Frances Power Cobbe recalls in her autobiography that one regularly found an interesting and varied company on the balcony of the Villa Brichieri-Colombi. Blagden received in her Bellosguardo villas numerous guests of different nationalities; although the true and proper receptions were only once a week on Saturdays , her intimate friends were received at the villa amost every day. In Blagden's drawing rooms one would meet Anglo-Americans resident in Florence, and those who came to theTuscan city for only a brief period. Alfred Austin notes how Blagden loved to have around herself 'truly congenial spirits' and how it would be rare for a writer or artist passing through Florence not to make her acquaintance.
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Cobbe, who boasted of the personalities she had had the occasion of meeting at Villa Brichieri-Colombi, has also listed the names of the various guests whom she and Blagden most frequently received during the Spring of After having noted among the most intimate of Blagden's friends, the Brownings, specifying that due to the precarious state of health of his wife, only Robert habitually frequented Villa Brichier-Colombi, Cobbe speaks of Thomas Adolphus Trollope as another frequent guest to Bellosguardo's salon.
Cobbe also mentions Linda White, the writer, author among other books of Tuscan Hills and Venetian Waters , who later married the historican Pasquale Villari. She was only one of the many acquaintances of Blagden to be present during her last illness. A frequent visitor at Bellosguardo was also Walter Savage Landor, Blagden being one the people closest to him duirng the last years of his life.
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As long as Robert Browning remained in Florence he took care of him, having already found him a lodging, when, following an argument, his wife had chased him out of the Villa Gherardesca at Fiesole; after Browning left Tuscany, Blagden cared for Landor going often to visit him until his death in September Cobbe notes also among the usual guests the doctor Grisanowski, who was Polish, Jessie White Mario and Frederick Tennyson, the poet and musician who had previously stayed at Bellosguardo, indeed at the Villa Brichieri-Colombi itself.
This last never went to Villa Brichieri, however Blagden had the occasion to know her when she went to Villino Trollope and 'was enchanted, like all the world, with her'. Cobbe omitted, from forgetfulness or because they were absent from Florence in , other personalities who were frequent visitors at Blagdon's salon and and with whom the writer established a lasting friendship: among these Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne who stayed in Florence in , the American sculptor Hiram Powers, the musician Francis Boott, who lived at Bellosguardo, in an apartment in the Villa Castellani, Anna Jameson, the art historian and one of the dearest friends of Barrett Browning, Robert Lytton, the poet who wrote using the pseudonym of Owen Meredith and who had lived at the Villa Brichieri-Colombi in the beginning of the s.
Con questo elenco non intendo certo esaurire il numero delle persone che frequentavano il salotto di Blagden a Bellosguardo. With this list we have certainly not exhausted the number of people who frequented Blagden's salon at Bellosguardo. Alfred Austen concerning the writer's friendships spoke of 'the widest circle of friends I have heard of one person possessing' and later defined her 'a universal favourite'.
It would be almost impossible to give all her acquaintances. Ma Blagden, pur nella sua pacatezza, riusciva ad intrattenere e divertire i suoi numerosi ospiti che spesso erano caratterialmente diversissimi tra loro.
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Blagden was the principle protagonist in these encounters, although she was not in any way like what came to be defined as a 'grand dame'. Her conversation was animated and gay, although not of a particularly extroverted or expansive character, not possessing that quality which had some years earlier permitted the brilliant Lady Blessington to dominate over her elegant salon situated on the Lung'Arno. One of Isabella Blagden's attributes that most struck her friends was her humility, a characteristic that little accords with the common conception of the figure of the salon leader, usually a woman of exuberant temperament, accustomed to being the centre of attention.
But Blagden, even in her quietness, succeeded in pleasing and entertaining her numerous guests who often were in character very different from each other. About this, Austin tells us that nothing made Blagden so content as to host her friends in her villa, but her benevolence was so great that often she committed the error of mixing water and fire.
Lilian Whiting, in her The Florence of Landor , has written refering to members who made part of the Anglo-American colony: 'the many strong and altogether dissimilar individualities that composed this cercle entime all found some point of common meeting with 'Isa', as they all called her.
Gli argomenti di cui si discuteva durante questi ricevimenti erano vari. The topics which they discussed during these receptions were varied. The discussions turned upon themes of art, of music and of literature, but above all of politics and spiritualism, this last argument about which almost all of the guests were passionate, exceptions being made for some sceptics like Walter Savage Landor and Robert Browning.
But the most interesting discussion was certainly that of the Italian political question. In the period in which Isabella Blagden lived in the Villa Brichieri-Colombi, the questions of independenze and of national unity dominated the thinking of Italian public opinion. The Anglo-Florentines who were regularly to be found on the terrace of Bellosguardo could not but be interested in contemporary Italy: indeed among the arguments often brought up were those of the political and social problems of their 'second' country.
There were profound differences within the group and it sometimes happened that even in a single individual there would be complex and even contradictory opinions. There was a conflict between a certain obstinate conformism which adapted to the Victorian ideology and the opening toward new modes of thought. The Anglo-Florentines were all in favour of the Unity of Italy, but were timid about it at the same time because in promoting the unity of the peninsula they would not know what type of government they would meet with and were afraid that their serenity would be in some way disturbed.
In comparision with their compatriots who had not left England, the Anglo-Florentines seemed more open to recognising the existence of other worlds than the British one; they engaged in political struggles which did not belong to them, maintaining, however, a conservative and negative attitude towards whatever social turmoil that could have disturbed the tranquillity of their Florentine life.
If we analyse the relations that came about concretely between the Anglo-Americans and the Italians, we find before us an incredible absence of contact.
The sensation remains that English society in Italy presented itself as a closed circle, in which was created a reality close to that of the motherland, which it believed had been left behind. Italy, with its problems of unity, was a central argument in their discussions, but the Italians who were admitted to participate in these gatherings were very few.
Blagden was no exception. Fundamentally her point of view remained always imperial; notwithstanding her will to open herself to new expereinces, to take into consideration new and different political realities than those of England. The Italian was always considered by Blagden, as by the majority of the Anglo-Florentines, as the 'other', an individual 'different' than themselves and therefore inferior.
The only Italians with whom Blagden and the Anglo-Americans generally came into contact belonged to the lower social classes: the servants, who were prefered to the English because more economical, and the models who served the artists, those who possessed 'picturesque' qualities that the Anglo-Americans always sought. If sometimes the relationship between the 'Master' and the servant went beyond the mere work contact, the roles and the social classes remained decidedly divided.
Shared living gave place to an affection that did not override national superiority or class. Dai resoconti che di lei hanno lasciato i suoi contemporanei traspare una donna intelligente e dalla vasta cultura, in grado di affrontare conversazioni su argomenti disparati. More or less all those who have written in their diaries, their letters, or their autobiographies were pleased to have crossed over to the Florentine hill and have remembered the lady of the house with admiration and affection.
From the accounts about her that have come down to us from her c ontemporaries we are shown a lady of intelligence and of great culture, capable of fielding conversations on different arguments. But the aspects of Blagden's personality that are most in evidence are her altruism and her generosity, which render her, as Trollope affirmed, 'more universally beloved than any other individual among us'.
Even Henry James, who had dedicated some pages of his William Wetmore Story and his Friends , to the friend of Bellosguardo, underlined Blagden's altruism and spoke of her as like a little legend.
Also, Austin wrote: 'No matter what might be at the moment her own occupations, her own plans, or the demands of her own interest, she quitted them on the instant at the invitation of helplessness'. The poet, to confirm what he had written, reported another episode concerning her. In Blagden, although much occupied with personal troubles, did not refuse her help to her friend when he asked her to find him lodging in Florence.
Her altruism is shown by thecare with which she helped her friends who had need of her for health reasons. In , during a summer at Bagni di Lucca, the poet Robert Lytton became gravely ill with gastric fever.
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The Brownings' letters, they also being resident then in the hills above Lucca, witnessed to how much care Blagden took of their friend. At the beginning she refused to call for a nurse, obstinately wanting to take on the care alone of the invalid.
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When the poet began to feel better and was ready to move from Bagni di Lucca, Blagden took him with her to Villa Crichieri-Colombi, where he passed the days of his convalescence. Some critics, among them William Raymond and Giuliana Artom Treves, have advanced the hypothesis of a sort of romance that blossomed in this time between Blagden and Lytton, a love that seemed to be encouraged by the Brownings.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning identified Isa with the 'Cordelia' of Lytton's poetry in The Wanderer , and with this name the poet turned to her friend in an letter. William Raymond took this from some words from Lytton's daughter, Betty Balfour, who wrote that just when her father reached Italy he met a woman whom he loved, but whom he could not marry because of insurmountble barriers. Raymond defined the 'barriers' for which marriage between the two would have been impossible first there being fifteen years difference in age between the two writers and analyzed Lytton's juvenile poetry, Lucile , where the heroine matches some characteristics that could be applied to Blagden.
Lucile is in fact a Euro-Asian, described as a mature woman with with characteristic physical features which could correspond to those of the Anglo-Florentine writer. Isabella Blagden, however, did not limit her nursing care only to Lytton. In she helped Theodosia Trollope in her final illness and after her demise took care of her daughter Beatrice who stayed with her at Bellosguardo in the days following her mother's death.
Also Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who so much praised her friend during the period when she was nurse to Lytton, was helped in her last days of life by Blagden. Except for the members of the household she was the last person who saw and spoke with the poetess. Kate Field wrote in an article dedicated to Barrett Browning 'on this final evening, an intimate family friend was admitted to her bedside and found her in good spirits, [.
The 'intimate female friend' of whom Field spoke, is none other than Isa Blagden, who, that night not being able to sleep, nevertheless had found her friend in better health. Lilian Whiting says that she stayed up the entire night writing letters, until at dawn a servant came to announce to her the death of the lady of Casa Guidi. Blagden was the closest and certainly the most useful friend to Robert Browning in the days following the demise of his wife, during the period which she called the 'apocalyptic month'.
She took care of every material need, immediately taking the Brownings' child to her house at Bellosguardo and after the funeral convincing the father to pass the night at Villa Brichieri-Colombi, while his last duties kept him in Florence. Then, as we have seen, Blagden closed her house, deposited her belongings at the Villino Trollope and left together with Robert Browning and his son to accompany them as far as Paris. Although, having come to Florence, Isabella Blagden chose the Tuscan city as her permanent residence, travel remained a fundamental part of her life.
In fact the writer spent long periods away from Bellosguardo, staying sometimes in other Italian cities or abroad. Having no family ties, she could permit herself to travel freely in a way not normally permitted to women, often 'recluses' in the private space of the house and of the family. Among the journeys, first among those being that which had brought her from her country of origin to Florence, Blagden had the possibility to come away from stability the 'known' world which she had left behind to enter into the realm of change, of modification, of fragmentation.