Thursday, May 18, 2006


Today has been dedicated to book-binding. I had earlier bought on the web a facsimile of the 'Old Yellow Book', in a shabby cheap cover, the collection of legal documents concerning a murder Robert Browning had bought in the Piazza San Lorenzo and broguht home to Casa Guidi, flinging it up in the air and catching it again by the great mirror, Elizabeth begging that he not obsess with it. It would become the quarry from which he created his magnum opus, The Ring and the Book.

He describes it as bound in old yellow vellum. Today, dashing across Florence on my bicycle, I bought fake vellum, pergamene falsa. But my maestro Enrico Giannini felt we should either use leather or true vellum. And he brought out two pieces. We were just able to cut the cover out of the smaller piece, observing all the rules. Leather is glued, vellum is more often sewn or only its edges glued. We did the latter. A tourist guide and two tourists came so we interrupted our work to marble paper for them. They examined an old ornate 1966 Flood-ruined book. And Enrico told them his price for restoring it is high and that he offered to its owner to teach him how to do it himself. Indeed, studying under Enrico Giannini is a great asset for all book lovers, librarians, restorers.

In the photograph you can see The Old Yellow Book and the 'Clasped Hands', Robert and Elizabeth's Marriage Certificate with Elizabeth Wilson's signature as witness, Elizabeth's portrait frontispiece to Aurora Leigh and Robert's portrait frontispiece painted by their son Pen, where Robert holds The Old Yellow Book in his hands.

Then back home to finish gluing the end papers and the covers on both The Old Yellow Book and my much-loved Sarum Breviary or Hours of Prayer, tiny with thin India paper, gold leaf edged rubricated pages to which I attached blue and green ribbon bookmarks, and green headbands and our blue marbled paper, a breviary that had been once an Anglican bishop's, who had taken it with him to India and to Africa and who gave it when I was librarian of my Anglican convent in Sussex, and that I use when travelling as the Roman one is large and heavy.

Have also been scouting Casa Guidi for the Comune, the city government of Florence, which will give two laurel wreaths 1 July, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's burial date, one to Casa Guidi where she lived, wrote, gave birth, and breathed her last, the other for her tomb here in the 'English' Cemetery. The Comune needed to know if there were a hook. I found a lamppost beneath which it can hang beside the door of Pino Marletta, Antiquario, and he consents and asks me for copies of EBB's books, and showed me his marvelous tools and supplies for restoring seventeenth through nineteenth century Italian furniture. I love crossing over to Oltrarno, 'across the Arno', where the artigiani, the skilled craftspeople have their botteghe, their workshops, and where one can see them carefully applying gold leaf, true not false gold leaf they buy in little handsewn booklets from the mesticherie, the hardware, ironmonger shops. And where I buy it too for painting halos to Madonnas and for the tooled letters on books I bind. One can take book-binding courses from Enrico Giannini - and also spend time looking in shop windows and learning by seeing how to gold leaf and bind books and so much else.

Profound thanks to all the 2000 and more of you who signed the petition to UNESCO. We are forming the Foundation and shall soon be able to request funds for the Cemetery's much-needed restoration from organizations and persons. And almost more than money what we love are people, descendants, who send us information and portraits of their ancestors buried here. This came three days ago and she is seventy, an American, and very lovely.
^*§ ELIZA (CALLAHAN) DOANE/ AMERICA/ Doane (Greene) nata Callahan/ Elisa/ Giovanni/ America/ Firenze/ 10 Novembre/ 1859/ Anni 70/ 686/ Elisa Greene Doane, l'Amerique, Boston, rentiere, fille de Capitain John Callahan, veuve de John Doane/ GL23777/1 N° 274, Death 10/11, Burial 14/11, Rev O'Neill/ SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF MRS ELIZA DOANE WHO WAS BORN/ IN BOSTON USA DEPARTED THIS LIFE/ NOVEMBER 10 1859 AT THE VILLA CAPPONI/ AGED 70/ BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART/ FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD/ . . . MATTHEW . . . / THIS TABLET IS PLACED BY HER LOVING CHILDREN/ B14N

Eliza Doane circa 1858

If you wish to donate to the Aureo Anello Association towards saving the 'English' Cemetery in Florence you can by a cheque made out to 'Aureo Anello' and posted to 'English' Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello 38, 50132 Florence, Italy; or through the Pay Pal 'Donate' button below, which can also be used to purchase CDs, hand-bound limited edition books and sculptures of Elizabeth and Robert's 'Clasped Hands':