Saturday, July 7, 2012

July 7

For a change of pace, let us look at a letter written by Mrs. Browning to Mr. Kenyon describing the glories of Venice and travels in Europe. This letter was sent from Paris, after her first visit to Venice, 1851:

"Venice is quite exquisite; it wrapt me round with a spell at first sight, and I longed to live and die there—never to go away. The gondolas, and the glory they swim through, and the silence of the population, drifted over one's head across the bridges, and the fantastic architecture and the coffee-drinking and music in the Piazza San Marco, everything fitted into my lazy, idle nature and weakness of body, as if I had been born to the manner of it and to no other. Do you know I expected in Venice a dreary sort of desolation? Whereas there was nothing melancholy at all, only a soothing, lulling, rocking atmosphere which if Armida had lived in a city rather than in a garden would have suited her purpose. Indeed Taglioni seems to be resting her feet from dancing, there, with a peculiar zest, inasmuch as she has bought three or four of the most beautiful palaces. How could she do better? And one or two ex-kings and queens (of the more vulgar royalties) have wrapt themselves round with those shining waters to forget the purple—or dream of it, as the case may be. Robert and I led a true Venetian life, I assure you; we 'swam in gondolas' to the Lido and everywhere else, we went to a festa at Chioggia in the steamer (frightening Wilson by being kept out by the wind till two o'clock in the morning), we went to the opera and the play (at a shilling each, or not as much!), and we took coffee every evening on St. Mark's Piazza, to music and the stars. Altogether it would have been perfect, only what's perfect in the world? While I grew fat, Wilson grew thin, and Robert could not sleep at nights. The air was too relaxing or soft or something for them both, and poor Wilson declares that another month of Venice would have killed her outright. Certainly she looked dreadfully ill and could eat nothing. So I was forced to be glad to go away, out of pure humanity and sympathy, though I keep saying softly to myself ever since, 'What is there on earth like Venice?'
Then, we slept at Padua on St. Anthony's night (more's the pity for us: they made us pay sixteen zwanzigers for it!), and Robert and I, leaving Wiedeman at the inn, took a calèche and drove over to Arqua, which I had set my heart on seeing for Petrarch's sake. Did you ever see it, you? And didn't it move you, the sight of that little room where the great soul exhaled itself? Even Robert's man's eyes had tears in them as we stood there, and looked through the window at the green-peaked hills. And, do you know, I believe in 'the cat.'
Through Brescia we passed by moonlight (such a flood of white moonlight) and got into Milan in the morning. There we stayed two days, and I climbed to the topmost pinnacle of the cathedral; wonder at me! Indeed I was rather overtired, it must be confessed—three hundred and fifty steps—but the sight was worth everything, enough to light up one's memory for ever. How glorious that cathedral is! worthy almost of standing face to face with the snow Alps; and itself a sort of snow dream by an artist architect, taken asleep in a glacier! Then the Da Vinci Christ did not disappoint us, which is saying much. It is divine. And the Lombard school generally was delightful after Bologna and those soulless Caracci! I have even given up Guido, and Guercino too, since knowing more of them. Correggio, on the other hand, is sublime at Parma; he is wonderful! besides having the sense to make his little Christs and angels after the very likeness of my baby.
From Milan we moved to Como, steamed down to Menaggio (opposite to Bellaggio), took a calèche to Porlezza, and a boat to Lugano, another calèche to Bellinzona, left Wiedeman there, and, returning on our steps, steamed down and up again the Lago Maggiore, went from Bellinzona to Faido and slept, and crossed the Mount St. Gothard the next day, catching the Lucerne steamer at Fluellen. The scenery everywhere was most exquisite, but of the great pass I shall say nothing—it was like standing in the presence of God when He is terrible. The tears overflowed my eyes. I think I never saw the sublime before. Do you know I sate out in the coupé a part of the way with Robert so as to apprehend the whole sight better, with a thick shawl over my head, only letting out the eyes to see. They told us there was more snow than is customary at this time of year, and it well might be so, for the passage through it, cut for the carriage, left the snow-walls nodding over us at a great height on each side, and the cold was intense.
Do you know we might yield the palm, and that Lucerne is far finer than any of our Italian lakes? Even Robert had to confess it at once. I wanted to stay in Switzerland, but we found it wiser to hasten our steps and come to Paris; so we came. Yes, and we travelled from Strasburg to Paris in four-and-twenty hours, night and day, never stopping except for a quarter of an hour's breakfast and half an hour's dinner. So afraid I was of the fatigue for Wiedeman! But between the unfinished railroad and the diligence, there's a complication of risks of losing places just now, and we were forced to go the whole way in a breath or to hazard being three or four days on the road. So we took the coupé and resigned ourselves, and poor little babe slept at night and laughed in the day, and came into Paris as fresh in spirit as if just alighted from the morning star, screaming out with delight at the shops! Think of that child! Upon the whole he has enjoyed our journey as much as any one of us, observing and admiring; though Robert and Wilson will have it that some of his admiration of the scenery we passed through was pureaffectation and acted out to copy ours. He cried out, clasping his hands, that the mountains were 'due'—meaning a great number. His love of beautiful buildings, of churches especially, no one can doubt about. When first he saw St. Mark's, he threw up his arms in wonder, and then, clasping them round Wilson's neck (she was carrying him), he kissed her in an ecstasy of joy. And that was after a long day's journey, when most other children would have been tired and fretful. But the sense of the beautiful is certainly very strong in him, little darling. He can't say the word 'church' yet, but when he sees one he begins to chant. Oh, he's a true Florentine in some things.
Well, now we are in Paris and have to forget the 'belle chiese;' we have beautiful shops instead, false teeth grinning at the corners of the streets, and disreputable prints, and fascinating hats and caps, and brilliant restaurants, and M. le Président in a cocked hat and with a train of cavalry, passing like a rocket along the boulevards to an occasional yell from the Red. Oh yes, and don't mistake me! for I like it all extremely, it's a splendid city—a city in the country, as Venice is a city in the sea. And I'm as much amused as Wiedeman, who stands in the street before the printshops (to Wilson's great discomfort) and roars at the lions. And I admire the bright green trees and gardens everywhere in the heart of the town. Surely it is a most beautiful city! And I like the restaurants more than is reasonable; dining à la carte, and mixing up one's dinner with heaps of newspapers, and the 'solution' by Emile de Girardin, who suggests that the next President should be a tailor. Moreover, we find apartments very cheap in comparison to what we feared, and we are in a comfortable quiet hotel, where it is possible, and not ruinous, to wait and look about one.
As to England—oh England—how I dread to think of it. We talk of going over for a short time, but have not decided when; yet it will be soon perhaps—it may. If it were not for my precious Arabel, I would not go; because Robert's family would come to him here, they say. But to give up Arabel is impossible. Henrietta is in Somersetshire; it is uncertain whether I shall see her, even in going, and she too might come to Paris this winter. And you will come—you promised, I think?...
I feel here near enough to England, that's the truth. I recoil from the bitterness of being nearer. Still, it must be thought of....
Mind, if ever I go to England I shall have no heart to go out of a very dark corner. I shall just see you and that's all. It's only Robert who is a patriot now, of us two. England, what with the past and the present, is a place of bitterness to me, bitter enough to turn all her seas round to wormwood! Airs and hearts, all are against me in England; yet don't let me be ungrateful. No love is forgotten or less prized, certainly not yours. Only I'm a citizeness of the world now, you see, and float loose.
God bless you, dearest Mr. Kenyon, prays
Your ever affectionate

Well, I guess she liked travelling. Can it be possible that she climbed to the top of the Milan Cathedral and was not carried? Her health certainly seems at a peak. Her joy at being in the world and not simply reading about the world is evident in her descriptions of all the sights. She was certainly blessed that she did not suffer from motion sickness. And the fact that Browning allowed her to ride on the outside of the carriage through the Alps! Was he trying to kill her? They did not spare the horses in making the trip from Salzburg to Paris, about 225 miles, in 24 hours. Her reference to 'disreputable prints' is rather amusing. Paris is so naughty. Taken altogether, her good health, good weather and a two year old child who slept all night and laughed all day, this was a miracle of a trip. I wonder how shocked Kenyon was at her declaration that she was a 'citizeness of the world'? Wasn't she getting bold!

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