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Chapter 19

1881-1887

The Browning Society; Mr. Furnivall; Miss E. H. Hickey--His Attitude
towards the Society; Letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald--Mr. Thaxter, Mrs. Celia
Thaxter--Letter to Miss Hickey; 'Strafford'--Shakspere and Wordsworth
Societies--Letters to Professor Knight--Appreciation in Italy;
Professor Nencioni--The Goldoni Sonnet--Mr. Barrett Browning;
Palazzo Manzoni--Letters to Mrs. Charles Skirrow--Mrs. Bloomfield
Moore--Llangollen; Sir Theodore and Lady Martin--Loss of old
Friends--Foreign Correspondent of the Royal Academy--'Parleyings with
certain People of Importance in their Day'.

This Indian summer of Mr. Browning's genius coincided with the highest
manifestation of public interest, which he, or with one exception, any
living writer, had probably yet received: the establishment of a Society
bearing his name, and devoted to the study of his poetry. The idea arose
almost simultaneously in the mind of Dr., then Mr. Furnivall, and of
Miss E. H. Hickey. One day, in the July of 1881, as they were on their
way to Warwick Crescent to pay an appointed visit there, Miss Hickey
strongly expressed her opinion of the power and breadth of Mr.
Browning's work; and concluded by saying that much as she loved
Shakespeare, she found in certain aspects of Browning what even
Shakespeare could not give her. Mr. Furnivall replied to this by asking
what she would say to helping him to found a Browning Society; and it
then appeared that Miss Hickey had recently written to him a letter,
suggesting that he should found one; but that it had miscarried, or, as
she was disposed to think, not been posted. Being thus, at all events,
agreed as to the fitness of the undertaking, they immediately spoke of
it to Mr. Browning, who at first treated the project as a joke; but did
not oppose it when once he understood it to be serious. His only proviso
was that he should remain neutral in respect to its fulfilment. He
refused even to give Mr. Furnivall the name or address of any friends,
whose interest in himself or his work might render their co-operation
probable.

This passive assent sufficed. A printed prospectus was now issued. About
two hundred members were soon secured. A committee was elected, of which
Mr. J. T. Nettleship, already well known as a Browning student, was
one of the most conspicuous members; and by the end of October a small
Society had come into existence, which held its inaugural meeting in
the Botanic Theatre of University College. Mr. Furnivall, its principal
founder, and responsible organizer, was Chairman of the Committee, and
Miss E. H. Hickey, the co-founder, was Honorary Secretary. When, two or
three years afterwards, illness compelled her to resign this position,
it was assumed by Mr. J. Dykes Campbell.

Although nothing could be more unpretending than the action of this
Browning Society, or in the main more genuine than its motive, it did
not begin life without encountering ridicule and mistrust. The formation
of a Ruskin Society in the previous year had already established a
precedent for allowing a still living worker to enjoy the fruits of his
work, or, as some one termed it, for making a man a classic during his
lifetime. But this fact was not yet generally known; and meanwhile a
curious contradiction developed itself in the public mind. The outer
world of Mr. Browning's acquaintance continued to condemn the too great
honour which was being done to him; from those of the inner circle he
constantly received condolences on being made the subject of proceedings
which, according to them, he must somehow regard as an offence.

This was the last view of the case which he was prepared to take. At
the beginning, as at the end, he felt honoured by the intentions of the
Society. He probably, it is true, had occasional misgivings as to its
future. He could not be sure that its action would always be judicious,
still less that it would be always successful. He was prepared for its
being laughed at, and for himself being included in the laughter.
He consented to its establishment for what seemed to him the one
unanswerable reason, that he had, even on the ground of taste, no just
cause for forbidding it. No line, he considered, could be drawn between
the kind of publicity which every writer seeks, which, for good or
evil, he had already obtained, and that which the Browning Society was
conferring on him. His works would still, as before, be read, analyzed,
and discussed 'viva voce' and in print. That these proceedings would
now take place in other localities than drawing-rooms or clubs, through
other organs than newspapers or magazines, by other and larger groups
of persons than those usually gathered round a dinner-or a tea-table,
involved no real change in the situation. In any case, he had made
himself public property; and those who thus organized their study of him
were exercising an individual right. If his own rights had been assailed
he would have guarded them also; but the circumstances of the case
precluded such a contingency. And he had his reward. How he felt towards
the Society at the close of its first session is better indicated in the
following letter to Mrs. Fitz-Gerald than in the note to Mr. Yates which
Mr. Sharp has published, and which was written with more reserve and, I
believe, at a rather earlier date. Even the shade of condescension which
lingers about his words will have been effaced by subsequent experience;
and many letters written to Dr. Furnivall must, since then, have
attested his grateful and affectionate appreciation of kindness intended
and service done to him.


. . . They always treat me gently in 'Punch'--why don't you do the
same by the Browning Society? I see you emphasize Miss Hickey's
acknowledgement of defects in time and want of rehearsal: but I look
for no great perfection in a number of kindly disposed strangers to
me personally, who try to interest people in my poems by singing and
reading them. They give their time for nothing, offer their little
entertainment for nothing, and certainly get next to nothing in the way
of thanks--unless from myself who feel grateful to the faces I shall
never see, the voices I shall never hear. The kindest notices I have
had, or at all events those that have given me most pleasure, have been
educed by this Society--A. Sidgwick's paper, that of Professor Corson,
Miss Lewis' article in this month's 'Macmillan'--and I feel grateful for
it all, for my part,--and none the less for a little amusement at the
wonder of some of my friends that I do not jump up and denounce the
practices which must annoy me so much. Oh! my 'gentle Shakespeare', how
well you felt and said--'never anything can be amiss when simpleness and
duty tender it.' So, dear Lady, here is my duty and simplicity tendering
itself to you, with all affection besides, and I being ever yours, R.
Browning.


That general disposition of the London world which left the ranks of the
little Society to be three-fourths recruited among persons, many living
at a distance, whom the poet did not know, became also in its way
a satisfaction. It was with him a matter of course, though never of
indifference, that his closer friends of both sexes were among its
members; it was one of real gratification that they included from
the beginning such men as Dean Boyle of Salisbury, the Rev. Llewellyn
Davies, George Meredith, and James Cotter Morison--that they enjoyed the
sympathy and co-operation of such a one as Archdeacon Farrar. But he had
an ingenuous pride in reading the large remainder of the Society's lists
of names, and pointing out the fact that there was not one among them
which he had ever heard. It was equivalent to saying, 'All these people
care for me as a poet. No social interest, no personal prepossession,
has attracted them to my work.' And when the unknown name was not only
appended to a list; when it formed the signature of a paper--excellent
or indifferent as might be--but in either case bearing witness to
a careful and unobtrusive study of his poems, by so much was the
gratification increased. He seldom weighed the intrinsic merit of such
productions; he did not read them critically. No man was ever more
adverse to the seeming ungraciousness of analyzing the quality of a
gift. In real life indeed this power of gratitude sometimes defeated its
own end, by neutralizing his insight into the motive or effort involved
in different acts of kindness, and placing them all successively on the
same plane.

In the present case, however, an ungraduated acceptance of the labour
bestowed on him was part of the neutral attitude which it was his
constant endeavour to maintain. He always refrained from noticing any
erroneous statement concerning himself or his works which might appear
in the Papers of the Society: since, as he alleged, if he once began to
correct, he would appear to endorse whatever he left uncorrected, and
thus make himself responsible, not only for any interpretation that
might be placed on his poems, but, what was far more serious, for
every eulogium that was bestowed upon them. He could not stand aloof as
entirely as he or even his friends desired, since it was usual with some
members of the Society to seek from him elucidations of obscure passages
which, without these, it was declared, would be a stumbling-block to
future readers. But he disliked being even to this extent drawn into
its operation; and his help was, I believe, less and less frequently
invoked. Nothing could be more false than the rumour which once arose
that he superintended those performances of his plays which took place
under the direction of the Society. Once only, and by the urgent desire
of some of the actors, did he witness a last rehearsal of one of them.

It was also a matter of course that men and women brought together by
a pre-existing interest in Mr. Browning's work should often ignore its
authorized explanations, and should read and discuss it in the light of
personal impressions more congenial to their own mind; and the various
and circumstantial views sometimes elicited by a given poem did not
serve to render it more intelligible. But the merit of true poetry lies
so largely in its suggestiveness, that even mistaken impressions of
it have their positive value and also their relative truth; and the
intellectual friction which was thus created, not only in the parent
society, but in its offshoots in England and America, was not their
least important result.

These Societies conferred, it need hardly be said, no less real benefits
on the public at large. They extended the sale of Mr. Browning's works,
and with it their distinct influence for intellectual and moral good.
They not only created in many minds an interest in these works, but
aroused the interest where it was latent, and gave it expression where
it had hitherto found no voice. One fault, alone, could be charged
against them; and this lay partly in the nature of all friendly
concerted action: they stirred a spirit of enthusiasm in which it
was not easy, under conditions equally genuine, to distinguish the
individual element from that which was due to contagion; while the
presence among us of the still living poet often infused into that
enthusiasm a vaguely emotional element, which otherwise detracted from
its intellectual worth. But in so far as this was a drawback to the
intended action of the Societies, it was one only in the most negative
sense; nor can we doubt, that, to a certain extent, Mr. Browning's best
influence was promoted by it. The hysterical sensibilities which, for
some years past, he had unconsciously but not unfrequently aroused in
the minds of women, and even of men, were a morbid development of that
influence, which its open and systematic extension tended rather to
diminish than to increase.

It is also a matter of history that Robert Browning had many deep and
constant admirers in England, and still more in America,* long before
this organized interest had developed itself. Letters received from
often remote parts of the United States had been for many years a detail
of his daily experience; and even when they consisted of the request for
an autograph, an application to print selections from his works, or a
mere expression of schoolboy pertness or schoolgirl sentimentality, they
bore witness to his wide reputation in that country, and the high esteem
in which he was held there.** The names of Levi and Celia Thaxter of
Boston had long, I believe, been conspicuous in the higher ranks of his
disciples, though they first occur in his correspondence at about
this date. I trust I may take for granted Mrs. Thaxter's permission to
publish a letter from her.

* The cheapening of his works in America, induced by the
absence of international copyright, accounts of course in
some degree for their wider diffusion, and hence earlier
appreciation there.

** One of the most curious proofs of this was the
Californian Railway time-table edition of his poems.


Newtonville, Massachusetts: March 14, 1880.

My dear Mr. Browning:

Your note reached me this morning, but it belonged to my husband, for it
was he who wrote to you; so I gave it to him, glad to put into his hands
so precious a piece of manuscript, for he has for you and all your work
an enthusiastic appreciation such as is seldom found on this planet: it
is not possible that the admiration of one mortal for another can exceed
his feeling for you. You might have written for him,

I've a friend over the sea,
. . . .

It all grew out of the books I write, &c.

You should see his fine wrath and scorn for the idiocy that doesn't at
once comprehend you!

He knows every word you have ever written; long ago 'Sordello' was
an open book to him from title-page to closing line, and _all_ you have
printed since has been as eagerly and studiously devoured. He reads you
aloud (and his reading is a fine art) to crowds of astonished people,
he swears by you, he thinks no one save Shakspere has a right to be
mentioned in the same century with you. You are the great enthusiasm of
his life.

Pardon me, you are smiling, I dare say. You hear any amount of such
things, doubtless. But a genuine living appreciation is always worth
having in this old world, it is like a strong fresh breeze from off the
brine, that puts a sense of life and power into a man. You cannot be the
worse for it. Yours very sincerely, Celia Thaxter.


When Mr. Thaxter died, in February 1885, his son wrote to Mr. Browning
to beg of him a few lines to be inscribed on his father's tombstone. The
little poem by which the request was answered has not yet, I believe,
been published.


'Written to be inscribed on the gravestone of Levi Thaxter.'

Thou, whom these eyes saw never,--say friends true Who say my soul,
helped onward by my song, Though all unwittingly, has helped thee too?
I gave but of the little that I knew: How were the gift requited, while
along Life's path I pace, could'st thou make weakness strong, Help me
with knowledge--for Life's old, Death's new! R. B. April 19, '85.


A publication which connected itself with the labours of the Society,
without being directly inspired by it, was the annotated 'Strafford'
prepared by Miss Hickey for the use of students. It may be agreeable to
those who use the little work to know the estimate in which Mr. Browning
held it. He wrote as follows:


19, Warwick Crescent, W.: February 15, 1884.

Dear Miss Hickey,--I have returned the Proofs by post,--nothing can be
better than your notes--and with a real wish to be of use, I read
them carefully that I might detect never so tiny a fault,--but I found
none--unless (to show you how minutely I searched,) it should be one
that by 'thriving in your contempt,' I meant simply 'while you despise
them, and for all that, they thrive and are powerful to do you harm.'
The idiom you prefer--quite an authorized one--comes to much the same
thing after all.

You must know how much I grieve at your illness--temporary as I will
trust it to be--I feel all your goodness to me--or whatever in my books
may be taken for me--well, I wish you knew how thoroughly I feel it--and
how truly I am and shall ever be Yours affectionately, Robert Browning.


From the time of the foundation of the New Shakspere Society, Mr.
Browning was its president. In 1880 he became a member of the Wordsworth
Society. Two interesting letters to Professor Knight, dated respectively
1880 and 1887, connect themselves with the working of the latter; and,
in spite of their distance in time, may therefore be given together.
The poem which formed the subject of the first was 'The Daisy';* the
selection referred to in the second was that made in 1888 by Professor
Knight for the Wordsworth Society, with the co-operation of Mr. Browning
and other eminent literary men.

* That beginning 'In youth from rock to rock, I went.'


19, Warwick Crescent, W.: July 9, '80.

My dear Sir,--You pay me a compliment in caring for my opinion--but,
such as it is, a very decided one it must be. On every account, your
method of giving the original text, and subjoining in a note the
variations, each with its proper date, is incontestably preferable
to any other. It would be so, if the variations were even
improvements--there would be pleasure as well as profit in seeing what
was good grow visibly better. But--to confine ourselves to the single
'proof' you have sent me--in every case the change is sadly for the
worse: I am quite troubled by such spoilings of passage after passage
as I should have chuckled at had I chanced upon them in some copy
pencil-marked with corrections by Jeffrey or Gifford: indeed, they are
nearly as wretched as the touchings-up of the 'Siege of Corinth' by the
latter. If ever diabolic agency was caught at tricks with 'apostolic'
achievement (see page 9)--and 'apostolic', with no 'profanity' at all, I
esteem these poems to be--surely you may bid it 'aroint' 'about and all
about' these desecrated stanzas--each of which, however, thanks to your
piety, we may hail, I trust, with a hearty

Thy long-lost praise thou shalt regain
Nor be less dear to future men
Than in old time!

Believe me, my dear Sir, Yours very sincerely, Robert Browning.

19, Warwick Crescent, W.: March 23, '87.

Dear Professor Knight,--I have seemed to neglect your commission
shamefully enough: but I confess to a sort of repugnance to classifying
the poems as even good and less good: because in my heart I fear I
should do it almost chronologically--so immeasureably superior seem to
me the 'first sprightly runnings'. Your selection would appear to be
excellent; and the partial admittance of the later work prevents one
from observing the too definitely distinguishing black line between
supremely good and--well, what is fairly tolerable--from Wordsworth,
always understand! I have marked a few of the early poems, not included
in your list--I could do no other when my conscience tells me that I
never can be tired of loving them: while, with the best will in the
world, I could never do more than try hard to like them.*

* By 'them' Mr. Browning clearly means the later poems, and
probably has omitted a few words which would have shown
this.

You see, I go wholly upon my individual likings and distastes: that
other considerations should have their weight with other people is
natural and inevitable. Ever truly yours, Robert Browning.

Many thanks for the volume just received--that with the correspondence.
I hope that you restore the swan simile so ruthlessly cut away from
'Dion'.


In 1884 he was again invited, and again declined, to stand for the
Lord Rectorship of the University of St. Andrews. In the same year he
received the LL.D. degree of the University of Edinburgh; and in the
following was made Honorary President of the Associated Societies of
that city.* During the few days spent there on the occasion of his
investiture, he was the guest of Professor Masson, whose solicitous
kindness to him is still warmly remembered in the family.

* This Association was instituted in 1833, and is a union of
literary and debating societies. It is at present composed
of five: the Dialectic, Scots Law, Diagnostic,
Philosophical, and Philomathic.

The interest in Mr. Browning as a poet is beginning to spread in
Germany. There is room for wonder that it should not have done so
before, though the affinities of his genius are rather with the older
than with the more modern German mind. It is much more remarkable that,
many years ago, his work had already a sympathetic exponent in Italy.
Signor Nencioni, Professor of Literature in Florence, had made his
acquaintance at Siena, and was possibly first attracted to him through
his wife, although I never heard that it was so. He was soon, however,
fascinated by Mr. Browning's poetry, and made it an object of serious
study; he largely quoted from, and wrote on it, in the Roman paper
'Fanfulla della Domenica', in 1881 and 1882; and published last winter
what is, I am told, an excellent article on the same subject, in the
'Nuova Antologia'. Two years ago he travelled from Rome to Venice
(accompanied by Signor Placci), for the purpose of seeing him. He is
fond of reciting passages from the works, and has even made attempts at
translation: though he understands them too well not to pronounce them,
what they are for every Latin language, untranslatable.

In 1883 Mr. Browning added another link to the 'golden' chain of verse
which united England and Italy. A statue of Goldoni was about to be
erected in Venice. The ceremonies of the occasion were to include the
appearance of a volume--or album--of appropriate poems; and Cavaliere
Molmenti, its intending editor, a leading member of the 'Erection
Committee', begged Mr. Browning to contribute to it. It was also desired
that he should be present at the unveiling.* He was unable to grant
this request, but consented to write a poem. This sonnet to Goldoni also
deserves to be more widely known, both for itself and for the manner of
its production. Mr. Browning had forgotten, or not understood, how
soon the promise concerning it must be fulfilled, and it was actually
scribbled off while a messenger, sent by Signor Molmenti, waited for it.

* It was, I think, during this visit to Venice that he
assisted at a no less interesting ceremony: the unveiling
of a commemorative tablet to Baldassaro Galuppi, in his
native island of Burano.


Goldoni,--good, gay, sunniest of souls,--Glassing half Venice in that
verse of thine,--What though it just reflect the shade and shine Of
common life, nor render, as it rolls Grandeur and gloom? Sufficient for
thy shoals Was Carnival: Parini's depths enshrine Secrets unsuited to
that opaline Surface of things which laughs along thy scrolls. There
throng the people: how they come and go Lisp the soft language, flaunt
the bright garb,--see,--On Piazza, Calle, under Portico And over Bridge!
Dear king of Comedy, Be honoured! Thou that didst love Venice so,
Venice, and we who love her, all love thee!

Venice, Nov. 27, 1883.


A complete bibliography would take account of three other sonnets,
'The Founder of the Feast', 1884, 'The Names', 1884, and 'Why I am a
Liberal', 1886, to which I shall have occasion to refer; but we
decline insensibly from these on to the less important or more
fugitive productions which such lists also include, and on which it is
unnecessary or undesirable that any stress should be laid.

In 1885 he was joined in Venice by his son. It was 'Penini's' first
return to the country of his birth, his first experience of the city
which he had only visited in his nurse's arms; and his delight in it was
so great that the plan shaped itself in his father's mind of buying a
house there, which should serve as 'pied-a-terre' for the family, but
more especially as a home for him. Neither the health nor the energies
of the younger Mr. Browning had ever withstood the influence of the
London climate; a foreign element was undoubtedly present in his
otherwise thoroughly English constitution. Everything now pointed to his
settling in Italy, and pursuing his artist life there, only interrupting
it by occasional visits to London and Paris. His father entered into
negotiations for the Palazzo Manzoni, next door to the former Hotel de
l'Univers; and the purchase was completed, so far as he was concerned,
before he returned to England. The fact is related, and his own position
towards it described in a letter to Mrs. Charles Skirrow, written from
Venice.


Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati, S. Moise: Nov. 15, '85.

My two dear friends will have supposed, with plenty of reason, that I
never got the kind letter some weeks ago. When it came, I was in the
middle of an affair, conducted by letters of quite another kind, with
people abroad: and as I fancied that every next day might bring me
news very interesting to me and likely to be worth telling to the dear
friends, I waited and waited--and only two days since did the matter
come to a satisfactory conclusion--so, as the Irish song has it, 'Open
your eyes and die with surprise' when I inform you that I have purchased
the Manzoni Palace here, on the Canal Grande, of its owner, Marchese
Montecucculi, an Austrian and an absentee--hence the delay of
communication. I did this purely for Pen--who became at once simply
infatuated with the city which won my whole heart long before he was
born or thought of. I secure him a perfect domicile, every facility for
his painting and sculpture, and a property fairly worth, even here and
now, double what I gave for it--such is the virtue in these parts of
ready money! I myself shall stick to London--which has been so eminently
good and gracious to me--so long as God permits; only, when the
inevitable outrage of Time gets the better of my body--(I shall not
believe in his reaching my soul and proper self)--there will be a
capital retreat provided: and meantime I shall be able to 'take mine
ease in mine own inn' whenever so minded. There, my dear friends! I
trust now to be able to leave very shortly; the main business cannot be
formally concluded before two months at least--through the absence of
the Marchese,--who left at once to return to his duties as commander
of an Austrian ship; but the necessary engagement to sell and buy at a
specified price is made in due legal form, and the papers will be sent
to me in London for signature. I hope to get away the week after next at
latest,--spite of the weather in England which to-day's letters report
as 'atrocious',--and ours, though variable, is in the main very
tolerable and sometimes perfect; for all that, I yearn to be at home in
poor Warwick Crescent, which must do its best to make me forget my new
abode. I forget you don't know Venice. Well then, the Palazzo Manzoni
is situate on the Grand Canal, and is described by Ruskin,--to give
no other authority,--as 'a perfect and very rich example of Byzantine
Renaissance: its warm yellow marbles are magnificent.' And again--'an
exquisite example (of Byzantine Renaissance) as applied to domestic
architecture.' So testify the 'Stones of Venice'. But we will talk about
the place, over a photograph, when I am happy enough to be with you
again.

Of Venetian gossip there is next to none. We had an admirable Venetian
Company,--using the dialect,--at the Goldoni Theatre. The acting
of Zago, in his various parts, and Zenon-Palladini, in her especial
character of a Venetian piece of volubility and impulsiveness in the
shape of a servant, were admirable indeed. The manager, Gallina, is a
playwright of much reputation, and gave us some dozen of his own pieces,
mostly good and clever. S. is very well,--much improved in health: we
walk sufficiently in this city where walking is accounted impossible by
those who never attempt it. Have I tired your good temper? No! you ever
wished me well, and I love you both with my whole heart. S.'s love goes
with mine--who am ever yours Robert Browning.


He never, however, owned the Manzoni Palace. The Austrian gentlemen*
whose property it was, put forward, at the last moment, unexpected and
to his mind unreasonable claims; and he was preparing to contest
the position, when a timely warning induced him to withdraw from it
altogether. The warning proceeded from his son, who had remained on the
spot, and was now informed on competent authority that the foundations
of the house were insecure.

* Two or three brothers.

In the early summer of 1884, and again in 1886, Miss Browning had a
serious illness; and though she recovered, in each case completely, and
in the first rapidly, it was considered desirable that she should not
travel so far as usual from home. She and her brother therefore accepted
for the August and September of 1884 the urgent invitation of an
American friend, Mrs. Bloomfield Moore, to stay with her at a villa
which she rented for some seasons at St. Moritz. Mr. Browning was
delighted with the Engadine, where the circumstances of his abode,
and the thoughtful kindness of his hostess, allowed him to enjoy the
benefits of comparative civilization together with almost perfect
repose. The weather that year was brilliant until the end of September,
if not beyond it; and his letters tell the old pleasant story of long
daily walks and a general sense of invigoration. One of these,
written to Mr. and Mrs. Skirrow, also contains some pungent remarks on
contemporary events, with an affectionate allusion to one of the chief
actors in them.


'Anyhow, I have the sincerest hope that Wolseley may get done as
soon, and kill as few people, as possible,--keeping himself safe and
sound--brave dear fellow--for the benefit of us all.'


He also speaks with great sympathy of the death of Mr. Charles Sartoris,
which had just taken place at St.-Moritz.

In 1886, Miss Browning was not allowed to leave England; and she and
Mr. Browning established themselves for the autumn at the Hand Hotel at
Llangollen, where their old friends, Sir Theodore and Lady Martin, would
be within easy reach. Mr. Browning missed the exhilarating effects of
the Alpine air; but he enjoyed the peaceful beauty of the Welsh valley,
and the quiet and comfort of the old-fashioned English inn. A new source
of interest also presented itself to him in some aspects of the life
of the English country gentleman. He was struck by the improvements
effected by its actual owner* on a neighbouring estate, and by the
provisions contained in them for the comfort of both the men and the
animals under his care; and he afterwards made, in reference to them,
what was for a professing Liberal, a very striking remark: 'Talk of
abolishing that class of men! They are the salt of the earth!' Every
Sunday afternoon he and his sister drank tea--weather permitting--on
the lawn with their friends at Brintysilio; and he alludes gracefully
to these meetings in a letter written in the early summer of 1888, when
Lady Martin had urged him to return to Wales.

* I believe a Captain Best.

The poet left another and more pathetic remembrance of himself in the
neighbourhood of Llangollen: his weekly presence at the afternoon Sunday
service in the parish church of Llantysilio. Churchgoing was, as I have
said, no part of his regular life. It was no part of his life in London.
But I do not think he ever failed in it at the Universities or in the
country. The assembling for prayer meant for him something deeper in
both the religious and the human sense, where ancient learning and piety
breathed through the consecrated edifice, or where only the figurative
'two or three' were 'gathered together' within it. A memorial tablet now
marks the spot at which on this occasion the sweet grave face and the
venerable head were so often seen. It has been placed by the direction
of Lady Martin on the adjoining wall.

It was in the September of this year that Mr. Browning heard of the
death of M. Joseph Milsand. This name represented for him one of the few
close friendships which were to remain until the end, unclouded in
fact and in remembrance; and although some weight may be given to those
circumstances of their lives which precluded all possibility of friction
and risk of disenchantment, I believe their rooted sympathy, and Mr.
Browning's unfailing powers of appreciation would, in all possible
cases, have maintained the bond intact. The event was at the last
sudden, but happily not quite unexpected.

Many other friends had passed by this time out of the poet's life--those
of a younger, as well as his own and an older generation. Miss Haworth
died in 1883. Charles Dickens, with whom he had remained on the most
cordial terms, had walked between him and his son at Thackeray's
funeral, to receive from him, only seven years later, the same pious
office. Lady Augusta Stanley, the daughter of his old friend, Lady
Elgin, was dead, and her husband, the Dean of Westminster. So also were
'Barry Cornwall' and John Forster, Alfred Domett, and Thomas Carlyle,
Mr. Cholmondeley and Lord Houghton; others still, both men and women,
whose love for him might entitle them to a place in his Biography, but
whom I could at most only mention by name.

For none of these can his feeling have been more constant or more
disinterested than that which bound him to Carlyle. He visited him
at Chelsea in the last weary days of his long life, as often as their
distance from each other and his own engagements allowed. Even the man's
posthumous self-disclosures scarcely availed to destroy the affectionate
reverence which he had always felt for him. He never ceased to defend
him against the charge of unkindness to his wife, or to believe that in
the matter of their domestic unhappiness she was the more responsible
of the two.* Yet Carlyle had never rendered him that service, easy as it
appears, which one man of letters most justly values from another:
that of proclaiming the admiration which he privately expresses for his
works. The fact was incomprehensible to Mr. Browning--it was so foreign
to his own nature; and he commented on it with a touch, though merely a
touch, of bitterness, when repeating to a friend some almost extravagant
eulogium which in earlier days he had received from him tete-a-tete. 'If
only,' he said, 'those words had been ever repeated in public, what good
they might have done me!'

* He always thought her a hard and unlovable woman, and I
believe little liking was lost between them. He told a
comical story of how he had once, unintentionally but rather
stupidly, annoyed her. She had asked him, as he was standing
by her tea-table, to put the kettle back on the fire. He
took it out of her hands, but, preoccupied by the
conversation he was carrying on, deposited it on the
hearthrug. It was some time before he could be made to see
that this was wrong; and he believed Mrs. Carlyle never
ceased to think that he had a mischievous motive for doing
it.

In the spring of 1886, he accepted the post of Foreign Correspondent to
the Royal Academy, rendered vacant by the death of Lord Houghton. He had
long been on very friendly terms with the leading Academicians, and a
constant guest at the Banquet; and his fitness for the office admitted
of no doubt. But his nomination by the President, and the manner in
which it was ratified by the Council and general body, gave him sincere
pleasure.

Early in 1887, the 'Parleyings' appeared. Their author is still the same
Robert Browning, though here and there visibly touched by the hand
of time. Passages of sweet or majestic music, or of exquisite fancy,
alternate with its long stretches of argumentative thought; and the
light of imagination still plays, however fitfully, over statements
of opinion to which constant repetition has given a suggestion of
commonplace. But the revision of the work caused him unusual trouble.
The subjects he had chosen strained his powers of exposition; and I
think he often tried to remedy by mere verbal correction, what was a
defect in the logical arrangement of his ideas. They would slide into
each other where a visible dividing line was required. The last stage of
his life was now at hand; and the vivid return of fancy to his
boyhood's literary loves was in pathetic, perhaps not quite accidental,
coincidence with the fact. It will be well to pause at this beginning
of his decline, and recall so far as possible the image of the man who
lived, and worked, and loved, and was loved among us, during that brief
old age, and the lengthened period of level strength which had preceded
it. The record already given of his life and work supplies the outline
of the picture; but a few more personal details are required for its
completion.

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