[Venice—Friday, 30 September 1881]

A rainy morning[.] I called for Mr Robert Browning at the Universo Hotel[1] opposite to our apartment in Palo Barbaro Canal Grande. He had expressed the wish to walk, or row, of a morning, whenever I could come for him. As the day was wet, I suggested that we might go and walk under the Arcades of Piazza S. Marco and in the Basilica. He agreed and asked if Miss Browning could not also go. We had on the felze and arrived quite dry at the Piazzetta, and for two hours walked. Mr Browning talked chiefly about the ill treatment he had received from Mr James T. Fields and his firm with respect to Editions of Mrs Browning’s works. We then examined the mosaics in the porch of S. Marco, the fat kine devouring the lean &c. As my friend Fr. Edw. Parker of Boston was to lunch with us, I asked the Brownings to come also.

We found Mr J. Field of Phila there, who also stayed to lunch. After lunch the gentlemen smoked in my son’s studio. The recent Life of W.S. Landor by S. Colvin was mentioned which led Mr Browning to talk about Landor, during an hour and a half. What he said, from his long and intimate relations with Landor, is interesting & authentic, and in view of the place wh. Landor will surely hold in Eng. Literature, valuable.

Mr B. said he had largely furnished Mr Colvin with materials for his sketch of Landor.

Mr Browning said that Landor inherited two separate Estates. But that seized with a capricious fancy for Llanthony Abbey (where Father Ignatius now rules) he bought it by selling his other property. The buildings were ruinous and the Estate bare & unproductive. Landor said he had planted “millions of trees!” He did plant many of a kind of fir, which since proving of the kind used for railway sleepers now pay £4000 a year! Mr Landor fell in love, and from pique at non-success, offered himself to the first next girl he met, and married her. I think Mr B. said he was 30 years older than his wife.

At Florence he took a villa, wh. proving to be damp from bath pipes &c, he wished to throw over his bargain. The judges decided against him—upon wh. he went to the Court, and “in choice Italian of wh. he was a master” said to the judges [‘]I don’t care six straws for myself how you decide this matter—but for sake of other foreigners wish justice done. As I know that money is the sole argument wh. prevails with you, here is a bag full I have brought. Name your prices.’ The Judges rose and went to the Grand Duke to say that when that mad Englishman was banished, they would return to duty, but not before. The Duke ordered that Mr Landor should instantly quit his dominions. Landor said how I repent that I married! Why? Because I would kill the Gd Duke!

After an interval he was allowed to return. He had taken a fine Villa near Fiesolé. One day he took offence at his wife’s alluding to his Age before his children and left the house, resolved never to return. He came to Browning with a few francs in his pocket, leaving the Villa & all his property, except £300 a year, to his family. Mr Browning & Mr Kirkup went to attempt a reconciliation, wh. the violence & hatred of the wife & daughter made hopeless. The daughter said to them, “if my father were dying there in the gutter for a cup of water, I would not give it to him!”

Mr Landor went to England & settled himself at Bath. There he took up the cause of an artful minx against her family and published a series of atrocious libels for wh. he was prosecuted. Friends got the suit withdrawn, but he soon renewed his libels, and had to pay £1500 damages. Meantime his wife took up with a low Englishman, who borrowed a scudo of any one who wd. lend it, on any pretence. This man lived at the Villa & wore Landor’s clothes. His son also was the lover of Landor’s daughter. When her condition made marriage necessary, the fellow said he had no money, but wd. marry with a dowry. She wrote to her father, & opening his letter of refusal, fainted at the Post Office. Landor’s son also made irregular connections the natural result of growing up without example or restraint. After many years absence Landor returned to Florence & to the Villa. He had £70. His family kept a strict account of all he ate & drank; even charging lemonade made of his own lemons, & when his £70 was spent, refused to harbour him longer. He came to Mr Browning who soothed & lodged him. Landor had two Brothers in Engd “who had all his virtues without his defects”– He had given them reason eno’ to complain of him; but on Mr Browning’s report of the old man’s state they asked how much they should contribute. Mr B. estimated that a moderate sum wd. give him a room & food; & placed him near by. He spent every eveg with the Bs’. When his dinner hour came he sat with watch in hand, & if the hour passed, would throw the dinner out of the windows.

Once young Browning came riding home & reported a crowd at Landor’s. It seemed he had visitors & offered tea, of wh. he had none. But instead of sending to B’s, he sent to buy some, wh. proving rubbish, he threw it into the street covering the footway. This was in Siena, whither he when with the Bs’ in summer usually, & Mr B. took a lodging for him near by. Finally, his wife, supposing that he had money, came to Mr B. to propose his return to his family. Mr B. said Landor wd. never consent to this. She said he wd. if not prevented by Mr B. & proposed to come in her carriage as she returned from her drive in the Cascine and later take him home. Mr B. sd. try it; but I will not answer for the consequences. The next day the servant announced Signora Landor. Landor was instantly furious & said, ‘I’ll jump out of the window if you let her enter this room![’] Mrs L. was on the stairs exclaiming “the old brute! the old beast!” Twice Mr Parker asked if Landor were affectionate & Mr B. twice answered “to the last degree!”

Mr Browning said ‘I have happened to know many of the men of my time reckoned among the greatest, but none the equal of Landor for the learning, originality & brilliancy of his conversation. His beauty was remarkable also, a nobleman of presence.[’]

Mrs Landor said ‘You’ll soon have enough of him!’ But Mr. B. said he had never any difficulty whatever. Asked how he managed him, he replied, “Oh, by patting his arm.” “I wished him to make a will, as tho’ he had little to leave, he had made a will for the minx of Bath—& there might be questions. No, he said, I’ll make no will! I[’]ll do nothing of the sort!” Browning patted him & said—[“]Well, well, you shant make a will then.” Presently Landor said—[“]Perhaps Browning is right, after all. I’ll make it.”– Once in Wales he was struck by the beauty of the Scenery, and said, why did not I buy this place & live here, instead of that old Llanthony! It was the very Estate, which he had sold, without ever having seen it, to pay for Llanthony. He left to Mr Browning’s son his school books—& gave to Mr B. the first book wh. he ever bought, wh. was a Catullus. Of composition, Mr Landor said, ‘I sometimes hesitate for a word in English; in Latin, never.[’]

1. “Albergo dell’Universo, the palace next to the Iron Bridge and to the Accademia … was kept by an old couple, Dalmatian, or other, with a title of Count and very poor. The husband was constantly away, sailing his boats on the lagunes, and could hardly be called a ‘landlord.’ His wife did what house-keeping and cookery she knew—which was little enough. The halls and rooms were spacious but bare, and guests few. The food was bad and the cold intense” (as described by Curtis in the introduction of his edited transcript of Browning recollections, ms at ABL).


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 4-18-2024.

Copyright © 2024 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.

Back To Top