2707. EBB to Henrietta Moulton-Barrett
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 319–325.
1881 Via Maggio. Florence
[20 October 1847]
My dearest Henrietta, your turn is it not? My ever dearest Henrietta, then .. I write to you in the first moment of decision, after having been cast to & fro like Sancho Panza in the blanket these many days. I really began to think that we never shd get settled again .. and as Robert neither eats nor sleeps when he is anxious, it was gradually growing to be more important to me, (this state of uncertainty,) than might seem to be reasonable. Oh, how you surprised me by your dear letter from Bognor! how astonished I was, & how glad! Because you see, Henrietta, it will do you good, all of you, & give you all better spirits in the long run .. that is, if you are wise, .. if my dearest Arabel is not “wonderfully imprudent” for instance, in bathing so late in the season, .. (for I am not quite easy about that, do assure her—) and if you use without abusing the opportunity of fresh air & change of scene. For the rest, I understand– I understand, Henrietta. But now do enjoy it as well as you can, every one of you, & tell me all about it– I am so glad that you brought Minny with you– It was quite right of her to consent to be brought, too, .. and it will be quite right if you all stay beyond the month to get properly inspirited for the winter. You wont regret it afterwards—yet I regret your not going away earlier in the year– How strange of dearest Papa!– But at the last, it was kind—and I thank him silently to myself for sending you. In the meanwhile, will the Peytons resist Arabel’s conjuring? I shd not wonder if she effected her purpose– Now, above all, dont let dear Trippy delay going to you– The change would do her such great good that I thought of her with some of the first thoughts I had, in my pleasure to hear of Bognor. What rooms has she in Upper Glo[u]cester Street? As good & large as the former ones in Montagu St? Tell me all about it, & if the same landlady is in ascendent– And if the co-lodgers go with her?—and if she is pleased, dear thing, altogether? I meant to write to her this time; but as you bid me write in time to Bognor, why I am afraid to put off your letter any longer, and must choose another moment for hers. Moreover, Robert takes it into his head that my cheeks are flushed whenever I write (and he is not far wrong in saying so) & that therefore writing cant be good for me (and he is wrong there) which brings on me such a flood of reproaches that generally I yield the point (of the pen) just as if I wholly agreed with him, which I dont. Now let me tell you of ourselves– Believe or do not believe in our superhuman virtue (mine especially) but the truth is that we had really decided against Rome before Mr Jago’s decision set the seal on ours– In the first place, Robert was frightened about the journey for me, which even in a private carriage (and he was actually trying hard to persuade himself that it wd be the cheapest plan to buy a britska, a pair of horses and a coachman, to drive about Rome in after the completion of the journey) which even in this said easy britska, seemed to present certain risks– And in the second place we had the kindest letter from Fanny Dowglass who had taken all sorts of trouble for us & exhorted us to come & choose between various uncomfortable & dirty kinds of lodgment, at a high price– Now, as Robert said, here was I going to Rome to pay for being shut up in an uncomfortable way, just within reach of temptation—and to pay too for this discomfort, just when we were likely to want money & to want comfort more than usual– It seemed foolish of us altogether. It seemed wise to wait for the opportunity which God one day may give us, of going to Rome when we can enjoy it, see the wonders of it, & feel better fortified against the drawbacks– Florence is full of beauty which by putting out one’s hand it is possible to touch, & full of luxuries too at the very cheapest rate. And as for the climate, why the objection is the liability to cold winds, which I, with my habits, would never think of going out in– The sun is Italian—and so is the weather generally—neither gloomy nor variable: and the winter is a short one. (If we chose to go on the Arno, it wd be over-hot—and indeed I shd not dare to agree to taking an apartment for six months in that situation, lest Robert & Wilson shd both of them be laid up with bilious fever about April.) Therefore Florence seems to me a very safe residence for me as to climate, under certain conditions. It wdnt be worth returning to Pisa, I think, on the mere ground of climate. Florence wd be dangerous to restless invalids who, because they are in Italy, think it incumbent to go out everyday, & unnecessary to choose sheltered walks when they go—for the heat is so unequally distributed here, that one street seems a funnel for hot air, & another for cold, .. and the transitions, rushed upon, are of course fatal to chest-complaints where the owners are indiscreet & incautious– But I never go out at all on cold days .. I did not, you know, at Pisa .. and in going out, always I am satisfied with sheltered walks—though so “wonderfully imprudent”, tell Arabel. I am not in the least afraid therefore of wintering here, & shall not take advantage of Mr Jago’s permission to return to Pisa which as a residence is so inferior in all ways. It is the less worth while, that necessarily I may be more confined to the house this winter than usual—and Pisa disagreed with Wilson too! it is another consideration.
So resolving to remain at Florence we had to determine on an apartment—& first of all we had an idea of keeping on our grandiosity in Palazzo Guidi & very nearly came to an arrangement—& the padrone will repent his refusal of our terms, it seems to me, considering the length of our residence. It is very different to let rooms at high rates for three or four months, and for six– But no, we divided upon two scudi at last– After all it is better perhaps, for we shd have found it difficult to warm such immense rooms, and really we did’nt want to give balls or to receive forty people to dinner or anything of that especial sort. Well! Robert went from one side of Florence to another, & I lay on the sofa making all sorts of objections to every apartment he could find .. which sounds amiable of me, particularly as he neither ate nor slept in the interim as I explained before. You see it was rather serious to settle for six months, & to make (besides) what might prove an unpleasant transition from those rooms we liked so much—— The Arno-rooms were too hot & too high up .. with a splendid view of the river, said Robert; but oh, so hot, & oh so high! At last we had to hesitate between an apartment once occupied by the Garrows in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, on the first floor, but somewhat dingy, & away from all the festas .. and a little baby-house kind of place in the Piazza Pitti close by .. Such tiny rooms! The drawing room with a sofa like a board, five little chairs, & one large comfortable one—& where to put the grand piano, (to say nothing of other grand ideas) was a problem. But the situation, .. nothing cd be perfecter than the situation– Observe Illus. —three sides of this Piazza are filled by the Palace Pitti & at the bottom is the row of houses in question, for the most part having very small rooms. The only vacant apartment, this proposed one of ours .. a bad staircase, steep & narrow .. & on the second floor the people agreeing to take us for twenty scudi a month, that is four pounds, nine shillings– As nearly as possible we were to taking it, though very possibly we might have fallen there on a single spoon .. At least everything seemed scanty & over-simple– A champagne-glass was like a roc’s egg. So at last, we determined on an apartment in via Maggio (the same street as Palazzo Guidi’s) where we settled yesterday—an apartment on the first floor, the drawing room small, but pretty, everything most complete in the way of furniture & comforts,—even to cut-glass bottles for perfume & toilette pincushions. My room is faultless & the Princess of Wirtemburg performed her accouchement there to the general satisfaction. Our padrone was courier to Prince Albert & the Duchess of Cambridge; & his wife being a Frenchwoman, they understand the whole theory of “what is and should be,” and nothing falls short– For this we pay what we paid at Pisa, five pounds, eleven shillings, (a month) much more than we meant to pay—and the drawback is that we shall not have much sun– Still, the double doors & closely fitting windows, & stoves, seem to promise a sufficient warmth. The provoking thing is that since we settled, our people at Palazzo Guidi have intimated that they were ready to accept our terms rather than part with us——and I dont like to say to Robert how provoked I am to think of it– He has been pressed enough as it is,—thinking never of himself, (as usual) & always of me & of my comfort in the whole arrangement. Besides, we shall do very well here I dare say—and presently we shant miss so much our terrace & the other attractions of our old domain. One advantage is that the nights are more silent—my bedroom looking into a courtyard– A spring sofa & two or three spring arm chairs, .. plenty of luxury of that sort– And now for the plan– Illus. Observe! The crosses (*) are windows, & the squares (□) doors– See plan. You see it is’nt as compact as our old apartment, though so much smaller. The drawingroom is pretty—a French clock (which really goes) and a chaise longue which draws out & was particularly recommended to my attention by the lady of the house. I have been trying to pull about the furniture into graceful disorder,—but must be contented at last with having the piano & the sofa wherever they please to stand. Since we came here & your last letter came to Florence, Robert has continually been talking of Arabel’s coming .. wishing her to come .. & proving how without the least increase of expense (if she dared to think of that) we shd be able to have the advantage of her darling presence & companionship.
Ah—how Clara Lyndsay’s kind proposal made my heart leap within me! Too tantalizing it was! Only we could not have let her go to Rome—she wd have been forced to stay at Florence till we went ourselves—and what comfort, what consolation! But I suppose I might as well wish for an angel straight from Heaven in apocalypse, & therefore there’s little use talking. I will tell you whom we have had instead .. the Major’s minor from Pisa– The stars mix in these things, or I scarcely wd have believed it– Do you remember my pet enemy & vis à vis who talked of Mrs Browning giving herself such wonderful airs & trying to buy her house over her head at any price demanded?. Mrs Loftus, remember! These Loftuses (whose maid by the by, is an acquaintance of Wilson’s) came to Florence about the time we did, went away in the summer, & have returned for the winter & taken an apartment close at hand in the Piazza Pitti– Robert was calling on the Irvings & met all three, Major, wife, & daughter .. & to his surprise, two cordial hands were extended—“Having had the satisfaction of a letter from him” (much like the satisfaction of being shot through the head) “they must become acquaintances .. Mrs. Loftus meant to do herself the pleasure of paying a visit to Mrs Browning” .. &c &c.! So of course he cd only say that we shd be glad to see them, & the whole three poured in about three mornings ago. The arch-enemy is a tall rather gaunt woman, with an unpleasant voice—the daughter quite young, only just introduced, & as little pretty as a very petite & young looking girl can be .. (it has grown to be a sort of proverb with Robert to say “as ugly as Miss Loftus”, but I dont agree with him when he comes to extremities) and they have been used to good society, I shd say. Nothing cd be more friendly than their manner, & I gave them a history of our adventures at Vallombrosa to break the ice. As to Mr Irving I do really like him—he comes very often to sit with us, and so does his son the young man, who is intelligent enough & in so sad a state of health that one is glad to enliven him now & then. Mrs Irving too is better than I set down at first .. Robert likes her: but they all return to Pisa in about ten days, much to the despair of the wife & son. As for Mr Irving himself he has a crotchet about Florence & pretends to abuse it—calls it as bad as Bath or Cheltenham .. which perhaps after all it may be to persons up to their neck in English society, who are forced to float with the stream. He told Robert the other day that Lady St Germains had been enquiring about me with the deepest interest, & that Lady Caroline Cocks had said so & so, & that Lord Eastnor had passed through Florence– .. All in a breath!! Lady St Germains[’] “deep interest” I can appreciate– You remember how rude she was to me one morning when I visited Lady Margaret at her house—but it all means, I suppose, that I have been thoroughly talked over—which does’nt so much please me– There’s the worst of a congregation of one’s beloved countrymen! Not that one need so very much mind. Poor Mr Surtees was here for a few days, & Wilson met him in the street looking altered & thin, she thought—& now he is gone back to Pisa with his daughter who is said to be better in health– Everything I ever heard for good of an Italian climate, my experience acquiesces in—it is all but divine, perfect, that is, .. & the very breathing of the air grows upon you like a luxury– Oh .. I always forget, so let me while I remember it “par exception” say to Arabel about the loss of the broach that as nearly as possible I lost her hair out of my ring, but did’nt .. because when the glass was gone I became aware of the disaster & stopped its progress. For the broach, as far as it can [be] remedied, one day it shall. I am glad about Fanny Hanford, liking her much for both her own sake & dear Mrs Martin’s—but it is a melancholy prospect this going to Ireland for the approaching winter. Why could he not appoint a liberal & merciful agent, he who is rich? With weak health on his side & hers I do not think that the duty of residing there at such an obvious risk can be imperative. You wicked person, Henrietta .. you who “dont publish my letters,” you say! How then, did Mrs Martin opine so & so? Tell her if you write, that we will take the sunniest rooms for her & Mr Martin, if they will but come to Florence directly. I am very well upon the whole, & have lost the sickness & recovered the power of eating which at one time quite went from me. Moreover I am obedient & lie on the sofa, & dont walk & dont do anything wrong indeed– There is a Dr Trottman whom Robert has heard wonders of, but for the present it wd be quite absurd to take advice, considering that I know everything advisable. Yes—Dr Cook said what I told you, to be sure—but then he said it because I had been plunged in the deepest innocense of ignorance, never lying down except when I could’nt sit up, & baking myself at the fire & burning myself with hot coffee & hot brandy & water as one might do in a fit of colic .. doing as wrong as could be because I did’nt know better. Therefore it was that he said [‘]‘If I had been called in sooner” &c &c. When he was called in, observe, he did nothing at all .. only abolished those errors of mine, & bade me lie still & keep the room cool– Now, what could all the Faculty do if we invoked their aid? Now, when there is nothing wrong, no spasm, no suffering worth speaking of, and, besides, no ignorance? ..– Mrs Browning herself admits that there does not seem much occasion for it– The single point is the opium—& you know, for experience has proved, that I cant do without it—and Mr Jago’s opinion is worth the world’s, seeing that he knows the necessities of my constitution in this respect better than any one else can. Now are you satisfied, wise people all of you? I have an egg at breakfast, & another beaten up in wine at twelve oclock– After dining at three, Robert takes me into my room & performs the operation of (as he calls it) “putting his baby to bed” .. shuts me up carefully to go to sleep, which I do as regularly as possible. At five Wilson comes with the medicine, and having taken it I go back to the drawingroom to drive him out to his walk– Between six & seven we have coffee—& at nine, supper– You see it is’nt a very laborious day– Wilson is quite well I am glad to say. Will the Reynolds’s find us out, do you suppose in Florence? Of course they will stay here for a while to see the works of art, or they will be barbarians—and Robert took it into his fantasy that he actually met them in the lodging in the Pitti .. only that must have been pure fantasy. If they come I should like to see them certainly .. I should like to “realize” him, .. as the Americans say, though I do seem to know the man already. Perhaps they wont guess at our being here. It was wrong of Arlette (was’nt it?) not to take poor Anne[12.1] with her, after the hundred promises– Wrong, & perhaps foolish—it would have been a comfort to have with her one who was attached to her, & not mercenary: & really I shall not be altogether sorry if Arlette has occasion to regret it. Anne always calculated on being her own maid when she married. Oh, I wonder whether when Robert takes this letter to the post he will bring me back another– I long for Arabel’s so, which she promised in the crossing of Mrs Martin’s. Ask her to write a line to Nelly Bordman just to say that I am grateful for the advice & if possible, that Robert is more grateful than I .. & that we stay at Florence accordingly. I will write to her soon. Indeed Henrietta, she is full of excellence, & since for my sake you will like her, I am sure that for her own you will never learn to unlike– Thank you, dearest Henrietta. Do tell me of Arabella Bevan. I shall so gladly hear the good news–
We have had another great festa here, in honour of our Grand Duke who deserved it: five hundred waxen torches, each nearly as large as a tree, carried alight through the darkness– It was splendid, & the enthusiasm of the people, most moving. I have caught a taste for festas lately, .. & had to explain to Robert (who was really calculating on it as if it were my necessity of life & I could’nt live out of Piazza Pitti & the immediate neighbourhood accordingly) that after all I was not literally such a “baby” as the facts seemed to prove. Here in Via Maggio we are better situated for the festas than even in Palazzo Guidi .. (besides) .. & it was’nt needful to go into a drawer on the Pitti for such a cause as that– Lady Bolingbroke! She is good & kind– She will succeed perhaps in time– My love to your friends & mine– Mind you write, write, write, remembering that you cant do it often enough & that we are at Florence for six months! Mention Stormie.. Robert bids me be affectionate to the uttermost for him—& I am
your most attached
Give the enclosed to dear Henry. His letter was a blessing to me. Love to all– Direct both Toscana & Italia.
Address, on integral page: Miss Barrett / Manor House / Bognor / Sussex.
Publication: Huxley, pp. 52–58 (in part).
Manuscript: Camellia Collection.
1. The Brownings’ move from Palazzo Guidi to Via Maggio occurred on 19 October, according to a “Memorandum” by RB (see Browning Institute Studies, 1, 21), and in this letter, EBB says they “settled yesterday” in that apartment.
2. According to EBB’s cousin, Surtees Cook, the Barrett household had taken a house in the popular resort town of Bognor, in Sussex, for a month; they returned to London on 27 October 1847 (Surtees, 5 and 27 October 1847).
3. i.e., something rare or difficult to obtain.
4. A memorandum of agreement for the Brownings’ tenancy of Palazzo Guidi formed part of lot 261 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, E551).
5. We have been unable to identify this “Princess”; however, this reference, taken together with the one to “her highness of Brunswick” at the end of letter 2711, despite EBB’s evident confusion, seem to refer to the same person.
6. Augusta Wilhelmina Louise (1797–1889), 3rd daughter of Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, had married Aldolphus Frederick (1774–1850), Duke of Cambridge, in 1818.
7. On her drawing, besides identifying the various rooms and “via maggio,” EBB has written: “Wilson will sit in the dining room—as it straggles away rather from us & as her bedroom is small.”
8. Clara Sophia Lindsay (née Bayford, b. 1811) was EBB’s cousin. She had married Martin Lindsay in 1846, and they were coming to Italy because of his poor health; evidently, she had offered to have Arabella accompany them. They visited the Brownings in Florence in 1849, shortly after the birth of Pen Browning.
9. See letter 2664, note 3. Miss Loftus was probably the older daughter, Mary Harriet Anne Loftus, who married George Augustus Cranley Onslow 11 July 1848.
10. Harriet (née Pole-Carew, d. 1877) was the wife of John Eliot, 1st Earl of St. Germans (1761–1823). The Tuscan Athenæum for 20 November 1847 noted that she was staying at the Quattro Nazioni (no. 4, p. 32). Lady Caroline Cocks and Lord Eastnor were friends from Hope End days. For a biographical sketch of Lady Margaret Cocks, see vol. 2, pp. 341–342.
11. “As an exception.”
12. Fanny Hanford married William Lloyd Flood (1809?–92) of Farmley, co. Kilkenny, Ireland, on 18 November 1847.
12.1. Anne Evans (1820–75) was born at Frocester, Gloucestershire, where Bummy had property. She apparently left Bummy’s employment as a lady’s maid after Arlette’s marriage. Bummy bequeathed her £50.
13. See letter 2641, note 12.