2029. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 74–77.
Saturday Mg– [Postmark: 13 September 1845]
Now, dearest, I will try and write the little I shall be able, in reply to your letter of last week—and first of all I have to intreat you, now more than ever, to help me and understand from the few words the feelings behind them—(I should speak rather more easily, I think—but I dare not run the risk: and I know, after all, you will be just & kind where you can.) I have read your letter again & again: I will tell you—no, not you, but any imaginary other person, who should hear what I am going to avow; I would tell that person most sincerely there is not a particle of fatuity, shall I call it, in that avowal,—cannot be, seeing that from the beginning and at this moment I never dreamed of winning your love .. I can hardly write the word, so incongruous & impossible does it seem,—such a change of our places does it imply—nor, next to that, tho’ long after, would I, if I could, supplant one of any of the affections that I know to have taken root in you—that great & solemn one, for instance .. I feel that if I could get myself remade, as if turned to gold, I would not even then desire to become more than the mere setting to that diamond you must always wear: the regard and esteem you now give me, in this letter, and which I press to my heart & bow my head upon, is all I can take & all too embarrassing, using all my gratitude: and yet, with that contented pride in being infinitely your debtor as it is, bound to you for ever as it is, .. when I read your letter with all the determination to be just to us both,—I dare not so far withstand the light I am master of, as to refuse seeing that whatever is recorded as an objection to your disposing of that life of mine I would give you—has reference to some supposed good in that life which your accepting it would destroy—(of which fancy I shall speak presently)—I say, wonder as I may at this, I cannot but find it there, surely there: I would no more “bind you by words,” than you have bound me, as you say—but if I misunderstand you, one assurance to that effect will be but too intelligible to me—but, as it is, I have difficulty in imagining that while one of so many reasons, which I am not obliged to repeat to myself but which any one easily conceives,—while any one of those reasons would impose silence on me for ever—(for, as I observed, I love you as you now are, and would not remove one affection that is already part of you,)—would you, being able to speak so, only say that you desire not to put “more sadness than I was born to,” into my life? that you “could give me only what it were ungenerous to give”?
Have I your meaning here? In so many words, is it on my account that you bid me “leave this subject”? I think if it were so, I would for once call my advantages round me– I am not what your generous self-forgetting appreciation would sometimes make me out—but it is not since yesterday, nor ten, nor twenty years before, that I began to look into my own life, and study its end, and requirements, what would turn to its good or its loss—and I know, if one may know any thing, that to make that life yours and increase it by the union with yours, would render me supremely happy, as I said, and say, and feel. My whole suit to you is, in that sense, selfish—not that I am ignorant that your nature would most surely attain happiness in being conscious that it made another happy—but that best, best end of all, would, like the rest, come from yourself, be a reflection of your own gift.
Dearest, I will end here—words, persuasions, arguments,—if they were at my service I would not use them. I believe in you, altogether have faith in you .. in you. I will not think of insulting by trying to reassure you on one point which certain phrases in your letter might at first glance seem to imply—you do not understand me to be living and labouring and writing (and not writing) in order to be successful in the world’s sense? I even convinced the people here what was my true “honorable position in society” &c. &c. therefore I shall not have to inform you that I desire to be very rich, very great,—but not in reading Law gratis with dear foolish old Basil Montagu, as he ever & anon bothers me to do,—much <…>—enough of this nonsense.
“Tell me what I have a claim to hear”: I can hear it, and be as grateful as I was before and am now—your friendship is my pride and happiness. If you told me your love was already bestowed elsewhere, and that it was in my power to serve you there, to serve you there would still be my pride and happiness. I look on, and on over the prospect of my love: it is all onwards,—and all possible forms of unkindness .. I quite laugh to think how they are behind .. cannot be encountered in the route we are traveling! I submit to you and will obey you implicitly .. obey what I am able to conceive of your least desire, much more of your expressed wish– But it was necessary to make this avowal, among other reasons, for one which the world would recognize too– My whole scheme of life, (with its wants, material wants at least, closely cut down,) was long ago calculated—and it supposed you, the finding such an one as you, utterly impossible—because in calculating one goes upon chances, not on providence—how could I expect you? So for my own future way in the world I have always refused to care—anyone who can live a couple of years & more on bread and potatoes as I did once on a time, and who prefers a blouse and a blue shirt (such as I now write in) to all manner of dress and gentlemanly appointment, and—who can, if necessary, groom a horse not so badly or at all events would rather do it all day long than succeed Mr Fitzroy Kelly in the Solic[i]tor generalship, .. such an one needs not very much concern himself beyond considering the lilies how they grow: but now I see you near this life, all changes—and at a word, I will do all that ought to be done,—that every one used to say could be done, and let “all my powers find sweet employ”—as Dr Watts sings, in getting whatever is to be got—not very much, surely. I would print these things, get them away, and do this now, and go to you at Pisa with the news—at Pisa where one may live for some £100 a year—while, lo, I seem to remember, I do remember, that Charles Kean offered to give me 500 of those pounds for any play that might suit him, to say nothing of Mr Colburn saying confidentially that he wanted more than his dinner “a novel: on the subject of Napoleon”!!! so may one make money, if one does not live in a house in a row, and feel impelled to take the Princesses’ Theatre for a laudable development and exhibition of one’s faculty–
Take the sense of all this, I beseech you, dearest—all you shall say will be best– I am yours.
Yes—Yours ever, God bless you for all you have been, and are, and will certainly be to me, come what He shall please.!
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 3AN3 SP13 1845 D.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 52 [altered from “51”].
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 191–194.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Letter 2015.
2. See EBB’s comments at the end of letter 2015.
3. Basil Montagu (1770–1851), legal author and philanthropist.
4. RB has crossed through “less.”
5. Little more than this has been recorded of RB’s vegetarianism. Mrs. Orr explains that “he returned to his natural diet when he found his eyesight becoming weak” (p. 40).
6. Fitzroy Kelly (1796–1880) “first took office as solicitor-general in succession to Sir Frederick Thesiger on 29 June 1845, and was then knighted. He held the post until 2 July 1846” and again in Derby’s administration in 1852 (DNB).
7. Cf. Matthew 6:28.
8. Cf. Psalm 92 in Psalms of David (1719?) by Isaac Watts. A copy of this volume formed part of lot 931 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A2430).
9. RB had written Colombe’s Birthday for Charles Kean (1811–68), but because Kean wanted to delay producing it by a year, during which time the play was not to be published, RB withdrew it and published it as Bells and Pomegranates, No. VI (April 1844); see letter 1566 for a more complete account. There is no evidence that RB ever wrote again for Kean.