Correspondence

1963.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 286–288.

[London]

Tuesday Morning. [1 July 1845][1]

How are you—may I hope to hear soon?

I don’t know exactly what possessed me to set my next day so far off as Saturday—as it was said, however, so let it be– And I will bring the rest of the “Duchess”—four of [sic] five hundred lines,—“heu, herba mala crescit”[2]—(as I once saw mournfully pencilled on a white wall at Asolo)[3]—but will you tell me if you quite remember the main of the first part—(parts … there are none except in the necessary process of chopping-up to suit the limits of a magazine—& I gave them as much as I could transcribe at a sudden warning)—because, if you please, I can bring the whole,—of course.

After seeing you, that Saturday, I was caught up by a friend and carried to see Vidocq[4]—who did the honour of his museum of knives & nails and hooks that have helped great murderers to their purposes—he scarcely admits, I observe, an implement with only one attestation to its efficacy; but the one or two exceptions rather justify his latitude in their favour—thus one little sort of desert-knife did only take one life .. “but then” says Vidocq, “it was the man’s own mother’s life, with fifty-two blows, and all for” (I think) “fifteen francs she had got.” So prattles good-naturedly Vidocq—one of his best stories is of that Lacénaire—“jeune homme d’un caractère fort avenant—mais c’était un poète,”[5] quoth he, turning sharp on me out of two or three other people round him.

Here your letter breaks in, & sunshine too.

Why do you send me that book[6]—not let me take it? What trouble for nothing!

An old french friend of mine,[7] a dear foolish very french heart & soul, is coming presently—his poor brains are whirling with mesmerism in which he believes, as in all other unbelief– He & I are to dine alone (—I have not seen him these two years—) and I shall never be able to keep from driving the great wedge right thro’ his breast and, descending lower, from rivetting his two foolish legs to the wintry chasm,[8]—for I that stammer and answer at hap-hazard with you, get proportionately valiant & voluble with a mere cupful of Diderot’s rinsings,[9]—and a man into the bargain.

If you were prevented from leaving the house yesterday, assuredly today you will never attempt such a thing—the wind, rain—all is against it: I trust you will not make the first experiment except under really favourable auspices .. for by its success you will naturally be induced to go on or leave off– Still you are better! I fully believe, dare to believe, that will continue. As for me, since you ask—find me but something to do, and see if I shall not be well!– Tho’ I am well now, almost.

How good you are to my roses—they are not of my making, to be sure: never, by the way, did Miss Martineau work such a miracle as I now witness in the garden– I gathered at Rome, close to the fountain of Egeria, a handful of fennel-seeds from the most indisputable plant of fennel I ever chanced upon—and, lo, they are come up .. hemlock, or something akin! In two places, moreover! Wherein does hemlock resemble fennel? How could I mistake? No wonder that a stone’s cast off from that Egerias-fountain is the Temple of the God Ridiculus.[10]

Well, on Saturday then—at 3: & I will certainly bring the verses you mention—and trust to find you still better.

Vivi felice–[11] My dear friend, God bless you!

RB–

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: None. Envelope bears only a cancellation stamp.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 28.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 109–111.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by reference to EBB’s last letter with which she returned a book of “prize poems.”

2. “Alas, the evil weed flourishes!”

3. RB visited Asolo during his trip to Italy in 1838.

4. François Eugène Vidocq (1775–1857), “well-known ex-chief of the detective police of Paris” had “just opened a curious museum or collection of rare things for public exhibition and for sale at No. 207–209, Regent-street.” The exhibit included art work, as well as “daggers, sanguinary weapons, knives, and other horrible implements of murder or mutilation, taken from the perpetrators of crime” (The Times, 9 June 1845).

5. “Young man of a very pleasing character, but he was a poet.”

6. i.e., the “prize poems” mentioned in letter 1959.

7. Presumably Camille Caillard to whom RB wrote on 27 June 1845, making an appointment (see List of Absent Letters, p. 399). Caillard is listed in RB’s address book with residences in both Leicester and London (see vol. 9, p. 390). See also letter 1002.

8. An oblique allusion to Prometheus being chained to a rock on Mt. Caucasus.

9. Denis Diderot (1713–84) was a French philosopher and author (see letter 492).

10. When RB visited Italy in 1844, there were two Fountains of Egeria in or near Rome, but RB doubtless refers to the one situated in the valley of the Almo or Caffarella where the Temple of the Divus Rediculus is also located; it is so called “from the belief that it was the temple founded in commemoration of Hannibal’s retreat from before Rome” (Murray’s A Handbook of Rome and Its Environs, 11th ed., 1872).

11. “Live happily.”

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