2679.  EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 211–214.


May 26 [1847][1]

I should have answered your letter, my dearest friend, more quickly, but when it came I was ill, as you may have heard, and afterwards I wished to wait till I could send you information about the Leaning Tower and the bells—. The book you required, about the cathedral, Robert has tried in vain to procure for you. Plenty of such books, but not in English. In London such things are to be found, I should think, without difficulty,—for instance “Murray’s Handbook to Northern Italy”, though rather dear (12s) would give you sufficiently full information upon the ecclesiastical glories both of Pisa and of this beautiful Florence from whence I write to you. He says of the Leaning Tower .. “On the summit are seven bells, so arranged that the heavier metal is on the side where the weight counteracts the slope of the building. These bells, of which the largest weighs upwards of twelve thousand pounds, are remarkably sonorous & harmonious. The best toned is the fourth, called the Pasquareccia: it was this bell which was tolled when criminals were taken to execution. It was cast in 1262, & has many ornaments, a figure of the virgin, & the devices of Pisa. The Bell-founders of this city enjoyed great reputation.”–[2] So far Murray! I will answer for the harmony of the bells, as we lived within a stone’s throw of them, and they began at four oclock every morning and rang my dreams apart. The Pasquarrecia (the fourth’s) especially has a profound note in it, which may well have thrilled horror to the criminal’s heart. It was ghastly in its effects,—dropt into the deep of night like a thought of death. Often I have said “Oh, how ghastly”, and then turned on my pillow & dreamed a bad dream. But if the Bell-founders at Pisa have a merited reputation, let no one say as much for the Bell-ringers– The manner in which all the bells of all the churches in the city are shaken together sometimes, wd certainly make you groan in despair of your ears. The discord is fortunately indescribable– Well—but here we are at Florence, the most beautiful of the cities devised by man! I was too weak when I came, to see anything, & had to lie on the sofa & grow strong, while the Venus of Medici stood two or three streets off—think how tantalizing!—but my poor dearest Robert had suffered great anxiety about me, and it was only just to him to run no risks– Now I am well and beginning to go out & see all the glories. I am really quite well & look better than I have done for years, and we have ever so many wild schemes– Here is one! We talk of spending the heat of the summer in Vallambrosa with the monks[3]—yes, indeed, we almost have settled it– We shall enjoy so infinitely the sublime solitude of the mountains, rocks, cascades, and chesnut forests. There is not a carriage road .. so much the happier! Oxen will drag us in baskets up the precipitous mountain-side– Then we shall sit out in the forests & write poetry which you shall read, and the poems will be as wild as the poets– One difficulty we apprehend, from my sex, as the monks have vowed “their holy sod shall ne’er by woman’s foot be trod”[4] .. but if I promise to behave well & do nobody in the confraternity any manner of harm, it is supposed that the Archbishop of Florence[5] will let me go in with my husband. What do you think? Will it not be delightful? Flush wags his tail when we consult him on the subject, and seems to draw a rapid conclusion that liberty & coolness in the woods, will be clear gain after this intense Florentine heat, of eighty four degrees of Fahrenheit. Always it is cool at Vallambrosa– Oh, the cool, green, lonely, deep chesnut forests! How pleasant they will be to me & Flush!–

In the meanwhile I have seen the Venus—I have seen the divine Raphaels .. I have stood by Michal Angelo’s tomb in Santa Croce .. I have looked at the wonderful Duomo!. This cathedral!! After all, the elaborate grace of the Pisan cathedral is one thing, and the massive grandeur of this of Florence is another and better thing—it struck me with a sense of the sublime in architecture. At Pisa we say “How beautiful”, .. here, we say nothing .. it is enough if we can breathe– The mountainous marble masses, overcome us as we look up—we feel the weight of them on the soul– Tesselated marbles, .. (the green treading its elaborate pattern into the dim yellow which gives the general hue of the structure) .. climb against the sky, self-crowned with that prodigy of marble domes. It struck me as a wonder in architecture. I had neither seen nor imagined the like of it in any way. It seemed to carry its theology out with it: it signified more than a mere building. Tell me everything you want to know .. I shall like to answer a thousand questions. Florence is beautiful as I have said before, & must say again & again, most beautiful. The river rushes through the midst of its palaces like a crystal arrow; and it is hard to tell, when you see all by the clear sunset, whether those churches & houses & windows and bridges and people walking, .. in the water or out of the water, are the real walls & windows & bridges & people & churches. The only difference is that, down below, there is a double movement .. the movement of the stream besides the movement of life. For the rest, the distinctness to the eye is as great in one as in the other. My dearest friend, I was much pleased to have your account of yourself, as it was better than I had feared. Let me entreat you, now that the summer has come, to take the opportunity & the advice of the wise, & change the air—ah, if I dared say for my sake! A little exercise—consider how necessary it must be to your health. I hear on all sides that you have it in your power to recover habits of healthful activity & to prolong your life with enjoyment. Dearest Mr Boyd, I excommunicate that chair of yours, .. I beseech you to take courage and to remember the duty of self preservation. Robert & I drank your health two evenings ago in wine of Cyprus– It is good wine, brought straight from Cyprus, at sixteen pence a bottle—but for some reason or other I thought it inferior to yours—yes, certainly it is inferior. Tell me whether drinking your health did you good. Do you see Mrs Smith?[6] Do you see my dearest Arabel? & Nelly Bordman? Remember me to such of my friends as remember me kindly when unreminded by me. I am very happy—happier & happier. My late indisposition had nothing to do with former illnesses, but it prevented, no less, my ascent to the top of the Leaning Tower—a disappointment, notwithstanding your exhortations. Is Jane [Miller] still a comfort to you? If so, thank her from me!—who never cease to be your grateful & most affectionate


Robert’s best regards to you always.

Address, on integral page: H S Boyd Esqre / 24(a) Grove End Road / St John’s Wood / Regent’s Park.

Publication: EBB-HSB, pp. 283–286.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. EBB is quoting from Murray’s Hand-Book for Travellers in Northern Italy (1847), p. 446.

3. Murray’s Hand-Book explains that the monastery at Vallombrosa was “founded in 11th century by S. Giovanni Gualberto” (p. 583). According to the Hand-Book, carriages could pass as far as Pelago, where “the traveller must take to a saddle or walking” (p. 582).

4. Cf. Thomas Moore, “St. Senanus and the Lady,” in Irish Melodies (1821), lines 5–6; see letter 2700, note 2.

5. Ferdinando Minucci (1782–1856) was consecrated Archbishop of Florence in 1828.

6. Adam Clarke’s daughter (see letter 1590).


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 8-25-2019.

Copyright © 2019 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.