Correspondence

3361.  EBB to Julia Martin

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 20, 144–148.

Rome. 43. Bocca di Leone. 3ro piano.

March 20. [1854][1]

My dearest Mrs Martin I have had but one letter from you, except this one—and have you not had one from me? This last letter of yours has been lying in the post these ten days or more though we send everyday. The pontifical government excels in the post-department as in other matters, & we have lost heaps of letters, it seems to me, as well as yours. What can you have thought of me all this time? I am alarmed at the association of your humble proposition about “writing seventy & seven times”[2] in order to my writing once—it is so plain that you were musing upon the chapter of the Christian treatment of offences.[3] I, meantime, have not meant, indeed & indeed, to sin against you at all. You are too forgiving when I sin, for me to bear it– Thank you for this most acceptable letter, which in the account it gives of you, fills me with joy & satisfaction. Also I am glad to hear of your good winter. We had a severe six weeks—that was all,—but the cold, while it lasted, was colder than any I ever felt in Italy except at Florence in the winter of 49, and I had some return of cough accordingly .. perhaps in part attributable, though, to certain previous imprudences which the milder climate of Rome .. certainly milder on the whole than that of Florence .. had beguiled me into. Think of my being able to go out in the evenings of December & January! Well– I had cough afterwards & began to get thin, but now that’s past & I am looking up like the violets– Rome agrees well with me—and the six weeks cold were nothing in consideration of the snowing up of the greater part of Europe. In spite of which, if we get away alive & well in May, I shall thank God & leave the fountain of Trevi untasted. (You know if you drink of it you are sure to come back.)[4] The truth is, what’s precious to my heart is of more consequence to me than what’s good for my chest, and I am in a constant state of anxiety about the influence of this pestilential air upon my husband & child. Rome has been more than usually unhealthy all the winter—even now people are down in fever, nine in a house. After the shock we had on our arrival—the first day spent by the deathbed of a child who was gone by night .. the first drive taken with his mother to the cemetery gate .. we have been called on for a continued painful sympathy with the same poor friends whose remaining child[,] a girl of nine, only escaped from gastric fever to waste under repeated attacks, during three months, of Roman ague– Our friends (Americans .. he is the son of Judge Story I think I told you) cling obstinately to Rome, the Heavens know why, & only took the poor little patient away a few days ago. At Velletri .. just beyond Albano .. the fever recurred with worse symptoms, & the letter which reached us today fills us with fear of the saddest kind. Think! If they lose both their children!– They spent the summer with us at the Baths of Lucca, & the children though much older than Wiedeman of course, were his frequent playfellows—but I told you all that–

My Wiedeman, by the way, grows more & more into all the graces of his age,—losing nothing of his early infantine sweetness while he makes progress in intelligence. I assure you I have a valuable sort of celebrity in Rome as the “mother of the pretty boy”. Its the best laurel I ever heard of. He is known everywhere .. he for his part, .. by his streaming gold ringlets, & lively gracious ways. There’s a struggle among the children on the Pincio to play with him—a popularity which pleases me more even than the admiration of the mothers & nurses. In fact, as you see, my head is a little turned—pity me. Certainly he seems to me like a child out of an illustrated poem—so good too, so loving, so gentle, so clever .. with considerable information for his years about angels & spirits—up to the age on the subject of turning tables & involuntary writing!! I think he is absolutely free from the usual superstitious fears & horrors which all imaginative children with the ordinary education are subject to, & which I myself suffered much from—notwithstanding that he confided to me the other day, holding his face on one side meditatively, that though he should like “velly much to see a pretty little spirit”, .. a “velly large angel” might make him “Lather aflaid” .. rather afraid. I think it was only a passing thought. He is familiar with the idea of the spiritual world as with the sunshine of this—though I carefully avoid any sort of excitement to the fancy or feelings. I want him to be healthy & calm in the body & the soul .. oh, I am not injudicious in these things, I assure you—as you would admit if you had sight of his rosy cheeks & could observe his vivacity & playfulness from morning to night. The Miss Thackerays (Thackeray’s daughters .. quite young girls) who saw him last in Paris a year & a half ago, were astonished this winter at the improvement in him, as to ruddiness & robustness. He is no longer the little nervous creature he used to be,—though susceptible always– He has a great faculty for joy, .. & it’s a faculty like the rest, & not the least useful one–

Indeed he has enjoyed the carnival for me—for I could see nothing of it. The weather was too cold, and I had some cough at the time .. though now I am well again. For more than two months I have been shut up much as usual .. with the exception of an hour’s walk at intervals. There has been a great deal going on socially, & my husband has brought me some of the influence of it. The two Kembles are here .. Adelaide .. Mrs Sartoris .. who has quite the most agreeable house in Rome .. & Fanny, Mrs Butler, who has come back to her old name, poor thing. They are both noble women .. genuine, excellent .. but Mrs Kemble, if she would put off her self-consciousness & white satin shoes & come down from her throne a little, would be nearly perfect—she is an immense favorite with us both, & comes once a week to make a third with us in the eating of Wilson’s knead cakes .. always, mind, in the white satin shoes!– Such splendid eyes—such a smile! I am far gone in love with her, I assure you. Thackeray has been here with his young daughters as I said before, & though he & I are at the two poles as to opinions & ways of thought, & I never heard him say a word without an inclination to say ‘no’ to it, he produced a certain effect upon me .. yes, half won my heart .. let me confess .. by his goodnature to my child. He drew for him, he took him out to walk, he invited him to breakfast, .. Penini was enchanted with “Misser Tatterley” quite with reason. We have had Lockhart here too—met him at Mrs Sartoris[’]s & Robert went in his company down to the seaside in a pic nic excursion.[5] He looked to me as if he had been dug out of the snow as well as the Quarterley .. heart-cold, brain-cold & blood-cold—but he is ill—improves on acquaintance .. & has taken a liking to my husband, which is an undeniable merit. I hear he says openly that he “likes Browning—he’s so natural!—not in the least like a damned literary man”. Thus speaks the Quarterly–

March 23. Dearest Mrs Martin, my letter was interrupted painfully. We had an express from poor Mr Story at Velletri to entreat Robert either to go to him himself or send another friend. From the letter we took for granted Edith was dead. Robert was in a carriage in half an hour, while I stood aghast & Penini screamed at losing his papa. After a miserable day & half, back he came—the child was better .. may live after all—in fact there was a little exaggeration in the first statement, & we grudge somewhat the expense of nerves & fatigue, to say nothing of scudi.

Poor people—they were nearly distracted with fear, I suppose–

<…>[6]

Give my love to Leti<tia> when you write. My best love to dear Mr Martin. No politics—is it possible? I am half consoled for the war, by the fraternal attitude of France & England, & wicked enough to have desired Austria to stand farther off in order to have a pretext to get at her.[7] I want something for Italy in the general scramble. The Italians are hoping still in L Napoleon—& this feeling is stronger than you would suppose. May God bless you. Write to me remembering my loss of your letters.

Ever your most affecte

Ba.

Address: France. / À Madame / Madame Martin / Poste Restante / Pau / Basses Pyrenées.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. Cf. Matthew 18: 22.

3. EBB refers to Matthew 18: 21–35.

4. The tradition has long since been changed to tossing a coin in the fountain in order to ensure a return to the city. In A Traveller in Rome (New York, 1957), H.W. Morton writes: “The visitors toss in their coins all day long, to laughter, cheers, and photographs. I wonder when the custom began, for it cannot be much older than the end of the nineteenth century. … The earliest reference I have been able to find is in The Marble Faun, which Nathaniel Hawthorne published in 1860. His mysterious character, Miriam, goes down to the Trevi at night and says: ‘I shall sip as much of this water as the hollow of my hand will hold. … I am leaving Rome in a few days; and the tradition goes, that a parting draught at the Fountain of Trevi ensures the traveller’s return, whatever obstacles and improbabilities may seem to beset him.’ It looks as though a drink of Trevi water was the original tradition and that the casting of coins came later. At any rate by the time Baedeker published his eighth edition in 1883, the custom had been well established, and he gives the formula: to drink the water, (which no modern visitor does), and to cast in a coin. … By the time S. Russell Forbes wrote his Rambles in Rome, in 1892, the custom had developed into a ritual. ‘If you wish to return to Rome,’ he wrote, ‘you should come here on the last day of your visit, take a drink out of the rim of the fountain with your left hand, then turn and throw into the water, over your left shoulder, a halfpenny’” (pp. 24–25). Murray’s A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy (1853) calls the Trevi Fountain “the largest and perhaps the most celebrated fountain in Rome.” It was “built by Clement XII. (Corsini) in 1735, from the designs of Niccolò Salvi” (part II, p. 93).

5. See letter 3360, note 3.

6. The flap of the envelope, which contained text, is missing. The letter continues in the throat of the envelope.

7. In order “to stand farther off,” Austria would have had to support her old ally Russia against Turkey. This she did not do. Instead, Austria signed a protocol the next month with England, France, and Prussia which supported the “Western Powers” (see letter 3428, note 12).

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