Correspondence

1936.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 252–255.

[London]

Friday morning. [6 June 1845][1]

When I see all you have done for me in this Prometheus,[2] I feel more than half ashamed both of it & of me for using your time so, & forced to say in my own defence (not to you but myself) that I never thought of meaning to inflict such work on you who might be doing so much better things in the meantime both for me & for others—because, you see, it is not the mere reading of the m∙s., but the “comparing” of the text, & the melancholy comparisons between the English & the Greek, … quite enough to turn you from your φιλανθρωπου τροπου,[3] .. that I brought upon you,—& indeed I did not mean so much, nor so soon!– Yet as you have done it for me—for me who expected a few jottings down with a pencil & a general opinion,—it is of course of the greatest value, besides the pleasure & pride which come of it,—& I must say of the translation, (before putting it aside for the nonce) that the circumstance of your paying it so much attention & seeing any good in it, is quite enough reward for the writer & quite enough motive for self-gratulation, if it were all torn to fragments at this moment—which is a foolish thing to say because it is so obvious, & because you wd know it if I said it or not–

And while you were doing this for me, you thought it unkind of me not to write to you,—yes, and you think me at this moment the very princess of apologies & excuses & depreciations & all the rest of the small family of distrust .. or of hypocrisy .. who knows?– Well! but you are wrong .. wrong .. to think so; & you will let me say one word to show where you are wrong,—not for you to controvert, .. because it must relate to myself especially, & lies beyond your cognizance, & is something which I must know best after all– And it is, .. that you persist in putting me into a false position with respect to fixing days & the like, & in making me feel somewhat as I did when I was a child, & Papa used to put me up on the chimney piece & exhort me to stand up straight like a hero, which I did, straighter & straighter, & then suddenly “was ’ware” (as we say in the ballads) of the wall’s growing alive behind me & extending two stoney hands to push me down that frightful precipice to the rug, where the dog lay .... dear old Havannah,[4] .. & where he & I were likely to be dashed to pieces together & mix our uncanonized bones– Now my present false position .. which is not the chimney piece’s, .. is the necessity you provide for me in the shape of my having to name this day, or that day, .. & of your coming because I name it, & of my having to think & remember that you come because I name it– Through a weakness, perhaps, or morbidness, or one knows not how to define it, I cannot help being uncomfortable in having to do this,—it is impossible. Not that I distrust you—you are the last in the world I could distrust: and then (although you may be sceptical) I am naturally given to trust .. to a fault .. as some say—or to a sin, as some reproach me:—& then again, if I were ever such a distruster, it would not be of you. But if you knew me—!– I will tell you! if one of my brothers omits coming to this room for two days, .. I never ask why it happened! if my own father omits coming up stairs to say ‘good night’, I never say a word,—& not from indifference– Do try to make out these readings of me as a “dixit Causaubonus,”[5]—& dont throw me down as a corrupt text!—nor convict me for an infidel which I am not– On the contrary I am grateful & happy to believe that you like to come here,—& even if you came here as a pure act of charity & pity to me, as long as you chose to come I should not be too proud to be grateful & happy still. I could not be proud to you, & I hope you will not fancy such a possibility, which is the remotest of all. Yes, & I am anxious to ask you to be wholly generous & leave off such an interpreting philosophy as you made use of yesterday, & forgive me when I beg you to fix your own days for coming for the future. Will you?– It is the same thing in one way. If you like to come really every week, there is no hindrance to it—you can do it—& the privilege & obligation remain equally mine:—& if you name a day for coming on any week, where there is an obstacle on my side, you will learn it from me in a moment. Why I might as well charge you with distrusting me, because you persist in making me choose the days. And it is not for me to do it, but for you—I must feel that—and I cannot help chafing myself against the thought, that for me to begin to fix days in this way, just because you have quick impulses (like all imaginative persons) & wish me to do it now, .. may bring me to the catastrophe of asking you to come when you would rather not, .. which, as you say truly, wd not be an important vexation to you,—but to me would be worse than vexation,—to me!—& therefore I shrink from the very imagination of the possibility of such a thing, & ask you to bear with me & let it be as I prefer .. left to your own choice of the moment– And bear with me above all—because this shows no want of faith in you, .. none, .. but comes from a simple fact (with its ramifications) .. that you know little of me personally yet, & that you guess even, but very little of the influence of a peculiar experience over me & out of me—& if I wanted a proof of this, we need not seek further than the very point of discussion, & the hard worldly thoughts you thought I was thinking of you yesterday!—I, who thought not one of them!– But I am so used to discern the correcting & ministering angels by the same footsteps on the ground, that it is not wonderful I shd look down there, at any approach of a φιλια ταξις,[6] whatever, to this personal me. Have I not been ground down to browns & blacks? & is it my fault if I am not green? Not that it is my complaint—I shd not be justified in complaining– I believe, as I told you, that there is more gladness than sadness in the world,—that is, generally: & if some natures have to be refined by the sun, & some by the furnace (the less genial ones—) both means are to be recognized as good; .. however different in pleasurableness & painfulness, & tho’ furnace-fire leaves scorched streaks upon the fruit——. I assured you there was nothing I had any power of teaching you:—& there is nothing, except grief!—— Which I would not teach you, you know, if I had the occasion granted.

It is a multitude of words about nothing at all, .. this!—but I am like Mariana in the moated grange & sit listening too often to the mouse in the wainscot–[7] Be as forbearing as you can—& believe how profoundly it touches me that you should care to come here at all, much more, so often! & try to understand that if I did not write as you half asked, it was just because I failed at the moment to get up enough pomp & circumstance to write on purpose to certify the important fact of my being a little stronger or a little weaker on one particular morning. That I am always ready & rejoiced to write to you, you know perfectly well, & I have proved, by ‘superfluity of naughtiness’[8] & prolixity thro’ some twenty posts:—& thus, & therefore, you will agree altogether to attribute no more to me on these counts, & determine to read me no more backwards with your Hebrew, putting in your own vowel points without my leave?[9] Shall it be so?

Here is a letter grown from a note which it meant to be—& I have been interrupted in the midst of it or it shd have gone to you earlier. Let what I have said in it of myself pass unquestioned & unnoticed, because it is of me & not of you, .. &, if in any wise lunatical, all the talking & writing in the world will not put the implied moon into another quarter– Only be patient with me a little, .. & let us have a smooth ground for the poems which I am forseeing the sight of with such pride & delight– Such pride & delight!.

And one thing .. which is chief, though it seems to come last! .. you will have advice (—will you not?—) if that pain does not grow much better directly?– It cannot be prudent or even safe to let a pain in the head go on so long, & no remedy be attempted for it, .. & you cannot be sure that it is a merely nervous pain & that it may not have consequences,—& this, quite apart from the consideration of suffering– So you will see some one with an opinion to give, & take it?– Do, I beseech you—you will not say ‘no’? Also .. if on wednesday, you shd be less well than usual, you will come on thursday instead, I hope, .. seeing that it must be right for you to be quiet & silent when you suffer so, & a journey into London can let you be neither– Otherwise, I hold to my day .. wednesday. And may God bless you my dear friend–

Ever yours

EBB–

You are right I see, nearly everywhere, if not quite everywhere in the criticisms—but of course I have not looked very closely—that is, I have read your papers but not in connection with my side of the argument—but I shall lose the post after all.

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

Postmark: 3AN3 JU7 1845 K.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 19.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 85–88.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. RB wrote seven and a half pages of comments about EBB’s revised translation, and ended with these remarks: “And so it is all magnificently rendered. The above attempts at notification are the merest stoppings for a moment where I did not know my old path thro’ the text again. … If the work were mine, I should be happy and proud, and let it alone. … This is not the opportunity I waited for to say my humble say on your works. Æschylus is here, and I would find you alone. As it is, take my true praise and congratulations” (as extracted in Browning Collections, lot 142); present whereabouts unknown.

3. “Championship of man” (Prometheus Bound, line 11, trans. Herbert Weir Smyth).

4. The family dog from Hope End days; see illustrations facing p. 10 and p. 40 in volume 1.

5. “Said Causaubonus,” i.e., a reliable reading, referring to Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614), a French classical scholar.

6. “Friendly force.”

7. Cf. Tennyson, “Mariana” (1830), lines 63–64.

8. James 1:21.

9. See letter 1837, note 3.

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