[Venice—Sunday, 30 September 1888]
Robert Browning dined with us, with Miss Browning & Mrs Bronson, with whom they are staying. After dinner a company of his appreciators assembled. Misses Leigh Smith & Blythe, Prsse Montenegro & daughter (the latter excellent knowledge of Engh Lit)[,] Fitzgeralds of N.Y. (the daughter a poetical aspirant & protegée of RB’s)[,] Baron Osten Sacken (30 years Consul Gen. of Russia in US: the first living authority on Diptera, of Heidelberg.) Hamilton Aidé the Society-author, Mr & Mrs Barrett Browning & Misses Arnold & Waldo of U.S.[,] Mrs & Miss Head of Cal.[,] Mr & Mrs Batten.
Asked Browning at dinner about Beddoes the poet (mentd by De Quincey.) Something painful & mysterious about his death explained in certain documents left by him to RB, who knew him very slightly. These papers RB told me, long ago, he should leave to Balliol Coll. Oxford, and had given to Gosse for a Life of Beddoes, what details & papers he felt able to impart.
Though somewhat qualified by the past 6 or 7 years, RB’s mental & physical vigour continues. His hair white but abundant, his eyes clear & bright—his figure erect and alert, energy in every movement and word,—but, always, what he does and says in the world, tho’ impulsive in appearance, frank and unstudied, is invariably limited and contrasted by that measure of confidence which he chooses to accord to the world. The man who writes and reads these poems, wh. reveal such amazing observation, learning, memory, fancy, humour, courage, ingenuity and a thousand faculties wh. go to make the sum of his verse wh. his presence, figure, eye, and vibrating flexible voice illumine and illustrate—is quite a new & another man from the conventional, average, correct, diner-out, full of small talk, of anecdote personal, literary or ‘scandalous’, whon RB chooses to seem. The very opposite of the eccentric, moody, dreaming-awake, poets or poseurs who never link the Bard. Last eveg he read ‘Clive’ of wh. the story was told to him by Macauley; ‘Donald & Stag’ (told to him by a sportsman who saw man & deer, & who regarded it merely as a clever sporting feat.) ‘The Last Ride’—and the whole of ‘The Flight of the Duchess’ (wh. someone timed 43 minutes)[.] All these of his own choice. Said “not the least tired– Could read for hours—would read again, whenever desired.”
What he hides in society is the observer and anatomist of human nature, whom nothing escapes,—otherwise, he is always frank, expansive and genial, and rather demonstrative and affectionate in speech and manner—with a certain vehemence of expression and action in all he says and does. He not seldom speaks of his father, and of his wife, with reminiscences of their Italian life. Last eveg he showed Mrs Curtis his wife’s ring, taken from her finger after death, & wh. he wears on his watch-chain. It is wonderfully small, as for the finger of a child. He reads without glasses, holding his book very near to his eyes & evidently enjoys reading his poems as if he had not looked at them since they were written. And indeed I have heard him say, more than once, that he did not possess any copy of some volumes of his own writing. And his sister says that he always gives her a copy of any new vol. he may print—which he soon wants—to lend or to give away, and she never sees it more.—Yesty he gave to Mrs Curtis an [sic] proof engraving of a model of Innocent XII, wh. he saw at St Moritz, in a shop & wh. Lady Galway bought. It will illustrate ‘Ring & Book.’
1. “All Englishmen are crazy, but this he the craziest of all.”