Exerting himself ‘for the amusement of his fellow-guests at a dinner-table’

  • Alexandra Orr


We cannot doubt that the excited stream of talk which sometimes flowed from him was, in the given conditions of mind and imagination, due to a nervous impulse which he could not always restrain; and that the effusiveness of manner with which he greeted alike old friends and new, arose also from a momentary want of self-possession. We may admit this the more readily that in both cases it was allied to real kindness of intention, above all in the latter, where the fear of seeming cold towards even a friend’s friend, strove increasingly with the defective memory for names and faces which were not quite familiar to him. He was also profoundly averse to the idea of posing as a man of superior gifts; having indeed, in regard to social intercourse, as little of the fastidiousness of genius as of its bohemianism. He, therefore, made it a rule, from the moment he took his place as a celebrity in the London world, to exert himself for the amusement of his fellow-guests at a dinner-table, whether their own mental resources were great or small; and this gave rise to a frequent effort at conversation, which converted itself into a habit, and ended by carrying him away. This at least was his own conviction in the matter. The loud voice, which so many persons must have learned to think habitual with him, bore also traces of this half-unconscious nervous stimulation.1


  1. 1.
    Orr notes that Sarianna Browning ‘reminds me that loud speaking had become natural to him through the deafness of several of his intimate friends: Landor, Kirkup, Barry Cornwall, and previously his uncle Reuben. … This fact necessarily modifies my impression of the case, but does not quite destroy it’. According to Rudolf Lehmann, An Artist’s Reminiscences (London, 1894), p. 227, Browning ‘attributed his rather loud and rasping voice to the fact of his father’s prolonged deafness’. Sidney Colvin, Memories and Notes of Persons and Places 1852–1912 (London, 1921), p. 79, maintains that ‘loudness of voice and a vigorous geniality of bearing’ were symptoms simply of ‘an inborn vital energy surpassing by fivefold those of other men’. The young Arthur Symons (1865–1945) recalled from his one meeting with Browning a voice violent but musical and possessed of ‘certain touches of rare magic’ (‘Some Browning Reminiscences’, North American Review (October 1916), pp. 606–7).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Alexandra Orr

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