Correspondence

3307.  EBB to Anna Brownell Jameson

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 20, 36–40.

Rome– Via Bocca di Leone. 43.

3do[1] piano.

Decr 21 [1853][2]

My dearest Moña Nina I have been longer than I thought to be in Rome without writing to you—especially when I have a letter of yours for which to thank you– My fancy was to wait till I had seen Gerardine in her own home & then to write to you—but I have called on her three times & the three Fates have been at it each time to prevent my getting in. Still, we have met here—and I would rather not wait any longer for whatever might be added to what I have seen & know already. I can tell you now that when she came into this room .. which she did very soon & kindly .. I hesitated for a moment– ‘Your flower’, as you used to call her seven years since, is a flower at this day, but has so expanded & caught colour from the sun & air that the botanist might doubt concerning its classification till a second thought. She looks very well, very strong, yes, and happy—with an air of responsibility & directness which your Geddie never had. I told her, what I had heard, .. that she was nearly worked to death with the photographic business– At which she laughed goodhumouredly & asked me if she looked overworked. “The truth is”, said she, “I have a great deal to do, & like to feel myself of some use in doing it”– Evidently she is raised in her own opinion by the cleverness & energy she has given proof of in this occupation, & by making herself necessary to her husband,[3] which he for his part is not slow at confessing, I understand, everywhere. Then I must tell you that different people .. people who did not like him, nor love her .. have told me excellent things of her conduct in her domestic relations– There is a general respect for her as a woman .. as a wife & mother .. I am sure you will like to hear this. Upon the whole your flower has lost something perhaps of the perfume that came from that wearing of it next your heart .. but it has struck a healthy root into the coarser soil & will develop in this situation a more real, genuine, independent life than if you had persisted in keeping it as you wished. Your lovely, languid, refined unreliable Gerardine has disappeared. In her place is a blooming matron, cleaving to her husband & household (the two things meaning about one with her) & doing her duties sturdily. Probably in the sight of God & wise men it is an improvement, though we artists have difficulties in admitting so much– What do you say?

She was very affectionate to me, & spoke of you with emphatic love .. longing to see you .. anxiously hoping you would come. I have never been alone enough with her (at one of our interviews Mrs Bates[4] was present) to tell as much about you as I mean to do. She told me with tears in her eyes of the death of her first child.[5] “He was far prettier” she said “than the new baby[6] is—and his father loved him more.” Indeed I understand that Mr Macpherson was grieved to the heart by that grief, having doated on the child. When we called at their house & found them out we asked to see the baby, & saw it. It is rather too like the papa .. but a healthy, vivacious-looking little creature, & likely, I hope, to live.

Ah, dearest friend—you have heard how our first step into Rome was a fall .. not into a catacomb but a fresh grave[7]—& how everything here has been slurred & blurred to us, & distorted from the grand antique associations. I protest to you I doubt whether I shall get over it, & whether I ever shall feel that this is Rome– The first day at the bed’s head of that convulsed & dying child—& the next two, three, four weeks, in great anxiety about his little sister who was all but given up by the physicians—the English nurse[8] horribly ill of the same fever—& another case in this house– It was not only sympathy– I was selfishly & intensely frightened for my own treasures– I wished myself at the end of the world with Robert & Penini twenty times a day– Rome has been very peculiarly unhealthy, & I heard a Monsignore observe the other morning that there would not be much truce to the fever till March came. Still, I begin to take breath again & be reasonable. Penini’s cheeks are red as apples, and if we avoid the sun .. & the wind .. & the damp .. and above all if God takes care of us, we shall do excellently. I, of course, am in a flourishing condition .. walk out nearly everyday & scarcely cough at all. Which is’nt enough for me, you see!—— Dear friend, we have not set foot in the Vatican—oh barbarians!–

But we have seen Mrs Kemble, and I am as enchanted as I ought to be, & even perhaps a little more. She has been very kind & gracious to me—she was to have spent an evening with us three days since, but something intervened. I am much impressed by her as well as attracted to her. What a voice!—what eyes! what eyelids full of utterance!

Then we have had various visits from Mr Thackeray & his daughters—— “She writes to me of Thackeray instead of Raffael & she is at Rome.”!! But she is’nt[9] at Rome. There’s the sadness of it!– We got to Gibson’s studio which is close by[10] & saw his coloured Venus–[11] I dont like her. She has come out of her cloud of the ideal, & to my eyes is not too decent– Then in the long slender throat, in the turn of it & the setting on of the head, you have rather a grisette than a goddess—it’s over-pretty, & petite—the colour adding of course to this effect– Crawford’s studio (the american sculptor)[12] was far more interesting to me than Gibson’s– By the way Mr Page’s portrait of Miss Cushman is really something wonderful .. soul & body together. You can shew nothing like it in England, take for granted. Indeed the American artists consider themselves a little aggrieved when you call it as good as a Titian. “Did Titian ever produce anything like it?” said an admirer in my hearing. Critics wonder whether the colour will stand .. It is a theory of this artist that time does not tone, & that Titian’s pictures were painted as we see them—the consequence of which is that his (Page’s) pictures are undertoned in the first instance, & if they change at all, will turn black.[13] May all Boston rather turn black——which it may do, one of these days, by an eruption from the South, when “uncle Tom’s son” gets strong enough.[14]

We have been to St Peters—we have stood in the Forum & seen the Colessæeum. Penini says—“The sun has tome out. I sint <think>[15] God knows I want to go out to walk, & so He has sent the sun out”. There’s a child who has faith enough to put us all to shame. A vision of angels would’nt startle him in the least. When his poor little friend died & we had to tell him, he enquired, fixing on me those earnest blue eyes .. “Did Papa see the angels when they took away Joe?” And when I answered ‘no’ .. for I never try to deceive him by picturesque fictions .. I should not dare .. I tell him simply what I believe myself .. “Then did Joe go up by himself”? In a moment there was a burst of cries & sobs–— The other day he asked me if I thought Joe had seen the Dute of Wellyton. He has a medal of the Duke of Wellington, which put the name into his head. By the bye Robert yesterday, in a burst of national vanity, informed the child that this was the man who beat Napoleon. “Then, I sint, he a velly naughty man. What! he beat Napoleon wiz a stit?” (with a stick)– Imagine how I laughed, & how Robert himself could’nt help laughing!—— So, the seraphs judge our glories!–

If you have seen Sir David Brewster lately I should like to know whether he has had more experience concerning the tables & has modified his conclusions in any respect.[16] I myself am convinced as I can be of any fact that there is an external intelligence—the little I have seen is conclusive to me– And this makes me more anxious that the subject should be examined with common fairness by learned persons. Only the learned wont learn—that’s the worst of them– Their hands are too full, to gather samples. —It seems to me a new development of Law in the human constitution—which has worked before in exceptional cases, but now works in general–

Dearest friend, I do not speak of your own anxious watch, & tender grief, but I think of them deeply–[17] Believe that I love you always & in all truth–

Your EBB

Do write– There’s a new p<ostal> arrangement admitting of a<n envelope> if the paper is thin–[18]

Robert’s best love—& I shall send one of my Penini’s kisses to Aunt Nina.

Address: Angleterre. / Mrs Jameson / Ealing / London.

Publication: LEBB, II, 146–149 (in part).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. See letter 3295, note 1.

2. Year provided by postmark.

3. Robert Turnbull Macpherson (1814–72) was an artist and photographer in Rome. According to Alistair Crawford, in a study of Macpherson’s life and work, he was born in Dalkeith Parish near Edinburgh, the son of John Macpherson, a fifer in the Dumfries Militia, and his wife Alison (née Macintosh). After studying art and medicine in Edinburgh, he travelled to Rome, arriving there about 1840. In 1851 he began a career as a photographer, and, as Crawford points out, in 1858 Murray’s Handbook of Rome and Its Environs (1858, part II, p. xix) listed Macpherson as one of the principal photographers of the city (see “Robert Macpherson 1814–72, the Foremost Photographer of Rome,” Papers of the British School at Rome, 67, 1999, 353–403). See also “Robert Macpherson 1814–1872: The Final Proof,” Jubilee: 30 Years ESHPh, 2008, pp. 32–47.

4. Louisa Bate; see letter 3179, note 7.

5. We have been unable to identify the child, though EBB indicates in letter 3168 that it was a son, two years old.

6. William Hamilton Macpherson, born on 6 May 1853 at Rome.

7. EBB refers to the death of Joe Story; see letter 3292.

8. Jane Cartwright; see letter 3291, note 1. The other “case in this house” was Emma Page.

9. Underscored three times.

10. At 6 and 7 Via della Fontanella just south of the Piazza del Popolo, a short distance north of the Brownings’ apartment.

11. See letter 3244, note 3.

12. Thomas Crawford (1814–57). His studio was in the Piazza Barberini.

13. Because of William Page’s toning technique, which included “glazing the ground of the canvas with successive layers of black until a tone halfway between black and white was reached,” many of his paintings did indeed become much darker over time (The Dictionary of Art, 1996, 23, 765); see, for example, the frontispiece to this volume.

14. An allusion to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston, 1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

15. Written above the preceding word.

16. David Brewster (1781–1868), scientist and inventor, was knighted in 1832. According to Patrick Waddington, “When table-turning and spirit rapping began to be the talk of Europe in the spring of 1853, Brewster discussed them with eminent men including the poet, parliamentarian and breakfast-giver Richard Monckton Milnes and the Prussian ambassador and religious philosopher the Chevalier von Bunsen. Through the latter he learned also of strange doings in Germany. As far as he could gather, both there and in England tables shook and moved along the floor when participants’ hands were placed upon their surface. It was not always necessary to have a ‘conjuror’ present. ‘Of course it is nonsense’, Brewster noted, ‘and there must be some trick in it’” (Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there?, Upper Hutt, New Zealand, 2007, p. 115).

17. A reference to Mrs. Jameson’s mother, Johanna Murphy (née Bird, 1775–1854), who was gravely ill and died the following March.

18. For the weight; see letter 3286, note 26.

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