Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 25, 329–340.
This American Sculptor and friend of the Brownings was born on 9 October 1830 in Watertown, Massachusetts, just west of Cambridge. Known as “Hatty” (often signing her letters with a sketch of a hat), she was the second daughter and child of Hiram Hosmer (1798–1862), a physician, and his wife, Sarah Watson (née Grant, 1802–36), both of whom descended from long-established New England families. Hatty’s father, who came from Walpole, New Hampshire, as did his wife, was trained to be a cabinetmaker but left this trade for a career in medicine, graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1824. His practice in Watertown proved to be highly successful and profitable, as evidenced by the imposing family home at 4 Riverside Street that overlooked the Charles River. The Hosmers had three other children, none of whom reached adulthood: Sarah Helen (1828–42), Hiram Twitchell (1832–33), and George Grant (1834–35). Within a span of three years, Hatty lost her brothers and her mother to consumption. In an effort to save his daughters from the same fate, Dr. Hosmer ordered a regimen of outdoor exercise. Hatty prospered in health and became adept at riding, shooting, swimming, and other boyish pursuits. Her sister, however, succumbed to the same disease and died before her fourteenth birthday.
By all accounts Hatty grew up an unapologetic tomboy, whose adventurous behavior scandalized the town and got her expelled from school. Consequently, in 1847 her father enrolled her in Mrs. Sedgwick’s finishing school in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she came under the influence of the school’s headmistress and founder, Elizabeth Sedgwick (née Dwight, 1801–64), who told him: “I have a reputation for training wild colts, and I will try this one” (Dolly Sherwood, Harriet Hosmer: American Sculptor, 1830–1908, Columbia, Missouri, 1991, p. 16). While a student there, Hatty met and was befriended by Mrs. Sedgwick’s sister-in-law, the novelist Catharine Sedgwick (1789–1867), as well as the English actress Fanny Kemble (1809–93), a friend of the Sedgwicks, who was a frequent visitor and, beginning in 1848, a part-time resident. Hatty formed a lifelong friendship with someone closer to her own age, fellow student Cornelia Crow (afterwards Carr, 1833–1922), who would later edit Harriet Hosmer: Letters and Memories (New York, 1912).
In 1849 Hatty completed her education at Mrs. Sedgwick’s school and began pursuing her goal to be a sculptor. Encouraged and supported by her father, she studied with a sculptor in Boston but soon realized the need for a thorough knowledge of human anatomy. The following year she travelled to St. Louis to stay with Cornelia Crow, and through the intervention of the latter’s father, Wayman Crow (1808–85), a wealthy merchant and influential citizen, was admitted to the Missouri Medical College, then under the directorship of Joseph Nash McDowell (1805–68), who had earlier taught anatomy to Hiram Powers. After another year in Watertown, during which time she continued her work and studies in sculpture, Hatty and her father determined that to advance in her art she should go abroad, specifically to Rome. Accordingly, in October of 1852 she embarked for Europe, accompanied by her father and Virginia Vaughan (1832–1913), a friend and former classmate in Lenox. Stopping at Paris, they rendezvoused with Charlotte Cushman and her companion Matilda Hays, both of whom Hatty had met in Boston the year before, and journeyed on together to Rome. The party, which included Sara Jane Clarke (“Grace Greenwood”), moved into apartments at 28 Via del Corso.
With recommendations from sculptors William Wetmore Story and Shakspere Wood and photographs of a bust she had made earlier in the year, Hatty sufficiently impressed the English sculptor and longtime Roman resident John Gibson (1790–1866) to be taken on as his pupil. Her talent and diligence soon won Gibson’s respect, not to mention friendship, and within a year she began creating her own pieces, though still under her master’s supervision. An October 1854 letter from Gibson to Hatty reveals some of the advice and encouragement he gave her: “You will distinguish yourself, I am sure you will. Your talent is evident, you have great enthusiasm, and you have that very necessary industry and also that great advantage of a Roman education in the art. … It is there, in that school, where we learn the principles of pure taste. Void of pure taste, the works of genius are not of great value. There are many obstacles in the path to fame, but to surmount them, to produce fine works, we must have tranquillity of mind. Those who are envious cannot be happy, nor can the vicious. We must have internal peace, to give birth to beautiful ideas” (Letters and Memories, p. 133, as September 1858). Gibson taught Hatty the neo-classical style of sculpture he had learned from Antonio Canova (1757–1822) and Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770–1844). Accordingly, her first works were taken from Greek mythology: busts of “Daphne” (1853) and “Medusa” (1854). These led to a commission for a full-length statue from Wayman Crow, who became Hatty’s financial guardian in late 1853 when her father refused to further support her in Rome. The resulting sculpture was “Oenone” (1855), the nymph loved by Paris but abandoned for Helen of Troy. That same year she completed a small piece, not from Greek mythology but from Shakespeare, based on the character of “Puck” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It proved to be her most requested work, and the numerous copies she produced over time generated “some thirty thousand dollars” (Sherwood, p. 119). The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, bought a copy in 1859 for his student rooms at Oxford.
Hatty’s first major work, “Beatrice Cenci” (1856), commissioned for the Mercantile Library of St Louis, was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1857. The sculpture depicts a recumbent Beatrice Cenci (1577–99), asleep in her prison cell before her execution for the murder of her father, a monster who had brutalized her family and herself. The work was given something of a pre-review in an article entitled “Art Gossip from Rome.—Mr. Gibson and Miss Hosmer” that appeared in The Daily News of 5 February 1857 (p. 5). After explaining how Hatty became Gibson’s pupil, the writer of the piece praises her works, including “Medusa,” “Oenone,” and “Puck,” this last being “full of spirit, fun and mischief, evincing no less humorous than tragic power. But the chef-d’œuvre of all this talented young artist has yet accomplished is a life-size figure of the beautiful and unfortunate Beatrice Cenci, just finishing in marble, and which we may hope to see in the next Exhibition of the Royal Academy.” The statue is described in glowing detail, and the article continues: “Involved as this word-painting may seem, the attitude is simplicity itself; anything more simple and natural, and at the same time more graceful, it would not be easy to conceive.” After the exhibition opened, “Beatrice” received scant, though encouraging, comment. The Athenæum misspelled Hatty’s last name but found the “sleeping figure … worthy remark” (20 June 1857, no. 1547, p. 795). The 1857 Annual Register (1858) reported: “The miserable Sculpture Room possessed one remarkable work, ‘Beatrice Cenci,’ asleep on the morning of her execution, by a young American lady, Miss Harriet Hosmer” (“Chronicle,” p. 80).
About this time, Bessie Rayner Parkes met Hatty in Rome and recorded her impressions of the 26-year-old sculptor: “She is the funniest little creature; not at all coarse, rough or slangy, but like a little boy. I have never seen anything so innocent as Hatty, nor so very queer. … Her face is that of an arch faun, and her conversation is generally conducted on the principle of ‘So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf to make an apple pie.’ She lives with an old French lady, but conducts herself in all respects exactly as she chooses, being not only tolerated, but actually adopted by the married ladies in Rome, and by all sorts of grandees also. She has short curled hair like mine, and usually swept back from a very broad brow, wears a black hat and little feather everywhere, concerts and all … manages her petticoats with a certain extraordinary ease suggestive of trousers,—but the finishing and funniest point of all is a very tiny waist, and this, strangely for a sculptor, seems Hatty’s weak point, for all her jackets fit quite tight and neat, and when she has a velvet sculptor’s cap on her curly hair and sticks her little hands into her little pockets, the whole effect is irresistibly whimsical” (letter to Elizabeth Parkes, 21 April 1857, typescript at Girton).
Hatty’s next project was a monument for the tomb of Judith de Palezieux Falconnet, a girl who died in 1856 while still in her teens. Commissioned by the girl’s mother, the monument was completed in 1858 and placed in the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte, a short distance from the Spanish Steps. According to Dolly Sherwood, it was “the first instance of an American artist’s work … installed in a Roman Church” (Sherwood, p. 142). Hatty returned to the classical with her life-size statue “Zenobia in Chains” (1859). Zenobia was the Queen of Palmyra, whose armies challenged the legions of the Roman Empire in the third century. The sculpture, along with “Puck,” lent by the Prince of Wales, and “Medusa,” lent by Lady Marian Alford, was displayed at the Crystal Palace during the International Exhibition of 1862. Nathaniel Hawthorne was sufficiently impressed when he saw “Zenobia” at Hatty’s studio to later write that he thought of using it in The Marble Faun (1860), the same way he used Story’s “Cleopatra”: “Were he capable of stealing from a lady, he would certainly have made free with Miss Hosmer’s admirable statue” (“Preface,” p. x). “Zenobia” disappeared from view for many years, but in 2007 it was sold at auction to the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, where it is now on display.
Hatty travelled back to Watertown in 1860 to see her ailing father. While there, she learned that she had been awarded the commission for a public monument honoring Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858), who had represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate for thirty years. It was to be the first public monument west of the Mississippi and the first in the country to be executed by a woman. More than thirty thousand people attended its unveiling in Lafayette Park, St. Louis, in 1868. The bronze figure of Benton stands ten feet high above a base and platform that raise it another thirteen feet. Over the years, Hatty competed for other public monuments, including two commemorating Abraham Lincoln, but without success. Wayman Crow had served on the committee that selected her proposal for the Benton sculpture. Hatty’s last major work, “Queen Isabella of Castile” (1893), was commissioned for the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. A larger copy of “Isabella” was exhibited in San Francisco the following year. Both versions were probably constructed of plaster or staff. An effort was made to place the San Francisco sculpture in Golden Gate Park, but owing to criticism of so honoring a foreign head of government, particularly one who had sanctioned the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492), the effort failed. It is probable that the statue was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake (see Kate Culkin, Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography, Amherst, Mass., 2010, pp. 152–156).
From 1867 to the time Hatty retired from sculpture in the 1890’s, most of her work was commissioned by her intimate friend Louisa, Lady Ashburton (née Stewart-Mackenzie, 1827–1903), second wife of William Bingham Baring (1799–1864), 2nd Baron Ashburton. The two women met in the spring of 1867 when Lady Ashburton and her daughter, Mary (“Maysie”) Florence Baring (1860–1902), visited Hatty at her studio in Rome. The sculptor was immediately smitten with the Baroness, likening her to the “Ludovisi goddess,” a well-known classical head of Juno (see Sherwood, p. 265). The visitor proceeded to order copies of “Puck”; “Will o’ the Wisp” (1858), a companion piece to “Puck”; “Putti upon Dolphin” (ca. 1861); “The Sleeping Faun” (1865), a life-size male nude; and the last’s pendant, “The Waking Faun” (1867). Further commissions followed, including designs for fountains to be installed at Melchet Court in Hampshire, one of Lady Ashburton’s many properties.
Beginning in the 1870’s, Hatty gradually turned her attention away from sculpture towards invention. One was a synthetic form of marble, for which she was granted a patent. Another, which became something of an obsession, was a perpetual motion machine that operated on magnets. Although such an idea had been derided by physicists because it violated the laws of thermodynamics, Hatty worked on this project until the time of her death, leaving only plans and models to show for it. An entry in Enid Lady Layard’s journal, made during a visit to Rome in 1881, confirms the shift in Hatty’s aims: “Mrs Bagot called & also Miss Hatty Hosmer the American sculptress a funny little body with hair cropped short badly dressed & very plain but with a merry voice & bright eyes & what I call rather a knobby face. She & Henry had been old friends & she came especially to see him & promised to return. She has given up her Art in the search of a machine for ‘perpetual motion’ & spiritualism. It appears that she spends all her time & fortune over this & has shut up her studio wh is a great pity” (“Lady Layard’s Journal,” 28 [January 1881], ms at BL). Hatty may have been investing in other doubtful enterprises. There were numerous reports in American newspapers of 1886 that she had “lost most of her fortune” in Keely Motor Company stock (see for example The Chicago Tribune, 13 September 1886, p. 4). The Keely motor, “invented” by John Worrell Keely (1837–98), was said to be powered by sympathetic vibrations in the ether—in fact, it was later discovered that the power was compressed air, cleverly hidden by the inventor. None of the investors in the company made any money, the biggest loser being RB’s friend Clara Bloomfield-Moore (1824–99).
Hatty lived more in England than in Rome during the 1880’s, sometimes staying with Lady Ashburton. The next decade saw her primarily in America and included a three-year residence in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she continued to work on the perpetual motion machine. She returned to England after the turn of the century and was present at Lady Ashburton’s London home in Knightsbridge (Kent House) when her daughter, Maysie, died in 1902 and was also there when the Baroness herself died the following year from breast cancer. Hatty’s great friend left her an annuity of £500. After a brief visit to America and about two years of travelling in Europe, Hatty made her way back to Watertown, first staying in her old home on Riverside Street, which now belonged to the widow of her cousin Alfred Hosmer. She later moved in with the family of Charles E. Gray, a local jeweler, at 6 Chester Street (see Culkin, p. 164). On 7 February 1908 she wrote to her friend Cornelia Carr, complaining of a cold. Two weeks later Hatty died at the Gray home on 21 February. She was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in the family plot of her cousin Alfred, not far from the graves of her parents. Charlotte Cushman is also buried in Mt. Auburn, as are many other notable New Englanders.
The Brownings and Harriet Hosmer first met towards the end of 1853 when she called on them at their apartment in Rome. The first reference to her in the poets’ correspondence occurs in a letter of 30 December  from EBB to her sister Henrietta, where the new acquaintance is described as “very clever & very strange” and living in a house with other “emancipated women” (letter 3310). By March of 1854, the acquaintance had become a friend, whom EBB considered “one of the frankest, bluntest, nicest little creatures that ever took my fancy” (letter 3351). Doubtless EBB was also attracted to Hatty for her interest in spiritualism. In letter 3320, EBB mentions that both Hatty and Matilda Hays have the faculty of “spirit-writing” (automatic writing). Not long afterwards, Hatty tells EBB of being visited in her room by “a spirit some three feet high, exquisitely formed” that “came running, dancing to her” (letter 3351).
The Brownings saw a lot of Hatty during the remainder of their stay in Rome, often in the company of Adelaide Sartoris, either at her residence, where she hosted social gatherings on Sundays and Wednesdays, or on excursions to the Roman Campagna, the party usually including her sister, Fanny Kemble, and the young painter Frederic Leighton. In a 4 May 1854 letter to Isa Blagden, EBB recounted a visit to Hatty’s studio, where she and RB found the sculptor “tête à tête or rather corps à corps” with a nude, evidently female, model. Hatty invited them in. RB accepted; EBB declined: “Robert was quite vexed at me for this piece of prudery,—but not being ‘professional’ there was not much reason I thought, to struggle against my womanly instincts in the case” (letter 3411).
It was during this first period of her friendship with the Brownings that Hatty asked them if she could cast their clasped hands in plaster. The subjects agreed, EBB under the condition that Hatty herself, not the formatore, apply the plaster to her diminutive hand held in RB’s. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who later saw the cast in Rome, refers to the “clasped hands of Browning and his wife” in his novel The Marble Faun (Boston, 1860, I, 154). The original cast is at Radcliffe. For many years Hatty resisted the idea of executing the “Clasped Hands” in a harder material, but sometime after 1896 she permitted two editions in bronze (see letter 3310, note 6).
The Brownings’ frequent contact with their new American friend was interrupted when they returned to Florence in late May 1854. But it was renewed later that summer when Hatty travelled to Florence to stay a few months with Isa Blagden at her villa near the Poggio Imperiale. Again, Hatty proved to be a jolly companion. One evening at Casa Guidi, RB regretted that he could not go with his wife to the nearby Certosa monastery to see the various artworks there because women were not allowed inside the walls. Undeterred, Hatty suggested that she, EBB, and Mrs. Kinney disguise themselves as young male students and visit the monastery in the company of RB and Mr. Kinney, who would act as the boys’ tutors. On the day of the outing, while the three women in costumes and wigs waited for RB and Mr. Kinney to bring up the carriage, EBB wandered off by herself into the street and began attracting attention. Her husband, afraid the scheme would be uncovered, put a stop to the proceedings, for which Hatty “called him a poltroon, & other hard names” (see letter 3463, note 3). Another adventure from this time involved a runaway donkey cart. As recorded years later by Hatty, in Florence one morning, at her insistence, she and RB borrowed the small cart (“caretta”) and donkey that delivered vegetables to Casa Guidi. Without its usual driver at the reins, the donkey bolted, flinging vegetables along the street and nearly bouncing the passengers out of the cart. The two made it back to Casa Guidi for breakfast, after which RB assembled various props and re-enacted for EBB “not the flight of the Erl King, but the flight of the Erl-y Birds” (“Recollections of the Brownings,” The Youth’s Companion, 9 August 1900, p. 388). Before returning to Rome, Hatty endeared herself to the Brownings’ son, Pen, by presenting him with a silver dinner set that he had coveted. She also left a gift for his parents in the form of an egg boiler, to which she later punningly referred in a letter of 6 April : “I’m so glad you found the little boiler useful– Alas, for me the gift was ominous—the round number 24! that’s all” (letter 3543). Hatty was alluding to her 24th boil. She had been plagued with boils in Florence and for a while could not sit, being “obliged to lie on a sofa” (letter 3470). In a January 1855 letter to the Brownings, she had complained: “Two more [boils] have just been added to the list making now sixteen” (letter 3511).
The first letter from Hatty to RB is characteristic of her playful and punning sense of humor. Writing to postpone a visit to the Lateran museum in Rome, she closed: “Hoping this bitter disappointment will not upset your mental quillibrium” (letter 3375). Evidently, RB enjoyed the wordplay and silliness more than EBB. Of the seven extant letters from the Brownings to Hatty written before EBB’s death, two are from RB alone, and the greater parts of the other five, though written jointly, are from him.
After Hatty’s visit to Florence, the Brownings did not see her again until she stopped there for two weeks in November 1857, partly for the purpose of finding an appropriate costume for her “Zenobia in Chains” (see SD2124 in vol. 24). During this visit, according to EBB, Hatty dined and breakfasted with the poets “almost every other day” (letter 4100). The sculptor also finally managed to gain entrance to the Certosa monastery, in the company of RB, by way of wearing “a suit of Mr. Browning’s clothes” (see SD2124 in vol. 24).
Owing to EBB’s declining health, the Brownings spent the last three winters of her life in Rome and consequently saw Hatty fairly often, though not with the same frequency or degree of intimacy as before. Shortly after the Brownings’ arrival there in late November 1858, she and RB went to see the monument Hatty had executed for the tomb of Judith de Palezieux Falconnet. EBB wrote of it to Isa Blagden: “It is exquisite. … Not merely her best work, but a work far better than I, for one, ever expected from her” (letter 4291). In the same letter, EBB reported an instance of the sculptor’s independent character. Returning home one evening at ten o’clock, Hatty was accosted by a man in the street who asked why she was out so late: “It was close to her own door, & she knocked before she spoke. Then turning round she said .. ‘You ask my reason for walking so late. This is my reason–’ And crash across his face she struck with her iron-pointed umbrella.” When Hatty had first come to Rome, she kept strict hours in order to devote herself to sculpture. But now EBB noticed that the hours were not kept as strictly: “Think of Hatty going out three times in an evening! She is quite other in this respect from what she used to be, when she vanished at ten, even if she appeared at all” (letter to Isa Blagden, 15 February , ms at Berg). EBB thought Hatty “not the stronger for these efforts.”
As much as EBB continued to admire Hatty and her independence, she preferred a safer riding companion for Pen, who was given a pony in the early autumn of 1859. EBB wrote to tell Sarianna Browning that the pony would be going with them to Rome that year: “We are to hunt up some small Italian princes & princesses to ride with him. … (I object to Hatty Hosmer, who has been thrown thirty times.)” (ca. 3 October 1859, ms at Lilly). The sculptor called on the Brownings shortly after their arrival in Rome on 3 December 1859, but there would be far fewer meetings that winter, one of the reasons being Hatty’s poor health. She was “unwell & confined to bed” RB told Isa on 29 December (ms at ABL), and a month later he mentioned to the same correspondent that he could not see much of her because “she keeps the house, fears colds, and catches them all the same” (ms at ABL). In a 6 March letter to Isa, EBB complained of Hatty: “She never comes to see me—that is, she has come twice, which is nearly never. I fear she is not very strong & that her work this winter gives signs of it” (ms at Fitzwilliam). Another reason for the limited contact between the friends concerned Hatty’s father. Upon returning from a two-week visit to Florence in March, Hatty learned that her father had suffered a stroke, and, consequently, she left for America on the 25th of the month. Hatty did not meet the Brownings again until their return to Rome in late November. Soon after their arrival, RB saw Hatty at a ball, where the Prince of Wales “advanced to her with extended hand … was delighted to meet her again, told her that ‘Puck’ was established in his Oxford Rooms and a great favorite” (letter to Isa Blagden, 3 December 1860, ms at ABL). While RB would continue to meet Hatty from time to time, EBB seldom did, telling Fanny Haworth in a 1 February 1861 letter that she had seen the sculptor only once (ms at Fitzwilliam). A week later she reported to Isa that “Hatty dines out every day of the week—so there is no wonder that I never see her” (ms at Fitzwilliam). EBB was dependent on visitors for social interaction, because she rarely left the Brownings’ apartment during their last winter in Rome. She had been devastated by the death of her sister, Henrietta, in November 1860, and her health, never strong, had begun its final decline. One of Hatty’s distractions at this time was a new wealthy patron, Lady Marian Alford (née Compton, 1817–88), whom EBB found somewhat affected and fussy. “Hatty,” on the other hand, EBB wrote to Isa, “calls her divine. … She knelt down before Hatty the other day & gave her, .. placed on her finger, .. the most splendid ring you can imagine—a ruby in the form of a heart, surrounded and crowned with diamonds. Hatty is frankly delighted, & says so with all sorts of fantastical exaggerations” (20 March , ms at Fitzwilliam). The last letter from EBB to Hatty, part of a joint letter from both Brownings, was written sometime in May, not long before they left Rome for Florence. RB spoke of a photograph “in progress,” and EBB wrote: “You shall have the picture of me dearest Hatty, when the sun has done me” (typescript at Radcliffe). EBB’s last mention of Hatty occurs in an 18 May 1861 letter to Isa: “Hatty brought us a most charming design for a fountain for Lady Marion [sic] Alford. The imagination is unfolding its wings in Hatty” (ms at Fitzwilliam). Called “The Fountain of the Siren,” it was executed and installed for Lady Marian’s house at 11 Prince’s Gate, London.
Following the death of EBB on 29 June 1861, Hatty was moved to write: “She lives in my heart, and in my memory, as the most perfect human being I have ever known. To have seen her, and to have been admitted to her friendship, I must always consider as one of the happiest events of my life” (letter to Wayman Crow, 27 August 1861, Letters and Memories, p. 180).
On 1 August 1861, RB and his son left Italy, and from that point on there seems to have been little interaction between the poet and the sculptor—there were only three extant letters from him to her, the first being a brief note, sent from the Brittany coast, that accompanied a photograph of EBB taken a month before her death: “You will like to have what I send you, I know. It may be a long time before we meet again and you must remember me kindly” (24 September 1861, typescript at Radcliffe). They did meet the following year in London when Hatty was there to oversee the placement of her statues in the International Exhibition. Writing to Isa Blagden on 19 July, RB mentioned that he had seen “Hatty last night,—dined with her at Ly. Marian Alford’s—& thought her much better in looks than some three weeks ago, when she arrived thin, worn & not well” (ms at ABL). In letters to the William Wetmore Storys and Isa over the next few years, RB often asked about Hatty and sent along his best regards to her. He was appalled, as were other friends, when The Art-Journal published an article that claimed her sculptures were actually the work of one of her assistants. However, he thought the attack should have been ignored. Commenting on a letter in defense of Hatty that Story contributed to The Athenæum, RB wrote: “I don’t think I should have troubled my head about such a charge in such a quarter, had I been she” (letter to Isa, 19 December 1863, ms at BL). A few months later, RB wrote Hatty another brief note, this one a letter of introduction for Frances Wedgwood (1800–89), whose daughter, Julia Wedgwood (1833–1913), became an intimate friend and correspondent of the poet over the next two years.
That RB met and communicated less with Hatty after EBB’s death can partly be explained by a passage in a letter from him to Isa: “Hatty is just the old Hatty—less interesting, as is the way with all such pretty things after a time: the ‘not-niceness’ of her conduct is the old story … Hatty used to take up and be ‘dearest friend’ with any and everybody, dropping them at a minute’s notice or without it,—of course, for some defect or fault. … Hatty has seen into the characteristic points of the Storys long ago, and exposed them liberally enough. Now, there is another thing genius does occasionally—see a faulty thing, never suffer it to be taken for anything but a faulty thing, yet—all the same, with that admitted, get good of a kind out if it too. Just so I feel for Hatty’s little self—not mistaking her, but liking her considerably in her way: so the Storys are likeable in their way” (19 February 1867, ms at BL). Later in the year, having heard that Charlotte Cushman and Hatty had been in London, RB remarked to Isa: “I should have liked to have seen Miss Cushman, and Hatty too: neither of them ever signify their presence to me, when they come to London: it don’t much matter” (19 November , ms at ABL).
RB’s last extant letter to Hatty is dated 5 September 1869 (typescript at Radcliffe). It consists of rhyming verse in nine stanzas, written in RB’s own voice and the voices of his fellow guests staying at Loch Luichart, Louisa Lady Ashburton’s hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. The other guests included Mr. and Mrs. Story and their daughter, Edith; RB’s sister, Sarianna; and Lady Marian Alford. Each stanza after the first contains a plea from the speaker that Hatty come to Scotland. But Browning scholars generally agree that all the stanzas are RB’s. The first and penultimate stanzas read:
Dear Hosmer; or still dearer, Hatty—
Mixture of miele and of latte,
So good and sweet and—somewhat fatty—
Don’t set an old acquaintance frowning,
But come and quickly! quoth R. Browning,
For since prodigious fault is found with you,
I—that is, Robin—must be Round with you.
Hatty replied in verse eight days later, addressing each of the speakers. The stanza to RB reads:
Tell him who stole my early love
And while these tears abound
Rob’ erst by name, to cherish me
As he goes Robin’ Round
(Letters and Memories, p. 277).
During RB’s stay at Loch Luichart, Lady Ashburton apparently made him an offer of marriage. He declined and at some point told her that his “heart was buried in Florence” and that “the attractiveness of a marriage with her lay in its advantage to Pen” (letter to Edith Story, 4 April 1872, ms at Yale). Edith had reported that Hatty, acting on information from third parties, had evidently written a letter to the Storys condemning RB’s treatment of Lady Ashburton. RB was particularly annoyed that Hatty had relied on the stories of others (doubtless including that of Lady Ashburton), without giving him a chance to defend himself: “She [Hatty] turns out … to have thought it quite just & proper to listen to people I never by any possibility can have mentioned Lady A’s name to … and then, without giving me a hint of what the story was, how I might explain it or expose it,—to take on herself to write that letter: that is,—to say she took it on herself,—for I don’t believe any such nonsense, or that she was anything but the cat’s paw of Lady A. in the business. … But I should like to know,—whatever the story may have been,—what business Hatty had with my behavior to Ly. A. in Ly. A’s house?” RB went on to say that concerning his heart in Florence and advantages to Pen, he had never left Lady Ashburton “in ignorance … for a moment,—though that I ever paraded this in a gross form to anybody is simply false: but had it been true,—does Hatty instantly practise impertinence on any friend of hers who intends to make an ambitious or mercenary marriage? As for her devotion to Lady A: begetting this chivalrous ardor in her,—Lady A. has got plenty of friends quite as intimate, who never fancied for a moment that they were called on to fight her battles.” Viewed in the light of Hatty’s dependence on Lady Ashburton’s commissions, the sculptor’s loyalty to her wealthy patron is unsurprising. In dismissively concluding the subject, RB wrote: “So, now, I have done with Hatty, for once & always. Had I believed stories about her, many a long year ago, and ordered her away from people’s houses on the strength of them, I should have lost a friendship I used to value highly: but I have gained some pleasant memories by being less ready than she to believe slanderous gossip,—and,—as she has elected to know me only through the reports of others, though I would have shown what they were worth in a minute, had she given me the opportunity,—so shall our relation be, and no otherwise, to the end of time.”
RB was done with Hatty, but she was not done with him. In May of 1873 she took it upon herself to demonstrate to the Storys that RB had somehow been disloyal to them. She had in her possession a letter RB had written to Lady Ashburton that contained the incriminating material. Hatty had begged the recipient to allow her to show the letter to the Storys: “I have not shown that note of B’s to the S’s & will not since you desire it—but I am all for having justice done & treachery exposed” ([29 May 1873], ms at Scotland). When Lady Ashburton finally gave Hatty permission, the latter used the occasion of a reply to take a spiteful swing at her former friend: “Oh he is a miserable nature—I mean B. She was the one who made him spread his wings & soar above himself. When she left him he began to sink, & sink, & now he is very near the earth” ([31 May 1873], ms at Scotland). The letter was shown to the Storys the following evening, and Hatty immediately reported their reaction to it: “I put it (B’s letter) into Mr. S[’s] hands & asked him to read it aloud—which he did—& having done so both admitted that they could not have supposed Mr B capable of writing it. ‘Well I never’ said Mrs S with much emphasis & much indignation. ‘A most improper letter to have written’ said Mr S. laying it down—& took it up & read it out again.” And just in case the Storys missed the point Hatty was trying to make, she declared to them “‘that is not the sort of letter that I should expect a man who calls himself my friend to write of me.’ … They both said they thought I was very right in showing it & were very glad I had & if it does not serve to open their eyes a little now I am mistaken” (ms at Scotland). What RB said about the Storys in the letter is unknown. If they harbored any ill-feeling towards him as a result of Hatty’s presentation, it is not recorded, and RB himself does not refer to it in the extant correspondence. In a letter of 19 June 1886 to the Storys, RB, alluding to the Lady Ashburton affair (without mentioning Hatty), wrote: “Enough of an odious experience—which had, however, the effect of enabling you and Mrs Story to prove yourselves effectually and admirably my friends” (ms at Morgan).
After RB washed his hands of Hatty in the 4 April 1872 letter, he refers to her only once more in his correspondence. Out of the blue, Hatty wrote to him on 31 March 1887, introducing a Mr. Shortall. She begins: “My dear Friend / Here comes a very affectionate ghost from the past. This ghost—however—has very often been with you in spirit though absent in shadow and it was glad you had not forgotten her as Lady Marian assured her not long since your kind enquiries proved” (ms at Virginia). Shortall duly called on RB, who, soon afterwards, enclosed Hatty’s note in a letter to the Storys: “The writer of the letter I subjoin chose to address me in the way you will see: and I think it due to you—hardly necessary as it may be—to show how far impudence can go. Pray do not even reply to this recurrence of mine to a hateful subject: but as you have so lately looked over the Letters &c of Lady Ashburton, you may as well know how the chief agent in that business professes to feel for me whom she slandered. Of course, I never have said a word about her to Lady Marian” (4 April 1887, ms at Taylor Coll).
Dolly Sherwood points out that Hatty never mentioned the break with RB in any of her “public utterances” (Sherwood, p. 308). Indeed, in speeches and informal talks, she always spoke kindly of him, reserving, however, her highest praise and warmest feeling for EBB. In a written reminiscence of her early years in Rome, published for the first time in Letters and Memories, Hatty compared the RB of later years to the RB she knew then, repeating in a way, though much more sympathetically, the comparison (noted above) that she made between the RB before EBB’s death and the RB after: “Photography now reveals to us a face of great intellectual power, but also the face of the comfortable man of the world, tinged, perhaps, with a certain sense of success, but in the days of which I write, he dwelt apart from the every-day world; he stood, I think, on a higher plane, fulfilling in every sense the ideal we have formed of a poet” (p. 49). Not long after RB’s death and burial in Westminster Abbey, Hatty wrote a six-line poem to his and his wife’s memory (ms at Radcliffe):
“Parted in death” we say—they in that land
Where suns spring, blossom and decay,
Crowned with the halo of a new content;
Our little planet, in the firmament,
All lost to view—smile at our words and hand in hand
Wend their Eternal way.