2134.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 234–236.


Tuesday evening. [9 December 1845] [1]

It was right of you to write .. (now see what jangling comes of not using the fit words .. I said ‘right,’ not to say ‘kind’)—right of you to write to me today—and I had begun to be disappointed already because the post seemed to be past, when suddenly the knock brought the letter which deserves all this praising. If not ‘kind’ .. then kindest .. will that do better? Perhaps.

Mr Kenyon was here today & asked when you were coming again—& I, I answered at random .. “at the end of the week—thursday or friday”—which did not prevent another question about ‘what we were consulting about.’ He said that he “must have you,” & had written to beg you to go to his door on days when you came here,—only murmuring something besides of neither thursday nor friday being disengaged days with him. Oh, my disingenuousness!– Then he talked again of ‘Saul’– A true impression the poem has made on him!– He reads it every night, he says, when he comes home & just before he goes to sleep, to put his dreams into order, & observed very aptly, I thought, that it reminded him of Homer’s shield of Achilles, thrown into lyrical whirl & life. [2] Quite ill he took it of me the ‘not expecting him to like it so much’ & retorted on me with most undeserved severity (as I felt it), that I “never understood anybody to have any sensibility except myself”– Was’nt it severe, to come from dear Mr Kenyon? But he had caught some sort of evil spirit from your Saul perhaps; though admiring the poem enough to have a good spirit instead– And do you remember of the said poem, that it is there only as a first part, & that the next parts must certainly follow & complete what will be a great lyrical work [3] —now remember– And forget ‘Luria’ .. if you are better forgetting. And forget me, .. when you are happier forgetting. I say that too.

So your idea of an unicorn is .. one horn broken off. And you, a poet!—one horn broken off—or hid in the black-thorn hedge!–

Such a mistake, as our enlightened public, on their part, made, when they magnified the divinity of the brazen chariot, just under the thunder-cloud! I dont remember the Athenæum, but can well believe that it said what you say. The Athenæum admires only what gods[,] men & columns reject. It applauds nothing but mediocrity——mark it, as a general rule! The good, they see—the great escapes them. Dare to breathe a breath above the close, flat conventions of literature, & you are “put down” & instructed how to be like other people– By the way, see by the very last number, that you never think to write ‘peoples’, on pain of writing what is obsolete [4] —& these the teachers of the public! If the public does not learn, where is the marvel of it? An imitation of Shelley’s—when if Paracelsus was anything it was the expression of a new mind, as all might see—as I saw, let me be proud to remember, & I was not overdazzled by Ion

Ah, indeed if I could ‘rake & hoe’, .. or even pick up weeds along the walk, .. which is the work of the most helpless children, .. if I could do any of this, there would be some good of me: but as for ‘shining’ .. shining! .. when there is not so much light in me as to do ‘carpet work’ by, why let anyone in the world except you, tell me to shine, & it will just be a mockery! But you have studied astronomy with your favorite snails, who are apt to take a dark-lanthorn for the sun, & so.–

And so, you come on thursday, & I only hope that Mrs Jameson will not come too, (the carpet work makes me think of her, [5] —&, not having come yet, she may come on thursday by a fatal cross-stitch!) for I do not hear from her, & my precautions are “watched out.” May God bless you always.

Your own––

But no—I did not forgive. Where was the fault to be forgiven, except in me, for not being right in my meaning?–

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

Postmark: 8NT8 DE10 1845.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 88.; + Thursday. Dec. 11. / 3–4¾. p.m. [34].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 314–316.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Made by Hephæstus for Achilles at the request of Thetis, it is described by Homer in the Iliad, XVIII, lines 478–617.

3. EBB is referring to the first nine sections. The completed version of “Saul” was published in Men and Women in 1855.

4. In the “Miscellanea” column of The Athenæum for 6 December 1845 (no. 945). The writer said that the distinction between “people” and “peoples” should not “be allowed to get obsolete” (p. 1180).

5. In letter 1965, EBB wrote to RB that Mrs. Jameson had “denounced carpet work as ‘injurious to the mind’.”


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