The ‘logical and common-sensible’ poet and the ‘good and kind fairy’
Florence, June 9  Mrs Browning met us at the door of the drawing-room, and greeted us most kindly — a pale, small person, scarcely embodied at all; at any rate, only substantial enough to put forth her slender fingers to be grasped, and to speak with a shrill, yet sweet, tenuity of voice. Really, I do not see how Mr Browning can suppose that he has an earthly wife any more than an earthly child; both are of the elfin-race, and will flit away from him some day when he least thinks of it. She is a good and kind fairy, however, and sweetly disposed towards the human race, although only remotely akin to it. It is wonderful to see how small she is,1 how pale her cheek, how bright and dark her eyes. There is not such another figure in this world; and her black ringlets cluster down into her neck, and make her face look the whiter by their sable profusion. I could not form any judgement about her age; it may range any where within the limits of human life, or elfin-life. When I met her in London, at Lord Houghton’s breakfast-table2 she did not impress me so singularly; for the morning light is more prosaic than the dim illumination of their great tapestried drawing-room; and besides, sitting next to her, she did not have occasion to raise her voice in speaking, and I was not sensible what a slender voice she has.3
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- 1.The manuscript adds that her face was ‘peaked’ but without ugliness (The French and Italian Notebooks, ed. Thomas Woodson (Columbus, OH, 1980), p. 301.Google Scholar
- 4.Quoting this remark Hawthorne’s younger daughter Rose (1851–1926) suggests a possible influence on Count Donatello in The Marble Faun (1860): ‘Not one of all the cherubs of all the great masters had a sunnier face, more dancing curls, or a sweeter smile’ than Browning; ‘I have wondered whether the Faun would have sprung with such untainted jollity into the sorrows of to-day if Mr Browning had not leaped so blithely before my father’s eyes’ (Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Memories of Hawthorne (London, 1897), p. 403).Google Scholar