The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 11. Casa Guidi Windows
It was a time of revolution when the Brownings settled in Italy, and the ferment continued throughout the whole period of their married life. Casa Guidi Windows dealt with the earlier phases of the movement for liberation. In its later stages, the part taken in it by Napoleon III and the equivocal character of his motives and actions were matter of intense interest to them. Elizabeth Browning was his devoted defender; Browning was alternately critical and condemnatory. Even “the annexation of Savoy and Nice” only momentarily shook her faith in him. Browning summed up the situation by saying of Napoleon’s part in the Italian war that “it was a great action but he has taken eighteen pence for it, which is a pity.” They had agreed to write of Napoleon and publish jointly. Elizabeth Browning’s labours resulted in Poems before Congress; on the annexation, Browning dropped the project and destroyed what he had written. But he came back to the subject, during that period when it delighted him most to explore the intricacies of ambiguous souls whose morality was “pied” and intellects casuistical; and he produced Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau.
Both Casa Guidi Windows and Poems before Congress illustrate the difficulty of lifting contemporary politics into poetry. Neither these nor the aftermath in her posthumous Last Poems (1862) have added to Elizabeth Browning’s literary reputation.