2004.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 36–38.


Tuesday. [19 August 1845] [1]

I fancied it was just so—as I did not hear & did not see you on monday. Not that you were expected particularly—but that you would have written your own negative, it appeared to me, by some post in the day, if you had received my note in time. It happened well too, altogether, as you have a friend with you, though Mr Kenyon does not come, & will not, I dare say,—for he spoke like a doubter at the moment,—and as this tuesday wears on, I am not likely to have any visitors on it after all, & may as well, if the rain quite ceases, go and spend my solitude in the park a little. Flush wags his tail at that proposition when I speak it loud out– And I am to write to you before friday, & so, am writing, you see .. which I should not, should not have done if I had not been told,—because it is not my turn to write, .. did you think it was?

Not a word of Malta! [2] —except from Mr Kenyon who talked homilies of it last sunday & wanted to talk them to Papa .. but it would not do in any way—now especially—& in a little time there will be a decision for or against, .. & I am afraid of both .. which is a happy state of preparation. Did I not tell you that early in the summer, I did some translations for Miss Thomson’s ‘classical album’ [3]  .. from Bion & Theocritus, & Nonnus the author of that large (not great) poem in some forty books of the ‘Dionysiaca’ .. & the paraphrases from Apuleius. Well—I had a letter from her the other day, full of compunction & ejaculation, & declaring the fact that Mr Burges had been correcting all the proofs of the poems, [4]  .. leaving out & emending generally, according to his own particular idea of the pattern in the mount——is it not amusing? I have been wicked enough to write in reply that it is happy for her & all readers .. ‘sua si bona norint’ [5]  .. if during some half hour which otherwise might have been dedicated by Mr Burges to putting out the lights of Sophocles & his peers, he was satisfied with the humbler devastation of EBB upon Nonnus– You know it is impossible to help being amused. This correcting is a mania with that man! And then I, who wrote what I did from the Dionysiaca, with no respect for ‘my author’, & an arbitrary will to ‘put the case’ of Bacchus & Ariadne as well as I could, for the sake of the art-illustrations, .. those subjects Miss Thomson sent me, .. & did it all with full liberty & persuasion of soul that nobody would think it worth while to compare English with Greek & refer me back to Nonnus & detect my wanderings from the text!! But the critic was not to be cheated so! And I do not doubt that he has set me all ‘to rights’ from beginning to end,—& combed Ariadne’s hair close to her cheeks for me. Have you known Nonnus, .. you who forget nothing? & have known everything, I think.? For it is quite startling, I must tell you, quite startling & humiliating, to observe how you combine such large tracts of experience of outer & inner life, of books & men, of the world & the arts of it, .. curious knowledge as well as general knowledge .. & deep thinking as well as wide acquisition, .. & you, looking none the older for it all!—yes, & being besides a man of genius & working your faculty & not wasting yourself over a surface or away from an end. Dugald Stewart [6] said that genius made naturally a lopsided mind—did he not? He ought to have known you– And I who do .. a little .. (for I grow more loth than I was to assume the knowledge of you, my dear friend)—I do not mean to use that word ‘humiliation’ in the sense of having felt the thing myself in any painful way, .. because I never for a moment did, or could, you know,—never could .. never did .. except indeed when you have over praised me, which forced another personal feeling in. Otherwise it has always been quite pleasant to me to be “startled & humiliated”—& more so perhaps than to be startled & exalted, if I might choose–

Only I did not mean to write all this, though you told me to write to you. But the rain which keeps one in, gives one an example of pouring on .. & you must endure as you can or will. Also .. as you have a friend with you ‘from Italy’ .. ‘from Rome’, .. & commended me for my “kindness & considerateness” in changing tuesday to friday .. (—was’nt it? ..)—shall I be still more considerate & put off the visit-day to next week? mind, you let it be as you like it best to be—I mean, as is most convenient ‘for the nonce’ to you & your friend—because all days are equal, as to that matter of convenience, to your other friend of this ilk, ....

.. EBB–

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

Postmarks: 1845 AU20 8Mg8 A; 10FN10 AU20 1845 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 43.; + Friday Aug. 22. / 3–4½. p.m. [14].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 161–164.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. In his journal, EBB’s cousin records: “Henrietta told me as a secret—they had heard Mr. Barrett had told Mrs. Hedley—when Ba was at Malta, where he meant she should go,—he intended to go to Jamaica” (Surtees, 20 August 1845).

3. This is EBB’s first mention of Miss Thomson’s “Classical Album” to RB. For a complete account of EBB’s participation, see Appendix IV in volume 10.

4. George Burges (1786?–1864), classical scholar and editor, had published translations of Æschylus’s Prometheus and Supplices in 1831.

5. “Should they come to know their blessings!” (Vergil, Georgics, II, 458, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough).

6. In her notes on Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (see Reconstruction, D1286), EBB wrote: “Not true that Genius is seldom united to a tenacious memory. Genius indeed does not recollect particulars because it does not make them objects of attention.” In the same section to which EBB was responding, Stewart noted that “In the foregoing observations it is not meant to be implied, that originality of genius is incompatible with a ready recollection of acquired knowledge; but only that it has a tendency unfavourable to it” (3rd ed., 1808, p. 478).


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