2131.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 228–231.


Sunday. [7 December 1845][1]

Let me hear how you are, & that you are better instead of worse for the exertions of last night. After you left me yesterday I considered how we might have managed it more conveniently for you, & had the lamp in, & arranged matters so as to interpose less time between the going & the dining, even if you & George did not go together, which might have been best but which I did not like quite to propose. Now, supposing that on thursday you dine in town, remember not to be unnecessarily ‘perplext in the extreme’[2] where to spend the time before .... five, .. shall I say, at any rate? We will have the lamp, & I can easily explain if an observation should be made … only it will not be, because our goers out here never come home until six, & the head of the house, not until seven .. as I told you. George thought it worth while going to Mr Talfourd’s yesterday, just to see the author of the ‘Paracelsus’ dance the polka … should I not tell you?

I am vexed by another thing which he tells me—vexed, if amused a little by the absurdity of it. I mean that absurd affair of the “autography”—now is’nt it absurd? and for neither you nor George to have the chivalry of tearing out that letter of mine, which was absurd too in its way, & which, knowing less of the world than I know now, I wrote as if writing for my private conscience, & privately repented writing in a day, & have gone on repenting ever since when I happened to think enough of it for repentance.! Because if Mr Serjeant Talfourd sent then his “Ion” to me, he did it in mere goodnature, hearing by chance of me through the publisher of my ‘Prometheus’ at the moment, & of course caring no more for my ‘opinion’ than for the rest of me—and it was excessively bad taste in me to say more than the briefest word of thanks in return, even if I had been competent to say it– Ah well!—you see how it is, & that I am vexed you should have read it, .. as George says you did .. he laughing to see me so vexed. So I turn round & avenge myself by crying aloud against the editor of the ‘Autography’! Surely such a thing was never done before .. even by an author in the last stage of a mortal disease of selflove. To edit the common parlance of conventional flatteries, .. lettered in so many volumes, bound in green morocco, & laid on the drawingroom table for one’s own particular private public,—is it not a miracle of vanity .. neither more nor less?

I took the opportunity of the letter to Mr Mathews (talking of vanity … mine!) to send Landor’s verses to America .. yours—so they will be in the American papers .. I know Mr Mathews.[3] I was speaking to him of your last number of Bells & Pomegranates, & the verses came in naturally,—just as my speaking did, for it is not the first time nor the second nor the third even that I have written to him of you, though I admire how in all those previous times I did it in pure disinterestedness, .. purely because your name belonged to my country & to her literature, .. & how I have a sort of reward at this present, in being able to write what I please without anyone’s saying “it is a new fancy”– As for the Americans they have “a zeal without knowledge”[4] for poetry– There is more love for verse among them than among the English. But they suffer themselves to be led in their choice of poets by English critics of average discernment,—this is said of them by their own men of letters. Tennyson is idolized deep down in the back woods (to their honour be it said), but to understand you sufficiently, they wait for the explanations of the critics. So I wanted them to see what Landor says of you. The comfort in these questions, is, that there can be no question, except between the sooner & the later—a little sooner, & a little later: but when there is real love & zeal it becomes worth while to try to ripen the knowledge. They love Tennyson so much that the colour of his waistcoats is a sort of minor Oregon question[5] .. & I like that—do not you?

Monday. Now I have your letter: & you will observe, without a finger post from me, how busily we have both been pre-occupied in disavowing our own letters of old on ‘Ion’– Mr Talfourd’s collection goes to prove too much, I think—& you, a little too much, when you draw inferences of no-changes, from changes like these. Oh yes—I perfectly understand that every sort of inconstancy of purpose regards a “presumably better” thing—but I do not so well understand how any presumeable doubt is to be set to rest by that fact, .. I do not indeed. Have you seen all the birds & beasts in the world? have you seen the ‘unicorns’?!– Which is only a pebble thrown down into your smooth logic; & we need not stand by to watch the bubbles born of it. And as to the Ion-letters, I am delighted that you have anything to repent, as I have everything. Certainly it is a noble play—there is the moral sublime in it: but it is not the work of a poet, .. & if he had never written another to show what was not in him, this might have been ‘predicated’ of it as surely, I hold. Still, it is a noble work—& even if you over-praised it, (I did not read your letter, though you read mine, alas!) you, under the circumstances would have been less noble yourself not to have done so!—only, .. how I agree with you in what you say against the hanging up of these dry roots, .. the soil shaken off! Such abominable taste—now is’nt it? .. though you do not use that word.

I thought Mr Kenyon would have come yesterday & that I might have something to tell you, of him at least.

And George never told me of the thing you found to say to him of me, & which makes me smile & would have made him wonder if he had not been suffering probably from some legal distraction at the moment, inasmuch as he knew perfectly that you had just left me. My sisters told him down stairs & he came into this room just before he set off on saturday, with a, .. “So I am to meet Mr Browning”! But he made no observation afterwards .. none: & if he heard what you said at all, (which I doubt) he referred it probably to some enforced civility on ‘Yorick’s’ part when the ‘last chapter’ was too much with him.[6]

I have written about ‘Luria’ in another place—you shall have the papers when I have read through the play.[7] How different this living poetry is from the polished rhetoric of Ion. The man & the statue are not more different. After all poetry is a distinct thing: it is here or it is not here .. it is not a matter of ‘taste’, but of sight & feeling.

As to the ‘Venice’ it gives proof (does it not?) rather of poetical sensibility than of poetical faculty?[8] or did you expect me to say more?—of the perception of the poet, rather than of his conception. Do you think more than this? There are fine, eloquent expressions, & the tone of sentiment is good & high everywhere.

Do not write ‘Luria’ if your head is uneasy—& you cannot say that it is not .. can you? Or will you if you can? In any case you will do what you can .. take care of yourself & not suffer yourself to be tired either by writing or by too much going out, & take the necessary exercise .. this, you will do—I entreat you to do it.

May God bless & make you happy, as .. you will lose nothing if I say .. as I am


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

Postmark: PD 8NT DE8 1845 B.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 87.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 308–311.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Othello, V, 2, 346.

3. We have been unable to trace Landor’s verses “To Robert Browning” in American publications of this period.

4. Cf. Romans 10:12.

5. An allusion to the controversy about the boundary between the territory of Oregon and Canada. The matter was finally resolved in June 1846 when U.S. President James K. Polk, on the advice of the Senate, accepted the convention submitted on behalf of the British government.

6. Cf. Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us” (1807), line 1. EBB’s exact meaning here is not clear; however, Yorick, based upon the character in Hamlet, is the country parson in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. As in Hamlet, the Yorick episode in Tristram Shandy is an account of death, which occurs in chapters X through XII of the first volume.

7. For EBB’s notes on Luria, see Appendix IV, pp. 393–399.

8. A poem by Alfred Domett, published in 1839.


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