Anna Brownell Jameson

Anna Brownell Jameson (1794–1860)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 320–323.

This long-time correspondent ranks near John Kenyon as a benefactor of the Brownings, because of the assistance she gave during their strenuous flight to Italy at the beginning of their marriage. She was born in Dublin on 17 May 1794, daughter of Denis Brownell Murphy, who was an accomplished painter of miniatures. Anna became a governess, accompanied an English family to France and Italy, and wrote a fictionalized account of her experiences. This attracted much attention when published in 1826 as The Diary of an Ennuyée, and was one of the books that EBB enjoyed while living at Hope End. Anna married Robert Jameson in 1825, but the match proved unsatisfactory. (EBB told a gossipy story of the circumstances in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford, written 23–25 December 1841.) The couple separated in 1829, at about the time of Mr. Jameson’s appointment to a minor judgeship in the British West Indies. She briefly rejoined him in Canada when he received a governmental position there in 1836. Upon final separation, and before returning to England, she made a tour of remote areas, thus acquiring material for her Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838). In the 1840’s, Mrs. Jameson pursued her interest in art appreciation, the literary field in which she became best known, and published among other works A Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art (1842) and Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (1845). She also increasingly developed a concern for social welfare problems. Over a number of years, starting in 1834, Mrs. Jameson was a close friend of Lady Byron, widow of the famous poet. This was a point of difference between Mrs. Jameson and EBB, since EBB idolized the poet, from whom Lady Byron had been estranged. The Jameson-Byron friendship terminated with a quarrel in 1852. During most of her life, Mrs. Jameson faced financial difficulties, though assisted by a government pension starting in 1851. She died at her home in Ealing on 17 March 1860.

Mrs. Jameson was among the literary people whom RB met soon after publishing Paracelsus (1835). His first known letter to her is no. 722, written in 1840 or earlier. EBB’s sisters met the prominent authoress in 1842, as reported by EBB in a letter to Miss Mitford on 6 April of that year. EBB herself may have assisted with the section on Mrs. Jameson in R.H. Horne’s A New Spirit of the Age (1844), but was not yet personally acquainted with her. On 1 September 1844, referring to her newly published Poems, EBB wrote to Miss Mitford: “Mrs. Jameson used strong language of praise to Mr. Kenyon, & said that she meant to write to me—but she has not yet written.” On 3 September, still hoping for a letter from Mrs. Jameson, EBB wrote to Miss Mitford: “She has the very genius of criticism, in fact,—& adds to her fine sense of Beauty, a most subtle apprehension & most exercised power of analysis of the Art which produces Beauty.” On 20 September she reported having received “a very kind letter,” though apparently it did not contain such detailed analysis as she had desired. Finally, in November, while staying as a guest at the house next door, Mrs. Jameson received permission to visit EBB at 50 Wimpole Street. Discussing the new friend in a letter to Miss Mitford on 28 January 1845, EBB wrote: “I like her very much—but I have not fallen in love with her at first sight, as you know, I did with you.”

By this time, EBB had started to correspond with RB, and their courtship was under way. In this episode, Mrs. Jameson’s role was at first somewhat comical and later of vast importance. The comical aspect: Mrs. Jameson was a friend both of EBB and of RB, was seeing each of them frequently, but showed no awareness that they were seeing each other. Concerned—like numerous other people—about EBB’s health in the London climate, Mrs. Jameson was generously offering to take her to Italy, while the younger woman was already plotting an escape to that country with RB. On 17 June 1846 EBB reported to her lover: “I told her [Mrs. Jameson] .. told her .. what might be told.” This apparently included the fact of the EBB-RB friendship, but nothing of the wedding plans. Mrs. Jameson, knowing that EBB wanted to go to Italy, kept pressing for details on how this might be accomplished. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jameson had been making plans for an Italian trip of her own (via France) regardless of EBB’s intentions. EBB mentioned this to RB in a letter of 29 May 1846. Mrs. Jameson’s purpose was to conduct research for her Sacred and Legendary Art (1848–52). She would take along her young niece, Gerardine Bate, for “an ‘artistical education’,” as EBB wrote in her 29 May letter. Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine were already in Paris when the newly-married Brownings arrived there on 21 September 1846. RB went immediately to her hotel, leaving a message about recent developments. Gerardine (later Mrs. Macpherson) reported in her Memoirs of the Life of Anna Jameson (1878, p. 230), that her aunt’s astonishment was “almost comical.” For some time thereafter they travelled as a party of six: the two Brownings, EBB’s maid Elizabeth Wilson, Mrs. Jameson, Gerardine, and the dog Flush. Leaving Paris on 28 September they went to southern France, then by steamer to Italy, finally arriving in Pisa on 14 October. There the Brownings were to remain until the next spring. Mrs. Jameson and Gerardine stayed near them until 4 November, then moved on to Florence. Interesting commentary on the Brownings by Mrs. Jameson is provided by George K. Boyce in “From Paris to Pisa with the Brownings”—New Colophon, 3 (1950), 110–119. Boyce’s article presents five letters sent by Mrs. Jameson to her friend Lady Byron. On 22–23 September 1846 she wrote of the Brownings just after their arrival in Paris: “Robert Browning, my poet, is here—& with a wife he has run off with—& who, think you, is this wife?—no other than Elizabeth Barrett, my poetess—a pretty pair to go thro this prosaic world together! … I have sympathized, scolded, rallied, cried & helped, & now they want me to join them on the road to the South.” Mrs. Jameson persuaded EBB to rest in Paris for a few days, and she wrote on 24 September that “I really believe I have saved her life” by so doing. On 29 September, from Orleans, she wrote of the Brownings: “They have thrown themselves upon me with such an entire & undoubting confidence, that to have refused help & comfort, or even hesitated, would have been like a brute or a stone.” On 15 October, from Pisa, she wrote: “They are really excellent … He is full of spirit & good humour and his unselfishness, & his turn for making the best of every thing & his bright intelligence & his rare acquirements of every kind rendered him the very prince of travelling companions. But (always buts!!) he is in all the common things of this life the most impractical of men, the most uncalculating, rash, in short the worst manager I ever met with. She, in her present state, & from her long seclusion almost helpless. Now only conceive the ménage that is likely to ensue & without fault on either side!” Apparently Mrs. Jameson soon took a more optimistic view. In a letter of 5 November to Julia Martin, EBB was able to report: “Mrs. Jameson laughs outright at our miraculous prudence & economy, & declares that it is past belief & precedent that we shd. not burn the candles at both ends.” Mrs. Jameson feared that Gerardine would develop romantic notions through close association with the honeymooning couple, and it is possible that she did. Though failing to meet Mrs. Jameson’s expectations as an art student herself, she soon fell in love with an impecunious artist in Rome, a Mr. Robert Macpherson, and eventually—despite Mrs. Jameson’s efforts—married him. In the mid-1850’s they were living in Rome and he had become a photographer. On 20 April 1847 the Brownings moved from Pisa to Florence. Mrs. Jameson (still accompanied by Gerardine) soon visited them in that city before returning to London. After that, meetings between the Brownings and Mrs. Jameson became less frequent, although they saw her occasionally in London in the 1850’s, in Paris in 1852, and in Florence in 1858. EBB remained devoted to this friend until the latter’s death, often calling her “Mona Nina,” and more than 80 letters that passed between the Brownings and Mrs. Jameson after the marriage still exist. EBB’s interest in the great 1851 International Exhibition in London was undoubtedly heightened by Mrs. Jameson’s contribution, a Guide to the Court of Modern Sculpture. The poem “Clive” in RB’s Dramatic Idyls, Second Series (1880) was credited by him to a tale he had heard from Mrs. Jameson long before. There were, as might be expected among strong-minded people, differences of opinion. Mrs. Jameson, for instance, did not approve of EBB’s devotion to spiritualism. In a letter to her brother George dated 13–14 May 1852, from Paris, EBB gave this amusing account: “We had Lady Elgin here last saturday evening again, and the evening did not go off half as well as usual,—because of a decided dyspathy between her & Mrs. Jameson. Lady Elgin is a great spiritualist, with … a belief in every sort of incredible thing. While she talked of a communion of souls, Mrs. Jameson began to talk of private madhouses .. in a way which made my blood run cold.” Later, writing from Italy to her sister Henrietta on 1 August 1857, EBB referred to some apparent jealousy between Mrs. Jameson and another close friend, Isabella Blagden. “I feel a little, a little, uncomfortable,” she said. Learning of Mrs. Jameson’s death, 17 March 1860, EBB wrote on the 27th to the niece, Gerardine Bate Macpherson: “You know, but perhaps not all, how I feel in losing (as far as the loving can lose those whom they love––as far as death brings loss) that great heart, that noble human creature–” A little later, some friends undertook a subscription for the benefit of Mrs. Jameson’s sisters, and EBB would have liked to participate; she wrote to Isabella Blagden on 21? January 1861: “I am seriously vexed about the subscription—but Robert .. you know him .. he is like a rock– He is wrong, I think. We see differently. He looks at the claim of the sisters—while I look entirely to the memory of my dear friend Mrs. Jameson– It would be a token of love to her … Robert thinks the sisters weighed her down while she lived—therefore his regard expresses itself in a sort of indignation—which is a natural mode of love with him– I am sorry–”

Reconstruction lists numerous gifts of books and other materials that passed between the Brownings and Mrs. Jameson, or that were related to their friendship. There are, for instance, a music album (A32) given by Mrs. Jameson to Pen Browning in 1858, two of her books (A1301–02) inscribed to the Brownings, and one (A1303) inscribed to “Miss E B Barrett.” (This last item is an 1846 book of memoirs and essays on which EBB assisted her—see D1226.) EBB presented a copy of her Poems (1844) to Mrs. Jameson (C74), and RB did likewise with several of his books (C396, 432, and 465). The Brownings presumably treasured item H73, a sketch of Avignon by moonlight which Mrs. Jameson made while travelling with them through France just after their marriage.

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