Browning’s ‘celerity, or … immediateness’
The mental quality which I felt most in him was celerity, or (if I may coin the word) immediateness. Whatever he had to consider or speak about, he disposed of in the most forthright style. Along with the celerity of perception, of appraisement, and of solution, there was the greatest directness of method; every touch told, every nail was hit on the head. Sometimes there was a large nail to clench, and very often only a small one, hardly worthy of a master-craftsman’s hand; large or small, the nails received the same treatment. With his vast mental power, and very extensive range of knowledge, Browning was sure to talk well on all sorts of subjects. He was not (within my experience, at least) a sustained conversationalist, nor exactly a brilliant one; but he said something pleasant and pointed on whatever turned up — he was anecdotic and racy, gave himself no air of superiority, and put you very much at your ease. His talk was rich in variety and aplomb; one could dip into it as into a treasure-trove of fine coins, all ringing true, and with constantly new image and superscription. He had no objection to talking about himself, as well as about anything else; but I never heard him ‘hold forth’ by way of self-assertion, or of browbeating his inferiors (and when was it that he encountered his equal?) from the height of his faculties and his performances.
- For a similar assessment see Rossetti’s more often cited Some Reminiscences, 2 vols (London, 1906), i.235.Google Scholar