1907.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 203–206.


Monday—& Tuesday. [5–6 May 1845] [1]

So when wise people happen to be ill, they sit up till six oclock in the morning & get up again at nine? Do tell me how Lurias can ever be made out of such ungodly imprudences. If the wind blows east or west, where can any remedy be, while such evil deeds are being committed? And what is to be the end of it? And what is the reasonableness of it in the meantime, when we all know that thinking, dreaming, creating people like yourself, have two lives to bear instead of one, & therefore ought to sleep more than others, .. throwing over & buckling in that fold of death, to stroke the life-purple smoother. You have to live your own personal life, & also Luria’s life—& therefore you shd sleep for both. It is logical indeed—& rational, .. which logic is not always,—and if I had ‘the tongue of men & of angels,’ [2] I would use it to persuade you. Polka, for the rest, may be good,—but sleep is better. I think better of sleep than I ever did, now that she will not easily come near me except in a red hood of poppies. And besides, .. praise your ‘goodnatured body’ as you like, .. it is only a seeming goodnature!– Bodies bear malice in a terrible way, be very sure—! appear mild & smiling for a few short years, and then, .. out with a cold steel,—& the soul has it, “with a vengeance,” .. according to the phrase! You will not persist, (—will you?—) in this experimental homicide. Or tell me if you will, that I may do some more teazing. It really, really is wrong. Exercise is one sort of rest & you feel relieved by it—and sleep is another: one being as necessary as the other.

This is the first thing I have to say. The next is a question. What do you mean about your manuscripts .. about “Saul” & the portfolio?—for I am afraid of hazardously supplying ellipses—& your ‘Bos’ comes to βους επι γλωσση! [3] I get half bribed to silence by the very pleasure of fancying. But if it could be possible that you should mean to say you would show me … Can it be? or am I reading this ‘Attic contraction’ [4] quite the wrong way? You see I am afraid of the difference between flattering myself & being flattered,—the fatal difference. And now will you understand that I shd be too overjoyed to have revelations from the “Portfolio,” .. however incarnated with blots & pen-scratches, .. to be able to ask impudently of them now?– Is that plain?

It must be, .. at any rate, .. that if you would like to ‘write something together’ with me, I should like it still better. I should like it for some ineffable reasons. And I should not like it a bit the less for the grand supply of jests it wd administer to the critical Board of Trade, about visible darkness, multiplied by two, mounting into palpable obscure. [5] We should not mind .. should we?—you would not mind, if you had got over certain other considerations deconsiderating to your coadjutor. Yes—but I dare not do it, .. I mean, .. think of it, .. just now, if ever: & I will tell you why in a Mediæval-Gothic-architectural manuscript.

The only poet by profession (if I may say so) except yourself, with whom I ever had much intercourse even on paper, (if this is near to ‘much’) has been Mr Horne. We approached each other on the point of one of Miss Mitford’s annual editorships,—& ever since, he has had the habit of writing to me occasionally,—& when I was too ill to write at all, in my dreary Devonshire days, [6] I was his debtor for various little kindnesses, .. for which I continue his debtor. In my opinion he is a true hearted & generous man. Do you not think so? Well—long & long ago, he asked me to write a drama with him on the Greek model,—that is, for me to write the choruses, & for him to do the dialogue. [7] Just then it was quite doubtful in my own mind, & worse than doubtful, whether I ever shd write again, .. & the very doubtfulness made me speak my ‘yes’ more readily. Then I was desired to make a subject, .. to conceive a plan,—& my plan was of a man, haunted by his own soul, .. (making her a separate personal Psyche, a dreadful, beautiful Psyche)—the man being haunted & terrified through all the turns of life by her. Did you ever feel afraid of your own soul, as I have done? I think it is a true wonder of our humanity—& fit subject enough for a wild lyrical drama. I should like to write it by myself at least, well enough. But with him I will not now. It was delayed .. delayed. He cut the plan up into scenes .. I mean into a list of scenes .. a sort of ground-map to work on—& there, it lies. Nothing more was done. It all lies in one sheet—& I have offered to give up my copyright of idea in it—if he likes to use it alone—or I shd not object to work it out alone on my own side, since it comes from me: only I will not consent now to a double work in it. There are objections—none, .. be it well understood, .. in Mr Horne’s disfavour—for I think of him as well at this moment, & the same in all essential points, as I ever did. He is a man of fine imagination, & is besides good & generous. In the course of our acquaintance (on paper—for I never saw him!) I never was angry with him except once,—& then, I was quite wrong & had to confess it. But this is being too “mediæval.” Only you will see from it that I am a little entangled on the subject of compound works, & must look where I tread .. & you will understand (if you ever hear from Mr Kenyon or elsewhere that I am going to write a compound-poem with Mr Horne) how it was true, & is’nt true any more–

Yes—you are going to Mr Kenyon’s on the 12th—& yes,—my brother & sister are going to meet you & your sister there one day to dinner. Shall I have courage to see you soon, I wonder! If you ask me, I must ask myself. But oh, this make-believe May—it cant be May after all!– If a south west wind sate in your chesnut tree, it was but for a few hours—the east wind ‘came up this way’ by the earliest opportunity of succession. As the old ‘mysteries’ showed “Beelzebub with a bearde,” [8] even so has the east wind had a ‘bearde’ of late, in a full growth of bristling exaggerations—the English spring-winds have excelled themselves in evil this year; & I have not been down stairs yet.—But I am certainly stronger & better than I was—that is undeniable—& I shall be better still. You are not going away soon—are you? In the meantime you do not know what it is to be .. a little afraid of Paracelsus– So right about the Italians! & the “rose porporine” which made me smile. How is the head?

Ever yours


Is the ‘Flight of the Duchess’ in the portfolio? Of course you must ring the Bell. That poem has a strong heart in it, to begin so strongly. Poor Hood! [9] And all those thoughts fall mixed together. May God bless you.

Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey; [in postal clerk’s hand: Missent to Peckham].

Postmark: 8NT8 MY6 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 10.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 57–60.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. I Corinthians 13:1.

3. “A great ox stands upon my tongue” (Æschylus, Agamemnon, line 36, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth).

4. See letter 1862.

5. Cf. Paradise Lost, I, 63 and II, 406.

6. An oblique allusion to when she was staying in Torquay where her brother, Edward (Bro), was drowned.

7. “Psyche Apocalypté” was the subject chosen, and a considerable amount of work was done in the spring and summer of 1841; but after her return to London from Torquay in September 1841, EBB lost interest. Horne never entertained the idea of completing the drama alone, feeling that it would be “like treading upon sacred ground” (EBB-RHH, II, 61–110). An account of the genesis and history of “Pysche Apocalypté” can be found in EBB-RHH, The St. James’s Magazine and United Empire Review (February 1876, pp. 478–492) and HUP (II, 201–221).

8. See letter 1836 in which EBB makes a similar remark to Miss Mitford.

9. Hood had died on 3 May.


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