2112.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 198–201.


Monday evening. [24 November 1845] [1]

Now you must not blame me—you must not. To make a promise is one thing, & to keep it, quite another: & the conclusion you see ‘as from a tower’. Suppose I had an oath in heaven [2] somewhere .. near to ‘coma Berenices’, [3]  .. never to give what you ask for! .. would not such an oath be stronger than a mere half promise such as I sent you a few hours ago? Admit that it would—& that I am not to blame for saying now .. (listen!) that I never can nor will give you this thing;—only that I will, if you please, exchange it for another thing—you understand. I too will avoid being ‘assuming’; I will not pretend to be generous, no, nor “kind.” It shall be pure merchandise [4] or nothing at all. Therefore determine!—remembering always how our ‘ars poetica,’ after Horace, recommends “dare et petere vicissim” [5] —which is making a clatter of pedantry to take advantage of the noise … because perhaps I ought to be ashamed to say this to you, & perhaps I am! .. yet say it none the less.

And .. less lightly .. if you have right & reason on your side, may I not have a little on mine too? And shall I not care, do you think, … Think!

Then there is another reason for me, entirely mine. You have come to me as a dream comes, as the best dreams come .. dearest—& so there is need to me of “a sign” to know the difference between dream & vision– And that is my completest reason,—my own reason—you have none like it, .. none. A ticket to know the horn-gate from the ivory, [6]  .. ought I not to have it? Therefore send it to me before I send you anything, & if possible by that Lewisham post [7] which was the most frequent bringer of your letters until these last few came, & which reaches me at eight in the evening when all the world is at dinner & my solitude most certain. Everything is so still then, that I have heard the footsteps of a letter of yours ten doors off .. or more, perhaps! Now, beware of imagining from this which I say, that there is a strict police for my correspondence .. (it is not so—) nor that I do not like hearing from you at any & every hour .. it is so. Only I would make the smoothest & sweetest of roads for .. & you understand, & do not imagine beyond.


Tuesday evening–

What is written is written, .. all the above: and it is forbidden to me to write a word of what I could write down here .. forbidden for good reasons– So I am silent on conditions .. those being .. first .. that you never do such things again .. no, you must not & shall not .. I will not let it be: & secondly, that you try to hear the unspoken words, & understand how your gift [8] will remain with me while I [9] remain .. they need not be said—just as it need not have been so beautiful, for that. The beauty drops ‘full fathom five’ [10] into the deep thought which covers it– So I study my Machiavelli to contrive the possibility of wearing it, without being put to the question violently by all the curiosity of all my brothers, .. the questions ‘how’ .. ‘what’ .. ‘why’ .. put round & edgeways– They are famous, some of them, for asking questions. I say to them .. “well! how many more questions”? And now .. for me—have I said a word?—have I not been obedient? And by rights & in justice, there should have been a reproach .. if there could! Because, friendship or more than friendship, Pisa or no Pisa, it was unnecessary altogether from you to me––but I have done, & you shall not be teazed.

Wednesday/ Only .. I persist in the view of the other question. This will not do for the ‘sign’, .. this, which, so far from being qualified for disproving a dream, is the beautiful image of a dream in itself .. so beautiful!—& with the very shut eyelids, & the “little folding of the hands to sleep”! [11] You see at a glance it will not do. And so.—

Just as one might be interrupted while telling a fairy-tale, .. in the midst of the “and sos” .. just so, I have been interrupted by the coming in of Miss Bayley, [12] & here she has been sitting for nearly two hours, from twelve to two nearly, & I like her, do you know. Not only she talks well, which was only a thing to expect, but she seems to feel .. to have great sensibility .. & her kindness to me .. kindness of manner & words & expression, all together .. quite touched me.– I did not think of her being so loveable a person. Yet it was kind & generous, her proposition about Italy, .. (did I tell you how she made it to me through Mr Kenyon long ago .. when I was a mere stranger to her?—) the proposition to go there with me herself– It was quite a grave, earnest proposal of her’s—which was one of the reasons why I could not even wish not to see her today. Because you see, it was a tremendous degree of experimental generosity, to think of going to Italy by sea with an invalid stranger, “seule á seule”. [13] And she was wholly in earnest, wholly. Is there not good in the world after all?

Tell me how you are, for I am not at ease about you– You were not well even yesterday, I thought. If this goes on .. but it must’nt go on—oh, it must not. May God bless us more!–

Do not fancy, in the meantime, that you stay here ‘too long’ for any observation that can be made. In the first place there is nobody to ‘observe’—everybody is out till seven, except the one or two who will not observe if I tell them not– My sisters are glad when you come, because it is a gladness of mine, .. they observe– I have a great deal of liberty, to have so many chains,—we all have, in this house .. & though the liberty has melancholy motives, it saves some daily torment, & I do not complain of it for one.

May God bless you! Do not forget me. Say how you are. What good can I do you with all my thoughts, when you keep unwell? See!—facts are against fancies. As when I would not have the lamp lighted yesterday because it seemed to make it later, & you proved directly that it would not make it earlier, by getting up & going away!–

Wholly & ever your EBB.

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

Postmarks: PD 12NN NO27 1845 B; 1AN1 NO27 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 83.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 291–294.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Cf. The Merchant of Venice, IV, 1, 228.

3. The constellation of seven stars near the tail of Leo. When Berenice’s husband went on a dangerous expedition, she pledged all the hair of her head to Venus for his safe return. The consecrated locks later disappeared from the temple of Venus; and Conon, an astronomer, announced that Jupiter had carried them off and made a constellation of them.

4. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese, XIX, 1–2.

5. “In our turn we grant the like” (cf. Horace, Ars Poetica, line 11, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough).

6. EBB alludes to the gates of sleep or dreams described in both the Odyssey, XIX, 562–565, and the Æneid, VI, 893–901. True dreams issue from the gate of horn, false dreams from the gate of ivory.

7. Both Lewisham and New Cross were outside the three mile limit from the General Post Office, placing them in the “Country Delivery of London District Post.” Each had four dispatches daily, but the dispatch from Lewisham left a quarter of an hour earlier than the one from New Cross.

8. Clearly a piece of jewelry, as described by EBB in the beginning of the Wednesday portion of her letter; present whereabouts unknown.

9. Underscored twice.

10. The Tempest, I, 2, 396.

11. Proverbs 6:10.

12. Kenyon’s friend, whose niece, Miss Thomson, had asked EBB for help on a “Classical Album”; see letter 2004, note 3.

13. “Alone.”


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