'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon'--Letters to Mr. Frank Hill; Lady
Martin--Charles Dickens--Other Dramas and Minor Poems--Letters to Miss
Lee; Miss Haworth; Miss Flower--Second Italian Journey; Naples--E. J.
'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' was written for Macready, who meant to
perform the principal part; and we may conclude that the appeal for it
was urgent, since it was composed in the space of four or five days.
Macready's journals must have contained a fuller reference to both the
play and its performance (at Drury Lane, February 1843) than appears in
published form; but considerable irritation had arisen between him and
Mr. Browning, and he possibly wrote something which his editor, Sir
Frederick Pollock, as the friend of both, thought it best to omit. What
occurred on this occasion has been told in some detail by Mr. Gosse, and
would not need repeating if the question were only of re-telling it on
the same authority, in another person's words; but, through the kindness
of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hill, I am able to give Mr. Browning's direct
statement of the case, as also his expressed judgment upon it. The
statement was made more than forty years later than the events to
which it refers, but will, nevertheless, be best given in its direct
connection with them.
The merits, or demerits, of 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon' had been freshly
brought under discussion by its performance in London through the action
of the Browning Society, and in Washington by Mr. Laurence Barrett; and
it became the subject of a paragraph in one of the theatrical articles
prepared for the 'Daily News'. Mr. Hill was then editor of the paper,
and when the article came to him for revision, he thought it right
to submit to Mr. Browning the passages devoted to his tragedy, which
embodied some then prevailing, but, he strongly suspected, erroneous
impressions concerning it. The results of this kind and courteous
proceeding appear in the following letter.
19, Warwick Crescent: December 15, 1884.
My dear Mr. Hill,--It was kind and considerate of you to suppress the
paragraph which you send me,--and of which the publication would
have been unpleasant for reasons quite other than as regarding my own
work,--which exists to defend or accuse itself. You will judge of the
true reasons when I tell you the facts--so much of them as contradicts
the statements of your critic--who, I suppose, has received a stimulus
from the notice, in an American paper which arrived last week, of
Mr. Laurence Barrett's intention 'shortly to produce the play' in New
York--and subsequently in London: so that 'the failure' of forty-one
years ago might be duly influential at present--or two years hence
perhaps. The 'mere amateurs' are no high game.
Macready received and accepted the play, while he was engaged at the
Haymarket, and retained it for Drury Lane, of which I was ignorant that
he was about to become the manager: he accepted it 'at the instigation'
of nobody,--and Charles Dickens was not in England when he did so: it
was read to him after his return, by Forster--and the glowing letter
which contains his opinion of it, although directed by him to be shown
to myself, was never heard of nor seen by me till printed in Forster's
book some thirty years after. When the Drury Lane season began, Macready
informed me that he should act the play when he had brought out two
others--'The Patrician's Daughter', and 'Plighted Troth': having
done so, he wrote to me that the former had been unsuccessful in
money-drawing, and the latter had 'smashed his arrangements altogether':
but he would still produce my play. I had--in my ignorance of certain
symptoms better understood by Macready's professional acquaintances--I
had no notion that it was a proper thing, in such a case, to 'release
him from his promise'; on the contrary, I should have fancied that such
a proposal was offensive. Soon after, Macready begged that I would call
on him: he said the play had been read to the actors the day before,
'and laughed at from beginning to end': on my speaking my mind about
this, he explained that the reading had been done by the Prompter, a
grotesque person with a red nose and wooden leg, ill at ease in the love
scenes, and that he would himself make amends by reading the play next
morning--which he did, and very adequately--but apprised me that, in
consequence of the state of his mind, harassed by business and various
trouble, the principal character must be taken by Mr. Phelps; and again
I failed to understand,--what Forster subsequently assured me was plain
as the sun at noonday,--that to allow at Macready's Theatre any
other than Macready to play the principal part in a new piece was
suicidal,--and really believed I was meeting his exigencies by accepting
the substitution. At the rehearsal, Macready announced that Mr.
Phelps was ill, and that he himself would read the part: on the third
rehearsal, Mr. Phelps appeared for the first time, and sat in a chair
while Macready more than read, rehearsed the part. The next morning Mr.
Phelps waylaid me at the stage-door to say, with much emotion, that it
never was intended that _he_ should be instrumental in the success of a
new tragedy, and that Macready would play Tresham on the ground that
himself, Phelps, was unable to do so. He added that he could not expect
me to waive such an advantage,--but that, if I were prepared to waive
it, 'he would take ether, sit up all night, and have the words in his
memory by next day.' I bade him follow me to the green-room, and hear
what I decided upon--which was that as Macready had given him the part,
he should keep it: this was on a Thursday; he rehearsed on Friday and
Saturday,--the play being acted the same evening,--_of the fifth day
after the 'reading' by MacReady_. Macready at once wished to reduce the
importance of the 'play',--as he styled it in the bills,--tried to leave
out so much of the text, that I baffled him by getting it printed in
four-and-twenty hours, by Moxon's assistance. He wanted me to call it
'The Sister'!--and I have before me, while I write, the stage-acting
copy, with two lines of his own insertion to avoid the tragical
ending--Tresham was to announce his intention of going into a monastery!
all this, to keep up the belief that Macready, and Macready alone, could
produce a veritable 'tragedy', unproduced before. Not a shilling was
spent on scenery or dresses--and a striking scene which had been used
for the 'Patrician's Daughter', did duty a second time. If your critic
considers this treatment of the play an instance of 'the failure of
powerful and experienced actors' to ensure its success,--I can only say
that my own opinion was shown by at once breaking off a friendship of
many years--a friendship which had a right to be plainly and simply told
that the play I had contributed as a proof of it, would through a change
of circumstances, no longer be to my friend's advantage,--all I could
possibly care for. Only recently, when by the publication of Macready's
journals the extent of his pecuniary embarrassments at that time
was made known, could I in a measure understand his motives for such
conduct--and less than ever understand why he so strangely disguised and
disfigured them. If 'applause' means success, the play thus maimed
and maltreated was successful enough: it 'made way' for Macready's own
Benefit, and the Theatre closed a fortnight after.
Having kept silence for all these years, in spite of repeated
explanations, in the style of your critic's, that the play 'failed in
spite of the best endeavours' &c. I hardly wish to revive a very painful
matter: on the other hand,--as I have said; my play subsists, and is as
open to praise or blame as it was forty-one years ago: is it necessary
to search out what somebody or other,--not improbably a jealous adherent
of Macready, 'the only organizer of theatrical victories', chose to say
on the subject? If the characters are 'abhorrent' and 'inscrutable'--and
the language conformable,--they were so when Dickens pronounced
upon them, and will be so whenever the critic pleases to re-consider
them--which, if he ever has an opportunity of doing, apart from the
printed copy, I can assure you is through no motion of mine. This
particular experience was sufficient: but the Play is out of my power
now; though amateurs and actors may do what they please.
Of course, this being the true story, I should desire that it were told
_thus_ and no otherwise, if it must be told at all: but _not_ as a statement
of mine,--the substance of it has been partly stated already by more
than one qualified person, and if I have been willing to let the poor
matter drop, surely there is no need that it should be gone into now
when Macready and his Athenaeum upholder are no longer able to speak
for themselves: this is just a word to you, dear Mr. Hill, and may be
brought under the notice of your critic if you think proper--but only
for the facts--not as a communication for the public.
Yes, thank you, I am in full health, as you wish--and I wish you and
Mrs. Hill, I assure you, all the good appropriate to the season. My
sister has completely recovered from her illness, and is grateful for
With best regards to Mrs. Hill, and an apology for this long letter,
which however,--when once induced to write it,--I could not well
shorten,--believe me, Yours truly ever Robert Browning.
I well remember Mr. Browning's telling me how, when he returned to the
green-room, on that critical day, he drove his hat more firmly on to his
head, and said to Macready, 'I beg pardon, sir, but you have given the
part to Mr. Phelps, and I am satisfied that he should act it;' and how
Macready, on hearing this, crushed up the MS., and flung it on to the
ground. He also admitted that his own manner had been provocative; but
he was indignant at what he deemed the unjust treatment which Mr. Phelps
had received. The occasion of the next letter speaks for itself.
December 21, 1884.
My dear Mr. Hill,--Your goodness must extend to letting me have the last
word--one of sincere thanks. You cannot suppose I doubted for a moment
of a good-will which I have had abundant proof of. I only took the
occasion your considerate letter gave me, to tell the simple truth which
my forty years' silence is a sign I would only tell on compulsion. I
never thought your critic had any less generous motive for alluding to
the performance as he did than that which he professes: he doubtless
heard the account of the matter which Macready and his intimates gave
currency to at the time; and which, being confined for a while to their
limited number, I never chose to notice. But of late years I have got to
_read_,--not merely _hear_,--of the play's failure 'which all the efforts
of my friend the great actor could not avert;' and the nonsense of this
untruth gets hard to bear. I told you the principal facts in the letter
I very hastily wrote: I could, had it been worth while, corroborate them
by others in plenty, and refer to the living witnesses--Lady Martin,
Mrs. Stirling, and (I believe) Mr. Anderson: it was solely through the
admirable loyalty of the two former that . . . a play . . . deprived
of every advantage, in the way of scenery, dresses, and
rehearsing--proved--what Macready himself declared it to be--'a complete
success'. _So_ he sent a servant to tell me, 'in case there was a call for
the author at the end of the act'--to which I replied that the author
had been too sick and sorry at the whole treatment of his play to do any
such thing. Such a call there truly _was_, and Mr. Anderson had to come
forward and 'beg the author to come forward if he were in the house--a
circumstance of which he was not aware:' whereat the author laughed at
him from a box just opposite. . . . I would submit to anybody drawing a
conclusion from one or two facts past contradiction, whether that play
could have thoroughly failed which was not only not withdrawn at
once but acted three nights in the same week, and years afterwards,
reproduced at his own theatre, during my absence in Italy, by Mr.
Phelps--the person most completely aware of the untoward circumstances
which stood originally in the way of success. Why not enquire how it
happens that, this second time, there was no doubt of the play's doing
as well as plays ordinarily do? for those were not the days of a 'run'.
. . . . .
. . . This 'last word' has indeed been an Aristophanic one of fifty
syllables: but I have spoken it, relieved myself, and commend all that
concerns me to the approved and valued friend of whom I am proud to
account myself in corresponding friendship, His truly ever Robert
Mr. Browning also alludes to Mr. Phelps's acting as not only not having
been detrimental to the play, but having helped to save it, in the
conspiracy of circumstances which seemed to invoke its failure. This was
a mistake, since Macready had been anxious to resume the part, and would
have saved it, to say the least, more thoroughly. It must, however, be
remembered that the irritation which these letters express was due much
less to the nature of the facts recorded in them than to the manner in
which they had been brought before Mr. Browning's mind. Writing on the
subject to Lady Martin in February 1881, he had spoken very temperately
of Macready's treatment of his play, while deprecating the injustice
towards his own friendship which its want of frankness involved: and
many years before this, the touch of a common sorrow had caused the old
feeling, at least momentarily, to well up again. The two met for the
first time after these occurrences when Mr. Browning had returned, a
widower, from Italy. Mr. Macready, too, had recently lost his wife; and
Mr. Browning could only start forward, grasp the hand of his old friend,
and in a voice choked with emotion say, 'O Macready!'
Lady Martin has spoken to me of the poet's attitude on the occasion of
this performance as being full of generous sympathy for those who were
working with him, as well as of the natural anxiety of a young author
for his own success. She also remains convinced that this sympathy led
him rather to over-than to under-rate the support he received. She wrote
concerning it in 'Blackwood's Magazine', March 1881:
'It seems but yesterday that I sat by his [Mr. Elton's] side in the
green-room at the reading of Robert Browning's beautiful drama, 'A Blot
in the 'Scutcheon'. As a rule Mr. Macready always read the new plays.
But owing, I suppose, to some press of business, the task was entrusted
on this occasion to the head prompter,--a clever man in his way, but
wholly unfitted to bring out, or even to understand, Mr. Browning's
meaning. Consequently, the delicate, subtle lines were twisted,
perverted, and sometimes even made ridiculous in his hands. My "cruel
father" [Mr. Elton] was a warm admirer of the poet. He sat writhing and
indignant, and tried by gentle asides to make me see the real meaning of
the verse. But somehow the mischief proved irreparable, for a few of
the actors during the rehearsals chose to continue to misunderstand the
text, and never took the interest in the play which they would have done
had Mr. Macready read it.'
Looking back on the first appearance of his tragedy through the widening
perspectives of nearly forty years, Mr. Browning might well declare as
he did in the letter to Lady Martin to which I have just referred, that
her '_perfect_ behaviour as a woman' and her 'admirable playing as an
actress' had been (or at all events were) to him 'the one gratifying
circumstance connected with it.'
He also felt it a just cause of bitterness that the letter from Charles
Dickens,* which conveyed his almost passionate admiration of 'A Blot in
the 'Scutcheon', and was clearly written to Mr. Forster in order that
it might be seen, was withheld for thirty years from his knowledge, and
that of the public whose judgment it might so largely have influenced.
Nor was this the only time in the poet's life that fairly earned honours
* See Forster's 'Life of Dickens'.
'Colombe's Birthday' was produced in 1853 at the Haymarket;* and
afterwards in the provinces, under the direction of Miss Helen Faucit,
who created the principal part. It was again performed for the Browning
Society in 1885,** and although Miss Alma Murray, as Colombe, was almost
entirely supported by amateurs, the result fully justified Miss
Mary Robinson (now Madame James Darmesteter) in writing immediately
afterwards in the Boston 'Literary World':***
* Also in 1853 or 1854 at Boston.
** It had been played by amateurs, members of the Browning
Society, and their friends, at the house of Mr. Joseph King,
in January 1882.
*** December 12, 1885; quoted in Mr. Arthur Symons'
'Introduction to the Study of Browning'.
'"Colombe's Birthday" is charming on the boards, clearer, more direct in
action, more full of delicate surprises than one imagines it in print.
With a very little cutting it could be made an excellent acting play.'
Mr. Gosse has seen a first edition copy of it marked for acting, and
alludes in his 'Personalia' to the greatly increased knowledge of the
stage which its minute directions displayed. They told also of sad
experience in the sacrifice of the poet which the play-writer so often
exacts: since they included the proviso that unless a very good Valence
could be found, a certain speech of his should be left out. That speech
is very important to the poetic, and not less to the moral, purpose
of the play: the triumph of unworldly affections. It is that in which
Valence defies the platitudes so often launched against rank and power,
and shows that these may be very beautiful things--in which he pleads
for his rival, and against his own heart. He is the better man of
the two, and Colombe has fallen genuinely in love with him. But the
instincts of sovereignty are not outgrown in one day however eventful,
and the young duchess has shown herself amply endowed with them. The
Prince's offer promised much, and it held still more. The time may come
when she will need that crowning memory of her husband's unselfishness
and truth, not to regret what she has done.
'King Victor and King Charles' and 'The Return of the Druses' are both
admitted by competent judges to have good qualifications for the stage;
and Mr. Browning would have preferred seeing one of these acted to
witnessing the revival of 'Strafford' or 'A Blot in the 'Scutcheon',
from neither of which the best amateur performance could remove the
stigma of past, real or reputed, failure; and when once a friend
belonging to the Browning Society told him she had been seriously
occupied with the possibility of producing the Eastern play, he assented
to the idea with a simplicity that was almost touching, 'It _was_ written
for the stage,' he said, 'and has only one scene.' He knew, however,
that the single scene was far from obviating all the difficulties of
the case, and that the Society, with its limited means, did the best it
I seldom hear any allusion to a passage in 'King Victor and King
Charles' which I think more than rivals the famous utterance of Valence,
revealing as it does the same grasp of non-conventional truth, while its
occasion lends itself to a far deeper recognition of the mystery,
the frequent hopeless dilemma of our moral life. It is that in which
Polixena, the wife of Charles, entreats him for _duty's_ sake to retain
the crown, though he will earn, by so doing, neither the credit of a
virtuous deed nor the sure, persistent consciousness of having performed
Four poems of the 'Dramatic Lyrics' had appeared, as I have said, in the
'Monthly Repository'. Six of those included in the 'Dramatic Lyrics and
Romances' were first published in 'Hood's Magazine' from June 1844
to April 1845, a month before Hood's death. These poems were, 'The
Laboratory', 'Claret and Tokay', 'Garden Fancies', 'The Boy and the
Angel', 'The Tomb at St. Praxed's', and 'The Flight of the Duchess'. Mr.
Hood's health had given way under stress of work, and Mr. Browning
with other friends thus came forward to help him. The fact deserves
remembering in connection with his subsequent unbroken rule never to
write for magazines. He might always have made exceptions for friendly
or philanthropic objects; the appearance of 'Herve Riel' in the
'Cornhill Magazine', 1870, indeed proves that it was so. But the offer
of a blank cheque would not have tempted him, for his own sake, to this
concession, as he would have deemed it, of his integrity of literary
'In a Gondola' grew out of a single verse extemporized for a picture by
Maclise, in what circumstances we shall hear in the poet's own words.
The first proof of 'Artemis Prologuizes' had the following note:
'I had better say perhaps that the above is nearly all retained of a
tragedy I composed, much against my endeavour, while in bed with a fever
two years ago--it went farther into the story of Hippolytus and Aricia;
but when I got well, putting only thus much down at once, I soon forgot
* When Mr. Browning gave me these supplementary details for
the 'Handbook', he spoke as if his illness had interrupted
the work, not preceded its conception. The real fact is, I
think, the more striking.
Mr. Browning would have been very angry with himself if he had known he
ever wrote 'I _had_ better'; and the punctuation of this note, as well as
of every other unrevised specimen which we possess of his early writing,
helps to show by what careful study of the literary art he must have
acquired his subsequent mastery of it.
'Cristina' was addressed in fancy to the Spanish queen. It is to be
regretted that the poem did not remain under its original heading of
'Queen Worship': as this gave a practical clue to the nature of the love
described, and the special remoteness of its object.
'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' and another poem were written in May 1842
for Mr. Macready's little eldest son, Willy, who was confined to the
house by illness, and who was to amuse himself by illustrating the poems
as well as reading them;* and the first of these, though not intended
for publication, was added to the 'Dramatic Lyrics', because some
columns of that number of 'Bells and Pomegranates' still required
filling. It is perhaps not known that the second was 'Crescentius, the
Pope's Legate': now included in 'Asolando'.
* Miss Browning has lately found some of the illustrations,
and the touching childish letter together with which
her brother received them.
Mr. Browning's father had himself begun a rhymed story on the subject of
'The Pied Piper'; but left it unfinished when he discovered that his son
was writing one. The fragment survives as part of a letter addressed to
Mr. Thomas Powell, and which I have referred to as in the possession of
Mr. Dykes Campbell.
'The Lost Leader' has given rise to periodical questionings continued
until the present day, as to the person indicated in its title. Mr.
Browning answered or anticipated them fifteen years ago in a letter to
Miss Lee, of West Peckham, Maidstone. It was his reply to an application
in verse made to him in their very young days by herself and two other
members of her family, the manner of which seems to have unusually
Villers-sur-mer, Calvados, France: September 7, '75.
Dear Friends,--Your letter has made a round to reach me--hence the delay
in replying to it--which you will therefore pardon. I have been asked
the question you put to me--tho' never asked so poetically and so
pleasantly--I suppose a score of times: and I can only answer, with
something of shame and contrition, that I undoubtedly had Wordsworth in
my mind--but simply as 'a model'; you know, an artist takes one or two
striking traits in the features of his 'model', and uses them to start
his fancy on a flight which may end far enough from the good man or
woman who happens to be 'sitting' for nose and eye.
I thought of the great Poet's abandonment of liberalism, at an unlucky
juncture, and no repaying consequence that I could ever see. But--once
call my fancy-portrait 'Wordsworth'--and how much more ought one to
say,--how much more would not I have attempted to say!
There is my apology, dear friends, and your acceptance of it will
confirm me Truly yours, Robert Browning.
Some fragments of correspondence, not all very interesting, and his
own allusion to an attack of illness, are our only record of the poet's
general life during the interval which separated the publication of
'Pippa Passes' from his second Italian journey.
An undated letter to Miss Haworth probably refers to the close of 1841.
'. . . I am getting to love painting as I did once. Do you know I was
a young wonder (as are eleven out of the dozen of us) at drawing? My
father had faith in me, and over yonder in a drawer of mine lies, I
well know, a certain cottage and rocks in lead pencil and black currant
jam-juice (paint being rank poison, as they said when I sucked my
brushes) with his (my father's) note in one corner, "R. B., aetat. two
years three months." "How fast, alas, our days we spend--How vain
they be, how soon they end!" I am going to print "Victor", however, by
February, and there is one thing not so badly painted in there--oh, let
me tell you. I chanced to call on Forster the other day, and he pressed
me into committing verse on the instant, not the minute, in Maclise's
behalf, who has wrought a divine Venetian work, it seems, for the
British Institution. Forster described it well--but I could do nothing
better, than this wooden ware--(all the "properties", as we say, were
given, and the problem was how to catalogue them in rhyme and unreason).
I send my heart up to thee, all my heart
In this my singing!
For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
The very night is clinging
Closer to Venice' streets to leave me space
Above me, whence thy face
May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.
Singing and stars and night and Venice streets and joyous heart, are
properties, do you please to see. And now tell me, is this below the
average of catalogue original poetry? Tell me--for to that end of being
told, I write. . . . I dined with dear Carlyle and his wife (catch
me calling people "dear" in a hurry, except in letter-beginnings!)
yesterday. I don't know any people like them. There was a son of Burns
there, Major Burns whom Macready knows--he sung "Of all the airts",
"John Anderson", and another song of his father's. . . .'
In the course of 1842 he wrote the following note to Miss Flower,
evidently relating to the publication of her 'Hymns and Anthems'.
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey: Tuesday morning.
Dear Miss Flower,--I am sorry for what must grieve Mr. Fox; for myself,
I beg him earnestly not to see me till his entire convenience, however
pleased I shall be to receive the letter you promise on his part.
And how can I thank you enough for this good news--all this music I
shall be so thoroughly gratified to hear? Ever yours faithfully, Robert
His last letter to her was written in 1845; the subject being a concert
of her own sacred music which she was about to give; and again, although
more slightly, I anticipate the course of events, in order to give it
in its natural connection with the present one. Mr. Browning was
now engaged to be married, and the last ring of youthful levity had
disappeared from his tone; but neither the new happiness nor the new
responsibility had weakened his interest in his boyhood's friend. Miss
Flower must then have been slowly dying, and the closing words of the
letter have the solemnity of a last farewell.
Dear Miss Flower,--I was very foolishly surprized at the sorrowful
finical notice you mention: foolishly; for, God help us, how else is
it with all critics of everything--don't I hear them talk and see them
write? I dare-say he admires you as he said.
For me, I never had another feeling than entire admiration for your
music--entire admiration--I put it apart from all other English music I
know, and fully believe in it as _the_ music we all waited for.
Of your health I shall not trust myself to speak: you must know what
is unspoken. I should have been most happy to see you if but for a
minute--and if next Wednesday, I might take your hand for a moment.--
But you would concede that, if it were right, remembering what is now
very old friendship. May God bless you for ever (The signature has been
In the autumn of 1844 Mr. Browning set forth for Italy, taking ship, it
is believed, direct to Naples. Here he made the acquaintance of a young
Neapolitan gentleman who had spent most of his life in Paris; and they
became such good friends that they proceeded to Rome together. Mr.
Scotti was an invaluable travelling companion, for he engaged their
conveyance, and did all such bargaining in their joint interest as the
habits of his country required. 'As I write,' Mr. Browning said in a
letter to his sister, 'I hear him disputing our bill in the next room.
He does not see why we should pay for six wax candles when we have
used only two.' At Rome they spent most of their evenings with an
old acquaintance of Mr. Browning's, then Countess Carducci, and she
pronounced Mr. Scotti the handsomest man she had ever seen. He certainly
bore no appearance of being the least prosperous. But he blew out his
brains soon after he and his new friend had parted; and I do not think
the act was ever fully accounted for.
It must have been on his return journey that Mr. Browning went to
Leghorn to see Edward John Trelawney, to whom he carried a letter of
introduction. He described the interview long afterwards to Mr. Val
Prinsep, but chiefly in his impressions of the cool courage which Mr.
Trelawney had displayed during its course. A surgeon was occupied all
the time in probing his leg for a bullet which had been lodged there
some years before, and had lately made itself felt; and he showed
himself absolutely indifferent to the pain of the operation. Mr.
Browning's main object in paying the visit had been, naturally, to speak
with one who had known Byron and been the last to see Shelley alive; but
we only hear of the two poets that they formed in part the subject
of their conversation. He reached England, again, we suppose, through
Germany--since he avoided Paris as before.
It has been asserted by persons otherwise well informed, that on this,
if not on his previous Italian journey, Mr. Browning became acquainted
with Stendhal, then French Consul at Civita Vecchia, and that he imbibed
from the great novelist a taste for curiosities of Italian family
history, which ultimately led him in the direction of the Franceschini
case. It is certain that he profoundly admired this writer, and if he
was not, at some time or other, introduced to him it was because the
opportunity did not occur. But there is abundant evidence that no
introduction took place, and quite sufficient proof that none was
possible. Stendhal died in Paris in March 1842; and granting that he was
at Civita Vecchia when the poet made his earlier voyage--no certainty
even while he held the appointment--the ship cannot have touched there
on its way to Trieste. It is also a mistake to suppose that Mr. Browning
was specially interested in ancient chronicles, as such. This was one of
the points on which he distinctly differed from his father. He took his
dramatic subjects wherever he found them, and any historical research
which they ultimately involved was undertaken for purposes of
verification. 'Sordello' alone may have been conceived on a rather
different plan, and I have no authority whatever for admitting that it
was so. The discovery of the record of the Franceschini case was, as its
author has everywhere declared, an accident.
A single relic exists for us of this visit to the South--a shell picked
up, according to its inscription, on one of the Syren Isles, October
4, 1844; but many of its reminiscences are embodied in that vivid and
charming picture 'The Englishman in Italy', which appeared in the 'Bells
and Pomegranates' number for the following year. Naples always remained
a bright spot in the poet's memory; and if it had been, like Asolo, his
first experience of Italy, it must have drawn him in later years the
more powerfully of the two. At one period, indeed, he dreamed of it as a
home for his declining days.