1993. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 18–19.
[Postmark: 8 August 1845]
Just to show what may be lost by my crossings out, I will tell you the story of the one in the ‘Duchess’—& in fact it is almost worth telling to a metaphysician like you, on other grounds, that you may draw perhaps some psychological good from the absurdity of it. Hear, then. When I had done writing the sheet of annotations & reflections on your poem I took up my pencil to connect the passages reflected on with the reflections, by the crosses you may observe, just glancing over the writing as I did so– Well!—and, where that erasure is, I found a line purporting to be extracted from your ‘Duchess’, with sundry acute criticisms & objections quite undeniably strong, following after it,—only, to my amazement, as I looked & looked, the line so acutely objected to & purporting, as I say, to be taken from the ‘Duchess,’ was by no means to be found in the Duchess, .. nor anything like it, .. & I am certain indeed that, in the Duchess or out of it, you never wrote such a bad line in your life. And so it became a proved thing to me that I had been enacting, in a mystery, both poet & critic together—& one so neutralizing the other, that I took all that pains you remark upon to cross myself out in my double capacity, .. & am now telling the story of it notwithstanding. And there’s an obvious moral to the myth, .. is’nt there? for critics who bark the loudest, commonly bark at their own shadow in the glass, as my Flush used to do long & loud, before he gained experience & learnt the γνωθι σεαυτον in the apparition of the brown dog with the glittering dilating eyes, .. & as I did, under the erasure. And another moral springs up of itself in this productive ground, .. for, you see, .. ‘quand je m’efface il n’y a pas grand mal’.
And I am to be made to work very hard,—am I?– But you should remember that if I did as much writing as last summer, I should not be able to do much else, .. I mean, to go out & walk about .. for really I think I could manage to read your poems & write as I am writing now, with ever so much head-work of my own going on at the same time. But the bodily exercise is different—& I do confess that the novelty of living more in the outer life for the last few months than I have done for years before, makes me idle & inclined to be idle—& everybody is idle sometimes—even you perhaps—are you not? For me, you know, I do carpet-work .. ask Mrs Jameson—& I never pretend to be in a perpetual motion of mental industry. Still it may not be quite as bad as you think: I have done some work since Prometheus—only it is nothing worth speaking of & not a part of the romance-poem which is to be some day if I live for it .. lyrics for the most part, which lie written illegibly in pure Ægyptian—oh, there is time enough, & too much perhaps! & so let me be idle a little now, & enjoy your poems while I can– It is pure enjoyment & must be—but you do not know how much, or you would not talk as you do sometimes .. so wide of any possible application.
And do not talk again of what you would ‘sacrifice’ for me. If you affect me by it, which is true, you cast me from you farther than ever in the next thought—— That is true.
The poems .. yours .. which you left with me, .. are full of various power & beauty & character, & you must let me have my own gladness from them in my own way–
Now I must end this letter. Did you go to Chelsea & hear the divine philosophy?
Tell me the truth always .. will you? I mean such truths as may be painful to me though truths …
May God bless you, ever dear friend.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 AU8 1845 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 37.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 144–146.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. See illustration facing p. 18; see also letter 1991, note 7.
2. “Know thyself,” from an inscription in the temple at Delphi, often ascribed to “The Seven Sages.”
3. “It is no great harm when I blot myself.”
4. See letters 1965 and 1990.
5. Aurora Leigh, EBB’s novel in verse, was published in 1857. For earlier references to her proposed work, see letters 1734 and 1793.
6. EBB’s written comments on these poems, which appeared in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, can be found in Appendix IV, pp. 384–388.