2119. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 207–210.
Friday– [28 November 1845]
It comes at eight oclock—the post says eight .. I say nearer half past eight ..: it comes—and I thank you, thank you, as I can. Do you remember the purple lock of a king on which hung the fate of a city? I do! And I need not in conscience—because this one here did not come to me by treason—‘ego et rex meus,’ on the contrary, do fairly give & take.
I meant at first only to send you what is in the ring .. which, by the way, will not fit you I know—(not certainly in the finger which it was meant for ..) as it would not Napoleon before you .. but can easily be altered to the right size– I meant at first to send you only what was in the ring: but your fashion is best so you shall have it both ways. Now dont say a word on monday .. nor at all. As for the ring, recollect that I am forced to feel blindfold into the outer world, & take what is nearest .. by chance, not choice .. or it might have been better—a little better—perhaps– The best of it is that it’s the colour of your blue flowers– Now you will not say a word—I trust to you.
It is enough that you should have said these others I think. Now is it just of you? is’nt it hard upon me? And if the charge is true, whose fault is it, pray? I have been ashamed & vexed with myself fifty times for being so like a little girl, .. for seeming to have “affectations”; & all in vain: ‘it was stronger than I,’ as the French say. And for you to complain! As if Haroun Alraschid after cutting off a head, should complain of the want of an obeissance.!– Well!—I smile notwithstanding. Nobody could help smiling—both for my foolishness which is great I confess, though somewhat exaggerated in your statement—(because if it was quite as bad as you say, you know, I never should have seen you .. & I have!—) & also for yours .. because you take such a very preposterously wrong way for overcoming anybody’s shyness. Do you know, I have laughed .. really laughed at your letter– No—it has not been so bad. I have seen you at every visit, as well as I could with both eyes wide open—only that by a supernatural influence they wont stay open with you as they are used to do with other people .. so now I tell you. And for the rest I promise nothing at all—as how can I, when it is quite beyond my controul—& you have not improved my capabilities .. do you think you have? Why what nonsense we have come to .. we, who ought to be ‘talking Greek’!, said Mr Kenyon.!!
Yes—he came & talked of you, & told me how you had been speaking of .. me; & I have been thinking how I should have been proud of it a year ago, & how I could half scold you for it now– Ah yes—& Mr Kenyon told me that you had spoken exaggerations—such exaggerations! —Now should there not be some scolding .. some?
But how did you expect Mr Kenyon to ‘wonder’ at you, or be ‘vexed’ with you? That would have been strange surely. You are & always have been a chief favorite in that quarter .. appreciated, praised, loved, I think.
While I write, .. a letter from America is put into my hands; & having read it through with shame & confusion of face .. not able to help a smile though notwithstanding, .. I send it to you to show how you have made me behave!—to say nothing of my other offences to the kind people at Boston—& to a stray gentleman in Philadelphia who is to perform a pilgrimage next year, he says, .. to visit the Holy Land & your EBB. I was naughty enough to take that letter to be a circular .. for the address of various “Europaians.” In any case .. just see how I have behaved!—& if it has not been worse than .. not opening one’s eyes! Judge. Really & gravely I am ashamed—I mean as to Mr Mathews, who has been an earnest, kind friend to me—& I do mean to behave better– I say that to prevent your scolding, you know. And think of Mr Poe, with that great Roman justice of his, (if not rather American!) dedicating a book to one & abusing one in the preface of the same. He wrote a review of me in just that spirit—the two extremes of laudation & reprehension, folded in on one another– You would have thought that it had been written by a friend & foe, each stark mad with love & hate, & writing the alternate paragraphs—a most curious production indeed.
And here I shall end– I have been waiting .. waiting for what does not come .. the ring .. sent to have the hair put in—but it wont come (now) until too late for the post, & you must hear from me before monday .. you ought to have heard today. It has not been my fault—I have waited. Oh these people!—who wont remember that it is possible to be out of patience!– So I send you my letter now .. & what is in the paper now .. & the rest, you shall have after monday. And you will not say a word .. not then .. not at all!– I trust you. And may God bless you–
If ever you care less for me—I do not say it in distrust of you .. I trust you wholly—but you are a man, & free to care less, .. & if ever you do .. why in that case you will destroy, burn, .. do all but send back .. enough is said for you to understand.
May God bless you– You are best to me .. best .. as I see .. in the world—& so, dearest aright to
Finished on saturday evening. Oh—this thread of silk—and the post!! After all you must wait till tuesday. I have no silk within reach & shall miss the post. Do forgive me–
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmarks: 1845 DE1 8Mg8; 10FN10 DE1 1845 A.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 84.; + Monday December 1. 1845 / 3-4¼. p.m. .
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 296–299.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Nisus, King of Megara, “had growing on his head, amidst his locks of honoured grey, a brilliant purple lock on whose preservation rested the safety of his throne” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 8–10). EBB is responding to the lock of hair that RB enclosed in letter 2115.
3. “My king and I” (Henry VIII, III, 2, 314).
4. Presumably the gold finger-ring worn by RB, with an oval bezel engraved “Ba.” A lock of her hair is set behind glass at the back of the bezel. Upon her death, RB had the interior inscribed: “God bless you, June 29, 1861” (now at the British Museum); see Reconstruction, H463.
5. Harun Al-Rashid was Caliph of Bagdad from 786 until his death in 809, and is a leading character in The Arabian Nights. RB refers to him in Sordello, V, 447.
6. For not getting his book reviewed (see letter 2024, note 4).
7. Poe actually wrote two reviews of EBB’s A Drama of Exile, and Other Poems (1844): in the Evening Mirror, 8 October 1844 (for the text, see vol. 9, pp. 348–350); and in The Broadway Journal, 4 and 11 January 1845 (for the text, see vol. 10, pp. 349–357). The Raven and Other Poems was dedicated to EBB, who is referred to as “the Noblest of her Sex”; however, there is no evidence that the preface EBB mentions ever appeared.
8. i.e., a lock of her hair. We conjecture that portions of this lock of hair are now in at least three locations: (1) the principal portion was enclosed, sometime after RB’s death, with a lock of Milton’s hair in a reliquary, which is now at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome (see Reconstruction, H482); (2) another portion was probably used by RB to replace what was destroyed by the jeweller as described in letter 2138, now at the British Museum; (3) another portion may be that at Yale (see Reconstruction, H480).
9. Cf. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V, 1, 341.
10. Perhaps because EBB called the following letter a “postscript” and RB received it and this letter on the same day, he assigned only one number to them.