Letter from Elizabeth Browning to her Sister Arabella Moulton-Barrett, Jan 15-17 1853
Letter from Elizabeth Browning to her Sister Arabella Moulton-Barrett, Jan 15-17 1853
Actors and Actresses--US American
Cushman, Charlotte Saunders, 1816-1876
Browning writes about Rome: "Rome is very full, I hear– Fanny Kemble is to be there this month, & Miss Cushman is there, & a world of Americans"
CreditThe Brownings Correspondence
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 1806-1861
Gordon E. Moulton-Barrett
The Brownings Correspondence, an online edition
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Henrietta will let me write to you, my darling Arabel, this time—though I cant bear she should say that I send her few letters– I was just going to write to her when your letter came, & I must write to you, as she knows as well as I, now—who can help it. Oh, I do wish I could send ministering angels to you, Arabel, to make a smooth, soft path for your feet– As it is, I only send thoughts .. loving ones. We are all well .. and, as Penini dictated for your letter .. (I mean the letter he wrote) .. which there was no room for with his print-hand .. “Mama velly fat, and Penini velly large.” The cod’s liver oil certainly does me good & has obliterated certain of the more prominent bones, filling up “the interstices between the intersections” to admiration, that is, to Robert’s. I never miss taking it—two large table spoonfuls .. Robert never forgets the due administration—and I take besides a tumbler of asses milk which helps the work I dare say. Penini is full of compassion for me about the oil, & said one night to Wilson as he was going to bed, .. “I not lite Mama tate any more medecine– Mama too dood!”. Happily he does’nt want medecine. Never in his life has he had such an appetite as now. Wilson & I look on astounded. And he grows fat & looks rosy, .. his very hair glittering more & hanging down in longer & thicker ringlets—they touch the top of his frock behind, & draw everybody’s attention. He certainly is the incarnation of an ideal child, & I could’nt if I were to sit down & fancy one, make a bit of improvement in his grace & sweetness & goodness. I said to him as he sate on my knee some days ago, “What should I do without you, my darling.” “Oh no,” he answered, .. “I wont be lost, Mama! I not lite be tilled. I stay with Mama, and laugh & love, and tate tare of Mama.” Then very seriously, after a pause .. “Mama, I not lite fly away into gentle Jesus’s home now.” “Why?” said I, thrilled through at the thought. “Betause I afwaid Dod pull me all to pieces to mate me over again, and I sint I tuite enough made”. There’s an idea for a child’s head. Arabel, I had a letter from Mrs Jameson two days ago, & she says that poor Gerardine has lost her child .. the only one. Is it not sad? She & Mr Macpherson both feel it bitterly.— Today I had a letter from Miss Blagden, dated from Civita Vecchia—on the verge of Rome. After all, Miss Agassiz is left behind,—though everything was packed .. intentions & all. Isabella Blagden paid a visit to some friends & Folkestone, & Charlotte was to follow her on a fixed day to Paris, when suddenly arrived, instead of her, two lines .. ‘Dont wait—I cant come.’ Miss Blagden is musing still over the mystery of it. The young invalid is with her. Tell me if I told you of the proposition made to Mr Jago by the Indian father? No, I think I did’nt. Mr Jago was to receive two hundred & fifty pounds a year during four years, & if, at the end of that period, the cure was not perfect, he was to pay back the sum of a thousand pounds. A reasonable proposition certainly! I told you how we knew here Mr Lytton, Sir Edward Lytton’s son, & how he had had letters from his father to announce the migration into England of the American rapping spirits—& how Sir Edward was astounded & perplexed by them down at Knebworth, & could find no solution, .. Well—Isabella Blagden says in her letter that she has had a visit from Sir Edward & that he had narrated to her most interesting & astonishing things on this subject, which she is duly to communicate to me when we meet at Rome– Among other wonders, he specified the moving of a table at his request. But really I have heard so much lately about the moving of tables, that it seems to me less wonderful than you might think– Mr Powers is engaged on some experimental philosophy on the subject even now– As to the spirits, I understand you have had a London pretended manifestation shown up by Dickens. Very well—show up, show up. Let us see the bottom, where there is a bottom. Meanwhile the thing is spreading in America to a degree which wd be scarcely credible to you, as we hear from every American “within hail” of us; and “The wonder is,” I heard an American say, “that nobody now in America thinks it a wonder. Families in all classes of society sit at nights, as a matter of course, & communicate with spirits .. and life goes on just as if nothing peculiar happened”. Now I am going to tell you a curious history. Do you remember in the memoirs of Madme Ossoli, the name of Clarke occurring as the name of her friends—& of a beautiful child, called Herman Clarke, dying in America to her great distress, while she was in Italy? Well– Mr & Mrs Clarke left Boston last October, for the purpose of trying a Rome climate on account of Mrs Clarke’s failing health. They brought letters of introduction to us, & we received them here one evening on their way to Rome. He is a cultivated man, & she has one of the sweetest, serenest countenances I ever looked at. There was the usual talk about Italy & literature & climate & cod’s liver oil & various other interesting subjects,—& then she said “I must show you my children, Mrs Browning, though I left them in America—here are their pictures”—pulling out a miniature & a Daguer[r]eotype. Robert & I were fixed by the miniature—“Oh how lovely,” we both cried. “That,” said she softly, “is my eldest boy Herman when he was five years old. We lost him when he was eight. If he had lived he would have been twelve years old now.” Robert shrank a little from looking at it. ‘It reminded him of Penini,’ he told me in a whisper, .. & there was something in the division of the hair, & the falling of the ringlets down the neck which was certainly like Penini, though the features taken one by one were much better than Penini’s, .. much more regularly beautiful. “He was beautiful,” said the father,—“& how his face used to light up when he saw us!” I shut up the portraits gently, & changed the subject which seemed perilously moving—& we had tea & talked about Emerson’s poetry & other people’s poetry. At last, said I lightly, as we closed round the fire, .. “Pray can you tell me the last news of the Rapping spirits?” “The last news would be hard to get,” said Mr Clarke, [“]for the manifestations are spreading like fire—scarcely a village without a manifestation, throughout the States.” He spoke about them a good deal but very guardedly, not pretending to come to fixed conclusions, but rejecting the idea of systematic imposture as absolutely untenable. Then as we warmed & grew more intimate .. “Now, I will tell you,” said he, “what happened to myself– It is a circumstance which deeply impressed me—& before it happened, I was an unbeliever altogether in the manifestations. One evening I was on a journey homewards from Lake Michigan where I had gone upon business. A violent storm came on, the horses of the public vehicle in which I travelled grew restive, & at length I resolved on staying half way. So I went into a small way-side inn, & sate down. After a few minutes, I observed four or five men gathered round a table in a corner of the room, & presently I was induced to draw nearer to them & see what they were about. One of them was writing in a very peculiar way .. his arm seemed convulsed & the pen looked as if it were moving itself. What is this?, said I to another man who stood by resting his hand on the table. I am a medium, he answered, .. & the man who writes, is receiving a spiritual communication. I watched the process a little, & then I asked if I might hold the pen myself, which was acceded to directly. Then I thought in my heart of my child Herman, & wished, if it were possible & lawful, to have a sign concerning him. I was desired to hold the pen in my hand quite loosely, & to make no sort of movement myself .. only to obey the impulse given– In a minute, the pen moved– There was a Illus. turned the wrong way, then corrected Illus. into Illus. .. then .. The next word was ‘Herman.’ The medium asked if I knew the name, &, on my assent, he proposed that we shd go into a private room, as plainly I should have a communication. This time ‘Herman Clarke’ was written at once– The next words were .. Love to Mama—Love to Lillah—(his sister). Love to .. (I forget, Arabel, the name of the little brother.)—Love to Lizzy– And while I was wondering “silently” continued Mr Clarke, “why he should designate his aunt Lizzy as only Lizzy, .. the pen went on to write “Storer”, .. Lizzy Storer being his favorite cousin. The effect on me was profound. On my return home I told everything to my wife, & she was satisfied that our child had communicated with us. So was I myself on the whole—and yet,” he added musingly, “there were other things written after the words I have repeated, which did not appear to me relevent [sic].” Arabel, you cant think what it was to hear a man, a father, with honest eyes filled with tears, (while the mother’s smile was still more pathetic) tell a story of this kind. Both Robert & I were moved. For my part, I confess it was all I could do to help breaking into tears myself.— After a pause, .. “Might I ask,” said Robert at last, “if the part which appeared to you irrelevant was anything very peculiar?[”] (I was so glad he asked, for I did not dare.) Mr Clarke stopped for a moment, & then answered with evident reluctance– “Well—I will tell you exactly what was written. I am a unitarian minister, but I have always honored, & taught my children to honour, the name of Jesus Christ. The words were, Christ not a mere man. Christ not a mere man—several times repeated. Now it did not seem to me that I deserved the apparent reproof of my child. I do not hold that Christ was a mere man, because I hold that he had the gift of the spirit beyond measure”– “You hold,” said Robert, “however, that he was a mere man, apart from that–[”] “Yes,” admitted he slowly– Was not that striking? “If they believe not Moses & the prophets, neither will they believe though one should rise from the dead.” This man was deeply & obviously persuaded that he had had to do with the very spirit of his child & yet the only message delivered to him, he would not understand, & he put away from him as irrelevant. It is curious as a piece of mental philosophy, think of the manifestation what you please. Mr Powers says—“Ah .. but the truth will burn itself into his heart. He wont die a unitarian, be sure.” Perhaps not. Now I tell you all this, but you must’nt let names be sounded about, because it would be a breach of confidence on my part. Only I really could’nt help telling you. We had the visit about a fortnight since. I dare say you will set it down as a pretty ghost-story, and there an end—but if you had heard him, Arabel! Another fragment of news from America is very sad. Do you remember Mr Greenhough, when we were in Devonshire street last year– He has been insane, & is since dead of brain fever. It is said that the change to America, the cutting air & exciting society overwhelmed the nervous system. How happy that his poor wife went with him, which she did against his expressed wish. She would have suffered still more if the separation had taken place. Did I tell you of our making Mr Tennyson’s acquaintance, the poet’s brother? Robert likes him much—and I too. He is refined & sensitive & very cultivated .. reserved & heavy .. simple & upright .. only not amusing by any means. He comes here & sits till twelve oclock– Mr Stuart sits till past twelve. Between them they would wear me threadbare if they came here very often. But I like them; & I like Mr Powers best of all. Mr Powers & I sympathize about angels & spirits– He’s a Swedenborgian too, Arabel!—think of that! Such great, black, steady-burning eyes, the man has! visionary eyes—yet a cautious, reasoning man, rather calculating than otherwise! It’s a curious combination. Arabel—while I think of it—where’s Mrs Jameson’s “Cleveland,” the book I left with you to be sent to her. She says to me, “Where’s Cleveland”—& I echo ‘where’? The Hedleys, instead of going to Rome, have taken another house, & are likely to stay on for three months longer. Say that Florence is not fascinating!—— Poor Mrs Cust, you see, turned out of office! She loses ever so many hundreds & can scarcely afford it, .. & the new aid dê campship cant make it up to her. How many people do you think, were at Mr Hanna’s church last sunday?—‘Four’—& how many today, when I am writing? Twelve. Robert goes regularly & counts the money, .. but the congregation does not grow. I cant go just now on account of the wet—not even I. But Mr Hanna is not dispirited. The Madiai still live, & will come out of prison soon, I do hope, although promises & prophecies are alike unreliable in this poor Tuscany. Let me tell you now about the “calamitous,” as Robert calls it, Browning business. A letter was sent to us from Sarianna a few days since, received from the lawyers of the ‘plaintiff,’ .. who have “the pleasing duty to be the medium of conveying” to Mr Browning’s lawyers—.. what, do you suppose? Why, that if he will pay the costs (some three hundred pounds) he need’nt pay a farthing of the damages!—— As to his “expatriation,” it is “quite unnecessary.” Let him return home at once, & he shall be “in no degree molested.” Very well. But we shall not pay even the costs. It is too flagrant a case of extortion; & Robert would’nt, he declares, if he had the money in his hand, .. though probably I should be inclined myself to pay & have done with it. Of course the meaning of all this conciliation is that they are in a fright about their costs. They will “outlaw,” at the worst, & we must put up with it: & Our friend Mr Corkran in Paris will take care (as he did most kindly of his own impulse, in the case of the trial) to keep the outlawry out of Galignani, no other newspaper being much read on the continent by the English. It has been intimated by the Bank, on the other hand, that if the resignation is sent in, two thirds of the income will be accorded—so that there will be sufficient funds, however limited. For thirty pounds a year the Brownings can have an excellent unfurnished apartment in Paris, even in the dearer situations, as Sarianna has ascertained for herself, and furniture is very cheap too. Oh, they will be able to live perfectly. What I regret most is the melancholy view she takes of it, .. the penal association which comes with Paris. As to him, he will be happy enough there or anywhere. Having been as light-headed as a child, he will be as light-hearted. So much the better, I think. Meanwhile none of the gods descend to cut the knot —not even a Saunders, Arabel! We shall go to Rome in March & then to Naples. Penini feels his gipsey blood beat in him—he is very anxious to go to Rome– “I muss go to Brome. I tuite tired of Flolence.” Yet he likes & enjoys Florence extremely, & talks learnedly of different parts of it by name—but he thinks we have been here a long time & that it’s the hour for moving again. At Christmas Robert & I went out to the best toyshop in Florence, & there we bought an immense horse for him, bridled & saddled, a German horse, for which we gave five shillings & sixpence, English. There has been a great fuss ever since about “mine horse.” That was our only Christmas pastime I think, so that we shrink from any comparison with Henrietta’s festivities, (tell dearest Henrietta)—even the plum pudding was a failure, Vincenzio being by no means an adept like Alessandro .. & the famous English compound when brought to table, proving to be one half plums & the other half bullets. Also, he mistook the traditions, & gave us instead of a turkey, ducks!—alas!– We had the turkey the next day by way of correcting the mistake. On new year’s day, we had another plum pudding (only a quarter, bullets, this time) and we invited little Alice Tassinari to spend the day with Penini, .. so that the two children dined with us, & he was in his glory, giving himself tremendous airs & showing off on all sides of his nature before Alice whom he is very fond of. She is a year older than he, & being a gigantic child of her age, the very largest child I ever remember to have seen, is taller by head & shoulders of course, but not comparable to Wiedeman, I must add, for either grace or vivacity. You should have heard him at dinner ‘making conversation’ for Alice! She has an English mother you know, & since she went to England a year ago, she speaks English perfectly. I was asking her how she liked England. “Very much indeed,” said she– But .. interposed Penini “Londra velly told, (cold) and velly dirty fleets—(streets) No sun! I stay in mine dirty home all day, waiting for sun. Sun tome out a little bit and den I go out. Velly told, I sint, Londra is. You sint, Alice?” with such airs of the head & such affected inflexions of the voice that it was impossible not to laugh. He has’nt the least remainder of shyness now, and whoever happens to come, he makes his way into the drawing room & helps to entertain the guest—but he was’nt shy when you saw him I remember. Since the day he had Alice to dinner, he scarcely ever omits to pray for her—we are going to have her again, because it is so great a pleasure to our darling. He caught sight of her in a carriage in the Cascine the other day, & Wilson says his cheeks grew scarlet with joy.– Oh Arabel, I am suffering sharp pangs of jealousy just now. I used decidedly to be the ascendant power with Wiedeman—nothing could be done without ‘Mama’, .. and here is that traitor Robert who has usurped everything. “Papa’[’] is admitted even to sit in his room & “sing,” when Wilson is in my room helping me to undress, .. “Papa” has all the best drawings .. he must sit close to “Papa” at breakfast .. (he has a second breakfast with us always) & though he “sints” that Mama draws “pretty well,” it is in a very inferior style to “Papa’s.” Certainly Robert pays him unlimited attention just now—he doats upon the child .. & who can wonder? Then as Penini is quite supernaturally good, the spoiling goes on with as little remorse of conscience on the other side of the house as on mine. Still, he has strong fits of love for me .. “Dear Ba .. poor dood Ba .. bless Ba”, with heaps of kisses between. Such a sentimental child it is! Wilson & he had a quarrel the other day, .. he had pulled off her cap in a romping fit, & she was displeased. “You tiss me, Lily?” “No,” said she—she “would’nt kiss naughty boys”. He went away in a melancholy mood and sate down by the fire, leaning his head on a chair. After some minutes’ silence .. “I velly, velly solly! I not do so no more. You tiss me now, Lily?”– The only hour of temptation for Penini seems to be four oclock in the morning, when he wakes up very hungry and wants to have some bread––which Wilson properly refuses, & then there is sometimes rebellion, & he calls her a “velly naughty boy,” & sometimes (such things have been, though seldom) sometimes even cries. Then comes the usual, … “you tiss me, Lily?” and once or twice she has been hardhearted enough to say ‘no’. “Den, tiss dat” … putting his hand resignedly upon her mouth. Wilson says herself it is very happy he should be good naturally, for that he is an irresistible child, & nobody in the world could help spoiling him. It seems as if he could’nt breathe out of the atmosphere of Love. The avenging powers just now with him are not the mitaines .. after calculating that there was room in the great drawingroom chimney for three mitaines, .. he ceased paying much attention to the subject—but there is a Judge who lives in this house .. think of that! A judge who sends people to prison! You know the apartment on this floor consists of seventeen rooms, & we have scarcely half, .. the communicating door being plastered up. This door is in Penini’s room, & of course you hear through it from the Judge’s dressing room .. & sometimes he raps like a rapping spirit to Penini’s great terror. No—the Parisian mitaine & the London old clothes man was nothing to the Judge. Penini came to me the other day to beg me to speak to “Papa” and get this judge sent out of the house, ‘betause’ he was “daegous,” (dangerous) .. Penini having a wholesome fear of prisons in general, & in particular of the Florence Bargello which often he had passed & peered into. He told me once that he saw some of the “naughty peoples waiting for the lions to eat them” .... which I could’nt make out the meaning of till the light flashed on me that he was confounding the history of Daniel in the lions den (which Robert told him in Paris) with modern usages, & understood that to be eaten up by lions was a common part of prison discipline now a days. He has been twice to the galleries lately, and “plompity of gentle Jesuses” (a quantity) he saw there, he said. Oh let me tell you– There is a shrine in a wall which he passes in his walks. The other day it was shut up, when, to Wilson’s horror, he cried out in the street at the top of his voice, “Gentle Jesus, Gentle Jesus—”! “Oh hush” said she—for the people turned round to look. “I want to see it open, Lily” .. he persisted … “Gentle Jesus”!!— Well—this is a full & true history of Penini, & now you have enough of it surely. You remember the beautiful blue pelisse dear George gave him last winter, & how because it was too small for a pelisse this year we had turned it into a frock. The material was as good as new,—therefore I thought I would be siezed by a fit of industry & embroider it with black braid in the manner of your green merino. I paid one shilling & ten pence for the drawing of the pattern, .. a very elaborate one .. and have actually finished my work .. so that now he has two merinos to wear in turn. He has really an overflow of frocks just now, & if they had’nt been nearly all gifts we should stand convicted of extravagance. Talking of extravagance Henrietta wanted to know what our house-expenses are, & though I shall write to her soon, the answer may as well go to her through you. We have a servant less since we were last in Florence, & poor Alessandro no longer cheats us, and yet we scarcely live more cheaply. How it is I cant fancy. Certainly Penini counts now as a person—he eats more than I do. Still, the cheapness of everything, article by article, wd lead you to expect a general saving which we dont make. Vincenzio has meat three times a day .. & partakes a little with the porter I do not doubt. Well– About two pounds & six shillings a week cover everything, eating & wine, and oil for three lamps, & spermeceti [sic] candles, and fuel for the kitchen, and washing– Take away the washing, & we lived very nearly as cheaply in Paris … before Desirée began to cheat– About two pounds covered everything in Paris .. except the washing, & the wine, says Robert. We ought to live in Paris for two pounds, & here for less .. Mrs Tennyson told Robert that one pound & ten shillings should be enough for us. She herself with four children & two men servants besides women servants, pays two pounds & six shillings. So that we fail somehow—that is I fail–. I suppose .. that is, I suppose I ought to know how to succeed & I have’nt a notion. Vincenzio is honest, Robert thinks. Come si fa? as the Italians say when there’s no use saying anything. Here’s a place where you have a turkey ‘stuffed’ for two shillings & two pence—other poultry proportionably cheap! We live upon poultry. We live comfortably in all ways—use a quantity of milk & cream & butter .. (which by the bye are not as cheap as in Paris) have eggs & cold meat for breakfast .. have nothing in fact scantly or uncomfortably. What does Henrietta think?– She & Surtees are far better managers than we are, I humbly recognize, &, with our advantages, would live upon just nothing. Such a pleasant, pleasant letter I had from her. It lighted up the room for days after– I like to think of her in a home of her own, with a household, because I know she likes & enjoys all the details of the thing .. to say nothing of the babies up stairs. So Altham’s hair has begun to curl after all– I wish it good fortune at every turn! It will be a decided piece of prettiness. I send this packet by the embassy bag. Tell me how it is delivered to you, & what number of pence you have to pay. It is postage enough for you to have all the trouble of sending notes here & there. Is Penini improved in his drawings, do you think? Illus. He produces them at the farthest end of the room, nobody suggesting—and even his letters are of his own composition & writing entirely– I do nothing except the spelling, I assure you solemnly. The worst of it is that his invention is so very copious that it’s impossible to write it all down. He looks back with regret on the “large teas” he used to have with Alibel & Trippy. Minny’s parrot was dead before we left England. “I memember,” said he, “after dinner in Minny’s home, I loot … No pretty Polly—” clasping his hands pathetically! Only a tage!!” (cage.) Another clasp of the hands. Bummy will stay all the winter in the north I dare say. When do you put off mourning, Arabel? Directly, I should think. Tell me if Papa has had his cough this winter. You never mention him as to his being well. Tell me if George is at home or not. Tell me everything of everybody. Miss Heaton wrote me an account of her visit to Mr Hunter. Put Australia out of Mary’s head, because except for workers with their hands, it is nought. A cook has a larger income than a governess, as I was observing the other day. She had better stay in England & teach for twenty pounds a year, .. & I do hope she may attain to something better there. I thought I had got something for her in Paris, but it would not do—we must wait. Dearest darling Arabel, do you ever go to the Strattens? remember us affectionately to them all. How is Fanny? How does the Refuge get on? Are you satisfied? Tell me more of yourself than you do usually. I think of you—oh how very much! I love you, & I pray God for you, only not as much as I love you. May He love you .. & He does .. more effectively. Tell me—are you very thin? Tell me the truth about your health I beseech you for pity’s sake. Robert & I are doing a little writing, & passing a happy tranquil time. If it were not for Mr Kenyon I should not perhaps desire to go to Rome .. oh yes, I should! I must see Rome & Naples. Rome is very full, I hear– Fanny Kemble is to be there this month, & Miss Cushman is there, & a world of Americans– Only we shall keep apart, & among the ruins. Tell me the last news of Mrs Orme. I really want to know something of her. God bless you all! Shower down loves on all sides to dearest George, Henry, & the rest. What of Storm? Give my best love when you write, to Storm. How is dear Minny? has Christmas tired her out as usual? Oh I do hope she has been prudent .. for a wonder. My kind love to her. And to you, dearest, dearest Arabel, what except my whole self? .. being your own Ba. I shall never write you a longer letter than this—if so long! 14 pages. On new year’s day an anonymous bouquet came addressed to the “Olive-eyed prophet.” The most splendid roses, not monthly roses indeed! Miss Sandford sent it we found.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 1806-1861
Barrett, Arabella Barrett Moulton, 1813-68
https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/correspondence/3456/?rsId=223307&returnPage=1. Accessed 19 March 2021.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 1806-1861, “Letter from Elizabeth Browning to her Sister Arabella Moulton-Barrett, Jan 15-17 1853,” Archival Gossip Collection, accessed June 10, 2023, https://www.archivalgossip.com/collection/items/show/613.