November 1853–November 1854, Letters 3291–3486
Volume 20 opens with the Brownings newly arrived in Rome. The beginning of their stay is darkened by the death of the William Wetmore Storys’ six-year-old son, Joe. Despite the resulting melancholy, the Brownings meet and entertain many new acquaintances, among whom are American artists Harriet Hosmer and William Page; the latter’s portrait of RB is this volume’s frontispiece. The poets spend much time with the actress Fanny Kemble and her sister, the opera singer Adelaide Sartoris. In May, the Brownings return to Florence where they remain for the rest of the year. In September, the Battle of the Alma, the first major engagement of the Crimean War, takes place. It is a victory for the allies (France, England, and Turkey), and the Brownings follow subsequent events with keen interest. The poets’ publications during this period include their only co-authored work, Two Poems (1854), and EBB’s ballad “My Kate” which appears in The Keepsake for 1855, released in November. Meanwhile, numerous passages in the Brownings’ letters touch on their major works in progress: RB’s Men and Women (1855) and EBB’s Aurora Leigh (1857).