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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/85

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Brownning
Browning
81

accomplished women of those days. Her noble poem on Cowper's grave was republished with the ‘Seraphim,’ on which (whatever her later opinion may have been) she at the time seems to have set small count; all the remaining copies of the book being locked away, she writes, in the ‘wardrobe in her father's bedroom,’ entombed as safely as Œdipus among the olives. In a surviving copy of this book, belonging to Mr. J. Dykes Campbell, there is an added stanza to the image of God, never yet printed, and many a faint correction in her delicate handwriting. From Gloucester Place Miss Barrett went an unwilling exile for her health's sake to Torquay, where the tragedy occurred which ‘gave a nightmare to her life for ever.’ Her brother had come to see her and to be comforted by her for some trouble of his own, when he was accidentally drowned, under circumstances of torturing suspense, which added to the shock. All that year the sea beating upon the shore sounded to her as a dirge, she says, in a letter to Miss Mitford. It was long before Miss Barrett's health was sufficiently restored to allow of her being brought home to Gloucester Place, where many years passed away in the confinement of a sick room, to which few besides the members of her own family were admitted. Among these exceptions were to be found Miss Mitford, who would travel forty miles to see her for an hour, Mrs. Jameson, and above all Mr. Kenyon, the ‘friend and dearest cousin’ to whom she afterwards dedicated ‘Aurora Leigh.’ Mr. Kenyon had an almost fatherly affection for her, and from the first recognised his young relative's genius. He was her constant visitor and link with the outside world. As Miss Barrett lay on her couch with her dog Flush at her feet, Miss Mitford describes her as reading ‘books in almost every language,’ giving herself heart and soul to poetry. She also occupied herself with prose, writing literary articles for the ‘Athenæum,’ and contributing to a modern rendering of Chaucer, which was then being edited by her unknown friend, Mr. R. H. Horne. These early letters of Mrs. Browning to Mr. Horne, published after her death with her husband's sanction, are full of the suggestions of her fancy; as for instance, ‘Sappho who broke off a fragment of her soul for us to guess at.’ Of herself she once writes (apparently in answer to some question of Mr. Horne's): ‘My story amounts to the knife-grinder's, with nothing at all for a catastrophe! A bird in a cage would have as good a story; most of my events and nearly all my intense pleasure have passed in my thoughts.’

In 1843 Miss Barrett wrote the ‘Cry of the Children,’ so often quoted. It was suggested by the report of the commissioners appointed to investigate the subject of the employment of young children. In the early part of 1846 she assisted Mrs. Jameson, who was preparing a volume of collected papers, by contributing a translation from the ‘Odyssey.’ About this time Mr. Kenyon first brought Mr. Browning as a visitor to the house. It must have been about this time that Miss Barrett, writing to Mrs. Jameson, says, in a warm and grateful letter in the possession of Mrs. Oliphant: ‘First I was drawn to you, then I was and am bound to you, but I do not move into the confessional notwithstanding my own heart and yours.’

In ‘Lady Geraldine's Courtship’ Miss Barrett had written of Browning among other poets as of the ‘pomegranate which, if cut deep down the middle, shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.’ Very soon after their first acquaintance they became engaged, and were married in the autumn of the same year, 1846. The ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ are among the loveliest in the English language, and were written in secret by Mrs. Browning before her marriage, although they were not shown to her husband till long afterwards. He himself had once called her ‘his Portuguese’ (see Mrs. Browning's ‘Caterina to Camoens’), and she had replied by writing these sonnets. There is a quality in them which is beyond words; an echo from afar which belongs to the highest human expression of feeling. Leigh Hunt may be quoted as expressing his wonder at the marvellous beauty, ‘the entire worthiness and loveliness’ of these sonnets. Some time in 1846 the doctors had declared that Miss Barrett's life depended upon her leaving England for the winter, and immediately after their marriage Mr. Browning took his wife abroad. Mrs. Jameson was at Paris when Mr. and Mrs. Browning arrived there. In the life of Mrs. Jameson, by her niece, Mrs. Macpherson, there is an interesting description of the meeting and the surprise, and of their all journeying together southwards by Avignon and Vaucluse. They came to a rest at Pisa, whence Mrs. Browning writes to her old friend, Mr. Horne, to tell him of her marriage, and she adds that Mrs. Jameson calls her, notwithstanding all the emotion and fatigue of the last six weeks, rather ‘transformed’ than improved. From Pisa the new married pair went to Florence, where they finally settled, and where their boy was born in 1849. Those among us who only knew