Kate Field by Frank Millet (1881)
Robert Browning by Michele Gordigiani (1858)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Michele Gordigiani (1858)
“The Dance of the Pleiades” by Elihu Vedder (Note: it is a figurative Catherine’s Wheel)
Kate Field (at the age of twenty) drawn by Elihu Vedder
I love mysteries, and I think I discovered a love triangle, from the 1800’s, between Elizabeth and Robert Browning, and their friend “Kate Field (October 1, 1838 – May 19, 1896), born Mary Katherine Keemle Field, … an American journalist, lecturer, and actress, of eccentric talent. (wiki)” who never married.
Below are the puzzle pieces that I think if read together, support my suspicion. Not judging them, but it is curious.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in her 9-Book Epic Poem “Aurora Leigh”:
“Write a word for Kate:
Even now she reads my letters like a wife,
And if she sees her name, I’ll see her smile,
And share the luck. So, bless you, friend of two!
I will not ask you what your feeling is
At Florence with my pictures. I can hear
Your heart a-flutter over the snow-hills;
And, just to pace the Pitti with you once,
I’d give a half-hour of to-morrow’s walk
With Kate . ..”
Excerpt From “Delphi Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Illustrated).” :
“A letter from Robert Browning written to Kate Field, who was then in Florence with Miss Blagden, and which has never before been published, is as follows:
Rome, Via del Tritone, 28,
March 29th, 1860.
Dear Miss Field,
— Do you really care to have the little photograph? Here it is with all my heart. I wonder I dare be so frank this morning, however, for a note just rec’d from Isa mentions an instance of your acuteness, that strikes me with a certain awe. “Kate,” she says, “persists that the ‘Curse for a Nation’ is for America, and not England.” You persist, do you? No doubt against the combined intelligence of our friends who show such hunger and thirst for a new poem of Ba’s — and, when they get it, digest the same as you see. “Write a nation’s curse for me,” quoth the antislavery society five years ago, “and send it over the Western sea.” “Not so,” replied poor little Ba, “for my heart is sore for my own lands’ sins, which are thus and thus, — what curse assign to another land when heavy for the sins of mine?” “Write it for that very reason,” rejoined Ba’s cheerer, “because thou hast strength to see and hate a foul thing done within thy gate,” and so, after a little more dallying, she wrote and sent over the Western seas what all may read, but it appears only Kate Field, out of all Florence, can understand. It seems incredible. How did you find out, beside, the meaning of all these puzzling passages which I quote in the exact words of the poem? In short, you are not only the delightful Kate Field which I always knew you to be, but the sole understander of Ba in all Florence. I can’t get over it….
Browning, the husband, means to try increasingly and somewhat intelligibly to explain to all his intimates at Florence, with the sole exception of Kate Field; to whose comprehension he will rather endeavor to rise, than to stoop, henceforth. And so, with true love from Ba to Kate Field, and our united explanation to all other friends, that the subject matter of the present letter is by no means the annexation of Savoy and Nice, she will believe me,
Hers very faithfully
To Kate Field Mrs. Browning wrote, the letter undated, but evidently about this time, apparently in reply to some request of Miss Field’s to be permitted to write about them for publication:
My Dear Kate,
— I can’t put a seal on your lips when I know them to be so brave and true. Take out your license, then, to name me as you please, only remembering, dear, that even kind words are not always best spoken. Here is the permission, then, to say nothing about your friends except that they are your friends, which they will always be glad to have said and believed. I had a letter from America to-day, from somebody who, hearing I was in ill health, desired to inform me that he wouldn’t weep for me, were it not for Robert Browning and Penini! No, don’t repeat that. It was kindly meant, and you are better, my dear Kate, and happier, and we are all thanking God for Italy. Love us here a little, and believe that we all love and think of you.
Yours ever affectionately,
E. B. B.
In London again the next winter, Browning wrote to Isa Blagden that he “felt comfort in doing the best he could with the object of his life, — poetry. I hope to do much more yet,” he continued; “and that the flower of it will be put into Her hand somehow.”
The London spring found the poet much engaged, taking his son to studios, and to the Royal Academy, to concerts, and for long walks, and in a letter to Kate Field not heretofore published is indicated something of the general trend of the days:
London, 19, Warwick Crescent,
Upper Westbourne Terrace, May 5th, 1864.
Dear Kate Field, (so let me call you, please, in regard to old times when I might have done it, and did not,)
I know well enough that there is great stupidity in this way of mine, this putting off a thing because I hope to compass some other thing, as here, for had you not asked for some photographs which I supposed I could soon find time and inclination to get, I should have thanked you at once; as I do now, indeed, and with all my heart, but the review article is wavering and indistinct in my mind now, and though it is inside a drawer of this table where I write, I cannot bring myself to look at it again, — not from a motive which is disparaging to you, as I am sure you understand; the general impression is enough for me, also, if you care in the least how I feel toward you. The boy has certainly the likeness to which you refer, and an absolute sameness, almost, in feature as well as in look, with certain old portraits of hers, — here, older and younger; there is not a trace of me in him, thank God! I know that dear, teasing Isa, and how she won’t answer your questions, but sometimes, for compensation, she tells you what you never asked for, and though I always, or very often, ask about you, yet I think it may have been in reply to curiosity about the price of Italian stock, that she lately described to me a photograph of you, yourself, and how you were: what? even that’s over. And moreover, how you were your old self with additions, which, to be sure, I don’t require.
Give my true regard to your mother, and thank her for her goodness in understanding me. But I write only to have a pleasant chat with you, in a balcony, looking for fire-flies in the garden, wider between us than the slanting Pitti façade, now that it’s warm and Maylike in Florence.
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
She was not as pretty as women I know,
And yet all your best made of sunshine and snow
Drop to shade, melt to nought in the long-trodden ways,
While she’s still remembered on warm and cold days—
Her air had a meaning, her movements a grace;
You turned from the fairest to gaze on her face:
And when you had once seen her forehead and mouth,
You saw as distinctly her soul and her truth—
Such a blue inner light from her eyelids outbroke,
You looked at her silence and fancied she spoke:
When she did, so peculiar yet soft was the tone,
Though the loudest spoke also, you heard her alone—
I doubt if she said to you much that could act
As a thought or suggestion: she did not attract
In the sense of the brilliant or wise: I infer
’T was her thinking of others made you think of her—
She never found fault with you, never implied
Your wrong by her right; and yet men at her side
Grew nobler, girls purer, as through the whole town
The children were gladder that pulled at her gown—
None knelt at her feet confessed lovers in thrall;
They knelt more to God than they used,—that was all:
If you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,
But the charm of her presence was felt when she went—
The weak and the gentle, the ribald and rude,
She took as she found them, and did them all good;
It always was so with her—see what you have!
She has made the grass greener even here … with her grave—
My dear one!—when thou wast alive with the rest,
I held thee the sweetest and loved thee the best:
And now thou art dead, shall I not take thy part
As thy smiles used to do for thyself, my sweet Heart—