2086. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 153–155.
Thursday evening [6 November 1845]
I see & know,—read & mark,—& only hope there is no harm done by my meddling .. & lose the sense of it all in the sense of beauty & power everywhere, which nobody could kill, if they took to meddling more even– And now, what will people say to this & this & this—or “o seclum insipiens et impietum”!—or rather, o ungrateful right hand which does not thank you first! I do thank you. I have been reading everything with new delight,—& at intervals remembering in inglorious complacency (for which you must try to forgive me) that Mr Forster is no longer anything like an enemy. And yet (just see what contradiction!) the British Quarterly has been abusing me so at large, that I can only take it to be the achievement of a very particular friend indeed,—of someone who positively never reviewed before & tries his new sword on me out of pure friendship. Only I suppose it is not the general rule, & that there are friends “with a difference.” Not that you are to fancy me pained—oh no!—merely surprised. I was prepared for anything almost from the quarter in question, but scarcely for being hung ‘to the crows’ so publicly .. though within the bounds of legitimate criticisms, mind. But oh—the creatures of your sex are not always magnanimous—that is true. And to put you between me & all .. the thought of you .. in a great ecclipse of the world .. that is happy .. only, .. too happy for such as I am;—as my own heart warns me hour by hour.
“Serve me right!” I do not dare to complain. I wished for the safety of that letter so much that I finished by persuading myself of the probability of it: but ‘serve me right’ quite clearly. And yet—but no more “and yets” about it. “And yets” fray the silk.
I see how the “turret” stands in the new reading, triumphing over the ‘tower’, & unexceptionable in every respect. Also I do hold that nobody with an ordinary understanding has the slightest pretence for attaching a charge of obscurity to this new number—there are lights enough for the critics to scan one another’s dull blank of visage by. One verse indeed in that expressive lyric of the ‘Lost Mistress,’ does still seem questionable to me, though you have changed a word since I saw it,—& still I fancy that I rather leap at the meaning than reach it—but it is my own fault probably .. I am not sure. With that one exception I am quite sure that people who shall complain of darkness are blind .. I mean, that the construction is clear & unembarrassed everywhere. Subtleties of thought which are not directly apprehensible by minds of a common range, are here as elsewhere in your writings—but if to utter things ‘hard to understand’ from that cause, be an offence, why we may begin with “our beloved brother Paul,” you know, & go down through all the geniuses of the world, & bid them put away their inspirations. You must descend to the level of critic A or B, that he may look into your face .. Ah well!—“Let them rave”. You will live when all those are under the willows. In the meantime there is something better, as you said, even than your poetry .. as the giver is better than the gift, & the maker than the creature, & you than yours. Yes—you than yours .. (I did not mean it so when I wrote it first .. but I accept the ‘bona verba’, & use the phrase for the end of my letter) .. as you are better than yours, .. even when so much yours as
your own EBB–
May I see the first act first? Let me!—— And you walk?–
Mr Horne’s address is Hill Side[,] Fitzroy Park[,] Highgate. There is no reason against saturday so far. Mr Kenyon comes tomorrow, friday, & therefore ..!!—and if saturday shd become impracticable, I will write again.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: PD 8NT NO7 1845 A.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 76.; + Saty Nov 8. / 3–4.5m. p.m. .
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 259–260.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. “Oh, this age! how tasteless and ill-bred it is!” (Catullus, Poems, XLIII, 8, trans. F.W. Cornish).
3. See letter 2035, note 2.
4. The reviewer was Martha Jones (b. 1815). For the text of this review, see pp. 344–350.
5. Underscored three times.
6. See note 3 in the preceding letter.
7. See letter 2070, note 5.
8. II Peter 3:15.
9. As previously noted (see letter 1619, note 6), this phrase forms the 4th and 7th lines of each stanza of Tennyson’s, “A Dirge,” included in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and Poems (1842).
10. “Kind words,” or “words of good omen.”