2015.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 53–55.


Sunday– [31 August 1845] [1]

I did not think you were angry—I never said so– But you might reasonably have been wounded a little, if you had suspected me of blaming you for any bearing of yours towards myself—& this was the amount of my fear, .. or rather hope .. since I conjectured most that you were not well. And after all you did think .. do think .. that in some way or for some moment I blamed you, disbelieved you, distrusted you—or why this letter? How have I provoked this letter? Can I forgive myself, for having even seemed to have provoked it?—& will you believe me that if for the past’s sake you sent it, it was unnecessary, & if for the future’s, irrelevant? Which I say from no want of sensibility to the words of it—your words always make themselves felt—but in fulness of purpose not to suffer you to hold to words because they have been said, nor to say them as if to be holden by them– Why if a thousand more such words were said by you to me, how could they operate upon the future or present, supposing me to choose to keep the possible modification of your feelings, as a probability, in my sight & yours.? Can you help my sitting with the doors all open if I think it right?– I do attest to you .. while I trust you, as you must see, in word & act, & while I am confident that no human being ever stood higher or purer in the eyes of another, than you do in mine, .. that you would still stand high & remain unalterably my friend, if the probability in question became a fact, as now at this moment– And this I must say, since you have said other things: & this alone, which I [2] have said, concerns the future, I remind you earnestly.

My dearest friend—you have followed the most generous of impulses in your whole bearing to me—& I have recognized & called by its name, in my heart, each one of them– Yet I cannot help adding that, of us two, your’s has not been quite the hardest part, .. I mean, to a generous nature like your own, to which every sort of nobleness comes easily. Mine has been more difficult—& I have sunk under it again & again: & the sinking & the effort to recover the duty of a lost position, may have given me an appearance of vacillation & lightness, unworthy at least of you, & perhaps of both of us. Notwithstanding which appearance, it was right & just (only just) of you, to believe in me .. in my truth—because I have never failed to you in it, nor been capable of such failure:—the thing I have said, I have meant .. always: & in things I have not said, the silence has had a reason somewhere different perhaps from where you looked for it. And this brings me to complaining that you, who profess to believe in me, do yet obviously believe that it was only merely silence, which I required of you on one occasion—& that if I had known your power over yourself, I should not have minded .. no!– In other words you believe of me that I was thinking just of my own .. what shall I call it for a motive base & small enough? .. My own scrupulousness .. freedom from embarrassment..! of myself in the least of me; in the tying of my shoestrings, say! .. so much & no more! Now this is so wrong, as to make me impatient sometimes in feeling it to be your impression– I asked for silence—but also & chiefly for the putting away of .. you know very well what I asked for. And this was sincerely done, I attest to you. You wrote once to me .. oh, long before May & the day we met—that you “had been so happy, you should be now justified to yourself in taking any step most hazardous to the happiness of your life—” [3] but if you were justified, cd I be therefore justified in abetting such a step, .. the step of wasting, in a sense, your best feelings .. of emptying your water gourds into the sand?– What I thought then I think now—just what any third person knowing you, wd think, I think & feel. I thought too, at first, that the feeling on your part was a mere generous impulse, likely to expend itself in a week perhaps– It affects me & has affected me, very deeply—more than I dare attempt to say .. that you shd persist so—& if sometimes I have felt, by a sort of instinct, that after all you wd not go on to persist & that (being a man you know) you might mistake a little, unconsciously, the strength of your own feeling, .. you ought not to be surprised,—when I felt it was more advantageous & happier for you that it should be so– In any case, I shall never regret my own share in the events of this summer, & your friendship will be dear to me to the last. You know I told you so—not long since. And as to what you say otherwise, you are right in thinking that I would not hold by unworthy motives in avoiding to speak what you had any claim to hear. But what could I speak that wd not be unjust to you—? Your life? .. if you gave it to me & I put my whole heart into it, what should I put but anxiety, & more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you, which it would not be ungenerous to give?– Therefore we must leave this subject—& I must trust you to leave it without one word more; (too many have been said already .. but I could not let your letter pass quite silently .. as if I had nothing to do but to receive all as matter of course so!) while you may well trust me to remember to my life’s end, as the grateful remember,—& to feel, as those do who have felt sorrow, (for where these pits are dug, the water will stand) the full price of your regard– May God bless you my dearest friend– I shall send this letter after I have seen you, & hope you may not have expected to hear sooner–

Ever yours EBB–

Monday 6. p.m. I send in disobedience to your commands, Mrs Shelley’s book [4] —but when books accumulate & when besides, I want to let you have the American edition of my poems [5]  .. famous for all manner of blunders you know, .. what is to be done but have recourse to the parcel-medium?– You were in jest about being at Pisa before or as soon as we are?—oh no—that must not be indeed—we must wait a little!—even if you determine to go at all which is a question of doubtful expediency– Do take more exercise, this week, & make war against those dreadful sensations in the head—now, will you?

<After all the first volume of Mrs Shelley is not to be found—& must go afterwards–> [6]

Address: Robert Browning Esqre

Postmark: None. EBB enclosed this letter with a parcel of books.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 47.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 177–180.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dating based upon RB’s docket.

2. Underscored twice.

3. See letter 1854.

4. Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843 (2 vols., 1844), which was a gift from Moxon (see letter 1665). The volumes sold as lot 1092 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A2091).

5. The following day, EBB inscribed a copy of A Drama of Exile: “From EBB—September 2. 1845.” This copy sold as lot 438 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A325).

6. Bracketed passage was added as a postscript and then crossed out, implying that the work was located in time to be sent with this letter.


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