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letters from the seclusion in which they lived has at its end a brief postscript appended by him: "We are as happy as two owls in a hole, two toads under a tree-stump, or any other queer two poking creatures that we let live." And she writes: "I am quite well and strong, and Robert and I go out after tea in a wandering walk to sit in the Loggia and look at the Perseus, or better still at the sunsets on the Arno, turning it to pure gold under the bridges. O, that Arno in the sunset, with the moon and evening star standing by. How divine it is!" In industrious periods they worked at poetry from breakfast until 4 P. M., not together but always apart, she in her private study upstairs, he in his below. Once she said in a letter, "Robert is working at a volume of lyrics. We neither of us show our work to each other until it is finished. An artist must, I fancy, either find or make a solitude to work in if it is to be good work at all." One of his recreations was drawing: "After thirteen days' application Robert has produced some quite startling copies of heads. He can't rest from serious work, as I can, in light literature; it wearies him, and there are hours which are on his hands, which is bad both for them and for him. The secret of life is in full occupation, isn't it? This world is not tenable on other terms. So while I rest by lying on the sofa and reading fiction he has a resource in his drawing." At Rome, in the last winter of her life, he takes to modeling in clay, to the temporary neglect of his own particular This she regrets but cannot oppose. She says, "Robert is peculiar in his ways of work as a poet. I have struggled a little with him on this point, for I don't think him right—that is to say, it wouldn't be right for me, and I heard the other day that it wouldn't be right for Tennyson. Tennyson is a regular worker, shuts himself up daily for so many hours. And we are generally so made that a regular hour is good, even for so uncertain an influence as mesmerism. But Robert waits for inclination can't do otherwise, he says." (This, it is certain, was only a temporary phase in Browning's life.) "Then reading hurts him. As long as I have known him he has not been able to read long at a time. The consequence is that he wants occupation, and active occupation is salvation to him, saves him. from ruminating bitter cud, and from the process which I call beating his dear head against the wall till it is bruised, simply because he sees a fly there, magnified by his own two
eyes almost indefinitely into some Saurian monster. He has an enormous superfluity of vital energy, and if it isn't employed it strikes its fangs into him. He gets out of spirits as he was at Havre. Nobody understands exactly why-except me who am inside of him and hear him breathe. For the peculiarity of our relation is that, even when he is displeased with me, he thinks aloud with me and can't stop himself. . The modeling combines body-work and soul-work, and the more tired he has been, the more his back ached, poor fellow, the more he has exulted and been happy:-says 'No, nothing ever made him so happy before,'-and also the stouter he has grown and the better he has looked."
Mrs. Browning looked up to her husband because she knew him to be her superior in strength, equipoise, and steadiness. She called herself "one of those weak women who reverence strong men," and seems fully aware that she had gained "something of force and freedom by living near the oak." His sound-mindedness, sturdy common sense, and robust earnestness continually appear in his dealing with persons, subjects, and affairs. Frequently his sagacity and healthy wisdom operate to correct the vagaries of her mysticism and morbidness, and to moderate, as far as possible, her excessive enthusiasms. In the home, as elsewhere, his good sense stood stoutly to its guns in every necessary contention for sanity of views and of morals. He supports his own opinion strongly. The second year after marriage she writes Miss Mitford about some French books which husband and wife have been reading together, and then says: "You ought to hear how we go to single combat, ever and anon, with shield and lance. The greatest quarrel we have had since our marriage, by the way (always excepting my crying conjugal wrong of not eating enough) was brought up by Masson's pamphlet on the Iron Mask and Fouquet. I wouldn't be persuaded that Fouquet was in it,' and so the 'anger of my lord waxed hot.' To this day he says sometimes, 'Don't be cross, Ba! Fouquet wasn't the Iron Mask after all." On two subjects, both of which fill much space in her letters, they strenuously and always disagreed. These were Louis Napoleon and spiritualism. He never shared her faith in and admiration for the president who destroyed the French republic and made himself emperor. A letter in 1851 from Paris, where they saw the coup d'état, says: "Robert and I have had some 30-FIFTH SERIES, VOL. XV.
domestic émeutes, because he hates some imperial names.
He will tell you that he hates all Buonapartes, past, present, or to come; but then he says that in his self-willed way as a manner of dismissing a subject he won't think about-and knowing very well that he doesn't think about, not mistaking a feeling for a reason, not for a moment. That's the difference between women and men." This difference she herself illustrated by sometimes mistaking her feelings for valid reasons, so falling into irrationality against which always his clear intelligence stood firmly remonstrant. "Prince Hohenstiel Schwangau, Savior of Society" written in Scotland in 1871, ten years after his wife's death, contains his retrospective analysis of Louis Napoleon when that audacious career had closed in overwhelming disaster and the empire with all its tarnished tinsel had "gone glimmering through the dream of things that were." But the one subject on which husband and wife differed most sharply was spiritualism, as to which he was a disgusted and vehement disbeliever. The wave of spiritualistic infatuation and experi mentation which swept through Europe and America in the fifties affected Mrs. Browning, as well as Mrs. Stowe and others, so that for several years she was of those who, without feeling sure of the honesty and sanity of individual spiritualists, yet thought it possible that some alleged spirit communications might be genuine, and who therefore mingled curiously, hopefully, and more or less credulously with the circles where evidence of the reality of such communication was affirmed to be given. In a manner half explanatory and apologetic for herself Mrs. Browning wrote Miss Mitford: "You know I am rather a visionary, and inclined to knock round at all the doors of the present world to try to get out, so that I listen with interest to every goblin story of the kind; and, indeed, I hear enough of them just now." When a circle in Florence tried to make tables tip and spirits rap, but failed, Lytton said their failure was because Robert Browning was playing Mephistopheles and the spirits disdained to perform in the hostile presence of an arch-skeptic. In 1853 we have in one of her letters the following glimpse of how things were going then and there: "Mr. Lytton gave a reception on the terrace of his villa at Bellosguardo one evening, and we were all bachelors together there, and I made tea, and we ate strawberries and cream, and talked spiritualism. Frederick Tennyson was there, Hiram
Powers, and Mr. Villari, an accomplished Sicilian, besides our young host and ourselves. How we 'set down' Faraday for his arrogant and insolent letter' against spiritualism, and what miracles we swore to! O, we are believers here, except Robert, who persists in wearing a coat of respectable skepticism, though I think it is out at elbows and ragged about the skirts. If I am right, none of you will be able to disbelieve much longer. A new law, or a new development of the law, is making way everywhere." Spiritualists swarmed on every side, and Browning, pretty much alone in his circle, "had to hold them all at bay," which he did with his accustomed decision, energy, and directness. Now and then he exploded and stormed furiously up and down the house in wrath because of deceivers and deceived who were fooling his wife with lies and illusions. To this conflict we owe that rare piece of shrewd dissection and analysis, "Sludge the Medium," the real subject of which was D. D. Hume, the arch-impostor.
'Husband, lover, nurse, Robert has been to me," wrote this delicate woman after five years of married life, and with equal truth might have repeated the same words to the angels when at the end she passed from his arms to the heavens. Richly endowed with quick and generous sympathies this gentle, healthy man was the ever-ready natural nurse of weakness and suffering. Often in their fifteen years together he carried her, like a baby, in his arms in and out of the house, upstairs and down, from carriages to railway stations, and elsewhere. In her letters her physical weakness, often affecting her spirits, is a prominent feature of most of her years, as when she writes to Miss Haworth: "I know how foolish and morbid I must seem to you. So I am made, and I can't help my idiosyncrasies. . . . Forgive my poor brittle body which shakes and breaks." At the Baths of Lucca in 1857, in hot exhausting August weather, we see Robert Browning watching many days and sitting up eight nights to nurse young Robert Lytton, who is very ill with fever, and, expecting to die, is "inclined to talk of divine things, of the state of his soul and God's love, and to hold this life but slackly." For several years at Florence and Siena, Browning watches with patient affection over Walter Savage Landor, past eighty years of age, unreasonable, irritable, and difficult to manage. Mrs. Browning tells the story in various letters. "The poor old lion, Landor, appeared one day at our door of Casa Guidi to take refuge with us, being
sorely buffeted by his family at Fiesole, broken-hearted and in wrath, with an oath on his soul never to return to them." To this crotchety old man, who had "quarreled with nearly everybody in and out of England," Robert Browning became a sort of guardian, attending to all his wants and comforts. Landor "has excellent, generous, affectionate impulses, but the impulses of a tiger now and then." At times he throws a dinner that doesn't suit him out of the window, or dashes a plate on the floor when he dislikes what is on it. He "has the most beautiful sea-foam of a beard, all in a curl and white bubblement of beauty." "Robert amuses me by talking of Landor's 'gentleness and sweetness.' A most courteous and refined gentleman he is, of course, and very affectionate to Robert (as he surely ought to be), but of self-restraint he has not a grain, and of suspiciousness many grains. The contadini at whose house he is now lodging have been already accused of opening his desk. Still, on that occasion, as on others, Robert succeeded in soothing him, and the poor old lion is quiet, on the whole, roaring softly to beguile the time, in Latin alcaics against his wife and Louis Napoleon. He laughs carnivorously when I tell him that one of these days he will have to write an ode in honor of the emperor, to please me." "I call him our adopted son. You didn't know I had a son eighty-six and more." "His genius gives him a claim to gratitude from all artists at least, and I must say my Robert, who says he owes more to Landor as a writer than to any other contemporary, has generously paid the debt. Robert's goodness to him has been quite apostolical. And think of the effect of a goodness which can quote at every turn to an author something from that author's own book! Isn't that more bewitching than other goodnesses? At present Landor is very fond of him, but I am quite prepared to have the old lion turn against us as he has turned against Forster, who has been so devoted for years and years. Robert's office is difficult, and I tell him he must be prepared for an outbreak and a printed statement that he (Robert), instigated by his wicked wife, has attempted to poison him (Landor) slowly. Such an extraordinary union of great literary gifts and incapacity of will has seldom surprised the world.”
Twenty years of his wife's letters show Robert Browning to have been, as Anne Thackeray Ritchie writes with almost worshipful affection, "above all a poet, a good man, a great genius."