Correspondence

1851.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 97–101.

[London]

Wednesday Morning– Spring! [Postmark: 26 February 1845]

Real warm Spring, dear Miss Barrett, and the birds know it; and in Spring I shall see you, surely see you .. for when did I once fail to get whatever I had set my heart upon?—as I ask myself sometimes, with a strange fear.

I took up this paper to write a great deal: now, I don’t think I shall write much. “I shall see you,” I say!

That “Luria”[1] you enquire about, shall be my last play .. for it is but a play, woe’s me! I have one done here—“A Soul’s Tragedy,” as it is properly enough called,—but that would not do to end with—(end I will)—and Luria is a Moor, of Othello’s country, and devotes himself to something he thinks Florence, and the old fortune follows—all in my brain, yet, but the bright weather helps and I will soon loosen my Braccio, and Puccio (—a pale discontented man)—and Tiburzio (the Pisan, good true fellow, this one) and Domizia the Lady .. loosen all these on dear foolish (ravishing must his folly be)—golden-hearted Luria: all these with their worldly-wisdom, and Tuscan shrewd ways,—and, for me, the misfortune is, I sympathize just as much with these as with him,—so there can no good come of keeping this wild company any longer, and “Luria” and the other sadder ruin of one Chiappino,[2]—these got rid of, I will do as you bid me, and .. say first I have some Romances and Lyrics, all dramatic, to dispatch, and then, I shall stoop of a sudden under and out of this dancing ring of men & women hand in hand,—and stand still awhile, should my eyes dazzle,—and when that’s over, they will be gone and you will be there, pas vrai?–[3] For, as I think I told you, I always shiver involuntarily when I look .. no, glance .. at this First Poem of mine to be—“Now[4]—I call it—what, upon my soul,—for a solemn matter it is—what is to be done now, believed now,—so far as it has been revealed to me—solemn words, truly,—and to find myself writing them to any one else! Enough now.

I know Tennyson “face to face,”[5]—no more than that. I know Carlyle and love him—know him so well, that I would have told you he had shaken that grand head of his at “singing,” so thoroughly does he love and live by it. When I last saw him, a fortnight ago, he turned, from I don’t know what other talk, quite abruptly on me with “Did you never try to write a Song? Of all things in the world, that I should be proudest to do.” Then came his definition of a song—then, with an appealing look to Mrs. C.,—“I always say that some day “in spite of nature and my stars” I shall burst into a song” (he is not mechanically “musical,” he meant,—and the music is the poetry, he holds, and should enwrap the thought as Donne says “an amber-drop enwraps a bee”)[6] and then he began to recite an old Scotch song, stopping at the first rude couplet—“The beginning words are merely to set the tune, they tell me”—and then again at the couplet about—or, to the effect that—“give me” (but in broad Scotch—) “give me but my lass, I care not for my cogie.”[7]He says,” quoth Carlyle magisterially,—“that if you allow him the love of his lass, you may take away all else,—even his cogie, his cup or can, and he cares not”—just as a professor expounds Lycophron.[8] And just before I left England, six months ago, did not I hear him croon, if not certainly, sing “Charlie is my darling”[9]—(“my darling” with an adoring emphasis—) and then he stood back, as it were, from the song, to look at it better, and said “How must that notion of ideal wondrous perfection have impressed itself in this old Jacobite’s “young Cavalier” .. (“They go to save their land—and the young Cavalier!”—) when I who care nothing about such a rag of a man, cannot but feel as he felt, in speaking his words after him”! After saying which, he would be sure to counsel everybody to get their heads clear of all singing!– Don’t let me forget to clap hands—we got the letter, dearly bought as it was by the “Dear Sirs” &c and insignificant scrap as it proved—but still it is got, to my encouragement in diplomacy.

Who told you of my sculls and spider-webs—Horne?[10] Last year I petted extraordinarily a fine fellow, (a garden spider,—there was the singularity,—the thin clever-even-for a spider-sort, and they are so “spir.ited and sly,”[11] all of them—this kind makes a long cone of web, with a square chamber of vantage at the end, and there he sits loosely and looks about)—a great fellow that housed himself, with real gusto, in the jaws of a great scull, whence he watched me as I wrote .. and I remember speaking to Horne about his good points– Phrenologists look gravely at that great scull, by the way, and hope, in their grim manner, that its owner made a good end– It looks quietly, now, out at the green little hill behind. I have no little insight to the feelings of furniture, and treat books and prints with a reasonable consideration—how some people use their pictures, for instance, is a mystery to me—very revolting all the same: portraits obliged to face each other forever,—prints put together in portfolios, .. my Polidoro’s perfect Andromeda along with “Boors Carousing by Ostade”,[12]—where I found her,—my own father’s doing, or I would say more.

And when I have said I like “Pippa” better than anything else I have done yet, I shall have answered all you bade me. And now may I begin questioning? No,—for it is all a pure delight to me, so that you do but write. I never was without good, kind, generous friends and lovers, so they say—so they were and are—perhaps they came at the wrong time—I never wanted them,—though that makes no difference in my gratitude, I trust—but I know myself—surely—and always have done so—for is there not somewhere the little book I first printed when a boy, with John Mill, the metaphysical head, his marginal note that “the writer possesses a deeper self-consciousness than I ever knew in a sane human being”–[13] So I never deceived myself much, nor called my feelings for people other than they were; and who has a right to say, if I have not, that I had, but I said that, supernatural or no. Pray tell me, too, of your present doings and projects, and never write yourself “grateful” to me who am grateful, very grateful to you,—for none of your words but I take in earnest—and tell me if Spring be not coming, come—and I will take to writing the gravest of letters—because this beginning is for gladness’ sake like Carlyle[’]s song-couplet. My head aches a little, to day too, and as poor dear Kirke White said to the moon, from his heap of mathematical papers, “I throw aside the learned sheet,—I cannot choose but gaze she looks so—mildly sweet”[14]—out on the foolish phrase, but there’s hard rhyming without it!

Ever yours faithfully,

Robert Browning.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark: 8NT8 FE26 1845 O.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: V.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 25–28.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Luria and A Soul’s Tragedy comprised the last number of the Bells and Pomegranates series which was published in April 1846.

2. The principal character in RB’s A Soul’s Tragedy.

3. “Is it not so?”

4. Probably an allusion to his earlier remarks in letter 1837. It is of interest to note that a work entitled “Now,” was published by RB in Asolando (1889).

5. I Corinthians 13:1.

6. “To the Countess of Bedford” (“Honour is so sublime perfection …”), 1633, line 25.

7. We have been unable to identify this “Scotch song” referred to by RB.

8. Greek poet and grammarian, active in the third century B.C., whose only extant work is the Alexandra.

9. Perhaps the poem by Lady Nairne set to the traditional Scottish ballad tune. There is a version by Captain Charles Gray, R.M., arranged by George F. Graham in The Songs of Scotland (1849) by George F. Graham.

10. See letter 1843, note 17.

11. We have not located the source of this quotation.

12. Both Adriaen van Ostade (1610–85) and his brother, Isack van Ostade (1621–49), painted numerous pictures of peasants “carousing” and making merry; however, it is impossible to identify which painting by which artist RB is referring to. The “Andromeda” mentioned “is that of Polidoro da Caravaggio, of which Mr. Browning possesses an engraving, which was always before his eyes as he wrote his earlier poems” (Mrs. Sutherland Orr, A Handbook to the Works of Robert Browning, 1885, p. 21n). See also Pauline, line 656, and Sordello, line 211.

13. Mill’s general comments, at the end of the text of Pauline, began: “With considerable poetic powers, this writer seems to me possessed with a more intense and morbid self-consciousness than I ever knew in any sane human being.” RB’s replies to Mill’s comments are published in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 66 (1972), 135–170 (see also Reconstruction, B20).

14. RB refers to “Fragment V,” line 10, from Remains (1807), II, 139, by Henry Kirke White. A manuscript note on these fragments explains that they “were, for the most part, written upon the back of his mathematical papers, during the few moments of the last year of his life, in which he suffered himself to follow the impulse of his genius” (II, 136).

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