[London—Wednesday, 19 May 1869]
Wednesday. Fine party made for us at the home of Mrs Frederick Lehmann. This was really my first experience of the wit of a London dinner-table of the first rank, in our time. Here was Robert Browning, Mr. & Miss Halle, of high renown in the world of music just now (he stands at the head I believe) and Mrs Rudolph Lehmann, a very witty and beautiful woman, sister of our hostess & Mr. Wilkie Collins.
In the evening came Mrs Proctor, the Leslie Stephen’s, Lord Wentworth, Major Noel and Mrs Priestley, beside other notabilities. Mr Halle played.
The house was like a French picture come to life. Nothing could have been more effective than the arrangement of lights and colors. It is something altogether new to us however to be in such an atmosphere and to speak truly I do not enjoy it. This is the kind of life Dickens’s children have known too much of since they have grown up—especially K.C.
Browning was like a piece of polished steel, receiving on his surface keen reflections of persons and giving back sharp points of light. He is scornful, unsympathetic, powerful and swift. Ah! It seems as if a demon held him. Words forsook me and I was a stupid companion I know, mais, que faire? How could words come before such a nature? He had just returned from France where he goes and hides himself in unfrequented quarters. He had however been a few days in Paris where he went to the Salon of pictures 4 times. There are 4000 pictures and he learned them by heart he said in those visits and would be willing to describe any one. Their jokes at table are bandied as often in French and German as in English. Mr. Halle had seen the names of some German friends in the paper travelling “Mr. & Mrs ________ and Bed.” He could not think what it meant until Mr. L. solved it by “Bediente”, later when Browning was asked for a story he said “no, because of the Bed.” They were all entirely at home but did not succeed in making us feel so. There is an ignorance of, and a subtle contempt of outsiders in such a company which is little calculated to bring out the best from others. Beside America is a grand discount just now on account of Mr. Sumner’s speech and this has weight against us.