2095.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 165–168.


Two letters in one– Wednesday. [12 November 1845] [1]

I shall see you tomorrow & yet am writing what you will have to read perhaps. When you spoke of ‘stars’ & ‘geniuses’ in that letter, I did not seem to hear,—I was listening to those words of the letter which were of a better silver in the sound than even your praise could be: and now that at last I come to hear them in their extravagance (oh such pure extravagance about “glorious geniuses”—) I cant help telling you they were heard last, & deserved it.

Shall I tell you besides?– The first moment in which I seemed to admit to myself in a flash of lightning the possibility of your affection for me being more than dream-work .. the first moment was that when you intimated (as you have done since repeatedly) that you cared for me not for a reason, but because you cared for me. [2] Now such a ‘parceque’ [3] which reasonable people wd take to be irrational, was just the only one fitted to the uses of my understanding on the particular question we were upon .. just the ‘woman’s reason’ suitable to the woman ..: for I could understand that it might be as you said, & if so, that it was altogether unanswerable .. do you see?– If a fact includes its own cause .. why there it stands for ever—one of “earth’s immortalities” [4] as long as it includes it

And when unreasonableness stands for a reason, it is a promising state of things, we may both admit, & proves what it would be as well not too curiously to enquire into. But then .. to look at it in a brighter aspect, .. I do remember how, years ago, when talking the foolishnesses which women will talk when they are by themselves, & not forced to be sensible, .. one of my friends thought it “safest to begin with a little aversion,” & another, wisest to begin with a great deal of esteem, & how the best attachments were produced so & so, .. I took it into my head to say that the best was where there was no cause at all for it, &, the more wholly unreasonable, the better still, .. that the motive shd lie in the feeling itself & not in the object of it, & that the affection which could (if it could) throw itself out on an idiot with a goitre would be more admirable than Abelard’s. [5] Whereupon everybody laughed, & someone thought it affected of me & no true opinion, & others said plainly that it was immoral, & somebody else hoped in a sarcasm, that I meant to act out my theory for the advantage of the world. To which I replied quite gravely that I had not virtue enough .. & so, people laughed as it is fair to laugh when other people are esteemed to talk nonsense. And all this came back to me in the south wind of your ‘parceque’, & I tell it as it came .. now.

Which proves, if it proves anything, .. while I have every sort of natural pleasure in your praises & like you to like my poetry just as I should, & perhaps more than I should,—yet why it is all behind .. & in its place—& why I have a tendency moreover to sift & measure any praise of yours & to separate it from the superfluities, far more than with any other person’s praise in the world.

Friday evening/ Shall I send this letter or not? I have been ‘tra ’l si e ’l no’, [6] & writing a new beginning on a new sheet even—but after all you ought to hear the remote echo of your last letter .. far out among the hills, .. as well as the immediate reverberation, & so I will send it,—& what I send is not to be answered, remember! ___________________

I read Luria’s first act twice through before I slept last night, & feel just as a bullet might feel, <not because of the lead of it but because> [7] shot into the air & suddenly arrested & suspended. It (‘Luria’) is all life, & we know (that is, the reader knows) that there must be results here & here. How fine that sight of Luria is upon the lynx hides—how you see the Moor in him just in the glimpse you have by the eyes of another—& that laugh when the horse drops the forage, what wonderful truth & character you have in that!– And then, when he is in the scene—! ‘Golden-hearted Luria’ you called him once to me, [8] & his heart shines already .. wide open to the morning sun– The construction seems to me very clear everywhere—& the rhythm, even over-smooth in a few verses, where you invert a little artificially—but that shall be set down on a separate strip of paper: [9] & in the meantime I am snatched up into ‘Luria’ & feel myself driven on to the ends of the poet, just as a reader should.

But you are not driven on to any ends? so as to be tired, I mean? You will not suffer yourself to be overworked because you are ‘interested’ in this work. I am so certain that the sensations in your head demand repose,—& it must be so injurious to you to be perpetually calling, calling these new creations, one after another, that you must consent to be called to, & not hurry the next act, no, nor any act—let the people have time to learn the last number by heart. And how glad I am that Mr Fox should say what he did of it [10]  .. though it was’nt true you know .. not exactly. Still, I do hold that as far as construction goes, you never put together so much unquestionable, smooth glory before, .. not a single entanglement for the understanding .. unless ‘the snowdrops’ make an exception [11] —while for the undeniableness of genius it never stood out before your readers more plainly than in that same number!– Also you have extended your sweep of power—the sea-weed is thrown farther (if not higher) than it was found before,—& one may calculate surely now how a few more waves will cover the brown stones & float the sight up away through the fissure of the rocks– The rhythm (to touch one of the various things) the rhythm of that ‘Duchess’ does more & more strike me as a new thing; something like (if like anything) what the Greeks called pedestrian metre, [12] —between metre & prose .. the difficult rhymes combining too quite curiously with the easy looseness of the general measure. Then the Ride—with that touch of natural feeling at the end, to prove that it was not in brutal carelessness that the poor horse was driven through all that suffering. Yes, & how that one touch of softness acts back upon the energy & resolution & exalts both, instead of weakening anything, as might have been expected by the vulgar of writers or critics. And then ‘Saul’—& in a first place ‘St Praxed’—& for pure description, Fortù [13]  .. & the deep ‘Pictor Ignotus’—& the noble, serene ‘Italy in England,’ which grows on you the more you know of it—& the delightful ‘Glove’—& the short lyrics .. for one comes to ‘selecteverything at last, & certainly I do like these poems better & better, as your poems are made to be liked. But you will be tired to hear it said over & over so, .. & I am going to ‘Luria’, besides.

When you write will you say exactly how you are? and will you write?– And I want to explain to you that although I dont make a profession of equable spirits, (as a matter of temperament, my spirits were always given to rock a little, up & down) yet that I did not mean to be so ungrateful & wicked as to complain of low spirits now & to you. It would not be true either: & I said “low” to express a merely bodily state. My opium comes in to keep the pulse from fluttering & fainting .. to give the right composure & point of balance to the nervous system. I dont take it for ‘my spirits’ in the usual sense,—you must not think such a thing. The medical man who came to see me made me take it the other day when he was in the room, before the right hour & when I was talking quite cheerfully, just for the need he observed in the pulse– ‘It was a necessity of my position,’ he said. Also I do not suffer from it in any way, as people usually do who take opium. I am not even subject to an opium-headache. —As to the low spirits I will not say that mine have not been low enough & with cause enough, .. but even then, .. why if you were to ask the nearest witnesses, .. say, even my own sisters, .. everybody would tell you, I think, that the ‘cheerfulness’ even then, was the remarkable thing in me .. certainly it has been remarked about me again & again. Nobody has known that it was an effort (a habit of effort) to throw the light on the outside,—I do abhor so that ignoble groaning aloud of the “groans of Testy & Sensitive” [14] —yet I may say that for three years I never was conscious of one movement of pleasure in anything. Think if I could mean to complain of ‘low spirits’ now, & to you!

<…> [15]

Why it would be like complaining of not being able to see at noon—which would simply prove that I was very blind. And you, who are not blind, cannot make out what is written [16]  .. so you need not try– May God bless you long after you have done blessing me!–

Your own EBB

Now I am half tempted to tear this letter in two (& it is long enough for three) & to send you only the latter half– But you will understand—you will not think that there is a contradiction between the first & last .. you cannot– One is a truth of me—& the other a truth of you—& we two are different, you know.

You are not over-working in ‘Luria’? That you should not, is a truth too–

I observed that Mr Kenyon put in ‘Junior’ to your address. Ought that to be done? or does my fashion of directing find you without hesitation?—— [17]

Mr Kenyon asked me for Mr Chorley’s book, or you should have it– Shall I send it to you presently?

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

Postmark: 8NT8 NO15 1845 B.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 78.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 265–269.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. In letter 2071 he told her: “I love you because I love you.”

3. “Because.”

4. RB’s poem of this title had just been published in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.

5. i.e., the object of Eloisa’s unfulfilled passion in Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard” (1717).

6. “Between yes and no,” as in the “Italian duet” mentioned in letter 1870.

7. The text in angle brackets was inserted above the line.

8. In letter 1851.

9. EBB’s comments in this paragraph refer to Luria, I, 103–107. For the text of EBB’s notes on the first act of Luria, see Appendix IV, pp. 393–394.

10. We have not located a review of Dramatic Romances and Lyrics by Fox. Perhaps his comments were made in a non-extant letter that might also have contained the invitation to which RB responds in the next letter. We take it that RB told EBB of Fox’s remarks during visit no. 29 on the 13th.

11. i.e., in the last stanza of “The Lost Mistress”; see letter 2070, note 5, as well as letter 2086.

12. A modification of the iambic trimeter ending in a spondee or trochee.

13. The Italian girl in “England in Italy.”

14. EBB refers to The Miseries of Human Life; or the Groans of Samuel Sensitive, and Timothy Testy. In Twelve Dialogues (1806) by James Beresford.

15. EBB has obliterated a little more than a line here.

16. Because of EBB’s deletion.

17. For RB’s response, see letter 2099.


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