[Venice—Sunday, 16 October 1881]
The Brownings dined with us partie carrée. Mr B. talked of Beranger, whom he remembered. One day in F[bg]. S[t]. Honoré saw him, and told his son, then a small child, to run and touch the hand of that old gentleman, and some day he would tell him why. Mr B’s French teacher taught him the Airs of Beranger’s Songs and they sang them together à tue-tête. Mr B. then sang to us a verse of Le Roi d’Yvetot.
Of the Kembles he said that two excellent judges had opposite opinions. Macready and Talfourd. M. greatly admired Mrs Siddons, but not John K. at all. Said had seen him in most starring passages of Coriolanus arrange the folds of his cloak. Talfourd cared nothing for Mrs Siddons—thought her pompous &c.
Asked him how he accounted for Lady Cowper (Palmerston) having kept her social standing in Eng. society from first to last. He said he could not account for it but she did: & Pm married her as soon as Ld C. died.
Mr B. praised Cherbuliez, especially Ladislas Bolsky. Was dining with Master of Balliol (Jowett) & told the Co. the story of Ladislaus, wh. all thought most interesting. He asked Jowett if he wd. promise to read it if he wd. send it to him; & did so. Next year went again to Oxford & dined at Balliol. Before dinner alone in room looked over books—& found Ladislaus’ pages still uncut.
I asked if he knew Longfellows Transn of Dante. He had not seen it—never looked at translations of what he could read in original. Expressed great dislike to illustrated books, poems & plays—as spoiling one’s ideals. Of Bulwer said his great change of style was owing to Macready’s influence, always great with Bulwer. Of present Ld Lytton said Lucille was flat plagiarism from G. Sand. That he was good fellow; but “had no backbone at all” & did whatever he was told– “This was why Disraeli sent him to India.[”]
Praised Life of Ld Campbell. Did not know he was called “Lying Jock.”
Said the gains of some of his legal friends were enormous—besides retainers to do nothing. That to be a Barrister at once gave position in society.
That “the Queen knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about Art.”
Of Sir J. Soane, disinheriting his son for a letter very improper, wh. the father kept framed by his bed. Public disapproval—& Lity Socy where his portrait hung. Various members said did not like to see it—& Jerdan jumped up and cut it all to bits with a table knife.
Of Robert Lowe, Ld Sherbrooke—case of success under difficulties. Is an Albino, cannot see at all—no visual focus. To read, obliged to wear the bowls of two teaspoons perforated by small hole in centre, holding his book very near.
Once where Browning was, Dr. Lowe chose to go out sailing alone in a boat. Lady ____ gave a boatman 10s to follow him & see that he came not to grief.
Of Mrs Frances Anne Kemble Butler[.] In Rome she came invariably once a week to pass the evening with Brownings. One evening she was to deliver a prologue to a Play. B. said then we shall not see you this eveg “Do you prevent my coming?[”] “Oh no, but you will like to see the play & you can come to us any evening.” [“]Unless you prevent me, I shall come.” So she went and spoke the Prologue, and at once left (without seeing the Play) and came to Brownings.
One evening she came much dressed—“a red velvet gown and gold shoes” (Mr B. said)[.] I said ‘Why do you come thus to us simple folk?[’]
Mrs K. said, ‘I have so many gowns, and wear them in regular invariable sequence. Tonight is the turn of this gown. Another evening I may go to an eveg party in my plain cotton gown.[’]
She was to go from Rome to Florence by the Diligence and get Miss Vaughan to go with her. She found certain hotels given as the best in the guide book, and required that the diligence should stop at those, and was angry that it would not. Finally arrived at Florence it drove to its bureau. Mrs K. ‘I wish to be taken to the Hôtel ____.[’] Well Madame, there it is, close by. Drive us to it. Impossible Madame. Then we shall sit where we are. The horses were taken out, and the diligence was rolled into its remise of which the doors were to be shut and the ladies left in dark repose. Mrs K said ‘call a coach.’ One was called, and the luggage placed in it. But Mrs K. said Take it all out & call another. Poor Miss V. dead with fatigue.
She said to Mr B. “You have never presented me to your sister. You know I never call first on any one. For [“]I am a divorced woman[.]”
Of Tourgueineff. Had known him well at Paris. Charming of manner & talk. Very large & fine looking man. Much devoted to Mme Pauline Viardot—so amiable & accomplished.
In early youth, his mother sent him to Paris, to get him out of the way, at a time of political excitement in Russia. Once there, he would not come home. In vain his mother wrote, and ordered him back. At last, she cut off his supplies. Tourguenieff then lived by his wits, as he could, but fell into great destitution—so at last a friend informed his mother. She, having vowed she would not give him any money, would only relent as to clothes, and sent him a set of shirts. But they were made of the size he was when he parted from her, and as he had grown prodigiously in the interval, they were no use to him. He put one over his head, and capered about his room in it before Mr B.—laughing at his mother’s fancying him still a boy.
1. “A party of four.”