3476.  EBB to Sarianna Browning

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 20, 320–322.


[Postmark: 14 October 1854]

My dearest Sarianna we have been hunted & pursued by divers persons– Mrs Sartoris has been in Florence & taken a great deal out of us in the way of time & energy. I like her & love her, but I can certainly breathe better when we are not forced to keep open house even to strains of most celestial singing. For more than a week we had’nt an evening to ourselves. Not only the muse but all the friends of the muse we gave coffee & muffins to,—& as to Robert he was never off his legs as cicerone. Oh, I am so glad I have no ciceronian pretensions. It’s bad enough to see sights for one’s self, but to help others to see them must be tremendous. There’s an unchristian speech for you! After all, I was very sorry to part with Mrs Sartoris who is as brilliant in talk as in singing, & really loveable besides. Born to the throne, though! you see that. Still more sorry was I [to] say goodbye to dear little Hatty Hosmer the American sculptress—we call her ‘little’ chiefly because we love her. By the way Penini has taken to call me “my darling little Ba”!– Is’nt it respectful? I must tell you that Penini makes regular love to me as matter of system. He said the other day .. “How I love you! Your face is like a light, wiz all those turls hanging! I leally sint I must give you somesing pretty some day—a broach!—or a beau-tiful dress!” I said I wanted only his love—but—he went on—“If you were unhappy, I would have my hand cut off to make you happy,—for nothing at all but only yourself.” The little creature is filled up to the brim of his blue eyes with sentiment—he’s made of love—and I’m almost fearful of his growing too tender for the ‘work-day uses of this world’. [1] He said this morning “My sweetest, dealest mama, I am so glad God sent me!” What is one to do with such a child? Not spoil him, perhaps?

The stories you repeat of L Napoleon’s childhood are very striking. I am convinced there is much more real good in the man than is allowed by even the impartial public. A royal personnage who remembers his old friends for instance, must have peculiar good in him—he has missed what Æschylus calls the “desease of Kings,” [2] .. ingratitude. LN. forgets no one who ever served him—there are old servants here in Florence, who served him when he lived in Italy years back—all thought of & pensioned—& of course they talk adorations about him.

Well—Napier is’nt rash—that’s sure. [3] Letters have been received here from the officers of his fleet, everybody complains of him bitterly– One captain of a vessel added to the complaint of want of daring an observation that he (said captain) was nearly the only officer with whom the admiral had not quarrelled. A midshipman writes to his mother .. “Napier (confound him!) wont let us do anything.” You see there’s great emulation between the French & English, & we had not our right share of action & glory at Bomersund, [4] —so runs the complaint.

On the other hand we are taking it at Sebastopol. Napier is put out of sight by Lyons & Raglan & the highlanders. [5] I am thankful to see that poor John Hedley is not among the dead. [6] I was anxious for his mother’s sake.

We saw a letter of Gibson’s two days since, & heard of another from somebody else, (Miss Hays) giving horrible accounts of the cholera in London. [7] None of us have an idea they say, of its ravages—people dropping into the ditches to die. “It is hideous” they say—London looks quite depopulated. Still there must be a change for the better from the last papers, though I think it is plain that the newspapers dont tell the whole truth, even there. The Times puts in letters from individuals, but the daily lists do not appear as they once did. I cant help feeling anxious & uneasy.

Ah dearest Sarianna, I reason just as you do about the injury to Papa’s leg—but the fact is that it is shorter than the other. I only hope they have had good advice for him. It does seem so strange, as well as melancholy. My letter was not returned & I feel glad to have written it. Here comes Robert to entreat me to have done at once. I did’nt know he was going to write today. Penini’s love with mine to the dear nonno.

His & your ever affectionate


Address, in RB’s hand: France. / Mademoiselle Browning / chez M. Byrne / Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 138. / Paris.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: Lilly Library.

1. Cf. Hamlet, I, 2, 133.

2. Cf. Æschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 226–227, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth: “For it is a disease that somehow inheres in tyranny to have no faith in friends.” The lines in question were translated by EBB in her 1850 revision of the play as: “For kingship wears a cancer at the heart,— / To have no faith in friends” (lines 268–269).

3. See letter 3471, note 7.

4. Also spelled Bomarsund, a fortress in the Aland Islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. In early August French and British squadrons, supported by ground troops, laid siege to Bomarsund, capturing it on 16 August after a heavy bombardment. Newspaper accounts of the time emphasized the collaborative nature of the operation, but French forces on the ground, outnumbering their British counterparts about ten to one, played a greater role in the fighting and suffered the majority of casualties.

5. EBB refers to the Battle of the Alma, the first major land engagement between allied and Russian forces in the Crimean War, which took place on 20 September 1854 in the vicinity of the intersection of the Alma river and the road to Sebastopol. The battle resulted in a victory for the allies. The British forces were led by Fitzroy James Henry Somerset (1788–1855), 1st Baron Raglan. The French, commanded by Jacques Leroy de Saint Arnaud (1798–54), were able to turn the Russian left wing. The British, meanwhile, mounted a successful frontal assault against the Russian position on the heights above the river. The number of British casualties was 2,000; French, 1,400. According to the dispatch sent to the war department from Lord Raglan on 23 September, “the Highland Brigade … advanced in admirable order and steadiness up the high ground” (The Times, 9 October 1854, p. 7). Sir Edmund Lyons, father of the previously mentioned Richard Lyons (see letter 3378, note 20), was second in command of the British Mediterranean fleet. He oversaw the transportation of allied forces from Varna to the Crimea. Raglan referred to him in his dispatch of 23 September: “Sir Edmund Lyons, who had charge of the whole, was, as always, most prominent in rendering assistance and providing for emergencies” (The Times, p. 7). On 26 September, under Lyons’s command, the British took control of Balaklava, about 8 miles S. of Sebastopol, and made it their supply base. The actual attack on Sebastopol and subsequent siege did not begin until the middle of October.

6. According to Army records, John Hedley was not serving in any regiment at this time; he had been dismissed from the 50th Regiment of Foot in June 1853, following a court martial (see letter 3195, note 16). He does not appear in the Army List for 1854–55, but the 1855–56 list records that he joined the “19th (The 1st Yorksh. N. Riding) Regt. of Foot” on 30 March 1855. An item in The London Gazette (30 March 1855, p. 1279), announced that Hedley was “to be reinstated in his former rank in the Army, and appointed to a Lieutenancy … without the admission of any claim to back pay.” That Hedley may have been in the Crimea in some capacity before joining the 19th is indicated in a 10 January 1855 letter to Arabella, in which EBB writes: “As to <Johnnie H[edley].> and the dangerous post near the ambulances, why it would have been still more dangerous in the battle” (ms at Berg). The 19th saw action at the Battle of the Alma and lost several officers.

7. John Gibson’s letter, written to Harriet Hosmer, describes a London “very empty of people. Thousands had gone to the country, thousands are dead of the cholera, and still Death is at work there” (see SD1778). The Times had been running weekly reports on London’s cholera epidemic in a column entitled “The Public Health.” The number of deaths from the disease peaked at 2,050 for the week ending 8 September 1854. By the issue of 4 October The Times was able to declare that “cholera is now rapidly declining in London, and the deaths by it have fallen from 2,050 in the first week to 754 in the last week of September” (p. 7). The area around Cavendish Square, which included Wimpole Street, remained one of the least affected in the city with only six deaths reported during the outbreak. Matilda Hays lived with Charlotte Cushman at 1 Bolton Row, Piccadilly. The closest sub-district, Mayfair, registered 26 deaths over the same period, but other neighboring sub-districts were much harder hit. Golden Square, for instance, reported 262 deaths.


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