4657.  EBB to Isa Blagden

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 27, 297–301.


May 2– [1860] [1]

Ever dearest Isa I have your letter—& it seems to me long since I wrote to you, dear– Robert answered your most interesting account of the entrance of the King– [2] It moved me so, that here’s a poem on what I saw through your eyes [3] The gravity of the King struck me very much. Your letter went about in Robert’s pocket to thrill the “fit audience”, not “few”. [4] Did I tell you how deeply interested Mrs Stowe was by your letter on the annexation? [5] I forget. I thought she never would let me have it back again. Only, you see, your fatigue & excitement after the last jubilee have plainly proved to you & to me that you have “a body”. Dear, be good & be wise & take care of yourself, & remember that I love you, .. & that even Robert does, [6]  .. for all his naughtiness sometimes.

Tell me, Isa– What friend of mine sent me from Florence a New York Times, with what Robert calls, & what my modesty is shy of calling “an admirable review” of the ‘Poems before Congress’– It is clever, eloquent, & praises only too much like a friend– [7] Who did it? If any American, America is generous—for the ‘Curse’ specifically mentioned.

America is generous. Did I tell you that the editor of the Independent (New York) [8] had written in consequence of these poems, to offer me a hundred dollars for any single poem passing through their pages to my publisher—even a sonnet, they say– [9] So you see, Kate (give her my love) is not right in fancying that the re-publication of the ‘Curse’ would hurt me in her land– Speaking the truth is always the best prudence, even when one has to speak against slavery & in favor of the Emperor of the French.

My dearest Isa, what you tell me of the new Trollope, Kinney &c &c view of “England having done more for Italy than France”, .. this “New Sight” of politics .. is a good illustration of that stupendous national self-complacency which is growing into a desease in England. Certainly if there were the least seriousness in such a judgement, the moral of it would be .. “Never run a risk for any interests but your own– Each for himself, & the devil for us all.” [10] Robert himself exclaims (British as he is to the bone) at the gross injustice of it. The only chance of getting gratitude in this world, is to do nothing for anybody– Write that down in your book, Isa. I have read carefully the Book called “Blue”– [11] Lord John’s efforts were strictly confined to recommending “no armed intervention”, [12] which France promised from the lips of the Emperor before he quitted Italy, & has promised at short intervals ever since—into which, in fact, the whole policy of France was resolved. Lord John kept asking … “armed intervention?” .. ad nauseam .. the answer being as decisive as possible the moment after, “No armed intervention”. The opportunity of these repeated declarations was given to France by Lord John’s questions—& this is the whole debt to England. If France had pleased to intervene in Italy to restore, dissolve, resolve, .. England would not have stirred a finger—(or a rifle) be it understood!—nor would she even have made as much impotent noise, as she has made about Savoy. Remark one thing—that the noisiest protestors are Conservatives .. the same who would have sided with Austria in the war of last year. Oh, a year ago, Mr Trollope! Who would have thought it? Every man in England almost, against the drawing of the Sword which liberated!– And now here’s the end of the account.

I have had a very kind & generous letter from Forster about my poems. [13] He is in great indignation against their attackers– He swears that, though hating Napoleon, he sympathizes with me more than he disagrees,—& that “his hand should drop from his body sooner than” &c &c &c– Especially he echoes every word of the preface, & says very kind things of the poems– He tells us there’s a growing dislike of Cavour in England—which “grieves him.” That’s right– It does’nt grieve me– Let us all have our due– You’ll see how it will be. Italy is lifted from under the Austrian hoof, & constituted a nation—& the man who did it because they did, will be damned everlastingly in the opinions of all of us– Well—its as good theology & logic as are in general use among us, & I dont know why anyone should wonder.

As for the Italians I should be wrong to think they were ungrateful– The feeling towards France here, where the bearing of France might be considered questionable, is strong– The feeling between the people & the troops, & the hopes in Napoleon, are patent enough– Italians are quite capable of flattering the English a little in the desire of preventing English opposition—for they are quite astute enough to apprehend the amount of international jealousies. I was extremely amused by Peni’s Abbé the other day– His patience with Penini’s impertinence is explained by the fact of his being a liberal in the intense sense, tho’ very timid, as is natural enough for a priest at Rome– He found me alone & poured out his heart to me,—terrified for Napoleon, with the coalition in France against him, of which Lamoriciere is the expression here– ‘Oh,’ he said—“there’s a terrible moment to pass”. “Forty thousand French clergy, & all the parties in opposition, backed by Catholic Europe.” The Savoy discussion in the English parliament had frightened him, & he enquired anxiously if England had not tied her own hands from active interference against Italy. What he hoped chiefly in was in an alliance between Russia & France. In the midst of our talk Robert came in, & hearing the word ‘Naples’, & fearful as usual that I was hurting the Abbés prejudices, tried some deprecatory phrase—which frightened the latter .. who sank instantly into the mild priestly attitude—so that if Mr Trollope had entered suddenly he would have taken Robert & The Abbé for two codini [14] talking together. Robert was afraid of the priest, & the Abbé of the Englishman—while I, who am apt to speak indiscreet truths & shame every colour of Devil, sate by & moralized.

As to the “mystery” of Lamoriciere—the mystery, my dearest Isa, is simply that the French emperor (the rascal—) is risking his crown as he once or twice risked his life for the Italian cause. For which .... ‘curse him’, .. shall we say? The Holy Father’s excommunication (meant for him) [15] scarcely goes far enough for us who love liberty,—& we must get up a small ‘Commination service’ [16] for the use of Italian patriots & Lord Brougham. [17] The Italian party here with Pantaleoni at the head of it—(though Pantaleoni, on his wife’s side & by old associations & friendships—is much attached to England, & very moderate in his ideas) know & say that Lamoriciere’s appearance here is simply a demonstration against the Emperor– There was talk a few days since of the arrival of the Orleans princes [18] —which may or may not be true—but the rumour points the way of the wind of public opinion– M. de Merode & all the French who drop in here at intervals, represent the French opposition. I confess I dont see why the emperor need have consented to the coming of Lamoriciere—but I suppose there might have been a difficulty in appearing to refuse an advantage to the pope when he asked for it. Dall’Ongaro’s letters are so justified by events that I shall be very grateful for the next– They are not always right I believe, but they are certainly right in the main.

Yes, yes, yes—I am very anxious about Sicily– [19] I wanted to help the funds too [20] —Mazzini or no Mazzini, but Robert swears that not a scudo of his shall go to Mazzinian plots [21] .. the end of which are always misery & loss– Is it true, do you think,—that Mazzini is really in Sicily? [22] And is it true (as Mdme de S[ch]wartz has told me) that there has been an emeute in Florence, & that the people have shouted to the King to come out & not leave their brethren of Sicily to the Neapolitan cannons, unassisted? You do not name this. Is it not supposed that Cavour has, in an occult way, had to do with the rising in Sicily? [23] I hope, my Isa, you will write soon & tell me all– Write– It is very warm since yesterday—but we have had some gloomy days.

In tender love your


Publication: B-IB, pp. 333–337.

Manuscript: Fitzwilliam Museum.

1. This letter accompanied letter 4658.

2. See letter 4652.

3. “King Victor Emanuel Entering Florence, April 1860.” It was first published in The Independent (16 August 1860) and later collected in Last Poems (1862). EBB sends Isa Blagden a copy of the poem with letter 4664.

4. Cf. Paradise Lost, VII, 31.

5. Letter 4622.

6. Underscored four times.

7. The New-York Times notice of Napoleon III in Italy, and Other Poems, as the work was entitled in America, appeared on 4 April 1860. In praising all of the poems in the collection, the reviewer wrote: “Their every verse rings with the clear silver accent of sincere conviction. … Never was there a genius more richly endowed than Mrs. Browning’s” (p. 2). For the full text of this review, see pp. 375–377. The friend who sent the article has not been identified.

8. EBB refers to Theodore Tilton (1835–1907), as indicated by her reply to him in letter 4662. He was not, however, editor of The Independent (New York) at this time. That position was filled by a three-man editorial board consisting of Leonard Bacon (1802–81), Richard S. Storrs (1821–1900), and Joseph P. Thompson (1819–79). In 1861 Henry Ward Beecher became the editor, and Tilton was his assistant until February 1863, when the latter became editor. The Independent was founded in 1848 as a Congregationalist, anti-slavery (not abolitionist) weekly journal. Tilton served as its editor from 1863 to 1870. Upon EBB’s death, he wrote a biographical sketch of her, which appeared in The Independent on 25 July 1861. It was reprinted in the American edition of Last Poems (New York, 1862).

9. Thirteen of EBB’s poems, most of them dealing with Italian politics, were published in The Independent from March 1860 to November 1861.

10. Cf. Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Part. 3, sect. I, memb. 3.

11. See letter 4612, note 6.

12. EBB may be referring to remarks made by foreign secretary Lord John Russell in dispatches to his ambassadors in the first month after the armistice at Villafranca was signed on 11 July 1859. These dispatches were published in Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of Italy, from the Signature of the Preliminaries of Villafranca to the Postponement of the Congress (1860). In a letter of 16 July to Lord Cowley (ambassador to France), Russell asked: “Is it contemplated that the States composing the [Italian] Confederation should engage to assist each other to repel foreign attack … and, in case of intervention in any one of the States of the Confederation, will the Emperor of Austria be at liberty to employ military force to put down insurrection? For instance, may he thus interfere at Turin, or Florence, or Naples? How is the proposed Treaty to be carried into execution? It is already understood that the de facto Government of Florence intend to resist its execution in Tuscany. Are French, or Austrian, or Piedmontese troops to be employed to put down such resistance at Florence, Modena, Bologna, and other places which have risen … and taken part in what they deemed a national war?” (pp. 3–4). To John Crampton (ambassador to Russia), Russell wrote on 12 August: “Her Majesty’s Government wish to see the Italian Governments at liberty to pursue the path of internal improvement, without foreign intervention” (p. 48).

13. Letter 4650.

14. “Reactionaries.”

15. See letter 4637, note 12.

16. See letter 4299, note 7.

17. Lord Brougham had consistently spoken against Italy’s second war of independence and for England’s continuing neutrality (see letter 4481, note 4).

18. See letter 4607, note 24.

19. An uprising occurred in Palermo on 4 April. Though quickly suppressed, it led to numerous revolts across the island. When news of the unrest reached Garibaldi, he applied to Victor Emmanuel for “a brigade of the Piedmontese army to support the rising” (Edgar Holt, Risorgimento: The Making of Italy, 1815–1870, 1970, p. 234). On the advice of Cavour, the King refused, whereupon Garibaldi immediately set about gathering a volunteer force to sail for Sicily (see Holt, pp. 232–234).

20. The Million Rifles Fund, instituted by Garibaldi and sanctioned by the Piedmontese government. The Brownings later contributed to it.

21. See the following letter.

22. Mazzini was not in Sicily. He left London in early May for Genoa, where he arrived on the 7th (see Mazzini’s Letters to an English Family, ed. E.F. Richards, 1920–22, II, 181–184).

23. There is no evidence that Cavour was involved in the uprising in Sicily, which was largely the result of Mazzini’s planning and inspiration.


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