Correspondence

1916.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 216–218.

[London]

Thursday– [15 May 1845][1]

But how ‘mistrustfulness’? And how “that way”? What have I said or done, I, who am not apt to be mistrustful of anybody & shd be a miraculous monster if I began with you! What can I have said, I say to myself again & again.

One thing, at any rate, I have done, “that way” or this way! I have made what is vulgarly called a ‘piece of work’ about little,—or seemed to make it. Forgive me. I am shy by nature:—& by position & experience, .. by having had my nerves shaken to excess, & by leading a life of such seclusion, .. by these things together & by others besides, I have appeared shy & ungrateful to you. Only not mistrustful. You could not mean to judge me so. Mistrustful people do not write as I write, .. surely! for was’nt it a Richelieu or Mazarin (or who?) who said that with five lines from any one’s hand, he cd take off his head for a corollary?[2] I think so.

Well!—but this is to prove that I am not mistrustful, & to say, that if you care to come to see me you can come,—& that it is my gain (as I feel it to be) & not yours, whenever you do come. You will not talk of having come afterwards I know, because although I am ‘fast bound’ to see one or two persons this summer (besides yourself, whom I receive of choice & willingly,—)[3] I cannot admit visitors in a general way—& putting the question of health quite aside, it wd be unbecoming to lie here on the sofa & make a company-show of an infirmity, & hold a beggar’s hat for sympathy. I shd blame it in another woman—& the sense of it has had its weight with me sometimes.

For the rest, .. when you write that “I do not know how you wd value, nor yourself quite,” you touch very accurately on the truth, .. & so accurately in the last clause, that to read it, made me smile ‘tant bien que mal’.[4] Certainly you cannot “quite know,” or know at all, whether the least straw of pleasure can go to you from knowing me otherwise than on this paper—& I, for my part, ‘quite know’ my own honest impression dear Mr Browning, that none is likely to go to you. There is nothing to see in me,—nor to hear in me—I never learnt to talk as you do in London,—although I can admire that brightness of carved speech in Mr Kenyon & others. If my poetry is worth anything to any eye,—it is the flower of me– I have lived most & been most happy in it, & so it has all my colours,—the rest of me is nothing but a root, fit for the ground & the dark. And if I write all this egotism, .. it is for shame,—& because I feel ashamed[5] of having made a fuss about what is not worth it,—& because you are extravagant in caring so for a permission, which will be nothing to you afterwards. Not that I am not touched by your caring so at all!– I am deeply touched now,—& presently, .. I shall understand. Come then. There will be truth & simplicity for you in any case,—& a friend– And do not answer this—I do not write it as a fly trap for compliments. Your spider wd scorn me for it too much.

Also .. as to the how & when. You are not well now, & it cannot be good for you to do anything but be quiet & keep away that dreadful musical note in the head. I entreat you not to think of coming until that is all put to silence satisfactorily. When it is done, .. you must choose whether you wd like best to come with Mr Kenyon or to come alone—& if you wd come alone, you must just tell me on what day, & I will see you on any day unless there shd be an unforseen obstacle, .. any day after two, or before six. And my sister will bring you up stairs to me,—& we will talk,—or you will talk,—& you will try to be indulgent, & like me as well as you can. If, on the other hand, you wd rather come with Mr Kenyon, you must wait, I imagine, till June,—because he goes away on monday & is not likely immediately to return—no, on saturday, tomorrow.[6]

In the meantime, why I shd be “thanked,” is an absolute mystery to me—but I leave it!

You are generous & impetuous,—that, I can see & feel,—and so far from being of an inclination to mistrust you or distrust you, I do profess to have as much faith in your full, pure loyalty, as if I had known you personally as many years as I have appreciated your genius. Believe this of me—for it is spoken truly.

In the matter of Shakespeare’s “poor players” you are severe[7]—& yet I was glad to hear you severe—it is a happy excess, I think. When men of intense reality, as all great poets must be, give their hearts to be trodden on & tied up with ribbons in turn, by men of masks, there will be torture if there is not desecration. Not that I know much of such things—but I have heard. Heard from Mr Kenyon,—heard from Miss Mitford, .. who however is passionately fond of the theatre as a writer’s medium—not at all, from Mr Horne himself, .. except what he has printed on the subject.

Yes—he has been infamously used on the point of the ‘New Spirit’—only he shd have been prepared for the infamy—it was leaping into a gulph, .. not to ‘save the republic,’ but ‘pour rire’:[8] it was not merely putting one’s foot into a hornet’s nest, but taking off a shoe & stocking to do it. And to think of Dickens being dissatisfied!–[9] To think of Tennyson’s friends grumbling!—he himself did not, I hope & trust. For you, you certainly were not adequately treated—& above all, you were not placed with your peers in that chapter—but that there was an intention to do you justice, & that there is a righteous appreciation of you in the writer, I know & am sure,[10]––& that you shd be sensible to this, is only what I should know & be sure of you. Mr Horne is quite above the narrow, vicious, hateful jealousy of contemporaries, which we hear reproached, too justly sometimes, on men of letters.

I go on writing as if I were not going to see you––soon perhaps– Remember that the how & the when rest with you—except that it cannot be before next week at the soonest. You are to decide–

Always your friend

EBB—

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

Postmarks: 1845 MY16 8Mg8 A; 10FN10 MY16 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 12.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 64–67.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. “Qu’on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre” (Cardinal Richelieu, Mirame).

3. See letter 1865 in which EBB mentions her desire to see Chorley, as well as Browning.

4. “For good or for ill.”

5. EBB wrote “afraid” and altered it to “ashamed.”

6. It is unclear whether EBB actually completed this letter on Friday, or whether “saturday, tomorrow” was a slip of the pen.

7. See letter 1914.

8. “In jest.” The allusion is to Marcus Curtius who gave his life for Rome by riding his horse into a fissure created in the Forum by an earthquake, thus fulfilling a soothsayer’s prediction that the sacrifice of something precious would cause the gulf to close.

9. EBB made the same comment to Miss Mitford shortly after A New Spirit had been published (see letter 1671).

10. See letter 1227, note 5.

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