Correspondence

2030.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 77–79.

[London]

[Postmark: 16 September 1845]

I scarcely know how to write what is to be written nor indeed why it is to be written & to what end. I have tried in vain—& you are waiting to hear from me. I am unhappy enough even where I am happy—but ungrateful nowhere—& I thank you from my heart—profoundly from the depths of my heart .. which is nearly all I can do.

One letter I began to write & asked in it how it could become me to speak at all if “from the beginning & at this moment you never dreamed of” .. & there, I stopped & tore the paper,—because I felt that you were too loyal & generous, for me to bear to take a moment’s advantage of the same, & bend down the very flowering branch of your generosity (as it might be) to thicken a little the fence of a woman’s caution & reserve. You will not say that you have not acted as if you “dreamed”––& I will answer therefore to the general sense of your letter & former letters, & admit at once that I did state to you the difficulties most difficult to myself .. though not all .. & that if I had been worthier of you I should have been proportionably less in haste to ‘bid you leave that subject’.[1] I do not understand how you can seem at the same moment to have faith in my integrity & to have doubt whether all this time I may not have felt a preference for another .. which you are ready “to serve,” you say– Which is generous in you—but in me, where were the integrity? Could you really hold me to be blameless? & do you think that true-hearted women act usually so? Can it be necessary for me to tell you that I could not have acted so, & did not? And shall I shrink from telling you besides .. you, who have been generous to me & have a right to hear it .. & have spoken to me in the name of an affection & memory most precious & holy to me, in this same letter––that, neither now nor formerly, has any man been to my feelings what you are––& that if I were different in some respects & free in others by the providence of God, I would accept the great trust of your happiness, gladly, proudly, & gratefully,—& give away my own life & soul to that end. I would do it .. not, I do, .. observe! it is a truth without a consequence,—only meaning that I am not all stone—only proving that I am not likely to consent to help you in wrong against yourself. You see in me what is not:—that, I know: & you overlook in me what is unsuitable to you .. that I know, & have sometimes told you. Still, because a strong feeling from some sources is self-vindicating & ennobling to the object of it, I will not say that, if it were proved to me that you felt this for me, I would persist in putting the sense of my own unworthiness between you & me—not being heroic you know, nor pretending to be so. But something worse than even a sense of unworthiness, God has put between us!—& judge yourself if to beat your thoughts against the immoveable marble of it, can be anything but pain & vexation of spirit, waste & wear of spirit to you .. judge!– The present is here to be seen .. speaking for itself!—& the best future you can imagine for me, what a precarious thing it must be .. a thing for making burdens out of .. only not for your carrying; as I have vowed to my own soul. As dear Mr Kenyon said to me today in his smiling kindness–– “In ten years you may be strong perhaps”—or ‘almost strong’! that being the encouragement of my best friends!– What would he say, do you think, if he could know or guess ..! What could he say but that you were .. a poet!—& I .. still worse!– Never let him know or guess!–

And so if you are wise & would be happy (and you have excellent practical sense after all & should exercise it) you must leave me—these thoughts of me, I mean .. for if we might not be true friends for ever, I shd have less courage to say the other truth. But we may be friends always .. & cannot be so separated, that your happiness, in the knowledge of it, will not increase mine. And if you will be persuaded by me, as you say .. you will be persuaded thus .. & consent to take a resolution & force your mind at once into another channel. Perhaps I might bring you reasons of the class which you tell me “would silence you for ever”. I might certainly tell you that my own father if he knew that you had written to me so, & that I had answered you .. so, even .. would not forgive me at the end of ten years—& this, from none of the causes mentioned by me here & in no disrespect to your name & your position .. though he does not overvalue poetry even in his daughter, & is apt to take the world’s measures of the means of life .. but for the singular reason that he never does tolerate in his family (sons or daughters) the development of one class of feelings. Such an objection I could not bring to you of my own will—it rang hollow in my ears—perhaps I thought even too little of it:—& I brought to you what I thought much of, & cannot cease to think much of equally. Worldly thoughts, these are not at all, nor have been: there need be no soiling of the heart with any such:—& I will say, in reply to some words of yours, that you cannot despise the gold & gauds of the world more than I do, & should do even if I found a use for them– And if I wished to be very poor, in the world’s sense of poverty, I could not, with three or four hundred a year of which no living will can dispossess me.[2] And is not the chief good of money the being free from the need of thinking of it? It seems so to me.

The obstacles then are of another character, & the stronger for being so. Believe that I am grateful to you .. how grateful, cannot be shown in words nor even in tears .. grateful enough to be truthful in all ways. You know I might have hidden myself from you—but I would not: & by the truth told of myself, you may believe in the earnestness with which I tell the other truths—of you .. & of this subject. The subject will not bear consideration—it breaks in our hands– But that God is stronger than we, cannot be a bitter thought to you but a holy thought .. while He lets me, as much as I can be anyone’s, be only yours

EBB.

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

Postmarks: PD 2AN SP16 1845 D; 4Eg4 SP16 1845 H.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 52.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 194–197.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. The request made at the end of letter 2015 to which RB responded in the preceding letter.

2. EBB’s income derived from the investment of a legacy of £4,000 which she had received upon the death of her grandmother, Elizabeth Moulton, in 1830, as well as the annual return from shares in the ship David Lyon, which she had received from her uncle, Samuel Moulton-Barrett, in 1838 (see SD832 and SD835). She also owned a few shares in the Drury Lane Theatre (see letter 789).

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