1973. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 304–306.
Sunday Morning. [13 July 1845]
Very well—I shall say no more on the subject—tho’ it was not any piece of formality on your part that I deprecated,—nor even your over-kindness exactly– I rather wanted you to be really, wisely kind, & do me a greater favor than the next great one in degree—but you must understand this much in me,—how you can lay me under deepest obligation. I dare say you think you have some—perhaps many, to whom your well-being is of deeper interest than to me– Well, if that be so, do for their sakes make every effort with the remotest chance of proving serviceable to you,—nor “set yourself against” any little irksomeness these carriage-drives may bring with them just at the beginning; and you may say, if you like, “how I shall delight those friends, if I can make this newest one grateful”—and, as from the known quantity one reasons out the unknown, this newest friend will be one glow of gratitude, he knows that, if you can warm your finger tips and so do yourself that much real good, by setting light to a dozen “Duchesses”: why ought I not to say this when it is so true? Beside, people profess as much to their merest friends—for I have been looking thro’ a poem-book just now, and was told, under the head of Album-verses alone, that for A. the writer would die, & for B, die too but a crueller death, and for C, too, & D, and so on. I wonder whether they have since wanted to borrow money of him on the strength of his professions. But you must remember we are in July; the 13th it is, and summer will go and cold weather stay (“come” forsooth!) and now is the time of times: still I feared the rain would hinder you on Friday—but the thunder did not frighten me—for you: your father must pardon me for holding most firmly with Dr Chambers—his theory is quite borne out by my own experience, for I have seen a man it were foolish to call a coward, a great fellow too, all but die away in a thunderstorm, tho’ he had quite science enough to explain why there was really no immediate danger at all—whereupon his younger brother suggested that he should just go out and treat us to a repetition of Franklin’s experiment with the cloud and the kite—a well-timed proposition which sent the Explainer down with a white face into the cellar. What a grand sight your tree was—is, for I see it– My father has a print of a tree so struck—torn to ribbons, as you describe—but the rose-mark is striking and new to me: we had a good storm on our last voyage, but I went to bed at the end, as I thought—and only found out there had been lightning next day by the bare poles under which we were riding: but the finest mountain fit of the kind I ever saw has an unfortunately ludicrous association: it was at Possagno, among the Euganean-Hills, and I was at a poor house in the town—an old woman was before a little picture of the Virgin, and at every fresh clap, she lighted, with the oddest sputtering muttering mouthful of prayer imaginable, an inch of guttery candle, which, the instant the last echo had rolled away, she as constantly blew out again for saving’s sake .. having, of course, to light the smoke of it, about an instant after that: the expenditure in wax at which the elements might be propitiated, you see, was a matter for curious calculation: I suppose I ought to have bought the whole taper for some four or five centesimi—(100 of which make 8d English) and so kept the countryside safe for about a century of bad weather: Leigh Hunt tells you a story he had from Byron, of kindred philosophy in a Jew who was surprised by a thunderstorm while he was dining on bacon—he tried to eat between-whiles, but the flashes were as pertinacious as he, so at last he pushed his plate away, just remarking with a compassionate shrug, “All this fuss about a piece of pork!” By the way, what a characteristic of an Italian late evening is Summer-lightning—it hangs in broad slow sheets, dropping from cloud to cloud, so long in dropping and dying off. The “bora,” which you only get at Trieste, brings wonderful lightning—you are in glorious June-weather, fancy, of an evening, under green shock-headed acacias, so thick and green, with the cicales stunning you above, and all about you men, women, rich & poor, sitting standing & coming & going—and thro’ all the laughter & screaming & singing, the loud clink of the spoons against the glasses, the way of calling for fresh “sorbetti”—for all the world is at open-coffee-house at such an hour—when suddenly there is a stop in the sunshine, a blackness drops down, then a great white column of dust drives strait on like a wedge, and you see the acacia heads snap off, now one, then another—and all the people scream “la bora, la bora”—and you are caught up in their whirl and landed in some interior, the man with the guitar on one side of you, and the boy with a cageful of little brown owls for sale, on the other—meanwhile, the thunder claps, claps, with such a persistence, and the rain, for a finale, falls in a mass, as if you knocked out the whole bottom of a huge tank at once—then there is a second stop—out comes the sun—somebody clinks at his glass, all the world bursts out laughing, and prepares to pour out again,—but you, the stranger, do make the best of your way out, with no preparation at all; whereupon you infallibly put your foot (and half your leg) into a river, really that, of rainwater—that’s a Bora—(and that comment of yours, a justifiable pun!) Such things you get in Italy, but better, better, the best of all things you do not (I do not) get those. And I shall see you on Wednesday, please remember, and bring you the rest of the poem—that you should like it, gratifies me more than I will try to say, but then, do not you be tempted by that pleasure of pleasing which I think is your besetting sin—may it not be?—and so cut me off from the other pleasure of being profited: as I told you, I like so much to fancy that you see, and will see, what I do as I see it, while it is doing, as nobody else in the world should, certainly; even if they thought it worth while to want—but when I try and build a great building I shall want you to come with me and judge it and counsel me before the scaffolding is taken down, and while you have to make your way over hods of mortar & heaps of lime, and trembling tubs of size, and those thin broad whitewashing brushes I always had a desire to take up and bespatter with. And now goodbye– I must see you on wednesday I trust—and to hear you say you are better, still better, much better? God grant that, and all else good for you, dear friend, and so for
RB ever yours–
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.
Postmark: 10FN10 JY14 1845.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 31.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 121–123.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. RB provides the day and month in the course of the letter.
2. In the Veneto from S.W. of Padua to Monte Venda. Several literary sites are located in this area, including Petrarch’s villa at Arqua and Byron’s villa, west of Este, where Shelley wrote “Lines on the Euganean Hills” (1818). RB visited this area in June 1838.
3. A north to northeast wind that is so fierce and violent as to make travel difficult if not perilous.
4. Sic, for cicale.