A face ‘corresponding with delicate exactness to the tone of her poems’

  • William Michael Rossetti


I must have found myself in the company of this noble poetess some half-dozen times in all. She was truly petite in form, with the smallest of human hands. I consider that the chalk head of her by Field Talfourd, done in 1859 and now in the National Portrait Gallery, is an extremely true likeness — so much so that those who know it hardly need any further description of her face. I find however one fault in the portrait. The lachrymose look of it can barely be pronounced over-charged; for Mrs Browning was of that excessive sensibility (and her face showed as much) which seemed to tremble towards tears at any moment — though I never actually saw her shed them, unless perhaps on the occasion next to be mentioned.1 But the fault is that, along with this truly lachrymose look, Mr Talfourd gives (to use an undignified term) something of a ‘snivelling’ look; and this did not belong to our Queen of Helicon. The spacious rounded brow, the very dark and liquid eyes, the profusion of dark satiny curls over which advancing years seemed to claim no control, are all rightly rendered; also the less attractive forms of the nose and mouth. Mrs Browning’s face, as I knew it, was not beautiful, nor yet pretty: for a student of expression it was fascinating, corresponding with delicate exactness to the tone of her poems.

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • William Michael Rossetti

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