2051.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 106–107.


Wednesday. [Postmark: 1 October 1845]

I have read to the last line of your Rosicrucian; [1] & my scepticism grew & grew through Hume’s process of doubtful doubts, [2] & at last rose to the full stature of incredulity .. for I never could believe Shelley capable of such a book, (call it a book!) not even with a flood of boarding-school idiocy dashed in by way of dilution. Altogether it roused me to deny myself so far as to look at the date of the book, & to get up & travel to the other end of the room to confront it with other dates in the “Letters from Abroad” [3] … (I, who never think of a date except the ‘AD’, and am inclined every now & then to write that down as 1548 ..) well! & on comparing these dates in these two volumes before my eyes, I find that your Rosicrucian was “printed for Stockdale” in 1822, & that Shelley died in the July of the same year!!—— There, is a vindicating fact for you! And unless the ‘Rosicrucian’ went into more editions than one, & dates here from a latter one, .. which is not ascertainable from this fragment of a titlepage, .. the innocence of the great poet stands proved––now does’nt it? [4] For nobody will say that he published such a book in the last year of his life, in the maturity of his genius, & that Godwin’s daughter helped him in it!– That ‘dripping dew’ [5] from the skeleton is the only living word in the book!––which really amused me notwithstanding, from the intense absurdity of ‘the whole’ composition .. descriptions .. sentiments .. & morals–

Judge yourself if I had not better say ‘No’ about the cloak: I would take it if you wished such a kindness to me—& although you might find it very useful to yourself .. or to your mother or sister—still if you wished me to take it I should like to have it, & the mantle of the prophet might bring me down something of his spirit! [6] —but do you remember .. do you consider .. how many talkers there are in this house, & what would be talked—or that it is not worth while to provoke it all? And Papa knowing it, would not like it—& altogether it is far better, believe me, that you should keep your own cloak, & I, the thought of the kindness you meditated in respect to it. I have heard nothing more—nothing.

I was asked the other day by a very young friend of mine .. the daughter of an older friend [7] who once followed you up stairs in this house .. Mr Hunter an Independent minister .. for “Mr Browning’s autograph.” She wants it for a collection .. for her album—& so, will you write out a verse or two on one side of note paper .. not as you write for the printers .. & let me keep my promise & send it to her? I forgot to ask you before. Oh one verse will do .. anything will do .. & dont let me be bringing you into vexation. It need not be of MS rarity.

You are not better .. really .. I fear. And your mother’s being ill affects you more than you like to admit, I fear besides– Will you, when you write, say how both are .. nothing extenuating, you know– May God bless you my dearest friend

—ever yours EBB

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

Postmark: 5Ev5 OC1 1845 B.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 61.; + Friday, Oct 3. 1845. / 3–4¼. p.m. [22].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 218–219.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: a Romance. By a Gentleman of the University of Oxford (1811). As indicated on the title page, this volume was “printed for J.J. Stockdale, 41, Pall Mall.”

2. A reference to David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). Section IV was entitled “Sceptical Doubts concerning the Operations of Understanding” and Section V “Sceptical Solution of these Doubts.” For earlier references by EBB to Hume’s scepticism, see letters 288, note 6, and 513, note 2.

3. Shelley’s Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments (1840), ed. Mrs. Shelley, sold as lot 1089 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A2102).

4. See the following letter for RB’s explanation.

5. Cf. the “Ballad” from St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian (1811), line 87.

6. An allusion to the power of Elijah’s mantle to perform miracles; see II Kings 2:8, 13 and 14.

7. From EBB’s remarks in her thanks to RB in letter 2053, it is clear that he gave her a copy of part one of “Home-Thoughts, from Abroad” for Mary Hunter, presumably the copy reproduced facing p. 179, identified in Reconstruction, E170.


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