1900.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 188–189.


Thursday– [1 May 1845] [1]

People say of you & of me, dear Mr Browning, that we love the darkness & use a sphinxine idiom in our talk,—& really you do talk a little like a sphinx in your argument drawn from Vivian Grey. Once I sate up all night to read Vivian Grey,—but I never drew such an argument from him. Not that I give it up (nor you up) for a mere mystery. Nor that I can “see what you have got in you,” from a mere guess. But just observe! If I ask questions about novels, is it not because I want to know how much elbow-room there may be for our sympathies .. & whether there is room for my loose sleeves, & the lace lappets, as well as for my elbows,—& because I want to see you by the refracted lights as well as by the direct ones,—& because I am willing for you to know me from the beginning, with all my weaknesses & foolishnesses, .. as they are accounted by people who say to me “no one would ever think, without knowing you, that you were so & so.” Now if I send all my idle questions to Colburn’s magazine, with other Gothic literature, & take to standing up in a perpendicular personality like the angel on the schoolman’s needle, [2] in my letters to come, without further leaning to the left or the right—why the end would be that you wd take to ‘running after the butterflies,’ for change of air & exercise. And then .. oh .. then, my “small neatly written manuscripts” might fall back into my desk …! (Not a ‘full stop’!.)

Indeed .. I do assure you .. I never for a moment thought of ‘making conversation’ about the Improvisatore or novels in general, when I wrote what I did to you. I might, to other persons .. perhaps. Certainly not to you. I was not dealing round from one pack of cards to you & to others. That’s what you meant to reproach me for, you know—& of that, I am not guilty at all. I never could think of ‘making conversation’ in a letter to you—never. Women are said to partake of the nature of children—& my brothers call me ‘absurdly childish’ sometimes: & I am capable of being childishly “in earnest” about novels, & straws, & such ‘puppydogs tails’ as my Flush’s! Also I write more letters than you do, .. I write in fact almost as you pay visits, .. & one has to ‘make conversation’ in turn, of course. But——give me something to vow by——whatever you meant in the Vivian Grey argument, you were wrong in it! & you never can be much more wrong—which is a comfortable reflection.

Yet you leap very high at Dante’s crown—or you do not leap, .. you simply extend your hand to it, & make a rustling among the laurel-leaves, which is somewhat prophane. Dante’s poetry only materials for the northern rhymers!– I must think of that .. if you please .. before I agree with you. Dante’s poetry seems to come down in hail, rather than in rain—but count me the drops congealed in one hail stone!– Oh! the ‘Flight of the Duchess’ [3] —do let us hear more of her!– Are you (I wonder) … not a “self-flatterer,” … but .. a flatterer?——

Ever yours


Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.

Postmark: 8NT8 MY2 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 9.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 51–52.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. See letter 1833, note 2.

3. The first 215 lines of the poem had appeared in the April 1845 issue of Hood’s Magazine.


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