
    a genial way and with less grammatical consciousness than do many
    Greek professors. His scholarship was extensive and, I would add,
    _vital_, it not having been imposed upon him at a public school and a
    university, and he having had what must have been Shakespeare's power
    of acquiring and absorbing knowledge of all kinds. On some subsequent
    visit, I don't remember what we had been talking about that led to the
    remark, he said to me, in his rapid mode of speech, 'I never could
    have done much at a public school,' meaning, of course, an endowed
    foundation school, such as Eton and others, in which there is a
    special preparation for the Universities. After a pause, he added,
    'no, nor at a university either. Italy was _my_ university.' In his
    'De Gustibus----' he says:

      'Open my heart and you will see
      Graved inside of it, Italy.'

    "While he was showing me 'The Book,' I asked him about a passage in
    'The Ring and the Book.' He replied, 'I don't remember the passage. It
    has been some time since I read the poem, and I haven't a copy of it
    in my house!'

    "He showed me many of Mrs. Browning's books--nearly all of them 24mo
    editions--said she couldn't hold big books--English, French, Italian,
    Latin, and Greek books; a Hebrew Bible which had belonged to a
    distinguished English bishop, whose name I've forgotten. 'Did Mrs.
    Browning read Hebrew?' I asked. 'Oh, yes,' he replied, and added with
    a sigh, 'she was a wonderful woman.'"


  "_June was the month, Lorenzo named the Square._"

  The Ring and the Book.]

The succeeding summer found the Corsons again in London, and the following
invitation from Browning particularly pleased them in its assurance that
"nobody else" would be present.

    DEAR PROFESSOR CORSON,--Could Mrs. Corson and yourself do my sister
    and me the great pleasure of taking luncheon with us--and nobody
    else--next Tuesday (27th) at one o'clock?

    Believe me, dear Professor Corson,

    Yours Truly Ever,--


On Browning's return to England in 1861, after his wife's death, he had
entered into a most brilliant and congenial social life. Thackeray died
soon after his return; but there were Carlyle, Ruskin, Jowett, Millais,
Rossetti, Proctor, Matthew Arnold, Woolner, Leighton, Tennyson (whose
companionship, as we have seen, was one of his keenest enjoyments), and
his publisher, George Murray Smith, of the head of the house of Smith,
Elder, and Company, who was one of his chosen friends. Carlyle died in
1881, but many of this group well outlived Browning. On New Year's Day of
1884 Miss Browning wrote to Mrs. Bronson:

    The very first word I write this year is to you, dearest friend,
    wishing you every good gift the earth below, and Heaven above, can
    offer. If Robert does not write his own share in these kind feelings,
    it is only because we have mutually agreed that we shall come more
    constantly before you if we keep our letters apart.

    ... You cannot think how incessantly we dwell on the memories of the
    pleasant past. We are in Casa Alvisi in spirit daily, and I picture to
    myself all that is going on in the well-loved rooms. I hope Edith
    works at her guitar. She will find that it will repay the trouble.

    Give our kindest love to her, and take yourself our loving hearts.

    God bless you this year.

    Ever Yours Affectionately,


In a letter to Mrs. Bronson Browning alludes to the purchase of the new
house in DeVere Gardens:

    "... I am really in treaty--not too deeply _in_ it for extrication at
    need--with the land-owner who proposes to build me the house I
    want,--freehold, if you please! so that it can be Pen's after me; my
    notion is to contract just what Sarianna and I require now, leaving it
    in the said Pen's power to add and alter according to future

Portions of other letters from Browning to Mrs. Bronson are as follows.
The first refers to the little daughter of Princess Mélanie Metternich.

    "First and worst of all, dear friend, how truly grieved I am to hear
    of the sad end of the poor little girl I remember so well. Do you
    remember how she, with her sister, walked before us on our way
    homeward from the Piazza on nearly our last evening? And how prettily
    she asked me at her own house to write in her Birthday Book! All this
    sudden extinction of light in the gay Ca' Bembo, where I saw the silks
    bespread before your knowledge and my ignorance!

    "It is needless to say how much I pity the Princess, and her kindly
    husband, too, and I am sorry, very sorry, for you also, Dear Friend of
    mine, well knowing how you must have suffered in degree."

Mrs. Bronson had a talent for the writing of drawing-room comedies, and to
one of these the poet alludes:

    "DEAR FRIEND,--I kept your Comedietta by me a whole week that I might
    taste of it again and again; how clever it is, who can know better
    than I, who furnished the bare framework which your Virginia creeper
    has over-flourished so charmingly? It is all capitally done; quite as
    much elaborated as the little conception was worth; but its great
    value to me is the proof it really gives what really good work you
    might do on a larger scale....

    "... I dined last evening at John Murray's, in the room where used to
    meet Byron, Scott, Moore, all those famous men of old, whose portraits
    still adorn the walls. Murray told me he well remembered Byron and his
    ways; could still in fancy see him and Scott, and also hear them, as
    they stamped heavily (lame as both were) down the somewhat narrow
    stairs. Sociability may well come to the relief of people who cannot
    amuse themselves at home, for the weather, mild, and too mild, is
    gray, sunless and spiritless, altogether. To-day it rains, a rare

One of the very pleasant interludes in Mr. Browning's life came about this
time in the receipt of a letter from Professor Masson of the University of
Edinburgh, inviting the poet to be his guest the week of the coming
Tercentenary celebration of the University. It had been decided to confer
on Mr. Browning an Honorary Degree, but by some misadventure the official
letter announcing this had not reached him, and in reply to Professor
Masson he wrote that he had not received "the invitation to Edinburgh
which occasions this particularly kind one," which he thankfully
acknowledged, "but I should find it difficult if not impossible to leave
London in April," he continues, "as my son will then be with me; but had I
seen my way in so doing it would delight me, indeed, could I spend the
days in question with you and Mrs. Masson." He added that if ever he was
privileged "to see the as famous as beautiful City again," he should call
on the Massons the first thing of all, and he desired thanks to Mrs.
Masson "for associating her goodness with yours."

Apparently another letter appears from Professor Masson, but still
Browning does not receive the official invitation of the University.
"Should it follow," he writes, "I will acknowledge the distinction as
gratefully as I have done already when it was conferred by Oxford and
Cambridge." The Massons also invited Mr. Browning to bring his son with
him, and he responded:

    "... So, my dear Professor Masson, I provisionally accept your
    hospitality with thankfulness, and that of Mrs. Masson. For my son,
    who is away, I can only say that he shall be informed of your
    goodness, and I fully believe will be delighted to avail himself of
    it.... As to the 'vagueness or intelligibility' of your note, I can
    assure you that one thing was intelligible enough,--that you wished to
    help me most kindly and pleasantly to witness an extremely interesting
    ceremony, and I have written to my son and his answer you shall hear
    as soon as possible.... By the way, ought I to attend in the Oxford
    D.C.L. gown,--at any preliminary entertainment, for instance."

The next letter tells its own story.


    March 25th, 1884.

    MY DEAR PROFESSOR MASSON,--Nothing can be kinder than all your
    proposed arrangements. My son arrived two days ago, and,
    unfortunately, is obliged to return to Paris next week in order to
    finish work begun there--and he will be detained too long to allow of
    the visit which he would otherwise delight in paying you and for the
    invitation to which he desires me to offer you and Mrs. Masson his
    grateful acknowledgments, being well aware of what a privilege he is
    forced to deprive himself.... I shall bring the Oxford D.C.L. gown and
    provide myself with a Hood in Edinburgh.

    So, with repeated thanks for all your goodness, and looking forward
    with much pleasure to the approaching festivities, and even more in
    the opportunity to converse, believe me, my dear Professor Masson,

    Yours Very Sincerely,


Miss Rosaline Masson, the Professor's daughter, has described how Browning
sat before the fire the evening of his arrival, in an armchair, his hands
resting on it, while he spoke with sympathetic pride of his son's work,
and told how the son, who had studied so much abroad, had once announced
to Millais his intention of going to Egypt to paint, and that Millais had
replied that he would not give up his months in the highlands of Scotland
for any years in Egypt.

The Massons had as their guests for this great commemoration the Count and
Countess Aurelio Saffi, the Count bringing with him his gorgeous Bologna
gown, in which he had the resplendence of a figure in a stained glass

The week was a most enjoyable one to Mr. Browning. Receptions and dinners
made up a round of festivity, and when he was asked by his hostess if he
objected to all the adulation he received, he replied: "Object to it? No;
I have waited forty years for it and now--I like it."

After his return to London he sent to Mrs. Masson two manuscripts of Mrs.
Browning's, her translations of "Psyche and Pan" and of "Psyche
Propitiating Ceres," and to Professor Masson a letter from Leigh Hunt to
himself, which the Professor had wished to copy,--the original which he
sent being written on sheets of different colors held together with
colored embroidery.

Browning wrote to his host that he had read with delight his two lectures
on Carlyle, and that "the goodness of that memorable week" was never long
out of his mind.

The letters written to Mrs. Bronson offer almost a panoramic picture of
his life over all these closing years. Alluding to a studio that he had
taken for the temporary accommodation of his son's pictures and busts, Mr.
Browning resumes:

    ... Pen's statues and busts are in bronze now, and his large "Idyl,"
    three landscapes, and whatsoever else, to arrive soon. Were you only
    here to see! Well, you can bear with the talking about them you shall
    undergo, for we two understand each other, don't we? I know I am ever
    yours and your own Edith's affectionately,


In the late summer Browning and his sister were the guests of Mrs.
Bloomfield Moore, in her villa at St. Moritz, from which Mr. Browning thus
writes to Mrs. Bronson:


    Sept. 6, '84.

    Yes, dearest friend, your pretty wreath came this morning, and
    opposite this table shall it hang till I leave the house, be it
    withered or no, and at present it is fresh. Now, thank you for what?
    For everything, your love, and thoughts, and regrets, too. Do not we,
    too, regret that Italy is closed to us; but the comfort out of the
    vexation is that you will, will you not, cross to London from Paris,
    and so we shall see you for all the multiplied hindrances. Now how do
    you suppose it is faring with us? We are alone. Our hostess was
    summoned to America last week, to her extreme regret, and after a hot
    business of telegraphing and being telegraphed to, left last
    Wednesday. She had taken this comfortable villa till the middle of
    December, and would not hear of our quitting it, and, all things
    considered, we had little inclination to do so, for you were from
    home, and what would be the good of lingering out this month
    elsewhere, the air and influences happening to suit us extremely. So
    our plan is to stay out Sept. here, and be content with at most two
    months' absence, instead of the four we utterly enjoyed last year.
    Mrs. Moore was altogether as kind and considerate as possible, and has
    made every possible provision for our comfort after her departure. We
    are quite alone. Friends are in the place, but we only get glimpses of
    them. The place is emptying fast, the pensions shut up, the walks on
    the mountain-side are wholly our own. Two days ago the snow fell
    thickly, and what a sight were the mountains next morning in a glowing
    sun! These changes I expect will diversify the whole month, and inside
    this warm, pleasant room Sarianna and I read, and don't require "the
    devil to find some missing ill for idle hands to do." You have much
    more to enjoy with all that good music thrown in, and I am glad for
    you. We get books and papers enough, and I am correcting proofs of the
    poem I was too negligent about in London. Many distractions stood in
    the way of that. After all, we have attained the main object of our
    journey, the complete re-establishment of Sarianna's health, who walks
    twice a day, just as of old. I am cheered, too, by letters from
    Robert, the last of which comes just now.

    He was anxious that his statue of "Dryope" should be seen at the
    Brussels exhibition, a triennial one, and important from the
    concurrence of the best foreign artists; but the "Grosvenor," where it
    was shown, did not close till the first week in August, while the
    Brussels Gallery was closed to (entrance of) works on the 25th of
    July. Robert sent his photographs with a petition for a "delai," only
    exceptionally granted; the committee conceded it unanimously, and have
    given it a place where it stands by itself, and is capitally seen. He
    went to see it, and so did the King and Queen, to whom he would have
    been presented, had he not been in morning dress. (The father of
    Robert to the mother of Edith.) You know very well how interested and
    delighted I shall be to read your German translations if you send
    them; do!

Again, from this invigorating mountain village Browning writes to his
Venetian friend and hostess in Casa Alvisi:


    Sept. 23, '84.

    For first thing, dearest friend, I am glad to know that my letter with
    the poems reached you before your departure. I had some fear that you
    might miss it. It is like your goodness to care so much about what
    amounts to so little. I did what I could to be of use by amending; I
    could have done more to the purpose if the poems were original; but I
    know your translations were faithful, as they should be. When you
    write out of your own dear head let me see, and try hard to improve
    it, never so little. I well remember the whole book of verses you let
    me read at Venice; I could not well have helped you there. And now for
    a sorrow after the gladness; we do not pass through Paris this time,
    but take the direct and more convenient route by Amiens and Calais.
    Last year we wanted, or needed, to see Pen, who was at his Paris
    studio; but now he is still in Dinard. I do not know when he means to
    leave; if he finds you at Paris it will be a delight for him to see

    Well, yes, the king's behavior has been admirable; what a chance the
    poor Pope has thrown away in not preceding him! If the "Prisoner of
    the Vatican" had quietly walked out of his confinement, with a Cross
    before him, and an attendant on each side, and passed on to Naples and
    the hospitals "braving all danger in imitation of his Master," I
    verily believe there might have happened a revolution. Such events
    from much less causes being frequent enough. Where is the "wisdom of
    the serpent"?

    Dearest friend, my sister writes, all love to Edith, all love to you,
    from your ever affectionate


On their return to London the letters to Mrs. Bronson again resume the
story of this interesting life:

    "... I have got rid of my last proof-sheets, and all of a sudden it
    occurs to me to ask--now that alteration is impossible, I
    suppose--whether I have offended in just dating the last poem from the
    place where I wrote it--the Giustiniani? The first poem was dated at
    the inn, and the last seemed to belong to the beloved place where it
    was penned, as I wanted to remember, or be remembered, rather. Have I
    done wrong? (I hear at this moment my sister actually singing in the
    next room,--so completely is she re-established in health.) By letters
    we find that the admirable weather at St. Moritz was continued up to
    the end of the last week; here the weather is fine, and finer than
    usual, but the sparkle is off the wine, the wonderful freshness of St.
    Moritz does not incline one to dance rather than walk.

    "I am in absolute peace and quietude, and so thoroughly prepared to
    enjoy your coming,--if that may be...."

The next letter speaks of American friends:


    Oct. 14, '84.

    DEAREST FRIEND,--I waited a little before replying to your letter,
    wanting to be sure when I could say that Pen would be in Paris; he
    proposed to go there yesterday, and you will certainly have a visit
    from him as soon as he can manage to do what I know he desires very

    Here are your verses which I try to be as severe about as possible,
    with no success, at all, worth speaking of! You will take my
    corrections (infinitesimal, this time) for what they are worth, and
    continue to send me what you write, will you not?

    I was surprised two days ago by a note from Mr. Lowell, inviting me
    and my sister to meet the Storys at dinner to-morrow, they being his
    guests during a short stay in London; and yesterday afternoon they
    called on my sister, both the Storys and Mr. Lowell; the former are
    flourishing, and go in a few days to Rome. Where they have passed the
    summer, we were not told. Last evening at a dinner given by Sidney
    Colvin, I met Mr. James, who showed great interest in hearing how you
    were, and how much nearer you were likely to be. On the other hand,
    there will be a sad visitor to Venice presently, Professor Huxley, in
    a deplorable state of health, from over-work. I hate to speak of what
    is only too present with me,--your own health,--I trust you have got
    rid of that cough, (all dreadful things go with a cough in my

    ... My book, which you kindly inquire about, is out of my hands and in
    print, but the publishing, the when and how, concerns the publisher. I
    do not expect to see the completed thing for another month.

    Yes, I felt so lovingly to the Giustinian-Reconnati that I could not
    bear cutting the link allowed by the Place and Date that were appended
    to the Ms., and you permit, so all is well, if you remember me as ever
    affectionately yours,


Under date of October 23, 1884, Browning says in one letter:

    "I saw Huxley's brother-in-law, Sir Robert Collier, last evening, at
    Dr. Granville's, and inquired about the stay in Venice. It will be a
    very short one as he has to return almost immediately for the marriage
    of his daughter Rachel; I can hardly think he will re-return, the
    ceremony at an end, yet he may; and in that case he shall be informed
    of your goodness to himward, in apostolically appropriate language. He
    is a thoroughly admirable person in all but his inconsiderateness in
    this waste of a precious life. I duly told the Storys how much you
    wanted to see them, and they probably have seen you by this time. Mrs.
    Story meant to rest at Paris, and forego the Amiens route. She has
    been unwell, but I thought her appearance very satisfactory. I dined
    with them last week at Mr. Lowell's, and called there on Sunday. I met
    Henry James the other day, and surprised as well as inspirited him by
    the news that you were so near, and, as I believed, so soon to be
    nearer. Now write to me, tell me all you are about to do; how is dear

    O, no, Pen is none of mine to outward view, but wholly his
    mother's--in some respects, at least. At the same age there was small
    difference between Pen's face and that of the brother she lost,--to
    judge by a drawing I possess...."

To the Marchesa Peruzzi di' Medici who sent to him a translation she had
made of the "Ricordo Autobiografici" of Giovanni Duprè, Browning thus

    "It is not so very 'little' an affair, and in the fear that when my
    sister has finished it, I may have to begin my own reading, and end it
    so late as to lead you to suppose that either book or letter has gone
    wrong, on this account I write at once to thank you most heartily. My
    sister says the Autobiography is fascinating; I can well believe it,
    for I never knew such a work to be without interest, and this of Duprè
    must abound in precisely the matters that interest me most.... When I
    have thoroughly gone through the book I will write you again, if you
    permit me, as I know your old memories will be indulgent in the case.
    We may be in Italy this autumn, and if you are within reach you will
    be certain to see the old friend who always rejoices when he hears of
    your well-being, and trusts it may continue.... Pen is very well; at
    Dinard just now, painting landscape in the open air. I have told him
    already of the book which he will take delight in reading. I am
    occupied this very day in sending his statue of 'Dryope' to Brussels,
    where the Exhibition will give it a chance of being judged by better
    knowledge than is found here."

The following letter indicates, in Browning's own charming way, the warm
attachment that both he and his sister had for Mrs. Bronson:


    Feb. 15, '85.

    DEAREST MRS. BRONSON,--This dull morning grew to near blackness
    itself, when, at breakfast, my sister said once again, "No news of her
    from Venice,"--and I once again calculated and found by this time it
    was a month and a full half since we heard from you. Why should this
    be? If I had simply and rationally written a line, instead of thinking
    a thought, I should have known, as your dear goodness will let me
    know, as soon as you receive this, how you are, how Edith is, now that
    the winter is over and gone with the incentives to that cough which
    was still vexatious when we had your last letter.

    Do not let us mind high-days and holidays: be sure of this, that every
    day will be truly festal that brings us a word from you, for other
    clouds than the material ones make us melancholy just now; and how
    this turbid element about us contrasts with the golden hours near the
    beloved friends,--perhaps more vivid,--certainly more realized as
    valuable, than ever! I do not mean to write much because what I want
    to impress on your generosity is that just a half sheet, with mere
    intelligence about you, will be a true comfort and sustainment to me
    and to my sister,--the barest account of yourself, and what we
    appreciate with you; and, for our part, you shall hear, at least, that
    we are well, or ailing, stationary, or about to move.

In the early spring Browning again writes to Mrs. Bronson:


    April 8, '85.

    DEAREST FRIEND,--This is not a letter, for I have this minute returned
    from a funeral, in pitiful weather, and am unable either in body or
    soul to write one, much as I hope to do, with something of my warm
    self in it. But I find Burne Jones's pretty and touching letter, and
    want this leaf to serve as an envelope to what may please you, who
    deserve so thoroughly that it should. I will write in a day or two. I
    heard from Pen this morning, who is at Dinard, being too ill to remain
    in Paris, but finds himself already better. He told me and re-told me
    how good you had been to him. How I trust all is going well with
    you,--certainly you need no assurance of,--enough that I love you with
    all my heart. Bless you and your Edith. It is an Edith,--Proctor's
    (Barry Cornwall's) daughter, whom I have been following to her grave.
    Some fifty years ago her father said to me while caressing her, "Ah,
    Browning, this is the Poetry." "I know it." "No, you know nothing
    about it." Well, if I was ignorant then, I am instructed now. So, dear
    Two Poems, long may I have you to read and to enjoy!

    Yours affectionately Ever,


In the following autumn Mr. Barrett Browning, who had not seen Venice
since his infancy, joined his father, and was "simply infatuated" with the
dream city. It was for his sake that Browning had wished to purchase the
Manzoni Palace, "to secure for him a perfect domicile, every facility for
his painting and sculpture."

The autumn of 1886 brought to Browning a great sadness in the death of
Milsand, and Miss Browning being out of health, and unequal to a
continental journey, they both passed a part of the autumn at Llangollen,
where Sir Theodore and Lady Martin (Helen Faucit) were their near
neighbors, with whom they had tea every Sunday, and renewed one of the
most delightful friendships.

On the publication of Dr. Corson's "Introduction to the Poetry of
Browning," he sent a copy to the poet who thus replied:

    19. Warwick Crescent. W.

    Dec. 28. '86.

    My dear Dr Corson,

    I waited some days after the arrival of your Book and Letter thinking
    I might be able to say more of my sense of your goodness: but I can do
    no more now than a week ago. You "hope I shall not find too much to
    disapprove of": what I ought to protest against, is "a load to sink a
    navy--too much honor": how can I put aside your generosity, as if cold
    justice--however befitting myself,--would be in better agreement with
    your nature? Let it remain as an assurance to younger poets that,
    after fifty years' work unattended by any conspicuous recognition, an
    over-payment may be made, if there be such another munificent
    appreciator as I have been privileged to find--in which case let them,
    even if more deserving, be equally grateful.

    I have not observed anything in need of correction in the notes. The
    "little tablet" was a famous "Last Supper," mentioned by Varwn, (page.
    232) and gone astray long ago from the Church of S. Spirito: it turned
    up, according to report, in some obscure corner, while I was in
    Florence, and was at once acquired by a stranger. I saw it,--genuine
    or no, a work of great beauty. (Page 156.) A "canon," in music, is a
    piece wherein the subject is repeated--in various keys--and being
    strictly obeyed in the repetition, becomes the "Canon"--the imperative
    _law_--to what follows. Fifty of such parts would be indeed a notable
    peal: to manage three is enough of an achievement for a good musician.

    And now,--here is Christmas: all my best wishes go to you and Mrs.
    Corson--those of my sister also. She was indeed suffering from grave
    indisposition in the summer, but is happily recovered. I could not
    venture, under the circumstances, to expose her convalescence to the
    accidents of foreign travel--hence our contenting ourselves with Wales
    rather than Italy. Shall you be again induced to visit us? Present or
    absent, you will remember me always, I trust, as

    Yours most affectionately

    Robert Browning.

The year of 1887 was an eventful one in that the "Parleyings" were
published in the early spring; that Browning removed from Warwick Crescent
to 29 DeVere Gardens; and that the marriage of his son to Miss Coddington
of New York was celebrated on October 4 of that year, an event that gave
the poet added happiness. To a stranger who had asked permission to call
upon him Browning wrote about this time:

    "... My son returns the day after to-morrow with his wife, from their
    honeymoon at Venice, to stay with me till to-morrow week only, when
    they leave for Liverpool and America--there to pass the winter. During
    their short stay, I am bound to consult their convenience, and they
    will be engaged in visiting, or being visited by friends, so as to
    preclude me from any chance of an hour at my own disposal. If you
    please--or, rather, if circumstances permit you to give me the
    pleasure of seeing you at twelve on Saturday morning, the first day
    when I shall be at liberty, I shall be happy to receive you."

[Illustrations: Manuscript Letter]

The stranger did so arrange that his visit should extend itself over the
magic date of "November 5th," and on that day he stood at the portal to
DeVere Gardens house.

    "I was taken up to the poet's study," he writes. "There had been that
    day a memorial meeting for Matthew Arnold, to which Browning had been,
    and he spoke with reminiscent sadness of Arnold's life.

    "'I have been thinking all the way home of his hardships,' said Mr.
    Browning. 'He once told me, when I asked why he had not recently
    written any poetry, that he could not afford to, but that when he had
    saved enough, he intended to give up all other work, and devote
    himself to poetry. I wonder if he has turned to it now?' Browning
    added musingly."

One interesting incident related by this caller is that, having just been
reading and being greatly impressed by Mr. Nettleship's analysis and
interpretation of "Childe Roland," he asked the author if he accepted it.
"Oh, no," replied Mr. Browning; "not at all. Understand, I don't repudiate
it, either; I only mean that I was conscious of no allegorical intention
in writing it. 'Twas like this; one year in Florence I had been rather
lazy; I resolved that I would write something every day. Well, the first
day I wrote about some roses, suggested by a magnificent basket that some
one had sent my wife. The next day 'Childe Roland' came upon me as a kind
of dream. I had to write it, then and there, and I finished it the same
day, I believe. But it was simply that I had to do it. I did not know then
what I meant beyond that, and I'm sure I don't know now. But I am very
fond of it."

This interesting confession emboldened the visitor to ask if the poet
considered 'James Lee's wife' quite guiltless in her husband's
estrangement. "Well, I'm not sure," replied Mr. Browning; "I was always
very fond of her, but I fancy she had not much tact, and did not quite
know how to treat her husband. I think she worried him a little. But if
you want to know any more," he continued, with a twinkle in his eye, "you
had better ask the Browning Society,--you have heard of it, perhaps?"

When Robert Barrett Browning purchased the Palazzo Rezzonico, the
acquirement was a delight to his father, not unmixed with a trace of
consternation, for it is one of the grandest and most imposing palaces in
Italy. Up to 1758 it was occupied by Cardinal Rezzonico himself, when, at
that date, he became Pope under the title of Clement XIII. This palace,
built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, commands an
unparalleled situation on the Grand Canal, and the majestic structure of
white marble, with its rich carvings, the baroque ornaments of its
key-stones, its classic cornices and tripartite loggias, its columns and
grand architectural lines, is remarked, even in Venice, the city of
palaces, for its sumptuous magnificence. As Mr. Browning had before
remarked to Mrs. Bronson, "Pen" was infatuated with Venice. It is equally
true that much of the infatuation of the ethereal city for subsequent
visitors was due in no small measure to the beautiful and reverent manner
in which Robert Barrett Browning made this palace a very Valhalla of the
wedded poets, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Here the son gathered
every exquisite treasure associated with his mother, and when, three years
later, his father breathed his last within this noble palace, the younger
Browning added to the associations of his mother those, also, of his
father's books, art, and intimate possessions. With his characteristic
courtesy and generous consideration Mr. Barrett Browning permitted
visitors, for many years, through his entire ownership of the palace, to
visit and enjoy the significant collections, treasures which his taste and
his love had there gathered.



Painted at Siena, by Hamilton Wild, 1859.]

On the façade of the palace two stately entrances open upon the broad
flight of marble steps that lead down to the water, and on the
architraves are carved river-gods. In the spacious court was placed his
own statue of "Dryope." Ascending one marble flight of the grand escalier,
one entered a lofty apartment whose noble proportions and richness of
effect were most impressive. The floor, of red marble, in its rich,
Byzantine hue, harmonized with a richly painted ceiling, which was one
celebrated in Venetian art. From this vast salon opened, through richly
carved doors, a series of rooms, each made vital with the portraits,
sketches, busts, and other memorials of the poets. There were Story's
busts of Browning and of his wife; there was Robert Barrett Browning's
bust of his father,--one of the most remarkable among portrait busts in
contemporary art; the portraits of Robert and Elizabeth Browning painted
by Gordigiani of Rome, about 1855; a lovely pastel of Mrs. Browning when
she was a child, representing her as standing in a garden, holding up her
apron filled with flowers; there was her little writing-desk, and other
intimate personal mementoes about. The immense array of presentation
copies from other authors to the poets made an interesting library of
themselves, as did the various translations of their own poems into many
languages. There was a portrait of Browning painted when a young man, with
a troubadour cloak falling over his shoulders; and a most interesting
portrait of Milsand, painted by Barrett Browning, as a gift to his father.

There was also a picture of himself as a lad, the "Penini" of Siena days,
mounted on his pony, and painted by Hamilton Wild (a Boston artist), in
that most picturesque of hill-towns, during one of those summers that the
Brownings and the Storys had passed in the haunts of Santa Caterina.

By Mrs. Browning's little writing tablet was placed the last manuscript
she had ever written; and on a table lay a German translation of "Aurora
Leigh," with an inscription of presentation to Browning.

From one of these salons, looking out on the Grand Canal, is an alcove,
formerly used as the private chapel of the Rezzonico. It was all white and
gold, with a Venetian window draped in the palest green plush, while on
either side were placed tall vases encrusted with green. In this alcove
Mr. Barrett Browning had caused to be inscribed, in golden letters,
surrounded with traceries and arabesques in gold, a copy of the
inscription that was composed by the poet, Tommaseo, and placed by the
city of Florence on the wall of Casa Guidi, near the grand portal:


On the first floor was the room in which the poet wrote when the guest of
his son in the palace; a _sala_ empaneled with the most exquisite
decorated alabaster, panels of which also formed the doors, and opening
from this was his sleeping-room, also beautifully decorated.

In one splendid _sala_, with rich mural decorations, and floor of black
Italian marble, were many choice works of art, rare souvenirs, pictures of
special claim to interest, wonderful tapestries, and almost, indeed, an
_embarras de richesse_ of beauty.

In 1906 Robert Barrett Browning sold the Rezzonico; and now, beside his
_casa_ and studios in Asolo, he has one of the old Medici villas, near
Florence,--"La Torre all' Antella," with a lofty tower, from which the
view is one of the most commanding and fascinating in all Tuscany. The
panorama includes all Florence, with her domes and campanile and towers;
and the Fiesolean hills, with the old town picturesquely revealed among
the trees and against the background of sky, and with numerous other
villages and hamlets, and a mountain panorama of changing color always
before the eye. Mr. Browning is one of the choicest of spirits, with all
that culture and beauty of spiritual life that characterized his parents.
He is a great linguist, and is one of the most interesting of men. No one
knew his father, in that wonderful inner way, as did his son. He was
twelve years old at the time of his mother's death, and from that period
he was the almost constant companion of his father, until Browning's
death, twenty-eight years later. Robert Barrett Browning has also
purchased the massive Casa Guidi, thus fitly becoming the owner of the
palace in which he was born, and that is forever enshrined in literary
history and poetic romance. It is, also, one of those poetic sequences of
life, that Casa Guidi and Palazzo Peruzzi, near each other, in the Via
Maggiore in Florence, are respectively owned by Mr. Browning and the
Marchesa Peruzzi di' Medici, under which stately title Mr. Story's
daughter Edith, the childhood friend and companion of "Penini," is now

After the return to London of Browning and his sister Sarianna, from St.
Moritz, his constant letters to Mrs. Bronson again take up the story of a
poet's days.

In the early winter he thus writes to his cherished friend--the date being
December 4, 1887:

    "Now let us shut the gondola glasses (I forget the technical word) and
    Talk, dear Friend! Here are your dear labors of love,--the letters and
    enclosures, and here is my first day of leisure this long fortnight,
    for, would you believe it? I have been silly enough to sit every
    morning for three hours to one painter, who took an additional two
    hours yesterday, in order to get done; before which exercise of
    patience I had to sit to another gentleman, who will summon me again
    in due time,--all this since my return from Venice and the _youthful
    five_! However, when, two days ago, there was yet another application
    to sit, the bear within the 'lion' came out, and I declined, as little
    gruffly as I was able. And so the end is I can talk and enjoy
    myself--even at a distance--with a friend as suddenly dear as all
    hands from the clouds must needs be. I will not try and thank you for
    what you know I so gratefully have accepted,--and shall keep forever,
    I trust.

    "Well, here is the Duke's letter; he is a man of few words, and less
    protestation; but feels, as he should, your kindness, and will gladly
    acknowledge it, should you come to England, and it seems that you may.
    But what will Venice be without you next year, if we return there as
    we hope to do?

    "... Mrs. Bloomfield Moore passed through London some three weeks ago,
    and at once wrote to me about what pictures of Robert's might be
    visible? She at once bought the huge 'Delivery to the Secular Arm,'
    for the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and the 'Dinard Market
    Woman' for herself, and this so spontaneously, and I did hear in a day
    or two that she was convinced I had not asked half enough for the
    pictures! She had inquired at the Gallery where the larger one was
    exhibited, and they estimated its value at so much. I told her their
    estimate was not mine, and that Robert was thoroughly remunerated--to
    say nothing of what he would think of all this graciousness; and since
    her departure I have had an extremely gratifying letter full of
    satisfaction at her purchases,..."

On the death of Lord Houghton, Mr. Browning had been prevailed upon to
accept the office of Foreign Correspondent to the Royal Academy; he was
much beloved by the Academicians, many of whom were among his familiar
friends, and that his son was an artist endeared to him all art.

To Mrs. Bronson Browning once remarked: "Do you know, dear friend, if the
thing were possible, I would renounce all personal ambition and would
destroy every line I ever wrote, if by so doing I could see fame and
honors heaped on my Robert's head." Mrs. Bronson's comment on this was
that in his son he saw the image of his wife, whom he adored,--"literally
adored," she added.

At the Academy banquets Browning was always an honored guest, and his
nomination by the President to the post of Foreign Correspondent was
promptly ratified by the Council.

On the removal to DeVere Gardens, Mr. Browning took great pleasure in the
arrangement of his home. His father's library of six thousand books was
now unpacked, and, for the first time, he had space for them; many of the
beautiful old carvings, chests, cabinets, bookcases, that he had brought
from Florence, could in the new home be placed to advantage. The visitor,
to-day, to Mr. Barrett Browning's Florentine villa will see many of these
rich and elaborate furnishings, and the younger Browning will point out an
immense sofa (that resembles a catafalque), with amused recollection of
having once seen his father and Ruskin sitting side by side on it, "their
feet dangling." From Venice the poet had brought home, first and last,
many curious and beautiful things,--a silver lamp, old sconces from
churches, and many things of which he speaks in his letters to Mrs.

The initial poem in "Asolando," entitled "Rosny," was written at the
opening of the year 1888, and it was soon followed by "Beatrice Signorini"
and "Flute-Music." In February he writes to George Murray Smith, his
publisher, of his impulse to revise "Pauline," which had lain untouched
for fifty years,--an impulse to "correct the most obvious faults ...
letting the thoughts, such as they are, remain exactly as at first." It
seems that the portrait, too, that is to accompany the volume does not
quite please him, and he suggests slight changes. "Were Pen here," he
says, "he could manage it all in a moment."

This confidence was not undeserved. Richly gifted in many directions, a
true child of the gods, Robert Barrett Browning has an almost marvelous
gift in portraiture. He seems to be the diviner, the seer, as well as the
artist, when transferring to canvas a face that interests him. The
portrait of Milsand, to which allusion has before been made, and that of
his father, painted in his Oxford robes, with "the old yellow book in his
hand," which is in Balliol, are signal illustrations of his power in
portraying almost the very mental processes of thought and feeling and
kindling imagination,--all that goes to make up the creative life of art.

He is fairly a connoisseur in literature, as well as in his own
specialties of painting and sculpture; and the poetry of the elder
Browning has no more critically appreciative reader than his son. Some
volume of his father's is always at hand in his traveling; and he, like
all Browning-lovers, can never open any volume of Robert Browning's
without finding revealed to him new vistas of thought, renewed aspiration
and resolve for all noble living, and infinite suggestiveness of spiritual



  "On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round."

  "O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
      And with God be the rest!"


In the winter of 1887-1888 Mr. Browning wrote "Rosny," which follows the
"Prologue" in "Asolando," and soon after the "Beatrice Signorini" and
"Flute Music." He also completely revised his poems for the new edition
which his publishers were issuing in monthly volumes, the works completed
in July. "Parleyings," which had appeared in 1887, had, gloriously or
perilously as may be, apparently taken all the provinces of learning, if
not all the kingdoms of earth, for its own; for its themes ranged over
Philosophy, Politics, Love, and Art, as well as Alchemy, and one knows not
what; but its power and vigor reveal that there had been no fading of the
divine fire. The poet made a few minor changes in "The Inn Album," but
with that exception he agreed with his friend and publisher, that no
further alterations of any importance were required. Mr. Browning's
relations with his publishers were always harmonious and mutually
gratifying. Such a relation is, to any author, certainly not the least
among the factors of his happiness or of his power of work, and to
Browning, George Murray Smith was his highly prized friend and counselor,
as well as publisher, whose generous courtesies and admirable judgment had
more than once even served him in ways quite outside those of literature.

In the late summer of 1888 Browning and his sister fared forth for
Primiero, to join the Barrett Brownings, with whom the poet concurred in
regarding this little hill-town as one of the most beautiful of places,
his favorite Asolo always excepted. "Primiero is far more beautiful than
Gressoney, far more than Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse," he wrote to a
friend: "with the magnificence of the mountains that, morning and evening,
are literally transmuted to gold." In letters or conversation, as well as
in his verse, Browning's love of color was always in evidence. "He dazzles
us with scarlet, and crimson, and rubies, and the poppy's 'red
effrontery,'" said an English critic; "with topaz, amethyst, and the glory
of gold, and makes the sonnet ache with the luster of blue." When, in the
haunting imagery of memory pictures, after leaving Florence, he reverted
to the gardens of Isa Blagden, on Bellosguardo, the vision before him was
of "the herbs in red flower, and the butterflies on the wall under the
olive trees." For Browning was the poet of every thrill and intensity of
life--the poet and prophet of the dawn, not of the dark; the herald who
announced the force of the positive truth and ultimate greatness; never
the interpreter of the mere negations of life. The splendor of color
particularly appealed to him, thrilling every nerve; and when driving with
Mrs. Bronson in Asolo he would beg that the coachman would hasten, if
there were fear of missing the sunset pageant from the loggia of "La
Mura." In "Pippa Passes," how he painted the splendor of sunrise
pouring into her chamber, and in numberless other of his poems is this
fascination of color for him revealed.


Painted by George Frederick Watts, R.A.

In the possession of the National Portrait Gallery, London.]

Under the date of August, 1888, the poet writes to Mrs. Bronson:

    DEAREST,--We have at last, only yesterday, fully determined on joining
    the couple at Primiero, and, when the heats abate, going on to Venice
    for a short stay. May the stay be with you as heretofore? I don't feel
    as if I could go elsewhere, or do otherwise, although in case of any
    arrangements having been made that stand in the way, there is the
    obvious Hôtel Suisse. I suppose at need there could be found a
    messenger to poor Guiseppina, whose misfortunes I commiserate. You
    know exactly how much and how little we want. But if I am to get any
    good out of my visit I must lead the quietest of lives....

    We propose setting out next Monday, the 13th,--Basle, Milan, Padua,
    Treviso, Primiero, by the week's end.

    I have been nearly eleven weeks in town, with an exceptional four
    days' visit to Oxford; and hard social work all the time, indeed, up
    to the latest, when, three weeks ago, I found it impossible to keep
    going. Don't think that the kindness which sometimes oppresses me
    while in town, forgets me afterward; I have pouring invitations to the
    most attractive places in England, Ireland, Scotland,--but "c'est
    admirable, mais ce n'est pas la paix." May I count on the "paix" where
    I so much enjoyed it? I hear with delight that Edith will be with you
    again,--that completes the otherwise incompleteness. Yes, the
    Rezzonico is what you Americans call a "big thing."... But the
    interest I take in its acquisition is different altogether from what
    accompanied the earlier attempt. At most, I look on approvingly, as by
    all accounts I am warranted in doing, but there an end....

    ... So, dearest friend, "a rivederci!" Give my love to Edith and tell
    her I hope in her keeping her kindness for me, spite of the claims on
    it of all the others. And my sister, not one word of her? Somehow you
    must know her more thoroughly than poor, battered me, tugged at and
    torn to pieces, metaphorically, by so many sympathizers, real or
    pretended. She wants change, probably more than I do. And, but for
    her, I believe I should continue here, with the gardens for my place
    of healing. How she will enjoy the sight of you, if it may be! Tell me
    what is to be hoped, or feared, or despaired of, at Pen's address,
    whatever it may be. And remember me as ever most affectionately yours,


The succeeding letter, written from Albergo Gille, Primiero, tells the
story of a rather trying journey, what with the heat and his
indisposition, but on finding himself bestowed at Primiero he is
"absolutely well again," and anticipating his Venice: "what a Venice it
would be," he says, "if I went elsewhere than to the beloved friend who
calls me so kindly!" And he adds:

    "My stay will be short, but sweet in every sense of the word if I find
    her in good health, and in all other respects just as I left her; 'no
    change' meaning what it does to me who remember her goodness so well.
    It will be delightful to meet Edith again, if only it may be that she
    arrives while we are yet with you, even before, perhaps.

    "Can I tell you anything about my journey except that it was so
    agreeable an one? On the first evening as I stepped outside our
    carriage for a moment, I caught sight of a well-known face. 'Dr.
    Butler, surely.' You have heard of his marriage the other day to a
    learnedest of young ladies, who beat all the men last year at Greek.
    He insisted on introducing me to her; I had seen her once before
    without undergoing that formality and willingly I shook hands with a
    sprightly young person ... pretty, and grand-daughterly, she is,
    however, only twenty-six years his junior. Then, this happened; the
    little train from Montebelluna to Feltre was crowded--we could find no
    room except in a smoking carriage--wherein I observed a good-natured,
    elderly gentleman, an Italian, I took for granted. Presently he said,
    'Can I offer you an English paper?' 'What, are you English?' 'Oh, yes,
    and I know you,--who are going to see your son at Primiero.' 'Why,
    who can you be?' 'One who has seen you often.' 'Not surely, Mr.
    Malcolm?' 'Well, nobody else.' So ensued an affectionate greeting, he
    having been the guardian angel of Pen in all his chafferings about the
    purchase of the palazzo. He gave me abundance of information, and
    satisfied me on many points. I had been anxious to write and thank him
    as he deserved, but this provided an earlier and more graceful way,
    for a beginning at least.

    "Pen is at work on a pretty picture, a peasant girl whom he picked up
    in the neighborhood, and his literal treatment stands him in good
    stead; he is reproducing her cleverly, at any rate, he takes pains

Towards the end of September they joined in Venice the "beloved friend,"
whose genius for friendship only made each sojourn with her more beautiful
than the preceding, if that which was perfect could receive an added
degree. "It was curious to see," wrote Mrs. Bronson, "how on each of his
arrivals in Venice he took up his life precisely as he had left it."
Browning and his sister frequently went on Sundays to the Waldensian
chapel, where in this autumn there was a preacher of great eloquence.
Every morning, after their early coffee, the poet was off for a brisk
walk, and after returning he busied himself with his letters and
newspapers, his mail always containing more or less letters from strangers
and admirers, some of whom solicited autographs, which, so far as
possible, he always granted. Mrs. Bronson has somewhere noted that when
asked, _viva voce_, for an autograph, he would look puzzled, and say "I
don't like to always write the same verse, but I can only remember one,"
and he would then proceed to copy "All that I know of a certain star,"
which, however it "dartles red and blue," he knew nothing of save that it
had "opened its soul" to him. Arthur Rogers, delivering the Bohlen
lectures for 1909, compared Browning with Isaiah, in his lecture on
"Poetry and Prophecy," and he instanced this "star" which "opened its
soul" to the poet, as attesting that Browning, like Isaiah, could do no
more than search depths of life.

The Palazzo Giustiniani-Recanti was a fitting haunt for a poet. Casa
Alvisi, adjoining, in which Mrs. Bronson lived, looked out, as has been
noted, on Santa Maria della Salute, which was on the opposite side of the
Grand Canal; but the Giustiniani palace, dating to the fifteenth century,
had its outlook through Gothic windows to the south, on a court and garden
of romantic loveliness. The perfect tact of their hostess left the poet
and his sister entirely free to come and go as they pleased, and at midday
they took their déjeuner together, ordering by preference Italian dishes,
as rissotto, macaroni, and fruits, especially figs and grapes. They
enjoyed these _tête-à-tête_ repasts, talking and laughing all the while,
and then, about three every afternoon they joined Mrs. Bronson and her
daughter for the gondola trip. The hostess records that the poet's
invariable response to the question as to where they should go would be:
"Anywhere, all is beautiful, only let it be toward the Lido." While both
the poet and his sister were scrupulously prompt in returning all calls of
ceremony, they were glad to evade formal visits so far as possible; and
the absolute freedom with which their hostess surrounded them was grateful
beyond words. "The thought deeply impressed me," said Mrs. Bronson, "that
one who had lifted so many souls above the mere necessity for living in a
troublesome world deserved from those permitted to approach him their best
efforts to brighten his personal life.... The little studies for his
comfort, the small cares entailed upon me during the too brief days and
weeks when his precious life was partly entrusted to my care, might seem
to count for little in an existence far removed from that of an ordinary
man; yet, as a fact, he was glad and grateful for the smallest attention.
He was appreciative of all things. He never regarded gratitude as a
burden, as less generous minds are apt to do," continued Mrs. Bronson.

[Illustration: MRS. ARTHUR BRONSON

From a painting by Ellen Montalba, in Asolo

  In the possession of Edittá, Contessa Rucellai (_née_ Bronson),
  Palazzo Rucellai, Florence.]

One of his greatest enjoyments in Venice was to wander with Edith Bronson
through the Venetian _calli_. "Edith is the best cicerone in the world,"
he would remark; "she knows everything and teaches me all she knows. There
never was such a guide." The young girl indeed knew her Venice as a
devotee knows his illuminated missal, and her lovely vivacity and
sweetness must have invested her presence with the same charm that is felt
to-day in the Contessa Rucellai, in her Florentine palace, for Miss
Bronson, it may be said _en passant_, became the wife of one of the most
eminent Italian nobles, the Rucellai holding peculiar claim to distinction
even among the princely houses of Florence.

From these gondola excursions they always returned about five, and
sometimes the poet would join the group around Mrs. Bronson's tea-table,
conversing with equal facility in French, German, or Italian, and to their
delight would say, "Edith, dear, you may give me a cup of tea." But as a
rule he considered this beverage as too unhygienic at that hour, and
whenever with an "Excuse me, please," he sought his own apartments, he was
never questioned for his reasons. "It was enough that he wished it," said
his hostess. He and Miss Browning always appeared promptly for dinner,
which was at half-past seven in Casa Alvisi. The poet was scrupulous about
his evening dress; and Miss Browning, Mrs. Bronson relates, was habitually
clad "in rich gowns of a somber tint, with quaint, antique jewels, and
each day with a different French cap of daintiest make."

The evenings seem to have been idyllic. Browning would often read aloud,
and he loved to improvise on an old spinnet standing in a dim recess in
one of the salons. The great Venetian families were usually in
_villeggiatura_ at the time when Browning was in Venice, so that he met
comparatively few of them; it was this freedom from social obligations
that contributed so much to the restful character of his sojourns, and
enabled him to give himself up to that ineffable enchantment of Venice. He
made a few friends, however, among Mrs. Bronson's brilliant circle, and
one of the notable figures among these was the old Russian noble and
diplomat, Prince Gagarin, who, born in Rome, had been educated in his own
country, and had represented Russia at the courts of Athens,
Constantinople, and Turin. Mrs. Bronson has told the story of one evening
when the poet and the old diplomat indulged in a mutual tournament of
music; "first one would sing, and then the other," Browning recalling
folk-songs of Russia which he had caught up in his visit to that country
fifty years before.

Another of Mrs. Bronson's inner circle, which included the Principessa
Montenegro, the mother of Queen Elena, and other notable figures, was the
Contessa Marcello, whom both the poet and his sister greatly liked; and
one radiant day they all accepted an invitation to visit the Contessa at
her villa at Mogliano, a short railway trip from Venice. The poet seemed
to much enjoy the brief journey, and at the station was the Contessa with
her landau, in which Mrs. Bronson, the poet, and his sister were seated,
while Miss Bronson rode one of the ponies on which some of the young
people had come down to greet the guests. After luncheon the Contessa,
with her young daughter, the Contessina, led their guests out in the
grounds to a pergola where coffee was served, and which commanded a vista
of a magnificent avenue of copper beeches, whose great branches met and
interlaced overhead. The Contessa was the favorite lady of honor at the
court of Queen Margherita, and she interested Mr. Browning very much by
speaking of her beloved royal mistress, and showing him some of the
handwriting of the Queen, which he thought characteristically graceful
and forcible. The Contessina and Miss Bronson, with others of the younger
people, seated themselves in rustic chairs to listen to every word from
the poet; and a Venetian sculptor, who was there, concealed himself in the
shrubbery and made a sketch of Browning. The Contessina, who, like all the
young Italian girls of high breeding and culture, kept an album of foreign
poetry, brought hers, and pleadingly asked Mr. Browning if he would write
in it for her. As usual, for the reasons already given, he (perforce)
wrote "My Star," and when the girl looked at it she exclaimed that it was
one of her old favorites, and showed him where she had already copied it
into the book.

At the station, when they drove down again to take the returning train,
one of the young _literati_ of Italy was there, and the Contessa
introduced him to Browning, saying that the young man had already achieved
distinction in letters. Mr. Browning talked with him most cordially, and
after they were on their way he said that the young writer "seemed to be a
youth of promise, and that he hoped he should meet him again." But when
they did hear of him again it was as the lecturer of a series of talks on
Zola, "which, as may be supposed," notes Mrs. Bronson, "the poet expressed
no desire to attend." The marvelous days of that unearthly loveliness of
Venice in the early autumn flew by, and Mrs. Bronson's guest returned to
DeVere Gardens. To his hostess the poet wrote, under date of DeVere
Gardens, December 15, 1888:

    DEAREST FRIEND,--I may just say that and no more; for what can I say?
    I shall never have your kindness out of my thoughts,--and you never
    will forget me, I know. We shall please you by telling you our journey
    was quite prosperous, and wonderfully fine weather, till it ended in
    grim London, and its fog and cold. (At Basle there was cold, but the
    sun made up for everything.) We altered our plans so far as to sleep
    and to stay through a long day at Basle, visiting the museum,
    cathedral, etc., and went on by night train in a sleeping-car, of
    which we were the sole occupants, to Calais, directly. At Dover the
    officials were prepared for us, would not look at the luggage, and
    were very helpful as well as courteous; and at London orders had been
    given to treat us with all possible good nature. They wouldn't let us
    open any box but that where the lamp was packed; offered to take our
    word for its weight, and finally asked me, "since there were the three
    portions, would I accept the weight of the little vessel at bottom as
    that of the other two?" "Rather," as Pen says, so they declined to
    weigh the whole lamp, charging less than a quarter of what it does
    weigh, and even then requiring assurance that I was "quite satisfied."
    We were to be looked after first of all the passengers, and so got
    away early enough to find things at home in excellent order.... I send
    a hasty line to try to express the impossible,--how much I love you,
    and how deeply I feel all your great kindness. Every hour of the day I
    miss you, and wish I were with you and dear Edith again, in beloved
    Casa Alvisi.

These letters to Mrs. Bronson reveal Browning the man as do no other
records in literature. The consciousness of being perfectly understood,
and the realization of the delicacy and beauty of the character of Mrs.
Bronson made this choice companionship one of the greatest joys in
Browning's life. It may, perhaps, as well be interpolated here that a
large package of the fascinating letters from Robert Browning to Mrs.
Bronson, from which these extracts are made, were placed at the disposal
of the writer of this volume by the generous kindness of Mrs. Bronson's
daughter, the Contessa Rucellai, and with the slight exception of a few
paragraphs used by Mrs. Bronson herself (in two charming papers that she
wrote on Browning), they have never before been drawn upon for

Under the date of January 4, 1889, the poet writes to Mrs. Bronson:

    No, dearest friend, I can well believe you think of me sometimes, even
    oft-times, for in what place, or hour, or hour of the day, can you
    fail to be reminded of some piece of kindness done by you and received
    by me during those memorable three months when you cared for me and my
    sister constantly, and were so successful in your endeavor to make us
    perfectly happy. Depend on it, neither I nor she move about this house
    (which has got to be less familiar to us through our intimate
    acquaintance with yours),--neither of us forget you for a moment, nor
    are we without your name on our lips much longer, when we sit quietly
    down at home of an evening, and talk over the pleasantest of pleasant

    The sole invitation I can but accept this morning is to the Farewell
    dinner about to be given by the Lord Mayor to Mr. Phelps; that I am
    bound to attend. I have not seen him or Mrs. Phelps yet; but they
    receive this afternoon, and if I am able I shall go. You will wish to
    know that all our articles have arrived safely, and more expeditiously
    than we had expected. The tables, lanterns, etc., are very decidedly
    approved of, and fit into the proper corners very comfortably; so that
    everywhere will be an object reminding us, however unnecessarily, of
    Venice. Your ink-stand brightens the table by my hand; the lamp will
    probably stand beside it; while Tassini tempts me to dip into him
    every time I pass the book-case. I may never see the loved city again,
    but where in the house will not some little incident of the then
    unparalleled months, wake up memories of the gondola, and the
    stopping, here and there, and the fun at Morchio's; the festive return
    home, behind broad-backed Luigi; then the tea, and the dinner, and
    Gargarin's crusty old port flavor, and the Dyers, and Ralph Curtis,
    and O, the delightful times! Of Edith I say nothing because she has
    herself, the darling! written to me, the surprise and joy of that! And
    I mean to have a talk with her on paper, alas! my very self, and
    induce her not to let me have the last word. Oh, my two beloveds I
    must see Venice again; it would be heart-breaking to believe
    otherwise. Of course I entered into all your doings, the pretty things
    you got, and prettier, I am sure, you gave. And I was sorry, so sorry,
    to hear that naughty Edith, no darling, for half a second, now I think
    of it,--did not figure in the tableaux. I hope and believe, however,
    she did dance in the New Year. Bid her avoid this cold-catching and
    consequent headache. Do write, dearest friend, keep me _au courant_ of
    everything. No minutest of your doings but is full of interest to me
    and Sarianna. But I am at the paper's extreme edge. Were it elephant
    folio (is there such a size?) it would not hold all I have in my
    heart, and head, too, of love for you and "our Edie;" so, simply, God
    bless you, my beloveds!


    Princess Montenegro sent me by way of a New Year's card,--what do you
    think? A pretty photograph of the Rezzonico. The young lady was
    equally mindful of Sarianna.

    R. B.

To Miss Edith Bronson the poet wrote, as follows:

    DEAREST EDIE,--I did not reply to your letter at once for this reason;
    an immediate answer might seem to imply I expected such a delightful
    surprise every day, or week, or even month; and it was wise economy to
    let you know that I can go on without a second piece of kindness till
    you again have such a good impulse and yield to it--by no means
    binding yourself to give me regularly such a pleasure. You shall owe
    me nothing, but be as generous as is consistent with justice to other
    people.... I did not go out except to the complimentary farewell
    dinner our Lord Mayor gave to Mr. Phelps which nobody could be excused
    from attending. We all grieved at the loss, especially of Mrs. Phelps,
    who endeared herself to everybody. Both of them were sorry to go from

The next letter reveals anew Browning's always thoughtful courtesy in
bespeaking kindness for mutual friends, as he writes:

    "There is arranged to be a sort of expedition [to Venice] of young
    Toynbee Hall men, headed by Alberto Ball, the son of our common
    friend, for the purpose of studying, not merely amusing, themselves
    with,--the beloved city. Well as the Balls are entitled to say that
    they know you, still, the young and clever Ball chooses to wish me to
    beg your kind notice; and I suppose that his companions are to be
    noticed also,--of what really appears to be a praiseworthy effort
    after self-instruction. Will you smile on him when he calls on you?
    for his father's sake, who is anxious about the scheme's success? I
    have bespoken Pen's assistance, and he will do the honors of the
    Rezzonico with alacrity, I have no doubt."

[Illustration: MISS EDITH BRONSON,


From a Water-Color by Passini, Venice, 1883.]

In almost every life that is strongly individualized those who look back
after it has passed from visible sight cannot but recognize how rhythmic
are the sequences that have characterized its last months on earth. If the
person in question had actually known the day on which he should be called
away, he would hardly have done other than he did. It is as if the spirit
had some prescience, not realized by the ordinary consciousness, but still
controlling its conduct of the last time allotted here. With this last
year of Robert Browning's life, this unseen leading is especially obvious.
In the spring he had revised his poetic work; he had passed Commemoration
week at Oxford, as he loved to do; he had passed much of the time with his
friend, the Master of Balliol, and among his last expressions on leaving
Oxford was "Jowett knows how I love him." He was also in Cambridge, and
Edmund Gosse has charmingly recalled the way in which he dwelt,
retrospectively, on his old Italian days.

In June, also, he paid his usual visit to Lord Albemarle (the last
survivor of those who fought at Waterloo), and in that month he wrote to
Professor Knight, who was about to exchange the Chair of Philosophy at the
University of Glasgow for that of Literature at St. Andrews, saying: "It
is the right order; Philosophy first, and Poetry, which is its highest
outcome, afterward, and much harm has been done by reversing the usual

The letters to Mrs. Bronson tell much of the story of these days. In one,
dated June 10, 1899, he gives this reminiscence of Asolo:

    DEAREST FRIEND,--It was indeed a joy to get your letter. I know that a
    change of place would be desirable for you, darling Edie told me so,
    but I fancied you would not leave Venice so soon....

    ... One thing is certain, that if I do go to Venice, and abide at the
    Rezzonico, every day during the visit I shall pass over to the beloved
    Alvisi and entirely beloved friends there, who are to me in Venice
    what San Marco is to the Piazza. Enough of this now, and something
    about Asolo.

    When I first found out Asolo, I lodged at the main hotel in the
    Square,--an old, large inn of the most primitive kind. The ceiling of
    my bed-room was traversed by a huge crack, or rather cleft, caused by
    the earthquake last year; the sky was as blue as blue could be, and we
    were all praying in the fields, expecting the town to tumble in. On
    the morning after my arrival, I walked up to the Rocca; and on
    returning to breakfast I mentioned it to the land-lady, wherein a
    respectable middle-aged man, sitting by, said: "You have done what I,
    born here, never thought of doing." I took long walks every day, and
    carried away a lively recollection of the general beauty, but I did
    not write a word of 'Pippa Passes'--that idea struck me when walking
    in an English wood, and I made use of Italian memories.

    I used to dream of seeing Asolo in the distance and making vain
    attempts to reach it--repeatedly dreamed this for many a year. And
    when I found myself once more in Italy, with Sarianna, I went there
    straight from Venice. We found the old inn lying in ruins, a new one
    (being) built, to take its place,--I suppose that which you see now.
    We went to a much inferior albergo, the best then existing, and were
    roughly, but pleasantly, entertained for a week, as I say. People told
    me the number of inhabitants had greatly increased, and things seemed
    generally more ordinary and life-like. I am happy that you like it so
    much. When I got my impression, Italy was new to me....

    ... I shall go to Oxford for Commemoration, and stay a week for
    another affair,--a "gaudy" dinner given to the magnates of Eton.

To the forthcoming collection, entitled "Asolando," the group of poems
dedicated to Mrs. Bronson, the poet alludes as follows:

    ... By the way the new little book of poems that was to associate your
    name with mine, remains unprinted. For why? The publishers think its
    announcement might panic-strike the purchasers of the new edition, who
    have nearly enough of me for some time to come! Never mind. We shall
    have our innings.

    Bless you ever and your Edith; keep me in mind as your very own always

    R. B.

The poet's love for Asolo is revealed in the following letter to Mrs.


    July 17,'89.

    DEAREST FRIEND,--I shall delight in fancying your life at Asolo, my
    very own of all Italian towns; your house built into the wall, and the
    neighboring castle ruins, and the wonderful outlook; on a clear day
    you can see much further than Venice. I mentioned some of the dear
    spots pointed out to my faith as ruins, while what wants no faith at
    all,--the green hills surrounding you, Posagno close by,--how you will
    enjoy it! And do go there and get all the good out of the beautiful
    place I used to dream about so often in old days, till at last I saw
    it again, and the dreams stopped,--to begin, again, I trust, with a
    figure there never associated with Asolo before. Shall I ever see you
    there in no dream? I cannot say; I feel inclined to leave England this
    next autumn that is so soon to overtake us....

    Pen stays a few days longer in Paris to complete his picture. He had
    declined to compete at the Exposition, but has been awarded a Medal
    (3rd), which, however, enables him to dispense with the permission of
    the Salon that his works shall be received. Julian Story gets also a
    medal of the same class. Pen reports stupendously of the Paris

    ... Well, you know we have been entertaining and entertained by the
    Shah. I met him at Lord Roseberry's, and before dinner was presented
    to him, when he asked me in French: _"Êtes-vous poëte?" "On s'est
    permis de le dire quelquefois." "Et vous avez fait des livres?"
    "Plusieurs livres?" "Trop de livres." "Voulez-vous m'en faire le
    cadeau d'un de vos livres afin que je puisse me ressouvenir de vous?"
    "Avec plaisir."_ Accordingly I went next day to a shop where they keep
    them ready bound, and chose a brightly covered "selection."...

    All the outing I have accomplished was a week at Oxford, which was a
    quiet one,--Jowett's health, I fear, not allowing the usual invitation
    of guests to Balliol. I had all the more of him, to my great

    Sarianna is quite in her ordinary health, but tired as we cannot but
    be. She is away from the house, but I know how much she would have me
    put in of love in what I would say for her.... Did you get a little
    book by Michael Field? "Long Ago," a number of poems written to
    _innestare_ what fragmentary lines and words we have left of Sappho's
    poetry. I want to know particularly how they strike you.

To Tennyson for his eightieth birthday Mr. Browning writes:

    To-morrow is your birthday, indeed a memorable one. Let me say I
    associate myself with the universal pride of our country in your
    glory, and in its hope that for many and many a year we may have your
    very self among us; secure that your poetry will be a wonder and
    delight to all those appointed to come after; and for my own part let
    me further say, I have loved you dearly. May God bless you and yours!
    I have had disastrous experience.... Admiringly and Affectionately


To this letter Lord Tennyson replied:

    ALDWORTH, August, 1889.

    MY DEAR BROWNING,--I thank you with my whole heart and being for your
    noble and affectionate letter, and with my whole heart and being I
    return your friendship. To be loved and appreciated by so great and
    powerful a nature as yours will be a solace to me, and lighten my dark
    hours during the short time of life that is left to us.

    Ever Yours,


The poet found himself again longing for his Italy. To Mrs. Bronson, under
date of August 8, he wrote, referring to a letter of hers received two
days before, crowned with "the magical stamp of Asolo":

    "... So a fancy springs up which shall have utterance as just a fancy.
    The time has come for determining on some change of place, if change
    is ever to be, and, I repeat, just a fancy, if I were inclined to join
    you at Asolo, say a fortnight hence, could good rooms be procurable
    for Sarianna and myself? Now as you value--I won't say my love, but my
    respect and esteem--understand me literally, and give me only the
    precise information I want--not one half-syllable about accommodation
    in your house!

    "I ask because when I and Sarianna went there years ago, the old
    Locanda on the Square lay in ruins, and we put up at a rougher inn in
    the town's self. I dare say the principal hotel is rebuilt by this
    time, or rather has grown somewhat old. Probably you are there indeed.
    Just tell us exactly. Pen is trying his best to entice us his way,
    which means to Primiero and Venice; but the laziness of age is
    subduing me, and how I shrink from the 'middle passage,'--all that day
    and night whirling from London to Basle, with the eleven or twelve
    hours to Milan. Milan opens on Paradise, but the getting to Milan!
    Perhaps I shall turn northward and go to Scotland after all. Still,
    dear and good one, tell me what I ask. After the requisite information
    you will please tell me accurately how you are, how that wicked
    gad-a-bout, Edith, is, and where; and what else you can generously
    afford of news,--news Venetian, I mean...."

Later the poet writes:

    "... I trust that as few clouds as may be may trouble the blue of our
    month at Asolo; I shall bring your book full of verses for a final
    overhauling on the spot where, when I first saw it, inspiration seemed
    to steam up from the very ground.

    "And so Edith is (I conjecture, I hope, rightly) to be with you; won't
    I show her the little ridge in the ruin where one talks to the echo to
    greatest advantage."

From Milan Browning wrote to Mrs. Bronson:

    DEAREST FRIEND,--It is indeed a delight to expect a meeting so soon.
    Be good and mindful of how simple our tastes and wants are, and how
    they have been far more than satisfied by the half of what you
    provided to content them. I shall have nothing to do but to enjoy your
    company, not even the little business of improving my health since
    that seems perfect. I hear you do not walk as in the old days. I count
    upon setting that right again. O Venezia, benedetta!

It was with greater enjoyment, apparently, than ever before even, that Mr.
Browning turned to the Asolo of his "Pippa Passes" and "Sordello." Mrs.
Bronson, in her brilliant and sympathetic picturing of the poet, speaks of
his project "to raise a tower like Pippa's near a certain property in
Asolo, where he and Miss Browning might pass at least a part of every
year." The "certain property," to which Mrs. Bronson so modestly alludes,
was her own place, "La Mura." The tower has since been erected by the
poet's son, and the dream is thus fulfilled, though the elder Browning did
not live to see it. Mrs. Bronson describes his enjoyment of nature in this
lovely little hill-town,--"the ever-changing cloud shadows on the plain,
the ranges of many-tinted mountains in the distance, and the fairy-like
outline of the blue Euganean Hills, which form in part the southern
boundary of the vast Campagna." Browning would speak of the associations
which these hills bear with the names of Shelley and Byron.

Across the deep ravine from La Mura a ruined tower was all that remained
of the villa of Queen Catarina Cornaro, who, when she lost Cyprus, retired
to Asolo; and in Browning's dedication to Mrs. Bronson of his "Asolando,"
he ascribes the title to Cardinal Bembo, the secretary of Queen Catarina.
Mr. Browning loved to recall the traditions of that poetic little court,
which for two decades was held within those walls, whose decay was fairly
hidden by the wealth of flowers that embowered them. Of his own project he
would talk, declaring that he would call it "Pippa's Tower," and that it
should be so built that from it he could see Venice every day. He
playfully described the flag-signals that should aid communication between
"Pippa's Tower" and Casa Alvisi. "A telephone is too modern," he said; and
explained that when he asked his friend to dine the flag should be
blue,--her favorite color; and if her answer was yes, her flag should be
the same color; or if no, her flag should be red. This last visit of the
poet to his city of dream and vision seemed to Mrs. Bronson one of
unalloyed pleasure. "To think that I should be here again!" he more than
once exclaimed, as if with an unconscious recognition that these weeks
were to complete the cycle of his life on earth. Asolo is thirty-four
miles from Venice, and it is within easy driving distance of Possagno, the
native place of Canova, in whose memory the town has a museum filled with
his works and casts. "Pen must see this," remarked Mr. Browning, as he
lingered over the statues and groups and tombs. Mrs. Bronson records that
one day on returning from a drive to Bassano the poet was strangely
silent, and no one spoke; finally he announced that he had written a poem
since they left Bassano. In response to an exclamation of surprise he
said: "Oh, it's all in my head, but I shall write it out presently." His
hostess asked if he would not even say what inspired it, to which he

"Well, the birds twittering in the trees suggested it. You know I don't
like women to wear those things in their bonnets." The poem in question
proved to be "The Lady and the Painter."

Mr. Browning took the greatest enjoyment in the view from Mrs. Bronson's
loggia. "Here," he would say, "we can enjoy beauty without fatigue, and be
protected from sun, wind, and rain." His hostess has related that its
charm made him often break his abstemious habit of refusing the usual five
o'clock refreshment, and that he "loved to hear the hissing urn," and when
occasionally accepting a cup of tea and a biscuit would say, "I think I am
the better for this delicious tea, after all."

Every afternoon at three they all went to drive, exploring the region in
all directions. The driving in Asolo seemed to charm him as did the
gondola excursions in Venice. "He observed everything," said Mrs. Bronson,
"hedges, trees, the fascination of the little river Musone, the great
_carri_ piled high with white and purple grapes. He removed his hat in
returning the salutation of a priest, and touched his hat in returning the
salutation of the poorest peasant, who, after the manner of the country,
lifted his own to greet the passing stranger. 'I always salute the
church,' Mr. Browning would say; 'I respect it.'"

All his life Browning was an early riser. In Asolo, as elsewhere, he began
his day with a cold bath at seven, and at eight he and his sister sat down
to their simple breakfast, their hostess keeping no such heroic hours.
Mrs. Bronson had adopted the foreign fashion of having her light breakfast
served in her room, and her mornings were given to her wide correspondence
and her own reading and study. She was a most accomplished and scholarly
woman, whose goodness of heart and charm of manner were paralleled by her
range of intellectual interests and her grasp of affairs.

After breakfasting Browning and his sister, inseparable companions always,
would start off on their wanderings over the hills. The poet was keenly
interested in searching out the points of interest of his early years in
Asolo; the "echo," the remembered views, the vista whose fascination still
remained for him. From the ruined _rocca_ that crowned the hill, the view
comprised all the violet-hued plain, stretching away to Padua, Vicenzo,
Bassano; the entire atmosphere filled with historic and poetic
associations. How the poet mirrored the panorama in his stanzas:

  "How many a year, my Asolo,
    Since--one step just from sea to land--
  I found you, loved yet feared you so--
    For natural objects seemed to stand
  Palpably fire-clothed! No--"

The "lambent flame," and "Italia's rare, o'er-running beauty," enchanted
his vision.

Returning from their saunterings, the brother and sister took up their
morning reading of English and French newspapers, Italian books, with the
poet's interludes always of his beloved Greek dramatists.

In these October days the Storys arrived to visit Mrs. Bronson in her
picturesque abode. An ancient wall, mostly in ruins, with eighteen towers,
still surrounds Asolo, and partly in one of these towers, and partly in
the arch of the old portal, "La Mura" was half discovered and half
constructed. Its loggia had one wall composed entirely of sliding glass,
which could be a shelter from the storm with no obstruction of the view,
or be thrown open to all the bloom and beauty of the radiant summer. Just
across the street was the apartment in which Mrs. Bronson bestowed her

That Browning and Story should thus be brought together again for their
last meeting on earth, however undreamed of to them, prefigures itself now
as another of those mosaic-like events that combined in beauty and
loveliness to make all his last months on earth a poetic sequence. The
Storys afterward spoke of Mr. Browning as being "well, and in such force,
brilliant, and delightful as ever"; and the last words that passed between
the poet and the sculptor were these of Browning's: "We have been friends
for forty years, forty years without a break!"

On the first day of November this perfect and final visit to Asolo ended,
and yielding to the entreaties of his son, Browning and his sister bade
farewell to Mrs. Bronson and her daughter, who were soon to follow them to
Venice, where the poet and Miss Browning were to be the guests of the
Barrett Brownings in Palazzo Rezzonico.

The events of all these weeks seem divinely appointed to complete with
stately symmetry this noble life. As one of them he found in Venice his
old friend, and (as has before been said) the greatest interpreter of his
poetry, Dr. Hiram Corson. The Cornell professor was taking his University
Sabbatical year, and with Mrs. Corson had arrived in Venice just before
the poet came down from Asolo. "I called on him the next day," Dr. Corson
said of this meeting. "He seemed in his usual vigor, and expressed great
pleasure in the restorations his son was making in the palace. 'It's a
grand edifice,' he said, 'but too vast.'"

Dr. Corson continued:

    "He was then engaged in reading the proofs of his 'Asolando.' He
    usually walked two hours every day; went frequently in his gondola
    with his sister to his beloved Lido, and one day when I walked with

      'Where St. Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with

    I had to quicken my steps to keep pace with him. He called my
    attention to an interesting feature of this world-renowned place, and
    told me much of their strange history. He knew the city literally _par


From a painting by J. Colin Forbes, R.A., in the possession of Eugene
Rollin Corson.]

Mr. Browning passed with Dr. and Mrs. Corson the last morning they were in
Venice. Of the parting Dr. Corson has since written in a personal letter
to a friend:

    "He told us much about himself; about Asolo, which he had first
    visited more than fifty years before, during his visit to Italy in
    1838, when, as he says in the Prologue to 'Asolando,' alluding to 'the
    burning bush,'

               'Natural objects seemed to stand
      Palpably fire-clothed.'

    "A servant announcing that the gondola had come to take us to the
    railway station, he rose from his chair, and said, 'Now be sure to
    visit me next May, in London. You'll remember where my little house is
    in De Vere Gardens'; and bidding us a cordial good-bye, with a 'God
    bless you both,' he hastened away. We little thought, full of life as
    he then was, that we should see him no more in this world."

To a letter from Miss Browning to their hostess, Browning added:

    DEAREST MRS. BRONSON,--I am away from you in one sense, never to be
    away from the thought of you, and your inexpressible kindness. I trust
    you will see your way to returning soon. Venice is not herself without
    you, in my eyes--I dare say this is a customary phrase, but you well
    know what reason I have to use it, with a freshness as if it were
    inspired for the first time. Come, bringing news of Edith, and the
    doings in the house, and above all of your own health and spirits and
    so rejoice

    Ever your affectionate


With another letter of his sister's to their beloved friend and hostess,
Mr. Browning sent the following note,--perhaps the last lines that he ever
wrote to Mrs. Bronson, as she returned almost immediately to Casa Alvisi,
and the daily personal intercourse renewed itself to be broken only by
his illness and death. The poet wrote:

    PALAZZO REZZONICO, Nov. 5th, 1889.

    DEAREST FRIEND,--A word to slip into the letter of Sarianna, which I
    cannot see go without a scrap of mine. (Come and see Pen and you will
    easily concert things with him.) I have all confidence in his
    knowledge and power.

    I delight in hearing how comfortably all is proceeding with you at La
    Mura. I want to say that having finished the first two volumes of
    Gozzi, I brought the third with me to finish at my leisure and return
    to you; and particularly I may mention that the edition is very rare
    and valuable. It appears that Symmonds has just thought it worth while
    to translate the work, and he was six months finding a copy to
    translate from!

    ... I have got--since three or four days--the whole of my new volume
    in type, and expect to send it back, corrected, by to-morrow at
    latest. But I must continue at my work lest interruptions occur, so,
    bless you and good-bye in the truest sense, dear one!

    Ever Your Affectionately


The "new volume in type" to which he referred was his collection entitled
"Asolando," all of which, with the exception of one poem, had been written
within the last two years of his life.

Mr. Barrett Browning relates that while his father was reading aloud these
last proofs to himself and his wife, the poet paused over the "Epilogue,"
at the stanza--

  "One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
    Never doubted clouds would break,
  Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
  Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
                 Sleep to wake."

and remarked: "It almost seems like praising myself to say this, and yet
it is true, the simple truth, and so I shall not cancel it."

November, often lovely in Venice, was singularly summer-like that year. On
one day Mr. Browning found the heat on the Lido "scarcely endurable,"
indeed, but "snow-tipped Alps" revealed themselves in the distance,
offering a strange contrast to the brilliant sunshine and the soft blue
skies. Still November is not June, after all, however perfect the
imitation of some of its days. One day there was a heavy fog on his
favorite Lido, and the poet, who refused to be deprived of his walk,
became thoroughly chilled and illness followed. The following note from
Mr. Barrett Browning to Mrs. Bronson indicates the anxiety that prevailed
in Palazzo Rezzonico, where the tenderest care of his son and
daughter-in-law ministered to the poet. The note is undated, save by the
day of the week.


    9 o'clock, Monday Evening.

    DEAREST MRS. BRONSON,--The improvement of last night is scarcely
    maintained this morning,--the action of the heart being weaker at
    moments. He is quite clear-headed, and is never tired of saving he
    feels better, "immensely better,--I don't suppose I could get up and
    walk about, in fact I know I could not, but I have no aches or
    pains,--quite comfortable, could not be more so,"--this is what he
    said a moment ago.

    I will let you know if there is any change as the day goes on.

    My love to you.

  Yours,       PEN.

The delightful relations that had always prevailed between the poet and
his publishers were touchingly completed when, just before he breathed his
last, came a telegram from George Murray Smith with its tidings of the
interest with which "Asolando" was being received in England. And then
this little note written on that memorable date of December 12, 1889, from
Barrett Browning to Mrs. Bronson, tells the story of the poet's entrance
on the new life.


    10.30 P.M.

    DEAREST FRIEND,--Our Beloved breathed his last as San Marco's clock
    struck ten,--without pain--unconsciously.

    I was able to make him happy a little before he became unconscious by
    a telegram from Smith saying, "Reviews in all this day's papers most
    favorable, edition nearly exhausted."

    He just murmured, "How gratifying."

    Those were his last intelligible words.

    Yours,      PEN.

In that hour how could the son and the daughter who so loved him remember
aught save the exquisite lines with which the poet had anticipated the
reunion with his "Lyric Love":

       "Then a light, then thy breast,
  O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
       And with God be the rest!"

In the grand _sala_ with its floor of black Italian marble and its lofty
ceiling with exquisite fresco decoration, the simple and impressive
service was held in Palazzo Rezzonico, and a fleet of gondolas, filled
with friends and accompanied by the entire Venetian Syndic, bore the
casket to its temporary resting-place in the chapel of San Michele, in the
campo santo. The gondola that carried the casket had an angel, carved in
wood, at the prow, and a lion at the stern. Dean Bradley, on behalf of
Westminster Abbey, had telegraphed to Robert Barrett Browning, asking that
the body of the poet might be laid within those honored walls; and as the
cemetery in Florence wherein is Mrs. Browning's tomb had long been closed,
this honor from England was accepted. The same honor of a final
resting-place in Westminster Abbey was also extended for the removal of
the body of Mrs. Browning, but their son rightly felt that he must yield
to the wishes of Florence that her tomb be undisturbed, and it is
fitting that it should remain in the Italy she so loved.


Owned by Robert Browning from 1888 to 1906. In the upper room, at the
left-hand corner, the poet died.]

So associated with her brother's life was Miss Sarianna Browning that the
story would be incomplete not to add that she survived him many years,--a
gracious and beloved presence. In the January following the poet's death,
she said in a letter to Mrs. Bronson:

    "I have already let a day pass without thanking you for the most
    beautiful locket, which I love even more for your sake than his. I
    shall always think of you, so good, so near, and so dearly loved by
    him. All your watchfulness over our smallest comfort,--how he felt
    it!... Bless you forever for all the joy you gave him at Asolo,--how
    happy he was! And how you were entwined in all our plans for the happy
    future we were to enjoy there! Think of him when you go back, as
    loving the whole place, and yourself, the embodiment of its

Miss Browning died in her nephew's home, La Torre All' Antella, near
Florence, in the spring of 1903, in her ninetieth year.

On the façade of the Palazzo Rezzonico the City of Venice placed this
inscription to the memory of the poet:

  IL 12 DICEMBRE, 1889

  "Open my heart and you will see
  Graved inside of it,--'Italy'"

It was on the last day of 1889 that the impressive rites were held in
Westminster Abbey for Robert Browning. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the
Dean of Windsor, an aid-de-camp representing Queen Victoria, Dean Bradley,
the sub-dean, and many eminent canons, and Sir Frederick Bridge, of the
Abbey choir, all were present among the officiating clergy. The casket
under its purple pall, with a massive cross of violets, and wreaths of
lilies-of-the valley, and white roses (Mrs. Browning's favorite flower),
was followed by the honorary pall-bearers including Hallam Tennyson,
representing the Poet Laureate (whose health did not permit him to be
present), Archdeacon Farrar, the Master of Balliol (representing Oxford),
the Master of Trinity (representing Cambridge), Professor Masson
(representing the University of Edinburgh), and George Murray Smith. The
committal service was entirely choral, and Mrs. Browning's poem with its
touching refrain,

  "He giveth His beloved sleep!"

was chanted by the full vested choir of the Abbey, to music composed for
the occasion by Sir Frederick Bridge. Preceding the Benediction, the
entire vast concourse of people united in singing the hymn,

  "O God, our help in ages past!"

As that great assemblage turned away from the last rites in commemoration
of the poet who produced the largest body of poetry, and the most valuable
as a spiritual message, of any English poet, was there not wafted in the
air the choral strains from some unseen angelic choir, that thrilled the
venerable Abbey with celestial triumph:

  "'Glory to God--to God!' he saith:
  Knowledge by suffering entereth,
  And Life is perfected by Death."


  Abinger, Lord, 18

  "Abt Vogler," 205

  "Andrea del Sarto," 152, 170

  "Any Wife to Any Husband," 152

  "Apprehension, An," 47

  Arnold, Matthew, 112

  Arnould, Joseph, friendship for Browning, 14, 39, 40, 129;
    letters to Domett, 69, 94, 99, 103

  Ashburton, Lady Louisa, 222

  "Asolando," 5, 282, 292

  "Aurora Leigh," 50, 52, 76, 127, 134, 143, 148, 158, 160, 164,
      167, 171, 174-176, 210

  "Balaustion's Adventure," 229

  Barrett, Alfred, 16, 164

  ----, Arabel, 16, 50, 129, 137, 164, 202, 212

  ----, Edward (brother), 16, 22, 59;
    death of, 18, 62, 135

  ----, Edward (father) legal name, 17;
    marriage, 18;
    character, 20, 21, 121, 164;
    death, 178

  ----, Elizabeth. _See_ Moulton-Barrett, Elizabeth

  ----, George, 16, 50

  ----, Henrietta (Mrs. Surtees Cook), 16, 50;
    marriage, 121;
    affection for sister, 129;
    137, 164, 192

  ----, Mrs. (mother), 18, 21

  "Battle of Marathon," 20

  "Beatrice Signorini," 237, 267

  "Bells and Pomegranates," 14, 39, 67, 68

  "Ben Karshook's Wisdom," 158

  Berdoe, Dr., commentary on "Paracelsus," 37

  "Bertha in the Lane," 46, 71

  "Bishop Blougram's Apology," 205

  Blagden, Isabella, friendship with Brownings, 111, 112, 178, 182,
      184, 190, 191, 197, 200, 201, 207, 225;
    death, 229

  Blessington, Lady, 33, 113, 138

  "Blot in the 'Scutcheon, A," 69

  "Book of the Poets, The," 64, 206

  Boyd, Hugh Stuart, tutor, 22;
    letters from Elizabeth Barrett, 25, 45, 53, 55, 63, 64, 68, 73, 89

  Bronson, Mrs. Arthur (Katherine DeKay), friendship with Browning, 242,
    letters from Browning, 243, 248, 249, 252-260, 265, 271, 272, 277-286,
      291, 292;
    hospitality, 242, 274-276;
    entertains Browning in Asolo, 286, 287, 290;
    letters from Robert Barrett Browning, 293-294;
    letter from Sarianna Browning, 295

  Bronson, Edith (Contessa Rucellai), 275, 280

  Brooks, Rev. Dr. Phillips, 211, 212

  Browning, Mrs. (mother), 4-6, 38

  ----, Elizabeth Barrett, birth, 16;
    childhood, 17, 19;
    ancestry, 17, 18;
    first literary work, 20;
    accident to, 21;
    studies, 22;
    tastes, 23, 24;
    removal to Sidmouth, 24;
    translation of "Prometheus Bound," 44;
    removal to London, 45;
    fugitive poems, 46-48, 53;
    Hebrew Bible, 49;
    definite periods in her life, 50;
    change of residence, 54, 56;
    notable friends, 58, 59;
    publication of "The Seraphim," 56;
    literary criticisms, 60, 61, 67, 68;
    goes to Torquay, 59;
    personal appearance, 58;
    death of brother, 62;
    returns to England, 63;
    translations from Greek, 64;
    description of her room, 65;
    refusal to meet Browning, 65;
    publication of two volumes of poems, 71;
    literary reputation established, 71, 72;
    first letter from Browning, 73, 74;
    correspondence of poets, 74-89;
    meets Browning, 80;
    lyrics, 83, 84;
    marriage, 87, 89;
    will, 93;
    lyrics, 100, 101;
    mentioned for Laureateship, 121, 122;
    books read by, 143;
    genius for friendship, 148;
    comment on dress, 151;
    description of, 153, 179;
    souvenir locket, 153;
    views on life, 159;
    appreciation of Tennyson, 166;
    success of "Aurora Leigh," 174-176;
    American appreciation, 187;
    ill health, 193, 195;
    closing days, 196;
    last words, 197;
    burial, 197;
    tomb, 200;
    tablet on Casa Guidi to her memory, 218, 264;
    Tauchnitz edition of poems, 227

  Browning, Reuben (uncle), 8

  ----, Robert (father), character and qualities, 4-6;
    removal to Paris, 132;
    talent for caricature, 137;
    death, 210

  ----, Robert (grandfather), 4

  ----, Robert, ancestry of, 4-6;
    birth, 4;
    childhood and early tastes, 6-8;
    first literary work, 7;
    home atmosphere, 10, 11;
    school, 12;
    influenced by Byron and Shelley, 13, 14;
    juvenile verses, 14;
    publication of "Pauline," 14;
    visit to Russia, 27, 28;
    meets Wordsworth, Landor, Dickens, and Leigh Hunt, 30, 32;
    personal appearance, 31;
    writes play for Macready, 33;
    visit to Venice, 35, 36;
    removal to Hatcham, 38;
    English friends and social life, 38-41;
    hears of Elizabeth Barrett, 41;
    visit to Italy, 70, 71;
    return to England, 71;
    correspondence of the poets, 74-89;
    first meeting with Miss Barrett, 80;
    marriage, 87, 89;
    sees "Sonnets from the Portuguese," 109;
    lyrics, 120, 121, 152;
    keynote of his art, 122-125;
    interpretation of Shelley, 133, 134;
    Fisher's portrait of, 153;
    Page's portrait of, 155;
    literary standing, 172;
    finds "Old Yellow Book," 181;
    homage to Landor, 183;
    leaves Florence forever, 200;
    returns to London, 200;
    takes London house, 202;
    literary work, 203-207;
    extension of social activities, 206, 207;
    friendship with Jowett, 209;
    meeting with Tennyson, 210;
    death of father, 210;
    Oxford conferred degree of M.A., 211;
    made Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, 211;
    new six-volume edition of poems, 213;
    dedication to Tennyson, 213;
    success of "The Ring and the Book," 214-215;
    comparison of character of Pompilia to that of his wife, 219;
    visits Scotland with the Storys, 221-222;
    conversation and personal charm, 222-224;
    with Milsand in "Red Cotton Night-cap Country," 224-226;
    prepares Tauchnitz edition of Mrs. Browning's poems, 227;
    friendship with Domett, 228;
    relations with Tennyson, 230-232;
    facility for rhyming, 231;
    visit to Oxford and Cambridge, 232;
    sojourn at "La Saisiaz," 233-234;
    revisits Italy, 235, 239-240;
    doctrine of life, 237;
    Oxford conferred degree of D.C.L., 241;
    son's portrait of, 242;
    friendship with Mrs. Bronson, 242;
    gift from Browning Societies, 243;
    letters to Mrs. Bronson, 243, 248, 249, 252-260, 265, 271, 272,
      277-286, 291;
    Italian recognition, 245;
    honored at Edinburgh, 249;
    letters to Professor Masson, 249, 250;
    removal to DeVere Gardens, 260;
    Foreign Correspondent to Royal Academy, 266;
    poet of intensity, 270;
    last year in London, 281;
    return to Asolo, 287-288;
    last meeting with the Storys and Dr. Corson, 289-290;
    death, 294;
    memorial inscription, 295;
    burial, 295

  Browning, Robert Barrett ("Penini"), birth, 107;
    anecdotes of, 126, 139, 144, 146, 147, 155;
    studies of, 171, 178, 180, 185, 188, 192, 193;
    love of novels, 181;
    enjoyment of Siena, 184;
    children's party at French Embassy, 194;
    preparation for University, 202;
    characteristics, 202, 265;
    explanation of "The Ring and the Book," 218;
    begins study of painting, 227;
    picture in Royal Academy, 227;
    success in art, 236, 241;
    marriage to Miss Coddington, 260;
    purchase of Palazzo Rezzonico, 262;
    portrait of father, 217, 242;
    portrait of Milsand, 263;
    purchase of Casa Guidi, 265;
    Florentine villa, 264-265, 267

  ----, Robert Jardine, 38

  ----, Sarianna, 4, 38;
    letter from Browning, 71;
    letters from Mrs. Browning, 195;
    goes to live with brother, 211;
    letter to Domett, 228;
    travels with brother, 236;
    letters to Mrs. Bronson, 248, 293;
    death, 295

  Brownings, The, life in Paris, 92, 93;
    finances, 93;
    journey to Italy, 95;
    winter in Pisa, 95, 97;
    home in Florence, 97;
    visit to Vallombrosa, 98, 99;
    apartments in Casa Guidi, 100, 101;
    trip to Fano, 103, 104;
    literary work, 106;
    meet Story, 107;
    summer at Bagni di Lucca, 107;
    Florentine friends and life, 111-113, 118, 119;
    visit to Siena, 125;
    return to England, 129;
    life and friends in Paris, 130-137;
    return to England, 137;
    social life in London, 137-141;
    return to Casa Guidi, 142;
    summer at Bagni di Lucca, 144-151;
    winter in Rome, 152-157;
    "Clasped Hands," 153;
    pilgrimage to Albano, 156;
    return to Florence, 157;
    poetic work, 158;
    Italian appreciation, 161;
    return to London, 164;
    Tennyson reads "Maud" to them, 165;
    winter and social life in Paris, 167-172;
    return to Florence, 176;
    Florentine gayety, 176, 178;
    summer in Normandy, 179;
    another winter in Rome, 180;
    return to Florence, 181;
    summer in Siena, 184-185;
    in Florence again, 185;
    Roman winter, 185, 188-189;
    journey to Florence, 189-190;
    last summer in Siena, 191-192;
    last winter in Rome, 192-193;
    return to Casa Guidi, 195;
    memorials in Palazzo Rezzonico, 262

  "Browning Society, The," 240

  Browning, William Shergold, 38

  Brunton, Rev. Wm., poem, 91

  "By the Fire-side," 170

  Carducci, Contessa, 71

  Carlyle, Thomas and Jane, 30, 38, 39, 41, 61, 68, 97, 129, 130, 131

  Casa Alvisi, 242, 243, 274

  "Casa Guidi Windows," 106, 115, 116

  "Catarina to Camoens," 71, 83

  Chaucer, project to modernize, 603

  "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," 152, 261

  "Child's Grave at Florence, A," 121

  Chorley, Henry, 39, 40, 147

  "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," 110, 119, 123, 124, 125

  "Christopher Smart," 237

  Clarke, Mary Graham. _See_ Barrett, Mrs.

  "Clasped Hands, The," 153

  Coddington, Fanny, 260

  "Colombe's Birthday," 27, 38, 143

  "Comfort," 47

  "Conclusion," 72

  "Confessions," 46, 83, 84

  Cook, Mrs. Surtees. _See_ Barrett, Henrietta

  Corson, Dr. Hiram, criticism of Browning's poetry, 29, 218;
    visit to Browning, 35, 222, 244, 245-247, 290-291;
    founder of Browning Society, 240-241;
    letters from Browning, 247, 259;

  Cosimo I, statue of, 114

  "Cowper's Grave," 46, 57

  Coxhoe Hall, 16

  Cranch, Christopher Pearse, 111

  Crosse, Andrew, 58, 59

  "Crowned and Wedded," 46

  "Cry of the Children, The," 46

  "Curse for a Nation, A," 186

  Curtis, George William, 118, 119

  Cushman, Charlotte, 40, 141

  "Dead Pan, The," 47, 68, 83

  "Deaf and Dumb," 205

  "Death in the Desert, A," 205, 237

  "Denial, A," 84

  "De Profundis," 18, 52, 136

  "Development," 5

  Dickens, Charles, 30, 33, 59, 61, 69

  Dilke, Mr., 64

  Domett, Alfred, friendship for Browning, 14, 39, 228;
    Browning's letters to, 42, 43;
    Arnould's letters to, 69, 94, 99, 103

  Dowden, Dr. Edward, 97, 133

  Dowson, Christopher, 39

  "Drama of Exile, A," 46, 71-72

  "Dramatic Idyls," 236

  "Dramatis Personæ," 203-205

  "Dryope," statue of, 263

  Dulwich Gallery, 11

  Eastnor Castle, 22

  Egerton-Smith, Miss, 233-234

  Elgin, Lady, 131, 132, 167

  Eliot, George, 190

  "Englishman in Italy, The," 71

  "Epistle of Karnish," 158

  "Essay on Mind," 22

  "Eurydice to Orpheus," 265

  "Evelyn Hope," 120

  "Face, A," 205

  Faucit, Helen (Lady Martin), 70, 143

  "Ferishtah's Fancies," 244

  Field, Kate, Browning gives locket, 154;
    visit to the Brownings, 182;
    Browning's letters to, 183, 186, 208;
    Mrs. Browning's letter to, 187

  "Fifine," 237

  "Flight of the Duchess, The," 80, 152

  "Flute-Music," 267

  Forster, John, criticism of "Paracelsus," 30;
    friendship for Browning, 31, 32, 129;
    33, 39, 69

  Fox, Rev. William Johnson, 30, 140, 141

  "Fra Lippo Lippi," 152, 169-170

  Franceschini, tragedy of, 181

  Fuller, Margaret. _See_ D'Ossoli, Marchesa

  Furnivall, Dr., 240

  "Futurity," 47

  Garrow, Theodosia. _See_ Trollope

  Giorgi, Signor, 217

  "Gold Hair," 204

  Gosse, Edmund, 97, 281

  "Grammarian's Burial, A," 152

  "Greek Christian Poets, The," 23, 65, 206

  Griffin, Professor Hall, 27, 118, 134

  "Guardian Angel, The," 103, 152

  Gurney, Rev. Archer, 38

  "Half Rome," 218

  Haworth, Fanny, letter from Browning, 36;

  Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 150, 178-179

  "Hector in the Garden," 47

  "Helen's Tower," 222

  "Hervé Riel," 211

  Hillard, George Stillman, 106, 118

  Hodell, Dr. Charles W., 215-216

  Holmes, Dr. Oliver Wendell, 48

  "Holy Cross Day," 158

  Hope End, 16, 19, 22, 24

  Horne, Richard Hengist, letter from Elizabeth Barrett, 19, 59;
    friendship with Miss Barrett, 30, 53, 60, 61, 62, 65, 68

  Hosmer, Harriet, takes cast of "Clasped Hands," 153;
    excursion with Brownings, 156, 157;
    letter from Browning, 168;
    visits poets, 191, 194

  "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," 35

  "In a Balcony," 144, 158, 203

  "In a Gondola," 36

  "Inclusions," 84

  "Incondita," 14, 140

  "Inn Album," 232, 269

  "Insufficiency," 47, 84

  "In the Doorway," 207

  "Isabel's Child," 46, 57

  Italy, political conditions of, 105, 108, 115, 117, 121, 143, 180

  "Ivan Ivanovitch," 27, 236

  James, Henry, characterization of Browning, 224

  "James Lee's Wife," 204, 261

  Jameson, Mrs., friendship with Miss Barrett, 73, 92, 93, 94, 95,
      96, 129;
    letter from Browning, 108

  Jerrold, Douglas, 41

  Jowett, Dr., 209, 229, 281

  Kemble, Mrs. Fanny, 129, 138, 153, 154, 155

  Kenyon, John, 33;
    meets Browning, 40;
    offers an introduction to Miss Barrett, 41;
    visit to Rydal Mount, 56;
    account of, 58, 59;
    termed the "joy-giver," 65;
    shows manuscript of "Dead Pan" to Browning, 68;
    dedication of "Paracelsus" to, 69;
    appreciation of, 74;
    letters to the Brownings, 74, 97;
    friendship, 112, 113, 129, 137;
    dedication of "Aurora Leigh" to, 174;
    death and legacy to Brownings, 176

  Kingsley, Charles, 139

  King Victor and King Charles, 69

  Kinney, Mrs., 144, 145

  "Lady and the Painter, The," 288

  "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," 71, 72, 73

  "Lament for Adonis," 23

  Landor, Walter Savage, chirography of, 23;
    meets Browning, 30;
    courtesy of, 32;
    meets Miss Barrett, 55, 59, 137;
    quoted, 60;
    intimacy with Leigh Hunt, 112, 113;
    opinions, 138;
    guest of Brownings, 182;
    homage from Browning, 183;
    guest of Storys, 183, 184, 190, 192

  "La Saisiaz," 233-234

  "Last Poems," 202

  "La Torre all' Antella," 264, 295

  "La Vallière," 33

  Leighton, Sir Frederic, 200

  "Les Charmettes," 238

  "Lost Leader, The," 32

  "Loved Once," 83, 84

  Lowell, James Russell, 51, 74

  "Luria," 69

  Lytton, Bulwer, 33, 53, 60

  ----, Lord (Owen Meredith), 142;
    entertains Mrs. Browning, 145-146;
    visits the Brownings, 149, 150, 158

  Macready, William, meeting with Browning, 30, 31;
    suggests playwriting to Browning, 32;
    sees "Strafford," 33;
    produces "Strafford," 34;
    dinner to Browning, 39;
    produces "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon," 69, 70

  Marcello, Contessa, 276

  Martineau, Harriet, friendship with Brownings, 33, 35, 39, 60, 62, 68

  Masson, Professor, Browning entertained by, 249-251

  Mazzini, 13, 143

  Medici, Marchesa Peruzzi di, birthday fête, 184;
    reminiscences of, 188, 193;
    visit to Scotland, 221;
    villa of, 239;
    translation of Duprè's Autobiography, 257;
    Browning's letter to, 257;
    Florentine palace of, 265

  Medici, statue of Fernandino di, 173

  "Meeting at Night," 120

  "Men and Women," 106, 157, 164, 169, 172

  Millais, Lady, 240

  ----, Sir John Everett, Browning's letter to, 227-228;

  Milnes, Monckton (Lord Houghton), 30, 60, 61, 138;
    christening party, 139

  Milsand, Joseph, meeting with Browning, 134;
    paper on Browning, 135;
    letter from Browning, 152, 225;
    friendship with Brownings, 159, 224, 225, 226;
    criticism of "Aurora Leigh," 176;
    death, 259;
    portrait, 263

  Mitford, Mary Russell, 32;
    association with the Brownings, 32, 45, 55, 56, 58, 61, 65, 72;
    letter from Mrs. Browning, 108, 118, 135, 136, 159;
    death, 173

  Mohl, Mme., 132, 167, 171

  Moore, Mrs. Bloomfield, 252

  Moulton-Barrett, Elizabeth (niece), 18

  ----. _See_ Barrett, explanation of name, 17

  Nancioni, il Signor Dottore, 245

  Nettleship, Mr., essays on Browning, 213

  "New Spirit of the Age, The," 60, 68

  Nightingale, Florence, 140

  "Old Yellow Book, The," 215

  "One Word More," 123, 168-169, 205

  Ongaro, Dall', 194

  "Only a Cure," 121

  Ossoli, Marchesa d' (Margaret Fuller), 111, 112;
    visits the Brownings, 118;
    death, 112, 126

  "Other Half Rome, The," 218

  "Pacchiarotto," 232

  Page, William, 152, 155, 181

  Palazzo Giustiniani, 242

  ---- Peruzzi, 265

  ---- Pitti, 102, 105, 106

  ---- Rezzonico, 262-264, 290, 293, 295

  "Paracelsus," 14, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 57, 69, 168, 237

  "Parleyings," 269

  "Parting at Morning," 120

  Patmore, Coventry, 140

  "Pauline," 12, 14, 15, 28, 34, 57, 169, 172, 267

  "Penini." _See_ Browning, Robert Barrett

  "Pippa Passes," 36, 65, 67, 69, 271, 286-287

  Pius IX (Pio Nono), 105, 115, 117, 118, 121

  Poe, Edgar Allan, 52

  "Poems before Congress," 185

  "Poet's Vow, The," 53, 55, 57

  "Pompilia," 206, 218, 219

  "Portrait, A," 18, 164

  Powers, Hiram, 102, 112, 118, 142

  Prince of Wales (Edward VII), 180-181

  Proctor ("Barry Cornwall"), 30, 33, 40, 61, 69, 129

  "Prometheus Bound," 23, 25, 44

  "Proof and Disproof," 84

  "Prospice," 123, 205

  "Question and Answer," 84

  "Rabbi Ben Ezra," 205

  "Recollections of a Literary Life," 135

  "Red Cotton Night-cap Country," 226, 230

  "Return of the Druses, The," 69

  "Rhapsody of Life's Progress, A," 47, 48, 83

  "Rhyme of the Duchess May, The," 227

  "Ring and the Book, The," 182, 203, 205, 214-220

  Ripert-Monclar, Marquis Amédée de, 28, 38, 153

  Ritchie, Lady, 153, 154, 226

  Robertson, John, 35, 39

  Rogers, Arthur, 273

  "Romances and Lyrics," 67

  "Romaunt of Margret, The," 53, 58

  "Rosny," 267

  Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 139, 165, 166, 169, 174

  Sand, George, 131, 136

  "Saul," 120, 157

  Scotti, Signor, 71

  "Seraphim, The," 46, 56, 58, 110

  Sharp, William, quoted, 6;
    suggested origin of "Flight of the Duchess," 12;
    quoted, 28;
    description of Browning, 31;

  Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 13, 133, 134

  Silverthorne, Mrs., 14

  "Sleep, The," 46, 83

  Smith, Alexander, 151

  Smith, George Murray, 247, 270, 296

  "Sonnets from the Portuguese," 50, 71, 97, 108, 109, 110, 123, 168

  "Sordello," 14, 27, 28, 35, 41-42, 69, 171, 207, 237

  "Soul's Tragedy, A," 69

  "Statue and the Bust, The," 152, 173

  Stedman, Edmund Clarence, 90

  Story, Edith. _See_ Medici, Marchessa Peruzzi di

  ----, William Wetmore and Emeline, Browning's first meeting, 107, 111;
    characteristics, 118, 119;
    associations with the Brownings, 148-152, 155, 184, 185, 192, 196,
      197, 199, 221, 239;
    entertain Landor, 183;
    characterization of Hawthorne, 150;
    last meeting with Browning, 289-290

  "Strafford," 33, 34, 35, 57

  Talfourd, Field, 39

  Talfourd, Sergeant, 30, 32, 40, 60, 69

  Taylor, Bayard, 129

  Tennyson, Alfred, 15;
    comment on "Sordello," 41;
    works, 56, 68;
    Miss Barrett's comments on, 61, 67, 120;
    becomes Laureate, 122;
    letter to Mrs. Browning, 139, 140;
    reads "Maud" to the poets, 165;
    letters from Browning, 209, 230, 284;
    friendship with Browning, 231;
    dedication, 213;
    regarding Browning's lines, 232

  ----, Frederick, 144, 158

  ----, Hallam, 296

  "Tertium Quid," 218

  Thackeray, Anne. _See_ Ritchie, Lady

  Ticknor and Fields, 156

  Tittle, Margaret, 4

  "Toccata of Galuppi's, A," 120

  Trollope, Thomas Adolphus and Theodosia, 59, 111, 112, 190, 229

  "Two Poets of Croisic," 236

  "Valediction, A," 84

  Vallombrosa, 98, 99

  Villari, Mme. Pasquale, 112

  "Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus, The," 46

  "Vision of Poets, A," 71

  Wiedemann, Sarah Anna, 4-6

  "Wine of Cyprus," 23, 86

  "Woman's Last Word, A," 120

  Wordsworth, William, 30, 32, 55, 56, 59, 68, 94

  Zampini, Fanny (Contessa Salazar), 161


[1] Letters of Robert Browning and Alfred Domett. New York: Dodd, Mead and

[2] Life of Robert Browning. London: Walter Scott, Limited.

[3] La Vie et l'oeuvre de Elizabeth Browning, par Germaine-Marie
Merlette; Licencie des lettres; Docteur de l'Université de Paris.

[4] Red Letter Days of my Life. London: Richard Bentley and Son.

[5] "Letters of Robert Browning and Alfred Domett." New York: Dodd, Mead,
and Company.

[6] Robert Browning: Life and Letters. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and

[7] "La Vita e le Opere di Roberto et Elisabetta Barrett Browning. Rome:
Societa Typografico-Editrice Nazionale."

[8] William Wetmore Story and his Friends. Boston: The Houghton-Mifflin

[9] Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett. London: John Murray.

[10] Alfred Lord Tennyson. London and New York: The Macmillan Co.

[11] Life of Phillips Brooks. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co.

[12] Records of Tennyson, Ruskin, and Browning. London: The Macmillan

[13] Life and Letters of Sir John Millais. London: Methuen and Co.

[14] What I Remember. New York: Harper and Brothers.

[15] Alfred Lord Tennyson. London and New York: The Macmillan Company.

[16] William Wetmore Story. Boston: The Houghton-Mifflin Company.

[17] Alfred Lord Tennyson. London and New York: The Macmillan Co.

     *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

Text in italics is enclosed between underscores (_italics_).

Additional spacing after some of the quotes is intentional to indicate
both the end of a quotation and the beginning of a new paragraph as
presented in the original text.

Images have been moved from the middle of a paragraph to the closest
paragraph break.

The original text includes Greek characters. For this text version these
letters have been replaced with transliterations.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "bythe" to "by the" (page 39)
  "twentienth" to "twentieth" (page 142)
  "Personae" corrected to "Personæ" (page 203)
  "to to" corrected to "to" (page 214)
  "Personae" corrected to "Personæ" (page 232)
  "writen" corrected to "written" (page 272)
  "Edinburg" corrected to "Edinburgh" (index)
  "Fireside" corrected to "Fire-side" (index)

Some quotes are opened with marks but are not closed. Obvious errors
have been silently closed, while those requiring interpretation have
been left open.

Other than the corrections listed above, printer's inconsistencies in
spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and ligature usage have been retained.

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