[Venice—Tuesday, 2 October 1888]
Went to Ca’ Alvisi to hear Browning read ‘In a Balcony,’ to a small company, viz. Mrs Bronson, Howes, Osten Sacken, a Swedish Consl segrets we met at Rome, Forbes, R B Browning & 2 of Du Maurier’s young men from a yacht, who chanced in.
B. talked of the acting of his pieces by amateurs & actors—Mrs. Kendal– ‘Irving lent new robe worth £70.’ The regular actors & critics, he said, most annoyed & bitter at success of his ‘dramatic’ poems. Archer, the stage critic, avoided having to notice them. Yet the B. Socy & others continue executions, & sent him all his own works in a carved case! ‘And they do all this, now—now! too late.’ Alluding to the many years thus wh. he worked without recognition.
He told an amusing story—how Canon McColl of Ripon told him of a gentleman who wished to marry a Lady. She asked if he knew & liked Browning’s Works? Did not know them. Thus never wd marry him. Unless—he wd make six weeks study of them & pass an Examination. He agreed & McColl was engaged to coach him. He mastered ‘Death in the Desert’, & passed satisfacty. Browning went to the wedding—never havg seen any of the people before—at Sir _____’s. Asked B. if he remembd recg the 1st hint of the Br. Socy in a prospectus? We were in a gondola going to Giudecca for a morng walk. He sd yes—‘& I have never had anyg to do with them.’ I asked if he were near or far-sighted? ‘Both. One eye near, the other far. I discovd it in pistol shooting, at wh. I was very good, & snuffed candles[’] &c. He took the attitude & aimed an imagy pistol with the long-sighted eye. He discussed the plan of ‘In a Balcony’ & the Queen’s dilemma. And added “what he had never told anyone before—that the heavy tramp, heard at the end, meant the bearers of the dead body of the Queen, not the guards coming to arrest Norbert.’[’] As Baron Osten Sacken said, ‘the interest is in seeg Browning’s interest.’ When he is readg his poems he becomes Browning the Poet, & his look, manner, voice convey the height & intensity of his enthusiasm and inspiration. And then only. At all other times he is but one of a “party in a parlour”—tho’ never silent. I asked him when he said he wrote ‘In a Balcony’—at Lucca (about) 1853—if he incubated his poems? He ansd ‘Yes, long—very long. The idea comes, and returns.’
Mrs. Curtis gave to him, some time ago, an account of an incident of the war with Austrians, little known, of a Venetian, Agostino Stefani, a gallant martyr, hoping Mr B. wd immortalize him. He said [‘]‘I may, I may. I think things over for years before I write.”
Another difference between Poet & Man. Of the obscurity & language objected to in his poems—not a trace in his speech. On the contrary, he is ever direct, plain, clear, emphatic in word and tone—without hesitation or involution—to the point.