Theodosia Trollope

Thomas Adolphus Trollope (1810–92) and Theodosia Trollope (1816–65)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 29, 273-282.

From 1848 to 1865, the Villino Trollope on the Piazza dell’Indipendenza in Florence, named for the three English writers in residence who appointed it to luxurious specifications, was a central gathering place for the literary lights of the expatriate community, RB and EBB occasionally among them, even though relations between the two families were “luke-warm” at best, according to the noted scholar of the period Giuliana Artom Treves (The Golden Ring: The Anglo-Florentines, 1847–1862, trans. Sylvia Sprigge, 1956, p. 129).

As a salon hostess, Theodosia Trollope (née Garrow), the first wife of the prolific historian, journalist, and travel writer Thomas Adolphus Trollope, was renowned for the graceful ambiance and elevated tenor of her elegant soirées. Writing on “English Authors in Florence” in the December 1864 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (pp. 660–671), the American journalist Kate Field—whose memorial essay in tribute to EBB appeared in the same magazine three and a half years earlier (September 1861)—extolled the villa as a nexus of intellectual energy, pronouncing it on first encounter to be “quaintly fascinating, with its marble pillars, its grim men in armor, starting like sentinels from the walls, and its curiosities greeting you at every step” (p. 663).

As inviting as Field’s oftentimes breathless descriptions of the décor and furnishings of this exclusive enclave in the heart of the city may have been—its appealing features included a 5,000-book library (“many wonderfully illuminated and enriched by costly engravings”)—it was her roll call of notables who visited that stands out, a fawning list that frequently borders on high-end name-dropping. “Many charming persons have we met at the Villino, the recollection of whom is as bright and sunny to us as a June day,—persons whose lives and motive-power have fully convinced us that the world is not quite as hollow as it is represented, and that all is not vanity of vanities” (Field, pp. 663–664).

“It was at Villino Trollope,” Field continued, “that we first shook hands with Colonel [John Whitehead] Peard,—‘l’Inglese con Garibaldi’ [Garibaldi’s Englishman], as the Italians used to call him,—about whose exploits in sharp-shooting the newspapers manufactured such marvelous stories,” and at Villino Trollope “that we first saw the wonderfully clever author, George Eliot,” and there that she met the diplomat Robert Bulwer Lytton, known to readers of his popular novella-in-verse Lucile by the pseudonym, Owen Meredith. And it was there, too, that she met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “the one American book in which Italians are deeply read” (Field, pp. 664–667).

No authoritative essay about English gathering places in Florence written at this time would have been complete without proper respect being paid to the Brownings and Casa Guidi, and Field—a devoted confidante of both RB and EBB (see Kate Field’s biographical sketch above)—began hers with a lengthy discussion of their residence in Florence, which came to an end in 1861 with the death of EBB and RB’s permanent departure from the city. “Casa Guidi,” she writes in her opening paragraph, “gloomier and grayer now that the grand light has gone out of it, is of especial interest to every cultivated traveller. A gratified smile, born of sorrow, passes over the stranger’s face, as he reads the inscription upon the tablet that makes Casa Guidi historical,—a tablet … to the memory of a truly great woman” (Field, p. 660).

Translated from the Italian, the inscription pays tribute to EBB “whose poems forged a golden ring between Italy and England.” Her unstinting support for the independence and unification of Italy was also championed by the Trollopes and memorialized on a tablet placed at their villa following the untimely death of Theodosia a few months after the appearance of Field’s Atlantic essay, praising her, an Englishwoman, for having written “with an Italian spirit of the struggles and the triumph of liberty” (“con animo italiano delle lotte e del trionfo della libertà”).

As expatriate writers living in Florence, the Trollopes and the Brownings led lives that intersected on a number of planes, their mutual interest in the Italian cause being central among them. The first—and arguably most significant—interaction took place well before any of the four arrived in Italy, when Theodosia and EBB were living in Torquay on the southwest coast of England. The circumstances under which Theodosia, who moved to Torquay as a child with her family, met EBB were recalled many years later, after both women were long deceased, by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, in his memoir, What I Remember (2 vols., 1887), hereinafter cited as WIR.

EBB was “very much of an invalid at the time,” Trollope recalled of that period, noting that she had been sent to the coastal town by her father in 1838 with the hope that her health would be restored by the cool sea air. Ten years EBB’s junior, Theodosia—the daughter of highly creative and artistic parents—had a bright, inquisitive mind and a flair for foreign languages and poetic composition that made her a welcome visitor “to be very frequently found by the side of the sofa to which her friend was more or less confined,” Trollope wrote. “There were assuredly very few young women in England at that day to whom Theodosia Garrow in social intercourse would have had to look up, as to one on a higher intellectual level than her own. But Elizabeth Barrett was one of them.” This earlier acquaintanceship, Trollope declared, paved the way for something special in Florence. “The pleasure of the two girls—girls no more in any sense—in meeting again quickened the growth of an intimacy which might otherwise have been slower in ripening” (WIR, II, 171–172). Trollope speculated that a close friend of both women, Isabella “Isa” Blagden, was instrumental in bringing the two together again in Italy (see WIR, II, 173).

Of his own trips to Casa Guidi, Trollope “valued” them “as choice morsels” of his existence. “I was conscious even then of coming away from those visits a better man, with higher views and aims.” The “perception and appreciation of what Elizabeth Barrett Browning was,” he continued, “the immaculate purity of every thought that passed through her pellucid mind, and the indefeasible nobility of her every idea, sentiment, and opinion,” was what lingered most for him after the passage of so many years (WIR, II, 172–173).

EBB’s recollections of her visits in Torquay with Theodosia were decidedly less starry-eyed than those characterized by Trollope, even though she did express genuine respect for the young woman’s intellect. Her first mention of Theodosia’s verse is to be found in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford on 23 November 1838. “Have you seen the ‘Book of Beauty?’ There is in it a little poem very sweet and touching, the production of Miss Garrow, a young lady residing in this place. I do not yet know her personally, but she is a friend of Mr. [Walter Savage] Landor and Mr. [John] Kenyon, and I have heard from the latter high estimation of her genius—it was the word used,—and accomplishments both literary and musical. She has been very kind in sending me flowers and vegetables, but up to this day I have scarcely been fit for a stranger’s visit” (letter 670).

Though both Thomas Adolphus Trollope and Theodosia Garrow were English, they met and married in Florence, and spent the entire seventeen years of their marriage living in Italy. Thomas arrived there for the first time in 1841, the “companion and squire,” as he put it (WIR, I, 355), of his mother, Frances “Fanny” Trollope (née Milton, 1779–1863), a prolific author in her own right, whose output would include six travel books and thirty-five novels by the time of her death, an accomplishment made especially impressive by the fact that she turned to writing when well into her 50s in an effort to support her family.

Thomas “Tom” Adolphus Trollope was born on 29 April 1810 in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, the eldest child of Thomas Anthony Trollope (1774–1835), a barrister, and his wife, Fanny. His paternal grandfather, the Rev. Anthony Trollope, was the youngest son of a baronet; his paternal grandmother’s family, the Meetkerkes, were descendants of the Flemish ambassador to the court of Elizabeth I. Of the seven Trollope siblings, one died shortly after birth, while four others—Arthur (1812–ca. 1824), Henry (1811–ca. 1834), Cecilia (1816–49), and Emily (1818–35)—would predecease their mother, all victims of tuberculosis. A younger brother, Anthony Trollope (1815–82), also gained fame as a literary force, his popularity and reputation in time eclipsing that of the other members in his family. He, too, would be a familiar figure at Villino Trollope during his frequent stays in Florence, “a noble specimen of a thoroughly frank and loyal Englishman,” according to Kate Field, striking for his “almost boyish enthusiasm and impulsive argumentation.” The spirited give-and-take among the two brothers was especially notable, Field continued, for “the philosophic reasoning of Thomas Trollope,—looking half Socrates and half Galileo,—whom Mrs. Browning was wont to call ‘Aristides the Just’” (Field, pp. 663–664).

The road to Italy for the Trollopes was circuitous, prompted in considerable measure by the shifting fortunes of Fanny Trollope, whose constant schemes to generate income for her struggling family prompted a three-year stay in the United States where she undertook a number of business ventures, all of which failed. These efforts were undertaken in response to her increasingly unstable husband, who had failed to secure an inheritance he had counted on receiving from the Meetkerkes wing of the family, while at the same time badly mismanaging a farm he had leased in Harrow.

Leaving Thomas and Anthony in England with their father, Fanny sailed for America with her other children in November 1827 to join the controversial reformer Frances “Fanny” Wright at a utopian community in Tennessee dedicated to the education and emancipation of slaves. Disillusioned by the dismal conditions she observed there, Fanny moved on to Cincinnati, Ohio, where failed investments in a succession of commercial enterprises left her bankrupt. Returning to England in August 1831, she turned, in near desperation, to writing, in a matter of weeks, a work of caustic social criticism based on her recent travels. Released in two volumes in 1832, Domestic Manners of the Americans made her a best-selling author and over-night sensation at the age of fifty-three. While she temporarily relieved her husband from further financial embarrassment, Thomas Anthony’s liabilities were too great to fully overcome, and to avoid debtor’s prison, he moved his family to Bruges in 1834, leaving Tom behind to finish his studies at Oxford.

“He was, in a word, a highly respected, but not a popular or well-beloved man,” Tom Trollope wrote years later of his father. “Worst of all, alas! he was not popular in his own home. No one of all the family circle was happy in his presence” (WIR, I, 58). Afflicted increasingly with pounding headaches, Thomas Anthony took refuge in calomel, a mercury based drug that his son believed “had the effect of shattering his nervous system in a deplorable manner” (I, 59) and that undoubtedly contributed to his death in 1835, the same year Tom took a third-class A.B. degree from Magdalen Hall, Oxford. After a period of travel in Paris and Vienna with his mother, he obtained a teaching position at King Edward’s Grammar School in Birmingham in 1837, a “dreary” position he detested, longing instead to become, like her, a travel writer. “I was born a rambler,” he explained in his memoir. “‘The road’ was my paradise” (II, 3).

It was at this time that he began writing for newspapers and magazines, publishing his first book—A Summer in Brittany—in 1840, followed the next year by A Summer in Western France, with his now-famous mother’s name listed on the title page of both as editor. It was in 1841, too, that Tom and his widowed mother visited Italy for the first time, a momentous occurrence in that both fell in love with the country, Fanny deciding two years later to settle in Florence, her bachelor son moving in with her. An introduction to Charles Dickens in 1845 led to Tom’s getting writing assignments for Household Words (1850–59), the weekly magazine “Boz” edited, his contributions “for the most part consisting of what I considered tit-bits from the byways of Italian history, which the persevering plough of my reading turned up from time to time” (WIR, II, 119).

Tom wrote a number of articles on Italy’s bid for independence for The Tuscan Athenæum, a short-lived English-language periodical established in 1847, which he edited with Theodosia Garrow, a young English poet and linguist who had moved to Florence with her family in 1844. A romance quickly blossomed, and the two were married on 3 April 1848 at the British minister’s chapel. Tom and Theodosia would also contribute articles on Italian politics to several other publications, The Athenæum most prominent among them; many of his essays for that journal would be collected under the titles Impressions of a Wanderer in Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain (1850), and Tuscany in 1849 and in 1859 (1859).

Theodosia—called “Theo” by Fanny Trollope (WIR, II, 154)—was born on 28 November 1816 in Madras, the only child of Joseph Garrow (1789–1857), an official of the East India Company, and his wife, Theodosia (née Abrams, formerly Fisher, ca. 1769–1849), a contralto singer of Jewish extraction who performed with her sisters, Harriett, Eliza, and Jane Abrams; she was the widow of a captain in the North Devon militia. Joseph Garrow graduated from St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1812 with a Master of Arts degree, but unlike his brother, the noted barrister and one-time attorney general for England and Wales, Sir William Garrow, never practiced law. (Among William Garrow’s more dubious achievements was the successful prosecution of Leigh Hunt in 1812 for seditious libel against the Prince Regent, reversing the judgment of an 1811 trial which had resulted in an acquittal.)

Instead, Joseph Garrow developed skills as a linguist and translator, taking particular interest in Italy, where he moved with his family in 1844. Two years later, he completed the first translation into English of Dante’s Vita nuova, which was published in Florence as The Early Life of Dante Alighieri, Together with the Original in Parallel Pages. “He had been educated for the bar, but had never practised, or attempted to do so, having while still a young man married a wife with considerable means,” Tom Trollope wrote of his father-in-law. “He was a decidedly clever man, especially in an artistic direction, having been a very good musician and performer on the violin, and a draughtsman and caricaturist” (WIR, II, 150). Garrow and Theodosia “were both very markedly clever,” Trollope continued, “and this produced a closeness of companionship and alliance between the father and daughter” (II, 156). Kate Field, in her Atlantic essay, described Theodosia as “most liberally endowed with intellectual gifts” (Field, p. 662).

A close friend of the Garrows when they lived in Torquay was Walter Savage Landor, who visited the seaside community periodically, forging while there a close acquaintanceship with the family that would prove fruitful for young Theodosia. “It was as a poet that Mrs. Trollope, then Miss Garrow, began to write,” Kate Field reported, “and indeed she may be called a protégée of Walter Savage Landor, for through his encouragement and instrumentality she first made her appearance in print” as a contributor to an annual anthology of fiction and poetry, Heath’s Book of Beauty, edited by the Irish novelist Marguerite, Countess of Blessington (Field, p. 663). Two of Theodosia’s poems, “The Gazelles” and “On Presenting a Young Invalid with a Bunch of Early Violets,” appeared in the 1839 volume; three others (“Song of the Winter Spirits,” “On the Portrait of Her Majesty,” and “The Cry of Romagna”) appeared in the 1841, 1842, and 1847 numbers, respectively. Five other poems by Theodosia—“Imagine’s Reward: A Legend of the Rhine” (1841), “The Doom of Cheynholme” (1842), “The Lady of Ashlynn” (1843), “She is not Dead but Sleepeth” (1846), and “The Lethe-Draught” (1847)—were published by Lady Blessington in The Keepsake, another literary periodical that she edited.

EBB confided an early opinion of Theodosia’s verse to one of her dearest friends, Mary Russell Mitford, on 11 July 1839, about eight months after having made the young woman’s acquaintance, using words that offer some balance to the warm relationship Thomas Trollope would claim that the two had enjoyed in Torquay. It came in response to a query from Miss Mitford, presumably occasioned by the recent appearance of two of Theodosia’s poems in Heath’s Book of Beauty. “I do not know whether Miss Garrow does or does not write ballads,” EBB wrote, adding that all she had seen to that point of her poetry “was published in Lady Blessington’s annual last year, & some stanzas in MS … which appeared to me rather inferior to the rest. Her verses are, in my mind, to judge from these specimens, graceful & feeling, without much indication of either mounting or sinking into other characteristics—but it is scarcely possible or at least just to make a judgment of faculties, upon such scanty data. I have seen her only once– And of her accomplishments in Italian German & music, have heard much” (letter 702).

Two years later Miss Mitford was curious, it appears, to know what EBB’s sisters thought of Theodosia’s sudden prominence in the world of letters. EBB responded in late August 1841: “Well—my sisters do not very much admire Miss Garrow … I shd. say, my sister Henrietta—since Arabel has seen so little of her—my sister Henrietta then, does not admire her, for manner or simplicity, or any other quality than her superior musical accomplishments. … And it is not merely Henrietta. There is a great lack of popularity here I understand—and (which I think of more gravely) there have been those, whose general charity & particular sensitiveness to certain graces of character failed to include them among her admirers. The charges are—affectation—at least want of naturalness—& a leaning to light flirty manners.” For her “own part,” EBB added, “I have seen her twice, & from that limited experience, I did not infer the ‘affectation’, & had of course no opportunity of inferring the rest. She came with her sister Miss [Harriet] Fisher, her half sister,—who has been far the most cordial to me of the two,—altho’ the whole family has been kind” (letter 847).

Focusing finally on “Miss Garrow’s poetry,” EBB addressed the superlatives being put forth by people from their circle they respected. “I cannot to please any person in the world take the Landor & Kenyon estimate of it,” she declared outright. “Mr. Landor, you know, says ‘Sappho’—and Mr. Kenyon says,—said in my ears—‘wonderful genius’ … The best poem I have seen of hers, is the Ballad in Lady Blessington’s Keepsake for next year [“The Doom of Cheynholme”]—but we must all think & feel for ourselves, if we think & feel at all—and I think & feel of that ballad as of the rest, that it is flowingly & softly written, with no trace of the thing called genius, from the first stanza to the last. She has a good ear, & has caught the tune of the poetry of the day. I told her, when she kindly sent me a previous annual … that I thought her verses graceful & flowing. But power—originality, which is individuality—the sign of the separate mind—you seek in vain for them. At least I do. … Think of Mr. Landor saying ‘Wordsworth never wrote anything like this’!! I heard he said so! Why even friendship which covers so many sins, lies scant upon the blasphemy! … In German & Italian literature she is I believe highly accomplished—speaking both languages. But from all I can hear the forte is music” (letter 847).

Landor’s opinion of Theodosia was such, nonetheless, that he wrote an effusive poem, “To Theodosia Garrow” (1846), in tribute to her manifold skills, concluding with these lines:

None to thy steps are inaccessible,

Theodosia! wakening Italy with song

Deeper than Filicaia’s, or than his

The triple deity of plastic art.

Mindful of Italy and thee, crown’d maid!

I lay this sere frail garland at thy feet.

Landor also reached out directly to RB with unsolicited words of praise for the young woman’s work. “This very year there is in the Book of Beauty a poem by my friend Theodosia Garrow, on Italy, far surpassing those of M. Angelo and [Vincenzo da] Filicaia,” he enthused on 10 November 1845, adding that “Sappho is far less intense. Pindar is far less animated” (letter 2094). RB immediately shared the essence of Landor’s fervor with EBB, who responded ten days later (letter 2104), suggesting once again that much of the man’s ardor was likely colored by his personal relationship with the Garrow family, and not based on an objective reading of her verse.

In February 1848, word of the forthcoming nuptials of Thomas and Theodosia spread quickly among the expatriates in Florence, and sparked a good deal of comment, not all of it flattering. In a lengthy letter to her sister Henrietta of that period, EBB offered a jaundiced opinion of the impending marriage, taking issue with Henrietta’s view that the union might “steady” their young acquaintance. “I dont know Mr T.T. [Thomas Trollope],” she allowed—they had not yet met—“but what I hear of him, yes, and what I read of his writing, in the first ‘Tuscan Athenæum’ (where he enlightened the Italians upon English horse jockeyism with a regular hail storm of slang—) & what I observe everywhere of the repulsive movement in the minds of refined hearers of this news of his approaching marriage to Theodosia Garrow, is enough for me, & more than enough.” She mentioned a letter RB had recently received from their friend, the critic Henry Chorley, who wondered “what must [Theodosia] be, to take him?” EBB opined that “for Mr. Chorley to say that,” Trollope must be very “detestable” indeed, though she qualified “detestable” to mean “as to coarseness & vulgarity .. for he is goodnatured by the consent of all, & affectionate to his mother, & has a sort of cleverness, of a broad, common, undistinguishing class. To have to live with Mrs. Trollope [his mother], seems really the best part of the prospect [for Theodosia] … but it proves to my mind (what I had always suspected) that there is a want somewhere in her [Theodosia], of moral delicacy & apprehensiveness” (letter 2719).

Three years later, on 30 January 1851, EBB wrote her long-time friend and correspondent Julia Martin with news about numerous mutual acquaintances, among them Fanny Trollope, who had recently made a house call at Casa Guidi with her daughter-in-law Theodosia. “It is settled that we are to know them,” EBB wrote with a tone of resignation, “though Robert has made a sort of vow never to sit in the same room with the author of certain books directed against liberal institutions & Victor Hugo’s poetry,” a reference to several of Mrs. Trollope’s writings which had committed those particular literary transgressions. “I had a longer battle to fight (on the matter of this vow) than any since my marriage,” she continued, prevailing, finally, by “taking advantage of the pure goodness which induced him to yield to my wishes;—but I did,—because I hate to seem ungracious & unkind to people,—and human beings, besides, are better than their books, than their principles, & even than their everyday actions, sometimes: I am always crying out ‘Blessed be the inconsistency of men’. Then I thought it probable that the first shock of the cold water being over, he would like the proposed new acquaintances very much—& so it turns out. She was very agreeable, & kind & goodnatured, & talked much … & we mean to be quite friends, & to lend each other books, & to forget one another’s offences, in print or otherwise. Also, she admits us on her private days. For she has public days (dreadful to relate!) & is in the full flood & flow of Florentine society” (letter 2900).

The following year, EBB returned the favor—and did so in company with her husband. “We went early to call on the Trollopes,” she wrote John Kenyon on 24 November 1852, with a bit of happy news to add. “Mrs. T. Trollope expects her confinement next march. Most glad I was to hear it. She looks ill & worn, but the situation might account for this. Mr. Tom Trollope walked with us round his garden where he has built a magnificent greenhouse—the orange trees paying the expenses, which must be considerable. A noble commerce of oranges .. is’nt it? We did not see the elder Mrs. Trollope, because she happened to be unwell that day & was lying down” (letter 3148). On 8 March 1853, Theodosia gave birth to her only child, Beatrice, called “Bice” by her family, who would become an occasional playmate of Pen Browning; EBB’s 25 September 1859 letter to Theodosia from Rome closes with “Peni’s love to Bice,” along with chatty news of her son’s various activities, including the keeping of a journal (letter 4493).

Theodosia’s literary efforts, meanwhile, had turned from poetry to prose. She contributed essays to Household Words and The Cornhill Magazine, but her more substantial work in that line occurred between 7 May 1859 and 28 April 1860, when she sent to The Athenæum twenty-seven letters on the political situation in Tuscany, which were gathered the following year in a book, Social Aspects of the Italian Revolution. In them, she praised the Risorgimento as a patriotic exercise in enlightened democracy and denounced its opponents as reactionaries and bigots, singling out for special condemnation the papacy, calling it “a paralyzed heap of malicious dotage” that “cowers grimly like a would-be witch mumbling spells of storm and tempest to the evil fancies evoked by her crazy will” (Social Aspects, p. 306).

No letters from Theodosia to EBB have surfaced to date, and only three from EBB to Theodosia are recorded. Writing from Siena on 25 September 1859, EBB offered measured praise for Theodosia’s Athenæum essays. “Certainly we differ in our estimate of the Italian situation, while loving & desiring for Italy up to the same height, & with the same heart,” she began. “For me, I persist in looking to facts rather than to words official or unofficial, & in repeating that ‘whereas we were bound, now we are free.’” She then proceeded to offer her own evaluation of the situation, concluding with words of solidarity. “I honor you & your husband for the good work you have both done in behalf of this great cause—but his book we only know yet by the extracts in the Athenæum which brings us your excellent articles– May I, must I not, thank you for them?” (letter 4493).

Tom Trollope, in his memoir, made explicitly clear where the attitudes of the two families diverged. “There was one subject upon which both my wife and I disagreed in opinion with Mrs. Browning … the phases of Italy’s struggle for independence, and especially the part which the Emperor Napoleon the Third was taking in that struggle, and his conduct towards Italy. We were all equally ‘Italianissimi,’ as the phrase went then … but we differed widely as to the ultimate utility, the probable results, and, above all, as to the motives of the Emperor’s conduct. Mrs. Browning believed in him and trusted him. We did neither” (WIR, II, 180). Tom then quoted, in its entirety, EBB’s letter to Theodosia, discussed above.

The agreement between the two families to exchange books with each other is evident in a cover note from EBB to Theodosia returning a copy of Anthony Trollope’s novel, The Three Clerks (1857), “with our true thanks and appreciation,” adding that she and her husband “both quite agree with you in considering it the best of the three clever novels before the public. My husband, who can seldom get a novel to hold him, has been held by all three, and by this the strongest. … What a thoroughly man’s book it is! I much admire it” (letter 4127).

Anthony Trollope’s name comes up in another context in the chapter devoted entirely to EBB in What I Remember. There, Tom took the opportunity to set matters straight on what was clearly an incident that had undoubtedly been rankling him for decades. What happened, in essence, is that after reading EBB’s poem “A Musical Instrument” in The Cornhill Magazine (July 1860), “Anthony wrote me a letter venturing to criticise it, in which he says: ‘The lines are very beautiful, and the working out of the idea is delicious. But I am inclined to think that she is illustrating an allegory by a thought, rather than a thought by an allegory. The idea of the god [Pan] destroying the reed in making the instrument has, I imagine, given her occasion to declare that in the sublimation of the poet the man is lost for the ordinary purposes of man’s life. It has been thus instead of being the reverse; and I can hardly believe that she herself believes in the doctrine which her fancy has led her to illustrate” (WIR, II, 175–176).

The point of Tom’s recalling this letter in his memoir was to explain what happened next. It was a personal communication between brothers, but Tom—whether wisely or unwisely can be argued—“showed the letter to Isa Blagden, and at her request left it with her. A day or two later, she writes to me: ‘Dear friend,—I send you back your criticism and Mrs. B’s rejoinder. She made me show it to her, and she wishes you to see her answer.’ Miss Blagden’s words would seem to imply that she thought the criticism mine. And if she did, Mrs. Browning was doubtless led to suppose so too” (WIR, II, 176–177).

EBB’s letter to “Dearest Isa,” which Tom included, begins coyly. “Very gentle my critic is– I am glad I got him out of you. But tell dear Mr. Trollope he is wrong nevertheless, & that my ‘thought’ was really and decidedly anterior to my ‘allegory.’ Moreover it is my thought still.” EBB’s defense of her structure and thinking is extensive and detailed. She concluded with a description of the character Pan, her words directed not to Isa: “But he’s a beast up to the waist. Yes, Mr. Trollope—a beast. He’s not a true god– And I am neither god nor beast, if you please—only a Ba” (letter 4723).

Tom Trollope’s embarrassed response, after the passage of three decades, remained defensive. “It seems that she certainly imagined me to be the critic … but if my brother had known Mrs. Browning as well as I knew her, he would not have written that he could ‘hardly believe that she herself believes in the doctrine that her fancy has led her to illustrate.’ … It may seem that this is a foolish making of a mountain out of a molehill; but she would not have felt it to be so. She had so high a conception of the poet’s office and responsibilities that nothing would have induced her to play at believing for literary purposes any position, or fancy, or imagination, which she did not in her heart of hearts accept” (WIR, II, 179–180).

The death of EBB on 29 June 1861 effectively ended the social interactions of the families. Theodosia continued to write on Italian politics, as Kate Field noted in her Atlantic piece. “Mrs. Trollope is still a young woman, and it is sincerely to be hoped that improved health will give her the proper momentum for renewed exertions in a field where nobly sowing she may nobly reap,” she wrote, words that would prove to be sadly ironic (Field, p. 663). A few months after the article was published in The Atlantic, Theodosia died of tuberculosis, on 13 April 1865, and was buried in the English cemetery in Florence.

There is virtually no mention of RB in What I Remember, and it is fairly clear from the small amount of correspondence that survives between the two men, that their relationship was perfunctory at best, particularly once RB left Florence for good in August 1861.

On 9 September 1886, Tom was awarded a £200 civil pension for his contributions to literature (see William Morris Colles, Literature and the Pension List, 1889, p. 80), which he had applied for earlier that year, as he explained to RB in April, when asking for a recommendation on his behalf. “Of course there is no man whose name would carry greater weight” (3 April 1886, ms at ABL). Proof indicating whether or not RB submitted an endorsement has not come to light.

Tom’s work at this time on his memoir, What I Remember, occasioned several letters regarding his wish to quote extensively from EBB’s response to Anthony Trollope’s comments three decades earlier about her handling of the character Pan. “I think you will agree with me, that if ever a private letter should after long years be printed, this is such. It is in the highest degree interesting, and in a manner, and on a subject, with which the world of readers is as much, and as legitimately interested as the person to whom it was written” (25 June 1887, ms at Princeton). RB replied forthwith in the affirmative, without reservation: “The writer was absolute truthfulness,—and I never fear that some monstrosity in the shape of truth’s opposite will sully her character” (30 June 1887, ms at Berg). RB reiterated his approval the following month: “As I told you, I have every confidence in your good taste as well as friendship, and feel safe in your hands” (13 July 1887, ms at Berg).

Following Theodosia’s death, Tom had moved to Ricorboli, south of the Arno River just outside Florence, believing “that life and all its sweetness was over for me” (WIR, II, 378). On 29 October 1866, however, he married Frances Eleanor Ternan (1835–1913), a woman twenty-five years his junior who had come to Florence in 1858 with an introduction from Charles Dickens, whose long-time mistress, the London actress, Ellen Ternan, was her younger sister. Frances became governess to Tom’s twelve-year-old daughter, Bice, in 1866. Seven years later they moved to Rome, where Tom continued to write about Italy. As he did with Theodosia in his first marriage, Tom and Frances assisted each other in their writing careers, “collaborating on several books, including The Homes and Haunts of the Italian Poets (1881)” (ODNB). In 1887 the Trollopes relocated to England, having bought a property in Devon. “During a brief visit to Clifton … Tom died suddenly in his sleep at 27 Royal York Crescent on 11 November 1892” of undetermined causes, and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol (ODNB).

Though largely unread today, Thomas Adolphus Trollope’s influence was considerable among his contemporaries. “No other foreigner of the present day,” Kate Field asserted, “has done so much as Mr. Trollope to familiarize the Anglo-Saxon mind with the genius and aspirations of Italy,” crediting three of his works, A Decade of Italian Women, Filippo Strozzi, and Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar, in particular, for explaining the “actual status of Tuscany during these important eras in her history” and earning for him in the process a knighthood from Victor Emmanuel II (Field, p. 661). In Trollopiana, the journal of the Trollope Society, Pamela Neville-Sington wrote that Tom, as an author and journalist whose life spanned most of the nineteenth century, was “an eloquent witness to great changes, not just in the British Isles but across Europe and especially in Italy, where he played his part in that nation’s bid for nationhood” (“Secrets of the Heart,” Trollopiana, no. 98, Summer 2014, p. 4).

Reflecting on their twenty-six years of marriage, Tom Trollope’s second wife wrote how she “never detected in him one base, insincere, or ungenerous thought. Flaws and errors there must have been, because he was human. But of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness he was incapable” (Neville-Sington, p. 14).

 

—Nicholas A. Basbanes

___________________

National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 4-18-2024.

Copyright © 2024 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.

Back To Top