2067.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 129–130.


Friday. [Postmark: 17 October 1845]

Do tell me what you mean precisely by your ‘Bells & Pomegranates’ title. I have always understood it to refer to the Hebraic priestly garment[1]—but Mr Kenyon held against me the other day that your reference was different, though he had not the remotest idea how– And yesterday I forgot to ask, for not the first time. Tell me too why you should not in the new number satisfy, by a note somewhere, the Davuses of the world who are in the majority (‘Davi sumus, non Œdipi’)[2] with a solution of this one Sphinx riddle. Is there a reason against it?

Occy continues to make progress—with a pulse at only eighty four this morning. Are you learned in the pulse that I should talk as if you were? I, who have had my lessons? He takes scarcely anything yet but water, & his head is very hot still—but the progress is quite sure, though it may be a lingering case.

Your beautiful flowers!—none the less beautiful for waiting for water yesterday– As fresh as ever, they were; & while I was putting them into the water, I thought that your visit went on all the time. Other thoughts too I had, which made me look down blindly, quite blindly, on the little blue flowers, .. while I thought what I could not have said an hour before without breaking into tears which would have run faster then. To say now that I never can forget, .. that I feel myself bound to you as one human being cannot be more bound to another .. & that you are more to me at this moment than all the rest of the world,—is only to say in new words that it would be a wrong against myself, to seem to risk your happiness & abuse your generosity. For me .. though you threw out words yesterday about the testimony of a “third person”, .. it would be monstrous to assume it to be necessary to vindicate my trust of you– I trust you implicitly—& am not too proud to owe all things to you– But now let us wait & see what this winter does or undoes—while God does His part for good, as we know– I will never fail to you from any human influence whatever—that, I have promised—but you must let it be different from the other sort of promise which it would be a wrong to make. May God bless you—you, whose fault it is, to be too generous. You are not like other men, as I could see from the beginning—no–

Shall I have the proof tonight, I ask myself.

And if you like to come on monday rather than tuesday, I do not see why there should be a ‘no’ to that– Judge from your own convenience. Only we must be wise in the general practice, & abstain from too frequent meetings, for fear of difficulties—. I am Casandra you know, & smell the slaughter in the bathroom.[3] It would make no difference in fact,—but in comfort, much.

Ever your own–

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

Postmark: 8NT8 OC17 1845.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 69.; +. Tuesday, Oct 21. / 3–4½ p.m. [25].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 239–240.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. See the following letter for RB’s response. It is basically the same as the explanation he eventually provided in the prefatory note to A Soul’s Tragedy. Kintner suggests the tenth of The Eleven Pious Meditations of Francis Quarles as a possible source; for an extract of the relevant lines from Quarles, see The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, ed. Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler (Oxford, 1983–), vol. 3, p. 5.

2. “We are Davuses, not Œdipuses” (cf. Terence, Andria, I, 2, 196, trans. John Sargeaunt). Davus is a character known for being uncouth and slow-witted, unlike Œdipus who solved the riddle of the sphinx.

3. EBB refers to the tragic character in Æschylus’s Agamemnon who foretells the assassination of Agamemnon in his bath by his wife Clytemnestra.


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