Among our most frequent visitors was Mr Browning. Mrs Browning was never able to drive so far, but her warm friendship for Miss Blagden1 was heartily shared by her husband and we saw a great deal of him. Always full of spirits, full of interest in everything from politics to hedge-flowers, cordial and utterly unaffected, he was at all times a charming member of society; but I confess that in those days I had no adequate sense of his greatness as a poet. I could not read his poetry, though he had not then written his most difficult pieces, and his conversation was so playful and light that it never occurred to me that I was wasting precious time chatting frivolously with him when I might have been gaining high thoughts and instruction. There was always a ripple of laughter round the sofa where he used to seat himself, generally beside some lady of the company, towards whom, in his eagerness, he would push nearer and nearer till she frequently rose to avoid falling off at the end! When we drove out in parties he would discuss every tree and weed, and get excited about the difference between eglantine and eglatere (if there be any), and between either of them and honeysuckle. He and Isa were always wrangling in an affectionate way over some book or music; (he was a fine performer himself on the piano), and one night when I had left Villa Brichieri2 and was living at Villa Niccolini at least half-a-mile off, the air, being in some singular condition of sonority, carried their voices between the walls of the two villas so clearly across to me that I actually heard some of the words of their quarrel, and closed my window lest I should be an eavesdropper.
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