A trip to the future: February 13, 1855 finds Mrs. Browning writing to Mrs. Martin, her childhood neighbor, from Casa Guidi, her home in Florence. Britain is involved in the Crimea and word is reaching them of death and politics.
"Oh, the East, the East! My husband has been almost frantic on the subject. We may all cover our heads and be humble. Verily we have sinned deeply. As to ministers, that there is blame I do not doubt. The Aberdeen element has done its worst, but our misfortune is that nobody is responsible; and that if you tear up Mr. So-and-so and Lord So-and-so limb from limb, as a mild politician recommended the other day, you probably would do a gross injustice against very well-meaning persons. It's the system, the system which is all one gangrene; the most corrupt system in Europe, is it not? Here is my comfort. Apart from the dreadful amount of individual suffering which cries out against us to heaven and earth, this adversity may teach us much, this shock which has struck to the heart of England may awaken us much, and this humiliation will altogether be good for us. We have stood too long on a pedestal talking of our moral superiority, our political superiority, and all our other superiorities, which I have long been sick of hearing recounted. Here's an inferiority proved. Let us understand it and remedy it, and not talk, talk, any more."
But Mrs. Martin has sent a present of a shawl to Mrs. Browning via a friend who was visiting Florence. In the 19th century your letters could be sent safely all over Europe via the postal services, but they did not convey packages. If you needed to send your packet of manuscripts from Italy to England you had to have a friend take it for you, pay a special courier or take it yourself. I imagine the man who delivered this package for Mrs. Martin was hoping for a glimpse of the famous poets, but it doesn't sound like he got the pleasure. He probably had to leave it with the man servant or maid. How disappointing!
"But I have been very unwell, and was actually in bed when he called; unwell with the worst attack on the chest I ever suffered from in Italy. Oh, I should have written to you long since if it had not been for this. For a month past or more I have been ill. Now, indeed, I consider myself convalescent; the exhausting cough and night fever are gone, I may say, the pulse quiet, and, though considerably weakened and pulled down, that will be gradually remedied as long as this genial mildness of the weather lasts. You were quite right in supposing us struck here by the cold of which you complained even at Pau. Not only here but at Pisa there has been snow and frost, together with a bitter wind which my precaution of keeping steadily to two rooms opening one into another could not defend me from. My poor Robert has been horribly vexed about me, of course, and indeed suffered physically at one time through sleepless nights, diversified by such pastimes as keeping fires alight and warming coffee, &c. &c. Except for love's sake it wouldn't be worth while to live on at the expense of doing so much harm, but you needn't exhort—I don't give it up. I mean to live on and be well."
This last is spoken as one who suffers just to breath. But she doesn't suggest giving up because she suffers, but because she is a burden to Browning. She worried about this ten years earlier when they were courting. She didn't want to be a burden to him in her health, which of course she was. We will return to this later as her health continues to weaken and she becomes almost as shut in as she was in Wimpole Street. With a difference of course, but still she must have felt such a burden. He can't say she didn't warn him.