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ceremony. I doubted, for the reasons I gave,—and some others ungiven, whether I ought to so far indulge myself: of course, the honour proposed to me admitted of no appearance of a refusal,--and I did a mere duty while gratifying myself besides. I have written to my son, and await his answer—which you shall hear as soon as possible: and when the time comes I shall trust to your goodness to inform me of all necessary to be known as to the time of arrival. Meanwhile and always believe me, my dear Professor,
Yours most truly,
ROBERT BROWNING. By the way,ought I to attend in the Oxford D.C.L. gown,-at any preliminary entertainment, for instance ? The following letter of a month later is evidently in reply to one asking him to time his arrival two days before the graduation ceremonial, as, on the day previous to the ceremonial, a reception was to be given by his hostess to meet him; and to keep other days free for other engagements at our house and elsewhere :
19 Warwick Crescent, W. March 25. '84. MY DEAR PROFESSOR MASSON,—Nothing can be kinder than all your proposed arrangements. My son arrived two days ago and, unfortunately, is obliged to return next week to Paris in order to finish work begun there,—and he will be detained too long to allow of the visit he would otherwise delight in 'paying you, and for the invitation to which he desires me to offer you—and offer Mrs. Masson -his grateful acknowledgments,-being well aware of what a privilege he is forced to deprive himself. With respect to the evening of the 15th,—be assured that all my time is wholly at your disposal, and would have been so independently of your kind intimation. As for the arrival, it will be, as you advise, on Monday 14th, by help of the train from King's Cross. I shall bring the Oxford D.C.L. gown, and provide myself with a Hood in Edinburgh.
So, with repeated thanks for all your goodness,--and looking forward to much pleasure in the approaching festivities, and, even more, in the opportunity of converse,- believe me, dear Professor Masson,
Yours very sincerely,
He arrived, then, on Monday evening, April 14. And he did come from King's Cross-it must have been the Waverley Station he arrived at, for when, attracted by the rattle of wheels, for which no doubt we had been listening, along the stony emptiness of Great King Street, some of us peeped from an upper window, it was to see the cab draw up from the east, and the great unknown and his host descend from it.
There were no guests that first evening—it was the only quiet evening of the visit—and Mr. Browning sat opposite the fire in an elbow chair, his hands resting on the wooden arms, talking brilliantly and happily to his hostess and host and those members of the family privileged to be present and listen.
He spoke with sympathetic pride of his son and his son's work,
and he told how once the son, who studied so much abroad, had told Millais he was thinking of going to Egypt to paint, and Millais had replied that he would not give up his months in the Highlands of Scotland for any years in Egypt. Mr. Browning's host and hostess were both well able to picture the optimistic smile with which Millais would have said it.
It was that first evening, as he sat in that chair, that Mr. Browning told the story of his experience at Oxford when he had gone there to receive the Oxford honorary degree. There was, he said, a disturbance in the Sheldonian because of a student's dangling, on a string stretched from gallery to gallery across the area of the hall, a red cotton nightcap, ‘ in allusion to a little thing I once wrote,' Mr. Browning explained in a parenthesis. Next day, Mr. Browning learnt that the irreverential undergraduate was to be sent down.' He immediately called personally on the outraged academic authorities and appealed for justice to be tempered with mercy. But they were obdurate. It did not seem to occur to them that it was in any way a credit to Oxford University that one of its students should know at least the name of a poem by Browning; the method of exhibiting the knowledge naturally scandalised them. Discipline must be maintained. * At last,' narrated Mr. Browning, 'I went to the Vice-Chancellor himself. “Mr. Vice-Chancellor," I said, “ am I, or am I not, a member of your University ? " ' Certainly you are one, Mr. Browning.” Then let that poor boy off !” And he was let off!'
Where, one wonders, is now that joyous perpetrator of unseasonable jokes? How have the intervening twenty and odd years been spent ? Is he a member of many Browning societies?
As the night waxed late while Mr. Browning and his hosts chatted, all the members of the family cannot claim to have been present. The chair, however-subsequent feeling having induced the surreptitious engraving and attachment of a brass plate bearing the name and date-has become thereby indisputable individual property, and is now and for ever 'The Browning Chair.'
Next day a great afternoon gathering at our house gave Edinburgh the opportunity of meeting our three guests, Mr. Browning, and Count and Countess Saffi-Aurelio Saffi, one of the Italian triumvirate,
Whose hand had borne such part
Count Saffi and his graceful, fascinating Scottish wife, more foreign in her accent, after her long years in Italy, than was her husband.
It may have been a crush that reception; it is recorded that the guests were numbered in hundreds, and certainly the cubic feet of the rooms were not; but it is comforting to know that Mr. Browning was not crushed—there must have been a space round him to have allowed that gentle lady to stroke him so eloquently. She stood behind him and put out her hand timidly and drew it back, and then, gathering courage, reverently mesmerised his coat with the tips of her gloved fingers. Her fingers were doubtless ' light as a snowflake’; but Mr. Browning evidently became aware of them, for he glanced quickly and nervously over his shoulder. Then she withdrew her hand in confusion ; but, biding her time,' when his attention was again safely occupied she again put forth the hand, gazing rapturously round her for sympathy as she resumed her stroking. Did she expect him to purr ? One hopes now that somebody passed by who could and did exalt so humble a worshipper by introducing to her the great and kindly poet.
There was another worshipper who had sent the previous day a wealth of pear-blossom from her beautiful and historic old garden near Edinburgh, with the request it should be put on Mr. Browning's toilet table. Attached to the bouquet was a quotation from one of Browning's poems. Possibly--but this is subsequent imagining —the lines were from Home Thoughts from Abroad':
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Blossoms and dewdrops
'This,' said his hostess, in introducing her, “is the sender of the pear-blossom.'
'I stripped a whole tree for you, Mr. Browning,' he was told. Mr. Browning took both her hands and looked at her kindly but reproachfully.
Poor pear-tree !' he said.
One or two trivial impressionist pictures of that afternoon are very vivid. There was always a little clearing where the lion stood, and then, round about, the crowd was denser-no doubt, as one has so often seen on similar occasions since, composed of those who, with restless eyes and wandering attention, sustain halfhearted and disjointed conversations while keeping close on the
chance of seeing and hearing, or even perhaps of being presented and being heard.
One of the pictures is of Mr. Browning standing silent, facing and looking down upon a shorter man, who looked up at him and spoke eagerly and excitedly. Mr. Browning's expression was one of mild and benevolent kindliness, with a hint of humour behind the smile. And the words of the shorter man, just as an irresponsible and insignificant passer-by overheard them, were : The best thing I ever wrote—'
Another picture is of the poet standing in the centre window, with a background of flowers, enjoying a gossip with Sir Andrew Clark.
At the end of the crush, when all the bidden company and the last of the lions had gone, when the hosts and hostesses had gathered their foreign guests and departed, when the floor, lately crowded with fair women and learned men, was once more empty, Mr. Browning's hostess turned to him with the suggestion that, if he were tired, there was time to rest before the arrival of the guests for the dinner party of the evening. No doubt she was tired herself, and longing for a little quiet space! Count and Countess Saffi must have already claimed it and gone upstairs, and probably the host was below speeding the parting guests, for Mr. Browning was alone with us. But Mr. Browning was in high spirits. “Tired !' he exclaimed. "Tired ! Not a bit! Not a bit !
He took the skirts of his coat daintily in his hands, and, pointing his toes in true dancing-master fashion, waltzed elegantly round the entire circumference of the room.
* There !' he cried, smiling triumphantly at us, ‘now don't tell me I am tired!'
It must have been just then-unless it had been that morningthat the little dress rehearsal took place. The recollection is that the drawing-room door was opened and Countess Saffi anxiously led in her lord, arrayed in his Bologna academic robes, as he would be dressed for the graduation ceremonial next day. “Did he do ? ' the graceful little Scottish lady asked in her pretty foreign accent. Do? It was magnificent! Remembered now, it appears as the most brilliant and gorgeous spot in the whole of the brilliant and gorgeous pageantry of the week. Perhaps the picture is exaggerated by the appreciative delight of the moment, and the long years since; but Count Saffi will ever stand, half dignified and half shy, clad in the deep blues of his native skies, in rich reds and glowing purples, in furs and velvet and satin and gold and precious stones, like a king in a fairy story, with a crown, or even a mitre, on his head, and a sceptre in his hand, and certainly beautiful old point lace ruffles. Memory insists on the lace ruffles. What is the full academic dress of Bologna ? It could easily be ascertained. But it would be a pity to break the stained-glass window.
And while everyone crowded about the splendid figure with exclamations of admiration, Mr. Browning slipped quietly out of the room, and presently reappeared in his Oxford D.C.L. robe, severe and plain scarlet. He looked round deprecatingly, and came forward. 'I have a robe, too!' he urged, with humorous pretence of envy. And there the scene fades.
It was at the breakfast-table that some of the less convivial of us saw most of him. He used to come down to breakfast wearing a short blue pilot coat, and with his white hair very damp and quite neat; but very soon all that soft white hair was rumpled up above his broad forehead and his glowing dark eyes.
It was at breakfast that he told us of his having been challenged, on the occasion of Lord Rosebery's marriage, to write four lines which should rhyme both names-that of the bride and that of the bridegroom. Browning was evidently-as is plain to any reader-very proud of his out-of-the-way rhymes, of his unique power of rhyming. He accepted the challenge ; and he repeated the lines to us with good-natured glee in his success :
Venus, Sea-froth's child,
Playing old gooseberry,
Married Lord Rosebery
To Hannah de Rothschild. But, if he was proud of his power of rhyming, he was well aware of his power of being a terrible mental exercise. He mentioned the number of Browning societies in existence—there are probably many more now—and told how he had gone as a guest to a meeting of one, and had sat, unrecognised and unnoticed, in the background and listened humbly. A heated discussion had taken place on the meaning of some passage ; and at last, as no one seemed satisfied, he had diffidently suggested a possible reading. But he had been unmercifully snubbed, and promptly given to understand he knew nothing about it.
It was after breakfast one morning, as he stood with a group