[Transcriber's Notes: The letter "o" with a macron is indicated as ō in this text. The oe ligature has been replaced with the letters "oe". The original text had the word "Madame" written two ways: "Mad" followed by superscripted "me" and "Ma" followed by superscripted "dme". All have been rendered as Madme.]
THE LETTERS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
EDITED WITH BIOGRAPHICAL ADDITIONS
BY FREDERIC G. KENYON
IN TWO VOLUMES
SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE 1898
CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME
* * * * *
'Casa Guidi Windows'—Venice—Milan—Paris—London—Winter in Paris—The Coup d'Etat—Louis Napoleon—Miss Mitford's 'Recollections'—George Sand—Miss Mulock—Summer in England, 1
Return to Florence—Spiritualism—Robert Lytton—Bagni di Lucca—Florence—Rome—Florence—The Crimean War—Death of Miss Mitford, 91
Visit to England—Tennyson's 'Maud'—Winter in Paris—Mr. Ruskin—Last Visit to England—'Aurora Leigh'—Death of Mr. Kenyon—Return to Florence—Carnival—Death of Mr. Barrett—Bagni di Lucca—Illness of Lytton—Paris—Havre—Paris—Florence—Rome, 205
The Franco-Austrian War—Napoleon and Italy—Villafranca—Florence—Siena—Italian Politics and England—Landor—Florence—Rome, 305
'Poems before Congress'—Napoleon and Savoy—France, Italy, and England—Florence—Death of Mrs. Surtees Cook—Garibaldi—Rome—The 'Cornhill Magazine' and Thackeray—Increasing Weakness—Death of Mrs. Browning, 363
PORTRAIT OF ROBERT BROWNING, ROME 1854, Frontispiece
FACSIMILE OF LETTER TO THE EMPEROR NAPOLEON, to face p. 262
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
* * * * *
Since they first settled in Florence the Brownings had made no long or distant expeditions from their new home. Their summer excursions to Vallombrosa, Lucca, or Siena had been of the nature of short holidays, and had not taken them beyond the limits of Tuscany. Now they had planned a far wider series of travels, which, beginning with Rome, Naples, Venice, and Milan, should then be extended across the Alps, and comprehend Brussels, Paris, and ultimately London. This ambitious programme had to be curtailed by the omission of the southern tour to Rome and Naples, as well as the digression to Brussels, but the rest of the scheme was carried out, and about the beginning of June they left Casa Guidi for an absence which extended over seventeen months.
The holiday had been well earned, especially by Mrs. Browning, who, since the preparation of the new edition of her poems in the previous year, had been writing the second part of 'Casa Guidi Windows.' It is probably to this poem that she refers in the letter to Miss Browning printed at the end of the last chapter, Miss Browning having on more than one occasion helped both her brother and her sister-in-law in the task of passing their poems through the press. The book appeared in June, just as they were starting on their travels, and probably for this reason we hear less in the letters of its reception. It was hardly to be expected that the English public would take a very keen interest in a poem dealing almost entirely with Italian politics, and half of it with the politics of three years ago. Either in 1849 or in 1859 the interest would have been livelier; but Italy was passing now through the valley of the shadow, and, save for the horrors of the Neapolitan prisons, was not much before the public for the moment. The intrigues of Louis Napoleon and the ostentatious aggression of the Pope in England were the matters of most interest in foreign politics, and both were overshadowed by the absorbing topic of the Great Exhibition.
Another reason why 'Casa Guidi Windows' has received less appreciation than it deserves, both at the time of its publication and since, is that it stands rather apart from all the recognised species of poetry, and is hard to classify and criticise. Its political and contemporary character cut it off from the imaginative and historical subjects which form in general the matter of poetry, while its genuinely poetic emotion and language separate it from the political pamphlet or the occasional verse. It is a poetic treatment of a political subject raised to a high level by the genuine enthusiasm and fire with which it is inspired, and these give it a value which lasts far beyond the moment of the events which gave it birth. The execution, too, shows an advance on most of Mrs. Browning's previous work. The dangerous experiments in rhyming which characterised many of the poems in the volumes of 1844 are abandoned; the licences of language are less frequent; the verse runs smoothly and is more uniformly under command. It would appear as if the heat of inspiration which produced the 'Sonnets from the Portuguese' had left a permanent and purifying effect upon her style. The poem has been neglected by those who take little interest in Italy and its history, and adversely criticised by those who do not sympathise with its political and religious opinions; but with those who look only to its poetry and to its warm-hearted championship of a great cause, it will always hold a high place of its own among Mrs. Browning's writings.
* * * * *
To Miss I. Blagden
Florence: May 1, .
I am writing to you, dearest Miss Blagden, at last, you see; though you must have excommunicated me before now as the most ungrateful of correspondents and friends. Do forgive what you can—and your kindness is so great that I believe you can, and shall go on to write as if you did. We have been in the extremity of confusion and indecision. Remember how the fairy princes used to do when they arrived at the meeting of three roads, and had to consider what choice to make. How they used to shake their heads and ponder, and end sometimes by drawing lots! Much in the like perplexity have we been. Everything was ready for Rome—the day fixed, the packing begun, the vettura bargained for. Suddenly, visions of obstacles rose up. We were late in the season. We should be late for the festas. May would be hot in Rome for Wiedeman. Then two journeys, north and south, to Rome and Naples, besides Paris and England, pulled fearfully at the purse-strings. Plainly we couldn't afford it. So everything was stopped and changed. We gave up Rome and you, and are now actually on the point of setting out for Venice; Venice is to console us for Rome. We go to-morrow, indeed. The plan is to stay a fortnight at Venice (or more or less, as the charm works), and then to strike across to Milan; across the Spluegen into Switzerland, and to linger there among the hills and lakes for a part of the summer, so working out an intention of economy; then down the Rhine; then by railroad to Brussels; so to Paris, settling there; after which we pay our visit to England for a few weeks. Early next spring we mean to go to Rome and return here, either for good (which is very possible) or for the purpose of arranging our house affairs and packing up books and furniture. As it is, we have our apartment for another year, and shall let it if we can. It has been painted, cleaned, and improved in all ways, till my head and Robert's ring again with the confusion of it all. Oh that we were gone, since we are to go! When out of sight of Florence, we shall begin to enjoy, I hope, the sight of other things, but as it is the impression is only painful and dizzying. Our friends Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvy go with us as far as Venice, and then leave us on a direct course for England, having committed their children and nurses to the care of her sister at the Baths of Lucca meantime. We take with us only Wilson.
Do write to me at Venice, Poste Restante, that I may know you are thinking of me and excusing me kindly. If you knew how uncertain and tormented we have been. I won't even ask Robert to add a line to this, he is so overwhelmed with a flood of businesses; but he bids me speak to you of him as affectionately and faithfully (because affectionately) as I have reason to do. So kind it was in you to think of taking the trouble of finding us an apartment! So really sensible we are to all your warm-hearted goodness, with fullness of heart on our side too. And, after all, we are not parting! Either we shall find you in Italy again, or you will find us in Paris. I have a presentimental assurance of finding one another again before long. Remember us and love us meantime.
As to your spiritual visitor—why, it would be hard to make out a system of Romish doctrine from the most Romish version of the S.S. The differences between the Protestant version and the Papistical are not certainly justifiable by the Greek original, on the side of the latter. In fact, the Papistical version does not pretend to follow the Greek text, but a Latin translation of the same—it's a translation from a translation. Granting it, however, to be faithful, I must repeat that to make out the Romish system from even such a Romish version could not be achieved. So little does Scripture (however represented) seem to me to justify that system of ecclesiastical doctrine and discipline. I answer your question because you bid me, but I am not a bit frightened at the idea of your becoming a R.C., however you may try to frighten me. You have too much intelligence and uprightness of intellect. We do hope you have enjoyed Rome, and that dearest Miss Agassiz (give our kind love to her) is better and looks better than we all thought her a little while ago. I have a book coming out in England called 'Casa Guidi Windows,' which will prevent everybody else (except you) from speaking to me again. Do love me always, as I shall you. Forgive me, and don't forget me. I shall try, after a space of calm, to behave better to you, and more after my heart—for I am ever (as Robert is)
Your faithfully affectionate friend, ELIZABETH B. BROWNING.
* * * * *
To Miss Mitford
Venice: June 4, .
My ever dearest Miss Mitford,—I must write to you from Venice, though it can only be a few lines. So much I have to say and feel in writing to you, and thinking that you were not well when you wrote last to me, I long to hear from you—and yet I can't tell you to-day where a letter will find me. We are wanderers on the face of the world just now, and with every desire of going straight from Venice to Milan to-morrow (Friday) week, we shall more probably, at the Baths of Recoaro, be lingering and lingering. Therefore will you write to the care of Miss Browning, New Cross, Hatcham, near London? for so I shall not lose your letter. I have been between heaven and earth since our arrival at Venice. The heaven of it is ineffable. Never had I touched the skirts of so celestial a place. The beauty of the architecture, the silver trails of water up between all that gorgeous colour and carving, the enchanting silence, the moonlight, the music, the gondolas—I mix it all up together, and maintain that nothing is like it, nothing equal to it, not a second Venice in the world. Do you know, when I came first I felt as if I never could go away. But now comes the earth side. Robert, after sharing the ecstasy, grows uncomfortable, and nervous, and unable to eat or sleep; and poor Wilson, still worse, in a miserable condition of continual sickness and headache. Alas for these mortal Venices—so exquisite and so bilious! Therefore I am constrained away from my joys by sympathy, and am forced to be glad that we are going off on Friday. For myself, it does not affect me at all. I like these moist, soft, relaxing climates; even the scirocco doesn't touch me much. And the baby grows gloriously fatter in spite of everything.
No, indeed and indeed, we are not going to England for the sake of the Exposition. How could you fancy such a thing, even once. In any case we shall not reach London till late, and if by any arrangement I could see my sister Arabel in France or on the coast of England, we would persuade Robert's family to meet us there, and not see London at all. Ah, if you knew how abhorrent the thought of England is to me! Well, we must not talk of it. My eyes shut suddenly when my thoughts go that way.
Tell me exactly how you are. I heartily rejoice that you have decided at last about the other house, so as to avoid the danger of another autumn and winter in the damp. Do you write still for Mr. Chorley's periodical, and how does it go on? Here in Italy the fame of it does not penetrate. As for Venice, you can't get even a 'Times,' much less an 'Athenaeum.' We comfort ourselves by taking a box at the opera (the whole box on the ground tier, mind) for two shillings and eightpence English. Also, every evening at half-past eight, Robert and I are sitting under the moon in the great piazza of St. Mark, taking excellent coffee and reading the French papers. Can you fancy me so?
You will receive a copy of my new poem, 'Casa Guidi Windows,' soon after this note. I have asked Sarianna Browning to see that you receive it safely. I don't give away copies (having none to give away, according to booksellers' terms), but I can't let you receive my little book from another hand than the writer's. Tell me how you like the poem—honestly, truly—which numbers of people will be sure to dislike profoundly and angrily, perhaps. We think of going to Recoaro because Mr. Chorley praised it to us years ago. Tell him so if you write.
Here are a heap of words tossed down upon paper. I can't put the stops even. Do write about yourself, not waiting for the book.
Your ever attached E.B.B.
At Paris how near we shall be! How sure to meet. Have you been to the Exposition yourself? Tell me. And what is the general feeling now?
* * * * *
To John Kenyon
Paris: July 7, .
My dearest Mr. Kenyon,—I have waited day after day during this week that we have been here, to be able to tell you that we have decided this or that—but the indecision lasts, and I can't let you hear from others of our being in Paris when you have a right more than anybody almost to hear all about us. I wanted to write to you, indeed, from Venice, where we stayed a month, and much the same reason made me leave it undone, as we were making and unmaking plans the whole time, and we didn't know till the last few hours, for instance, whether or not we should go to Milan. Venice is quite exquisite; it wrapt me round with a spell at first sight, and I longed to live and die there—never to go away. The gondolas, and the glory they swim through, and the silence of the population, drifted over one's head across the bridges, and the fantastic architecture and the coffee-drinking and music in the Piazza San Marco, everything fitted into my lazy, idle nature and weakness of body, as if I had been born to the manner of it and to no other. Do you know I expected in Venice a dreary sort of desolation? Whereas there was nothing melancholy at all, only a soothing, lulling, rocking atmosphere which if Armida had lived in a city rather than in a garden would have suited her purpose. Indeed Taglioni seems to be resting her feet from dancing, there, with a peculiar zest, inasmuch as she has bought three or four of the most beautiful palaces. How could she do better? And one or two ex-kings and queens (of the more vulgar royalties) have wrapt themselves round with those shining waters to forget the purple—or dream of it, as the case may be. Robert and I led a true Venetian life, I assure you; we 'swam in gondolas' to the Lido and everywhere else, we went to a festa at Chioggia in the steamer (frightening Wilson by being kept out by the wind till two o'clock in the morning), we went to the opera and the play (at a shilling each, or not as much!), and we took coffee every evening on St. Mark's Piazza, to music and the stars. Altogether it would have been perfect, only what's perfect in the world? While I grew fat, Wilson grew thin, and Robert could not sleep at nights. The air was too relaxing or soft or something for them both, and poor Wilson declares that another month of Venice would have killed her outright. Certainly she looked dreadfully ill and could eat nothing. So I was forced to be glad to go away, out of pure humanity and sympathy, though I keep saying softly to myself ever since, 'What is there on earth like Venice?'
Then, we slept at Padua on St. Anthony's night (more's the pity for us: they made us pay sixteen zwanzigers for it!), and Robert and I, leaving Wiedeman at the inn, took a caleche and drove over to Arqua, which I had set my heart on seeing for Petrarch's sake. Did you ever see it, you? And didn't it move you, the sight of that little room where the great soul exhaled itself? Even Robert's man's eyes had tears in them as we stood there, and looked through the window at the green-peaked hills. And, do you know, I believe in 'the cat.'
Through Brescia we passed by moonlight (such a flood of white moonlight) and got into Milan in the morning. There we stayed two days, and I climbed to the topmost pinnacle of the cathedral; wonder at me! Indeed I was rather overtired, it must be confessed—three hundred and fifty steps—but the sight was worth everything, enough to light up one's memory for ever. How glorious that cathedral is! worthy almost of standing face to face with the snow Alps; and itself a sort of snow dream by an artist architect, taken asleep in a glacier! Then the Da Vinci Christ did not disappoint us, which is saying much. It is divine. And the Lombard school generally was delightful after Bologna and those soulless Caracci! I have even given up Guido, and Guercino too, since knowing more of them. Correggio, on the other hand, is sublime at Parma; he is wonderful! besides having the sense to make his little Christs and angels after the very likeness of my baby.
From Milan we moved to Como, steamed down to Menaggio (opposite to Bellaggio), took a caleche to Porlezza, and a boat to Lugano, another caleche to Bellinzona, left Wiedeman there, and, returning on our steps, steamed down and up again the Lago Maggiore, went from Bellinzona to Faido and slept, and crossed the Mount St. Gothard the next day, catching the Lucerne steamer at Fluellen. The scenery everywhere was most exquisite, but of the great pass I shall say nothing—it was like standing in the presence of God when He is terrible. The tears overflowed my eyes. I think I never saw the sublime before. Do you know I sate out in the coupe a part of the way with Robert so as to apprehend the whole sight better, with a thick shawl over my head, only letting out the eyes to see. They told us there was more snow than is customary at this time of year, and it well might be so, for the passage through it, cut for the carriage, left the snow-walls nodding over us at a great height on each side, and the cold was intense.
Do you know we might yield the palm, and that Lucerne is far finer than any of our Italian lakes? Even Robert had to confess it at once. I wanted to stay in Switzerland, but we found it wiser to hasten our steps and come to Paris; so we came. Yes, and we travelled from Strasburg to Paris in four-and-twenty hours, night and day, never stopping except for a quarter of an hour's breakfast and half an hour's dinner. So afraid I was of the fatigue for Wiedeman! But between the unfinished railroad and the diligence, there's a complication of risks of losing places just now, and we were forced to go the whole way in a breath or to hazard being three or four days on the road. So we took the coupe and resigned ourselves, and poor little babe slept at night and laughed in the day, and came into Paris as fresh in spirit as if just alighted from the morning star, screaming out with delight at the shops! Think of that child! Upon the whole he has enjoyed our journey as much as any one of us, observing and admiring; though Robert and Wilson will have it that some of his admiration of the scenery we passed through was pure affectation and acted out to copy ours. He cried out, clasping his hands, that the mountains were 'due'—meaning a great number. His love of beautiful buildings, of churches especially, no one can doubt about. When first he saw St. Mark's, he threw up his arms in wonder, and then, clasping them round Wilson's neck (she was carrying him), he kissed her in an ecstasy of joy. And that was after a long day's journey, when most other children would have been tired and fretful. But the sense of the beautiful is certainly very strong in him, little darling. He can't say the word 'church' yet, but when he sees one he begins to chant. Oh, he's a true Florentine in some things.
Well, now we are in Paris and have to forget the 'belle chiese;' we have beautiful shops instead, false teeth grinning at the corners of the streets, and disreputable prints, and fascinating hats and caps, and brilliant restaurants, and M. le President in a cocked hat and with a train of cavalry, passing like a rocket along the boulevards to an occasional yell from the Red. Oh yes, and don't mistake me! for I like it all extremely, it's a splendid city—a city in the country, as Venice is a city in the sea. And I'm as much amused as Wiedeman, who stands in the street before the printshops (to Wilson's great discomfort) and roars at the lions. And I admire the bright green trees and gardens everywhere in the heart of the town. Surely it is a most beautiful city! And I like the restaurants more than is reasonable; dining a la carte, and mixing up one's dinner with heaps of newspapers, and the 'solution' by Emile de Girardin, who suggests that the next President should be a tailor. Moreover, we find apartments very cheap in comparison to what we feared, and we are in a comfortable quiet hotel, where it is possible, and not ruinous, to wait and look about one.
As to England—oh England—how I dread to think of it. We talk of going over for a short time, but have not decided when; yet it will be soon perhaps—it may. If it were not for my precious Arabel, I would not go; because Robert's family would come to him here, they say. But to give up Arabel is impossible. Henrietta is in Somersetshire; it is uncertain whether I shall see her, even in going, and she too might come to Paris this winter. And you will come—you promised, I think?...
I feel here near enough to England, that's the truth. I recoil from the bitterness of being nearer. Still, it must be thought of.
Dearest cousin, dearest friend, in all this pleasant journey we have borne you in mind, and gratefully! You must feel that without being told. I won't quite do like my Wiedeman, who every time he fires his gun (if it's twenty times in five minutes) says, 'Papa, papa,' because Robert gave him the gun, and the gratitude is as re-iterantly and loudly explosive. But one's thoughts may say what they please and as often as they please.
Arabel tells me that you are kind to the manner of my poem, though to the matter obdurate. Miss Mitford, too, says that it won't receive the sympathy proper to a home subject, because the English people don't care anything for the Italians now; despising them for their want of originality in Art! That's very good of the English people, really! I fear much that dear Miss Mitford has suffered seriously from the effects of the damp house last winter. What she says of herself makes me anxious about her.
Give my true love to dear Miss Bayley, and say how I repent in ashes for not having written to her. But she is large-hearted and will forgive me, and I shall make amends and send her sheet upon sheet. Barry Cornwall's letter to Robert, of course, delighted as well as honoured me. Does it appear in the new edition of his 'songs' &c.?
Mind, if ever I go to England I shall have no heart to go out of a very dark corner. I shall just see you and that's all. It's only Robert who is a patriot now, of us two. England, what with the past and the present, is a place of bitterness to me, bitter enough to turn all her seas round to wormwood! Airs and hearts, all are against me in England; yet don't let me be ungrateful. No love is forgotten or less prized, certainly not yours. Only I'm a citizeness of the world now, you see, and float loose.
God bless you, dearest Mr. Kenyon, prays
Your ever affectionate BA.
Robert's best love as always. He writes by this post to Mr. Procter. How beautifully Sarianna has corrected for the press my new poem! Wonderfully well, really. There is only one error of consequence, which I will ask you to correct in any copy you can—of 'rail' in the last line, to 'vail;' the allusion being of course to the Jewish temple—but as it is printed nobody can catch any meaning, I fear. They tell me that the Puseyite organ, the 'Guardian,' has been strong in attack. So best.
* * * * *
After a few weeks in Paris the travellers crossed over to England, which they had not seen for nearly five years. Their visit to London lasted about two months, from the end of July to the end of September, during which time they stayed in lodgings at 26 Devonshire Street.
* * * * *
To Mrs. Martin
26 Devonshire Street: Wednesday, [about August 1851].
My ever dearest Mrs. Martin,—I am not ungrateful after all, but I wanted to write a long letter to you (having much to say), and even now it is hard in this confusion to write a short one. We have been overwhelmed with kindnesses, crushed with gifts, like the Roman lady; and literally to drink through a cup of tea from beginning to end without an interruption from the door-bell, we have scarcely attained to since we came. For my part I refuse all dinner invitations except when our dear friend Mr. Kenyon 'imposes himself as an exception,' in his own words. But even in keeping the resolution there are necessary fatigues; and, do you know, I have not been well since our arrival in England. My first step ashore was into a puddle and a fog, and I began to cough before we reached London. The quality of the air does not agree with me, that's evident. For nearly five years I have had no such cough nor difficulty of breathing, and my friends, who at first sight thought me looking well, must forbear all compliments for the future, I think, I get so much paler every day. Next week we send Wilson to see her mother near Sheffield and the baby with her, which is a great stroke of fortitude in me; only what I can't bear is to see him crying because she is gone away. So we resolve on letting them both go together. When she returns, ten days or a fortnight after, we shall have to think of going to Paris again; indeed Robert begins to be nervous about me—which is nonsense, but natural enough perhaps.
In regard to Colwall, you are both, my very dear friends, the kindest that you can be. Ah, but dearest, dearest Mrs. Martin, you can understand, with the same kindness that you use to me in other things. There is only one event in my life which never loses its bitterness; which comes back on me like a retreating wave, going and coming again, which was and is my grief—I never had but one brother who loved and comprehended me. And so there is just one thought which would be unbearable if I went into your neighbourhood; and you won't set it down, I am sure, as unpardonable weakness, much less as affectation, if I confess to you that I never could bear it. The past would be too strong for me. As to Hope End, it is nothing. I have been happier in my own home since, than I was there and then. But Torquay has made the neighbourhood of Hope End impossible to me. I could not eat or sleep in that air. You will forgive me for the weakness, I am certain. You know a little, if not entirely, how we loved one another; how I was first with him, and he with me; while God knows that death and separation have no power over such love.
After all, we shall see you in Paris if not in England. We pass this winter in Paris, in the hope of my being able to bear the climate, for indeed Italy is too far. And if the winter does not disagree with me too much we mean to take a house and settle in Paris, so as to be close to you all, and that will be a great joy to me. You will pass through Paris this autumn (won't you?) on your way to Pau, and I shall see you. I do long to see you and make you know my husband....
So far from regretting my marriage, it has made the happiness and honour of my life; and every unkindness received from my own house makes me press nearer to the tenderest and noblest of human hearts proved by the uninterrupted devotion of nearly five years. Husband, lover, nurse—not one of these, has Robert been to me, but all three together. I neither regret my marriage, therefore, nor the manner of it, because the manner of it was a necessity of the act. I thought so at the time, I think so now; and I believe that the world in general will decide (if the world is to be really appealed to) that my opinion upon this subject (after five years) is worth more.
Dearest Mrs. Martin, do write to me. I keep my thoughts as far as I can from bitter things, and the affectionateness of my dearest sisters is indeed much on the other side. Also, we are both giddy with the kind attentions pressed on us from every side, from some of the best in England. It's hard to think at all in such a confusion. We met Tennyson (the Laureate) by a chance in Paris, who insisted that we should take possession of his house and servants at Twickenham and use them as long as we liked to stay in England. Nothing could be more warmly kind, and we accepted the note in which he gave us the right of possession for the sake of the generous autograph, though we never intended in our own minds to act out the proposition. Since then, Mr. Arnould, the Chancery barrister, has begged us to go and live in his town house (we don't want houses, you see); Mrs. Fanny Kemble called on and left us tickets for her Shakespeare reading (by the way, I was charmed with her 'Hamlet'); Mr. Forster, of the 'Examiner,' gave us a magnificent dinner at Thames Ditton in sight of the swans; and we breakfast on Saturday with Mr. Rogers. Then we have seen the Literary Guild actors at the Hanover Square rooms, and we have passed an evening with Carlyle (one of the great sights in England, to my mind). He is a very warm friend of Robert's, so that on every account I was delighted to see him face to face. I can't tell you what else we have done or not done. It's a great dazzling heap of things new and strange. Barry Cornwall (Mr. Procter) came to see us every day till business swept him out of town, and dear Mrs. Jameson left her Madonna for us in despite of the printers. Such kindness, on all sides. Ah, there's kindness in England after all. Yet I grew cold to the heart as I set foot on the ground of it, and wished myself away. Also, the sort of life is not perhaps the best for me and the sort of climate is really the worst.
You heard of Mr. Kenyon's goodness to us; I told Arabel to tell you.
But I must end here. Another time I will talk of Paris, which I do hope will suit us as a residence. I was quite well there, the three weeks we stayed, and am far from well just now. You see, the weight of the atmosphere, which seems to me like lead, combined with the excitement, is too much at once. Oh, it won't be very bad, I dare say. I mean to try to be quiet, and abjure for the future the night air.
I should not omit to tell you in this quantity of egotism that my husband's father and sister have received me most affectionately. She is highly accomplished, with a heart to suit the head.
Now do write. Let me hear all about you, and how dear Mr. Martin and yourself are. Robert's cordial regards with those of
Your ever affectionate and ever grateful BA.
* * * * *
To Mrs. Martin
26 Devonshire Street: Saturday, [about August 1851].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Day by day, and hour by hour almost, I have wanted to thank you again and again for your remedy (which I did not use, by the bye, being much better), and to answer your inquiry about me, which really I could not deliver over to Arabel to answer; but the baby did not go to the country with Wilson, and I have been 'devoted' since she went away; une ame perdue, with not an instant out of the four-and-twenty hours to call my own. It appeared, at the last, that Wilson would have a drawback to her enjoyments in having the child, and I did not choose that: she had only a fortnight, you see, after five years, to be with her family. So I took her place with him; it was necessary, for he was in a state of deplorable grief when he missed her, and has refused ever since to allow any human being except me to do a single thing for him. I hold him in my arms at night, dress and wash him in the morning, walk out with him, and am not allowed either to read or write above three minutes at a time. He has learnt to say in English 'No more,' and I am bound to be obedient. Perhaps I may make out five minutes just to write this, for he is playing in the passage with a child of the house, but even so much is doubtful. He has made very good friends with a girl here, and Arabel has sent her maid ever so often to tempt him away for half an hour, so as to give me breathing time, but he won't be tempted: he has it in his head that the world is in a conspiracy against him to take 'mama' away after having taken 'Lily,' and he is bound to resist it.
After all, the place of nursery maid is more suitable to me than that of poetess (or even poet's wife) in this obstreperous London. I was nearly killed the first weeks, what with the climate, and what with the kindness (and what with the want of kindness), and looked wretchedly, whether Reynolds Peyton saw it or not, and coughed day and night, till Robert took fright, and actually fixed a day for taking me forthwith back to Paris. I had to give up a breakfast at Rogers', and shut myself up in two rooms for a week, and refuse, like Wiedeman, to be tempted out anywhere, but, after that, I grew better, and the wind changed, and now the cough, though not gone, is quieted, and I look a different person, and have ceased to grow thin. But a racketing life will never do for me, nor an English atmosphere, I am much afraid. The lungs seem to labour in this heavy air. Oh, it is so unlike the air of the Continent; I say nothing of Florence, but even of Paris, where I do wish to be able to live, on account of the nearness to this dear detestable England.
Now let me tell you of Wimpole Street. Henry has been very kind in coming not infrequently; he has a kind, good heart. Occy, too, I have seen three or four times, Alfred and Sette once. My dearest Arabel is, of course, here once if not twice a day, and for hours at a time, bringing me great joy always, and Henrietta's dear kindness in coming to London on purpose to see me, for a week, has left a perfume in my life. Both those beloved sisters have been, as ever, perfect to me. Arabel is vexed just now, and so am I, my brothers having fixed with papa to go out of town directly, and she caring more to stay where I am....
I have not written to papa since our arrival through my fear of involving Arabel; but as soon as they go to the country I shall hopelessly write. He is very well and in good spirits, thank God.
We have spent two days at New Cross with my husband's father and sister, and she has been here constantly. Most affectionate they are to me, and the babe is taken into adoration by Mr. Browning.
But here he is upon me again! Indeed, I have had wonderful luck in having been able to write all this; and now, God bless both of you, my dearest friends. Oh, I do feel to my heart all your kindness in wishing to have us with you, and, indeed, Robert would like to see Herefordshire, but—
[The remainder of this letter is wanting]
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To Mrs. Martin
26 Devonshire Street: Wednesday, [September 1851].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I write in haste to you to tell you some things which you should hear without delay.
After Robert's letter to George had been sent three times to Wales and been returned twice, it reached him, and immediately upon its reaching him (to do George justice) he wrote a kind reply to apprise us that he would be at our door the same evening. So the night before last he came, and we are all good friends, thank God. I tenderly love him and the rest, and must for ever deplore that such poor barriers as a pedantic pride can set up should have interposed between long and strong and holy affections for years. But it is past, and I have been very happy in being held in his arms again, and seen in his eyes that I was still something more to him than a stone thrown away. So, if you have thought severely of him, you and dear Mr. Martin, do not any longer. Preserve your friendship for him, my dearest friends, and let all this foolish mistaken past be well past and forgotten. I think him looking thin, though it does not strike them so in Wimpole Street, certainly.
For the rest, the pleasantness is not on every side. It seemed to me right, notwithstanding that dear Mr. Kenyon advised against it, to apprise my father of my being in England. I could not leave England without trying the possibility of his seeing me once, of his consenting to kiss my child once. So I wrote, and Robert wrote. A manly, true, straightforward letter his was, yet in some parts so touching to me and so generous and conciliating everywhere, that I could scarcely believe in the probability of its being read in vain. In reply he had a very violent and unsparing letter, with all the letters I had written to papa through these five years sent back unopened, the seals unbroken. What went most to my heart was that some of the seals were black with black-edged envelopes; so that he might have thought my child or husband dead, yet never cared to solve the doubt by breaking the seal. He said he regretted to have been forced to keep them by him until now, through his ignorance of where he should send them. So there's the end. I cannot, of course, write again. God takes it all into His own hands, and I wait.
We go on Tuesday. If I do not see you (as I scarcely hope to do now), it will be only a gladness delayed for a few months. We shall meet in Paris if we live. May God bless you both, dearest friends! I think of you and love you. Dear Mr. Martin, don't stay too late in England this year, for the climate seems to me worse than ever. Not that I have much cough now—I am much better—but the quality of the atmosphere is unmistakable to my lungs and air passages, and I believe it will be wise, on this account, to go away quickly.
Your ever affectionate and grateful BA.
* * * * *
To Miss E.F. Haworth
London: September 24, 1851.
My dear Miss Haworth,—I do hope you have not set us quite on the outside of your heart with the unfeeling and ungrateful. I say 'us' when I ought to have said 'me,' for you have known Robert, and you have not known me, and I am naturally less safe with you than he is—less safe in your esteem. We should both have gone to inquire after your health if he had not been attacked with influenza, and unfit for anything until the days you mentioned as the probable term of your remaining in town had passed. I waited till he should be better, and the malady lingered. Now he is well, and I do hope you may be so too. May it be! Bear us in mind and love, for we go away to-morrow to Paris—where, however, we shall expect you before long. Thank you, thank you, for the books. I have been struck and charmed with some things in the 'Companion'—especially, may I say, with the 'Modern Pygmalion,' which catches me on my weak side of the love of wonder. By the way, what am I to say of Swedenborg and mesmerism? So much I could—the books have so drawn and held me (as far as I was capable of being drawn or held, in this chaos of London)—that I will not speak at all. The note-page is too small—the haste I write in, too great.
God bless you, and good bye. Robert bids me give you his love (of the earnestest), and I have leave from you (have I not?) to be always affectionately yours,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
* * * * *
The journey to Paris was effected at the end of September, and for about nine months they pitched their tent at No. 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees. It was a fortunate time to be in Paris for those who had no personal nervousness, and liked to be near the scene of great events—a most anxious time for any who were alarmed at disturbances, or took keenly to heart the horrors of street fighting. Fortunately for the Brownings, they, whether by temperament or through their Italian experiences, were not unduly disturbed at revolutions, while the horrors of Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat were, no doubt, only partly known to Mrs. Browning at the time, and were palliated to her by the view she took of Napoleon's character. She had not, it is true, raised him as yet to the pinnacle on which his intervention on behalf of Italy subsequently caused her to place him, but (perhaps owing to what Mr. Kenyon called her 'immoral sympathy with power') she was always disposed to put a favourable construction on his actions, and the coup d'etat was finally whitewashed for her by the approbation which the plebiscite of December 20 gave to his assumption of supreme power. Her views are, however, so fully set forth in her own letters that they need not be detailed here. For her husband's opinion of the character of Louis Napoleon, at least as it appeared to him when looking back after the lapse of years, it is only necessary to refer to 'Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau.'
* * * * *
To Mrs. Jameson
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: October 21, .
But didn't you, dearest friend, get 'Casa Guidi' and the portrait of Madme de Goethe, left for you in the London house? I felt a want of leaving a word of adieu with these, and then the chaotic confusion in which we left England stifled the better purpose out of me.
With such mixed feelings I went away. Leaving love behind is always terrible, but it was not all love that I left, and there was relief in the state of mind with which I threw myself on the sofa at Dieppe—yes, indeed. Robert felt differently from me for once, as was natural, for it had been pure joy to him with his family and his friends, and I do believe he would have been capable of never leaving England again, had such an arrangement been practicable for us on some accounts. Oh England! I love and hate it at once. Or rather, where love of country ought to be in the heart, there is the mark of the burning iron in mine, and the depth of the scar shows the depth of the root of it. Well, I am writing you an amusing letter to-day, I think. After all, I wasn't made to live in England, or I should not cough there perpetually; while no sooner do I get to Paris than the cough vanishes—it is all but gone now. The lightness of the air here makes the place tenable—so far, at least. We made many an effort to get an apartment near the Madeleine, but we had to sacrifice sun or money, or breath, in going up to the top of a house, and the sacrifice seemed too great upon consideration, and we came off to the 'Avenue des Champs-Elysees,' on the sunshiny side of the way, to a southern aspect, and pretty cheerful carpeted rooms—a drawing room, a dressing and writing room for Robert, a small dining room, two comfortable bedrooms and a third bedroom upstairs for the femme de service, kitchen, &c., for two hundred francs a month. Not too dear, we think. About the same that we paid, out of the season, in London for the miserable accommodation we had there. But perhaps you won't come near us now; we may be too much 'out of the way' for you. Is it so indeed? Understand that close by us is a stand of coupes and fiacres, not to profane your ears with the mention of the continual stream of omnibuses by means of which you may reach the other end of Paris for six sous. And there might be a possibility of taking a small apartment for you in this very house. See how I castle-build.
But if the Crystal Palace vanishes from the face of the earth, who shall trust any more in castles? Will they really pull it down, do you think? If it's a bubble, it's a glass bubble, and not meant, therefore, for bursting in the air, it seems to me. And you do want a place in England for sculpture, and also to show people how olives grow. What a beautiful winter garden it would be! But they will pull it down, perhaps; and then, the last we shall have seen of it will be in this description of your letter, and that's seeing it worthily, too.
We were from home last night; we went to Lady Elgin's reception, and met a Madame Mohl, who was entertaining, and is to come to us this morning—
She came as I wrote those words. She knows you, among her other advantages, and we have been talking of you, dear friend, and we are going to her on Friday evening to see some of the French. I shall have to go to prison very soon, I suppose, as usual, for the winter months, for here is the twenty-first of October, though this is the first fire we have had occasion for. It was colder this morning, but we have had exquisite weather, really, ever since we left England.
The 'elf' is flourishing in all good fairyhood, with a scarlet rose leaf on each cheek. Wilson says she never knew him to have such an irreproachable appetite. He is charmed with Paris, and its magnificent Punches, and roundabouts, and balloons—which last he says, looking up after them gravely, 'go to God.' The child has curious ideas about theology already. He is of opinion that God 'lives among the birds.' He has taken to calling himself 'Peninni,' which sounds something like a fairy's name, though he means it for 'Wiedeman.'
Robert is in good spirits, and inclined to like Paris increasingly. Do you know I think you have an idea in England that you monopolise comforts, and I, for one, can't admit it. These snug 'apartments' exclude the draughty passages and staircases, which threaten your life every time that you run to your bedroom for a pocket-handkerchief in England. I much prefer the Continental houses to the English ones, both for winter and summer, on this account.
So glad I am that you are nearly at the end of your work. To rest after work, what more than rest that always is!
Write to us often—do! We are not in Italy, and you have no excuse for even seeming to forget us. We are full in sight still, remember.
Are you aware that Carlyle travelled with us to Paris? He left a deep impression with me. It is difficult to conceive of a more interesting human soul, I think. All the bitterness is love with the point reversed. He seems to me to have a profound sensibility—so profound and turbulent that it unsettles his general sympathies. Do you guess what I mean the least in the world? or is it as dark as my writings are of course?
I hope on every account you will have no increase of domestic care. How is Miss Procter? How kind everybody was to us in England, and how affectionately we remember it! God bless you yourself! We love you for the past and the present, besides the future in December.
Your attached E.B.B.
* * * * *
To Miss Mitford
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: October 22, .
The pause in writing has come from the confusion in living, my ever dearest Miss Mitford, and no worse cause. It was a long while before we could settle ourselves in a private apartment, and we had to stay at the hotel and wander about like doves turned out of the dove-cote, and seeking where to inhabit.... We have seen nothing in Paris, except the shell of it, yet. No theatres—nothing but business. Yet two evenings ago we hazarded going to a 'reception' at Lady Elgin's, in the Faubourg St. Germain, and saw some French, but nobody of distinction. It is a good house, I believe, and she has an earnest face which must mean something. We were invited, and are invited to go every Monday, and that Monday in particular, between eight and twelve. You go in a morning dress, and there is tea. Nothing can be more sans facon, and my tremors (for, do you know, I was quite nervous on the occasion, and charged Robert to keep close to me) were perfectly unjustified by the event. You see it was an untried form of society—like trying a Turkish bath. I expected to see Balzac's duchesses and hommes de lettres on all sides of me, but there was nothing very noticeable, I think, though we found it agreeable enough. We go on Friday evening to a Madame Mohl's, where we are to have some of the 'celebrities,' I believe, for she seems to know everybody of all colours, from white to red. Then Mazzini is to give us a letter to George Sand—come what will, we must have a letter to George Sand—and Robert has one to Emile Lorquet of the 'National,' and Gavarni of the 'Charivari,' so that we shall manage to thrust our heads into this atmosphere of Parisian journalism, and learn by experience how it smells. I hear that George Sand is seldom at Paris now. She has devoted herself to play-writing, and employs a houseful of men, her son's friends and her own, in acting privately with her what she writes—trying it on a home stage before she tries it at Paris. Her son is a very ordinary young man of three-and-twenty, but she is fond of him....
Never expect me to agree with you in that cause celebre of 'ladies and gentlemen' against people of letters. I don't like the sort of veneer which passes in society—yes, I like it, but I don't love it. I know what the thing is worth as a matter of furniture-accomplishment, and there an end. I should rather look at the scratched silent violin in the corner, with the sense that music has come out of it or will come. I am grateful to the man who has written a good book, and I recognise reverently that the roots of it are in him. And, do you know, I was not disappointed at all in what I saw of writers of books in London; no, not at all. Carlyle, for instance, I liked infinitely more in his personality than I expected to like him, and I saw a great deal of him, for he travelled with us to Paris and spent several evenings with us, we three together. He is one of the most interesting men I could imagine even, deeply interesting to me; and you come to understand perfectly, when you know him, that his bitterness is only melancholy, and his scorn sensibility. Highly picturesque too he is in conversation. The talk of writing men is very seldom as good.
And, do you know, I was much taken, in London, with a young authoress, Geraldine Jewsbury. You have read her books. There's a French sort of daring, half-audacious power in them, but she herself is quiet and simple, and drew my heart out of me a good deal. I felt inclined to love her in our half-hour's intercourse. And I liked Lady Eastlake too in another way, the 'lady' of the 'Letters from the Baltic,' nay, I liked her better than the 'lady'....
Do write to me and tell me of your house, whether you are settling down in it comfortably. In every new house there's a good deal of bird's work in treading and shuffling down the loose sticks and straws, before one can feel it is to be a nest. Robert laughs at me sometimes for pushing about the chairs and tables in a sort of distracted way, but it's the very instinct of making a sympathetical home, that works in me. We were miserably off in London. I couldn't tuck myself in anyhow. And we enjoy in proportion these luxurious armchairs, so good for the Lollards.
People say that the troops which pass before our windows every few days through the 'Arc de l'Etoile' to be reviewed will bring the President back with them as 'emperor' some sunny morning not far off. As to waiting till May, nobody expects it. There is a great inward agitation, but the surface of things is smooth enough. Be constant, be constant! Constancy is a rare virtue even where it is not an undeniable piece of wisdom. Vive Napoleon II.!
As to the book, ah, you are always, and have always been, too good to me, that's quite certain; and if you are not too good to my husband, it is only because I am persuaded in my secret soul nobody can be too good to him.
He sends you his warm regards, and I send you a kiss of baby's, who is finishing his Babylonish education, unfortunate child, by learning a complement of French. I assure you he understands everything you can say to him in English as well as Italian, so that he won't be utterly denationalised.
God bless you. Say how you are and write soon.
Your ever affectionate E.B.B.
* * * * *
To Miss Mitford
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: November 12, 1851.
I see your house, my beloved friend, and clap my hands for pleasure. It will suit you admirably, I see, plainly from Paris, and how right you are about the pretty garden, not to make it fine and modern; you have the right instincts about such things, and are too strong for Mrs. Loudon and the landscape gardeners. The only defect apparent to me at this distance is the size of the sitting room.... If you were to see what we call 'an apartment' in Paris! We have just a slip of a kitchen, and no passage, no staircase to take up the space, which is altogether spent upon sitting and sleeping rooms. Talk of English comforts! It's a national delusion. The comfort of the Continental way of life has only to be tested to be recognised (with the exception of the locks of doors and windows, which are barbaric here, there's no other word for it). The economy of a habitation is understood in Paris. You have the advantages of a large house without the disadvantages, without the coldness, without the dearness. And the beds, chairs, and sofas are perfect things.
But the climate is not perfect, it seems, for we have had very cold weather the last ten days, and I am a prisoner as usual. Our friends swear to us that it is exceptional weather and that it will be warmer presently, and I listen with a sort of 'doubtful doubt' worthy of a metaphysician. It is some comfort to hear that it's below zero in London meanwhile, and that Scotland stands eight feet deep in snow.
We have a letter for George Sand (directed a Madame George Sand) from Mazzini, and we hear that she is to be in Paris within twelve days. Then we must make a rush and present it, for her stay here is not likely to be long, and I would not miss seeing her for a great deal, though I have not read one of her late dramas, and only by faith understand that her wonderful genius has conquered new kingdoms. Her last romance, 'Le Chateau des Deserts,' is treated disdainfully in the 'Athenaeum.' I have not read that even, but Mr. Chorley is apt to be cold towards French writers and I don't expect his judgment as final therefore. Have you seen M. de la Mare's correspondence with Mirabeau? And do you ever catch sight of the 'Revue des Deux Mondes'? In the August number is an excellent and most pleasant article on my husband, elaborately written and so highly appreciatory as well nigh to satisfy me. 'Set you down this' that there has sprung up in France lately an ardent admiration of the present English schools of poetry, or rather of the poetry produced by the present English schools, which they consider an advance upon the poetry of the ages. Think of this, you English readers who are still wearing broad hems and bombazeens for the Byron and Scott glorious days!
Let me think what I can tell you of the President. I have never seen his face, though he has driven past me in the boulevards, and past these windows constantly, but it is said that he is very like his portraits—and, yes, rumour and the gazettes speak of his riding well. Wilson and Wiedeman had an excellent view of him the other day as he turned into a courtyard to pay some visit, and she tells me that his carriage was half full of petitions and nosegays thrown through the windows. What a fourth act of a play we are in just now! It is difficult to guess at the catastrophe. Certainly he must be very sure of his hold on the people to propose repealing the May edict, and yet there are persons who persist in declaring that nobody cares for him and that even a revision of the constitution will not bring about his re-election. I am of an opposite mind; though there is not much overt enthusiasm of the population in behalf of his person. Still, this may arise from a quiet resolve to keep him where he is, and an assurance that he can't be ousted in spite of the people and army. It is significant, I think, that Emile de Girardin should stretch out a hand (a little dirty, be it observed in passing), and that Lamartine, after fasting nineteen days and nights (a miraculous fast, without fear of the 'prefect'), should murmur a 'credo' in favour of his honesty. As to honesty, 'I do believe he's honest;' that is to say, he has acted out no dishonesty as yet, and we have no right to interpret doubtful texts into dishonorable allegations. But for ambition—for ambition! Answer from the depth of your conscience, 'de profundis.' Is he or is he not an ambitious man? Does he or does he not mean in his soul to be Napoleon the Second? Yes, yes—I think, you think, we all think.
Robert's father and sister have been paying us a visit during the last three weeks. They are very affectionate to me, and I love them for his sake and their own, and am very sorry at the thought of losing them, which we are on the point of doing. We hope, however, to establish them in Paris if we can stay, and if no other obstacle should arise before the spring, when they must leave Hatcham. Little Wiedeman draws; as you may suppose, he is adored by his grandpapa; and then, Robert! they are an affectionate family and not easy when removed one from another. Sarianna is full of accomplishment and admirable sense, even-tempered and excellent in all ways—devoted to her father as she was to her mother: indeed, the relations of life seem reversed in their case, and the father appears the child of the child....
Perhaps you have not seen Eugene Sue's 'Mysteres de Paris'—and I am not deep in the first volume yet. Fancy the wickedness and stupidity of trying to revive the distinctions and hatreds of race between the Gauls and Franks. The Gauls, please to understand, are the 'proletaires,' and the capitalists are the Frank invaders (call them Cosaques, says Sue) out of the forests of Germany!...
I saw no Mr. Harness; and no Talfourd of any kind. The latter was a kind of misadventure, as Lady Talfourd was on the point of calling on me when Robert would not let her. We were going away just then. Mr. Horne I had the satisfaction of seeing several times—you know how much regard I feel for him. One evening he had the kindness to bring his wife miles upon miles just to drink tea with us, and we were to have spent a day with them somehow, half among the fields, but engagements came betwixt us adversely. She is less pretty and more interesting than I expected—looking very young, her black glossy hair hanging down her back in ringlets; with deep earnest eyes, and a silent listening manner. He was full of the 'Household Words,' and seems to write articles together with Dickens—which must be highly unsatisfactory, as Dickens's name and fame swallow up every sort of minor reputation in the shadow of his path. I shouldn't like, for my part (and if I were a fish), to herd with crocodiles. But I suppose the 'Household Words' pay—and that's a consideration. 'Claudie' I have not read. We have only just subscribed to a library, and we have been absorbed a good deal by our visitors....
Write and don't leave off loving me. I will tell you of everybody noticeable whom I happen to see, and of George Sand among the first.
Love your ever affectionate BA.
* * * * *
To Mrs. Jameson
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: December 10, .
I receive your letter, dearest friend, and hasten to write a few brief words to save the post.
We have suffered neither fear nor danger—and I would not have missed the grand spectacle of the second of December for anything in the world—scarcely, I say, for the sight of the Alps.
On the only day in which there was much fighting (Thursday), Wiedeman was taken out to walk as usual, under the precaution of keeping in the immediate neighbourhood of this house. This will prove to you how little we have feared for ourselves.
But the natural emotion of the situation one could not escape from, and on Thursday night I sate up in my dressing gown till nearly one, listening to the distant firing from the boulevards. Thursday was the only day in which there was fighting of any serious kind. There has been no resistance on the part of the real people—nothing but sympathy for the President, I believe, if you except the natural mortification and disappointment of baffled parties. To judge from our own tradespeople: 'il a bien fait! c'est le vrai neveu de son oncle!' such phrases rung on every tone expressed the prevailing sentiment.
For my own part I have not only more hope in the situation but more faith in the French people than is ordinary among the English, who really try to exceed one another in discoloration and distortion of the circumstances. The government was in a deadlock—what was to be done? Yes, all parties cried out, 'What was to be done?' and felt that we were waist deep a fortnight ago in a state of crisis. In throwing back the sovereignty from a 'representative assembly' which had virtually ceased to represent, into the hands of the people, I think that Louis Napoleon did well. The talk about 'military despotism' is absolute nonsense. The French army is eminently civic, and nations who take their ideas from the very opposite fact of a standing army are far from understanding how absolutely a French soldier and French citizen are the same thing. The independence of the elections seems to be put out of reach of injury; and intelligent men of adverse opinions to the government think that the majority will be large in its favour. Such a majority would certainly justify Louis Napoleon, or should—even with you in England.
I think you quite understate the amount of public virtue in France. The difficulties of statesmanship here are enormous. I do not accuse even M. Thiers of want of public virtue. What he has wanted, has been length and breadth of view—purely an intellectual defect—and his petty, puny tracasseries destroyed the Republican Assembly just as it destroyed the throne of Louis Philippe, in spite of his own intentions.
There is a conflict of ideas in France, which we have no notion of in England, but we ought to understand that it does not involve the failing of principle, in the elemental moral sense. Be just to France, dear friend, you who are more than an Englishwoman—a Mrs. Jameson!
Everything is perfectly tranquil in Paris, I assure you—theatres full and galleries open as usual. At the same time, timid and discouraged persons say, 'Wait till after the elections,' and of course the public emotion will be a good deal excited at that time. Therefore, judge for yourself. For my own part I have not had the slightest cause for alarm of any kind—and there is my child! Judge....
The weather is exquisite, and I am going out to walk directly. It is scarcely possible to bear a fire, and some of our friends sit with the window open. We are all well.
This should have gone to you yesterday, but we had visitors who talked past post time. The delay, however, has allowed of my writing more than I meant to have done in beginning this letter. Robert's best love.
Your ever affectionate BA.
Robert says that according to the impression of the wisest there can be no danger. Don't wait till after the elections. The time is most interesting, and it is well worth your while to come and see for yourself.
* * * * *
To Mrs. Martin
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: December 11, .
To show how alive I am, dearest Mrs. Martin, I will tell you that I have just come home from a long walk to the Tuileries. We took a carriage to return, that's true. Then yesterday I was out, besides, and last Saturday, the 6th, we drove down the boulevards to see the field of action on the terrible Thursday (the only day on which there was any fighting of consequence), counting the holes in the walls bored by the cannon, and looking at the windows smashed in. Even then, though the asphalte was black with crowds, the quiet was absolute, and most of the shops reopened. On Sunday the theatres were as full as usual, and our Champs-Elysees had quite its complement of promenaders. Wiedeman's prophecy had not been carried out, any more than the prophecies of the wiser may—the soldiers had not shot Punch.
And now I do beg you not to be down-hearted. See, if French blood runs in your veins, that you don't take a pedantic view of this question like an Englishwoman. Constitutional forms and essential principles of liberty are so associated in England, that they are apt to be confounded, and are, in fact, constantly confounded. For my part, I am too good a democrat to be afraid of being thrown back upon the primitive popular element, from impossible paper constitutions and unrepresenting representative assemblies. The situation was in a deadlock, and all the conflicting parties were full of dangerous hope of taking advantage of it; and I don't see, for my part, what better could be done for the French nation than to sweep the board clear and bid them begin again. With no sort of prejudice in favour of Louis Napoleon (except, I confess to you, some artistical admiration for the consummate ability and courage shown in his coup d'etat), with no particular faith in the purity of his patriotism, I yet hold him justified so far, that is, I hold that a pure patriot would be perfectly justifiable in taking the same steps which up to this moment he has taken. He has broken, certainly, the husk of an oath, but fidelity to the intention of it seems to me reconcilable with the breach; and if he had not felt that he had the great mass of the people to back him, he is at least too able a man, be certain, if not too honest a man, to have dared what he has dared. You will see the result of the elections. As to Paris, don't believe that Paris suffers violence from Louis Napoleon. The result of my own impressions is a conviction that from the beginning he had the sympathy of the whole population here with him, to speak generally, and exclusively of particular parties. All our tradespeople, for instance, milkman, breadman, wine merchant, and the rest, yes, even the shrewd old washerwoman, and the concierge, and our little lively servant were in a glow of sympathy and admiration. 'Mais, c'est le vrai neveu de son oncle! il est admirable! enfin la patrie sera sauvee.' The bourgeoisie has now accepted the situation, it is admitted on all hands. 'Scandalous adhesion!' say some. 'Dreadful apathy!' say others. Don't you say either one or the other, or I think you will be unjust to Paris and France.
The French people are very democratical in their tendencies, but they must have a visible type of hero-worship, and they find it in the bearer of that name Napoleon. That name is the only tradition dear to them, and it is deeply dear. That a man bearing it, and appealing at the same time to the whole people upon democratical principles, should be answered from the heart of the people, should neither astonish, nor shame, nor enrage anybody.
An editor of the 'National,' a friend of ours, feels this so much, that he gnashes his teeth over the imprudence of the extreme Reds, who did not set themselves to trample out the fires of Buonapartism while they had some possibility of doing it. 'Ce peuple a la tete dure,' said he vehemently.
As to military despotism, would France bear that, do you think? Is the French army, besides, made after the fashion of standing armies, such as we see in other countries? Are they not eminently civic, flesh of the people's flesh? I fear no military despotism for France, oh, none. Every soldier is a citizen, and every citizen is or has been a soldier.
Altogether, instead of despairing, I am full of hope. It seems to me probable that the door is open to a wider and calmer political liberty than France has yet enjoyed. Let us wait.
The American forms of republicanism are most uncongenial to this artistic people; but democratical institutions will deepen and broaden, I think, even if we should soon all be talking of the 'Empire.'
As to the repressive measures, why, grant the righteousness of the movement, and you must accept its conditions. Don't believe the tremendous exaggerations you are likely to hear on all sides—don't, I beseech you.
The President rode under our windows on December 2, through a shout extending from the Carrousel to the Arc de l'Etoile. The troups poured in as we stood and looked. No sight could be grander, and I would not have missed it, not for the Alps, I say.
You say nothing specific. How I should like to know why exactly you are out of spirits, and whether dear Mr. Martin is sad too. Robert and I have had some domestic emeutes, because he hates some imperial names; yet he confessed to me last night that the excessive and contradictory nonsense he had heard among Legitimists, Orleanists, and English, against the movement inclined him almost to a revulsion of feeling.
I would have written to you to-day, even if I had not received your letter. You will forgive that what I have written should have been scratched in the utmost haste to save the post. I can't even read it over. There's the effect of going out to walk the first thing in the morning....
Your ever affectionate BA—to both of you.
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To Miss Mitford
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: Christmas Eve, .
What can you have thought of me? That I was shot or deserved to be? Forgive in the first instance, dearest friend, and believe that I won't behave so any more, if in any way I can help it.
Tell me your thought now about L. Napoleon. He rode under our windows on December 2 through an immense shout from the Carrousel to the Arc de l'Etoile. There was the army and the sun of Austerlitz, and even I thought it one of the grandest of sights; for he rode there in the name of the people, after all....
But we know men most opposed to him, writers of the old 'Presse' and 'National,' and Orleanists, and Legitimists, and the fury of all such I can scarcely express to you after the life. Emile de Girardin and his friends had a sublime scheme of going over in a body to England, and establishing a Socialist periodical, inscribing on their new habitation, 'Ici c'est la France.' He actually advertised for sale his beautiful house close by in the Champs-Elysees, asked ten thousand pounds (English) for it; and would have been 'rather disappointed,' as one of his sympathising friends confessed to us, if the offer had been accepted. I heard a good story the other day. A lady visitor was groaning politically to Madame de Girardin over the desperateness of the situation. 'Il n'y a que Celui, qui est en haut, qui peut nous en tirer,' said she, casting up her eyes. 'Oui, c'est vrai,' replied Madame, 'il le pourrait, lui,' glancing towards the second floor, where Emile was at work upon feuilletons. Not that she mistakes him habitually for her deity, by any manner of means, if scandal is to be listened to.
I hear that Lamennais is profoundly disgusted. He said to a friend of ours, that the French people were 'putrefied to the heart.' Which means that they have one tradition still dear to them (the name of Napoleon) and that they put no faith in the Socialistic prophets. Wise or unwise they may be accordingly; but an affection and an apprehension can't reasonably be said to amount to a 'putrefaction,' I think. No, indeed.
Louis Napoleon is said to say (a bitter foe of his told me this) that 'there will be four phases of his life.' The first was all rashness and imprudence, but 'it was necessary to make him known:' the second, 'the struggle with and triumph over anarchy:' the third, 'the settlement of France and the pacification of Europe:' the fourth, a coup de pistolet. Se non e vero, e ben trovato. Nothing is more likely than the catastrophe in any case; and the violence of the passions excited in the minority makes me wonder at his surviving a day even. Do you know I heard your idol of a Napoleon (the antique hero) called the other evening through a black beard and gnashing teeth, 'le plus grand scelerat du monde,' and his empire, 'le regne du Satan,' and his marshals, 'les coquins.' After that, I won't tell you that 'le neveu' is reproached with every iniquity possible to anybody's public and private life. Perhaps he is not 'sans reproche' in respect to the latter, not altogether; but one can't believe, and oughtn't, even infinitesimally, the things which are talked on the subject....
Ah, I am so vexed about George Sand. She came, she has gone, and we haven't met! There was a M. Francois who pretended to be her very very particular friend, and who managed the business so particularly ill, from some motive or some incapacity, that he did not give us an opportunity of presenting our letter. He did not 'dare' to present it for us, he said. She is shy—she distrusts bookmaking strangers, and she intended to be incognita while in Paris. He proposed that we should leave it at the theatre, and Robert refused. Robert said he wouldn't have our letter mixed up with the love letters of the actresses, or perhaps given to the 'premier comique' to read aloud in the green room, as a relief to the 'Chere adorable,' which had produced so much laughter. Robert was a little proud and M. Francois very stupid; and I, between the two, in a furious state of dissent from either. Robert tries to smooth down my ruffled plumage now, by promising to look out for some other opportunity, but the late one has gone. She is said to have appeared in Paris in a bloom of recovered beauty and brilliancy of eyes, and the success of her play, 'Le Mariage de Victorine,' was complete. A strange, wild, wonderful woman, certainly. While she was here, she used a bedroom which belongs to her son—a mere 'chambre de garcon'—and for the rest, saw whatever friends she chose to see only at the 'cafe,' where she breakfasted and dined. She has just finished a romance, we hear, and took fifty-two nights to write it. She writes only at night. People call her Madame Sand. There seems to be no other name for her in society or letters.
Now listen. Alexandre Dumas does write his own books, that's a fact. You know I always maintained it, through the odour of Dumas in the books, but people swore the contrary with great foolish oaths worth nothing. Maquet prepares historical materials, gathers together notes, and so on, but Dumas writes every word of his books with his own hand, and with a facility amounting to inspiration, said my informant. He called him a great savage negro child. If he has twenty sous and wants bread, he buys a pretty cane instead. For the rest, 'bon enfant,' kind and amiable. An inspired negro child! In debt at this moment, after all the sums he has made, said my informant—himself a most credible witness and highly cultivated man.
I heard of Eugene Sue, too, yesterday. Our child is invited to a Christmas tree and party, and Robert says he is too young to go, but I persist in sending him for half an hour with Wilson—oh, really I must—though he will be by far the youngest of the thirty children invited. The lady of the house, Miss Fitton, an English resident in Paris, an elderly woman, shrewd and kind, said to Robert that she had a great mind to have Eugene Sue, only he was so scampish. I think that was the word, or something alarmingly equivalent. Now I should like to see Eugene Sue with my little innocent child in his arms; the idea of the combination pleases me somewhat. But I sha'n't see it in any case. We had three cold days last week, which brought back my cough and took away my voice. I am dumb for the present and can't go out any more....
At last I have caught sight of an advertisement of your book. A very catching title, and if I mayn't compliment you upon it, I certainly do your publisher. I dare say the book is charming, and the more of yourself in it, the more charming.
Write, and say how you are always when you write. Say, too, how you continue to like your new house. We heard a good deal of you from Mr. Fields, though he came to us only once. With him came Mr. Longfellow, the poet's brother, who is at present in Paris—I mean the brother, not the poet. Robert's love, may I say?
Wiedeman has struck up two friendships: one, with the small daughter of our concierge and one with a little Russian princess, a month younger than himself. He calls them both 'boys,' having no idea yet of the less sublime sex, but he likes the plebeian best. May God make you happy on this and other seasons!
Love your affectionate and grateful BA.
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To Mrs. Martin
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: January 17, .
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—If you think I have not written to you, you must be (as you are) the most lenient of friends, not to give me up for ever. I answered your first letter by return of post and at great length. About a fortnight ago, Robert heard from Madame Mohl, who heard from somebody at Pau that you were 'waiting anxiously to hear from me,' upon which I wrote a second letter. And that, too, did not reach you? Is it possible? But I am innocent, innocent, innocent. See how innocent. Now, if M. le President has stopped my letters, or if he ponders in his imperial mind how to send me out of Paris, he is as ungrateful as a king, because I have been taking his part all this time at a great cost of domestic emeutes. So you would have known, if you had received my letters. The coup d'etat was a grand thing, dramatically and poetically speaking, and the appeal to the people justified it in my eyes, considering the immense difficulty of the circumstances, the impossibility of the old constitution and the impracticability of the House of Assembly. Now that's all over. For the rest—the new constitution—I can't say as much for it; it disappoints me immensely. Absolute government, no, while the taxes and acceptance of law lies, as he leaves it, with the people; but there are stupidities undeniable, I am afraid, and how such a constitution is to work, and how marshals and cardinals are to help to work it, remains to be seen. I fear we have not made a good change even from the 'constitution Marrast' after all. The English newspapers have made me so angry, that I scarcely know whether I am as much ashamed, yet the shame is very great. As if the people of France had not a right to vote as they pleased! We understand nothing in England. As Cousin said, long ago, we are 'insular' of understanding. France may be mistaken in her speculations, as she often is; and if any mistake has been lately committed, it will be corrected by herself in a short time. Ignoble in her speculations she never is....
I must tell you, my dearest friend, that for some days past I have been very much upset, and am scarcely now fairly on my feet again, in consequence of becoming suddenly aware of a painful indiscretion committed by an affectionate and generous woman. I refer to Miss Mitford's account of me in her new book. We heard of it in a strange way, through M. Philaret Chasles, of the College de France, beginning a course of lectures on English literature, and announcing an extended notice of E.B.B., 'the veil from whose private life had lately been raised by Miss Mitford.' Somebody who happened to be present told us of it, and while we were wondering and uncomfortable, up came a writer in the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' to consult Robert upon a difficulty he was in. He was engaged, he said, upon an article relating to me, and the proprietors of the review had sent him a number of the 'Athenaeum,' which contained an extract from Miss M.'s book, desiring him to make use of the biographical details. Now it struck him immediately, he said, on reading the passage, that it was likely to give me great pain, and he was so unwilling to be the means of giving me more pain that he came to Robert to ask him how he should act. Do observe the delicacy and sensibility of this man—a man, a foreigner, a Frenchman! I shall be grateful to him as long as I live.
Robert has seen the extract in the 'Athenaeum.' It refers to the great affliction of my life, with the most affectionate intentions and the obtusest understanding. I know I am morbid, but this thing should not have been done indeed. Now, I shall be liable to see recollections dreadful to me, thrust into every vulgar notice of my books. I shall be afraid to see my books reviewed anywhere. Oh! I have been so deeply shaken by all this. You will understand, I am certain, and I could not help speaking of it to you, because I was certain.
I am answering your note, observe, by return of post. Do let me know if you receive what I write this time. Robert will direct for me, having faith in his superior legibleness, and I accept the insult implied in the opinion.
God bless you. Do write. And never doubt my grateful affection for you, whether posts go ill or well.
Robert is going out to inquire about 'My Novel.' His warm regards with mine to dear Mr. Martin and yourself. This is a scratch rather than a letter, but I would rather send it to you in haste than wait for another post.
Your ever affectionate BA.
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The following letter marks the beginning of a new friendship, with Miss Mulock, afterwards Mrs. Craik, the authoress of 'John Halifax, Gentleman.' The subsequent letters are in very affectionate tones, but it does not appear that the correspondence ever reached any very extended dimensions.
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To Miss Mulock
Paris, 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: January 21, .
I hear from England that you have dedicated a book to me with too kind and most touching words. To thank you for such a proof of sympathy, to thank you from my heart, cannot surely be a wrong thing to do, it seems so natural and comes from so irresistible an impulse.
I read a book of yours once at Florence, which first made [me] know you pleasantly, and afterwards (that was at Florence, too) there came a piercing touch from a hand in the air—whether yours also, I cannot dare to guess—which has preoccupied me a good deal since. If I speak to you in mysteries, forgive me. Let it be clear at least, that I am very happy to be grateful to you for the honor you have done me in your dedication, and that my husband, moved more, as he always is, by honor paid to me than to himself, thanks you beside. I will not keep back his thanks, which are worth more than mine can be.
For the rest, we have, neither of us, seen the book yet, nor even read an exact copy of the words in question. Only the rumour of them appears to run that I am 'not likely ever to see you.' And why am I never to see you, pray? Unlikelier pleasures have been granted to me, and I will not indeed lose hold of the hope of this pleasure.
Allow it to
Your always obliged ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
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To Miss Mitford
[Paris,] 138 Avenue des Champs-Elysees: [January-February 1852].
My very dear friend, let me begin what I have to say by recognising you as the most generous and affectionate of friends. I never could mistake the least of your intentions; you were always, from first to last, kind and tenderly indulgent to me—always exaggerating what was good in me, always forgetting what was faulty and weak—keeping me by force of affection in a higher place than I could aspire to by force of vanity; loving me always, in fact. Now let me tell you the truth. It will prove how hard it is for the tenderest friends to help paining one another, since you have pained me. See what a deep wound I must have in me, to be pained by the touch of such a hand. Oh, I am morbid, I very well know. But the truth is that I have been miserably upset by your book, and that if I had had the least imagination of your intending to touch upon certain biographical details in relation to me, I would have conjured you by your love to me and by my love to you, to forbear it altogether. You cannot understand; no, you cannot understand with all your wide sympathy (perhaps, because you are not morbid, and I am), the sort of susceptibility I have upon one subject. I have lived heart to heart (for instance) with my husband these five years: I have never yet spoken out, in a whisper even, what is in me; never yet could find heart or breath; never yet could bear to hear a word of reference from his lips. And now those dreadful words are going the round of the newspapers, to be verified here, commented on there, gossiped about everywhere; and I, for my part, am frightened to look at a paper as a child in the dark—as unreasonably, you will say—but what then? what drives us mad is our unreason. I will tell you how it was. First of all, an English acquaintance here told us that she had been hearing a lecture at the College de France, and that the professor, M. Philaret Chasles, in the introduction to a series of lectures on English poetry, had expressed his intention of noticing Tennyson, Browning, &c., and E.B.B.—'from whose private life the veil had been raised in so interesting a manner lately by Miss Mitford.' In the midst of my anxiety about this, up comes a writer of the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' to my husband, to say that he was preparing a review upon me and had been directed by the editor to make use of some biographical details extracted from your book into the 'Athenaeum,' but that it had occurred to him doubtfully whether certain things might not be painful to me, and whether I might not prefer their being omitted in his paper. (All this time we had seen neither book nor 'Athenaeum.') Robert answered for me that the omission of such and such things would be much preferred by me, and accordingly the article appears in the 'Revue' with the passage from your book garbled and curtailed as seemed best to the quoter. Then Robert set about procuring the 'Athenaeum' in question. He tells me (and that I perfectly believe) that, for the facts to be given at all, they could not possibly be given with greater delicacy; oh, and I will add for myself, that for them to be related by anyone during my life, I would rather have you to relate them than another. But why should they be related during my life? There was no need, no need. To show my nervous susceptibility in the length and breadth of it to you, I could not (when it came to the point) bear to read the passage extracted in the 'Athenaeum,' notwithstanding my natural anxiety to see exactly what was done. I could not bear to do it. I made Robert read it aloud—with omissions—so that I know all your kindness. I feel it deeply; through tears of pain I feel it; and if, as I dare say you will, you think me very very foolish, do not on that account think me ungrateful. Ungrateful I never can be to you, my much loved and kindest friend.
I hear your book is considered one of your best productions, and I do not doubt that the opinion is just. Thank you for giving it to us, thank you.
I don't like to send you a letter from Paris without a word about your hero—'handsome,' I fancy not, nor the imperial type. I have not seen his face distinctly. What do you think about the constitution? Will it work, do you fancy, now-a-days in France? The initiative of the laws, put out of the power of the legislative assembly, seems to me a stupidity; and the senators, in their fine dresses, make me wink a little. Also, I hear that the 'senatorial cardinals' don't please the peasants, who hate the priesthood as much as they hate the 'Cossacks.' On the other hand, Montalembert was certainly in bed the other day with vexation, because 'nobody could do anything with Louis Napoleon—he was obstinate;' 'nous nous en lavons les mains,' and that fact gives me hope that not too much indulgence is intended to the Church. There's to be a ball at the Tuileries with 'court dresses,' which is 'un peu fort' for a republic. By the way, rumour (with apparent authority justifying it) says, that a black woman opened her mouth and prophesied to him at Ham, 'he should be the head of the French nation, and be assassinated in a ball-room.' I was assured that he believes the prophecy firmly, 'being in all things too superstitious' and fatalistical.
I was interrupted in this letter yesterday. Meantime comes out the decree against the Orleans property, which I disapprove of altogether. It's the worst thing yet done, to my mind. Yet the Bourse stands fast, and the decree is likely enough to be popular with the ouvrier class. There are rumours of tremendously wild financial measures, only I believe in no rumours just now, and apparently the Bourse is as incredulous on this particular point. If I thought (as people say) that we are on the verge of a 'law' declaring the Roman Catholic religion the State religion, I should give him up at once; but this would be contrary to the traditions of the Empire, and I can't suppose it to be probable on any account.
Observe, I am no Napoleonist. I am simply a democrat, and hold that the majority of a nation has the right of choice upon the question of its own government, even where it makes a mistake. Therefore the outcry of the English newspapers is most disgusting to me. For the rest, one can hardly do strict justice, at this time of transition, to the ultimate situation of the country; we must really wait a little, till the wind and rain shall have ceased to dash so in one's eyes. The wits go on talking, though, all the same; and I heard a suggestion yesterday, that, for the effaced 'Liberte, egalite, fraternite,' should be written up, 'Infanterie, cavallerie, artillerie.' That's the last 'mot,' I believe. The salons are very noisy. A lady was ordered to her country seat the other day for exclaiming, 'Et il n'y a pas de Charlotte Corday.'
Forgive, with this dull letter, my other defects. Always I am frank to you, saying what is in my heart; and there is always there, dearest Miss Mitford, a fruitful and grateful affection to you from your
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To Miss Mitford
[Paris], 138 Avenue des Ch.-Elysees: February 15, .
Thank you, thank you, my beloved friend. Yes; I do understand in my heart all your kindness. Yes, I do believe that on some points I am full of disease; and this has exposed me several times to shocks of pain in the ordinary intercourse of the world, which for bystanders were hard, I dare say, to make out. Once at the Baths of Lucca I was literally nearly struck down to the ground by a single word said in all kindness by a friend whom I had not seen for ten years. The blue sky reeled over me, and I caught at something, not to fall. Well, there is no use dwelling on this subject. I understand your affectionateness and tender consideration, I repeat, and thank you; and love you, which is better. Now, let us talk of reasonable things.
Beranger lives close to us, and Robert has seen him in his white hat wandering along the asphalte. I had a notion somehow that he was very old; but he is only elderly, not much indeed above sixty (which is the prime of life now-a-days), and he lives quietly and keeps out of scrapes poetical and political, and if Robert and I had but a little less modesty we are assured that we should find access to him easy. But we can't make up our minds to go to his door and introduce ourselves as vagrant minstrels, when he may probably not know our names. We never could follow the fashion of certain authors who send their books about without intimations of their being likely to be acceptable or not, of which practice poor Tennyson knows too much for his peace. If, indeed, a letter of introduction to Beranger were vouchsafed to us from any benign quarter, we should both be delighted, but we must wait patiently for the influence of the stars. Meanwhile, we have at last sent our letter (Mazzini's) to George Sand, accompanied with a little note signed by both of us, though written by me, as seemed right, being the woman. We half despaired in doing this, for it is most difficult, it appears, to get at her, she having taken vows against seeing strangers in consequence of various annoyances and persecutions in and out of print, which it's the mere instinct of a woman to avoid. I can understand it perfectly. Also, she is in Paris for only a few days, and under a new name, to escape from the plague of her notoriety. People said to us: 'She will never see you; you have no chance, I am afraid.' But we determined to try. At last I pricked Robert up to the leap, for he was really inclined to sit in his chair and be proud a little. 'No,' said I, 'you shan't be proud, and I won't be proud, and we will see her. I won't die, if I can help it, without seeing George Sand.' So we gave our letter to a friend who was to give it to a friend, who was to place it in her hands, her abode being a mystery and the name she used unknown. The next day came by the post this answer:
Madame,—J'aurai l'honneur de vous recevoir dimanche prochain rue Racine 3. C'est le seul jour que je puisse passer chez moi, et encore je n'en suis pas absolument certaine. Mais j'y ferai tellement mon possible, que ma bonne etoile m'y aidera peut-etre un peu.
Agreez mille remerciments de coeur, ainsi que Monsieur Browning, que j'espere voir avec vous, pour la sympathie que vous m'accordez.
GEORGE SAND. Paris: 12 fevrier, 52.
This is graceful and kind, is it not? And we are going to-morrow; I, rather at the risk of my life. But I shall roll myself up head and all in a thick shawl, and we shall go in a close carriage, and I hope I shall be able to tell you about the result before shutting up this letter.
One of her objects in coming to Paris this time was to get a commutation of the sentence upon her friend Dufraisse, who was ordered to Cayenne. She had an interview accordingly with the President. He shook hands with her and granted her request, and in the course of conversation pointed to a great heap of 'Decrees' on the table, being hatched 'for the good of France.' I have heard scarcely anything of him, except from his professed enemies; and it is really a good deal the simple recoil from manifest falsehoods and gross exaggerations which has thrown me on the ground of his defenders. For the rest, it remains to be proved, I think, whether he is a mere ambitious man, or better—whether his personality or his country stands highest with him as an object. I thought and still think that a Washington might have dissolved the Assembly as he did, and appealed to the people. Which is not saying, however, that he is a Washington. We must wait, I think, to judge the man. Only it is right to bear in mind one fact, that, admitting the lawfulness of the coup d'etat, you must not object to the dictatorship. And, admitting the temporary necessity of the dictatorship, it is absolute folly to expect under it the liberty and ease of a regular government.
What has saved him with me from the beginning was his appeal to the people, and what makes his government respectable in my eyes is the answer of the people to that appeal. Being a democrat, I dare to be so consequently. There never was a more legitimate chief of a State than Louis Napoleon is now—elected by seven millions and a half; and I do maintain that, ape or demi-god, to insult him where he is, is to insult the people who placed him there. As to the stupid outcry in England about forced votes, voters pricked forward by bayonets—why, nothing can be more stupid. Nobody not blinded by passion could maintain such a thing for a moment. No Frenchman, however blinded by passion, has maintained it in my presence.
A very philosophically minded man (French) was talking of these things the other day—one of the most thoughtful, liberal men I ever knew of any country, and high and pure in his moral views—also (let me add) more anglomane in general than I am. He was talking of the English press. He said he 'did it justice for good and noble intentions' (more than I do!), 'but marvelled at its extraordinary ignorance. Those writers did not know the A B C of France. Then, as to Louis Napoleon, whether he was right or wrong, they erred in supposing him not to be in earnest with his constitution and other remedies for France. The fact was, he not only was in earnest—he was even fanatical.'
There is, of course, much to deplore in the present state of affairs—much that is very melancholy. The constitution is not a model one, and no prospect of even comparative liberty of the Press has been offered. At the same time, I hope still. As tranquillity is established, there will be certain modifications; this, indeed, has been intimated, and I think the Press will by degrees attain to its emancipation. Meanwhile, the 'Athenaeum' and other English papers say wrongly that there is a censure established on books. There is a censure on pamphlets and newspapers—on books, no. Cormenin is said to have been the adviser of the Orleans confiscation....
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To John Kenyon
[Paris], 138 Avenue des Ch.-Elysees: February 15, 1852.
My dearest Mr. Kenyon,—Robert sends you his Shelley, having a very few copies allowed to him to dispose of. I think you have Shelley's other letters, of which this volume is the supplement, and you will not be sorry to have Robert's preface thrown in, though he makes very light of it himself.
You never write a word to us, and so I don't mean to send you a letter to-day—only as few lines as I can drop in a sulky fit, repenting as I go on. As to politics, you know you have all put me in the corner because I stand up for universal suffrage, and am weak enough to fancy that seven millions and a half of Frenchmen have some right to an opinion on their own affairs. It's really fatal in this world to be consequent—it leads one into damnable errors. So I shall not say much more at present. You must bear with me—dear Miss Bayley and all of you—and believe of me, if I am ever so wrong, that I do at least pray from my soul, 'May the right prevail!'—loving right, truth, justice, and the people through whatever mistakes. As it was in the beginning, from 'Casa Guidi Windows,' so it is now from the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. I am most humanly liable, of course, to make mistakes, and am by temperament perhaps over hopeful and sanguine. But I do see with my own eyes and feel with my own spirit, and not with other people's eyes and spirits, though they should happen to be the dearest—and that's the very best of me, be certain, so don't quarrel with it too much.