1927. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 237–239.
Sunday– [25 May 1845]
I owe you the most humble of apologies dear Mr Browning, for having spent so much solemnity on so simple a matter, & I hasten to pay it,—confessing at the same time (as why shd I not?) that I am quite as much ashamed of myself as I ought to be, which is not a little. You will find it difficult to believe me perhaps when I assure you that I never made such a mistake (I mean of over-seriousness to indefinite compliments) no, never in my life before——indeed my sisters have often jested with me (in matters of which they were cognizant) on my supernatural indifference to the superlative degree in general, as if it meant nothing in grammar. I usually know well that “boots” may be called for in this world of ours, just as you called for your’s,—& that to bring “Bootes”, were the vilest of mal á propos-ities. Also, I shd have understood ‘boots’ where you wrote it, in the letter in question,—if it had not been for the relation of two things in it——& now I perfectly seem to see how I mistook that relation,—(“seem to see,”—because I have not looked into the letter again since your last night’s commentary, & will not—) inasmuch as I have observed before in my own mind, that a good deal of what is called obscurity in you, arises from a habit of very subtle association,—so subtle, that you are probably unconscious of it, .. & the effect of which is to throw together on the same level & in the same light, things of likeness & unlikeness—till the reader grows confused as I did, & takes one for another. I may say however, in a poor justice to myself, that I wrote what I wrote so unfortunately, through reverence for you, & not at all from vanity on my own account .. although I do feel palpably while I write these words here & now, that I might as well leave them unwritten,—for that no man of the world who ever lived in the world, (not even you) cd be expected to believe them, though said, sung, & sworn.
For the rest, it is scarcely an apposite moment for you to talk, even “dramatically,” of my ‘superiority’ to you, .. unless you mean, which perhaps you do mean, my superiority in simplicity—&, verily, to some of the “adorable ingenuousness,” sacred to the shade of Simpson, I may put in a modest claim, .. “& have my claim allowed.” —“Pray do not mock me” I quote again from your Shakespeare to you who are a dramatic poet, .. & I will admit anything that you like, (being humble just now)—even that I did not know you. I was certainly innocent of the knowledge of the “ice & cold water” you introduce me to, & am only just shaking my head, as Flush wd, after a first wholesome plunge– Well—if I do not know you, I shall learn, I suppose, in time. I am ready to try humbly to learn—& I may perhaps—if you are not done in Sanscrit, which is too hard for me, .. notwithstanding that I had the pleasure yesterday to hear, from America, of my profound skill in “various languages less known than Hebrew”!—a liberal paraphrase on Mr Horne’s large fancies on the like subject,—& a satisfactory reputation in itself—as long as it is not necessary to deserve it. So I here enclose to you your letter back again, as you wisely desire,—although you never cd doubt, I hope, for a moment, of its safety with me in the completest of senses: and then, from the heights of my superior .. stultity, & other qualities of the like order, .. I venture to advise you .. however (to speak of the letter critically, & as the dramatic composition it is,—) it is to be admitted to be very beautiful, & well worthy of the rest of its kin in the portfolio, .. “Lays of the poets,” or otherwise, … I venture to advise you to burn it at once. And then, my dear friend, I ask you (having some claim) to burn at the same time the letter I was fortunate enough to write to you on friday, & this present one—dont send them back to me,—I hate to have letters sent back—but burn them for me & never mind Mephistopheles. After which friendly turn, you will do me the one last kindness of forgetting all this exquisite nonsense, & of refraining from mentioning it, by breath or pen, to me or another– Now I trust you so far—! You will put it with the date of the battle of Waterloo—& I, with every date in chronology,—seeing that I can remember none of them. And we will shuffle the cards, & take patience, & begin the game again, if you please—& I shall bear in mind that you are a dramatic poet, which is not the same thing, by any means, with us of the primitive simplicities, who dont tread on cothurns nor shift the mask in the scene. And I will reverence you both as “a poet” & as “the poet,”—because it is no false “ambition,” but a right you have—& one which those who live longest, will see justified to the uttermost– In the meantime I need not ask Mr Kenyon if you have any sense, because I have no doubt that you have quite sense enough—& even if I had a doubt, I shall prefer judging for myself without interposition,—which I can do, you know, as long as you like to come & see me. And you can come this week if you do like it—because our relations dont come till the end of it, it appears—not that I made a pretence “out of kindness” .. pray dont judge me so outrageously—but if you like to come .. not on tuesday .. but on wednesday at three oclock, I shall be very glad to see you,—& I, for one, shall have forgotten everything by that time,—being quick at forgetting my own faults usually– If wednesday does not suit you, I am not sure that I can see you this week—but it depends on circumstances. Only dont think yourself obliged to come on wednesday. You know I began by entreating you to be open & sincere with me—& no more– I require no ‘sleekening of every word’ or of any word– I love the truth & can bear it—whether in word or deed—& those who have known me longest wd tell you so fullest. Well!—May God bless you– We shall know each other some day perhaps—and I am
always & faithfully your friend
Address: Robert Browning Esqre
Postmark: None. Presumably a covering sheet, now missing, enclosed this letter and the offending RB letter.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 16.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 78–80.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. This letter is a reply to no. 1926.
2. A constellation in the northern hemisphere which includes Arcturus.
3. Underscored three times.
4. See letter 1919, note 3.
5. King Lear, IV, 7, 59.
6. EBB refers to the review of A Drama of Exile in The Southern Quarterly Review for April 1845 (for the text, see pp. 384–389) which quoted from Horne’s article on EBB in A New Spirit.
7. Or, “Songs of the Poets,” as mentioned in the previous letter.
8. See previous letter.