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Changing Villas and Tom Trollope 10/07/2011

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c. 1910 remembering the 1860s

Shortly before making this expedition to the three Convents, I had shifted my quarters from the Lung Arno, in Florence, to an all but unfurnished little villa outside the Porta Romana, commanding a view of the City, Fiesole, and all the hills on the other side of the valley. It belonged to a furrier who had a shop in Florence, but had been suggested to me by Miss Isa Blagden, who was herself in a villa not far from it. A more comfortable one had been rejected by her because, as she playfully said, the contadini occupying it had three handsome daughters, and my reputation must be carefully guarded. I was well content with the smaller one, rudimentarily convenient though it was, as all I wanted was to sleep and breakfast in it, and loiter away the morning among the sprouting vines, burgeoning fig-trees, purple anemones, blood-red tulips, and white jonquils. Between one and two I went down to the city, and there remained till nine or ten of an evening, using the Club and Vieusseux’s as what the Florentines call my recapito or place where you leave and call for your parcels.

Spring is capricious in every European country; and I walked home in May three nights running in a slight snow-storm that had by morning left no trace. Then real, sunny, debonair Spring spread itself over Tuscany, and life was worth living indeed. But a shadow was cast over one’s enjoyment by the death, not unexpected, of Theodosia Trollope, the charming wife of my friend; and, as he and I walked away together from her grave in the English cemetery, where also lies Elizabeth Barrett Browning, he said he felt very lonely, and would I not come and stay with him in his Villa in the Piazza dell’ Independenza? Thither I betook myself with my sparse baggage that afternoon; and the change was from Spartan austerity to a happy combination of English comfort, Italian art, and a garden blooming with roses. I did all I could to distract him, and to concentrate his attention on the final chapters of his History of the Commonwealth of Florence.

He was still, in the matter of style, somewhat under the scarcely beneficial influence of Carlyle, whose simpler manner in the Life of Stirling I have always admired more than in his later and more popular ejaculatory writings. In opinion and tone of thought, Trollope was a traditional Liberal of the more sanguine kind; generous, but hardly practical, it has always seemed to me, because allowing too little for certain permanent forces alike in individual and collective human nature. I mention this, because, many years later, his brother Anthony said to me one day, when staying at Swinford, ‘You know how attached I am to you. But there is one thing for which I cannot forgive you. You have made my brother Tom a Conservative’. Nothing could have been less true. Life had done for his brother what he attributed to me. But the end of this little story has yet to be told. Not many years later, Anthony himself became a ‘Unionist’, and denouncedGladstoneand all his works in the energetic language that was habitual in his fervid conversation.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, A Child’s Grave 19/04/2011

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A Child’s Grave at Florence

Born, July 1848. Died, November 1849


Of English blood, of Tuscan birth,
What country should we give her?
Instead of any on the earth,
The civic Heavens receive her.


And here among the English tombs
In Tuscan ground we lay her,
While the blue Tuscan sky endomes
Our English words of prayer.


A little child!—how long she lived,
By months, not years, is reckoned:
Born in one July, she survived
Alone to see a second.


Bright-featured, as the July sun
Her little face still played in,
And splendours, with her birth begun,
Had had no time for fading.


So, Lily, from those July hours,
No wonder we should call her;
She looked such kinship to the flowers,
Was but a little taller.


A Tuscan Lily, only white,
As Dante, in abhorrence
Of red corruption, wished aright
The lilies of hisFlorence.


We could not wish her whiter, her
Who perfumed with pure blossom
The house – a lovely thing to wear
Upon a mother’s bosom!


This July creature thought perhaps
Our speech not worth assuming;
She sat upon her parents’ laps
And mimicked the gnat’s humming;


Said ‘father’, ‘mother’ — then left off,
For tongues celestial, fitter:
Her hair had grown just long enough
To catch heaven’s jasper-glitter.


Babes! Love could always hear and see
Behind the cloud that hid them.
’Let little children come to Me,
And do not thou forbid them.’


So, unforbidding, have we met,
And gently here have laid her,
Though winter is no time to get
The flowers that should o’erspread her:


We should bring pansies quick with spring,
Rose, violet, daffodilly,
And also, above everything,
White lilies for our Lily.


Nay, more than flowers, this grave exacts,
Glad, grateful attestations
Of her sweet eyes and pretty acts,
With calm renunciations.


Her very mother with light feet
Should leave the place too earthy,
Saying ‘The angels have thee, Sweet,
Because we are not worthy.


But winter kills the orange-buds,
The gardens in the frost are,
And all the heart dissolves in floods,
Remembering we have lost her.


Poor earth, poor heart, too weak, too weak
To miss the July shining!
Poor heart! What bitter words we speak
When God speaks of resigning!


Sustain this heart in us that faints,
Thou God, the self-existent!
We catch up wild at parting saints
And feel Thy heaven too distant.


The wind that swept them out of sin
Has ruffled all our vesture:
On the shut door that let them in
We beat with frantic gesture,


To us, us also, open straight!
The outer life is chilly;
Are we too, like the earth, to wait
Till next year for our Lily?


Oh, my own baby on my knees,
My leaping, dimpled treasure,
At every word I write like these,
Clasped close with stronger pressure!


Too well my own heart understands,—
At every word beats fuller—
My little feet, my little hands,
And hair of Lily’s colour!


But God gives patience, Love learns strength,
And Faith remembers promise,
And Hope itself can smile at length
On other hopes gone from us.    


Love, strong as Death, shall conquer Death,
Through struggle made more glorious:
This mother stills her sobbing breath,
Renouncing yet victorious.


Arms, empty of her child, she lifts
With spirit unbereaven,—
‘God will not all take back His gifts;
My Lily’s mine in heaven.


‘Still mine! maternal rights serene
Not given to another!
The crystal bars shine faint between
The souls of child and mother.


‘Meanwhile’, the mother cries, ‘content!
Our love was well divided:
Its sweetness following where she went,
Its anguish stayed where I did.


‘Well done of God, to halve the lot,
And give her all the sweetness;
To us, the empty room and cot,—
To her, the Heaven’s completeness.


‘To us, this grave,—to her, the rows
The mystic palm-trees spring in;
To us, the silence in the house,—
To her, the choral singing.


‘For her, to gladden in God’s view,—
For us, to hope and bear on.
Grow, Lily, in thy garden new,
Beside the Rose of Sharon!


‘Grow fast in heaven, sweet Lily clipped,
In love more calm than this is,
And may the angels dewy-lipped
Remind thee of our kisses!


‘While none shall tell thee of our tears,
These human tears now falling,
Till, after a few patient years,
One home shall take us all in.


‘Child, father, mother—who, left out?
Not mother, and not father!
And when, our dying couch about,
The natural mists shall gather,


‘Some smiling angel close shall stand
In old Correggio’s fashion,
And bear a Lily in his hand,
For death’s ANNUNCIATION.’