Letter from Elizabeth Browning to Robert Browning, [Oct 21, 1852]
Elizabeth Browning tells Robert of her Paris experience, recounting an encounter with Louis Napoleon together with Cushman. Elizabeth Browning also mentions that Cushman "is on her way to Rome with her friend Miss Hayes who translated George Sand,—so we are likely to see much more of her. I never saw anyone so unlike my idea, or anybody’s idea, of an actress: she seems cut out of different stuff altogether."
CreditArmstrong Browning Library - The Browning Letters
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I cant [sic] do better today than keep my promise to you about writing. We have done our business in Paris, but we linger from the inglorious reason that we, experienced travellers as we are, actually left a desk behind us in Bentinck street & must get it before we go farther. Meanwhile it is rather dangerous to let the charm of Paris work—the honey will be clogging our feet very soon, & make it difficult to go away– What an attractive place this is, to be sure! how the sun shines! how the blue sky spreads! how the life lives! and how kind the people are on all sides! If we were going anywhere but to Italy & if I were a little less plainly mortal with this disagreeable cough of mine, I would gladly stay & see in the empire with M. Proudhon
[page 2] in the tail of it, & sit as a watcher over whatever things shall be this year & next spring at Paris. As it is we have been very fortunate, as usual, in being present on a balcony on the boulevard—the best place for seeing the grandest spectacle in the world .. the reception of Louis Napoleon last saturday– The day was brilliant and the sweep of sunshine over the streaming multitude, & all the military and civil pomp, made it difficult to distinguish between the light & life. The sunshine seemed literally to push back the houses to make room for the crowd, & the wide boulevards looked wider than ever. If you had cursed the sentiment of the day ever so, you would have had eyes for its picturesqueness, I think, so I wish you had been there to see. Louis Napoleon showed his usual tact & courage by riding on horseback quite alone—at least ten paces between himself & his nearest
[page 3] taking the French on their weak side, & startling even Miss Cushman (who had been murmuring displeasure into my ear for an hour) into an exclamation of .. "That’s fine, I must say." Little Wiedeman was in a state of ecstasy, & has been recounting ever since how he called "‘Vive Napoleon’ molto molto duro," meaning very loud, (his Italian is not very much more correct, you know, than his other languages) & how Napoleon took off his hat to him directly. I don’t see the English papers but I conclude you are all furious– You must make up your minds to it nevertheless—the Empire is certain, and the feeling of all but unanimity (whatever the motive) throughout France, obvious enough. Smooth down the lion’s mane of the Examiner, & hint that roaring over a desert is a vain thing– As to Victor Hugo’s book the very enemies of the present state of affairs object to it that he lies, simply. There is not enough truth
[page 4] in it for an invective to rest on, still less for an argument– It’s an inarticulate cry of a bird of prey, .. wild & strong, .. irrational, & not a book at all. For my part I did not wave my handkerchief for the new emperor, but I bore the show very well, & said to myself "God bless the people," as the man who, to my apprehension, represents the democracy, went past. A very intelligent Frenchman, caught in the crowd & forced to grope his way slowly along, told me that the expression of opinion everywhere was curiously the same—not a dissenting mutter did he hear. Strange, strange, all this– For the drama of history we must look to France—for startling situations, for the "points" which thrill you to the bone. Well—now let me tell you. We met Miss Cushman on our balcony on the Boulevard near the clouds, and she is on her way to Rome with her friend Miss Hayes who translated George Sand,—so we are likely to see much more of her. I never saw anyone so unlike
[page 5] my idea, or anybody’s idea, of an actress: she seems cut out of different stuff altogether. Dearest Mr Kenyon, you will be glad to hear that Robert has settled his father & sister most comfortably in the Rue des Ecuries d’Artois, a street a little back from the Avenue des Champs Elysées,—between that, in fact, and the Faubourg St Honoré, .. a very good situation. They are on a first floor, .. a pretty salon, a diningroom, two comfortable bedrooms, a kitchen & a room for the servant, .. at a pound a week—miraculous cheapness we all think. Sarianna is satisfied with everything, & her father looks well & happy, and I do hope all will go well with them both this winter. He prowls about among the books & prints, & has already picked up a curious Greek pamphlet upon Mahomet for three sous. So we shant be afraid to leave them. The anxiety about them will spoil none of Robert’s pleasure in Italy you see.
[page 6] Pray observe—I am writing with a horrible steel pen which makes blots every moment– It is’nt I, but my pen. ‘In se, convertite ferrum.’ And the desk has come, with reasonable pens in it besides the leave to go away. Therefore we go on saturday, dearest Mr Kenyon. I am up in spirits at the thought of the gypsey life & the sight of Italy, .. of dear, dear Florence, .. and I shall think of you, & so will Robert, as the giver of all we shall enjoy. My cough is better since leaving England, & I shall expect to lose it altogether in the south presently. Oh, do come to us in the spring. Dont forget to care to come. I am afraid of you. May God bless you meantime. Take care of yourself for the sake of us all who love you—none indeed more affectionately & gratefully than RB—& EBB.–