Correspondence

2099.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 172–176.

[London]

Sunday Morning. [16 November 1845][1]

At last your letter comes—and the deep joy—(I know and use to analyse my own feelings, and be sober in giving distinctive names to their varieties; this is deep joy)—the true love with which I take this much of you into my heart .. that proves what it is I wanted so long, and find at last, and am happy for ever. I must have more than “intimated”—I must have spoken plainly out the truth, if I do myself the barest justice, and told you long ago that the admiration at your works went away, quite another way and afar from this love of you: if I could fancy some method of what I shall say happening without all the obvious stumbling-blocks of the falseness, &c which no foolish fancy dares associate with you .. if you could tell me when I next sit by you .. “I will undeceive you,—I am not the Miss B.—she is upstairs and you shall see her– I only wrote those letters, and am what you see, that is all now left you”—(all the misapprehension having arisen from me, in some inexplicable way) .. I should .. not begin by saying anything, dear, dearest—but after that, I should assure you—soon make you believe that I did not much wonder at the event, for I have been all my life asking what connection there is between the satisfaction at the display of power, and the sympathy with—ever-increasing sympathy with—all imaginable weakness? Look now: Coleridge writes on and on,—at last he writes a note to his “War-Eclogue,” in which he avers himself to have been actuated by a really—on the whole—benevolent feeling to Mr Pitt when he wrote that stanza in which “Fire” means to “cling to him everlastingly”[2] .. where is the long line of admiration now that the end snaps?– And now—here I refuse to fancy .. you know whether, if you never write another line, speak another intelligible word, recognize me by a look, again—whether I shall love you less or more .. more,—having a right to expect more strength with the strange emergency. And it is because I know this, build upon this entirely, that as a reasonable creature, I am bound to look first to what hangs farthest and most loosely from me .. what might go from you to your loss, and so to mine, to say the least .. because I want all of you, not just so much as I could not live without—and because I see the danger of your entirely generous disposition and cannot quite, yet, bring myself to profit by it in the quiet way you recommend. Always remember, I never wrote to you, all the years, on the strength of your poetry .. tho’ I constantly heard of you thro’ Mr K. and was near seeing you once,[3] and might have easily availed myself of his intervention to commend any letter to your notice, so as to reach you out of the foolish crowd of rushers-in upon genius .. who come and eat their bread and cheese on the high-altar—and talk of reverence without one of its surest instincts—never quiet till they cut their initials on the cheek of the Medicean Venus to prove they worship her.[4] My admiration, as I said, went its natural way in silence—but when on my return to England in December, late in the month, Mr K. sent those Poems to my sister, and I read my name there[5]—and when, a day or two after, I met him and, beginning to speak my mind on them, and getting on no better than I should now, said quite naturally—“if I were to write this, now?”—and he assured me with his perfect kindness, you would be even “pleased” to hear from me under those circumstances .. nay,—for I will tell you all, in this, in everything—when he wrote me a note soon after to re-assure me on that point .. then I did write, on account of my purely personal obligation, tho’ of course taking that occasion to allude to the general and customary delight in your works: I did write, on the whole, unwillingly .. in the consciousness of having to speak on a subject which I felt thoroughly concerning, and could not be satisfied with an imperfect expression of: as for expecting then what has followed .. I shall only say I was scheming how to get done with <England>[6] and go to my heart in Italy. And now, my love—I am round you .. my whole life is wound up and down and over you .. I feel you stir everywhere: I am not conscious of thinking or feeling but about you, with some reference to you—so I will live, so may I die! And you have blessed me beyond the bond, in more than in giving me yourself to love,—inasmuch as you believed me from the first .. what you call “dream-work” was real of its kind, did you not think? and now you believe me, I believe and am happy, in what I write with my heart full of love for you: why do you tell me of a doubt, as now, and bid me not clear it up, “not answer you?”– Have I done wrong in thus answering? Never, never do me direct wrong and hide for a moment from me what a word can explain as now: you see, you thought, if but for a moment, I loved your intellect,—or what predominates in your poetry and is most distinct from your heart,—better, or as well as you—did you not? and I have told you every thing,—explained everything .. have I not? And now I will dare .. yes, dearest, kiss you back to my heart again; my own. There—and there!

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And since I wrote what is above, I have been reading among other poems that sonnet—“Past and Future”[7]—which affects me more than any poem I ever read. How can I put your poetry away from you, even in these ineffectual attempts to concentrate myself upon, and better apply myself to, what remains?—poor, poor work it is,—for is not that sonnet to be loved as a true utterance of yours? I cannot attempt to put down the thoughts that rise: may God bless me, as you pray, by letting that beloved hand shake the less .. I will only ask, the less .. for being laid on mine thro’ this life! And, indeed, you write down, for me to calmly read, that I make you happy! Then it is .. as with all power .. God thro’ the weakest instrumentality .. and I am past expression proud and grateful– My love, I am

your RB

I must answer your questions: I am better .. and will certainly have your injunction before my eyes and work quite moderately. Your letters come straight to me—my father’s go to Town, except on extraordinary occasions, so that all come for my first looking-over. I saw Mr K. last night at the Amateur Comedy[8]—and heaps of old acquaintances—and came home tired and savage—and yearned literally, for a letter this morning, and so it came! and I was well again. So, I am not even to have your low spirits leaning on mine? It was just because I always find you alike, and ever like yourself, that I seemed to discern a depth, when you spoke of “some days” and what they made uneven where all is agreeable to me: do not, now, deprive me of a right—a right, to find you as you are, .. get no habit of being cheerful with me– I have universal sympathy and can show you a side of me, a true face, turn as you may: if you are cheerful, so will I be .. if sad, my cheerfulness will be all the while behind, and propping up, any sadness that meets yours, if that should be necessary. As for my question about the opium .. you do not misunderstand that neither: I trust in the eventual consummation of my .. shall I not say, our .. hopes; and all that bears upon your health immediately or prospectively, affects me—how it affects me! will you write again? Wednesday, remember! Mr K. wants me to go to him one of the three next days after. I will bring you some letters .. one from Landor.[9] Why should I trouble you about “Pomfret”?

And Luria .. does it so interest you? Better is to come of it– How you lift me up!–

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: 10FN10 NO17 1845 A.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 74.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 270–274.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Cf. “Fire, Famine, and Slaughter: A War Eclogue” (1798), line 81. RB is referring to the “Apologetic Preface,” which first appeared in Sibylline Leaves (1817).

3. RB had mentioned this in his first letter to EBB; see no. 1811.

4. The famous statue found at Hadrian’s Villa about 1580; it has been attributed to Cleomenes. The work was taken to Florence during the reign of Cosimo III and was removed to the Uffizi in 1680 (W.J. Stillman, Venus and Apollo in Painting and Sculpture, 1897).

5. In “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” line 165. RB had left England for Italy the day before EBB’s Poems (1844) was published on 14 August. Kenyon presented a copy of EBB’s work to Sarianna Browning in December 1844. This copy, inscribed on the fly-leaf of each volume, sold as lot 434 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A348).

6. Although difficult to decipher, it appears that RB first wrote “Italy” and then changed it to “England.”

7. Published in Poems (1844). EBB quoted the opening line of this poem in Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLII, which appears as sonnet XVII in the British Library Manuscript (see Reconstruction, D875). Sonnet XVII was not included in the first publication of Sonnets from the Portuguese in the 1850 edition of Poems, but was included as sonnet XLII in later editions, beginning with Poems (1856).

8. After the success of the production of Every Man in His Humour by Dickens’s amateur company of actors on 20 September 1845 (see letter 2041), a command performance was given for the Prince Consort on 15 November (Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, 1953, pp. 571–572). The Athenæum for 22 November 1845 called this performance “a memorable and pleasant evening” (no. 943, p. 1131); see also letter 2105, note 8.

9. Letter 2094. Although posted on the 10th of November, it did not reach RB until Thursday, the 13th.

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