Correspondence

2031.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 79–83.

[London]

[16 September 1845][1]

I do not know whether you imagine the precise effect of your letter on me—very likely you do, and wrote it just for that—for I conceive all from your goodness: but before I tell you what is that effect, let me say in as few words as possible what shall stop any fear,—tho’ only for a moment and on the outset,—that you have been misunderstood, that the goodness outside, and round and over all, hides all or anything: I understand you to signify to me that you see, at this present, insurmountable obstacles to that .. can I speak it .. entire gift,—which I shall own, was, while I dared ask it, above my hopes .. and wishes, even, so it seems to me .. and yet could not but be asked, so plainly was it dictated to me, by something quite out of those hopes & wishes .. will it help me to say that once in this Aladdin-cavern I knew I ought to stop for no heaps of jewel-fruit on the trees from the very beginning, but go on to the lamp, the prize, the last and best of all?[2] Well, I understand you to pronounce that at present you believe this gift impossible—and I acquiesce entirely—I submit wholly to you,—repose on you in all the faith of which I am capable: those obstacles are solely for you to see and to declare .. had I seen them, be sure I should never have mocked you or myself by affecting to pass them over .. what were obstacles, I mean: but you do see them, I must think,—and perhaps they strike me the more from my true, honest unfeigned inability to imagine what they are,—not that I shall endeavour,—after what you also apprise me of, I know and am joyfully confident that if ever they cease to be what you now consider them, you who see now for me, whom I implicitly trust in to see for me,—you will then, too, see and remember me, and how I trust, and shall then be still trusting: and until you so see, and so inform me, I shall never utter a word—for that would involve the vilest of implications. I thank God—I do thank him, that in this whole matter I have been, to the utmost of my power, not unworthy of his introducing you to me, in this respect that, being no longer in the first freshness of life, and having for many years now made up my mind to the impossibility of loving any woman .. having wondered at this in the beginning, and fought not a little against it, having acquiesced in it at last, and accounted for it all to myself, and become, if anything, rather proud of it than sorry .. I say, when real love, making itself at once recognized as such, did reveal itself to me at last, I did open my heart to it with a cry—nor care for its overturning all my theory—nor mistrust its effect upon a mind set in ultimate order, so I fancied, for the few years more—nor apprehend in the least that the new element would harm what was already organized without its help: nor have I, either, been guilty of the more pardonable folly, of treating the new feeling after the pedantic fashions and instances of the world .. I have not spoken when it did not speak, because “one” might speak, or has spoken, or should speak, and “plead” and all that miserable work which, after all, I may well continue proud that I am not called to attempt: here for instance, and now .. “one” should despair,—but “try again” first, and work blindly at removing those obstacles (—if I saw them, I should be silent, and only speak when a month hence, ten years hence, I could bid you look where they were)—and “one” would do all this, not for the play acting’s sake, or to “look the character” .. (that would be something quite different from folly ..) but from a not unreasonable anxiety lest by too sudden a silence, too complete an acceptance of your will,—the earnestness and endurance and unabatedness .. the truth, in fact, of what had already been professed, should get to be questioned– But I believe that you believe me—and now that all is clear between us I will say, what you will hear, without fearing for me or yourself, that I am utterly contented .. (“grateful” I have done with .. it must go—) I accept what you give me, what those words deliver to me, as—not all I asked for .. as I said .. but as more than I ever hoped for,—all, in the best sense, that I desire. That phrase in my letter which you objected to,—and the other—may stand, too. I never attempted to declare, describe my feeling for you—one word of course stood for it all .. but having to put down some one point, so to speak, of it—you could not wonder if I took any extreme one first .. never minding all the untold portion that led up to it, made it possible and natural—it is true, “I could not dream of that”—that I was eager to get the horrible notion away from never so flitting a visit to you, that you were thus and thus to me on condition of my proving just the same to you—just as if we had waited to acknowledge that the moon lighted us till we ascertained within these two or three hundred years that the earth happens to light the moon as well! But I felt that, and so said it:—now you have declared what I should never have presumed to hope—and I repeat to you that I, with all to be thankful for to God, am most of all thankful for this the last of his providences .. which is no doubt, the natural and inevitable feeling, could one always see clearly. Your regard for me is all success—let the rest come, or not come. In my heart’s thankfulness I would .. I am sure I would promise anything that would gratify you .. but it would not do that, to agree, in words, to change my affections, put them elsewhere &c &c[.] That would be pure foolish talking, and quite foreign to the practical results which you will attain in a better way from a higher motive: I will cheerfully promise you, however, to be “bound by no words,” blind to no miracle,—in sober earnest, it is not because I renounced once for all oxen and the owning and having to do with them, that I will obstinately turn away from any unicorn[3] when such an apparition blesses me .. but meantime I shall walk at peace on our hills here nor go looking in all corners for the bright curved horn! And as for you .. if I did not dare “to dream of that”,—now it is mine, my pride & joy prevent in no manner my taking the whole consolation of it at once, now—I will be confident that, if I obey you, I shall get no wrong for it—if, endeavouring to spare you fruitless pain, I do not eternally revert to the subject,—do indeed “quit” it just now, when no good can come of dwelling on it to you,—you will never say to yourself—“so I said—the “generous impulse”[4] has worn itself out .. time is doing his usual work—this was to be expected” &c &c– You will be the first to say to me “such an obstacle has ceased to exist .. or is now become one palpable to you, one you may try and overcome”—and I shall be there, and ready—ten years hence as now—if alive.

One final word on the other matters—the “worldly matters”– I shall own I alluded to them rather ostentatiously, because,—because that would be the one poor sacrifice I could make you—one I would cheerfully make, .. but a sacrifice, and the only one,—this careless “sweet habitude of living”[5]—this absolute independence of mine, which, if I had it not, my heart would starve and die for, I feel—and which I have fought so many good battles to preserve—for that has happened, too—this light rational life I lead, and know so well that I lead,—this I could give up for nothing less than what you know—but I would give it up, not for you merely, but for those whose disappointment might re-act on you—and I should break no promise to myself—the money getting would not be for the sake of it,—“the labour not for that which is nought”[6]—indeed the necessity of doing this, if at all, now, was one of the reasons which made me go on to that last request of all .. at once,—one must not be too old, they say, to begin their ways: but, in spite of all the babble, I feel sure that whenever I make up my mind to that, I can be rich enough and to spare—because along with what you have thought genius in me, is certainly talent, what the world recognizes as such,—and I have tried it in various ways, just to be sure that I was a little magnanimous in never intending to use it: thus, in more than one of the reviews & newspapers that laughed my “Paracelsus” to scorn ten years ago[7]—in the same column, often, of those reviews, would follow a most laudatory notice of an Elementary French book, on a new plan, which I “did” for my old French Master, and he published[8]—“that was really an useful work”!– So that when the only obstacle is only that there is so much per annum to be producible, you will tell me: <after all, it would be unfair in me not to confess .. that this was always intended to be my own single stipulation,—“an objection” which I could see, certainly,—but meant to treat myself to the little luxury of removing.>[9]

So now, dearest—let me once think of that, and of you as my own, my dearest—this once—dearest: I have done with words for the present: I will wait: God bless you and reward you—I kiss your hands now—this is my comfort, that if you accept my feeling as all but unexpressed now,—more and more will become spoken—or understood, that is—we both live on—you will know better what it was, how much and manifold, what one little word had to give out.

God bless you–

your RB–[10]

On Thursday,—you remember?

This is Tuesday Night–

I called on Saturday at the Office in St Mary Axe[11]—all uncertainty about the vessel’s sailing again for Leghorn—“it could not sail before the middle of the month—and only then if &c[.] But if I would leave my card &c &c[.”]

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark: PD 12NN SP17 1845 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 53 [altered from “52”].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 197–201.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark and RB’s reference to “Tuesday Night.”

2. RB refers to the “Story of Alla ad Deen; or the Wonderful Lamp” in The Arabian Nights, trans. Jonathan Scott, 1811, vol. 3, pp. 300–301.

3. Perhaps RB is alluding to Donne’s “The Perfume” (1633), from the Elegies, lines 47–50; this is the first of no fewer than ten occurrences in the poets’ love letters of “unicorn” as a figurative representation of EBB. The passage from Donne, familiar to both poets, was used by Horne as a motto in A New Spirit of the Age. In his edition of EBB’s letters, he noted that the motto had been suggested by one of the Brownings (EBB-RHH, I, 136–137); however, it cannot be found in the extant letters between Horne and the Brownings in which the mottoes for A New Spirit are discussed.

4. See letter 2015.

5. We have been unable to locate the source of this quotation.

6. Cf. Isaiah 55:2.

7. Cf. Isaiah 37:22.

8. Presumably Le Gil Blas de la Jeunesse (1835) as identified in Modern Language Notes (May 1927, pp. 299–305) by Lionel Stevenson. Stevenson points out that the title page names “A. Loradoux Professor de Langues, Walworth” as an editor of the volume, doubtless RB’s French tutor (G & M, p. 47). Like Stevenson, we have traced only one instance of simultaneous reviews of Gil Blas and Paracelsus; these appeared in The Metropolitan Magazine for October 1845, pp. 43 and 39, respectively.

9. RB has interpolated the bracketed text between approximately three and a half lines of an obliterated passage.

10. From this point forward, to the end of his letters to EBB, RB’s signature appears in various forms: from vague semblances of his initials to mere wavy lines to indecipherable scrawls. In all cases, we have transcribed these “signatures” as RB.

11. The offices of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. were located at 51 St. Mary Axe.

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