Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Ingram, 5th ed.)/Chapter 7
Thus in quiet happiness lived in their pleasant Italian home the two poets, Robert and Elizabeth Browning. They continued to write their immortal poems, cheered by each other's society, but published little or nothing, and saw little of the outer world. Few Englishmen found their way into the interior of Casa Guidi, the majority of visitors still being Americans and Italians. Mrs. Browning continued to correspond with Miss Mitford and other friends in both New and Old England, and she repeatedly alluded to her domestic happiness, the only cloud which now rested upon her life, save perhaps her chronic constitutional delicacy, being the rupture with her father. He appears never to have forgiven her for her marriage, and persistently refused to open her letters or even to allow her name to be mentioned to him.
An event was about to happen, however, to draw the poet pair still closer together and to still further wean the poetess from the painful memories of the "sofa and silence" of her old home. On the 8th February 1849, Miss Mitford received a letter from Mrs. Browning which, besides giving her an account of the civic troubles of Florence, prepared her for the happy news shortly to be communicated. On the 9th of March 1849, Mrs. Browning's only child, a son, named after his two parents Robert Barrett Browning, was born.
Italy, Florence, above all Casa Guidi, had now stronger and unbreakable ties for the heart as well as the powerful brain of Elizabeth Browning. Was not her child, "my own young Florentine," a native of the land she had learned to love so well, the land of her married happiness! It was in that new home, where the three happiest years of her womanhood, had passed, was born her
The earliest world-day light that ever flowed
Through Casa Guidi Windows, chanced to come!
The boy grew and prospered, and with its growth grew the mother's health and joy. "How earnestly I rejoice, my beloved friend," wrote Miss Mitford this year, "in your continued health! and how very, very glad I shall be to see you and. your baby. Remember me to Wilson (Mrs. Browning's maid) and tell her that I am quite prepared to admire him as much as will even satisfy her appetite for praise. How beautifully you describe your beautiful country!" exclaims Miss Mitford. "Oh! that I were with you, to lose myself in the chestnut forests, and gather grapes at the vintage! If I had but Prince Hassan's carpet, I would, set forth and leave Mr. May (her medical adviser) to scold and wonder, when he comes to see me to-morrow . . . Kiss baby for me, and pat Flush."
The letter just quoted from intimates a probability of Mrs. Browning's visit to England. Indeed, for all her love for Italy she could not quite forego her affection for the old country and, as she had previously told Horne in 1848, "We haven't given up England altogether—we talk of spending summers there, and have a scheme of seeing you all next year, if circumstances should permit of it." Circumstances did not, however, work together happily for this scheme, and instead of summer in England, the autumn was spent at the Baths of Lucca. An intention to winter in Rome was, also, given up, and Christmas was spent in Florence, where Mr. Browning completed for publication his poem, Christmas-Eve and Easter Day, and his wife wrote the first part of her poem, Casa Guidi Windows, although the second portion of it was not written until two years later, the complete work being published in 1851.
It is, apparently, this restful period of Mrs. Browning's life that is referred to by Mrs. Ritchie, when she remarks, "Those among us who only knew Mrs. Browning as a wife and as a mother have found it difficult to realise her life under any other condition, so vivid and complete is the image of her peaceful home, of its fire-side where the logs are burning, and the mistress established on her sofa, with her little boy curled up by her side, the door opening and shutting meanwhile to the quick step of the master of the house and to the life of the world without, coming to find her in her quiet corner. We can recall the slight figure in its black silk dress, the writing apparatus by the sofa, the tiny inkstand, the quill-nibbed penholder, the unpretentious implements of her work. 'She was a little woman; she liked little things.' Her miniature editions of the classics are, with her name written in each in her sensitive fine handwriting, and always her husband's name added above her own, for she dedicated all her books to him; it was a fancy she had."
In the spring the Brownings appear to have visited Rome, and there was again some talk of their visiting England, passing through Paris on the way, but for the present the project was abandoned. Wordsworth died in April and a suggestion was made by the Athenæum that the vacant laurcateship should be given to Mrs. Browning. "We would urge," says the journal, "the graceful compliment to a youthful queen which would be implied in the recognition of the remarkable literary place taken by women in her reign."
A notable circumstance happened in May, and one that cannot have failed to have made a marked impression upon Mrs. Browning's highly sensitive nature. Margaret Fuller and her husband, Count d'Ossoli, spent their last evening on shore with the Brownings, previous to their departure for the United States. The vessel they sailed in was wrecked, and they never touched land again alive. Margaret Fuller was not, probably, a women with whom our poetess could ever be much in sympathy, but her tragic death and the circumstance of her last night on shore having been passed in her company must have left an indelible impression upon the mind of Mrs. Browning. Another acquaintanceship probably formed about this time was that of Isa Blagden, whose sympathy with some subjects should have drawn her towards the mistress of Casa Guidi. On Italian aspirations for liberty, on the Napoleonic myth, and upon the mysteries of mesmerism—which latter subject continued to greatly exercise Mrs. Browning's mind—they must have been in full accord. Other Florentine friends were W. W. Story, the American sculptor, and his wife. They were the most intimate friends of the Brownings, and for several summers visited and lived with them in Siena. Story's reminiscences of Mrs. Browning during the latter period of her life are among the most interesting extant of her, and will have to be largely cited from.
This 1850 passed away undisturbedly so far as the poetess was concerned. Besides her domestic ties she was busy with her pen, preparing for publication in a complete form her poem of Casa Guidi Windows. The poem never was and never will be popular. It contains little likely to arouse the sympathies of its author's usual readers, and to most Italians is, naturally, a scaled book. Mrs. Browning, living amid a people whom she came to regard to no little extent as fellow countrymen and friends, was naturally intensely impressed by their wrongs and moved by their aspirations for liberty. As was customary with her, her feelings found vent in song. Casa Guidi Windows was the result of her impressions "upon events in Tuscany of which she was a witness;" but despite its powerful passages and occasional felicities of speech, it is impossible to regard it as a success.
"It is a simple story of personal impression," says Mrs. Browning, but that is just what it strikes the reader as not being. It is full of recondite allusions, comprehensible only to those fully conversant with Florentine literary and political history. It deals with numerous political things unsuited to poesy, however worthy of prose, from which indeed, despite some outbursts of sweetest song, the work through a great portion of its length is barely discernible. As Mrs. Browning's work it will be read with interest, although interest of a somewhat languid type, but at the present day it will be difficult to discover readers who can he moved to any great amount of enthusiasm by the author's passionate and evident sincerity. She claimed for it only that it portrayed the intensity of "her warm affection for a beautiful and unfortunate country," and that the sincerity with which the feeling was manifested indicated "her own good faith and freedom from partisanship." She also considered the discrepancy which the public would see between the two parts of the poem—"the first was written nearly three years ago, while the second resumes the actual situation of 1851"—a sufficient guarantee to her readers of the fidelity of her contemporary impressions. The causes which gave rise to her singing are no longer operative; her prophecy of Italy's future has been fulfilled, and her poem, as of all political poems, can now only be of value for, and only judged by, its poetic worth. Unfortunately, when judged by the only standard now possible to gauge it by, Casa Guidi Windows cannot be regarded as one of its author's successes, any metrical music it contains being but too frequently chiefly conspicuous by the harshness of the long passages of prose by which it is overwhelmed. Probably the sweetest lines in the work are those with which the poem opens:—
'Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,
O bella libertà, O, bella! stringing
The same words still on notes he went in search
So high for, you concluded the upspringing
Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch
Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,
And that the heart of Italy must beat,
While such a voice had leave to rise serene
'Twixt church and palace of a Florence street!
The temporary repression of liberty in Tuscany and the neighbouring states undoubtedly had a very depressing effect upon Mrs. Browning, and rendered her more than ever desirous of leaving Florence for a time. A longing to see her native land once more, doubtless possessed her, besides which business matters necessarily rendered occasional visits to England almost unavoidable.
Accordingly, in the summer of 1851, accompanied by her husband, she left Florence for England. Among the places visited on the homeward journey was Venice, and Miss Mitford, alluding to a letter she had received from her from that city, says Mrs. Browning is so well, "she was to be found every evening at half-past eight in St. Mark's Place, drinking coffee and reading the French papers, whence they adjourned to the opera, where they had a box upon the best tier for two shillings and eight-pence English."
The Brownings took Paris in their way, finally reaching London after an absence of nearly four years. Mrs. Browning returned to England full of fame—fame not only on her own account but on account of her husband—a happy wife, a devoted mother, and apparently restored to health. What a contrast to her departure on that autumn four years ago, when, almost like a fugitive, the supposed chronic invalid had escaped from her "sofa and silence" across the waters to an unknown fate.
One of the first to call and welcome her was Miss Mitford, who says: "I have had the exquisite pleasure of seeing her once more in London, with a lovely boy at her knee, almost as well as ever, and telling tales of Italian rambles, of losing herself in chestnut forests, and scrambling on muleback up the sources of extinct volcanoes."
Not only were old friendships revived, but new friendships formed upon this pleasant return to her native land. Among those who now made her acquaintance was Bayard Taylor, the well-known American author and traveller. His reminiscences of the poetess and her surroundings are replete with interest. He says:—
"In the summer of 1851 a mutual friend offered me a letter to Browning, who was then with his wife temporarily in London. . . . Calling one afternoon in September, at their residence in Devonshire Street, I was fortunate enough to find both at home, though on the very eve of their return to Florence. In a small drawing-room on the first floor I met Browning, who received me with great cordiality. In his lively, cheerful manner, quick voice, and self-possession, he made upon me the impression of an American rather than an Englishman. He was then, I should judge, about thirty-seven years of age, but his dark hair was already streaked with gray about the temples. His complexion was fair with, perhaps, the faintest olive tinge, eyes large, clear, and gray, and nose strong and well-cut, mouth full and rather broad, and chin pointed, though not prominent. . . . He was about the medium height, strong in the shoulders, but slender at the waist, and his movements expressed a combination of vigour and elasticity."
After this graphic, if somewhat interviewer style of describing Mr. Browning, Bayard Taylor proceeds to give an equally characteristic sketch of another notable personage present—of a man, also, closely connected with the story of our poetess.
"In the room sat a very large gentleman of between fifty and sixty years of age. His large, rosy face, bald head and rotund body, would have suggested a prosperous brewer, if a livelier intelligence had not twinkled in the bright, genial eyes. This unwieldy exterior covered one of the warmest and most generous of hearts. . . . The man was John Kenyon, who, giving up his early ambition to be known as an author, devoted his life to making other authors happy. . . . His house was open to all who handled pen, brush, or chisel. . . . He had called to say good-bye to his friends, and presently took his leave. 'There,' said Browning, when the door had closed after him, 'there goes one of the most splendid men living—a man so noble in his friendships, so lavish in his hospitality, so large-hearted and benevolent, that he deserves to be known all over the world as Kenyon the Magnificent.'"
Mrs. Browning now entered the room, and the American visitor says her husband ran to meet her with boyish liveliness. He describes her as "slight and fragile in appearance, with a pale, wasted face, shaded by masses of soft chesnut curls, which fell on her cheeks, and serious eyes of bluish-gray. Her frame seemed to be altogether disproportionate to her soul. . . . Her personality, frail as it appeared, soon exercised its power, and it seemed a natural thing that she should have written The Cry of the Children, or Lady Geraldine's Courtship."
Both the husband and wife, says Taylor, expressed great satisfaction with their American reputation, adding that they had many American acquaintances in Florence and Rome. "In fact," said Mr. Browning, "I believe that if we were to make out a list of our best and dearest friends, we should find more American than English names."
Mrs. Browning having expressed a desire to hear something from their quest as to the position of Art in America, and having, in the course of conversation, declared her belief that a Republican form of government is unfavourable to the development of the Fine Arts, Bayard Taylor dissented, and had a powerful ally in Mr. Browning, who declared that "no artist had ever before been honoured with a more splendid commission than the State of Virginia had given to Crawford." "A general historical discussion ensued," says the American, "which was carried on for some time with the greatest spirit, the two poets taking directly opposite views. It was good-humouredly closed at last, and I thought both of them seemed to enjoy it. There is no fear that two such fine intellects will rust: they will keep each other bright."
Their child, "a blue-eyed, golden-haired boy of two years old," was now brought into the room, and introduced. "He stammered Italian sentences only," says Taylor; "he knew nothing, as yet, of his native tongue."
A few days after this interview the Brownings left England. It was impossible for Mrs. Browning to think of undergoing the risk of wintering in her native land; so, as soon as the year began to chill into autumn, she had to seek a refuge abroad. Writing to her old friend Horne, on the 24th of the month, to ask his acceptance of the new editions, recently published, of her own and her husband's poems, she says, "We leave to-morrow for Paris." They appear to have wintered in the French capital, and whilst there happened one of the most pleasant and interesting incidents in Mrs. Browning's life—her interview with George Sand.
As early as 1844 the poetess had styled her famous contemporary "the greatest female genius the world ever saw." Naturally, from her thoroughly English nature and temperament, Mrs. Browning contemned, with all the intensity of her soul, much that was innately natural to George Sand, but she fully recognised her humanity and genius, and felt urged to pay homage to both. Comparing her to Sappho, she deemed that, like her prototype, she had "suffered her senses to leaven her soul—to permeate it through and through, and make a sensual soul of it," but she indulged the hope that George Sand was "rising into a purer atmosphere by the very strength of her wing."
Inspired by such views, Mrs. Browning wrote her two sonnets on George Sand—"A Desire" and "A Recognition," and included them in the 1844 edition of her poems. Of course, she had not then met this "large-brained woman and large-hearted man," and it was not until the winter of 1851–2 that the interview—they had but one—took place between the two chief women of their age.
Introduced by a letter from Mazzini, and accompanied by her husband, Mrs. Browning called on her French contemporary, who had come to Paris in order to intercede with the President of the Republic (afterwards Napoleon the Third) for a condemned prisoner. Mrs. Browning found George Sand in quite a lowly room, with a bed in it, after a fashion common in France. Upon seeing the famous Frenchwoman, Mrs. Browning could not refrain from stooping to kiss her hand, but George Sand threw her arms round her visitor's neckband kissed her on the lips. What passed at that interview may not be told; and although what impression our poetess may have made upon the novelist is unknown, George Sand inspired Mrs. Browning with extremely favourable ideas. She described her as not "taller than I am," and Elizabeth Browning, we know, was very short and small. George Sand's complexion appeared to her a pale olive, her hair dark, nicely parted and gathered into a knot or bunch behind. She tells of her dark glowing eyes, low voice, noble countenance, quiet simple manners, restrained rather than ardent, graceful and kind behaviour, and simple attire. Altogether a most charming person, and one well worthy the friendship even of England's pure and noble poetess. They parted, never to meet again.
The Brownings appear to have prolonged their stay in Paris for some months, and Miss Mitford received occasional letters from Mrs. Browning, as full of vivid word-painting as of yore when, as she says—"Before Mr. Browning stole her from me, we used to write to each other at least twice a week, and by dint of intimacy and frequency of communication could, I think, have found enough matter for a correspondence of twice a day. It was really talk, fireside talk, neither better nor worse, assuming necessarily a form of permanence-gossip daguerreotyped.'"
Notwithstanding Mrs. Browning's "terrible Republicanism," as Miss Mitford terms it, she acquired a truly marvellous belief in Louis Napoleon's goodness and genius. This belief once planted in her mind, nothing could erase or shake it; and as Miss Mitford, after having believed in an idealized First Napoleon, was fully prepared to see her ideal realised in a Third Napoleon, Mrs. Browning continued to fill her letters to her old friend with presumed evidences of the greatness and magnanaimity of her latest hero. She endeavoured to convert her friends to her views, and, declares Miss Mitford, in April of this year, says that "everybody in Paris" is coming round to an opinion similar to that she holds of the Prince President.
Some time in the summer of 1852 the Brownings returned to England, and stray notices of their appearance in London are in existence. Crabb Robinson records in his Diary, under date of October 6th, that he met them at dinner at Kenyon's. He remarks that Mrs. Browning, whom he had never seen before, was not the invalid he had expected. He describes her as having "a handsome oval face, a fine eye, and altogether a pleasing person." He suggests that "she had no opportunity of display, and, apparently, no desire, whilst her husband," he deems, "has a very amiable expression. There is a singular sweetness about him."
The Brownings were not able to prolong their stay in England into the autumn, on account of the delicate health of the poetess. The sudden setting in of cold weather brought on a recurrence of her trying cough, and compelled her to fly from her native land. In company with her husband she spent a week or two in Paris, and then they left for Italy, leaving a promise to revisit England in the summer. Mrs. Browning was greatly exercised in her mind as to whether the publication of her recent work on Casa Guidi Windows might not incite the Florentine authorities to exclude her from the city, and thus keep her out of her home, and away from her household gods. There is no evidence, however, to hand to show that she had any difficulty in re-entering either the city or her residence; indeed, as Miss Mitford remarked, there was not so much danger of her being turned away as of her being retained against her will.
In correspondence with Miss Mitford, early in 1853, Mrs. Browning, after referring to the fact that her husband's drama, Colombe's Birthday, was to be produced at the Haymarket in April, with Miss Helen Faucit (now Lady Martin) in the character of the heroine, recurs to her admiration for Napoleon III. Many people find it difficult to comprehend how a woman of Mrs. Browning's calibre could ever have admired and trusted the author of the coup d'étât, but an analysis of her mental temperament renders a comprehension of her ideas on this subject comparatively easy. In the first place must be borne in mind the tenacity with which she clung to a belief when once she had accepted it. She had regarded the First Napoleon as the mighty doer of a divine mission, and the Third as his successor in that line, but as unsullied with the crimes of the first Emperor. The aid and maintenance which he gave to the cause of Italian liberty, crowned the third of the Bonapartes in her eyes with a halo of glory, and completed the subjugation of her mind; henceforth, all that he did was justified in her sight. Not unnaturally, the mist of glory in which she beheld her hero enveloped, surrounded and included his entourage. To Miss Mitford she says of the Emperor: "I approve altogether, none the less that he has offended Austria, in the mode of arrangement; every cut of the whip in the face of Austria being a personal compliment to me—at least, so I consider it. Let him head the democracy, and do his duty to the world, and use to the utmost his great opportunities. Mr. Cobden and the Peace Society are pleasing me infinitely just now in making head against the immorality (that's the word) of the English press. The tone taken up towards France is immoral in the highest degree, and the invasion cry would be idiotic, if It were not something worse. The Empress, I heard the other day from the best authority, is charming and good at heart. She was educated at a respectable school at Bristol, and is very English, which does not prevent her shooting with pistols, leaping gates, driving four-in-hand, or upsetting the carriage, when the frolic demands it—as brave as a lion, and as true as a dog. Her complexion is like marble, white and pale and pure; her hair light, inclining to sandy—they say she powders it with gold-dust for effect; but her beauty is more intellectual and less physical than is commonly reported. She is a woman of very decided opinions. I like all this—don't you? and I like her letter to the Préfect, as everybody must. Ah! if the English press were in earnest in the cause of liberty, there would be something to say for our poor, trampled-down Italy—much to say, I mean. Under my eyes is a people really oppressed, really groaning its heart out: but these things are spoken of with indifference."
Another subject alluded to by Mrs. Browning in the same communication—a subject which was largely influencing her mind, and almost rivalling Italy in her thoughts—was that singular manifestation of human credulity known as "spirit-rappings." Although not altogether a modern invention or superstition, it was not until about this period that this phase of "Spiritualism" acquired any large or widely-spread popularity. The fashion or mania for this form of superstition sprang into existence in the United States of America, rapidly spread to Great Britain and, in more or less violent shapes, infected many surrounding countries. One of the most important victims to the new epidemic was Mrs. Browning. Her letters of this period are filled with allusions to Spiritualism, and its strangest development, "spirit-rappings."
To a woman of such strong common sense as Miss Mitford, her friend's belief in such things as these "manifestations," appeared almost incomprehensible. Writing in March of this year to Fields, the American publisher, she remarks, "Mrs. Browning is most curious about your rappings—of which, I suppose, you believe as much as I do of the Cock Lane ghost, whose doings they so much resemble." And then again, about a month later, she writes, "Only think of Mrs. Browning giving the most unlimited credence to every 'rapping' story which anybody can tell her." Some weeks subsequent she again writes, "Mrs. Browning believes in every spirit-rapping story—all—and tells me that Robert Owen has been converted by them to a belief in a future state"; whilst directly afterwards she reiterates, "Mrs. Browning is positively crazy about the spirit-rappings. She believes every story, European or American, and says our Emperor consults the mediums, which I disbelieve."
Elizabeth Browning's strong credence in Spiritualism is not more difficult to dissect and understand than is her belief in Louis Napoleon. The great charm in Spiritualism for her was that, if true, it proved there was a life hereafter. To a woman of her intense religious cast of thought, a woman who clung with the sternest tenacity to dogmas she so often had to hear refuted and contemned, this revelation was at once a weapon and a shield. She was only too eagerly ready to accept the new doctrine and, once accepted, she was, as is already manifest, not the woman to relinquish it again. Chorley, who had long been her intimate friend, alludes to the fact that her friendship for him, though it continued through life, was interrupted by "serious differences of opinion concerning a matter which she took terribly to heart—the strange, weird questions of Mesmerism, including clairvoyance,—for all these things were combined and complicated with the mysteries of Spiritualism." "To the marvels of these two phenomena (admitting both as incomplete discoveries)," says Chorley, "she lent an ear as credulous as her trust was sincere and her heart highminded. But with women far more experienced in falsity than one so noble and one who had been so secluded from the world as herself, after they have once crossed the threshold, there is seldom chance of after retreat. Only they become bewildered by their tenacious notions of loyalty. It is over these very best and most generous of their sex that impostors have the most power."
"I have never seen one more nobly simple, more entirely guiltless of the feminine propensity of talking for effect, more earnest in her assertion, more gentle yet pertinacious in differences, than she was," pursues Chorley; adding, "like all whose early nurture has chiefly been from books, she had a child's curiosity regarding the life beyond her books, co-existing with opinions accepted as certainties, concerning things of which (even with the intuition of genius) she could know little. She was at once forbearing and dogmatic, willing to accept differences, resolute to admit no argument; without any more practical knowledge of social life than a nun might have when, after long years, she emerged from her cloister and her shroud."
E. D(owden?), writing with respect to Mrs. Browning's apparently inscrutable admiration for the Napoleonic régime, utters views so corroborative of Chorley, and, save some exaggeration, coincident with our own, that they may be cited from the article in Macmillan's Magazine: "All her feelings on political subjects were intensified not only by her woman's impetuosity, but by the circumstances of her secluded life. To me her judgments, both for good and bad, seemed oftentimes like those of a dweller in some city convent. Out of the cloister windows she could see the world moving without, but in its active life she had neither share nor portion. For many years past the days had been few in number, almost to be counted upon the fingers, throughout the long year, on which she was carried down into the open air, to gaze upon the world from a carriage-seat. All, indeed, that one of more than common intellect, and who watched over her with more than a woman's care, could bring her of gleanings from the outer world, she had to aid her in her thoughts; all that books, written in almost every modern language, could bring her of instruction, she sought for eagerly; but still no aid of books or friends could supply what daily contact with active life alone can give. It was thus that the views of the world had something of the unreality of cloister visions."
Mrs. Browning's interest in the cause of Italian freedom continued to increase with her increase of knowledge of the people. To her English friends she wrote in the hopes of arousing in them something of the sympathy she felt for her unfortunate neighbours, but as yet with slight success. To Miss Mitford she said, "I see daily a people who have the very life crushed out of them, and yet of their oppressions the English press says nothing;" and Miss Mitford's comment to a friend on these and similar complaints was "fancy Mrs. Browning thinking Louis Napoleon ought to take up the cause of those wretched Italians; and I hear from all quarters that they get into corners and slander each other. It is an extinct people, sending up nothing better than smoke and cinders and ashes; a mere name, like the Greeks."
Such opinions as this conservative old English lady uttered were entertained by the great majority of her country-people, and by the people of most countries, and the aspirations of Mrs. Browning and her Italian friends regarded as the idle dreams of poets. The poets' time was as yet to come.
During the hot summer of 1853 the Brownings sojourned at the Baths of Lucca. They returned to Florence in the autumn, and thence proceeded to Rome for the winter. Their stay in the latter city was somewhat prolonged, and their son, the little Robert, suffered from malaria, but seems to have rapidly recovered. During this stay in Rome Mrs. Browning became acquainted with Harriet Hosmer, the well-known American sculptor. Miss Hosmer was a favourite pupil of Gibson, and allowed to occupy a portion of the English sculptor's studio where, during work time, she might be found, "a compact little figure, five feet two in height, in cap and blouse, whose short, sunny, brown curls, broad brow, frank and resolute expression of countenance, gave one at the first glance the impression of a handsome boy" Naturally, Mrs. Browning informed Miss Mitford of the new acquaintance she had made, and that dear, prejudiced, insular-minded old lady wrote in a horrified tone to a correspondent, "Mrs. Browning has taken a fancy to an American female sculptor—a girl of 22—a pupil of Gibson, who goes with the rest of the fraternity of the studio to breakfast and dine at a café, and keeps her character!"
The Brownings returned to the quietude of their Florentine home, and during the remainder of the year made no history to speak of. In December, Miss Mitford speaks of having been advised by the poetess to try mesmerism for her health, which was now completely broken up, and on the 10th of the following January, 1855, the poor, kindly-hearted, if time-serving old lady, was released from her long suffering. The death of her old friend and correspondent must have been a severe blow for Mrs. Browning, but her hands and brain were now so full of her longest and most important poem that doubtless her sorrow was mitigated, if not stifled, by the excitement of the work's approaching completion.