February 1851–January 1852, Letters 2901–3000
Volume 17 ushers in a period of travel for the Brownings. They spend May in Venice, June in Paris, and then in July they return to England for the first time since their marriage. The pleasure of their visit is diminished, however, when EBB’s father returns all her letters written to him over the last five years, “the seals unbroken.” In September the poets, accompanied by Thomas Carlyle, journey back to Paris. Soon after arriving they meet the French critic Joseph Milsand, who becomes RB’s closest friend. On 2 December, much to EBB’s approval, Louis Napoleon takes absolute control of France with a coup d’état. Letters in January focus on Mary Russell Mitford’s Recollections of a Literary Life, which wounds EBB with its disclosures concerning her eldest brother’s death. Meanwhile, the Brownings continue to work: EBB publishes Casa Guidi Windows in May 1851; in December RB finishes his introductory essay to the Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1852).