1971. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 300–301.
[11 July 1845]
You understand that it was not a resolution passed in favour of formality, when I said what I did yesterday about not going out at the time you were coming—surely you do,—whatever you might signify to a different effect– If it were necessary for me to go out everyday or most days even, it wd be otherwise—but as it is, I may certainly keep the day you come, free from the fear of carriages, let the sun shine its best or worst,—without doing despite to you or injury to me—and that’s all I meant to insist upon indeed & indeed– You see, Jupiter tonans was good enough to come today on purpose to deliver me—one evil for another! for I confess with shame & contrition, that I never wait to enquire whether it thunders to the left or the right, to be frightened most ingloriously– Is’nt it a disgrace to anyone with a pretension to poetry? Dr Chambers, a part of whose office it is, Papa says, “to reconcile foolish women to their follies,” used to take the side of my vanity,—& discourse at length on the passive obedience of some nervous systems to electrical influences—but perhaps my faintheartedness is besides traceable to a half-reasonable terror of a great storm in Herefordshire, .. where great storms most do congregate,— (such storms!) round the Malvern hills, those mountains of England. We lived four miles from their roots, thro’ all my childhood & early youth, in a Turkish house my father built himself, crowded with minarets & domes, & crowned with metal spires & crescents, to the provocation (as people used to observe) of every lightning of heaven. Once a storm of storms happened, & we all thought the house was struck—& a tree was so really, within two hundred yards of the windows while I looked out .. the bark, rent from the top to the bottom .. torn into long ribbons by the dreadful fiery hands, & dashed out into the air, over the heads of other trees, or left twisted in their branches—torn into shreds in a moment, as a flower might be, by a child! Did you ever see a tree after it has been struck by lightning? The whole trunk of that tree was bare & peeled—& up that new whiteness of it, ran the finger-mark of the lightning in a bright beautiful rose-colour (none of your roses brighter or more beautiful!) the fever-sign of the certain death—though the branches themselves were for the most part untouched, & spread from the peeled trunk in their full summer foliage,—the birds singing in them three hours afterwards! And, in that same storm, two young women belonging to a festive party were killed on the Malvern hills—each, sealed to death in a moment with a sign on the chest which a common seal wd cover—only the sign on them was not rose-coloured as on our tree .. but black as charred wood. So I get ‘possessed’ sometimes with the effects of these impressions—& so does one, at least, of my sisters, in a lower degree––and oh!—how amusing & instructive all this is to you!– When my father came into the room today & found me hiding my eyes from the lightning, he was quite angry & called “it disgraceful to anybody who had ever learnt the alphabet”—to which I answered humbly that “I knew it was”—but if I had been impertinent, I might have added that wisdom does not come by the alphabet but in spite of it? Dont you think so in a measure? non obstantibus Bradbury & Evans.? There’s a profane question—& ungrateful too .. after the Duchess—I except the Duchess & her peers—& be sure she will be the world’s Duchess & received as one of your most striking poems. Full of various power the poem is .. I cannot say how deeply it has impressed me—but though I want the conclusion, I dont wish for it, .. & in this, am reasonable for once!! You will not write & make yourself ill—will you? or read Sybill at unlawful hours even? Are you better at all? What a letter! & how very foolishly today I am
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 JY12 1845 M.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 31.; + Wednesday July 16 / 3–4¼. p.m. .
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 119–120.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark and by EBB’s reference to RB’s visit the previous day.
2. i.e., “the thunderer,” an epithet for Jupiter used by various classical writers.
3. Several accounts of the effects of storms on EBB’s health and behaviour are to be found in Diary (pp. 35, 52, and 54), as well as in previous letters (nos. 980 and 1347).
4. Cf. Merchant of Venice, I, 3, 49.
5. “Not withstanding.”
6. See letter 1825, note 7.
7. Disraeli’s novel, Sybil, had just been published; it was reviewed in The Athenæum for 17 May 1845 (no. 916, pp. 477–479).