1996.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 23–26.


[Postmark: 11 August 1845]

But if it ‘hurts’ you to read & write ever so little, why should I be asked to write .. for instance .. ‘before tuesday’? And I did mean to say before today, that I wish you never wd write to me when you are not quite well, as once or twice you have done if not much oftener,—because there is not a necessity, .. & I do not choose that there should ever be, or seem, a necessity, … do you understand? And as a matter of personal preference, it is natural for me to like the silence that does not hurt you, better than the speech that does. And so, remember.

And talking of what may ‘hurt’ you & me, you would smile, as I have often done in the midst of my vexation, if you knew the persecution I have been subjected to by the people who call themselves (lucus a non lucendo) [1] “the faculty,” & set themselves against the exercise of other people’s faculties, as a sure way to death & destruction. The modesty & simplicity with which one’s physicians tell one not to think or feel, just as they would tell one not to walk out in the dew, would be quite amusing, if it were not too tryingly stupid sometimes– I had a doctor once who thought he had done everything because he had carried the inkstand out of the room—“Now,” he said, “you will not have such a pulse tomorrow.” [2] He gravely thought poetry a sort of disease .. a sort of fungus of the brain—& held as a serious opinion, that nobody could be properly well who exercised it as an art—which was true (he maintained) even of men—he had studied the physiology of poets, ‘quotha’—but that for women, it was a mortal malady & incompatible with any common show of health under any circumstances. And then came the damnatory clause in his experience .. that he had never known “a system” approaching mine in “excitability” .. except Miss Garrow’s .. a young lady who wrote verses for Lady Blessington’s annuals, [3]  .. & who was the only other female rhymer he had had the misfortune of attending. And she was to die in two years, though she was dancing quadrilles then, .. (& has lived to do the same by the Polka) & I, of course, much sooner, if I did not ponder these things, & amend my ways, & take to reading “a course of history”—!! Indeed I do not exaggerate. And just so, for a long while I was persecuted & pestered .. vexed thoroughly sometimes, .. my own family, instructed to sing the burden out all day long—until the time when the subject was suddenly changed by my heart being broken by that great stone that fell out of Heaven. [4] Afterwards I was let do anything I could best .. which was very little, until last year—& the working, last year, did much for me, in giving me stronger roots down into life, .. much. But think of that absurd reasoning that went before!——the niaiserie [5] of it!– For, granting all the premises all round, it is not the utterance of a thought that can hurt anybody,—while only the utterance is dependent on the will,—& so, what can the taking away of an inkstand do? Those physicians are such metaphysicians!– It’s curious to listen to them. And it’s wise to leave off listening: though I have met with excessive kindness among them, .. & do not refer to Dr Chambers [6] in any of this, of course.

I am very glad you went to Chelsea—& it seemed finer afterwards, on purpose to make room for the divine philosophy. Which reminds me (the going to Chelsea) that my brother Henry confessed to me yesterday, with shame & confusion of face, to having mistaken & taken your umbrella for another belonging to a cousin of ours then in the house. He saw you .. without conjecturing, just at the moment, who you were. Do you conjecture sometimes that I live all alone here like Mariana in the moated Grange? [7] It is not quite so—: but where there are many, as with us, everyone is apt to follow his own device—& my father is out all day & my brothers & sisters are in & out, & with too large a public of noisy friends for me to bear, .. & I see them only at certain hours, .. except, of course, my sisters. And then as you have “a reputation” & are opined to talk generally in blank verse, it is not likely that there shd be much irreverent rushing into this room when you are known to be in it.

The flowers are .. so beautiful! Indeed it was wrong though, to send me the last. It was not just to the lawful possessors & enjoyers of them. That it was kind to me I do not forget.

You are too teachable a pupil in the art of obliterating—& omne ignotum pro terrifico [8]  .. & therefore I wont frighten you by walking to meet you for fear of being frightened myself.

So goodbye until tuesday. I ought not to make you read all this, I know, whether you like to read it or not: and I ought not to have written it, having no better reason than because I liked to write on & on. You have better reasons for thinking me .. very weak—& I, too good ones for not being able to reproach you for that natural & necessary opinion. May God bless you my dearest friend.


Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.

Postmark: 10FN10 AU11 1845 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 39.; Tuesday. / + Aug. 12. 1845. / 3–½ past 4. p.m. [13].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 151–153.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. “A grove is dark with shade” (Quintilian, The Institutio Oratoria, I, vi, 34, trans. H.E. Butler). The phrase is used as an example of illogical reasoning. In this and subsequent quotations from, or references to, Greek and Latin classical authors, the citations are from the Loeb Classical Library unless otherwise indicated.

2. EBB is quoting Robert Fitzwilliam De Barry Barry, her attending physician in Torquay until his death in 1839. He often cautioned her against the physical and mental strain of writing (see letter 703).

3. Marguerite, Countess of Blessington (1789–1849), was a novelist and editor of The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake, popular annuals of the period. Poems by Theodosia Garrow regularly appeared in the Countess of Blessington’s annuals (see letters 670, 847, 1047, and 2094).

4. An allusion to Bro’s death.

5. “Silliness,” or “inaneness.”

6. William Frederick Chambers (1786–1855) was EBB’s attending physician during the greater part of her stay in London (for further details of his life, see pp. 327–328). His portrait is reproduced facing p. 19.

7. EBB refers to Tennyson’s “Mariana” (1830); she also likened herself to “Mariana” in letter 1936 (see note 7).

8. “The unknown is ever terrifying” (cf. Tacitus, Agricola, 30, trans. Maurice Hutton).


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