1999. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 28–31.
Friday Morning. [Postmark: 15 August 1845]
Do you know, dear friend, it is no good policy to stop up all the vents of my feeling, nor leave one for safety’s sake, as you will do, let me caution you never so repeatedly; I know, quite well enough, that your “kindness” is not so apparent, even, in this instance of correcting my verses, as in many other points—but on such points, you lift a finger to me and I am dumb .. am I not to be allowed a word here neither?
—I remember,—in the first season of German Opera here, when “Fidelio[’]s” effects were young,—going up to the gallery in order to get the best of the last chorus,—get its oneness, which you do—and, while perched there an inch under the ceiling, I was amused with the enormous enthusiasm of an elderly German (we thought,—I and a cousin of mine)—whose whole body broke out in billow, heaved and swayed in the perfection of his delight, hands, head, feet, all tossing and striving to utter what possessed him: well—next week, we went again to the Opera, and again mounted at the proper time, but the crowd was greater, and our mild greatfaced white haired red cheeked German was not to be seen—not at first—for as the glory was at its full,—my cousin twisted me round and made me see an arm, only an arm, all the body of its owner being amalgamated with a dense crowd on each side, before, and—not behind, because they, the crowd, occupied the last benches, over which we looked—and this arm waved and exulted as if “for the dignity of the whole body”,—relieved it of its dangerous accumulation of repressed excitability: when the crowd broke up all the rest of the man disengaged itself by slow endeavours, and there stood our friend confessed—as we were sure!
—Now, you would have bade him keep his arm quiet? “Lady Geraldine, you would!”
I have read those novels—but I must keep that word of words, “genius”—for something different—“talent” will do here surely.
There lies Consuelo—done with!
I shall tell you frankly that it strikes me as precisely what in conventional language with the customary silliness is styled a woman’s-book, in its merits & defects,—and supremely timid in all the points where one wants and has a right to expect some fruit of all the pretence and George Sandism: there are occasions when one does say, in the phrase of her school, “que la Femme parle”! or what is better, let her act! and how does Consuelo comport herself on such an emergency? Why, she bravely lets the uninspired people throw down one by one their dearest prejudices at her feet, and then, like a very actress, picks them up, like so many flowers, returns them to the breast of the owners with a smile & a courtesy and trips off the stage with a glance at the Pit. Count Christian, Baron Frederic, Baroness—what is her name—all open their arms, and Consuelo will not consent to entail disgrace &c &c[.] No, you say,—she leaves them in order to solve the problem of her true feeling, whether she can really love Albert; but remember that this is done, (that is, so much of it as ever is done, and as determines her to accept his hand at the very last)—this is solved sometime about the next morning—or earlier—I forget—and in the meantime, Albert gets that “benefit of the doubt” of which chapter the last informs you: as for the hesitation and self-examination on the matter of that Anzoleto—the writer is turning over the leaves of a wrong dictionary, seeking help from Psychology, and pretending to forget there is such a thing as Physiology. Then, that horrible Porpora!—if George Sand gives him to a Consuelo for an absolute master, in consideration of his services specified, and is of opinion that they warrant his conduct, or at least, oblige submission to it,—then, I find her objections to the fatherly rule of Frederic perfectly impertinent—he having a few claims upon the gratitude of Prussia also, in his way, I believe! If the strong ones will make the weak ones lead them—then, for Heaven’s sake, let this dear old all-abused world keep on its course without these outcries and tearings of hair, and don’t be forever goading the Karls and other trodden-down creatures till they get their carbines in order, (very rationally,) to abate the nuisance—when you make the man a long speech against some enormity he is about to commit, and adjure and beseech and so forth, till he throws down the aforesaid carbine, falls on his knees, and lets the Frederic go quietly on his way to keep on killing his thousands after the fashion that moved your previous indignation. —Now is that right, consequential,—that is, inferential,—logically-deduced, going straight to the end,—manly?
The Accessories are not the Principal, the adjuncts—the essence, nor the ornamental incidents the book’s self, so what matters it if the portraits are admirable—the descriptions eloquent, (eloquent, there it is—that is her characteristic,—what she has to speak, she speaks out, speaks volubly forth, too well, inasmuch as you say, advancing a step or two, “And now speak as completely here”—and she says nothing)—but all that, another could do, as others have done—but “la femme qui parle”—Ah, that, is this all? So I am not George Sand’s—she teaches me nothing. I look to her for nothing–
I am ever yours, dearest friend. How I write to you—page on page! But Tuesday—who could wait till then! Shall I not hear from you? God bless you ever
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 8NT8 AU15 1845 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 41.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 156–158.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. The Times of 18 May 1832 reported that “This evening will be performed (for the 1st time in this country) Beethoven’s grand Opera of Fidelio.” The Athenæum for 16 June 1832 noted that “Fidelio was given for the fourth time on Thursday, and received with increased enthusiasm by a very crowded audience” (no. 242, p. 389). The final performance was to be on 27 June, but due to unexpected crowds, it was repeated one last time on 29 June; however, we do not know which performance(s) RB attended.
2. Macbeth, V, 1, 56.
3. “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” in Poems (1844), line 236.
4. i.e., Alice and Ernest Maltravers, both of which EBB enquired about in the preceding letter.
5. “Let the Woman speak!”
6. Baroness Amelia.
7. “The woman who speaks.”