Correspondence

1897.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 183–185.

[London]

Wednesday Morning. [Postmark: 30 April 1845]

If you did but know, dear Miss Barrett, how the “full stop” after “Morning” just above, has turned out the fullest of stops,—and how for about a quarter of an hour since the ink dried I have been reasoning out the why & wherefore of the stopping, the wisdom of it, and the folly of it, ..

—By this time you see what you have got in me. You ask me questions, “if I like novels,”—“if the Improvisatore is not good,” “if travel and sightseeing do not effect this and that for one,” and “what I am devising, play or poem,”—and I shall not say I could not answer at all manner of lengths—but, let me only begin some good piece of writing of the kind, and .. no, you shall have it, have what I was going to tell you stops such judicious beginnings,—in a parallel case, out of which your ingenuity may, please, pick the meaning: there is a story of D’Israeli’s, an old one, with an episode of strange interest,[1] or so I found it years ago,—well, you go breathlessly on with the people of it, page after page, till at last the end must come, you feel—and the tangled threads draw to one, and an out-of-door feast in the woods helps you .. that is, helps them, the people, wonderfully on,—and, lo, dinner is done, and Vivian Grey is here, and Violet Fane there,—and a detachment of the party is drafted off to go catch butterflies, and only two or three stop behind. At this moment, Mr Somebody, a good man and rather the lady’s uncle, “in answer to a question from Violet, drew from his pocket a small, neatly written manuscript, and, seating himself on an inverted wine-cooler, proceeded to read the following brief remarks upon the characteristics of the Mæso-gothic literature”– This ends the page,—which you don’t turn at once! But when you do, in bitterness of soul, turn it, you read—“On consideration, I” (Ben, himself) “shall keep them for Mr Colburn’s New Magazine”—and deeply you draw thankful breath! (Note, this “parallel case” of mine is pretty sure to meet the usual fortune of my writings—you will ask what it means; and this it means, or should mean, all of it, instance and reasoning and all,—that I am naturally earnest, in earnest about whatever thing I do, and little able to write about one thing while I think of another.)–

I think I will really write verse to you some day: this day, it is quite clear I had better give up trying[.]

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No, spite of all the lines in the world, I will make an end of it, as Ophelia with her swan’s-song,[2]—for it grows too absurd. But remember that I write letters to nobody but you, and that I want method and much more. That book you like so, the Danish novel, must be full of truth & beauty, to judge from the few extracts I have seen in Reviews.[3] That a Dane should write so, confirms me in an old belief—that Italy is stuff for the use of the North,[4] and no more: pure Poetry there is none, nearly as possible none, in Dante even—materials for Poetry in the pitifullest romancist of their thousands, on the contrary—strange that those great wide black eyes should stare nothing out of the earth that lies before them! Alfieri, with even grey eyes, and a life of travel, writes you some fifteen tragedies as coulourless as sallad grown under a garden glass with matting over it—as free, that is, from local colouring, touches of the soil they are said to spring from,—think of “Saulle,” and his Greek attempts![5]

I expected to see Mr Kenyon, at a place where I was last week, but he kept away. Here is the bad wind back again, and the black sky. I am sure I never knew till now whether the East or West or South were the quarter to pray for. But surely the weather was a little better last week, and you, were you not better? —And do you know––but it’s all self-flattery, I believe,—still I cannot help fancying the East wind does my head harm too!

Ever yours faithfully,

R Browning–

Address, on cover sheet: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: 3AN3 AP30 1845.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 10 [altered from “9”].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 49–51.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Cf. Disraeli, Vivian Grey (1826), Bk. V, chap. xv.

2. Cf. Hamlet, IV, 5.

3. A review, by Chorley, of The Improvisatore, Mary Howitt’s translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s novel, had appeared in The Athenæum for 8 and 15 March 1845 (nos. 906 and 907, pp. 235–237 and 263–265, respectively).

4. See letters 1900 and 1906 in which the poets continue their discussion of the value of Dante’s poetry.

5. Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803) was a poet and author of nineteen tragedies based on historical themes, of which Saul (1782) is considered the finest.

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