The Brownings, 1847

  • George Stillman Hillard


It is well for the traveller to be chary of names. 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 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 vigour, 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.


  1. Hillard (1808–79) was a Boston lawyer and man of letters. He visited Italy in 1847–8, meeting the Brownings in December 1847, by which time they had been living in Florence for eight months. His account of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of several which ‘privileges the life of the spirit over that of the body … seeing in physical debility the sign of a visionary closeness to the spirit world’ (Daniel Karlin, ‘The Brownings’ Marriage: Contemporary Representations’, Studies in Browning and His Circle, 21 (1993–7), p. 44).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • George Stillman Hillard

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