2043. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 97–99.
[Postmark: 25 September 1845]
You have said to me more than once that you wished I might never know certain feelings you had been forced to endure: I suppose all of us have the proper place where a blow should fall to be felt most—and I as truly wish you may never feel what I have to bear in looking on, quite powerless, and silent, while you are subjected to this treatment, which I refuse to characterize—so blind is it for blindness. I think I ought to understand what a father may exact, and a child should comply with—and I respect the most ambiguous of love’s caprices if they give never so slight a clue to their all-justifying source: did I, when you signified to me the probable objections .. you remember what .. to myself, my own happiness,—did I once allude to .. much less argue against, or refuse to acknowledge those objections? For I wholly sympathize, however it go against me, with the highest, wariest, pride & love for you, and the proper jealousy and vigilance they entail—but now, and here, the jewel is not being over guarded, but ruined, cast away,—and whoever is privileged to interfere should do so in the possessor’s own interest—all common sense interferes—all rationality against absolute no-reason at all: and you ask whether you ought to obey this no-reason? I will tell you: all passive obedience and implicit submission of will and intellect is by far too easy, if well considered, to be the course prescribed by God to Man in this life of probation—for they evade probation altogether, tho’ foolish people think otherwise: chop off your legs, you will never go astray,—stifle your reason altogether and you will find it is difficult to reason ill: “it is hard to make these sacrifices”! —Not so hard as to lose the reward or incur the penalty of an Eternity to come; “hard to effect them, then, and go through with them”—not hard, when the leg is to be cut off or that it is rather harder to keep it quiet on a stool, I know very well—the partial indulgence, the proper exercise of one’s faculties, there is the difficulty and problem for solution, set by that Providence which might have made the laws of Religion as indubitable as those of vitality, and revealed the articles of belief as certainly as that condition, for instance, by which we breathe so many times in a minute to support life: but there is no reward proposed for the feat of breathing, and a great one for that of believing—consequently there must go a great deal more of voluntary effort to this latter than is implied in the getting absolutely rid of it at once, by adopting the direction of an infallible church, or private judgment of another—for all our life is some form of religion, and all our action some belief, and there is but one law, however modified, for the greater and the less– In your case I do think you are called upon to do your duty to yourself,—that is, to God in the end: your own reason should examine the whole matter in dispute by every light which can be put in requisition,—and every interest that appears to be affected by your conduct should have its utmost claims considered—your father’s in the first place; and that interest, not in the miserable limits of a few days’ pique or whim in which it would seem to express itself,—but in its whole extent .. the hereafter which all momentary passion prevents him seeing .. indeed, the present on either side which everyone else must see—and this examination made, with whatever earnestness you will, I do think and am sure that on its conclusion you should act, in confidence that a duty has been performed .. difficult, or how were it a duty? Will it not be infinitely harder to act so than to blindly adopt his pleasure, and die under it? Who can not do that?
I fling these hasty rough words over the paper, fast as they will fall—knowing to whom I cast them, and that any sense they may contain or point to, will be caught and understood and presented in a better light: the hard thing .. this is all I want to say .. is to act on one’s own best conviction—not to abjure it and accept another’s will, and say “there is my plain duty”—easy, it is, whether plain or no!
How “all changes!” When I first knew you,—you know what followed. I supposed you to labour under an incurable complaint—and, of course, to be completely dependent on your father for its commonest alleviations; the moment after that inconsiderate letter, I reproached myself bitterly with the selfishness apparently involved in any proposition I might then have made—for tho’ I have never been at all frightened of the world, nor mistrustful of my power to deal with it and get any purpose out of it if once I thought it worth while, yet I could not but feel the consideration, of what failure would now be, paralyse all effort even in fancy: when you told me lately that “you could never be poor”—all my solicitude was at an end. I had but myself to care about, and I told you, what I believed and believe, that I can at any time amply provide for that, and that I would cheerfully & confidently undertake the removing that obstacle. Now again the circumstances shift—and you are in what I should wonder at as the veriest slavery—and I who could free you from it, I am here scarcely daring to write .. tho’ I know you must feel for me and forgive what forces itself from me .. what retires so mutely into my heart at your least word .. what shall not be again written or spoken, if you so will … that I should be made happy beyond all hope of expression by—— Now while I dream, let me once dream! I would marry you now and thus—I would come when you let me, and go when you bade me– I would be no more than one of your brothers—“no more”—that is, instead of getting to-morrow for Saturday, I should get Saturday as well—two hours for one: when your head ached I should be here– I deliberately choose the realization of that dream (—of sitting simply by you for an hour every day) rather than of any other, excluding you, I am able to form for this world, or any world I know. And it will continue but a dream. God bless my dearest EBB.
You understand that I see you to morrow, Friday, as you propose.
I am better—thank you—and will go out to-day.
You know what I am, what I would speak, and all I would do.
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 8NT8 SP25 1845 A.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 57.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 212–214.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Another reference to the letter he wrote shortly after their first meeting; see letter 2037, note 1.