2073. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 137–139.
Friday [24 October 1845]
I wrote briefly yesterday not to make my letter longer by keeping it; & a few last words which belong to it by right, must follow after it .. must .. for I want to say that you need not indeed talk to me about squares being not round, & of you being not “selfish”!– You know it is foolish to talk such superfluities, & not a compliment, .. I wont say to my knowledge of you & faith in you .. but to my understanding generally. Why should you say to me at all .. much less for this third or fourth time .. “I am not selfish”?—to me who never .. when I have been deepest asleep & dreaming, .. never dreamed of attributing to you any form of such a fault? Promise not to say so again––now promise. Think how it must sound to my ears, when really & truly I have sometimes felt jealous of myself .. of my own infirmities, .. & thought that you cared for me only because your chivalry touched them with a silver sound—& that, without them, you would pass by on the other side:——why twenty times I have thought that & been vexed—ungrateful vexation! In exchange for which too frank confession, I will ask for another silent promise .. a silent promise——no, but first I will say another thing.
First I will say that you are not to fancy any .. the least, .. danger of my falling under displeasure through your visits—there is no sort of risk of it for the present—& if I ran the risk of making you uncomfortable about that, I did foolishly, & what I meant to do was different. I wish you also to understand that even if you came here everyday, my brothers & sisters would simply care to know if I liked it, & then be glad if I was glad:—the caution referred to one person alone– In relation to whom, however, there will be no “getting over”—you might as well think to sweep off a third of the stars of Heaven with the motion of your eyelashes—this, for matter of fact & certainty .. & this, as I said before, the keeping of a general rule & from no disrespect towards individuals—: a great peculiarity in the individual of course. But … though I have been a submissive daughter, & this from no effort, but for love’s sake .. because I loved him tenderly, (& love him), .. & hoped that he loved me back again even if the proofs came untenderly sometimes—yet I have reserved for myself always that right over my own affections which is the most strictly personal of all things, & which involves principles & consequences of infinite importance & scope—even though I never thought (except perhaps when the door of life was just about to open .. before it opened) never thought it probable or possible that I should have occasion for the exercise,—from without & from within at once– I have too much need to look up. For friends, I can look any way .. round, & down even—the merest thread of a sympathy will draw me sometimes—or even the least look of kind eyes over a dyspathy—“Cela se peut facilement”– But, for another relation—it was all different—& rightly so—& so very different;––“Cela ne se peut nullement”—as in Malherbe.
And now we must agree to ‘let all this be’, & set ourselves to get as much good & enjoyment from the coming winter (better spent at Pisa!) as we can .. and I begin my joy by being glad that you are not going since I am not going, & by being proud of these new green leaves in your bay which come out with the new number– And then will come the tragedies—& then, .. what beside? We shall have a happy winter after all .. I shall at least—and if Pisa had been better, London might be worse: & for me to grow pretentious & fastidious & critical about various sorts of purple .. I, who have been used to the ‘brun foncé’ of Madme de Sevigné, (fonçé & enfonçé ..)—would be too absurd. But why does not the proof come all this time? I have kept this letter to go back with it.
I had a proposition from the New York booksellers about six weeks ago (the booksellers who printed the poems) to let them re-print those prose papers of mine in the Athenæum, with additional matter on American literature, in a volume by itself—to be published at the same time both in America & England by Wiley & Putnam in Waterloo Place—& meaning to offer liberal terms, they said. Now what shall I do? Those papers are not fit for separate publication, & I am not inclined to the responsibility of them,—& in any case, they must give as much trouble as if they were re-written, (trouble & not poetry!) before I could consent to such a thing– Well!—and if I do not .. these people are just as likely to print them without leave .. & so without correction– What do you advise? What shall I do? All this time they think me sublimely indifferent, they who pressed for an answer by return of packet .. & now it is past six .. eight weeks,—& I must say something.
Am I not “femme qui parle” today? And let me talk on ever so, the proof wont come. May God bless you—& me as I am
And the silent promise I would have you make is this—that if ever you should leave me, it shall be (though you are not “selfish”) for your sake—& not for mine.: for your good, & not for mine. I ask it—not because I am disinterested,—but because one class of motives would be valid, & the other void—simply for that reason.
Then the ‘femme qui parle’ (looking back over the parlance) did not mean to say on the first page of this letter that she was ever for a moment vexed in her pride that she should owe anything to her adversities. It was only because adversities are accidents & not essentials. If it had been prosperities, it would have been the same thing——no, not the same thing!—but far worse.
Occy is up today & doing well.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 8NT8 OC25 1845 E.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 72.; + Tuesday Oct. 28. / 3–4½. p.m. .
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 247–250.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Cf. Romeo and Juliet, IV, 5, 128.
3. “That is easily possible.” This sentence, interpolated above the line, contrasts with EBB’s next French expression: “That is not at all possible.” We have been unable to identify the source of the latter quotation which EBB attributes to François de Malherbe (1555–1628).
4. i.e., Luria and A Soul’s Tragedy. Together they formed the eighth and last part of the Bells and Pomegranates series which was published in April 1846.
5. “Dark brown.”
6. “Dark and deep.”
7. See letter 2019, note 4.
8. See letter 1999, note 7.