Stumbling on melons (poetry Book 2)

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Phelps waylaid me at the stage-floor 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. 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 [xiv] The Sister! 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' meant 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.

Adam J. Maynard

Of the more profound separation between Browning and the theatre, due to the inherent impossibility of his arresting his thought before it got beyond the actor's use, Luria and The Return of the Druses afford good examples, and an illustration might fairly be taken from Colombe's Birthday , which was put on the stage in , but scarcely held its own, though Helen Faucit took the heroine's part, and, when revived forty years after, was so cut and slashed that though the splendid idea of Valence was retained in situation, the delicate, subtle shadows which passed and repassed before the reader's mind were wanting.

The period when Browning was writing his dramas was one of spendthrift enjoyment of life. For it was a time not only of work in the British Museum and of excursions into all sorts of remote fields of literature, but of long rambles, half gypsy experiences, hours when, stretched at full length beneath the sky, he made familiar and minute acquaintance with bird and leaf, insect and snail, the wind in the trees, the search for the northwest passage of argosies of clouds.

He pursued all manner of interests which absorbed him for the moment; he was living, in short, that abundant life which was reflected later in multitudinous dramatic assumptions. Then all at once there came a concentration of his passion and a sudden revelation to him which never lost its wondrous light.

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, knowing each other through their writings, then by a common service to a common friend, then by an intermittent correspondence, finally were brought together by John Kenyon, already a dear friend of each.


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The fragile creature, scarce able to leave her couch, and the robust, exuberantly vital man, were as far separate in external, superficial agreement as could well be, but each knew the other with an instantaneousness of knowledge and need. Again and again, not only in verses directed openly to his wife, but in those which like By the Fireside thinly veil personal feeling, the passionate constancy of this experimenting, daringly inquisitive poet towards his poet wife is splendidly disclosed, with a certain glory of frank confession which is the vehement sincerity of one who is in this one feeling genuine poet and genuine man.

Miss Barrett was an invalid, guarded with the greatest care, and Browning, in urging marriage upon her, met with all the obstacles which the circumstances raised.

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He confronted indeed the indomitable refusal of Miss Barrett's father. A physician had held out hopes that a removal to Italy would give the invalid a chance to regain some degree of health, but Mr. Barrett, for some not very clear reason, refused his consent to her taking the journey with her brother. It was then that Browning, who can readily be conceived of as a masterful man, won Miss Barrett's consent to a sudden and clandestine marriage, and a journey to Italy as his wife.

Orr, "she took a preparatory step which, in so far as it was known, must itself have been sufficiently startling to those about her; she drove to Regent's Park, and when there, stepped out of the carriage and on to the grass.

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I do not know how long she stood—probably only for a moment; but I well remember hearing that when, after so long an interval, she felt earth under her feet and air about her, the sensation was almost bewilderingly strange. They were married September 12, She would not entangle Mr. Kenyon or any of her [xv] friends by announcing even her engagement; she preferred marrying without her father's knowledge, to marrying against his prohibition.


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For a week the husband and wife did not see each other. Then they met by agreement and went to Paris. Barrett never forgave his daughter, but the consternation with which the Browning family heard of the event quickly turned to affectionate regard for the frail wife. So far as Mrs. Browning's physical well-being was concerned, it is clear that the marriage gave her a new lease of life; and what seemed at the moment an audacious taking of fate into their own hands proved to be a case where nature obtained her best of both.

From Paris, by slow stages, they passed through France into Italy, and made their first long halt in Pisa. It was here, we are told, that Mrs. Browning showed to her husband in manuscript those Sonnets from the Portuguese which were her offering to him out of the darkness of her chamber. From Pisa they went to Florence, to Ancona, and again back to Florence, where at last they obtained a foothold in the old palace called Casa Guidi, a name to be endeared to the readers of Mrs. Browning's poetry. George S. Hillard, in his Six Months in Italy , gives a pleasant account of the Brownings when he met them in Florence in It is an ungrateful return for hospitable attentions to print the conversation of your host, or describe his person, or give an inventory of his furniture, or proclaim how his wife and daughters were dressed.

But I trust I may be pardoned if I state that one of my most delightful associations with Florence arises from the fact that here I made the acquaintance of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. These are even more familiar names in America than in England, and their poetry is probably more read, and better understood with us than among their own countrymen. A happier home and a more perfect union than theirs it is not easy to imagine; and this completeness arises not only from the rare qualities which each possesses, but from their adaptation to each other.

Browning's conversation is like the poetry of Chaucer, or like his own, simplified and made transparent. His countenance is so full of vigor, freshness, and refined power, that it seems impossible to think that he can ever grow old. His poetry is subtle, passionate, and profound; but he himself is simple, natural, and playful. He has the repose of a man who has lived much in the open air; with no nervous uneasiness and no unhealthy self-consciousness.

Browning is in many respects the correlative of her husband. As he is full of manly power, so she is a type of the most sensitive and delicate womanhood.

She has been a great sufferer from ill-health, and the marks of pain are stamped upon her person and manner. Her figure is slight, her countenance expressive of genius and sensibility, shaded by a veil of long brown locks; and her tremulous voice often flutters over her words, like the flame of a dying candle over the wick.

I have never seen a human frame which seemed so nearly a transparent veil for a celestial and immortal spirit. She is a soul of fire enclosed in a shell of pearl.

Her rare and fine genius needs no setting forth at my hands. She is also, what is not so generally known, a woman of uncommon, nay, profound learning, even measured by a masculine standard. Nor is she more remarkable for genius and learning, than for sweetness of temper, tenderness of heart, depth of feeling, and purity of spirit. It is a privilege to know such beings singly and separately, but to see their powers quickened, and their happiness rounded, by the sacred tie of marriage, is a cause for peculiar and lasting gratitude.

A union so complete as theirs—in which the mind has nothing to crave nor the heart to sigh for—is cordial to behold and something to remember. During the fifteen years of their married life the Brownings lived for the most part in Italy, with occasional summers in England and long sojourns in Paris. The record of Browning's productions during this period is meagre, if one regards the fulness of his poetic activity both before and after. The explanation is made that these new responsibilities,—for two sons were born to them, one of whom died,—carried also great anxieties, for the frailty of Mrs.

Browning's health was a constant factor in the movements of the household. But though the record is meagre as to quantity, lovers of Browning's poetry would be likely to regard this as not only a central period, chronologically, but the period when he reached his highest expression. The first collected edition of his poems appeared in , to be followed the next year by Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day , and then, five years after that, in , by Men and Women , a group of poems which still remains the flower of Browning's genius.

The great range taken by these poems is a witness to the fecundity and versatility of Browning's genius. It is possible, also, that to the circumstances of his life, especially its beautiful distractions, we owe the fact of a multitude of short poems rather than longer-sustained efforts. While Mrs. Browning, sheltered by the constant care exerted by her husband and stimulated by his companionship, composed her longest work, Aurora Leigh , he, never long freed from anxious thought, broke into more fragmentary production.

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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Poems Teachers Ask For, Book Two, by Various

A very good illustration of the alacrity of his mind and the instantaneous power of seizing upon opportunity is given in a passage in Mr. Gosse's Personalia :—. Browning suddenly reflected that there was, as he said, 'stuff for a poem' in that story, and immediately with extreme vivacity began to sketch the form it should take, the suppression of what features and the substitution of what others were needful; and finally suggested the non-obvious or inverted moral of the whole, in which the act of spirited defiance was shown to be, really, an act of tame renunciation, the poverty of the artist's spirit being proved in his eagerness to snatch, even though it was by honest merit, a benefit simply material.

The poet said, distinctly, that he had never before reflected on this incident as one proper to be versified; the speed, therefore, with which the creative architect laid the foundations, built the main fabric, and even put on the domes and pinnacles of his poem was, no doubt, of uncommon interest. He left it, in five minutes, needing nothing but the mere outward crust of the versification.

It was an incident in Browning's life that when he was producing his most glorious work and receiving the admiration and intelligent appreciation of his poetical wife, he was a very insignificant figure in English literature of the day.

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Browning was indignant over the neglect her husband suffered, and in her letters drew sharp comparison between the attention paid Browning in America and the neglect he received in England. Meanwhile, whether living in Florence or sojourning in Paris or London, a choice company was always to be found welcoming and honoring the two poets.

The death of Mrs. Browning, June 29, , closed this most beautiful human companionship. It made also a great change in Browning's habit of life, and no doubt affected in important ways his poetical productiveness. He left Italy for England. He became absorbed, so far as personal responsibilities went, in the education of his son. By some strange caprice, he chose to make his home in an ugly part of London, and he approached it through a region of disorder and squalor. But he also, with his robust nature, denied himself the luxury of a persistent solitariness, and little by little returned to society, especially grateful for the friendship of women like Miss Isa Blagden, who stepped in at the moment of his descent into the valley of grief with their gentle ministrations.

The months that followed Mrs.