Correspondence

2136.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 237–240.

[London]

Friday. [12 December 1845][1]

Do not blame me in your thoughts for what I said yesterday or wrote a day before, or think perhaps on the dark side of some other days when I cannot help it .. always when I cannot help it—you could not blame me if you saw the full motives as I feel them. If it is distrust, it is not of you, dearest of all!—but of myself rather:—it is not doubt of you, but for you. From the beginning I have been subject to the too reasonable fear which rises as my spirits fall, that your happiness might suffer in the end through your having known me:—it is for you, I fear, whenever I fear:—and if you were less to me, .. should I fear do you think?—if you were to me only what I am to myself for instance, .. if your happiness were only as precious as my own in my own eyes, .. should I fear, do you think, then? Think, & do not blame me.

To tell you to “forget me when forgetting seemed happiest for you”, .. (was it not that, I said?) proved more affection than might go in smoother words .. I could prove the truth of that out of my heart.

And for the rest, you need not fear any fear of mine—my fear will not cross a wish of yours, be sure! Neither does it prevent your being all to me .. all!—more than I used to take for all when I looked round the world, .. almost more than I took for all in my earliest dreams. You stand in between me & not merely the living who stood closest, but between me & the closer graves, .. & I reproach myself for this sometimes, &, so, ask you not to blame me for a different thing.

As to unfavorable influences, .. I can speak of them quietly, having forseen them from the first, .. & it is true, I have been thinking since yesterday, that I might be prevented from receiving you here, & should, if all were known: but with that act, the adverse power would end. It is not my fault if I have to choose between two affections,—only my pain: & I have not to choose between two duties, I feel, .. since I am yours, while I am of any worth to you at all. For the plan of the sealed letter it would correct no evil,—ah, you do not see, you do not understand. The danger does not come from the side to which a reason may go. Only one person holds the thunder—& I shall be thundered at; I shall not be reasoned with—it is impossible. I could tell you some dreary chronicles made for laughing & crying over; & you know that if I once thought I might be loved enough to be spared above others, I cannot think so now. In the meanwhile we need not for the present be afraid– Let there be ever so many suspectors, there will be no informers.– I suspect the suspectors, but the informers are out of the world I am very sure:—and then, the one person, by a curious anomaly, never draws an inference of this order, until the bare blade of it is thrust palpably into his hand, point outwards.[2] So it has been in other cases than ours—& so it is, at this moment in the house, with others than ourselves.[3]

I have your letter to stop me—. If I had my whole life in my hands with your letter, could I thank you for it, I wonder, at all worthily?– I cannot believe that I could. Yet in life & in death I shall be grateful to you.–

But for the paper—no– Now, observe, that it would seem like a prepared apology for something wrong. And besides, .. the apology could be nothing but the offence in another form .. unless you said it was all a mistake .. (will you, again?) .. that it was all a mistake & you were only calling for your boots!—— Well, if you said that, it would be worth writing,—but anything less would be something worse than nothing, & would not save me .. which you were thinking of, I know,—would not save me the least of the stripes– For ‘conditions’––now I will tell you what I said once in a jest ..

“If a prince of Eldorado should come, with a pedigree of lineal descent from some signory in the moon in one hand, & a ticket of good-behaviour from the nearest Independent chapel, in the other ” ....

“Why even then,” said my sister Arabel, “it would not do.” And she was right, & we all agreed that she was right. It is an obliquity of the will—& one laughs at it till the turn comes for crying. Poor Henrietta has suffered silently, with that softest of possible natures, which hers is indeed,—beginning with implicit obedience, & ending with something as unlike it as possible: but, you see, where money is wanted, & where the dependance is total … see! And when once, in the case of the one dearest to me,[4] .. when just at the last he was involved in the same grief, & I attempted to make over my advantages to him; (it could be no sacrifice, you know .. I did not want the money, & could buy nothing with it so good as his happiness, ..) why then, my hands were siezed & tied—& then & there, in the midst of the trouble, .. came the end of all!– I tell you all this, just to make you understand a little. Did I not tell you before? But there is no danger at present—& why ruffle this present with disquieting thoughts? why not leave that future to itself? For me, I sit in the track of the avalanche quite calmly .. so calmly as to surprise myself at intervals—& yet I know the reason of the calmness well.

For Mr Kenyon .. dear Mr Kenyon .. he will speak the softest of words, if any .. only he will think privately that you are foolish & that I am ungenerous—but I will not say so any more now, so as to teaze you.

There is another thing, of more consequence than his thoughts, which is often in my mind to ask you of—but there will be time for such questions—let us leave the winter to its own peace. If I should be ill again you will be reasonable & we both must submit to God’s necessity. Not, you know, that I have the least intention of being ill, if I can help it—& in the case of a tolerably mild winter, or with all this strength to use, there are probabilities for me—& then I have sunshine from you, which is better than Pisa’s.

And what more would you say? Do I not hear & understand!– It seems to me that I do both,—or why all this wonder & gratitude? If the devotion of the remainder of my life could prove that I hear,—would it be proof enough? Proof enough perhaps—but not gift enough.

May God bless you always–

I have put some of the hair into a little locket which was given to me when I was a child by my favorite uncle, Papa’s only brother, who used to tell me that he loved me better than my own father did, & was jealous when I was not glad. It is through him in part, that I am richer than my sisters—through him & his mother—& a great grief it was & trial, when he died, a few years ago in Jamaica, proving by his last act that I was unforgotten.[5] And now I remember how he once said to me .. “Do you beware of ever loving!– If you do, you will not do it half: it will be for life & death.”

So I put the hair into his locket .. <which I wear habitually, ..>[6] & which never had hair before .. the natural use of it being for perfume:—& this is the best perfume for all hours, besides the completing of a prophecy.

Your EBB

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

Postmark: 8NT8 DE13 1845 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 89.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 318–321.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. EBB may be alluding to Macbeth, II, 1, 33–41.

3. i.e., her sister Henrietta’s relationship to their cousin Surtees Cook. He was the grandson of Aubone Surtees and Mary Altham, EBB’s maternal grandmother’s eldest sister. Henrietta and Surtees were married on 6 April 1850, and she was immediately disowned by her father.

4. We have been unable to trace additional evidence to support EBB’s assertion here that she offered Bro such help; however, in a letter dated 14 September [1839] from her sister Henrietta to their brother Sam (SD1042), the former relates the following which serves to identify the situation EBB refers to: “As October approaches, Bro’s spirits rise—you know perhaps, what happiness is likely to befall him then—that the Gardens are coming back then, & Monti will be here to ride with him. I hope you look forward with satisfaction to her being your sister—for I really think it is very likely to be—if poor Bro only had a sufficiency to maintain a wife!”

5. EBB’s uncle, Samuel Moulton-Barrett, gave her his shares in the ship David Lyon (see SD832 and SD835, as well as letter 2030, note 2). The hair mentioned here is that of RB, which he had given to her on 28 November (see letter 2115); present whereabouts of the locket given to EBB by her uncle is unknown.

6. Bracketed passage is interpolated above the line.

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