1814.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 21–23.

New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey–

Jany 13. 1845.

Dear Miss Barrett,

I just shall say, in as few words as I can, that you make me very happy, and that, now the beginning is over, I dare say I shall do better .. because my poor praise, number one, was nearly as felicitously brought out, as a certain tribute to no less a personage than Tasso, which I was amused with at Rome some weeks ago, in a neat pencilling on the plaister-wall by his tomb at Sant’ Onofrio—“Alla cara memoria—di—(please fancy solemn interspaces and grave capital letters at the new lines)—di—Torquato Tasso—il Dottore Bernardini—offriva—il seguente Carme. O tu[1] .. and no more, the good man, it should seem, breaking down with the overload of love here! But my “O tu”—was breathed out most sincerely, and now you have taken it in gracious part, the rest will come after. Only,—and which is why I write now—it looks as if I have introduced some phrase or other about “your faults” so cleverly as to give exactly the opposite meaning to what I meant—which was, that in my first ardour I had thought to tell you of everything which impressed me in your verses, down, even, to whatever “faults” I could find—a good earnest, when I had got to them, that I had left out not much between: as if some Mr Fellows[2] were to say, in the overflow of his first enthusiasm of rewarded adventure, “I will describe you all the outer life and ways of these Lycians, down to their very sandal-thongs”—whereto the be-corresponded one rejoins—“Shall I get next week, then, your Dissertation on sandal-thongs”?– Yes, and a little about the “Olympian Horses”, and God-charioteers as well!

What “struck me as faults,” were not matters on the removal of which, one was to have—poetry, or high poetry,—but the very highest poetry, so I thought,—and that, to universal recognition:—for myself, or any artist, in many of the cases there would be a positive loss of true, peculiar artists-pleasure .. for an instructed eye loves to see where the brush has dipped twice in a lustrous colour, has lain insistingly along a favorite outline, dwelt lovingly in a grand shadow—for these “too muches” for the everybody’s-picture, are so many helps to the making out the real painter’s-picture as he had it in his brain; and all of Titian’s Naples Magdalen must have once been golden in its degree to justify that heap of hair in her hands .. the only gold effected now![3]

But about this soon—for night is drawing on and I go out—yet cannot, quiet at conscience, till I repeat (to myself .. for I never said it to you, I think) that your poetry must be, cannot but be, infinitely more to me than mine to you—for you do what I always wanted, hoped to do, and only seem now likely to do for the first time—you speak out, you, —I only make men & women speak,—give you truth broken into prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light, even if it is in me: but I am going to try .. so it will be no small comfort to have your company just now,—seeing that when you have your men & women aforesaid, you are busied with them, whereas it seems bleak melancholy work, this talking to the wind (.. for I have begun)—yet I don’t think I shall let you hear, after all, the savage things about Popes and Imaginative religions that I must say.

See how I go on and on to you,—I who, whenever now and then pulled, by the head and hair, into letter-writing, get sorrowfully on for a line or two, as the cognate creature urged on by stick and string, and then come down “flop” upon the sweet haven of page one, line last, as serene as the sleep of the virtuous![4] You will never more, I hope, talk of the “honor of my acquaintance”—but I will joyfully wait for the delight of your friendship, and the Spring, and my Chapel-sight after all!

Ever yours most faithfully,

R Browning.

For Mr Kenyon—I have a convenient theory about him, and his otherwise quite unaccountable kindness to me—but ’tis quite night now and they call me.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark: PD 10FN JA14 1845.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 2.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 6–8.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. “To the dear memory of Torquato Tasso—Dr. Bernardini—offered—the following poem. O Thou—

2. Charles Fellows (1799–1860), a traveller and archæologist, discovered the ruins of Xanthus, the ancient capital of Lycia in Asia Minor. He published his findings in An Account of Discoveries in Lycia (1841) and The Xanthian Marbles 1843).

3. Titian’s “St. Mary Magdalen in Penitence,” painted about 1550, shows the Magdalen with blond hair, a white blouse, and a transparent veil around her shoulders. Some permanent damage was done by early cleaning and restoring (Harold E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, 1969, I, 145).

4. Cf. Joseph Addison, Cato (1713), V, 4, 27.


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