Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810–89)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 21, 357–366.
American poet and journalist, this Browning friend was born in New York City on 18 December 1810, the sixth of seven children and the fourth of five daughters born to David Low Dodge (1774–1852), a textile merchant who founded the New-York Peace Society, and his wife Sarah (née Cleveland, 1780–1862), great-aunt of U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Mrs. Kinney’s elder brother William E. Dodge co-founded in 1833 Phelps, Dodge and Company, and Mrs. Kinney herself is the great-great-grandmother of the four Koch brothers, two of whom, Charles and David, are the principal owners of Koch Industries.
Elizabeth Kinney grew up in New York City and Bozrahville (now Gilman), Connecticut, near Norwich. She was educated mainly at home but, much to her regret, was denied the usual instruction in music and dance because her deeply religious Presbyterian father disapproved of the latter and could not abide the practicing in his house of the former (“Reminiscences,” Part 4, ms at Columbia). While visiting a sister in Hartford, she met Edmund Burke Stedman (1800–35), a partner with his father in a wholesale lumber firm. They married in New York City on 25 March 1830 and settled in Hartford where they had three children: a girl who died in infancy; Edmund Clarence (1833–1908), poet and literary critic; and Charles Frederick (1835–63). In 1835 because of declining health, Stedman was advised to spend the winter at St. Croix in the Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), but he died during the passage out on 4 December and was buried at sea. Some months after his death, Mrs. Stedman relocated her family to her parents’ house at Plainfield, New Jersey. She recalled in her “Reminiscences” that she expected to receive the bulk of her husband’s estate, which he had told her was worth “near a hundred thousand dollars … without debts” (Part 7). But Stedman died without a will, and his father informed her that the “estate was found insolvent, & nothing left for the support of his widow & orphans” (Part 7). Mrs. Kinney recorded that Stedman’s father claimed the estate as a debt owed to himself, which she knew to be false. To make amends, he later offered to support and educate his two grandsons, provided that Mrs. Stedman would allow them to be raised by her husband’s brother, James Stedman, of Norwich. This she at first refused to do. But in 1839 she let six-year-old Edmund go; and a year later, five-year-old Charles.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Stedman had been contributing poems and miscellaneous articles to American periodicals, including The Knickerbocker Magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, and Graham’s Magazine. In the late spring of 1841, she began a correspondence with William Burnet Kinney (1799–1880), publisher and editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser, second son and child of Col. Abraham Kinney (1762–1816), who served in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and his wife Hannah (née Burnet, 1761–1832). Kinney had married in 1820 Mary (née Chandler, 1803–41), and they had one surviving child, Thomas Talmadge Kinney (1821–1900). Mary Kinney died on 28 January 1841. Mr. Kinney first met Mrs. Stedman in August of that year, and they married three months later on 16 November in New York City. They had two children: Elizabeth Clementine (afterwards Kip, 1842–1930) and Mary Burnet (afterwards Easton, 1843–1924). A year after the birth of their second daughter, Mrs. Kinney “took charge of the literary department” of the Daily Advertiser, writing “all the book notices & critiques which appeared in it, besides many original articles on various subjects” (Part 10). A few of Mrs. Kinney’s poems were collected in Female Poets of America (Philadelphia, 1849), edited by artist and poet Thomas Buchanan Read. It included engravings taken from Read’s portraits of the subjects; a detail of the portrait of Mrs. Kinney is reproduced above.
In April 1850, Mr. Kinney was appointed by President Zachary Taylor as chargé d’affaires to the court of Turin, at that time the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont). The Kinneys sailed from New York on 19 June, leaving their daughters behind in the care of their aunt, Maria Kinney (née Webb, 1789–1880), widow of Mr. Kinney’s elder brother Thomas (1785–1826). Aunt and daughters followed in a year, the aunt remaining with the family until their return to America in 1865. The Kinneys stopped first in England and spent six weeks in London before travelling on to Turin where they arrived in the middle of August. According to herself, Mrs. Kinney was immensely popular at court, partly because she was “the first lady from our country who had ever been seen in Turin” and partly because of her youthful appearance: “For never was I fresher-looking than at that ripe age [forty], & every one took me for not over twenty” (Part 11). Mr. Kinney himself was admired and respected. Mrs. Kinney recalled that he “was looked up to by all the corps diplomatique, even the members from absolute monarchies came to him for counsel in national difficulties. … Also the King’s ministers soon got into the way of consulting my husband on state affairs of importance” (Part 12). Despite their popularity, the Kinneys “grew tired of the exactions of Court-life … & Mr Kinney resolved to resign his mission & remove to Florence” (Part 13). It is more likely that Mr. Kinney resigned in anticipation of being recalled by the new president Franklin Pierce. Although Mr. Kinney officially remained chargé d’affairs until October 1853—when his replacement assumed the post—he and his family removed to Florence in June, leaving his secretary to run the legation.
The Kinneys stayed at the Hôtel New York in Florence until finding an apartment in Casa del Bello, Via della Fornace (now Via dei Serragli), near fellow countryman, the sculptor Hiram Powers. They lived in Florence for the next nine years; other residences included Casa François, Piazza San Spirito (1858) and Villa Giglioni, Bellosguardo (1859). Upon moving to Florence, Mrs. Kinney became a correspondent for the Daily Advertiser, of which her husband’s son was now editor and manager. The reports she filed, appearing about every other week, contained news and historical information about the city and environs, as well as light gossip concerning Florentines, travellers, and expatriates (particularly Americans). In 1859 and 1860 her reports focused on the political and military events occurring in Tuscany during and after the second war of Italian independence. Mrs. Kinney also continued to produce verse. Her poem “To an Italian Beggar-Boy” was printed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine for February 1855. Later that same year, her first book of poetry was published in New York, Felicità: A Metrical Romance. It fared poorly, however, and the harsh criticism it received drew a bitter reaction from the author: “As to the public, it has mistreated me beyond anything I could have conceived possible. My poor Felicità … has met with the most unjust abuse. … The treatment of the book can only be accounted for by the interference of personal enemies” (Mrs. Kinney’s Journal, 17 July 1855, ms at Columbia).
In the summer of 1860, Mrs. Kinney made a four-month visit to the United States. On arriving back in Florence, she and her family moved into one of the hotels facing the Arno, and they began making plans for a return to America in the spring of 1861, though Mr. Kinney preferred to remain in Europe (Mrs. Kinney had told her son Charles in a letter a few years earlier that it was her husband’s “purpose to live & die in Florence,” 12 January 1858, ms at Columbia). But with the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, the Kinneys decided to remain in Europe until the end of hostilities. The next year they removed to Leghorn, then left Italy for good on April 1863. They lived in Paris for a year, before dividing their time between various German spa-towns, followed by a sojourn at Nice. The summer of 1865 saw them again in Germany, including several weeks at Baden-Baden where Mrs. Kinney was appalled at the gambling in the casinos: “For the first time we saw there what a seductive way to ruin of soul & body led through those illuminated, decorated salons, where the gambling tables were day & night surrounded by deluded throngs” (“Reminiscences,” Part 18). At Mrs. Kinney’s insistence, the family returned to America in October 1865. She was most anxious to accompany their now married daughter Elizabeth Clementine Kip and the latter’s husband and family on the voyage home. The Kips had married the previous year in Germany, with Mr. Kip’s father, the Episcopal Bishop of San Francisco, presiding.
Back in America, the Kinneys stayed in New York until the summer of 1866, when they took up residence at Morristown, New Jersey. Mrs. Kinney continued writing for a time: her collected Poems appeared in 1867; she also contributed to various periodicals, especially Scribner’s Monthly; then in 1873 she published her third and last book, a verse tragedy entitled Bianca Cappello, which she had written in Florence between 1853 and 1855. Because of Mr. Kinney’s failing health, in the mid-1870’s the Kinneys moved in with their youngest daughter’s family at Summit, New Jersey. Mr. Kinney died on 21 October 1880 in New York City and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Newark. Mrs. Kinney died on 19 November 1889 in Summit and was buried beside other Dodge family members in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City.
The Kinneys first met the Brownings at Casa Guidi, on 10 or 11 July 1853, perhaps by way of an introduction from the aforementioned Thomas Buchanan Read, who would paint the Brownings’ portraits later that year. In a letter to Mrs. Kinney of 12 February 1851, Read gushed about the married poets and declared: “How I wish I could make you acquainted” (ms at Iowa). In her “Reminiscences” (Part 14), Mrs. Kinney makes a point of the Brownings calling on her and her husband first, but letters 3224 and 3227 clearly indicate that the first calls were made by the Kinneys at Casa Guidi. Soon afterwards, EBB described them in a letter to her brother George dated 16–18 July : “Mrs. Kinney dabbles in literature … & was about to write two years ago to invite us to visit them at Turin when she heard of our having just left Italy .. which vexed her so that she ‘cried.’ So she swore .. & I believe .. I who am credulous. She is a vivacious, demonstrative, rather pretty woman, with … a cataract of auburn ringlets … not especially refined for an ambassador’s wife, but natural & apparently warmhearted to the point of taking you by storm” (letter 3227). Of Mr. Kinney, EBB wrote: “He has a certain nobleness of mind & opinion .. of general atmosphere .. as well as considerable intelligence.” The Brownings were particularly interested in his “news of Piedmont concerning the rapid progress of the people & the honest intentions of the King.” Mr. Kinney also told them of how “he had pointed out to the King that passage in ‘Casa Guidi windows’ about his father Charles Albert, & that he was ‘much gratified.’ … What pleased me more was … that Azeglio when prime minister, quoted the poem in the Piedmontese chamber.” The Kinneys came again on 14 July, the evening before the Brownings’ departure for their summer holiday at Bagni di Lucca, and Mrs. Kinney presented RB with a review of the American edition of his Poems (Boston, 1850) that she had written for the Daily Advertiser of 4 December 1849. She had commended his poetry for its “originality of conception and intellectual force” but complained of obscurity and a lack of smoothness (p. 2). Not long afterwards, he responded good-humoredly: “I shall mend my ways, I assure you, get as smooth as I can, and as plain as I can” (letter 3234). With the review, Mrs. Kinney included some of her poetry, on which RB commented with great tact: “I have read your verses with great interest and satisfaction that, as ‘many waters cannot quench love,’ so, much Diplomacy and Court-practice need in nowise extinguish a firm & generous nature’s feelings and impulses.”
After the Brownings returned from Rome in the late spring of 1854, they were frequently in the Kinneys’ company. In letter 3456, EBB writes: “Mr. & Mrs. Kinney come to take us out to drive most evenings. … The carriage exercise in the hot days is very pleasant for me, to say nothing of the pleasantness of the society.” Sometime during the summer or early autumn of 1854, the Kinneys, the Brownings, and the American sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who was staying with Isa Blagden, made plans to see some paintings in a nearby monastery, admittance to which was forbidden to females. The three women disguised themselves in wigs and costumes to resemble male students, their instructors being represented by RB and Mr. Kinney. The plan might have succeeded if EBB had not wandered off by herself in disguise and caught the attention of passers-by, thus prompting RB to call it off. Mrs. Kinney recounted the episode in her “Reminscences” (Part 14); see letter 3463.
By October 1853, Mrs. Kinney had begun dropping references to the Brownings in her contributions to the Daily Advertiser. She quoted from EBB’s Casa Guidi Windows in the 8 and 22 December issues, then in the following February she wondered how the poets were “permitted quietly to inhabit the Casa Guidi, after which is named Mrs. Browning’s poem, which denounces in such unqualified terms both the Pope and the present Grand Duke of Tuscany” (SD1720, vol. 20). The next month, she described the poets: “Mrs. B— is physically as frail, as her mind and verse are strong,” and “Mr. Browning is alive with good nature and humor; full of practical knowledge, and as plain and smooth in talk, as he is obscure and rough in his writings; in short, as is the case with Mrs. B., the very opposite of the book—Browning” (SD1724, vol. 20). In her “Reminiscences,” Mrs. Kinney recalled: “My first impression of both was disappointment. … Mrs B. appeared many years older than her husband; though in fact only five,” while RB was “rather below the medium height … with a round head, too large for his body, yet denoting no special gifts or propensities. … His features were ordinary. … His manner was impulsive” (Part 14).
Whether the Brownings were aware of Mrs. Kinney’s above-mentioned articles is unknown. But one article did come to their attention near the end of 1854 that doubtless led to a significant decrease in the number of references to them in her subsequent contributions. She had responded to a description of the Brownings that had appeared anonymously in The Home Journal (New York). In it EBB was compared to “an old moth” and deemed “a little ugly old woman” (SD1733, vol. 20). In a letter to the Daily Advertiser of 26 August 1854, Mrs. Kinney called EBB “a woman whom angels might name with reverence” and “head and shoulders above all queenly women,” though she was a prisoner of a “frail form, shattered by disease” (SD1768, vol. 20). RB found this last observation particularly objectionable. In a journal entry of 6 January 1855, Mrs. Kinney wrote that her letter “was copied into all the leading journals, much praised for its kind intent and language. … Mr. Browning saw it, & wrote me a letter expressive of displeasure; when all save he thought I had done them a true kindness” (SD1798). RB wouldn’t “concede for a moment” that EBB’s form was “shattered by disease” (letter 3495). EBB, on the other hand, apologized to Mrs. Kinney for RB’s “ill-humor” and thanked her “for ‘the kind things’” she had written (SD1798). One of the “kind things” was a sonnet that concluded her defense of EBB. Mrs. Kinney thought it should be placed on a “blank leaf” in EBB’s books as a warning to “casual readers.” The sonnet begins: “Stay! come not here with unanointed eyes, / And hope that inner temple to behold / Where Beauty dwells in phases manifold” (SD1768, vol. 20). Mrs. Kinney followed her own advice and reproduced the poem on the end-pages of her copy of Casa Guidi Windows (1851), which EBB had presented to her (see Reconstruction, C20).
In a journal entry for 7 June 1855, Mrs. Kinney recorded that she and EBB had their own difference of opinion over George Sand. The Kinneys had invited the Brownings and mutual friends, the Henry Cottrells, for tea at Casa del Bello on the evening of 6 June, and the conversation turned to Sand, who had visited Florence the previous month. Upon learning that the French writer had been with countless lovers, Mrs. Kinney was horrified and pronounced her “the worst of women.” EBB explained that Sand had only “fallen under the dominion of a sensual appetite which she cannot control; but it is no worse than gluttony or intemperance … Her mind is none the less godlike.” Mrs. Kinney was indignant that EBB, “the truest and purest of women—could so speak.” A “warm discussion” ensued, during which the Brownings remarked that Sand had “never loved anyone but herself.” The “discussion left each party fully persuaded in its own mind,” but Mrs. Kinney “could not sleep on retiring for the night. So dreadful does it seem for one, to whom God has given power to be superhuman, to become brutal, thro’ the most polluting of sensual passions” (SD1829).
Mrs. Kinney was also unsympathetic, albeit tacitly so, when it came to two of the Brownings’ friends: Robert Bulwer Lytton and Isa Blagden. In her “Reminiscences” (Part 14) she called them “the two shadows,” because they “followed the Brownings every where.” In describing Isa, Mrs. Kinney wrote that she was “of under height (her legs being so short as to give her a dwarfish appearance, though her body was unproportionably long) … dark complexioned and swarthy … vivacious in the extreme, & flippant of tongue.” Certainly, Mrs. Kinney betrayed some jealousy when she wrote that of the Brownings’ friends only Isa was “admitted into the mysteries of their inner thought.” Whereas Mrs. Kinney felt a degree of respect for Isa, referring to her “clever novels” and “respectable poetry,” Lytton impressed her not at all. She describes him as “the most arrant coxcomb of a litterateur. … He was always, in one way or other, affected, never effective, never natural. How the Brownings endured him as their shadow, was a mystery to me. … I despised him, & have never since been able to enjoy his poetry.”
One of the articles that Mrs. Kinney published after her return to America concerned a day’s excursion she and her husband made with the Brownings to Pratolino, the name of a villa built by Francesco I, second grand duke of Tuscany, located about five miles north of Florence. Mrs. Kinney mentions that the outing took place in June but does not specify the year. Since she told her son about it in a May 1857 letter, it must have occurred in 1854 or 1855, probably the latter. She filed a report about Pratolino on 7 June 1855 that appeared in the 21 July 1855 issue of the Daily Advertiser, though it did not mention the Brownings. According to Mrs. Kinney in the article she later published, while EBB rested after the journey from Florence, the Kinneys and RB drew some distance apart so that their “mellowed voices could not reach her,” and there he narrated the story of the Brownings’ courtship. What he actually said, of course, comes through the filter of Mrs. Kinney’s memory (see Appendix V).
Fulfilling a promise that RB had made to Mrs. Kinney before the Brownings left Florence in June 1855, he sent her an eyewitness account of the séance Daniel Dunglas Home conducted at Ealing on 23 July (see letter 3586). Mrs. Kinney recorded the gist of the letter in a journal entry for 11 August, in which she wrote: “After reading Mr B.’s letter I laughed at myself for having given so much of the ‘spiritual’ to these things as to diginify them with the name of Sorcery.” Over the next few months Mrs. Kinney took a different view after attending Home’s séances in Florence, some of which were held in her own house. In a letter of early December 1855 to Isa Blagden, EBB wrote that she had received word from Mrs. Kinney declaring her belief in Home’s powers: “She only has doubts whether there may not be ‘sorcery’ at work—but for trickery, legerdemain, it is out of the question in her mind” (ms at Fitzwilliam). But soon Mrs. Kinney grew disenchanted with the medium when it became known that he had been spreading gossip about the people who participated in his séances, including herself, the Trollopes (Frances Trollope, her son Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and his wife Theodosia), and the Hiram Powerses. She communicated this to EBB, who felt little sympathy for Mrs. Kinney’s problems with Home: “The fact is she is in a state of mania, through some scandal directed against herself. … She is a truthful woman .. but very coarse & very violent .. & a little vicious when provoked to kick” (letter to Arabella Moulton-Barrett, [29–30 January 1856], ms with GM-B).
EBB might have resorted to harder expressions if she had known that, years before, Mrs. Kinney had voluntarily surrendered custody of her two sons. But it is doubtful that EBB knew. Otherwise, would she have written to Mrs. Kinney, as she did, concerning Thomas Buchanan Read? “Oh– I do wonder so that Mr. Reade [sic] should give away his only child, his only fragment of that poor lost domestic happiness of his, for somebody else to take care of.! I think he must indeed have cold & slack affections. … I could forgive any degree of apparent indifference, or literary absorption. … But to give away his child!– That’s horrible” (29 February , ms at Yale).
Although Mrs. Kinney may have undervalued RB as a poet, she was an enthusiastic admirer of EBB’s poetry. In her review of Aurora Leigh (1857), published in the Daily Advertiser on 17 January 1857, Mrs. Kinney wrote that the poem heralded a new day: “Woman’s morning—the dawn of her glory, when the lord of creation shall no more ask, ‘What living work has any woman ever given to the world?’ … She has raised herself to the throne of art, above all modern poets.” Upon seeing the review, EBB wrote her thanks to Mrs. Kinney: “When one is quite over-praised, it makes one feel humble,—but this is a pleasant kind of humility because associated with a sense of warm sympathy & friendship. One hear’s a friend’s voice, expecting to hear a reviewer’s. Who could object to such a surprise” ([?10 February 1857]). Sometime in the next two months, EBB presented Mrs. Kinney with a copy of Aurora Leigh (whereabouts unknown), as reported by her in a letter to her son Edmund (29 April 1875, ms at Columbia).
What the Brownings thought of Mrs. Kinney’s poetry is unrecorded, but something might be inferred from sarcastic remarks made by Harriet Hosmer in a letter of late April 1856: “Somebody brought me a review of Mrs Kinney’s ‘Felicita’– Have you seen it– It is beyond comparison too good” (ms at Virginia). After quoting several uninspired lines from the poem, she continued: “Brava! brava! Mrs Kinney! This by many degrees richer even than I thought she could do– Mrs Browning you better hide your diminished head– No use contending against such extraordinary odds. I don’t know when I have laughed so much & I write this with tears in my eyes.” In a letter to her son Edmund, Mrs. Kinney complained that the Brownings showed “entire indifference to the possible merits of any of their associate-writers which proves their perfect self-consciousness & honest belief that they & Tennyson are the only poets of the day” (8 October 1857, ms at Columbia). The Brownings were, however, keenly interested in the poetry of contemporaries but highly critical. Perhaps by affecting an indifference to all current poetry, they avoided the awkward position of having to judge a friend’s verses.
In her “Reminiscences” Mrs. Kinney relates an amusing episode involving RB and a female monkey named Cuoca. The monkey belonged to the Kinneys’ landlord and lived in the garden at Casa del Bello, but Mrs. Kinney, feeling Cuoca was being mistreated, provided her with a shed and regular feedings. Periodically the animal would be allowed in the Kinneys’ apartment on a leash, mainly because she was devoted to Mr. Kinney—though to the sometimes violent exclusion of everyone else. The monkey is first mentioned by Mrs. Kinney in a letter to her son Charles, dated 12 January 1858 (ms at Columbia), thus placing the episode with RB after that time but probably in 1858 before the Brownings left for France in July. According to Mrs. Kinney, she had told RB about Cuoca’s various antics, and he wanted to see her, “saying that no monkey could attack him, as he had a way of taming such creatures with his eye. I advised him not to try it on Cuoca; but as he insisted, ordered the gardener to lead her by the chain from her den into the room where we were sitting. … I again warned Mr Browning not to touch her; but he paid no attention to my warning, & called the beast to him, shook hands with her, & was patting her head, with pet-names on his lips, when like a flash, she sprang on his knees, clutched his long beard on both sides with her hands & pulled till he cried aloud! Mr K. then liberated him, & our poet was the laughing-stock of all present; but, as he joined heartily in the merriment which his own fool-hardiness had caused, no harm came of it; but some good, lessening his confidence in the power of his eye as a beast-tamer” (Part 14).
The last known written communication between EBB and Mrs. Kinney is a brief note from the former dated [29 July 1857], the day before the Brownings left for Bagni di Lucca to spend the summer. EBB writes of trying to see Mrs. Kinney the previous day and adds: “This evening we would try again, but Isa Blagden is coming from the Villa, & I am driven to throw myself on your generosity & ask if you will come here & meet her. Will you? How kind it would be” (ms at ABL). From this time forward, the references to Mrs. Kinney in the Brownings’ letters decrease considerably in number, and those written by EBB to Isa Blagden reveal a subtle disaffection. In a letter of July 1857 EBB remarked that RB had prevented Mrs. Kinney from coming upstairs to the Casa Guidi apartment because of the presence of Adelaide Ironside, a free-thinking painter and poet from Australia. Perhaps the Brownings had in mind Mrs. Kinney’s condemnation of George Sand and feared there would be friction between the progressive Australian and the morally judgmental American. “I dare say she is angry,” EBB wrote (ms at Fitzwilliam). In a letter of 17 September 1857, Isa was asked to make EBB’s peace with Mrs. Kinney. In a late January 1858 note, EBB declared: “I am not in the humour for Kinneys .. be sure. Oh no.” Then, in the same note: “Dear, I put off Mrs. Kinney till it thaws. I shant be up to her till then at the soonest.” A brief reference to her “looking ill used because we all go away” occurs in November 1858 just before the Brownings leave Florence to spend the winter in Rome. There is no mention made of Mrs. Kinney in the poets’ correspondence of 1859, and the only one made in that of 1860 concerns her son Edmund’s poetry, specifically “The Diamond Wedding” and a ballad entitled “John Brown’s Invasion.” EBB writes: “‘Old Brown has really excellent points– There is a rough power in the ballad which strikes us both– Robert had’nt, he bids me say, seen anything so good for a long time. … Congratulate Mrs. Kinney from both of us. The diamond-marriage too is good in certain ways. … We want to show the poems to one or two people” (24 February ), ms at Fitzwilliam). The next and last two references to Mrs. Kinney made by EBB comment on the former’s belief that she had become pregnant in her 51st year—though it turned out not to be the case. “And really Mrs. Kinney never seemed to desire such a post[s]cript of nature as she has attained to. What sarcasms she used to pour out upon expectant babies. … Congratulate her warmly from me when you write—of course” ([ca. 6 April 1861], ms at Fitzwilliam). The next month, recurring to the pregnancy, EBB writes: “Mr. Powers said some agreeable things of poor Mrs. Kinney– It appears that that coarse [Dr.] Trotman goes about calling men & angels to witness that ‘he gives no opinion’!!– Powers candidly observed, that he & his wife had known a woman past sixty (whose husband was seventy) who had a baby, & called his name Isaac: it would be the right name for the Ks’s. Oh—our tender, tender friends!—how tender they are to us– Don’t let this pass from me to anyone beyond you, Isa” ([ca. 9 May 1861], ms at Fitzwilliam).
When EBB died on 29 July 1861, the Kinneys were staying at Bagni di Lucca. They received an account of her death from Isa, as recorded in a letter from Mrs. Kinney to her son Edmund, in which she wrote: “We are all struck down by the unexpected death of Mrs Browning. Alas! the brightest of our stars has set at noonday” (3 August 1861, ms at Columbia). There is no evidence to suggest that RB ever saw the Kinneys again after EBB’s death. Following his departure from Florence in August 1861, they are rarely mentioned in his letters and only in those to Isa. The Kinneys are brought to mind when she moves into the Villa Giglioni, which they once occupied. RB writes to her: “Now, I shall very well see you in my mind’s eye. Is not Giglioni’s the villa where the Kinneys staid for some time—on the hill, near Gregory’s garden” (18 August 1862, ms at ABL). In a letter to Isa of 19 October 1865 he remarks on their leaving for America: “So the Kinneys go—I don’t envy them” (ms at ABL).
In late December 1870, RB received a letter from Mrs. Kinney, asking his permission to publish the letter on the séance at Ealing he had written to her years before (see above). Annoyed by the request, he wrote of it to Isa: “She wants to ‘write an article in one of our best Monthlies, against modern-so-called Spiritualism’—and wishes to include in it a letter of mine about Hume [sic, for Home] ‘as a clear and striking exposé of imposture.’ … Now, when I wrote that letter, perhaps eighteen years ago, did she believe a word of it? She wrote ‘What Mr B,—do you think a soul on the verge of the grave, about to face his Maker, as H. is, would dare &c &c.’ … Certainly it would be but decent to begin by acknowledging humbly that she had been a complete dupe and simpleton, would it not” (30 December 1870, ms at ABL). Not only had RB forgotten that Mrs. Kinney was just as skeptical as he was about Home until she participated in some of his séances and began to believe in his powers, but also that she had questioned her own belief soon after in letters to EBB. In RB’s response to Mrs. Kinney he politely withheld permission, fearing that publication of the letter would “give the unmitigated scoundrel in question a right as well as opportunity to retaliate, after his natural fashion, by a fresh vomit of lies such as he printed five years ago in a ‘Spiritual Magazine.’” However, RB mitigated the refusal by declaring: “You and your husband are just as fresh and distinct in my memory as when, some dozen years ago, yourselves used to be so pleasantly in my eyesight and hearing. … What a delight it will be if I am ever able,—in this world of wonders,—to see you again and say so” (6 January 1871, ms at Yale). No article on spiritualism by Mrs. Kinney has been traced.
The last recorded communication between RB and Mrs. Kinney came from the latter. She wrote on 5 January 1879 to introduce her son Edmund to RB: “Among his most pleasant anticipations in crossing the water, is the prospect of seeing the poet so well known to him already by his works” (ms at Virginia). By this time Edmund Clarence Stedman had already published an essay on EBB and one on RB in Scribner’s Monthly (November 1873 and December 1874). The essays later appeared as chapters in his well-received Victorian Poets (Boston, 1875). In the chapter on RB, he echoes his mother in criticizing the poet’s lack of melody and beauty. Mrs. Kinney’s daughter Mary also wrote about the Brownings. In an article entitled “A Sibylline Trio” (Putnam’s Monthly, June 1869), she recalled the presence of three eminent women on a sofa in her mother’s drawing room: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Somerville, and EBB. No doubt, Mary Kinney benefited from her mother’s memory of the occasion. The latter had discussed it in a letter to her son Charles: “Only the other night we had the three queens—of Science, of Poetry, & of Prose—together here” (29 April 1857, ms at Columbia). Mary Kinney described EBB as “soft-tempered … ever soft-spoken to all, and despite her towering genius and sufficiency of mind, through a certain adhesion of spirit, she appealed to the sympathy, and thereby strengthened, in personal intercourse, her hold upon every one who came in contact with her” (p. 710).