Jessie White Mario

Jessie White Mario (1832–1906)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 26, 339–348.

This crusading journalist and advocate for a free and united Italy was born Jessie Jane Meriton White on 9 May 1832 in Forton (now part of Gosport), Hampshire, the youngest of two surviving children of Thomas White (1796–1863) and his second wife, Jane Teage (née Meriton, 1792–1833).

Jessie’s father, a third-generation shipbuilder in the Gosport-Portsmouth area, was knowledgeable and clever enough to publish a book on the family trade, The Theory and Practice of Ship Building (Edinburgh, 1848). But his specialty was the design and construction of wharves and loading slips, an occupation that took him to seafaring nations on the Continent, including Italy, Jessie’s future adopted home. Thomas White believed strongly in the importance of education for his children, of which there were many: besides Jessie and her brother, Frederic Meriton White (1828–95), there were four children from his first marriage, to Elizabeth (née Grigg, 1794–1826), and five from his third, to Jane (née Gain, 1803–66). Thomas White also believed, perhaps more strongly, in a rigid Puritanism, against which Jessie struggled from an early age.

Jessie’s mother was the daughter of Richard Meriton (1761–1805), a sea captain in the East India Company, and his wife, Jane (née Harman, ca. 1770–1847), who inherited a sizable sum of money from her half-brother Thomas Leader Harman (1777–1823). Harman had sought his fortune in America, eventually settling in New Orleans, where he acquired considerable property. After the death of his wife in 1821, he sent his three children to live with their Aunt Jane and, according to the terms of his last will and testament, bequeathed her £500 per annum for their care and education, in addition to a legacy of $20,000 for herself and $2,000 to each of her own children (Probate Records, Orleans Parish, Louisiana). In her will, Jane Meriton left £500 in trust to Jessie and her brother, Frederic, “share and share alike” (PRO).

Jessie began her formal education at a private school in Portsmouth. During this period, she came under the influence of John Daniel Morell (1821–76), who in 1842 had been selected minister of the Independent Chapel at Gosport, where her father served as a deacon. Morell, however, was more philosopher than preacher. He had taken a first prize in moral philosophy at Glasgow University and had studied under Immanuel Hermann von Fichte at Bonn and Victor Cousin at Paris. Not surprisingly, Morell and the chapel turned out a poor fit: “His philosophical and religious liberalism were perfectly patent in his every attitude; he made no attempt to conceal his views,” and, consequently, he was asked to leave in 1845 (Elizabeth Adams Daniels, Jessie White Mario: Risorgimento Revolutionary, Athens, Ohio, 1972, p. 19). Jessie’s education continued at Reading and London; then at the age of seventeen she enrolled at a progressive school in Birmingham, where she probably first met the social reformer George Dawson (1816–91). A friend of Morell’s, Dawson, too, was a preacher who disconcerted his first congregation with left-leaning sermons. He was a supporter and friend of the exiled revolutionaries Giuseppe Mazzini and Lajos Kossuth.

By 1851, Jessie was living in Paris, attending lectures at the Sorbonne, and studying philosophy under Cousin. She began at this time to publish articles and stories in Eliza Cook’s Journal, her first contribution being a biographical sketch of the French historian Augustin Thierry in the issue of 8 February 1851. Over the next four years, she also wrote for The Biographical Magazine. Among her contributions were pieces on the republican poet Pierre-Jean de Béranger and the religious and social reformer Félicité-Robert de Lamennais.

In the autumn of 1854, Jessie was invited to accompany Emma Roberts, a wealthy English widow, to Nice, where the latter hoped to further what she believed was an engagement to Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian military leader of the Risorgimento. Jessie already believed in Italy’s struggle for independence, and after meeting Garibaldi, she devoted herself to the cause. She determined that she could prove most useful by attaining a medical degree in order to tend to the wounded when the fighting started. Accordingly, upon returning to England in May 1855, she submitted applications to hospitals and medical schools, but all were rejected because of her gender.

The following year, Jessie translated into English a manuscript by Felice Orsini (1819–58), Italian revolutionary and onetime disciple of Mazzini, who had recently escaped from the Austrian prison of San Giorgio in Mantua. The resulting book, The Austrian Dungeons in Italy, was published in late July and included a ten-page introduction by the translator. Meanwhile, Jessie had become involved with the Friends of Italy Society, an organization founded by Mazzini in 1851 to raise funds and propagandize for his National Party (afterwards known as the Party of Action). One of the society’s members introduced Jessie to Mazzini in the late summer of 1856. Mazzini had the same persuasive effect on Jessie that he had had on so many others. She immediately set about raising funds for him: first, through direct solicitation; next, by a series of nine articles in The Daily News entitled “Italy for the Italians” (7 November 1856–15 January 1857); then, by way of lectures in England and Scotland, delivered in the spring of 1857.

Later that same year, Jessie became more deeply involved in the Italian cause. Mazzini and his compatriots planned to lead a revolt in Genoa at the end of June. The red-haired, outspoken Englishwoman was recruited to divert attention with her well-publicized presence. The plot failed, however, and although Mazzini escaped, many of the conspirators were arrested, including Jessie on 3 July. She was ordered to leave the country by the Piedmontese authorities at Genoa, but Jessie chose to stay and demanded a public trial. During her interrogation she denied any part in the uprising and refused to reveal the names of her associates. On 5 July she was confined to the Genoa prison of St. Andrea, where she remained for the next four months. Her case never came to trial, and she was released, for lack of sufficient evidence, in November 1857.

Also arrested and imprisoned in St. Andrea was Jessie’s fiancé, Alberto Mario (1825–83), Italian nationalist and political writer, whom she had met through Mazzini only a few weeks before. They were married at Portsmouth on 19 December 1857. The Marios settled for a time in London, but the following November they sailed for America, where Jessie delivered Mazzini-inspired speeches to raise money for the cause. Hearing news of the war in Italy, the Marios returned to Europe towards the end of May 1859. By the time they arrived in Italy, however, the armistice had already been signed at Villafranca. On their way to visit Alberto’s ailing father at Lendinara, they were arrested at the Romagna-Venetia border. Upon their release they travelled south to Ferrara, where they were detained and ordered to leave. In late August they were arrested and jailed at Bologna but were released in September on condition that they leave Romagna. Consequently, they decided to temporarily relocate to Lugano, Switzerland, just across the Italian border. They remained there until the end of May 1860, when they went to join Garibaldi in Sicily.

Earlier that month, Garibaldi landed with the legendary “Thousand” at Marsala, Sicily. By the end of the month he had taken Palermo and declared himself dictator “in the name of Italy and Victor Emmanuel II” (Edgar Holt, Risorgimento: The Making of Italy, 1815–1870, 1970, p. 238). The Marios joined Garibaldi at Alcamo, southwest of Palermo. Jessie was assigned to organizing and providing medical care for the wounded volunteers, while Alberto was asked to set up a military school for the children. The Marios rode with Garibaldi and his troops during the march to Messina, with Jessie acting as head nurse and ambulance driver. She continued in these roles after the Garibaldians crossed over to the mainland and took possession of Naples. At the battle of the Volturno (1–2 October 1860), “she made fourteen sorties under fire, it was reported, to bring back the wounded, and put in thirty-six consecutive hours working in the field hospital” (Daniels, p. 98).

Following plebiscites held in Sicily, Naples, Umbria, and The Marches, which resulted in overwhelming majorities for union with Piedmont, Garibaldi handed over control of Naples to Victor Emmanuel II and returned to his home on the island of Caprera. The Kingdom of Italy was officially declared in March 1861, even though Rome still belonged to the pope and Venetia still belonged to Austria.

The Marios remained that year in Italy except for a stay at Lugano. Jessie, writing from Genoa and Naples, contributed articles on the new country to The Morning Star, a pacifist liberal daily founded by British statesmen Richard Cobden and John Bright. In December 1861, the Marios travelled back to England. Alberto stayed with Mazzini in London, while Jessie resumed her lectures in Scotland and England. She and her husband returned to Italy in the spring of 1862 and were living in Milan when they heard of Garibaldi’s latest adventure. In late August of that year he landed in Calabria with a force of volunteers to march on Rome. They were defeated after a short battle at Aspromonte, where Garibaldi was shot in the ankle. He was taken prisoner and held at La Spezia, where Jessie tended his wound. Twice more she would assume the duties of a nurse for the Italian general. In June 1866, Italy, in exchange for Venetia, joined Prussia in its war against Austria. Garibaldi and his army of volunteers, with Jessie and Alberto along, operated in the Tyrol.

Garibaldi’s successes in the north did little to counterbalance the failures of the other Italian forces on land and at sea. Nevertheless, Prussian victories led to Austria’s defeat and the transfer of Venetia to the Kingdom of Italy. Rome was added four years later when the Italian army entered Rome and the pope withdrew to the Vatican. This final triumph of the Risorgimento was made possible by the recall of the French troops that had been garrisoned at Rome, except two short absences, since 1849. They were needed in France during the Franco-Prussian war. After the Second Empire fell in early September 1870 and was replaced by a republic, Garibaldi offered his services to the new French government. Once again Jessie joined him on the battlefield (Alberto stayed behind in Italy), though in this case she was more reporter than nurse, as she sent numerous dispatches to The Scotsman between September and December. By the end of January 1871, the war was over, and Jessie returned to Italy. She and her husband remained there for the rest of their lives, dividing their time between Rome, Florence, and Alberto’s ancestral home at Lendinara.

Jessie’s articles in The Scotsman were collected in I Garibaldini in Francia (Rome, 1871). She spent much of the next ten years working on larger projects, among which were La miseria in Napoli (Florence, 1877), an exposé of poverty and corruption in Naples; Carlo Cattaneo (Cremona, 1877), a brief account of the Italian revolutionary; Garibaldi e i suoi tempi (Milan, 1884); and Della Vita di Giuseppe Mazzini (Milan, 1886). A more urgent focus during this period was the deteriorating health of her husband Alberto, who was diagnosed with cancer of the pharynx and “eventually underwent twelve operations,” Jessie nursing him “throughout his long and agonizing illness” (Daniels, p. 114). After his death in 1883, she “had very little money” and was “totally dependent on the output of her own pen” (Daniels, p. 114). In 1866 she began contributing to The Nation, a New York weekly magazine that was founded in 1865 to promote social justice. Elizabeth Adams Daniels has identified 142 articles in the magazine written by Jessie, the last appearing on 8 March 1906, three days after her death (see Daniels, pp. 154–159). Jessie gave American readers detailed pictures of Italy’s politics and society, with, as befitted her progressive republican ideals, a focus on its least fortunate citizens. Her most incisive pieces concerned the impoverished lives of Italians in Naples and Sicily. “In Sicilian Sulphur Mines” (The Nation, 14 January 1891, pp. 29–31) describes the deplorable working conditions in the mines at Caltanissetta, where young boys carried sulphur-bearing rock on their backs up to the surface.

For the last ten years of her life, Jessie taught at the Normal School in Florence. She was residing at 125 (now 12) Via Romana in that city when she died on 5 March 1906. The next day her funeral procession passed Casa Guidi, which had been decorated for the centennial of EBB’s birth. As reported in The Nation of 22 March, the procession, after having traversed the city, halted at the Porta San Gallo, where the historian Pasquale Villari spoke about Jessie: “She had only one ideal, only one affection: the love of Italy, and the worship of those who lived and died for our country. … Her place is among the saints and heroes of our Revolution” (p. 241). The Italians called her affectionately, “Miss Uragano” (“Miss Hurricane”); see Daniels, p. 131. Jessie was cremated and her ashes taken to Lendinara, where on 16 March “a great procession was formed, the urn being placed on a funeral car with an escort of red-shirted Garibaldians. Thousands of people joined the procession, and attended the burial, which took place in a tomb next to the remains of the deceased’s husband” (The Pall Mall Gazette, 17 March 1906, p. 7). In 1916, the city of Florence placed a memorial on the wall of her last home. An English translation reads: “Jessie White Mario / English by birth / Italian by soul and deeds / Faithful companion of Alberto Mario / Comforter of the battlefield wounded / Historian of the Mazzinian apostolate / And of the Garibaldian epic / Resided here.”

Jessie first met the Brownings at Casa Guidi in March 1855 after her visit to Garibaldi. She came bearing two gifts: an album of drawings from RB’s sister, Sarianna, to Pen; and a bouquet of white camellias and white hyacinths from herself. EBB liked Jessie right away and thought her “earnest” (letter 3537). That summer, the Brownings saw her in London, and towards the end of their stay, they entrusted her with their son, Pen, while they attended to last minute details before going to Paris. In EBB’s first recorded letter to Jessie written on 15 October 1855, she asks her to “come tomorrow to hear the hard goodbye– How happy you made my Penini! He had ‘such a nice day’, he says” (letter 3655). Evidently, the two women discussed their interest in Italian independence and became aware of their differences about means and ends. Writing from Paris on 16 November, EBB confided to Isa Blagden: “Jess[i]e White is a very generous noble-minded girl for whom I have a real affection—but it’s strange (is it not?) that of such should be the judges in Israel” (letter 3678). Jessie called on the Brownings in Paris at Christmas time and brought a present for Pen, “a geographical game .. pronounced to be ‘not very amusing’” (letter 3707). In a letter to Jessie of 5 March 1856, EBB discussed a number of political issues, including the Petition for Reform of the Married Women’s Property Law; the Crimea Peace Conference, at which Austria conceded nothing to Italy; and censorship imposed by the French government (i.e., Napoleon III), which EBB somewhat excused—a foreshadowing of future disagreements about the French emperor (see letter 3745).

When the Brownings returned to London for the summer of 1856, Jessie called on them often. EBB later wrote that during these meetings she begged Jessie to modify her Mazzinian views, but to no avail. Nevertheless, their mutual affection remained strong. At some point, EBB began applying the pet-name “Fiamma" to her friend (see letter 3848). “Flame” or “fire” in Italian, “Fiamma” alludes to Jessie’s red hair and, most likely, her political passion. Her translation of Felice Orsini’s The Austrian Dungeons in Italy, published in late July, won EBB’s admiration: “She entirely reconstructed it, as the art of sentences was beyond him & translated it in a month for Routledge who thereupon gave her fifty pounds, every penny of which she transferred to Orsini, on the spot. It was too much for a woman, in her position to do—but she says .. ‘I did not do it for him, but for Italy’” (letter 3840).

The political differences between the two friends became more apparent when, in the late winter and early spring of 1857, Jessie went on a speaking tour in Scotland and the north of England to raise money for Mazzini. EBB wrote to Arabella on 21 March: “Jessy White is lecturing … on the Italian question,—& upon very misconceived opinions, I grieve to say. She’s a noble creature on a wrong track .. frightfully wrong, in my mind, which I have not kept from her, as you may suppose” (letter 3976). The “misconceived opinions” were spelled out the next month in a letter from Jessie to EBB. “M[azzini]. sees the people as you see them en masse. … But he believes what you do not believe that they, by their own individual efforts & sufferings and sacrifices must achieve their own salvation—while you think that Cavour[,] a mere diplomat or a traitor king [Victor Emmanuel II] … can pour down on them this salvation de haut en bas” (letter 3988). Responding to EBB’s charge that Mazzini was reckless, Jessie compared him with Napoleon III, implying the latter was a murderer, for the actions of his troops during the coup d’état of 1851. Mazzini, on the other hand, was only reckless “of his own suffering & privations but not of the sob or sigh of a living human being whose grief he can assuage” (letter 3988).

In earlier years, the Brownings thought highly of Mazzini. He and RB met at a dinner in 1845 and subsequently exchanged works (see letter 2097). Mazzini was said to have admired EBB’s Casa Guidi Windows, in which she addresses him directly in Part Two (lines 442–576), and wished to see the book translated as a “political pamphlet” (see SD1500 and SD1513 in vol. 17). Through the Carlyles, he provided the Brownings with a letter of introduction to George Sand. But for all his noble qualities, neither of the Brownings felt that Mazzini had the answer to Italy’s problems, and, as time went on, they felt that he only made them worse. The Brownings believed what was said about him by his enemies: the government, the church, and all reactionary voices that wanted him to disappear. Hearing of Jessie’s arrest and imprisonment in Genoa, EBB wrote to Arabella: “That unscrupulous man Mazzini has drawn her by his mesmeric eyes into the vortex” (letter 4017). When asked by Bessie Parkes (through Isa Blagden) to make a public statement in Jessie’s behalf, EBB said no: “I think her very foolish, very wrong, .. very much led astray. … I consider her one of the many victims of a man [Mazzini] who has done more harm to Italy than an Austrian could” (letter 4036).

As low as Jessie and Mazzini had sunk in EBB’s estimation, they sank lower still after the attempted assassination of her hero Napoleon III by Orsini and his fellow conspirators on 14 January 1858 (see letter 4121, note 5). EBB immediately assumed that the assassins were either following the master’s plan or were directly inspired by him. But Orsini had broken the association some months before and had “become a bitter enemy of Mazzini,” who in fact “deplored Orsini’s attempt” (Denis Mack Smith, Mazzini, New Haven, Conn., 1994, pp. 121–122). If Mazzini was involved, so was Jessie. Writing to Julia Martin on 26 January 1858, EBB referred to the event: “As to Mazzini who is mixed up more or less with all these things, I could burn my right hand which has helped to praise him– When I was in England, I almost knelt at the feet of a woman [Jessie] … to save her from the influence of that man. … She swore to me that her hand should not strike so till she had seen me again” (letter 4121). Still seething a few days later, EBB wrote to Sarianna Browning: “So indignant I feel with Mazzini & all who name his name & walk in his steps, that I could’nt find it in my heart to write (as I was going to do) to that poor bewitched Jessie on her marriage” (letter 4122). It is doubtful that Jessie had any knowledge of the assassination plot, but she evidently approved of it, which EBB thought abominable.

After receiving two letters from Jessie, EBB explained to Sarianna in June 1858: “A line must be drawn somewhere. I could not hold the hand of the best friend I had, while his other hand mixed poison, or drew the dagger; & I cannot hold Jessie’s while she forwards such schemes as that of last February [sic, for January]” (letter 4193). EBB added: “I don’t mean to say she was directly implicated … but I know she justified it, wished it success .. & was & is ready to help all endeavours like it.” According to Jessie, the first of her two letters was a response to one from EBB, written “at the time of Orsini’s execution,” in which she begged Jessie to “make a public declaration” of her “hatred of political assassination” (SD2238). Jessie replied by asking whether EBB “thought the murderer of Rome, the author of the 2,652 murders on the Boulevards of Paris, on the 2d of December, 1851; or the man who, having spent his life in toiling and fighting for his country, risked that life, and lost it in his attempt to lay Rome’s assassin low, the greater murderer of the two” (SD2238). EBB’s letter has not surfaced, nor has either of Jessie’s letters. EBB’s response to the second letter is also missing, though we know that she enclosed it for forwarding in a letter to Arabella of 26 June 1858: “I have written a strong letter which will grieve her, poor thing—but I felt myself constrained to write it– [*] I will not have to do with assassins” (letter 4195).

Exasperation with Jessie took a different form at the beginning of 1859. On 2 February The Evening Post (New York) printed a letter to the editor from the Brownings in which they complained of “a statement in the American newspapers that Madame Mario, late Miss Jessie Meriton White, has arrived in the United States ‘recommended by the Brownings,’ &c., &c., to lecture on ‘Orsini’ and ‘Italian Politics’” (letter 4309). The poets dissented “from her views of Orsini and her opinions upon Piedmont, considering that every attack on the Piedmontese government is levelled also against the general Italian cause.” Jessie’s response, which appeared in the same newspaper five days later, denied any knowledge of such a statement (see SD2238). The Athenæum stirred the controversy on 5 March when they ran an item that amplified the Brownings’ protest by accusing Jessie of using their names “by way of personally introducing herself, and backing her own arguments” (no. 1636, p. 322). Jessie’s brother, Frederic, joined the fray a week later with a letter that argued in behalf of his sister (see SD2245). A letter from Horace Greeley et al., supporting Jessie, followed in April (see SD2259), which prompted a final word from the Brownings (see letter 4398). Jessie wrote personally to EBB after seeing the letter in The Evening Post. Jessie’s letter has not surfaced, but EBB described it to her sister Henrietta: “She wrote me quite an insulting letter, intimating that Robert’s & my printed statement (which she gave the whole credit of to me) was written in a care of our personal safety at Rome. So like me, that was” (letter 4410).

EBB heard from Jessie in August after her return to Italy. This letter, too, has not been found, but EBB told Isa Blagden that “it was a letter not written in very good taste—blowing the trumpet against all Napoleonists– Most absurd for the rest” (letter 4464). EBB thought it “absurd” that “Cavour had promised L N [Louis Napoleon] Tuscany for his cousin as the price of his intervention in Italy,” which in fact was part of the agreement made at Plombières (see letter 4472, note 8). Following Jessie’s expulsion from Romagna in early September, EBB wrote a month later: “In spite of friendship, it was a relief to me to hear of the police taking charge” (letter 4497). The next summer, EBB heard that Jessie and her husband had joined Garibaldi in Sicily: “We have been & are rather anxious about Sicily– Jessie & her gang are doing harm there, & Garibaldi is weak enough to allow himself to be influenced” (letter to Arabella Moulton-Barrett, 18 July [1860], ms with GM-B). After the general and his red-shirts occupied Naples, the Brownings heard false stories that “the hero is surrounded day & night with the Mazzinian gang– Oh– Jessie is there of course!– She pretends to be doing work at the hospitals—but she does work instead … in corrupting Garibaldi” (letter to Sarianna, [11 October 1860], ms at Lilly). Still, EBB seemed more than ready to listen to accounts that placed Jessie in a better light. In a letter to Isa dated 3 February [1861], EBB mentioned a visit from a lady who “went to Naples, & corrected (by facts) the idea that Mdme. Mario had been making over Garibaldi funds to Mazzini– She says Mdme. Mario has been much sinned against by slander—& I dare say this is true” (ms at Fitzwilliam).

The last reference to Jessie in EBB’s correspondence occurred in a letter written about six weeks before the poetess’s death: “I hear that Jessie Mario & her husband have been taken up at Ferrara. They were only going to begin the war with Austria on their own account” (letter to Sarianna Browning, [11 May 1861], ms at Lilly). In fact, the Marios were on their way to visit Alberto’s relations in Lendinara (see Daniels, p. 100). As indicated by RB in a letter to Isa of 9 September 1861, Jessie wrote him a “touching letter,” presumably on the death of his wife (ms at ABL). Jessie’s letter has not surfaced, but doubtless she expressed her love for EBB. That Jessie greatly admired her had been publicly expressed in The Evening Post, when she recalled a lecture where she referred to her as the “greatest poetess that has yet arisen in the world; one of the noblest women; one of the most devoted wives and mothers that any age has seen” (SD2238).

After RB’s return to England in the autumn of 1861, he and Jessie seldom communicated, and it is doubtful whether they ever saw each other again. In a letter to RB dated Newcastle, 20 March 1862, Jessie apologized for failing to respond to a request: “It has arisen from want of moral courage to write the truth & from a hope that it might not be necessary. … When I left England for America [November 1858] all my important papers were sorted for burning—sending in case of death etc– I have never looked at any of them till now & I can find nothing– The two things I cannot replace are your proofs—all save the two I send … I have but one shadow of hope … towards the end of April I shall go to a place where one box of my things is deposited” (ms at Virginia). We have been unable to identify these proofs. Jessie went on to refer to the letters she had received from EBB: “My letters I have all if you ever print any[.] Some of mine on political questions would be valuable[.] You shall have a copy. … Can he [Alberto] or I do anything for you and yours in any part of Italy.”

Meanwhile, RB had not altered his negative opinion (consistent with EBB’s) of Jessie’s politics and associates. In a letter to Isa on 19 April 1863, he wrote: “As for Mario, Mazzini &c here the contempt for them is complete—I should not think them worth prosecution. But if the govt. think so, nobody will deny the rich desert of punishment of these miserable marplots” (ms at ABL). Politics aside, however, RB still cared for the red-haired radical. Later, to Isa, RB mentioned sending photographs to “dear Jessy White—let me so call her: I well enough know her heart to me & mine. All the political matters, on which we differ more than ever, have nothing to do with that: give her my old love” (19 January 1864, ms at ABL). RB may have arranged for Jessie an introduction to his French friend Joseph Milsand, who told his wife: “I have had occasion to meet one of his [Mazzini’s] disciples, the famous Jessy White also known as Mme Mario” ([28–29 February 1864], ms at ABL/JMA). Isa, who concurred with the Brownings’ criticism of Jessie’s politics, knew her and saw her often when she and Alberto were living in Florence or in nearby Bellosguardo. In a letter to Kate Field, Isa wrote: “I see a good deal of Jessie White Mario. I like her but detest her politics. How a woman so clever can be so deceived as she is I cannot imagine” (4 April [1864], ms at Boston PL).

Jessie was back in London in the late spring and contacted RB: “I received your messerage [sic] from Isa & now that I am in England long to see you. I remain in London until 22nd” (13 June [1864], ms at LC). But it appears that she did not see him. RB explained to Isa in a letter dated 19 October 1864 that one thing and another kept him from seeing her: “Tell Jessie White that I beg her pardon & trust to her kindness. … Another time, it shall go hard but I will see her for old days’ and enduring love’s sake” (ms at BL). Following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Jessie and her husband were again living in Florence and evidently seeing Isa. Writing to her on 7 August, RB bemoaned Italy’s failure in the war: “Poor Italy,—whosoever the fault, how ill she has come off,—in the sea fight, strangely so: and to get Venetia in this way! I don’t envy you if you are to be dosed with Jessie’s comments and explanations of it all,—helped by the ‘Vice-Admiral’s’ [Alberto’s] experience” (ms at BL).

The last mention of Jessie in RB’s correspondence occurs in a letter to Isa dated 21 March 1867: “Give a kind of modified love, if you like, to Jessie” (ms with Murray). Whatever “modified” RB’s love is unknown. It may have involved politics again, or, perhaps, Jessie had offended Isa in some way. A few years later, RB referred to Jessie in conversation with the novelist Margaret Raine Hunt, who recorded the topics discussed in her diary: “Bus and cab to Warwick Crescent … ‘Mazzini.’ ‘Jessie White intending to kill Nap III oath to Mrs B (which he shows me)’” (30 June 1871, transcript at Cornell). Jessie had a final kind word about the Brownings many years after RB’s death. In an article that appeared in The Nation of 23 March 1899 (pp. 220–221), she commented on The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845–1846, the poets’ love letters, which were published the previous month. On opening the book, Jessie wondered what EBB “would feel—if those lonely ashes, weighted with that pompous marble cenotaph of Leighton’s … could feel aught of earth’s toil and turmoil—to see their two hearts turned inside out for the public gaze. Very bitterly, indeed, I fear, if she were mortal still; and Robert would be bitterer and more savage.” Nevertheless, Jessie, on further consideration, felt that “if they knew how many hearts are and will be gladdened by their words to one another, would they, indeed, be vexed? No, they would be … too happy to grudge such joy to mortal misery.” Readers who had never known the Brownings in life would learn that “where great, pure, and noble souls do find their ‘other half,’ their lives and works run harmoniously, and rise soaring towards the sun on love-sustaining wings.”

At the end of the article, Jessie introduced a letter from RB to Anna Jameson, 30 November 1846 (letter 2633). This letter and many other letters the Brownings wrote to Mrs. Jameson were then in Jessie’s possession. She had been given them by Gerardine Macpherson, who died at Rome in Jessie’s arms “on the 24th of June, 1878. She had just completed the life of her aunt, Mrs. Jameson, and was much disappointed that Mr. Browning would not allow her to publish his wife’s letters to Mrs. J. She gave them to me, with his, and this is the first to see the light.” We have traced 89 letters from the Brownings to Mrs. Jameson, most of which are from EBB. Of these, 55 sold in Browning Collections. Jessie may have owned the other 34, which have since been dispersed. Earlier in the article, she referred to RB’s opposition to the publication of EBB’s letters and noted: “He distinctly forbade all friends to publish a line of her letters, even to themselves [though he made an exception for R.H. Horne], and I for one have strictly obeyed him, even to the point of burning many which he wished to be burnt.” Perhaps, this could explain why some of the aforementioned letters from EBB to Jessie are missing.

*. This “strong letter” is the last known letter from EBB to Jessie. In Henry James’s William Wetmore Story and His Friends (1903), a letter from Story states that at her death EBB left behind “a half-finished letter to Mme. Mario” (II, 64). However, the manuscript of Story’s letter, dated 15 August 1861, to Charles Eliot Norton clearly reads: “Mad. Matteuci” (ms at Harvard).


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