1825.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 43–44.

New Cross, Hatcham.

Monday Night [27 January 1845][1]

Dear Miss Barrett,

Your books lie on my table here, at arm’s length from me, in this old room where I sit all day: and when my head aches or wanders or strikes work, as it now and then will, I take my chance for either green covered volume,[2]—as if it were so much fresh trefoil to feel in one’s hands this winter-time,—and round I turn, and, putting a decisive elbow on three or four half-done-with “Bells” of mine,[3] read, read, read—and just as I have shut up the book and walked to the window, I recollect that you wanted me to find faults there, and that, in unwise hour, I engaged to do so. Meantime, the days go by (the whitethroat is come and sings now) and as I would not have you “look down on me from your white heights”[4] as promise-breaker, evader, or forgetter, if I could help .. and as, if I am very candid & contrite[,] you may find it in your heart to write to me again .. who knows? .. so I shall say at once that the said faults cannot be lost, must be somewhere, and shall be faithfully brought you back whenever they turn up,—as people tell one of missing matters. I am rather exacting, myself, with my own gentle audience, and get to say spiteful things about them when they are backward in their dues of appreciation—but really, really—could I be quite sure that anybody as good as .. I must go on, I suppose, and say .. as myself, even, were honestly to feel towards me as I do, towards the writer of Bertha, and the Drama, and the Duchess, and the Page and .. the whole two volumes,[5] I should be paid after a fashion, I know.

One thing I can do .. pencil, if you like, and annotate, and dissertate upon what I love most and least. I think I can do it, that is–

.. Here an odd memory comes .. of a friend who,—volunteering such a service to a sonnet-writing somebody, gave him a taste of his quality in a side-column of short criticisms on Sonnet the First, and—starting off the beginning three lines with, of course, “bad, worse, worst”—made, by a generous mintage of words to meet the sudden run on his epithets, “worser, worserer, worserest” pay off the second terzet in full .. no, “badder, badderer, badderest” fell to the Second’s allowance, and “worser &c” answered the demands of the Third—“worster, worsterer, worsterest” supplied the emergency of the Fourth; and, bestowing his last “worserestest and worstestest” on lines 13 and 14, my friend (slapping his forehead like an emptied strong-box) frankly declared himself bankrupt and honourably incompetent, to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the rest of the series.

What an illustration of the law by which opposite ideas suggest opposite, and contrary images come together!

See, now, how, of that “Friendship” you offer me (and here Juliet’s word rises to my lips)[6]—I feel sure once and forever—I have got already, I see, into this little pet-handwriting of mine (not any one else’s) which scratches on as if theatrical copyists (ah me!) and Bradbury and Evans’ Reader were not![7] But you shall get something better than this nonsense one day, if you will have patience with me .. hardly better, tho’,—because this does me real good, gives real relief, to write[.] —After all, you know nothing, next to nothing of me, and that stops me. Spring is to come, however!

If you hate writing to me as I hate writing to nearly everybody, I pray you never write: if you do, as you say, care for anything I have done,—I will simply assure you, that meaning to begin work in deep earnest, begin—without affectation, God knows,—I do not know what will help me more than hearing from you,—and therefore, if you do not so very much hate it, I know I shall hear from you .. and very little more about your “tiring me.”

Ever yours faithfully,

Robert Browning.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: PD 12NN JA28 1845 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: III.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 10–12.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. EBB’s Poems (1844) is bound in vertically-ribbed slate green cloth (see letter 1669).

3. RB is probably referring to poems in progress for Bells and Pomegranates, No. VII, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, which was eventually published in November 1845.

4. Cf. “A Drama of Exile,” line 638.

5. i.e., EBB’s Poems (1844) in which appeared “The Romaunt of the Page,” “Bertha in the Lane,” “A Drama of Exile,” and “Rhyme of the Duchess May.”

6. Perhaps an allusion to Romeo and Juliet, I, 3, 66.

7. RB wrote “Bradbury and Evans’ Reader” in exceptionally large, clear letters. Bradbury and Evans was the firm in Whitefriars which did the printing of Bells and Pomegranates for Moxon.


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