Correspondence

1991.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 14–17.

[London]

Sunday Evening. [3 August 1845][1]

I said what you comment on, about Mr Kenyon, because I feel I must always tell you the simple truth—and not being quite at liberty to communicate the whole story,—(tho’ it would at once clear me from the charge of over curiosity .. if I much cared for that!)—I made my first request in order to prevent your getting at any part of it from him which should make my with[h]olding seem disingenuous for the moment—that is, till my explanation came, if it had an opportunity of coming: and then, when I fancied you were misunderstanding the reason of that request—and supposing I was ambitious of making a higher figure in his eyes than your own,—I then felt it “on my mind” and so spoke .. a natural mode of relief surely! For, dear friend, I have once been untrue to you—when, and how, and why, you know—but I thought it pedantry and worse to hold by my words and increase their fault: you have forgiven me that one mistake, and I only refer to it now because if you should ever make that a precedent, and put any least, most trivial word of mine under the same category, you would wrong me as you never wronged human being:—and that is done with. For the other matter,—the talk of my visits,—it is impossible that any hint of them can ooze out of the only three persons in the world to whom I ever speak of them—my father, mother and sister—to whom my appreciation of your works is no novelty since some years, and whom I made comprehend exactly your position and the necessity for the absolute silence I enjoined respecting the permission to see you: you may depend on them,—and Miss Mitford is in your keeping, mind,—and dear Mr Kenyon, if there should be never so gentle a touch of “garrulous God-innocence”[2] about those kind lips of his– Come, let me snatch at that clue out of the maze, and say how perfect, absolutely perfect, are those three or four pages in the ‘Vision’ which present the Poets—a line, a few words, and the man there,—one twang of the bow—and the arrowhead in the white—Shelley’s “white ideal all statue-blind”[3] is—perfect,—how can I coin words? And dear deaf old Hesiod—and—all, all are perfect, perfect! But “the Moon’s regality will hear no praise”[4] —well then, will she hear blame? Can it be you, my own you past putting away, you are a schismatic and frequenter of Independent Dissenting Chapels? And you confess this to me—whose father and mother went this morning to the very Independent Chapel where they took me, all those years back, to be baptized—and where they heard, this morning, a sermon preached by the very minister who officiated on that other occasion![5] Now will you be particularly encouraged by this successful instance to bring forward any other point of disunion between us that may occur to you? Please do not—for so sure as you begin proving that there is a gulf fixed between us, so sure shall I end proving that … Anne Radcliffe[6] avert it! .. that you are just my sister: not that I am much frightened, but there are such surprizes in novels!– Blame the next,—yes, now this is to be real blame!—and I meant to call your attention to it before: why, why, do you blot out, in that unutterably provoking manner, whole lines, not to say words, in your letters—(and in the criticism on the “Duchess”)[7]—if it is a fact that you have a second thought, does it cease to be as genuine a fact, that first thought you please to efface? Why give a thing and take a thing? Is there no significance in putting on record that your first impression was to a certain effect and your next to a certain other, perhaps completely opposite one? If any proceeding of yours could go near to deserve that harsh word “impertinent” which you have twice, in speech and writing, been pleased to apply to your observations on me, .. certainly this does go as near as can be—as there is but one step to take from Southampton pier to New York quay, for travellers westward. Now will you lay this to heart and perpend—lest in my righteous indignation I <…>[8]!

For my own health—it improves, thank you! And I shall go abroad all in good time, never fear: for my Bells, Mr Chorley tells me there is no use in the world of printing them before November at earliest—and by that time I shall get done with these Romances and certainly one Tragedy[9] (that could go to press next week)—in proof of which I will bring you, if you let me, a few more hundreds of lines next Wednesday: but, “my poet,” if I would, as is true, sacrifice all my works to do your fingers, even, good—what would I not offer up to prevent you staying … perhaps to correct my very verses .. perhaps read and answer my very letters .. staying the production of more Berthas and Caterinas and Geraldines, more great and beautiful poems of which I shall be—how proud! Do not be punctual in paying tithes of thyme, mint, anise and cummin, and leaving unpaid the real weighty dues of the Law,[10]—nor affect a scrupulous acknowledgement of “what you owe me” in petty matters, while you leave me to settle such a charge, as accessory to the hiding the Talent,[11] as best I can! I have thought of this again and again, and would have spoken of it to you, had I ever felt myself fit to speak of any subject nearer home and me and you than Rome and Cardinal Acton[12]—for, observe, you have not done .. yes, the Prometheus, no doubt .. but with that exception have you written much lately, as much as last year when “you wrote all your best things” you said, I think? Yet you are better now than then. Dearest friend, I intend to write more, and very likely be praised more, now I care less than ever for it, but still more to[13] I look to have you ever before me, in your place, and with more poetry and more praise still, and my own heartfelt praise ever on the top, like a flower on the water. I have said nothing of yesterday’s storm .. thunder .. may you not have been out in it! The evening draws in, and I will walk out– May God bless you, and let you hold me by the hand till the end—yes, dearest friend!

RB

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark: 12NN12 AU4 1845.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 37.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 142–144.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. EBB, “A Vision of Poets” in Poems (1844), line 297.

3. Lines 406–407.

4. Lines 53–54.

5. RB was baptised on 14 June 1812 by George Clayton, the family minister, in the Locks Fields Chapel, Walworth, later known as the York Street Congregational Church.

6. Author of the Gothic novels The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797).

7. See Appendix IV, pp. 378 and 379.

8. In a somewhat teasing manner, RB has obliterated about a third of a line.

9. “A Soul’s Tragedy” which, in letter 1851, RB had said was done.

10. Cf. Matthew 23:23.

11. RB refers to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30.

12. Charles Januarius Edward Acton (1803–47), the son of a baronet, was elevated to the sacred college in 1842. He served as the interpreter and the only witness of the interview between Pope Gregory XVI and Emperor Nicholas I of Russia that took place in 1845.

13. Sic, for do.

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