1812. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 18–20.
50 Wimpole Street.
Jan 11. 1845–
I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. You meant to give me pleasure by your letter—and even if the object had not been answered, I ought still to thank you. But it is thoroughly answered. Such a letter from such a hand! Sympathy is dear—very dear to me: but the sympathy of a poet & of such a poet, is the quintessence of sympathy to me! Will you take back my gratitude for it?—agreeing too that, of all the commerce done in the world, from Tyre to Carthage, the exchange of sympathy for gratitude is the most princely thing?
For the rest you draw me on with your kindness. It is difficult to get rid of people when you once have given them too much pleasure—that is a fact, & we will not stop for the moral of it. What I was going to say .. after a little natural hesitation .. is, that if ever you emerge without inconvenient effort from your “passive state,” & will tell me of such faults as rise to the surface & strike you as important in my poems, (for of course, I do not think of troubling you with criticism in detail) you will confer a lasting obligation on me, and one which I shall value so much, that I covet it at a distance. I do not pretend to any extraordinary meekness under criticism—and it is possible enough that I might not be altogether obedient to yours. But with my high respect for your power in your Art & your experience as an artist, it wd be quite impossible for me to hear a general observation of yours on what appear to you my master-faults, without being the better for it hereafter in some way. I ask for only a sentence or two of general observation—and I do not ask even for that, so as to teaze you—but in the humble, low voice, which is so excellent a thing in women—particularly when they go a-begging! The most frequent general criticism I receive, is, I think, upon the style––“if I would but change my style”!– But that is an objection (is’nt it?) to the writer bodily? Buffon says, & every sincere writer must feel, that ‘Le style c’est l’homme–’: a fact, however, scarcely calculated to lessen the objection, with certain critics.
Is it indeed true that I was so near to the pleasure & honour of making your acquaintance?—and can it be true that you look back upon the lost opportunity with any regret?—— But, … you know, .. if you had entered the “crypt,” you might have caught cold, or been tired to death, & wished yourself “a thousand miles off,”—which wd have been worse than travelling them. It is not my interest however to put such thoughts in your head about its’ being “all for the best”!—& I would rather hope (as I do) that what I lost by one chance I may recover by some future one. Winters shut me up as they do dormouse’s eyes: in the spring, we shall see: & I am so much better that I seem turning round to the outward world again. And in the meantime, I have learnt to know your voice, not merely from the poetry but from the kindness in it– Mr Kenyon often speaks of you—dear Mr Kenyon!—who most unspeakably, or only speakably with tears in my eyes, .. has been my friend & helper, & my book’s friend & helper! critic & sympathizer .. true friend of all hours! You know him well enough, I think, to understand that I must be grateful to him.
I am writing too much, notwithstanding,—and notwithstanding that I am writing too much, I will write of one thing more. I will say that I am your debtor, not only for this cordial letter & for all the pleasure which came with it, but in other ways, & those the highest: & I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, .. in proportion to my love for it & my devotion to it, I must be a devout admirer & student of your works. This is in my heart to say to you—& I say it.
And, for the rest, I am proud to remain
Your obliged & faithful
Elizabeth B Barrett.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 8NT8 JA11 1845 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 1.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 4–6.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Cf. King Lear, V, 3, 274.
2. “The style is the man” (cf. Discours sur le Style, 1753, by Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon, 1707–88).
3. Underscored three times.
4. Throughout his correspondence with EBB, RB has indicated her letter sequence on the face of the envelope. A few irregularities occur and these are noted editorially. RB preserved his letters from EBB in a marquetry box (see Reconstruction, H597).