2914.  EBB to Arabella Moulton-Barrett

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 17, 26–28.

Casa Guidi– Florence–

May 1. [1851][1]

My ever beloved Arabel,

This is thursday, & we go off to Bologna on saturday. I write my last words to you from Florence .. and if you could see in what confusion!– The painters & cleaners have been filling the rooms—the nursery has been painted throughout—the upholsterers covering chairs & renewing spring sofas .. all the carpets up .. all the curtains down .. my head goes round only to look on!– But we are at the end of it, & have not paid too much for making our apartment quite perfect .. too perfect almost to leave! .. & fit to receive anybody in the shape of an occupant. The money will be paid back to us by the occupancy of a month, & we shall return next year to most complete rooms, if we return to live here. In any case we shall return for a time. I have just written a long letter to Papa.

So we go to Bologna, as I said, stay there two days .. then, by Parma & Mantua (at each of which places we shall stay a day or two for the pictures), to Venice for a fortnight or longer. The Ogilvies leave us at Venice & go straight on to England. We, if the money holds, cross to Milan, .. so, by Como, over the Splugen, into Switzerland, .. wait awhile at Interlacken to enjoy a little and œconomize, then, down the Rhine to Cologne .. taking the railroad to Paris. That’s our scheme—but the working of it depends on circumstances. You will see that it admits of a great deal of pleasure .. of sights of mountains & lakes, besides the cities & art in Italy. Yet there’s nothing in me pleasurable just now—I leave Florence with pain .. we both do .. & are wearied out with the labour of it all– Oh—it will be different when we are fairly gone. I think that to comfort myself. Then the poor balia is not well & looks sad—there is some inward weakness which she ought to lie up for—not of the least consequence, I hope & trust, but still the idea of it does not make me gayer. Wiedeman will not suffer from parting with her, for he has got used to only seeing her a part of the day, and even bears the hearing her name in her absence .. which is great progress. He shakes his head & puts on a melancholy face, but he does’nt cry & sob, as he used to do when he even saw her old gown hanging at the bedpost. The Peytons go today to Spezzia for three weeks, & return to a villa they have taken near Florence for four months I think– Very, very kind they are. Such presents they have given me .. covers for travelling-pillows, frills for Wiedeman, cases for pocket handkerchiefs—too kind they are. If we visit Rome in the Spring according to our programme, we shall probably meet again .. but do you know, though they persist in professing to like Florence “so very much”, I see plainly that they wd all give a great deal to be in Herefordshire again—oh, it is very plain. They admit however, that, for scenery, “it is’nt to be compared to what they have seen abroad” .. and that’s an admission– Reynolds goes home soon “upon business”, and Nicky with him, to get some employment. Berry is in better spirits than I thought her at first, and does’nt appear to distrust her lover. I do wish they could marry,—and I continue to think it just as desireable that they should do so at once, as I thought at first–[2] Prudence, so called, is sometimes the very height of imprudence, so proved. That’s my doxy.

Do you know what Robert says .. that if he had to marry one of them, it should be Fanny.[3] Which is Robert’s taste & certainly not mine, but you know he has proved enough that he does’nt particularly care for beauty in wives– Talking of beauty, I have been having my picture taken in spite of myself—in profile & in outline, so you may fancy what classical contours!! So provoked I was! It was a Mr Latilla,[4] an artist with a large family going to America, who wanted to introduce himself by a book of engravings of literary English people– So provoked I was—for I hate to touch the public with my personal self .. you know how I refused the first miniature-painter in London![5] But Robert would insist on it, and I yielded after a struggle & a tussle .. and now he repents it as well as myself. The artist is inferior .. and you never saw such a vision of a dishevelled nun, the hair nearly down to the waist in expectation of the “fatal shears,[”][6] the countenance in profound melancholy and the mouth full of sugar plums .. administered in the way of comfort by the lady abbess!– And that’s “me,”[7] and so, I am to float through the Union! Robert’s profile is better, I am happy to say—it could’nt be very much worse certainly– He would’nt let me have a cap .. & because I threw a lace veil over the top of my head to avoid catching cold, the veil is introduced, to the nunship’s further development. Arabel dearest, write to me directly at poste restante, Venezia. Robert’s best love with that of

Your own Ba–

Think of Wiedeman’s saying “Diamine” .. a sort of demi-oath of the Italians .. and much like the English cry of “The deuce”. He looks at me with a provoking sly smile & cries, “Mamma, Mamma! diamene.” That’s for fun. But really whenever he’s vexed he says it. The last words are written on the 2d of May, & as its too late for the Florence post, we shall take it with us tomorrow at six in the morning towards Bologna & post it there– If you get it, it will signify that we were not stopped in the mountains by bandittis .. which is a sort of probability, they say–

Address, on integral page: Miss Arabel Barrett / 50. Wimpole Street.

Publication: EBB-AB, I, 372–374.

Manuscript: Berg Collection.

1. Year provided by EBB’s references to the Brownings’ travel plans.

2. See letter 2889, note 4.

3. Frances Maria Peyton (1820–1900), the eldest of three sisters; see letter 2896, note 7.

4. Eugenio Honorius Latilla (1808–61), was born in England, the son of a Neapolitan exile and an English mother. He married Harriott Goodwin in London on 8 November 1831. As EBB points out, he and his family of three daughters and a son emigrated to America in 1851. His sister, Horatia Augusta (b. 1826), married his friend, American artist James Edwards Freeman (1808–84), at Florence in 1848. We have been unable to trace the likenesses EBB describes here.

5. Unidentified.

6. Cf. Pope, The Rape of the Lock (1712), II, 88.

7. Printed in bold letters.


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