Dew Of Parnassus
( Originally Published 1906 )
"Lilied whiteness shone upon Not by light of moon or sun."
FULL of charm and brilliancy was the life of that inner circle in Florence with whom Parnassus was familiar ground, whose social interludes were enjoyed in that scenic Florentine background of incomparable beauty. There was some new excursion for every hour in the day. A happy party would fare forth for the old Boboli gardens and climb the little hill for the view over Florence and the Val d'Arno. There were moonlight gatherings on the terrace of some old palazzo, where Italian politics and poetry were discussed over tea and strawberries, or chance encounters in galleries or churches, where the conversational interludes of sympathetic companionship were resumed.
Even in the Florence of to-day, as in that of Landor, the social life is one of such charm as to make Florence, from the point of the intimate view, something very different from the city of the mere tourist. To the latter, indeed, it is lovely enough to repay a journey thither — a thousand journeys ; but if to the infinite interest of its art and scenic effects one may be so fortunate as to add the still deeper interest of its social life, it becomes, indeed, the most fascinating of places. For in no city in the world is there more exquisitely cultured society than in Florence. It is a society of scholars, a society of the utmost accomplishment, a society including poets, artists, and thinkers. Its members are linguists, equally at home in three or four of the modern languages ; they are people who have seen and know the best there is in the world — of society, art, and letters.
The receptions given in Florence in these grand old palaces and historic villas might almost be stage scenes, set in perfection of beauty. The vast salons hung with tapestries, rich in sculpture ; the paintings in the heavily carved Florentine frames ; the great mirrors whose expanse in the past has reflected images and scenes long since vanished with always a wealth of flowers ; with rare books and bric-a-brac, — all the name-less objects and details that contribute to the artistic atmosphere of rooms, — in these vast salons the groups of people gather and seem almost like some pictures suddenly summoned by means of magic or necromancy out of the historic past. There is a resplendence of the golden atmosphere as of phantasmagoria, rather than the actual reality of to-day.
Among the earliest friends of the Brownings was Mr. Hiram Powers, the American sculptor, of whom Robert Browning speaks as " a most charming, straightforward, genial American, who sometimes comes and takes coffee with us, as simple as the man of genius he has proved himself to be." At this time Mr. Powers was domiciled in the Via dei Serragli, on the " other side " of the river, and was therefore quite near Casa Guidi. The Hawthornes were in the same street, almost opposite Mr. Powers, in the Casa del Bello, which Mr. Julian Hawthorne, in his biography of his father, describes as " a fresh and bright edifice .. . a house all light and grace," with a terrace extending on one side. A little farther up the street toward Porta Romana were the Torrigiani Gardens. At this time visitors to the studio of Mr. Powers were interested in his bust of Proserpine and in the statue of the fisher-boy holding a shell to his ear, -- a work which captivated the fancy of Mrs. Browning. The Casa Bello allured the Hawthornes with its spacious suite of rooms extending around the four sides of a small court, with lofty, frescoed ceilings and sumptuous hangings, and the usual Italian profusion of marble tables, mirrors, and upholstered furniture. The terrace was a constant delight to Hawthorne where he sat daily, — in what ethereal dreams who may tell ?
" Ah ! who shall lift that wand of magic power
The Brownings, Isa Blagden, and Mr. Powers and his family seem to have made the nearer circle for Hawthorne at this time. Mrs. Browning somewhere chronicles that Mr. Story represented Hawthorne as " not silent only by shyness, but by nature and inaptitude, . . . a man " who talks exclusively with his pen." But the records of these days, written in invisible ink, disclose, when chemically treated, that William Cullen Bryant and his daughter visited Florence about this time, and that Hawthorne, after calling on them at their hotel, passed an evening with them and others at the Brownings', in Casa Guidi ; and that indeed, between Casa Guidi and Casa Bello the pathway was kept open. At one of Isa Blagden's weekly receptions Hawthorne met Browning, Trollope, and Frank Boott, and notes the " effervescent aroma " of Mr. Browning's genial conversation. Mr. Trollope he characterized as " sensible and cultivated." Isa Blagden was sometimes his companion in rambling about Florence, for Hawthorne found the beautiful town to be a paradise for the saunterer, and he loitered on the Ponte Carraja, and at the opening between the houses on Ponte Vecchio that so frames a picture of river and palaces ; and there were few churches that he did not look into, though of all those the Duomo most appealed to him, because of the intense glory and beauty of the painted windows. " It is a pity anybody should die without seeing an antique painted window with the bright Italian sun shining through it," he said. One late afternoon, especially, when the great writer had wandered into the Duomo, where, in the glass-encased space around the high altar, the priests and white-robed acolytes were chanting the after-noon service, he was fairly dazzled by the brightness of their wonderful windows, " like a million rubies, sapphires, topazes, and emeralds " massed together.
Browning seems to have called frequently on the Hawthornes in Casa Bello, always leaving a new impression of genial grace and unaffected cordiality.
There was one afternoon that seemed to sit for its picture when Mr. Hawthorne and Isa Blagden drove together to call on Mr. Kirkup, whose weird and curious personality constantly appears in all this grouping of Florentine visitors. " Such a tragic face the old man has, with his bleak, white beard," said Mrs. Browning of him. Mr. Kirkup was quite celebrated in his day as an antiquarian, to which he added the less enviable faine of being considered a necromancer. At all events, he was greatly interested in the "spirit rappings " of those days, the well-known medium, Home, being then in Florence and holding séances, which attracted Mrs. Browning, the Trollopes, Hawthorne, and others. Mr. Kirkup, indeed, enjoyed the luxury of keeping a private medium of his own in his house, — an Italian peasant woman, — through whose ministrations he believed he held converse with Dante and with various dead kings and emperors. In an old palace overhanging the Arno, Mr. Kirkup had domiciled himself close to the Ponte Vecchio, from whose outer portal a dark staircase led up to his rooms. Hawthorne, writing of his own and Isa Blagden's call on the antiquarian one summer afternoon,' says : —
" Knocking at the door we were received by him. He had had notice of our visit and was prepared for it, being dressed in a blue frock coat of rather an old fashion, with a velvet collar, and in a thin waist-coat and pantaloons fresh from the drawer, looking very sprucely, in short. .. . He is rather low of stature, with a pale, shrivelled face, and hair and beard perfectly white, with the hair of a particularly soft and silken texture ; his eyes have a queer, rather wild look, and the eye-brows are arched above them, so that he seems all the time to be seeing something that strikes him with surprise. . . . His whole make-up is delicate, his hands white and small, and his appearance and manners those of a gentleman. He appeared to be very nervous, tremulous, indeed, to his fingers' ends, without being in any way disturbed or embarrassed by our presence.
" He ushered us through two or three large rooms, dark, dusty, hung with antique looking pictures and lined with book-cases containing, I doubt not, a very curious library. Indeed he directed my attention to one case, and said that he had collected these works in former days merely for the sake of laughing at them. They were books of magic and occult sciences. What he seemed really to value, however, were some manuscript copies of Dante, of which he showed us two : one a folio or parchment beautifully written in German text, the letters as clear and accurately cut as printed type ; the other a small volume, fit, as Mr. Kirkup said, to be carried in a capacious mediæval sleeve. This also was on vellum and as elegantly executed as the larger one ; but the larger had beautiful illuminations, the vermilion and gold of which looked as brilliant now as they did five centuries ago.
" Both of these books were written early in the fourteenth century. Mr. Kirkup has also a plaster cast of Dante's face, which he believes to be the original and taken from his face after death ; and he has likewise his own accurate tracing from Giotto's fresco of Dante in the Chapel of the Bargello. This fresco was discovered through Mr. Kirkup's means, and the tracing is particularly valuable. . . . It represents the profile of a youthful but melancholy face, and has the general outline of Dante's features in other portraits.
Dante has held frequent communications with Mr. Kirkup through a medium, the poet being described by a medium as wearing the same dress seen in the youthful portrait, but as bearing more resemblance to the cast taken from the dead face than to the picture from his youthful one.
" There was a very good picture of Savonarola in one of the rooms, and many other portraits, paintings, and drawings, some of them ancient, and some of them the work of Mr. Kirkup him-self. He has the torn fragment of an exquisite drawing of a nude figure by Rubens, and a portfolio of other curious drawings."
Hawthorne and Mr. Landor never met. To accurately determine the matter the writer of this volume wrote to Mr. Julian Hawthorne, asking the question, to which he courteously replied : —
My father never met Landon He did not loom so large then as he does now — and my father never, that I know of, made a pilgrimage of piety to any living person. He was too modest to think himself an object of interest, and did not consider his own interest in any person a warrant to intrude upon them.
" Thanking you for your kindness, I am " very sincerely yours
" JULIAN HAWTHORNE "
The personality of Mr. Kirkup runs through the Florentine days from the time of Leigh Hunt's visit in 1823 to that of the death of Landor in 1864, when Mr. Hunt was in Mariano, on the Fiesolan hills, where he looked from his window on the " Valley of the Ladies " of the " Decameron." Mr. Kirkup, Charles Armitage Brown, and Landor formed his intimate group. A little later came Hazlitt ; and it was Mr. Kirkup who introduced him to Landor, in the spring of 1825. " I perfectly remember Hazlitt's visit," said Mr. Kirkup in later years. " He wished to pay Landor a visit, but was advised not, unless he was well introduced. Armitage Brown, who was Landor's greatest friend here, offered him a letter ; but Hazlitt said he would beard the lion in his den, and he walked up to his house one winter's morning in nankeen shorts and white stockings ; was made much of by the royal animal ; and often returned—at night ; for Landor was much out in the day, in all weathers."
Mr. Kirkup was the recognized authority on Dante, in his circle in Florence, and when Landor published his " Pentameron," Mr. Kirkup took exception to the title of " Messer " as used by Landor. The complete title of the book is : " The Pentameron ; or Interviews of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio and Messer Francesco Petrarca, when said Messer Giovanni lay infirm at Viletta hard by Certaldo : after which they saw not each other on our Side of Paradise : shewing how they discoursed upon that famous Theologian Messer Dante Alighieri, and sundry other Matters." Mr. Kirk up remarked that it was as much of an error for Landor to have alluded to Dante as "Messer" as it would be if some Italian critic had called himself Sir Landor. " In all the legal documents I have of the sale of Peter Dante's estate he is called 'Dominus Petrus filius Dantii Allighierii : Dominus being the Latin for Lord or Messire, the title applied to a judge in the republic, while poor Dante is named as a common citizen in the same legal deeds in which his son is always styled Messire, or Dominus," added Mr. Kirkup. Mr. Forster, Landor's biographer, in speaking of " The Pentameron," gives this pleasant little picture of the way in which the work was suggested to Landor : —
I have spoken of the memories of Boccaccio that were on all sides of Landor at his villa, from whose gate up to the gates of Florence there was hardly a street or farm that the great story-teller had not associated with some witty or affecting narrative. The place was peopled by his genius with creatures that neither seasons nor factions had been able to change. Happy and well founded was the prediction of his friend, that long before the ' Decameron' would cease to be recited under their arching vines, the worms would be the only fighters for Guelph or Ghibelline ; and that even under so terrible a visitation as another plague, its pages would remain a solace to all who could find refuge and relief in letters.
Such a refuge and relief had they been to Landor in every plague by which he had been visited, and this book was payment for a portion of the debt. Boccaccio is its hero ; and the idea of it was doubtless taken from his letter to Petrarca accompanying the copy of Dante transcribed by himself for his use, inviting him to look more closely into it, and if possible to admire it more. In his illness at Certaldo he is visited by his friend; during interviews that occupy five several days, the Divine Comedy is the subject of their talk ; and very wonderful talk it is that can make any subject, however great, the centre of so wide a range of scholarship and learning and of such abounding wealth of illustration, can press into the service of argument such a delightful profusion of metaphor and imagery, can mingle humor and wit with so much tenderness and wisdom, and clothe in language of consummate beauty so much dignity and variety of thought. But amidst it all we never lose our interest in the simple and kindly old burgess of Certaldo and his belongings ; his little maid Assunta and her lover ; even the rascally old frate confessor, who suggests his last witty story : and not more delightful is the grave Petrarca when his eloquence is at its best, than in the quaint little scene where Assuntina has to girth up his palfrey for him."
Mr. Kirkup recalled in his later years many characteristic anecdotes and events in Landor's early life, one of which was the termination of Landor's relations with the Villa Medici, where he first lived. " I remember one day," narrates Mr. Kirkup, " when Landor lived in the Medici palace, he wrote to the marquis, and accused him of having allured away his coachman. The marquis, I should tell you, enjoyed no very good name, and this had exasperated Landor the more. Mrs. Landor was sitting in the drawing-room the day after, where I and some others were, when the marquis came strutting in without removing his hat. But he had scarcely advanced three steps from the door when Landor walked up to him quickly and knocked his hat off, then took him by the arm and turned him out. You should have heard Landor's shout of laughter at his own anger when it was all over, inextinguishable laughter which none of us could resist. Immediately after he sent the marquis warning by the hands of a policeman, which is reckoned an affront, and quitted his house at the end of the year."
Nearly all Mr. Kirkup's life had been passed in Florence ; but when he was over eighty years of age he betook himself to Leghorn, where he died. Of his belief in the manifestations of spiritualistic phenomena by Mr. Home and by the Italian woman medium whom he kept in his own house, Thomas Adolphus Trollope speaks somewhat at length in his reminiscences, and says that these phenomena convinced Mr. Kirkup of the existence of immortality, in which he had not previously believed. Mr. Trollope also relates the following incident : —
My wife, my wife's sister, and myself had been spending the evening in the house of Mr. Seymour Kirkup, an artist, who, once well-known in the artistic world, lived on in Florence to a great age after that world had forgotten him.
Our visit was to witness some of the medium's performances. . . ." The Trollopes felt sure that the phenomena they witnessed were manufactured fraudulently by the medium, " al-though," Mr. Trollope remarks, " we knew poor old Kirkup far too well to make any attempt to convict her."
Mr. Trollope continues : —
" But as we walked home, with our minds full of the subject, we said, ' Let us try whether we can produce any effect upon a table, since that seems the regulation first-step in these mysteries ; and, at least, we shall have the certainty of not being befooled by trickery.' So, on reaching home, we took a table —rather a remark-able one. It was small, not above eighteen or twenty inches across the top of it. But it was very much heavier than any ordinary table of that size, the stem of it being a massive bit of ancient chestnut-wood carving which I had adapted to that purpose.
" Well, in a minute or two the table began to move very unmistakably. We were startled, and began to think that the ladies' dresses must have, unconsciously to them, pressed against it. We stood back therefore, taking care that nothing but the tips of our fingers touched the table. It still moved ! We said that some unconscious exertion of muscular force must have caused the movement, and, finally, we suspended our fingers about an inch or so above the surface of the table, taking the utmost care to touch it in no way whatever. The table still turned, and that to such an extent that, entirely untouched, it turned itself over, and fell to the ground.
" I can only observe of this, as the little boy said who was accused of relating an impossibility its as a fact, ' I don't say it is possible, I only say it is true ! ' "
Robert Browning's attitude toward all these curious manifestations that attracted so much attention in Florence in the early fifties is sufficiently indicated in his " Mr. Sludge : the Medium." Hawthorne records much of it in his "Note Books " and says that in all the numerous instances he still felt a sense of unreality. Mrs. Browning's attitude toward these phenomena that were manifested so persistently in Florence at this time as to attract the attention of all visitors, was one of intelligent discrimination rather than any foolish credulity or equally foolish denial of evident facts. " For my own part," she says, in alluding to her religious convictions, "I have thought freely on most subjects, but never, at any point of my life, have I felt myself drawn toward Unitarian opinions. I should throw up revelation altogether if I ceased to recognize Christ as divine. . . . I have gone on predicting that the present churches were in course of dissolution and would have to be followed by a reconstruction of Christian essential verity into other than these middle ages scholastic forms.
Believing in Christ's divinity, which is the life of Christianity, I believed this. . . . I should fear for a revealed religion incapable of expansion according to the needs of man. What comes from God has life in it, and certainly from all the growth of living things, spiritual growth cannot be excepted. . . . As to the supernatural, if you mean by that the suspension of natural law, I certainly believe in it no more than you do. What happens, happens according to a natural law, the development of which only becomes fuller and more observable. . . . Every fact is a word of God. We have to learn — we in the body — that death does not teach all things. Foolish Jack Smith who died on Monday is on Tuesday still foolish Jack Smith. If people who on Monday scorned his opinions prudently, will on Tuesday receive his least words as oracles, they very naturally do something as foolish as their inspirer is. . . . Hein ! . . . if you are in a dungeon and a friend knocks through the outer wall, spelling out the words you comprehend, you don't think the worse of the friend in the sun who remembers you."
Mrs. Browning and Mrs. Stowe discussed in a prolonged correspondence the problem involved in these curious manifestations in Florence, and of Mrs. Stowe's convictions Mrs. Browning thus writes in a letter 1 to a friend : —
Mrs. Stowe had heard, she said, for the fifth time from her boy (the one who was drowned in that awful manner through carrying out a college jest) without any seeking on her part. She gave me a minute account of a late manifestation, not seeming to have a doubt in respect to the verity and identity of the spirit. In fact, secret things were told, reference to private papers made, the evidence was considered most satisfying. And she says that all of the communications descriptive of the state of that Spirit, though coming from very different mediums (some high Calvanists and others low infidels) tallied exactly. She spoke very calmly about it, with no dogmatism, but with the strongest disposition to receive the facts of the subject with all their bearings, and at whatever loss of orthodoxy or sacrifice of reputation for common sense. I have a high appreciation of her power of forming opinions, let me add to this. It is one of the most vital and growing minds I ever knew. Besides the inventive, the critical and analytical faculties are strong with her. How many women do you know who are religious, and yet analyze point by point what they believe in ? She lives in the midst of the traditional churches, and is full of reverence by nature ; and yet if you knew how fearlessly that woman has torn up the old cerements and taken note of what is a dead letter within, yet preserved her faith in essential spiritual truth, you would feel more admiration for her than even for writing Uncle Tom.' There are quantities of irreverent women and men who profess infidelity. But this is a woman of another order, observe, devout yet brave in the outlook for truth, and considering, not whether a thing be sound, but whether it be true. Her views are Swedenborgian on some points, beyond him where he departs from orthodoxy on one or two points, adhering to the orthodox creed on certain others."
No city, perhaps, from the days of the myth and miracles of the saints to the present hour, has had its daily life so characterized by these wonders as Florence ; and the Hawthornes, Trollopes, and Mrs. Browning were especially interested, during several months, in studying these psychic occurrences.
Among other charming visitors came Mr. Lytton (Owen Meredith), afterwards Lord Lytton, arriving in the midst of all this tumult. Already inclined to great interest in magic and the occult sciences, he gave much time to per-sonal observation and experiment. Still another pleasant centre of friendly intercourse was made in Florence by Mr. Lytton during his stay, as he took a villa on Bellosguardo, and on one July evening in 1853 he gave a reception, on his terrace, when Mrs. Browning made the tea, and strawberries and ices were served to the guests, who looked down upon Florence lying under the stars " dissolving in the purple of the hills." Frederic Tennyson, a brother of the poet-laureate, was one of the group, and also Sena-tore Villari, an accomplished young Sicilian. Mr. Kinney, the American Minister to the Court of Turin, and Mrs. Kinney, (better known as Elizabeth Clementine Kinney the poet-mother of a poet-son, Edmund Clarence Stedman) were then in Florence. Mrs. Kinney was one of the nearer friends of Mrs. Browning, and they, with young Lytton and Mr. Tennyson, often passed an evening in Casa Guidi with the Brownings. Mr. Lytton was at that time attached to the Legation in Florence, and it is interesting to read Mrs. Browning's impressions of the future Ambassador to Florence and Viceroy of India, when she says : " Full of all sorts of good and nobleness he really is ; gifted with high faculties and given to the highest aspirations. . . . He is about to publish a collection of his poems. I think highly of his capabilities."
The poet Tennyson made a brief visit in Florence on his way to Rome during this period of the early fifties ; and also Thackeray and Dickens sojourned there. Of the visit of Mr. Dickens, John Forster afterward wrote : —
" Ten years after Landor had lost this home, an Englishman travelling in Italy, his friend and mine, visited the neighborhood for his sake, drove out from Florence to Fiesole, and asked his coach-man which was the villa in which the Landor family lived. He was a dull dog, and pointed to Boccaccio's. I didn't believe him. He was so deuced ready that I knew he lied. I went up to the convent, which is on a height, and was leaning over a dwarf wall basking in the noble view over a vast range of hill and valley, when a little peasant girl came up and began to point out the localities. Ecco la villa Landora! was one of the first half-dozen sentences she spoke. My heart swelled almost as Landor's would have done when I locked down upon it, nestling among its olive-trees and vines, and with its upper windows (there are five above the door) open to the setting sun. Over the centre of these there is another story, set upon the housetop like a tower ; and all Italy, except its sea, is melted down into the glowing landscape it commands. I plucked a leaf of ivy from the convent garden as I looked ; and here it is. For Landor. With my love. So wrote Mr. Dickens to me from Florence on the 2d of April, 1845 ; and when I turned over Landor's papers in the same month after an interval of exactly twenty years, the ivy-leaf was found carefully enclosed, with the letter in which I had sent it."
Another interesting visitor was Count Pulsky, a friend of Kossuth, who shared his exile as a political refugee of Hungary. Together Kossuth and Count Pulsky also visited Boston in the decade of 1850-60, and were warm friends of the great and good Elizabeth Peabody.
Margaret Fuller, Marchese d'Ossoli, with her husband and child, established herself in Florence for some weeks, in an old palazzo at the corner of the Via della Misericordia and the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Before her windows rose the Campanile, seen against the blue Italian sky. Giving the mornings to her literary work, the evenings were devoted to her friends, among whom were included the Brownings and the Marchesa Arconati Visconti, an Italian lady of great charm and sweetness. A visitor to Madame d'Ossoli's apartment in Florence gives this picture of her at home : —
" I cannot remember ever to have found Madame d'Ossoli alone, on those evenings when she remained at home. Her husband was always with her. The picture of their room rises clearly on my memory. A small square room, sparingly, yet sufficiently furnished, with polished floor and frescoed ceiling, — and, drawn up closely before the cheerful fire, an oval table, on which stood a monkish lamp of brass, with depending chains that support quaint classic cups for the olive oil. There, seated beside his wife, I was sure to find the Marchese, reading from some patriotic book, and dressed in the dark brown, red-corded coat of the Guardia Civica, which it was his melancholy pleasure to wear at home. So long as the conversation could be carried on in Italian, he used to remain, though he rarely joined in it to any considerable degree ; but if a number of English and American visitors came in, he used to take his leave and go to the Café d'Italia, being very unwilling, as Madame d'Ossoli told me, to impose any seeming restraint, by his presence, upon her friends, with whom he was unable to converse. For the same reason, he rarely remained with her at the houses of her English or American friends, though he always accompanied her thither, and returned to escort her home."
Mrs. Browning found Madame d'Ossoli, the celebrated American woman, extremely interesting in personal conversation ; " but," remarked Mrs. Browning, " if I wished any one to do Madame d'Ossoli justice, I should say, ' Never read what she has written.' Her written words are just naught. Her letters are individual and full of that magnetic personal influence which was so strong in her. . . . I felt drawn to her. I loved her, and the circumstances of her death struck me to the very roots of my heart. The comfort is that she lost little in this world."
The Marchese and Marchesa d'Ossoli had passed their last evening in Florence with Mrs. Browning, before sailing on the fatal voyage, and of this last meeting Mrs. Browning wrote to Miss Mitford : " Such gloom she had in leaving Italy ! She was full of sad presentiment ! Do you know she gave a Bible as a parting gift from her child to ours, writing in it, In memory of Angelo Eugene d'Ossoli,' — a strange, prophetic expression. That last evening," continued Mrs. Browning, " an old prophecy made to the Marquis d'Ossoli, that he should shun the sea as it would be fatal to him, was talked of jestingly."
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe did not meet Landor at the time she visited Florence, — he may have been absent on one of his visits to England, — but he highly estimated the quality of her genius, and when her story, " The Minister's Wooing," was published, Landor read it eagerly and declared that no man living had given to the world so excellent a novel. Mrs. Browning and Mrs. Stowe became warm friends, and their correspondence continued throughout Mrs. Browning's life. At their parting, when Mrs. Stowe left Florence, her last words to Mrs. Browning were " Those who love the Lord Jesus Christ never see one another for the last time." The words almost paraphrase an ancient Oriental aphorism, — " Those who meet in good never separate."
In the meantime happy years were gliding by in Casa Guidi, where the wedded poets were giving to the world their poems ; reading the books, new and old, that drifted down to them ; seeing a few friends, and interesting themselves always in the world's important events. Harriet Hosmer, always a great favorite with Mrs. Browning, visited them from the Eternal City ; and John Kenyon, their most sympathetic friend and benefactor, came frequently from his English home. To Landor, too, came Mr. Kenyon, of whom Southey wrote (in 1847) that " everybody liked him at first sight, and liked him better the longer he was known ; that he had then himself known him three-and-twenty years ; that he was of all his friends one of the very best and pleasantest ; and that he reckoned as one of his whitest days the day he first fell in with him." " Kenyon had accomplishments of no ordinary kind," wrote John Forster of him, " and could give and take with the best who assembled at his table. He Wrote manly English verse, was a fair scholar, a good critic of books and art, an observer on whom unusual opportunities of seeing much of the world had not been thrown away ; and, in a familiar friendship with him of a quarter of a century, I never saw him use for mere personal display any one advantage he thus possessed. Be was always thinking of others, always planning to get his own pleasure out of theirs ; and Landor in this respect was an untiring satisfaction to him. He displayed his enjoyment so thoroughly. The laugh was encouraged till the room shook again ; and, while Landor would defend to the death some indefensible position, assail with prodigious vigor an imaginary enemy, or blow himself and his adversary together into the air with the explosion of a joke, the radiant glee of Kenyon was a thing not to be forgotten. I have seen it shared at the same moment, in an equal degree, by Archdeacon Hare and Sir Robert Harry Inglis."
During Hawthorne's summer in Florence, as the days grew warm he removed to the Villa Mont-Auto on the heights of Bellosguardo. Not far away was the Villa Brichieri, where Isa Blagden had set up her household gods, and where, for a time, Miss Frances Power Cobbe came in the spring of 1860, sharing Miss Blagden's home and quite impressing their callers and visitors with her brilliant conversation. Miss Blagden was evidently a woman of the most sympathetic and responsive temperament, with a power of entering into close and beautiful relations with a very wide and various range of people. The many strong and altogether dissimilar individualities that composed this cercle intime all found some point of common meeting with " Isa," as they all called her. She was Mrs. Browning's most intimate friend, and a large proportion of the " Letters "of Mrs. Browning, published under the able and exquisite editorship of Mr. Frederick Kenyon, were written to Miss Blagden. To her, letters from Mrs. Browning simply wrote themselves,--so unfailing was the spiritual sympathy between them. The psychology of letter-writing would involve subtile analysis of spiritual magnetism. The quality of a letter really depends much more on the person to whom it is written than on the writer. It is something, or nothing, according to the quality of the spirit that attracts this expression. Letter-writing is therefore always a relative and never an absolute capacity. " A letter is a spiritual gift," Emerson has well said, and like any other of the higher relations, it gives itself. A mere mechanical chronicle can always be produced ; but the real letter writes itself or it is not written.
A learned professor in the Smithsonian Institute has said that if any substance could be found that would effectually arrest magnetism, the secret of perpetual motion could be solved ; but as yet no such element could be found. The electric current can be stopped the magnetic current is as inevitable as is the attraction of gravitation. Nothing, so far as is yet known to science, ' an arrest it. The analogy between spiritual and terrestrial magnetism is impressed upon one. Nothing can possibly arrest the magnetic current of spiritual sympathy, and this relation between Mrs. Browning and Miss Blagden seemed a predestined one of temperamental sympathy.
In the Terrestrial Laboratory of the University of Catania in Sicily there is a geo-dynamic apparatus which registers, with the greatest accuracy of precision, the conditions of stability of the earth. The slightest variation is instantly recorded by the pendulums, of the utmost delicacy of structure. These seismographs are all placed on tables of solid stone penetrating a hundred feet into the bed rock and protected by glass cases. They register the faintest tremor of the earth caused by internal forces, and these instruments are so sensitive that even the presence of a person standing near expands the steel and disturbs the adjustment. There are eight of these delicately adjusted instruments all connected by an electrical circuit. One cannot stand in this subterranean chamber watching these scientific appliances, so sensitive to the slightest breath, without perceiving their analogy to the spiritual life of man. There are natures that instantly register in the mental life any variation caused by the presence and the character of those with whom they come in contact. Mrs. Browning was pre-eminently one of these. The poet, by the very nature that predetermines a poet, must be . . . musical, Tremulous, impressional,"
and Mrs. Browning lived poetry as truly as she wrote it. She was one of whom it can truly be said that she never misapprehended, never undervalued any, intention of kindness or courtesy. One instance of this is obvious in a little, undated note written to Kate Field, who was then, as a young girl, placed in the care of Miss Blagden. It would seem from the note that Miss Field, with something of the presumption of earliest youth, had proffered some suggestion of her own to Mrs. Browning, who does not, however, reject it as somewhat of an audacity, but replies, in an undated note : —
MY DEAR MISS FIELD,— I thank you for
your excellent advice, and also the vision of your bright, earnest face given in the sight of your handwriting. Do observe that the " amnesty " full and entire, spoken of in " La foi des traites," is just given in France. This is the " second phrase of the Empire," and to be followed by a larger measure of liberal concessions.
Which confirms and verifies the book. For the writer, Napoleon walks under, as well as on, the earth. Now, in Italy, he is walking under ; but walking,— surely, — and we may congratulate one another in hope again.
Then for lesser hopes — we shall meet on the dear terrace, all alive, I hope. And also I hope you will accompany Miss Blagden, my dear Isa (I can't leave a Miss Blagden so), when she comes to pay us a visit. It will give us pleasure, dear Miss Field, if you do.
Yours affectionately ever,
ELIZABETH B. BROWNING.
Another of these little notes to Kate Field (which have never before been published) runs :
DEAR FRIEND, — God bless you and yours
for all your kindness, which I shall never forget ; I cannot write now — except to say this — and, besides, that I have had great comfort from the beginning. I know you are truth's self in all you profess to feel about her — she also loved you, as you felt. I shall see you soon and talk to you. Meantime and ever remember me as
Your affectionate E. B.
I speak to Mrs. Field also, you understand.
The sorrowful tone in this little note is in reference to the death of Mrs. Browning's sister, Henrietta, Mrs. Surtees Cook.
Miss Blagden seems to have been always near Mrs. Browning, whether in Florence or in the adjacent resorts to which they flitted in the summers. From Siena, Mrs. Browning wrote to an English friend : —
" Dear Isa Blagden is spending the summer in a rough cabin, a quarter of an hour's walk from here, and Mr. Landor is near by in the lane. This with the Storys a mile off) makes a sort of colonization of the country here."
Miss Frances Power Cobbe, who, as before noted, shared for a time Isa Blagden's home in Villa Brichieri, was a brilliant acquisition to the Florentine circle. The two ladies drew around them an interesting company, both in their regular weekly receptions and for those unpremeditated social occasions that are so delightful. Robert Browning was one of their most familiar habitués ; and the Italian poet, Dall' Ontario, the Trollopes, Mrs. Stowe, and Miss Linda White (now Mme. Pasquale Villari) and others made up a salon of distinction, To Miss Blagden and Miss Cobbe Landor often came, and although he was then in his late eighties, he and Miss Cobbe rambled about Florence together while he poured out reminiscences of Southey and Shelley and other friends of his early life. Mme. Mario, Frederick Tennyson, and Mrs. Somerville were also among the nearer friends of Miss Cobbe, and Theodore Parker, with whom she had held a long and deeply interesting correspondence, came to Florence in the spring of 1860, only to pass on into the " life more abundant." After his death Miss Cobbe made some remark to Mrs. Stowe regarding the " end " of Theodore Parker's work, to which Mrs. Stowe replied, with an air of rebuke, " Do you think God has no work for Theodore Parker to do now ? " Mrs. Somerville and Miss Cobbe appear to have devoted their genius largely to discussions of the character of Christ, and as to what conceptions the apostles held of Him, with the conversational zeal that would have done credit to Mr. Alcott's disciples in his School of Philosophy in Concord.
Harriet Hosmer, that " bewitching sprite," as Miss Cobbe calls her, flitted over from her Roman studio now and then, delighting all this famous circle with her irresistible charm. At that time Miss Hosmer had achieved her " Zenobia," her " Puck," her " Sleeping Faun " and her " Beatrice Cenci," and great things were prophesied for her.
Although Miss Homer has left on art a notable impress, she was destined to achieve a still finer and more permanent success by a noble and beautiful life which gladdened all who came within her influence, and was forever lofty and fair in its exquisite friendships and its sweet and liberal sympathy with all that is noblest in human progress.
Isa Blagden was the daughter of a strange union, that of an English gentleman and a Hindoo princess, and many Oriental characteristics were apparent in her temperament. She lived on in Florence until her death in 1873. Mme. Villari was with her at the last; and her grave in the little English cemetery is quite near that of Mrs. Browning.
Though not so famous in the literary world as his brother, Anthony Trollope, the novelist, Thomas Adolphus Trollope had already during these years achieved recognition for his " Girl-hood of Catherine de' Medici," " A Decade of Italian Women," " Life of Filippo Strozzi," his novel, " La Beata," and other works, of which the most important is his " History of Florence," — an achievement which Professor Villari, the great scholar and incomparable biographer of Machiavelli and of Savonarola, pronounced the best among the many histories of the Tuscan capital.
" The study of bygone Florentines had an interest for me which was quickened by the daily study of living Florentines," said Mr. Trollope of this work. All this group that made famous the social life of Florence during the middle years of the nineteenth century, were people with serious purposes in life, people engaged in serious work ; but they were not without their appreciation of the nectar and ambrosia of living, and one of their special devices for securing these was by picnics. The favorite resort for festivity was at Protolino, a grand-ducal park belonging to some of the later Medici, some seven miles from Florence on the road to Bologna. The principal attraction at this place, Mr. Trollope relates, aside from the magnificent view over the thousand villas of the Val d' Arno, and over Florence enshrined in its purple hills, was the colossal figure designed by Michael Angelo, " the Appennino," so great that a platform holding four or five persons rested on the top of the head.
Mr. Trollope gossips pleasantly, in his " Reminiscences," of the American Minister to Florence in those days, George P. Marsh, with his very lovely and attractive wife, — a man of liberal culture and a most accomplished philologist. To escape the intense heat of a Florentine summer he went to Vallombrosa, where he died, and his body was brought down the mountain on the shoulders of some of the young students of the School of Forestry on the height, who greatly loved and honored Mr. Marsh.
A Boston friend of the Brownings, Mr. George S. Hillard, was often at Casa Guidi, and long discussions of the classic and the Elizabethan poets were carried on by himself and Mr. Browning. Mr. Hillard remarked afterward that he found the conversation of Mr. Browning like the poetry of Chaucer, which enigmatic compliment remains to this day unexplained.
Mrs. Jameson, too, was a near friend and habitué of Casa Guidi, where her inability to play whist was less a matter of regret than at Mrs. Trollope's house. During these years Mrs. Jameson was assiduously visiting the various Italian cities, engaged in that monumental task of collating the legends and of writing the Commentaries on Italian art that make up the long list of her works. A gentle, refined, and melancholy personality, never escaping the shadow of the great grief that came into her life, she glides like a spectral figure through the illuminated chronicle, the social missal, of this brilliant group, during these Florentine years, when each one, it may be, of this "joyous company " may have —
" Heard the faint rustle of leaves astir in the breath of the South,
Felt the soft lips of the dryad laid on his eyelids and mouth :
" So slept till the stars were all folded ; till, bright on the dim mountain lawn,
The Muses came singing to wake him, pouring the wine of the dawn ! "