1998.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 27–28.


[Postmark: 13 August 1845]

Yes, I admit that it was stupid to read that word so wrong. I thought there was a mistake somewhere, but that it was your’s, who had written one word, meaning to write another. ‘Cower’ puts it all right of course. But is there an English word of a significance different from ‘stamp,’ in ‘stomp’? Does not the old word King Lud’s men stomped withal, claim identity with our “stamping.” The a & o used to ‘change about,’ you know, in the old English writers—see Chaucer for it. Still the “stomp” with the peculiar significance, is better of course than the ‘stamp’ even with a rhyme ready for it, & I dare say you are justified in daring to put this old wine into the new bottle, [1] —& we will drink to the health of the poem in it. It is “Italy in England”—is’nt it? [2] But I understand & understood perfectly, through it all, that it is unfinished, & in a rough state round the edges. I could not help seeing that, even if I were still blinder than when I read “Lower” for “Cower”– [3]

But do not, I ask it of you, speak of my “kindness” .. my kindness!—mine! It is ‘wasteful & ridiculous excess’ [4] & mis-application to use such words of me. And therefore, talking of ‘compacts’ & the ‘fas’ & ‘nefas’ [5] of them, I entreat you to know for the future that whatever I write of your poetry, if it is’nt to be called “impertinence,” is’nt to be called “kindness,” any more, .. a fortiori, as people say when they are sure of an argument. Now, will you try to understand?

And talking still of compacts, how & when did I break any compact? I do not see.

It was very curious, the phenomenon about your ‘Only a player-girl’. [6] What an un-godlike indifference to your creations though .. your worlds, breathed away from you like soap bubbles, & dropping & breaking into russet portfolios unobserved! Only a god for the Epecuræans, at best,—can you be? That Miss Cushman went to Three Mile Cross the other day, & visited Miss Mitford, & pleased her a good deal, I fancied from what she said, .. & with reason, from what you say. [7] And “Only a fiddler,” as I forgot to tell you yesterday, is announced, you may see in any newspaper, as about to issue from the English press by Mary Howitt’s editorship. [8] So we need not go to America for it– But if you complain of George Sand for want of art, how could you bear Andresen [sic], who can see a thing under his eyes & place it under yours, & take a thought separately into his soul & express it insularly, but has no sort of instinct towards wholeness & unity,—& writes a book by putting so many pages together, .. just so! For the rest, there can be no disagreeing with you about the comparative difficulty of novel-writing & drama-writing– I disagree a little, lower down in your letter—because I could not deny (in my own convictions) a certain proportion of genius to the author of ‘Ernest Maltravers,’ & ‘Alice’ [9]  .. (did you ever read those books?) even if he had more impotently tried (supposing it to be possible) for the dramatic laurel. In fact his poetry, dramatic or otherwise, is “nought” ..: but for the prose romances, & for Ernest Maltravers above all, I must lift up my voice & cry. And I read the Athenæum about your Sir James Wylie who took you for an Italian .. [10]

“Poi vi dirò, Signor, che ne fu causa

Ch’ avrò fatto al scriver debita pausa.” [11]

Ever your EBB.

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

Postmark: 8NT8 AU13 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 40.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 154–156.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Cf. Luke 5:39.

2. Actually it was “England in Italy (Piano di Sorrento)” which RB later changed to “The Englishman in Italy: Piano di Sorrento.”

3. For RB’s remarks on “cower” and “stomp,” both words occurring in “England in Italy,” see the preceding letter.

4. King John, IV, 2, 16.

5. “Right” and “wrong”; cf. Horace, Odes, I, 18, 10. In letter 1995 RB asks EBB if she will “be first and only compact-breaker?”

6. See letter 1995, note 7.

7. RB had recently met Charlotte Cushman at Chorley’s (see letter 1995). The American actress had played the role of Claudia in Miss Mitford’s tragedy, Rienzi, when she was at the Park Theatre, New York, 1837–40.

8. See letter 1995, note 6.

9. i.e., Bulwer-Lytton whose Alice, or the Mysteries (1838) was the sequel to Ernest Maltravers (1837).

10. See letter 1995, note 8.

11. “Hereafter, Sir, I’ll tell you what the cause, / When from this writing I’ve made proper pause” (cf. Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, III, lxxvii, 7–8). EBB first wrote “cantar” (“singing”) then substituted “scriver” (“writing”).


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 12-14-2019.

Copyright © 2019 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.