[Browning’s] private conversation was a very different thing from his talk over the dinner-table or in a picture-gallery. It was a much finer phenomenon, and one which tallied far better with the noble breadth of his genius. To a single listener, with whom he was on familiar terms, the Browning of his own study was to the Browning of a dinner party as a tiger is to a domestic cat. In such conversation his natural strength came out. His talk assumed the volume and the tumult of a cascade. His voice rose to a shout, sank to a whisper, ran up and down the gamut of conversational melody. Those whom he was expecting will never forget his welcome, the loud trumpet-note from the other end of the passage, the talk already in full flood at a distance of twenty feet. Then, in his own study or drawing-room, what he loved was to capture the visitor in a low armchair’s ‘sofa-lap of leather’,1 and from a most unfair vantage of height to tyrannise, to walk around the victim in front, behind, on this side, on that, weaving magic circles, now with gesticulating arms thrown high, now grovelling on the floor to find some reference in a folio, talking all the while, a redundant turmoil of thoughts, fancies, and reminiscences flowing from those generous lips. To think of it is to conjure up an image of intellectual vigour, armed at every point, but overflowing, none the less, with the geniality of strength.
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- 4.For further details of the recording and alternative versions of what Browning said see Michael Hancher and Jerrold Moore, ‘“The Sound of a Voice That is Still”: Browning’s Edison Cylinder’, Browning Newsletter, 4–5 (1970), pp. 21–33, 10–18.Google Scholar