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2108.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 190–192.

[London]

Saturday. [Postmark: 22 November 1845]

Mr Kenyon came yesterday—& do you know when he took out those verses [1] & spoke his preface & I understood what was to follow, I had a temptation from my familiar Devil not to say I had read them before—. I had the temptation strong & clear– For he (Mr K) told me that your sister let him see them——.

But no– My ‘vade retro’ [2] prevailed, & I spoke the truth & shamed the devil [3] & surprised Mr Kenyon besides as I could observe. Not an observation did he make till he was just going away half an hour afterwards, & then he said rather dryly .. “And now may I ask how long ago it was when you first read those verses?—was it a fortnight ago?—” It was better I think that I should not have made a mystery of such a simple thing, .. & yet I felt half vexed with myself & with him besides– But the verses,—how he praised them! More than I thought of doing .. as verses—though there is beauty & music & all that ought to be. Do you see clearly now that the latter lines refer to the combination in you, .. the qualities over & above those held in common with Chaucer?– And I have heard this morning from two or three of the early readers of the Chronicle (I never care to see it till the evening) that the verses are there [4] —so that my wishes have fulfilled themselves those at least—strangely, for wishes of mine .. which generally ‘go by contraries’ as the soothsayers declare of dreams. How kind of you to send me the fragment to Mr Forster! & how I like to read it. Was the Hebrew yours then .. written then, I mean .. or written now? [5]

Mr Kenyon told me that you were to dine with him on tuesday, & I took for granted, at first hearing, that you would come on wednesday perhaps to me—& afterwards I saw the possibility of the two ends being joined without much difficulty–— Still, I was not sure, before your letter came, how it might be.

That you really are better is the best news of all—thank you for telling me. It will be wise not to go out too much—‘æquam servare mentem’ as Landor quotes, [6]  .. in this as in the rest– Perhaps that worst pain was a sort of crisis .. the sharp turn of the road about to end .. oh, I do trust it may be so.

Mr K. wrote to Landor to the effect .. that it was not because he (Mr K) held you in affection .. nor because the verses expressed critically the opinion entertained of you by all who could judge .. nor because they praised a book with which his own name was associated .. but for the abstract beauty of those verses .. for that reason he could not help naming them to Mr Landor– All of which was repeated to me yesterday.

Also I heard of you from George, who admired you .. admired you .. as if you were a chancellor in posse, [7] a great lawyer in esse [8] —& then he thought you .. what he never could think a lawyer … “unassuming.” And you .. you are so kind!– Only that makes me think bitterly what I have thought before, but cannot write today–

It was goodnatured of Mr Chorley to send me a copy of his book, & he sending so few—very! George who admires you, does not tolerate Mr Chorley .. (did I tell you ever?—) declares that the affectation is ‘bad’, & that there is a dash of vulgarity .. which I positively refuse to believe, & should, I fancy, though face to face with the most vainglorious of waistcoats. How can there be vulgarity even of manners, with so much mental refinement? I never cd believe in those combinations of contradictions.

‘An obvious matter,’ you think! as obvious, as your “green hill” .. which I cannot see. For the rest .. my thought upon your ‘great fact’ of the “two days,” is quite different from your’s .. for I think directly … [“]‘So little’–! so dreadfully little!! What shallow earth for a deep root! What can be known of me in that time?” So there, is the only good, you see, that comes from making calculations on a slip of paper! “It is not & it cannot come to good.” [9] I would rather look at my seventyfive letters [10] —there is room to breathe in them. And this is my idea (ecce!) of monumental brevity .. & hic jacet at last

your EBB–

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

Postmark: 8NT8 NO22 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 81.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 285–287.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. i.e., Landor’s lines on RB.

2. “Get behind [me]” (cf. Vulgate: Matthew 16:23).

3. Cf. I Henry IV, III, 1, 57–58.

4. They were printed in The Morning Chronicle for 22 November 1845.

5. RB wrote: [ART] (“and a good report maketh the bones fat,” Proverbs 15:30) on the back of a letter from Landor to Forster ([10 August 1836]); see SD807 in volume 3. RB states in letter 2110, “I made the foolish comment … some four or five years ago.”

6. See letter 2094, note 5.

7. “Potentiality.”

8. “Fact.”

9. Cf. Hamlet, I, 2, 158.

10. A docket in EBB’s hand identified RB’s last letter as the seventy-sixth, but she had returned the sixteenth (the one RB had asked for and then destroyed), thus leaving her with seventy-five.

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