1995. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 21–23.
Sunday Afternoon [10 August 1845]
How good you are to the smallest thing I try & do (—to show I would please you for an instant if I could, rather than from any hope such poor efforts as I am restricted to, can please you or ought.) And that you should care for the note that was not there!– But I was surprised by the summons to seal & deliver, since time & the carrier were peremptory—and so, I dared divine, almost, I should hear from you by our midday post—which happened—and the answer to that, you received on Friday Night, did you not? I had to go to Holborn, of all places,—not to pluck strawberries in the Bishop’s garden like Richard Crouchback, but to get a book—and there I carried my note, thinking to expedite its delivery: this notelet of yours, quite as little in its kind as my blue flowers,—this came last evening—and here are my thanks, dear E.B.B—dear friend.
In the former note there is a phrase I must not forget to call on you to account for—that where it confesses to having done “some work—only nothing worth speaking of.” Just see,—will you be first and only compact-breaker? Nor misunderstand me here, please .. as I said, I am quite rejoiced that you go out now, “walk about” now, and put off the writing that will follow thrice as abundantly, all because of the stopping to gather strength .. so I want no new word, not to say poem, not to say the romance-poem—let the “finches in the shrubberies grow restless in the dark”– I am inside with the lights and music: but what is done, is done, pas vrai? And “worth” is, dear my friend pardon me, not in your arbitration quite.
Let me tell you an odd thing that happened at Chorley’s the other night: I must have mentioned to you that I forget my own verses so surely after they are once on paper, that I ought, without affectation, to mend them infinitely better, able as I am to bring fresh eyes to bear on them—(when I say “once on paper” that is just what I mean and no more, for after the sad revising begins they do leave their mark, distinctly or less so according to circumstances)—well, Miss Cushman, the new American actress (clever and truthful-looking) was talking of a new novel by the Dane Andersen, he of the “Improvvisatore,” which shall reach us, it should seem, in translation, viâ America—she had looked over two or three proofs of the work in the press, and Chorley was anxious to know something about its character. The Title, she said, was capital—“Only a Fiddler!”—and she enlarged on that word, “Only,” and its significance, so put: and I quite agreed with her for several minutes, till first one reminiscence flitted to me, then another and at last I was obliged to stop my praises and say “but, now I think of it. I seem to have written something with a similar title—nay, a play, I believe—yes, and in five-acts. “Only an Actress”—and from that time, some two years or more ago, to this, I have been every way relieved of it”!– And when I got home, next morning, I made a dark pocket in my russet horror of a portfolio give up its dead—and there fronted me “Only a Player-girl” (the real title) and the sayings & doings of her, and the others—such others! So I made haste and just tore out one sample-page, being Scene the First, and sent it to our friend as earnest & proof I had not been purely dreaming, as might seem to be the case– And what makes me recall it now is, that it was Russian, and about a fair on the Neva, and booths and droshkies and fish-pies and so forth, with the Palaces in the back ground: and in Chorley’s “Athenæum” of yesterday you may read a paper of very simple moony stuff about the death of Alexander, and that Sir James Wylie I have seen at St. Petersburgh (where he chose to mistake me for an Italian—“M. l’Italien” he said another time, looking up from his cards). So I think to tell you.
Now I may leave off. I shall see you, I trust, on Tuesday—hear perhaps something definite about your travelling.
Do you know, “Consuelo” wearies me—oh, wearies—and the fourth volume I have all but stopped at—there lie the three following—but who cares about Consuelo after that horrible evening with the Venetian scamp (where he bullies her, and it does answer, after all she says), as we say? And Albert wearies too—it seems all false, all writing (not the first part, though)[.] And what easy work these novelists have of it! a dramatic poet has to make you love or admire his men and women,—they must do and say all that you are to see and hear—really do it in your face, say it in your ears, and it is wholly for you, in your power, to name, characterize, and so praise or blame, what is so said and done .. if you don’t perceive of yourself, there is no standing by, for the Author, and telling you: but with these novelists, a scrape of the pen—out blurting of a phrase, and the miracle is achieved—“Consuelo possessed to perfection this and the other gift”—what would you more? Or, to leave dear George Sand, pray think of Bulwer’s beginning a “character” by informing you that Ione, or somebody in “Pompeii,” “was endowed with perfect genius”—“genius”! What tho’ the obliging informer might write his fingers off before he gave the pitifullest proof that the poorest spark of that same, that genius, had ever visited him? Ione has it “perfectly”—perfectly—and that is enough! Zeus with the scales? with the false weights!
And now—till tuesday good bye, and be willing to get well as* soon as can be! and may God bless you, ever dear friend.
(letting me send porter instead of flowers—and beefsteaks too!)
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.
Postmark: 12NN12 AU11 1845 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 39.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 148–151.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Richard III, III, 4, 31–32.
3. “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” line 84.
4. “Is it not true?”
5. Charlotte Saunders Cushman (1816–76), a Boston-born actress, had arrived in England in 1844. Already established in America where she had played such roles as Lady Macbeth and Meg Merrilies, she made her London debut in February 1845 at the Princess’s Theatre, reviews of which were filled with praise and commendation. RB’s reference to her is the first of many in the Brownings’ correspondence. RB and EBB saw her frequently in Paris and Italy in the 1850’s.
6. Mary Howitt’s English translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 Danish publication was announced by the English publisher Richard Bentley in The Times for 12 August 1845 as “just ready.” The American edition was published about the same time by Harper & Brothers.
7. This work by RB has not survived. All we know of it is what the poet gives here; however, it is possible that he eventually used the subject in “a very different context, in ‘Fifine at the Fair’,” as suggested by Patrick Waddington in “Browning and Russia,” Baylor Browning Interest Series, no. 28 (October 1985), p. 15.
8. Sir James Wylie (1768–1854) was physician to the Russian court from 1798 until his death. The Athenæum for 2 and 9 August 1845 (nos. 927 and 928) published “The Last Days of the Emperor Alexander,” by Robert Lee, which contains many references to Wylie. There is no other surviving record of the St. Petersburg incident recorded here by RB; however, Mrs. Orr tells a variation of it (p. 7).
9. Sand’s 1832 novel which EBB had mentioned in letter 1965.
10. Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii was published in 1834.
11. See letter 1992, note 2.
12. RB drew a dotted line from the asterisk to the postscript.