Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol I (1901).djvu/374

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Browning
Browning
312

time, to Bagni di Lucca. They were followed by Robert Lytton, who wished to be with them; but he arrived unwell, and was prostrated with gastric fever, through which Browning nursed him. The Brownings returned to Florence in the autumn, and the next twelve months were spent almost without an incident. But in July 1858 they went to Paris, where they stayed a fortnight at the Hotel Hyacinthe, Rue St.-Honoré, and then went on to Havre, where they joined Browning's father and sister. In October they went back, through Paris, to Florence; but after six weeks left for Rome, where, on 24 Nov., they settled in their old rooms in 43 Via Bocca di Leone. Here they saw much of Hawthorne, Massimo d'Azeglio, and Leighton. Browning, in accordance with a desire expressed by the queen, dined with the young prince of Wales at the embassy. They returned to Florence in May 1859, and to Siena, for three months, in July. It was at Florence at this time that the fierce and aged Landor presented himself to Browning with a few pence in his pocket and without a home. Browning took him to Siena and rented a cottage for him there; at the end of the year Browning secured apartments for him in Florence, where he ended his days nearly five years later.

At Siena Edward Burne-Jones and Mr. Val Prinsep joined the Brownings, and they saw much of one another the ensuing winter at Rome, whither the poets passed early in December, finding rooms at 28 Via del Tritone. Here Browning wrote 'Sludge the Medium,' in reference to Home's spiritualistic pranks, which had much affected Mrs. Browning's composition. They left Rome on 4 June 1860, and travelled by vettura to Florence, through Orvieto and Chiusi; six weeks later they were as before, to the Villa Alberti in Siena, returning to Florence in September. The steady decline of Elizabeth Browning's health was now a matter of constant anxiety; this was hastened by the news of the death of her sister, Henrietta Surtees-Cook (December 1860). From Siena the Brownings went this winter direct to Rome, to 126 Via Felice. In March 1861 Robert Browning, now nearly fifty, was 'looking remarkably well and young, in spite of all lunar lights in his hair. The women adore him everywhere far too much for decency. In my own opinion he is infinitely handsomer and more attractive than when I saw him first, sixteen years ago' (E. B. B.) At the close of May 1861, no definite alarm about Mrs. Browning being yet felt, they went back to Florence. She died at last after a few days' illness in Browning's arms, on 29 June 1861, in their apartments in Casa Guidi. Thus closed, after sixteen years of unclouded marital happiness, one of the most interesting and romantic relations between a man and woman of genius which the history of literature presents to us.

Browning was overwhelmed by a disaster which he had refused to anticipate. Miss Isa Blagden, whose friendship had long been invaluable to the Brownings in Florence, was 'perfect in all kindness' to the bereaved poet. With Browning and his little son Miss Blagden left Florence at the end of July 1861, and travelled with them to Paris, where he stayed at 151 Rue de Grenelle, Faubourg St.-Germain. Browning never returned to Florence. In Paris he parted from Miss Blagden, who went back to Italy, and he proceeded to St.-Enegat, near Dinard, where his father and sister were staying. In November 1861 he went on to London, wishing to consult with his wife's sister, Miss Arabel Barrett, as to the education of his child. She found him lodgings, as his intention was to make no lengthy stay in England ('no more housekeeping for me, even with my family'). Early in 1862, however, he became persuaded that this was a wretched arrangement, for his little son as well as for himself. Miss Arabel Barrett was living in Delamere Terrace, facing the canal, and Browning took a house, 19 Warwick Crescent, in the same line of buildings, a little further east. Here he arranged the furniture which had been around him in the Casa Guidi, and here he lived for more than five-and-twenty years.

The winter of 1861, the first, it is said, which he had ever spent in London, was inexpressibly dreary to him. He was drawn to spend it and the following years in this way from a strong sense of duty to his father, his sister, and his son. He made it, moreover, a practice to visit Miss Arabel Barrett every afternoon, and with her he first attended Bedford Chapel to listen to the eloquent sermons of Thomas Jones (1819-1882) [q. v.] He became a seatholder there, and contributed a short introduction to a collection of Jones's sermons and addresses which appeared in 1884. He lived through 1862 very quietly, in great depression of spirits, but devoted, like a mother, to the interests of his little son. In August he was persuaded to go to the Pyrenees, and spenu that month at Cambo; in September he went on to Biarritz, and here he began to meditate on 'my new poem which is about to be, the Roman murder story,' which ultimately became 'The Ring and the Book.'