Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24

Let's look at a letter from Mrs. Browning to Fanny Haworth written July 24, 1858 with an address of 2 Rue de Perry, Le Havre, Maison Versigny:

"My dearest Fanny,— ... I gave you an account of our journey to Paris, which I won't write over again, especially as you may have read some things like it. In Paris we remained a fortnight except a day, and I liked it as I always like Paris, for which I have a decided fancy. And yet I did nothing, except in one shop, and in a fiacre driving round and round, and sometimes at a restaurant, dining round and round. But Paris is so full of life—murmurs so of the fountain of intellectual youth for ever and ever—that rolling up the rue de Rivoli (much more the Boulevards) suggests a quicker beat of the fancy's heart; and I like it—I like it. The architectural beauty is wonderful. Give me Venice on water, Paris on land—each in its way is a dream city. If one had but the sun there—such a sun as one has in Italy! Or if one had no lungs here—such lungs as are in me. But no. Under actual circumstances something different from Paris must satisfy me. Also, when all's said and sighed, I love Italy—I love my Florence. I love that 'hole of a place,' as Father Prout called it latelywith all its dust, its cobwebs, its spiders even, I love it, and with somewhat of the kind of blind, stupid, respectable, obstinate love which people feel when they talk of 'beloved native lands.' I feel this for Italy, by mistake for England. Florence is my chimney-corner, where I can sulk and be happy. But you haven't come to that yet. In spite of which, you will like the Baths of Lucca, just as you like Florence, for certain advantages—for the exquisite beauty, and the sense of abstraction from the vulgarities and vexations of the age, which is the secret of the strange charm of the south, perhaps—who knows? And yet there are vulgarities and vexations even in Tuscany, if one digs for them—or doesn't dig, sometimes...."

The reference here to Charles Sumner is interesting and I highly recommend this Wiki entry on this American Senator that explains (to the extent that they can be explained) the reason for the remarkable medical treatment she describes here:

"In Paris we saw Father Prout, who was in great force and kindness, and Charles Sumner, passing through the burning torture under the hands of French surgeons, which is approved of by the brains of English surgeons. Do you remember the Jesuit's agony, in the 'Juif Errant'? Precisely that. Exposed to the living coal for seven minutes, and the burns taking six weeks to heal. Mr. Sumner refused chloroform—from some foolish heroic principle, I imagine, and suffered intensely. Of course he is not able to stir for some time after the operation, and can't read or sleep from the pain. Now, he is just 'healed,' and is allowed to travel for two months, after which he is to return and be burned again. Isn't it a true martyrdom? I ask. What is apprehended is paralysis, or at best nervous infirmity for life, from the effect of the blows (on the spine) of that savage."

Mrs. Browning was, of course, a great supporter of the abolition of slavery and had written several poems in support which were widely published and known in the United States at that time. I suspect that is how she came to be acquainted with this well know American abolitionist senator. The attack on him on the floor of the senate by a pro-slavery zealot was the reason that necessitated the treatment discussed here.

"Then, just as we arrived in Paris, dear Lady Elgin had another 'stroke,' and was all but gone. She rallied, however, with her wonderful vitality, and we left her sitting in her garden, fixed to the chair, of course, and not able to speak a word, nor even to gesticulate distinctly, but with the eloquent soul full and radiant, alive to both worlds. Robert and I sate there, talking politics and on other subjects, and there she sate and let no word drop unanswered by her bright eyes and smile. It was a beautiful sight. Robert fed her with a spoon from her soup-plate, and she signed, as well as she could, that he should kiss her forehead before he went away. She was always so fond of Robert, as women are apt to be, you know—even I, a little....See what a letter I have written. Write to me, dearest Fanny, and love me. Oh, how glad I shall be to be back among you again in my Florence!

Such a life she lead after she left Wimpole Street. She took a gamble of a lifetime and it paid off.

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