[Edinburgh—Friday, 8 June 1860]

Friday 8th At the Waterloo Hotel with a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat and several fine monuments from the windows. Soon after 12 we started in an open carriage for Lasswade to see the De Quinceys. Miss Emily and Mrs Florence Smith were already expecting us as it seemed and the former ran quickly down to meet us; the latter is suffering from excessively ill health induced by a 4 years-struggle with the climate and other horrors of India. They were both quietly composed in their manner as if a veil of sadness flung itself heavily over everything around them but showed themselves nevertheless truly glad to see us. They are now at Elm Bank the residence of Dr Smith, the brother [sic, for father] of Florence Smith’s husband. Mrs Smith soon came in, an intelligent gentle woman, to urge us to stay to lunch which we did of course. The ladies were so happy to talk of their father and we so happy to hear I think they half forgot their mourning dresses in their eager recalling of what was. Jamie said he should never have known Florence and indeed disease and suffering have been making sad havoc with her, physically speaking. She had been taking opium the night before her sister told us and the effect was only too visible when she spoke, nevertheless the manner and the matter of her speech was remarkably beautiful. Something of the spiritual beauty which appeared in the face and writings of De Quincey glows here in exquisite purity of character. Few lives have been so full of incident and suffering as hers. Perhaps other women have endured as much but all have not the same delicate susceptibility to heart-pain. Early engaged but without a prospect of meeting her lover in England for years she chose to follow him quite alone to India, there to be married. Now after 4 years she returns in shattered health as her only chance of life indeed, leaving her husband sadly alone behind her bringing her two babies with her and one left buried in India. During the terrible mutiny at Delhi her strength received its most fatal blow. The head engineer proving incompetent her husband was sent for to superintend the defenses and for 12 days of agonizing suspense she struggled on alone knowing him to be in the front of danger continually. Finally upon her return from India she met at Suez a copy of the “Athenæum” in which her father’s death was recorded and a most unkind obituary notice subjoined!!

What can be added to this. What heaping up of sadnesses! How silent all lesser troubles become! How dwarfed before all this life. Emily alone could tell us of her fathers last moments. She was anxious to give us all the particulars in her power. Before leaving for Ireland last summer she requested Mr Hogg to write her if he saw any change in her father’s health and in October he wrote to say he had observed a decided loss of strength in him but would soon write her more particularly. She did not wait for more but returned to Edinburgh to find her father better than he had been for some time, nevertheless the revival was but temporary, the physician’s visits were frequent but not until the 2d week in December did they think it necessary to send for Mrs Craig to come from Ireland. After this he sank more rapidly until the 22d of the month when he died in peace watched over by his two daughters. For the few last days he talked about little children, always calling them to him to caress them until at the last he sank into a dull half sleep from which he never awaked. He was 74 years old and would have been 75 in the August of this year. Until the last few months he was apparently as strong and well physically and mentally as at 25 years.

Emily told us this on our way to Roslin. Here we wandered about for some time and upon our return went to see Mavis Bush, the cottage where the great man lived with his happy trio of daughters when Jamie was first at Lasswade. Here Jamie showed me the grass plot about which he used to walk 40 times to make a mile and 15 miles sometimes in one day! He kept a regular record of his rounds with pebbles on the back of his garden chair. It was a sad thing for these two poor ladies to sit at the closed door of the cottage which was once his home and their home recalling all his loved eccentric ways so we moved quickly on almost brushing the laburnums as we went, hanging over the leafy lane-like road. I was delighted to hear Florence say she thought the picture of De Quincey by Sir James Watson Gordon a perfect likeness when it was taken. Now she thinks the picture done for her by Archer very very good—(The one with Emily, Margaret & baby). There is another also by Mr Archer in a bracelet.

Mrs Smith urged us most kindly to dine with them but we knew our hours should be spent in Edinburgh they are so few. It was a disappointment nevertheless to leave them at Mr Widnell’s door, there was still too much unsaid. Can it ever be said? De Quincey’s library was sacrificed. Sold for nothing, here in Edinburgh. He left a large collection in Westmoreland, also in his cottage called “Town End.” These books did not bring enough to pay for transportation from Grasmere. We heard today that the father of De Quincey’s wife was a “Statesman” in Westmoreland, that is to say an inheritor of farming estates. The youngest child of Florence resembles De Quincey most strikindly [sic]. Jamie noticed this at once which was a great pleasure to the family. Mrs Smith exclaimed, “It must be true then.”


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 7-23-2024.

Copyright © 2024 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.

Back To Top