2684.  EBB to Henrietta Moulton-Barrett

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 241–249.


July—9– [1847] [1]

My ever dearest & sometimes most illused Henrietta .. can it be possible that Robert is right & I so very very wrong! I cant delay five minutes longer from throwing myself at your feet & confessing myself … whatever you may be pleased (being displeased) to call me– So wrong & ungrateful of me! But I seemed to feel confident of writing in the right & just alternation, & I could scarcely listen patiently to Robert when he spoke out & rebuked me for my injustice– The third time was the birthday-necessity—it was the previous time which I sinned in– But you forgive me—I did not mean to be so unkind. I siezed on this paper directly on receiving your letter to express this remorse: and then Robert siezed on me, & declared that it was dinner time & that I shd sit by him on the sofa instead of writing at all– Observe, how I correct my own iniquities! I would’nt be held tight—I would’nt be persuaded & talked to—& I offended him & was called “the unkindest creature in the world” rather than abstain from washing my hands of remorse, for half an hour. So do you forgive me Henrietta, & understand how the fault arose from my uncounting spirit, of which you know something already. I never could count quite to ten, I think, without making a mistake. I forget days of the month, & the year of the century even, and if, as Arabel swears, I count right & right often the months of my being married, it is simply because Robert keeps the feast day of that event so very rigorously that there’s no escape for my stupidity. Talking of marriages, what an amusing chronicle you have sent me of Arlette’s! I was very much amused indeed, & thank you for the whole. Only, forgive me, I cant admire Mr Reynolds .. I know the man exactly .. I see him & hear him & could’nt admire the sort of man on any sort of pretext– That “Come along young damsel” finishes the full length as I perceive it– I do detest a want of refinement which shows itself in sentiments, I mean in positions of sentiment .. A coarse man even, will sometime rise at a touch of feeling!—but one capable of such a speech at such a moment–– .... Well! let me say no more of what you may blame, both of you. He may be a good and sociable man & attached to Arlette & that may be all required perhaps– She chose for herself. Of course the meaning of so much being “settled on her”, is in the event of her husband’s death—the phrase is always worded so—but six hundred is not much if anything above the amount of her own fortune. Still it is a liberal provision I believe, as settlements go & the makers of them. Had she a carriage? you do not say. If we go to Rome this winter we shall see them, & I may come to another conclusion, as you bid me. What a calm marriage in all sides! Ah yes! it was rather different from mine indeed. Three times I tried to write my name & could not form a letter, and some one said, I remember, “Let her wait a moment”, and somebody else thrust in a glass of water .. What a wild, dreadful, floating vision it all looks like, to look back on it now! Only, to make amends, the service was read in a decided abbreviation––and almost I am certain by the same clergyman who married Annie Hayes: [2] he has done better work this time, I thank God– Henrietta, do you wonder much at Arlette’s lack of tears & calm satisfaction? She does not leave a happy home & tender relatives, like Arabella, consider .. and the perpetual irritation to which she was subjected, had its effect of course .. its natural effect. Human beings do not love up against the pricks, whether they kick back or not. [3] Bummy is not her real mother, that she shd endure such things, “quand même”: [4] she passes out to liberty in the way of her own choice, & naturally she does not look behind much. I do hope she may be very happy. Perhaps it was in my sleep rather than yours, that you seemed to tell me of Susan Cook’s marriage,—but it did run in my head– Oh, and Mr Horne’s—did you see Mr Horne’s in the newspaper? [5] To a Miss Catherine Foggo! not the prettiest name, nor one to be changed for the worse at all. The poets are draining off into marriage very gradually, I think. By the way, I ought certainly to tell you of a delightful letter which Carlyle sent to Robert the other day, [6] which when I had read I kissed for gladness & gratitude, it gave me so much of both– He says that not for years had any marriage, occurring in his circle, given him an equal pleasure to our marriage– Here are his words as he goes on .. “You, I had known & judged of: her too, conclusively enough, if less directly; and certainly if ever there was a union indicated by the finger of Heaven itself, and sanctioned & prescribed by the Eternal Laws under which poor transitory sons of Adam live, it seemed to me, from all I could hear & know of it, to be this! Courage, therefore; follow piously the Heavenly omen, & fear not. He that can follow there, he, in the loneliest desert, in the densest jostle & whirlpool of London fog will find his haven–— Perpetually serene weather is not to be looked for by anybody; least of all by the like of you two, .. in whom precisely because more is given, more also in the same proportion is required: but unless I altogether mistake, there is a Life-partnership which, in all kinds of weather, has in it a capacity of being blessed to the parties. May it indeed prove so. May the weather on the whole be moderate,—and if joy be ever absent for a season, may nobleness never! That is the best I can wish. The sun cannot shine always; but the places of the stars, these ought to be known always and these can.” Is’nt that full, full of kindness? We had had kind messages from him before, but it is the first letter .. and I have copied more than I could becomingly perhaps. If so, you will make allowances, knowing my reverence for Carlyle, & the natural pleasure which words like those from him must overflow me with. Overflow me with! What a delightful metaphor in the actual weather, when we are being burnt up, suffocated[,] exterminated .. here’s the thermometer at eighty again, & Flush turning his head away from warm milk & his tail from soft cushions. Tell dear Minny that he wd indeed be glad of his old place in her room, I will answer for him– Now he goes creeping under the sofas .. having the delusion that every sort of darkness must be coolest .. whereas the sofa-drapery scarcely helps him much, poor Flushie– I wish we were “overflowed”, .. he & all of us.! I shd like a little Arno just now, in a ripple or a rush! The heat is intense, and the worst is that having taken & paid for our apartment up to the twenty second, it seems a reckless extravagance to leave it on the eighth– Because it was cooler, we thought we might engage for the month without danger; & here, we are, caught in a suntrap! If it were not for the saving little wind which gets up lazily towards evening, we shd be done for, put an end to– Robert in the meanwhile is perpetually tempting me with, “Now Ba, if you wd like to go away, we will go tomorrow–”— “Now, my love, if you feel in the least overcome with the heat, we wont mind the money”– “Now, make up your mind & let us go”——and I .. in an agony of prudential considerations .. gasp for breath & an opinion. At last we have resolved to bear it as long as we can, & then go– A cloud is seen afar by the readers of almanachs! We have strong faith in our Italian almanach, & it prophecies for Monday, rain which “mitigherà l’eccessivo caldo”. [7] If rain should’nt come on monday, we shall go, that’s certain– At any rate we shall be gone in ten days, and to Vallambrosa after all—yes, to Vallambrosa! We have a permission at last after being held over the abyss to frighten us into a due reverence .. we have a letter to the Superior of the monastery, recommending us for various rare & valuable qualities as a most “stimabile famiglia” [8] on the whole, .. & requesting him out of the writer’s dear love, to let us stay as long as the sanctity of the place will admit of– So that point is gained in the face of a hundred fears– .. I was quite in a pet about it at one time– Robert said “Never mind them, dear! dont mind the fanatics! Choose some other place—take out the map & choose for yourself; & we will go there without anybody’s leave.” “But I want to go to Vallambrosa. I dont want to go anywhere else.” I went on crying for my moon, like a spoilt child in a pet. Nothing but my moon did for me– The prettiest morningstar in the world, what was it, compared to my moon?– So now we have it, and perhaps as I was saying this morning at breakfast, it will disappoint us in the having, .. by turning out something different or inferior to our imagination– But the scenery must be sublime—there are forty miles through the mountains of wild, roadless, rock & forest, the monasteries of Laverna & Camaldoli being further on, & all belonging to the same Rule or order. Vallambrosan monks are of noble families, the aristocracy of Italy. [9] One thing I am half prepared for– They will take Robert into the monastery, & leave Wilson & me on the outside with other unclean beasts. We shall not be let dine together, even, I dare say! Perhaps we may have coffee sometimes, or walk out—but otherwise there will be a divorce—oh, I expect it I assure you– So, as I tell him, it would be wise if we began to accustom one another a little to living separated for half an hour now & then–

Henrietta, you frighten us by what you say of Mr Kenyon. He is going to Vienna to see his brother in any case, & certainly he had fears of some cousin of his coming from Jamaica to prevent his absence from England being long enough to admit of his further visit to us [10]  .. particularly as we dont go to Venice to meet him. Still, he said, that Florence wd not make the difference of his coming or not coming to Italy, and I had felt sure in my mind that after all his doubts he wd come. Do, if you see him, tell him how anxious we are—and tell him from me that we shall be at Florence till November & only go to Vallambrosa for shadow & rest intermediately. The plan of plans wd be for him to join us here in October or November, & then that we shd travel together to Rome for the winter, & so escape the cough he had last year. Would it not be wise & pleasant? Observe that the pleasantest things are always the wisest, .. except what pleases the moralists to say. Is nobody out of Wimpole Street going up the Rhine this year, pray? If George will spend his vacation so, we will house him & love him here at Florence .. tell him that from me, dear George! Tell him to come & see how I love him. He need be at no expense when once with us, and to us it could be pure pleasure & nothing less– I dont speak vain words now– Or if George wont, will anyone? Henry, Alfred[,] Sette, Occy? If Papa knows that they are on the Rhine, or at Milan, that will be enough: there need be no scrape with him. I long to see some of them; & such a proof of their still caring for me, wd go to my heart, where is the love of them. As for you & Arabel, is there a hope of your leaving London this summer? Oh, I hope, I hope—I do hope! You desire to go, I suppose .. do you, Henrietta? So, after all, you were bridesmaids to Arlette. Well, I did wonder how Bummy could escape asking you: and Arlette certainly would have liked to have you—that was clear to me—the doubt was of Bummy! Strange that Papa shd not invite her to Wimpole Street! No, you could’nt, of course!—if you longed for her as I do for a little wind .. Hot, hot, it is!——

To hear of Mr Hunter gives me the greatest pleasure; & ask Arabel to tell Mary that it does. It is quite a relief to the sad thoughts due to his late dreary position—poor Mr Hunter– And Mary will be happy, I trust, in this return to a home, & release from anxiety for the future .. dear Mary. I am very glad– As to Mr Boyd, I cant be glad. Jane holds him in a spell. I should have thought that he wd not have followed an angel into a crowd & a noise– Why how can he bear a noise, such as Arabel describes? My best love to him when she sees him next .. but I shall have his letter, I suppose, before then. Were the Bevans not at the marriage, that you dont mention them– I never doubted his being an excellent, conscientious man——only my dearest Henrietta, he certainly does accept the teaching of men. What is a Church? You call it a she. But “she” is just a compound idea: to the compounding of which, go, Snokes (bishop of Jerusalem) Snooks (bishop of Rome) .. Sneaks (archbishop of Canterbury) .. if not Dr Pusey of Oxford– I dont mean to make unseemly jests .. but the truth is that a church is made of men—and that to say “I follow the Church” and “I follow no man’s teaching” is to say two contrary things. Ask if it is’nt so, the teacher you most respect. Nothing is so dangerous as to set up words—without analyzing them– A church means an assembly of men. Holy & venerable men perhaps … but men incapable of an error? .. there, is the question, solved in different ways by churchmen, so called, & dissenters therefore dissenting. I forgot when speaking of Carlyle to tell you that he told us of Miss Martineau’s having called on him the day before he wrote .. “As brown as a berry, full of life, vivacity, dogmatism, & all the gospels of the east wind”. She has been to Jerusalem since last autumn. Mr Westwood’s letter at any time!—— There’s no haste nor cause for it. Will Miss Mitford call on you, I wonder. Mind you see her, if you have the opportunity– I have not heard from her these three months, & am set wondering—but perhaps she wondered first at my silence, her previous letter having reached me when I was unequal to any sort of writing– Explain, when you see her.

Œconomical people you & Arabel are, to make Arabella Bevan’s bridal bonnets do such double duty– My white crape one, bought the other day, is positively waxing dusty– The dust here is like the smoke in London: if we return presently to Florence, I must get Wilson to cover it, I almost fear. My little front-caps you asked about, she makes very prettily of net in the old fashion, but with a worsted edge, as slight as possible to be embroidered at all– You think they look heavy & hot? Not in the least—and so they are washable like a pocket handkerchief, & very pretty, at the expense of a few pennies—(Seven pence a cap!) I advise you to try the morning effect of one. Robert likes them so, that I scarcely wear anything else, & have them in various colours, blue, green, lilac, purple, with my hair done in the old Grecian plait behind, which Wilson sighs in the doing of, & unflatteringly (yet oh, so pleasantly!) refers to the old days when “Miss Arabel’s looked beautiful, plaited in that way.” There is no ribbon, except for the strings—he hates ribbon, & prefers everything as simple & quiet as possible, Illus. and we never quarrel about the more or less glory .. yes, I think my gloves were accused of a want of brightness one day .. charged with dirtiness & a hole—but even then we did’nt quarrel. I was calm & changed them–

Dont I improve in wisdom & drawing? Really it seems so to me! This half page could scarcely be exceeded perhaps on either ground,—and it must explain a little by the intense heat of the weather, in which one’s brains melt away, & one’s paper perspires in the manner of blotting paper, & for every hair-line you wish to make, you make a tail. Talking of hair, I was observing to Robert the other day, à propos to a little girl of about fourteen who was beginning to be quite bald at the forehead & temples, how curiously the Italians are defective in this respect of baldness .. as I told Arabel in opposition to her and that fancy– “Why,” he said, “dont you know the meaning of that? They never comb their hair.” He assured me it was simply so—& that at Naples the women plaited up their long tresses in silver & gold, & there an end .. sleeping, waking, eating, living, till the plait & the silver were apt to drop off together. The little girl—aforesaid, opened the gate to us when we went the other evening to see Galileo’s villa, where Milton visited him, at the top of Bellosguardo one of the beautiful hills round Florence. [11] We drove there one evening, & had the honour of being jammed in, on the road, with the Grand Duke’s carriage, who in return for our respectful salutation, took off his hat in the sun– We were on our way, for our parts, to see higher dignities .. the place of Milton’s & Galileo’s steps. The villa itself too, apart from association, was worth seeing—perched on a green eminence, a little terrace overlooking beautiful, beautiful Florence garlanded with olive yards & vineyards, & shining with her own marbles: and if the eye sweeps beyond .. mountains, mountains on all sides! We were struck with a sudden temptation (at least I was!) to take some rooms in the villa (which we might do) & be false to Vallambrosa—but no, after all it was not worth the monastery & the forest .. & besides Robert spoilt everything by suggesting .. “And the sightseers who come day by day .. what shd we do with the sightseers”? No, it would not have answered our purpose at all.–

Very sorry indeed we were for the poor Surteeses– Always I have forgotten to tell you that. Do tell us whatever you may hear further of them, & whether Miss Surtees [12] is likely to remain in England. He hated Italy & seemed as unhappy & out of place as possible, Robert said– Tell Arabel that Mr Powers’s Eve is not in London—is not finished in fact. [13] He has exhibited only the Greek Slave, of last year or the year before, and the Boy listening to the shell, in the present– I wish in return that she wd tell me the last artist to whom the new pictures in Wimpole Street are attributed. The great Christ over the fire .. to whom? The Holy Family to the left .. to whom? [14] Are there any other pictures bought? tell me. You would smile to see how interested I have grown in the Jamaica crops &c– Robert shows me the least of the news that way, & certainly it never interested me so before. But I think now of the pleasure it gives my poor dearest Papa– I like to think that he is in good spirits– As to dear dear Stormie, it is not for his sake so much– Crops are not wanted to make him rich—and a little liberty is, I know, a nearer object with him in leaving home than all the rest. Let me have every detail of him, .. and mind you get him to write to me. Sometimes I think & turn round in my thoughts in every light, the question of writing again to Papa– If there were a certainty even that he wd put the letter into the fire, why I shd have done it long ago—but it is dreadful to have one’s letters sent back so [15]  .. you dont imagine what a shock it is—and it makes Robert angry .. makes him think Papa cruel & hard. God Himself might wonder to look down & see human beings thrusting aside the hearts that love them most,

<…> [16]

But no, not for <my>self, will the beloved make an allowance, enlarge in sympathy, extend a pardon– I will not write any more of this. I have no pride, for <my> own part, only let me say .. & for having grieved & displeased any of them I am sorry .. & not least sorry when I enter least into their views—but whether I have been right or wrong, they are wrong now .. or there is <no> right in Love—neither right nor significance—&—they are wrong who stand aloof from me thus & thus–——

Fanny Handford [sic] <doubted> that she could remain in London l<ong> enough to see <you. How> unfortunate it was for Arabel to have <missed> her visit. She left a very pleasant <…> with us, & we too wd have been glad if she cd have stayed longer– While I think of it, Wilson (who is delighted by the way, with your remembrance of her) complains grievously of dear Minny’s never writing– She begs me to say <…> I ask for a message, that she is disappointed by Minny’s silence, Wilson <is> angry with her sister Fanny’s <…>. [17] Her sister has not written since she <ca>me to London. Exiles, like us, care for letters, as no one else in the world can .. except lovers– Remember that, all of you– Only my sisters are perfect—almost perfect .. for I waited too long for the last letter. Tell Arabel who does’nt like to hear it, that Robert hears from home just three times to my hearing!—not long letters though it’s fair to say. We are the coolest people to his family, you can conceive of, sending always a heap of inclosures, and just an envelope the size of this paper. Oh, you may well exclaim! I have refused again & again to be a party to such a thing, (Robert might do it with his letters but for me, it seemed different) but Mrs Browning was quite hurt—& insisted that we shd both go on sinning & sinning … What wd you say if I enclosed to you six sealed letters, & wrote six lines on the envelope? We began by sending through the Rothschilds, but there was a delay which Mrs Browning did not like– Well, I shall make Robert let me send this directly to Treppy’s– While we were at breakfast this morning came a card & a note .. “Will Mr & Mrs Browning permit a young American who has known them in his own home, to obtrude on their seclusion for a few moments by paying them his respects?” Only the second American since we have been to Florence,—& nobody cd be angry .. so of c<ourse> <…> A Mr Curtis, [18] says the card. I think I told you of the other visit, & of the American newspaper which was sent to our visitor, [19] containing an extract from a French paper which mentioned piteously that the English poetess EBB had gone blind as people say of horses. Wilson has at last (talking of eyes) ventured into the gallery: but she only went to the door of the Tribune, being struck back by the indecency of the Venus– [20] I laughed .. laughed, when she told me– She thinks she shall try again, & the troublesome modesty may subside .. who knows? but really the sight of that marble goddess .. & Titian’s [21] (painted stark), just overhead, were too much at first– She is quite well, & so am I, in spite of the heat. Florence wd agree, I think, with any one. Tell my dearest Treppy that my heart sprang up to meet her message. I do like so much to be still & ever her “precious child”– Tell her that I love her dearly, & that Robert & I, in having our coffee from her gift, talk of her often & often as if we both loved her.. as we do. May God bless you all! Darling Arabel will mind to write soon .. & then you—to your own affectionate


Address, on integral page: Via France—Angleterre. / To the care of Miss Tripsack / (Miss Barrett) / 5– Upper Montagu Street / Montagu Square / London.

Publication: Huxley, pp. 33–39 (in part).

Manuscript: Camellia Collection.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. Annie Boyd and Henry William Hayes were married on 1 August 1837 in the St. Marylebone Church by the Rev. Edward Johnstone; the Brownings had been married by the Rev. Thomas Woods Goldhawk (see letter 2606, note 2).

3. Cf. Acts 9:5.

4. “Nevertheless,” or “all the same.”

5. The announcement of Horne’s marriage appeared in The Times of 26 June 1847, and read: “On the 17th inst., R.H. Horne, Esq., to Catherine, daughter of the late David Foggo, Esq.” Horne’s marriage to Catherine Clare St. George Foggo (1826–93) in St. Pancras Church was witnessed by Thomas Southwood Smith and Georgiana Harrington Barrie. For EBB’s reference to Susan Cook, see letter 2670, note 9.

6. Letter 2682.

7. “Will mitigate the excessive heat.”

8. “Estimable family.”

9. According to Murray’s Hand-Book for Travellers to Northern Italy (1847), on which EBB seems to be relying for her information, Guido Aretino was “among the remarkable men who have been monks of Vallombrosa” (p. 583), who follow the rule of St. Benedict. Murray’s Hand-Book describes the journey from Florence to Vallombrosa as 18½ miles, and from Vallombrosa to Camaldoli and La Verna an additional 27 miles (pp. 582 and 584).

10. John Kenyon’s brother Edward (1786?–1856) lived with his Austrian wife Louisa in Vienna. We are unable to identify to which of their many Jamaican cousins EBB is referring.

11. EBB is referring to the Villa Segni at Bellosguardo, which Galileo occupied from 1617 until 1631 (cf. Casa Guidi Windows, I, 1179–84); however, Galileo was living at the Villa Gioiello at Arcetri, near Poggio Imperiale, when Milton visited Florence in 1638; see Murray’s Hand-Book, p. 574. This visit between poet and astronomer was the subject of one of Landor’s Imaginary Conversations (1846), which EBB would have presumably remembered.

12. Robert Surtees’s wife, Elizabeth, had died on 8 May 1847. Their daughter, Margaret Caroline Surtees (1816–69) and her father were back in Pisa in October (see letter 2707). She married Theodore Bryett in England in 1862. See letter 2624, note 7.

13. See letter 2680, note 8.

14. Evidently new pictures had been acquired and hung after the cleaning and redecorating of 50 Wimpole Street the previous autumn. We are unable to identify the works referred to here; however, in the catalogue of the effects of EBB’s father, sold after his death, there is listed a “Holy Family” by Bronzino, described as “a very grand composition,” and a work by Alonzo Vazquez of “the three Maries, mourning over the dead Christ … a most important work” (Reconstruction, p. 605). Another “Holy Family” by Domenico Ghirlandaio is among the list of pictures in Wimpole Street made by EBB’s brother Alfred in 1853; see Reconstruction, L182.

15. See letter 2630, note 2.

16. The last part of this manuscript, written on the covering sheet, is extensively damaged, which evidently occurred in transit.

17. Frances Wilson (b. 1822). For an account of Wilson and her family, see vol. 13, Appendix I.

18. George William Curtis (1824–92), American author and journalist, was travelling in Europe with his brother Burrill, Christopher Cranch, and Cranch’s wife Elizabeth. He had been in southern Italy and was on his way to France. Curtis published an account of his meeting with the poets in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for September 1861, which was later revised and reissued in the same publication for March 1890. For the text of these articles, see pp. 408–412.

19. See letter 2675, notes 2 and 3, and letter 2676, note 5.

20. i.e., the Venus de Medici.

21. The “Venus of Urbino” (1538) depicts the goddess nude and recumbent; it was brought to Florence in 1631 as part of the Della Rovere legacy.


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