Correspondence

1941.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 260–261.

[London]

Friday [13 June 1845][1]

Yes, the poem[2] is too good in certain respects for the prizes given in colleges .. (where all the pure parsley goes naturally to the rabbits)[3] .. & has a great deal of beauty here & there in image & expression. Still I do not quite agree with you that it reaches the Tennyson standard any wise; & for the blank verse, I cannot for a moment think it comparable to one of the grand passages in Œnone, & Arthur & the like.[4] In fact I seem to hear more in that latter blank verse than you do, .. to hear not only “a mighty line” as in Marlowe,[5] but a noble full orbicular wholeness in complete passages—which always struck me as the mystery of music & great peculiarity in Tennyson’s versification,—inasmuch as he attains to these complete effects without that shifting of the pause practised by the masters, .. Shelley & others. A ‘linked music’[6] .. in which there are no links ..!—that, you wd take to be a contradiction,—& yet something like that, my ear has always seemed to perceive,—& I have wondered curiously again & again how there could be so much union & no fastening– Only of course it is not model versification—& for dramatic purposes, it must be admitted to be bad–

Which reminds me to be astonished for the second time how you cd think such a thing of me as that I wanted to read only your lyrics .. or that I “preferred the lyrics” .. or something barbarous in that way? You dont think me “ambidexter” .. or “either handed” .. & both hands open for what poems you will vouchsafe to me,—& yet if you wd let me see anything you may have in a readable state by you .. the Flight of the Duchess .. or act or scene of the Soul’s tragedy, .. I shall be so glad & grateful to you! Oh—if you change your mind & choose to be “bien prié,”[7] I will grant it is your right, & begin my liturgy directly. But this is not teazing .. (in the intention of it!— )—and I understand all about the transcription, & the inscrutableness of rough copies,——that is, if you write as I do, so that my guardian angel or M. Champollion[8] cannot read what is written. Only whatever they can, (remember!) I can! and you are not to mind trusting me with the cacistography possible to mortal readers.

The sun shines so that nobody dares complain of the East wind .. & indeed I am better altogether .. May God bless you, my dear friend–

EBB.

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

Postmarks: 1845 JU14 8Mg8 A; 10FN10 JU14 1845.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 21.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 93–94.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. i.e., “Timbuctoo,” which was first published in Cambridge Chronicle and Journal for 10 July 1829, and for which Tennyson won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal in 1829. RB had taken on his most recent visit (11 June) a copy of Prolusiones Academicae (Cambridge, 1829), the pamphlet in which were published all the Cambridge prize poems for the year, including Tennyson’s “Timbuctoo.”

3. Cf. Ben Jonson, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakspeare, and What He Hath Left Us” (1623), line 30.

4. Tennyson’s poems “Œnone” and “Morte d’Arthur” appeared in 1832 and 1842 respectively.

5. Jonson, “To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakspeare” (1623), line 23.

6. Cf. Milton, “L’Allegro” (1673), line 140.

7. “Well pleaded.”

8. Jean François Champollion (1790–1832) was responsible for deciphering the Rosetta Stone, hence EBB’s allusion to being able to read.

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