2007.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 41–46.


Wednesday. [20 August 1845] [1]

But what have I [2] done that you should ask what have you done? I have not brought any accusation, have I .. no, nor thought any, I am sure—& it was only the ‘kindness & considerateness’-argument that was irresistible as a thing to be retorted, when your thanks came so naturally & just at the corner of an application. And then, you know, it is gravely true, seriously true, sadly true, that I am always expecting to hear or to see how tired you are at last of me!—sooner or later, you know!—— But I did not mean any seriousness in that letter. No, nor did I mean .. (to pass to another question ..) to provoke you to the


“Mister Hayley .. so are you” .. [3]

reply complimentary. All I observed concerning yourself, was the combination—which not an idiom in chivalry could treat grammatically as a thing common to me & you, inasmuch as everyone who has known me for half a day, may know that, if there is anything peculiar in me, it lies for the most part in an extraordinary deficiency in this & this & this, .. there is no need to describe about. Only nuns of the strictest sect of the nunneries are rather wiser in some points, & have led less restricted lives than I have in others. And if it had not been for my ‘carpet-work!’— …

Well—& do you know that I have, for the last few years, taken quite to despise book-knowledge & its effect on the mind—I mean when people live by it as most readers by profession do, .. cloistering their souls under these roofs made with hands, when they might be under the sky. Such people grow dark & narrow & low, with all their pains, .....

Friday. I was writing you see before you came—& now I go on in haste to speak ‘off my mind’ some things which are on it. First .. of yourself,—how can it be that you are unwell again, .. & that you should talk (now did you not?—did I not hear you say so?) of being “weary in your soul” .. you? What should make you, dearest friend, weary in your soul,—or out of spirits in any way? Do … tell me .. I was going to write without a pause—and almost I might, perhaps, .. even as one of the two hundred of your friends, .. almost I might say out that ‘Do tell me.’ Or is it (which I am inclined to think most probable,—) that you are tired of a same life & want change?—it may happen to anyone sometimes, & is independent of your will & choice, you know—& I know, & the whole world knows: & would it not therefore be wise of you, in that case, to fold your life new again & go abroad at once? What can make you weary in your soul, is a problem to me. You are the last from whom I should have expected such a word. And you did say so I think. I think that it was not a mistake of mine. And you, .. with a full liberty, & the world in your hand for every purpose & pleasure of it!—— Or is it that, being unwell, your spirits are affected by that? But then you must be more unwell than you like to admit—. And I am teazing you with talking of it .. am I not?—and being disagreeable is only one third of the way towards being useful, it is good to remember in time.

And then the next thing to write off my mind is ..... that you must not, you must not, make an unjust opinion out of what I said today. I have been uncomfortable since, lest you should—& perhaps it would have been better if I had not said it apart from all context in that way, .. only that you could not long be a friend of mine without knowing & seeing what so lies on the surface. But then, .. as far as I am concerned, .. no one cares less for a “will” than I do .. (& this though I never had one, .. in clear opposition to your theory which holds generally nevertheless) for a will in the common things of life. Every now & then there must of course be a crossing & vexation—but in one’s mere pleasures & fantasies, one wd rather be crossed & vexed a little than vex a person one loves .. & it is possible to get used to the harness & run easily in it at last—& there is a side-world to hide one’s thoughts in, & ‘carpet-work’ to be immoral on in spite of Mrs Jameson, .. & the word ‘literature’ has, with me, covered a good deal of liberty as you must see .. real liberty which is never enquired into—& it has happened throughout my life by an accident (as far as anything is accident) that my own sense of right & happiness on any important point of overt action, has never run contrariwise to the way of obedience required of me .. while in things not exactly overt, I & all of us are apt to act sometimes up to the limit of our means of acting, with shut doors & windows & no waiting for cognizance or permission. Ah—& that last is the worst of it all perhaps.! to be forced into concealments from the heart naturally nearest to us, .. & forced away from the natural source of counsel & strength!—& then, the disingenuousness—the cowardice—the ‘vices of slaves’!—— And everyone you see .. all my brothers, .. constrained bodily into submission .. apparent submission at least .. by that worst & most dishonoring of necessities, the necessity of living .. everyone of them all, except myself, being dependent in money-matters on the inflexible will .. do you see? But what you do not see, what you cannot see, is the deep tender affection behind & below all those patriarchal ideas of governing grownup children ‘in the way they must go!’ [4] —and there never was (under the strata) a truer affection in a father’s heart .. no, nor a worthier heart in itself .. a heart loyaller & purer, & more compelling to gratitude & reverence, than his, as I see it!– The evil is in the system—& he simply takes it to be his duty to rule, & to make happy according to his own views of the propriety of happiness—he takes it to be his duty to rule like the Kings of Christendom, by divine right. But he loves us through & through it—& I, for one, love him!—and when, five years ago, I lost what I loved best in the world beyond comparison & rivalship … far better than himself as he knew .. for everyone who knew me could not choose but know what was my first & chiefest affection .. when I lost that, .. I felt that he stood the nearest to me on the closed grave .. or by the unclosing sea .. I do not know which nor could ask. And I will tell you that not only he has been kind & patient & forbearing to me through the tedious trial of this illness (far more trying to standers by than you have an idea of perhaps) but that he was generous & forbearing in that hour of bitter trial, & never reproached me as he might have done & as my own soul has not spared .. never once said to me then or since, that if it had not been for me, the crown of his house wd not have fallen. He never did .. & he might have said it, & more—& I could have answered nothing. Nothing, except that I had paid my own price .. & that the price I paid was greater than his loss .. his!! For see how it was,—& how, “not with my hand but heart” I was the cause or occasion of that misery—& though not with the intention of my heart but with its weakness,—yet the occasion, any way!–

They sent me down you know to Torquay [5] —Dr Chambers saying that I could not live a winter in London—. The worst .. what people call the worst .. was apprehended for me at that time. So I was sent down with my sister, to my aunt there—& he, my brother whom I loved so, was sent too, to take us there & return– And when the time came for him to leave me, I, to whom he was the dearest of friends & brothers in one .. the only one of my family who … Well, but I cannot write of these things; & it is enough to tell you that he was above us all—better than us all, & kindest & noblest & dearest to me, beyond comparison, any comparison, as I said—& when the time came for him to leave me, I, weakened by illness, could not master my spirits or drive back my tears—& my aunt [6] kissed them away instead of reproving me as she should have done, & said that she would take care that I should not be grieved .. she! .. and so she sate down & wrote a letter to Papa to tell him that he would “break my heart” if he persisted in calling away my brother—— As if hearts were broken so! I have thought bitterly since that my heart did not break for a good deal more than that!– And Papa’s answer was—burnt into me, as with fire, it is—that “under such circumstances he did not refuse to suspend his purpose, but that he considered it to be very wrong in me to exact such a thing.” So there was no separation then .. & month after month passed—& sometimes I was better & sometimes worse—& the medical men continued to say that they wd not answer for my life .. they! .. if I were agitated—& so there was no more talk of a separation. And once he held my hand, .. how I remember! & said that he [‘]‘loved me better than them all & that he would not leave me .. till I was well,” he said!—how I remember that! And ten days from that day the boat had left the shore which never returned,—never—& he had left me!—gone! For three days we waited—& I hoped while I could .. oh, that awful agony of three days! And the sun shone as it shines today, & there was no more wind than now,—& the sea under the windows was like this paper for smoothness—& my sisters drew the curtains back that I might see for myself how smooth the sea was & how it could hurt nobody—& other boats came back one by one.

Remember how you wrote in your Gismond


‘What says the body when they spring

Some monstrous torture-engine’s whole

Strength on it? No more says the soul—’ [7]

and you never wrote anything which lived with me more that [sic] that. It is such a dreadful truth. But you knew it for truth, I hope, by your genius, & not by such proof as mine—I, who could not speak or shed a tear, but lay for weeks & months half conscious half unconscious, with a wandering mind, & too near to God under the crushing of His hand, to pray at all. I expiated all my weak tears before, by not being able to shed then, one tear——and yet they were forbearing—& no voice said ‘You have done this’–

Do not notice what I have written to you my dearest friend. I have never said so much to a living being,—I never could speak or write of it. I asked no question from the moment when my last hope went: & since then, it has been impossible for me to speak what was in me. I have borne to do it today & to you, but perhaps if you were to write——so do not let this be noticed between us again,—do not!– And besides there is no need—! I do not reproach myself with such acrid thoughts as I had once—— I know that I would have died ten times over for him, & that therefore though it was wrong of me to be weak, & I have suffered for it & shall learn by it I hope,—remorse is not precisely the word for me—not at least in its full sense. Still you will comprehend from what I have told you how the spring of life must have seemed to break within me then,—& how natural it has been for me to loathe the living on—& to lose faith (even without the loathing) to lose faith in myself .. which I have done on some points utterly. It is not from the cause of illness—no. And you will comprehend too that I have strong reasons for being grateful to the forbearance ..... It would have been cruel, you think, to reproach me. Perhaps so! yet the kindness & patience of the desisting from reproach, are positive things all the same.

Shall I be too late for the post, I wonder? Wilson tells me that you were followed up stairs yesterday (I write on saturday this latter part) by somebody whom you probably took for my father. Which is Wilson’s idea—& I hope not yours. No—it was neither father nor other relative of mine—but an old friend in rather an ill temper. [8]

And so good bye until tuesday. Perhaps I shall .. not .. hear from you tonight. Dont let the tragedy or aught else do you harm—will you? & try not to be ‘weary in your soul’ any more—& forgive me this gloomy letter I half shrink from sending you, yet will send– May God bless you–


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

Postmark: 10FN10 AU25 1845 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 44.; + Tuesday, Aug. 26. / 3–4-10 min. p.m. [15].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 167–172.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Underscored twice.

3. From the lines satirizing the mutual admiration of poets Anna Seward (1742–1809), “the Swan of Lichfield,” and William Hayley (1745–1820), variously attributed to William Mansel (1753–1820), Bishop of Bristol, and Richard Porson (1759–1808), classical scholar. EBB would have seen the lines in H.F. Chorley’s Memorials of Mrs. Hemans (2nd ed., 1837), which sold as lot 737 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A646), a book she had read at least twice (see letters 1658 and 1809). In the 1836 edition of Memorials, the verse reads: “‘Tuneful poet! England’s glory, / Mr. Hayley—that is you,’ / ‘Ma’am, you carry all before you, / Trust me, Lichfield swan, you do!’” (I, 236).

4. Cf. Proverbs 22:6.

5. On 25 August 1838, following the advice of her physician, EBB left London for Torquay to recuperate from a lung hæmorrhage. Her sister, Henrietta, and her brothers, Bro and George, joined her on the journey. They stayed with their aunt and uncle, Robert and Jane Hedley, until the 1st of October when they took lodgings at No. 3 Beacon Terrace where Arabella Graham-Clarke joined them in late October.

6. EBB is referring to Jane Hedley whose letter was written prior to letter 666 of [27–28 September 1838], in which EBB mentions her father’s “consent to Bro’s staying.”

7. Lines 64–66 of RB’s “Count Gismond.”

8. Presumably George Barrett Hunter; see letter 1975, note 3.


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