Correspondence

1965.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 290–293.

[London]

Wednesday–Thursday evening. [2–3 July 1845][1]

Yes—I know the first part of the ‘Duchess’ & have it here—& for the rest of the poem, dont mind about being very legible, or even legible in the usual sense; & remember how it is my boast to be able to read all such manuscript writing as never is read by people who dont like caviare.[2] Now you wont mind?—really I rather like blots than otherwise—being a sort of patron-saint of all manner of untidyness .. if Mr Kenyon’s reproaches (of which there’s a stereotyped edition) are justified by the fact—& he has a great organ of order, & knows ‘disorderly persons’ at a glance, I suppose. But you wont be particular with me in the matter of transcription?—that is what I want to make sure of. And even if you are not particular, I am afraid you are not well enough to be troubled by writing & writing & the thinking that comes with it—it wd be wiser to wait till you are quite well—now would’nt it?—& my fear is that the ‘almost well’ means ‘very little better’. And why .. when there is no motive for hurrying .. run any risk? Dont think that I will help you to make yourself ill. That I refuse to do even so much work as the “little desert-knife” in the way of murder, .. do think! So, upon the whole, I expect nothing on saturday from this distance—and if it comes unexpectedly (I mean the Duchess & not saturday) let it be at no cost, or at the least cost possible—will you? I am delighted in the meanwhile to hear of the quantity of ‘mala herba,’—& hemlock does not come up from every seed you sow, though you call it by ever such bad names.

Talking of poetry I had a newspaper [‘]‘in help of social & political progress” sent to me yesterday from America—addressed to .. just my name .. poetess, London![3] Think of the simplicity of those wild Americans in “calculating” that ‘people in general’ here in England, knew what a poetess is!—— Well—the post office authorities, after deep meditation, I do not doubt, on all probable varieties of the chimpanzee, & a glance to the Surrey gardens on one side & to the Zoological department of Regent’s Park on the other,—thought of ‘Poet’s Corner’ perhaps, & wrote at the top of the parcel, [‘]‘Enquire at Paternoster Row,”—whereupon the Paternoster Row people wrote again .. “Go to Mr Moxon”—& I received my newspaper.

And talking of poetesses, I had a note yesterday (again) which quite touched me .. from Mr Hemans .. Charles .. the son of Felicia—written with so much feeling, that it was with difficulty I could say my perpetual ‘no’ to his wish about coming to see me.[4] His mother’s memory is surrounded to him, he says, “with almost a divine lustre”—& “as it cannot be to those who knew the writer alone & not the woman”. Do you not like to hear such things said? and is it not better than your tradition about Shelley’s son?[5] & is it not pleasant to know that that poor noble pure-hearted woman, the Vittoria Colonna of our country,[6] shd be so loved & comprehended by some .. by one at least .. of her own house—? Not that, in naming Shelley, I meant for a moment to make a comparison—there is not equal ground for it. Vittoria Colonna does not walk near Dante——no. And if you promised never to tell Mrs Jameson .. nor Miss Martineau .. I would confide to you perhaps my secret profession of faith—which is .. which is .. that let us say & do what we please & can .. there is a natural inferiority of mind in women—of the intellect .. not by any means, of the moral nature—& that the history of Art & of genius testifies to this fact openly.[7] Oh—I would not say so to Mrs Jameson for the world! I believe I was a coward to her altogether—for when she denounced carpet work as “injurious to the mind,” because it led the workers into “fatal habits of reverie”, I defended the carpet work as if I were striving pro aris et focis,[8] (I, who am so innocent of all that knowledge!) & said not a word for the poor reveries which have frayed away so much of silken time for me, .. & let her go away repeating again & again .. “oh, but you may do carpet work with impunity—you! because you can be writing poems all the while.”!–

Think of people making poems & rugs at once– There’s complex machinery for you!

I told you that I had a sensation of cold blue steel from her eyes!– And yet I really liked & like & shall like her. She is very kind I believe—& it was my mistake—& I correct my impressions of her more & more to perfection, as you tell me who know more of her than I. Only I shd not dare, .. ever, .. I think .. to tell her that I believe women .. all of us in a mass .. to have minds of quicker movement, but less power & depth .. & that we are under your feet, because we cant stand upon our own– Not that we shD either be quite under your feet!—so you are not to be too proud, if you please—& there is certainly some amount of wrong——: but it never will be righted in the manner & to the extent contemplated by certain of our own prophetesses .. nor ought to be, I hold in intimate persuasion. One woman indeed now alive .. & only that one down all the ages of the world .. seems to me to justify for a moment an opposite opinion—that wonderful woman George Sand,—who has something monstrous in combination with her genius, there is no denying at moments (for she has written one book, Leila, which I could not read,[9] though I am not easily turned back) but whom, in her good & evil together, I regard with infinitely more admiration than all other women of genius who are or have been. Such a colossal nature in every way!—with all that breadth & scope of faculty which women want .. magnanimous, & loving the truth & loving the people .. & with that “hate of hate”[10] too, which you extol .. so eloquent & yet earnest as if she were dumb—so full of a living sense of beauty, & of noble blind instincts towards an ideal purity—& so proving a right even in her wrong. By the way what you say of the Vidocq museum reminds me of one of the chamber of masonic trial scenes in Consuelo.[11] Could you like to see those knives?

I began with the best intentions of writing six lines—& see what is written! And all because I kept my letter back .. from a doubt about saturday—but it has worn away, & the appointment stands good .. for me: I have nothing to say against it.

But belief in mesmerism is not the same thing as general unbelief—to do it justice—now is it? It may be super-belief as well. Not that there is not something ghastly & repelling to me in the thought of Dr Elliotson’s great boney fingers seeming to ‘touch the stops’ of a whole soul’s harmonies—as in phreno-magnetism.[12] And I shd have liked far better than hearing & seeing that, to have heard you pour the “cupfull of Diderot’s rinsings,”[13] out,—& indeed I can fancy a little that you & how you cd do it—& break the cup too afterwards!

Another sheet—& for what?

What is written already, if you read, you do so meritoriously—& its an example of bad writing, if you want one in the poems. I am ashamed, you may see, of having written too much, (besides)—which is much worse—but one writes & writes: I do at least—for you are irreproachable. Ever yours my dear friend, as if I had not written .. or had!

EBB.

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

Postmark: 10FN10 JY4 1845 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 29.; + Saty July 5. / 3–4½ p.m. [7].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 111–115.

Manusctipt: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Cf. Hamlet, II, 2, 436–437.

3. See previous letter.

4. See letter 1960 for EBB’s refusal to admit Charles Hemans as a visitor.

5. Perhaps that Percy Florence Shelley (1819–89) was not sympathetic with his mother’s devotion to the memory of his father.

6. See letter 1804, note 3, for details regarding Vittoria Colonna. EBB’s comparison may be based upon the similarites of early widowhood and the moral and religious subjects chosen by both poetesses.

7. In letter 1845 EBB told Miss Mitford: “I believe that, considering men & women in the mass, there is an inequality of intellect.”

8. “For altars and fires,” or “for one’s dearest possessions” (cf. “pro aris et focis pugnare,” A Latin Dictionary, Oxford, Lewis and Short, 1896).

9. See letters 1094, note 3, and 1727.

10. Tennyson, “The Poet” (1830), line 3.

11. George Sand’s novel, published in 1832.

12. For earlier references to John Elliotson’s involvement in mesmerism, see letters 686, note 17, and 1347, note 5.

13. See letter 1963.

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