Showing the Old Yellow Book

  • Hiram Corson


He received me in the drawing room on the second floor. After a few minutes’ conversation, he showed me various interesting things in the drawing room, busts and portraits, and mementos of Mrs Browning, keeping up a rapid and meandering current of talk. Something was said, I forget what, which caused me to allude to ‘the Book’, the ‘Square Old Yellow Book’, with ‘crumpled vellum covers’, which he picked out of the market-day trumpery in the Piazza San Lorenzo, in Florence, and which led to the composition of his masterpiece, The Ring and the Book.1 ‘I’ll take you down in a few minutes,’ he said, ‘to the library, and show it to you.’ When we left the drawing-room and were at the top of the stairway, he, with an apparent unconsciousness, and as if I were a younger brother, put his arm over my off shoulder, and so descended with me, talking all the while at his usual rapid rate. I tell this little incident, as I observed later, on several occasions, such an expression of unconscious cordiality and good fellowship was a characteristic of him. Beside his chair, at the writing table, stood Mrs Browning’s low-seated, high and straight-backed, black haircloth covered chair, on which were piled books almost to the top of the back, which most effectually excluded anyone from the honor of sitting in it.


  1. Furnivall (1825–1910), among manifold activities as editor, educator, oarsman and lexicographer, founded the New Shakespere Society in 1873 and, with Emily Hickey, the Browning Society in 1881. He persuaded Browning, with some difficulty, to become president of the New Shakespere Society in 1879. On the Browning Society see further William S. Peterson, Interrogating the Oracle: A History of the Browning Society (Athens, OH, 1969).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Hiram Corson

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