Read CHAPTER VIII of The Brownings Their Life and Art , free online book, by Lilian Whiting, on ReadCentral.com.

1855-1861

“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.”

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!”

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 Roentgen 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 forgotten.

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 N 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 Septh, 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.”

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 waylay.

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 Colisee, just off the Champs Elysees. 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.

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 unhappy.”

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 poem.

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.

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 nobleness.

“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.”

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:

SIENA, VILLA ALBERTI, July 18.

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 generous.

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:

ROME, VIA DEL TRITONE, 28,

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

ROBERT BROWNING.

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 Abbe, 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 Abbe 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 Noel, 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.

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 Abbe, 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 Impériale. “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 Abbe. 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 spirit.”

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 itself.”

Penini and his friend, Miss Edith, continued their studies under the old Abbe; 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 lé pape.”

Penini had a choice diversion in that the Duchesse de Grammont, of the French Embassy, gave a “matinee 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 vacancy.”

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 morte!’”

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.’”