2026.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 69–71.


Thursday Mg [Postmark: 11 September 1845]

Here are your beautiful, and I am sure true sonnets! they look true– I remembered the light-hair, I find. And who paints, and dares exhibit, E.B.B’s self? And surely “Alfred’s” pencil has not foregone its best privelege, not left the face unsketched? Italians call such an “effect defective” [1] [—]“l’andar a Roma senza vedere il Papa.” [2] He must have begun by seeing his Holiness, I know, and .. he will not trust me with the result, that my sister may copy it for me, because we are strangers, he and I, and I could give him nothing, nothing like the proper price for it—but you would lend it to me, I think, nor need I do more than thank you in my usual effective and very eloquent way—for I have already been allowed to visit you seventeen times, do you know; and this last letter of yours, Fiftieth is the same! So all my pride is gone, pride in that sense—and I mean to take of you forever, and reconcile myself with my lot in this life. Could, and would you give me such a sketch? It has been on my mind to ask you ever since I knew you if nothing in the way of good portrait existed—and this occasion bids me speak out, I dare believe: the more, that you have also quieted,—have you not?—another old obstinate and very likely impertinent questioning of mine—as to the little name which was neither Orinda, nor Sacharissa [3] (for which thank providence) and is never to appear in books, though you write them. Now I know it and write it—“Ba”—and thank you, and your brother George, and only burned his kind letter because you bade me who know best– So, wish by wish, one gets one’s wishes!—at least I do—for one instance, you will go to Italy

Illus. [4]

Why, “lean and harken after it” [5] as Donne says.

Don’t expect Neapolitan Scenery at Pisa, quite in the North, remember. Mrs Shelley found Italy for the first time, real Italy at Sorrento, she says. Oh that book [6] —does one wake or sleep? [7] The “Mary dear” with the brown eyes, and Godwin’s daughter and Shelley’s wife, and who surely was something better once upon a time—and to go thro’ Rome & Florence & the rest, after what I suppose to be Lady Londonderry’s fashion: [8] the intrepidity of the commonplace quite astounds me– And then that way, when she and the like of her are put in a new place, with new flowers, new stones, faces, walls, all new: of looking wisely up at the sun, clouds, evening star, or mountain top and wisely saying “who shall describe that sight!”– Not you, we very well see—but why dont you tell us that at Rome they eat roasted chestnuts, and put the shells into their aprons, the women do, and calmly empty the whole on the heads of the passengers in the street below; and that at Padua when a man drives his waggon up to a house and stops, all the mouse-coloured oxen that pull it from a beam against their foreheads sit down in a heap and rest. But once she travelled the country with Shelley on arm; now she plods it, Rogers in hand [9] —to such things & uses may we come at last! Her remarks on art, once she lets go of Rio’s skirts, [10] are amazing– Fra Angelico, for instance, only painted Martyrs, Virgins &c [11] —she had no eyes for the divine bon-bourgeoisie of his pictures,—the dear common folk of his crowds, those who sit and listen (spectacle at nose and bent into a comfortable heap to hear better) at the sermon of the Saint—and the children, and women,—divinely pure they all are, but fresh from the streets & market place—but she is wrong, every where, that is, not right, not seeing what is to see, speaking what one expects to hear. I quarrel with her, for ever, I think.

I am much better, and mean to be well as you desire. I shall correct the verses you have seen, and make them do for the present. [12]

Saturday, then! And one other time only, do you say?

God bless you, my own, best friend.

Yours ever RB.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark: 8NT8 SP11 1845 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 51.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 188–190.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Hamlet, II, 2, 103.

2. “Going to Rome without seeing the Pope.”

3. An allusion to “The Pet-Name” (1838), lines 9–10. “Sacharissa” was the name given to Dorothy Spencer (née Sidney, 1617–84) by the poet Edmund Waller when he unsuccessfully courted her after the death of his first wife. The poet Katharine Philips (née Fowler, 1631–64) was known as “The Matchless Orinda.”

4. The opening phrase of “Che farò senza Euridice” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, slightly altered.

5. Cf. Donne, “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning” (1633), line 31.

6. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843 (2 vols., 1844), which EBB had sent in letter 2015.

7. Cf. Shelley, “To a Skylark” (1820), line 81 and Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819), line 80.

8. Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (née Vane Tempest, 1800–65) was the second wife of Charles William Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (afterwards Vane, 1778–1854). She was a traveller with her husband and wrote A Journal of a Three Months’ Tour in Portugal, Spain, Africa, &c. (1843) which was published by subscription to contribute toward the erection of an infirmary at Seaham Harbour (a “Mr. Browning” is listed among the subscribers for two copies). She also wrote Narrative of a Visit to the Courts of Vienna, Constantinople, Athens, Naples, &c. (1844).

9. In addition to the fact that Mrs. Shelley’s Rambles were dedicated “To Samuel Rogers, Author of ‘The Pleasures of Memory,’ ‘Italy,’ etc.,” RB is perhaps alluding to the statement she makes in the beginning of the preface: “I have found it a pleasant thing while travelling to have in the carriage the works of those who have passed through the same country.”

10. A reference to De la Poésie chrétienne dans son principe, dans sa matière et dans ses formes by Alexis François Rio (1836). Mrs. Shelley cites Rio more than once in “Letter XII” (Rambles, II) in which she discusses Florentine art and artists.

11. In her comments on Fra Angelico, Mrs. Shelley states that he “surpasses all his contemporaries in the celestial sweetness he infuses into the countenance of his saints and angels”; she goes on to say that “Florence abounds with lovely images whose serene and blessed faces breathe the virtues of their author. The delicacy and softness for which he is remarkable never degenerates into insipidity” (Rambles, II, 144–145).

12. i.e., incorporate EBB’s notes, as well as his own emendations, in the poems for Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.


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