Correspondence

2141.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 243–247.

[London]

Thursday evening. [18 December 1845][1]

Dearest you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either– I simply understand that you are my happiness, & that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?– That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier.

Talking of happiness, .. shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry & I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter .. now .. before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better & dearer & more to be considered than I, I do not choose it. I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps, (who can say?) if I should prove the burden of your life.

For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others .. as with the extravagance yesterday!—& seriously, .. too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past, .. I am frightened .. I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing & displeasing you? I ask the question, & find no answer–

It is a poor answer, to say that I can do one thing well .. that I have one capacity largely. On points of the general affections, I have in thought applied to myself the words of Mdme de Stael .. not fretfully, I hope .. not complainingly, I am sure .. (I can thank God for most affectionate friends!) not complainingly, yet mournfully & in profound conviction .. those words .. ‘jamais je n’ai pas éte aimée comme j’aime’.[2] The capacity of loving is the largest of my powers I think– I thought so before knowing you & one form of feeling. And although any woman might love you .. every woman, .. with understanding enough to discern you by.—(oh, do not fancy that I am unduly ‘magnifying mine office’[3]) yet I persist in persuading myself that .........! Because I have the capacity, as I said!—and besides I owe more to you than others could, it seems to me!—let me boast of it. To many, you might be better than all things while one of all things:—to me you are instead of all!—to many, a crowning happiness.—to me, the happiness itself. From out of the deep dark pits men see the stars more gloriously—and de profundis amavi. .....[4]

It is a very poor answer—! Almost as poor an answer as yours could be if I were to ask you to teach me to please you always——or rather, how not to displease you, disappoint you[,] vex you——what if all those things were in my fate?

And .. (to begin! ..) I[5] am disappointed tonight. I expected a letter which does not come—& I had felt so sure of having a letter tonight .. unreasonably sure perhaps, which means doubly sure.

Friday. Remember you have had two notes of mine, & that it is certainly not my turn to write, though I am writing.

Scarcely you had gone on wednesday when Mr Kenyon came. It seemed best to me, you know, that you should go .. I had the presentiment of his footsteps—&, so near they were, that if you had looked up the street in leaving the door, you must have seen him! Of course I told him of your having been here & also at his house, whereupon he enquired eagerly if you meant to dine with him, seeming disappointed by my negative. “Now I had told him,” he said .. & murmured on to himself loud enough for me to hear, that “it would have been a peculiar pleasure &c”– The reason I have not seen him lately is the eternal ‘business,’ just as you thought, & he means to come “oftener now”—so that nothing is wrong as I half thought.

As your letter does not come it is a good opportunity for asking what sort of ill humour, or (to be more correct) bad temper, you most particularly admire?—sulkiness? .. the divine gift of sitting aloof in a cloud like any god for three weeks together perhaps—? pettishness .. which will get you up a storm about a crooked pin or a straight one either? Obstinacy .. which is an agreeable form of temper I can assure you, & describes itself?– Or the good open passion which lies on the floor & kicks, like one of my cousins?[6]– Certainly I prefer the last, & should I think, prefer it, (as an evil) even if it were not the born weakness of my own nature—though I humbly confess (to you, who seem to think differently of these things) that never since I was a child, have I upset all the chairs & tables & thrown the books about the room in a fury—I am afraid I do not even ‘kick’ .. like my cousin, now. Those demonstrations were all done by the “light of other days”[7] .. not a very full light, I used to be accustomed to think:—but you .. you think otherwise .. you take a fury to be the opposite of ‘indifference’ .. as if there could be no such thing as self-controul!. Now for my part, I do believe that the worst tempered persons in the world, are less so through sensibility than selfishness—they spare nobody’s heart, on the ground of being themselves pricked by a straw. Now see if it is’nt so– What, after all, is a good temper but generosity in trifles—& what without it, is the happiness of life?—we have only to look round us. I saw a woman, once, burst into tears, because her husband cut the bread & butter too thick. I saw that with my own eyes. Was it sensibility, I wonder!– They were at least real tears & ran down her cheeks. “You always do it.”! she said.

Why how you must sympathize with the heroes & heroines of the French romances .. (do you sympathize with them very much? …) when at the slightest provocation, they break up the tables & chairs, (a degree beyond the deeds of my childhood!—I only used to upset them) break up the tables & chairs & chiffoniers, & dash the china to atoms. The men do the furniture, & the women the porcelain:—& pray observe that they always set about this as a matter of course! When they have broken everything in the room, they sink down quite (& very naturally) abattus![8] I remember a particular case of a hero of Frederic Soulie’s who, in the course of an “emotion,” takes up a chair unconsciously, & breaks it into very small pieces, & then proceeds with his soliloquy. Well!– The clearest idea this excites in me, is of the low condition in Paris, of moral government & of upholstery. Because .. just consider for yourself, .. how you would succeed in breaking to pieces even a three-legged stool if it were properly put together as stools are in England, .. just yourself, .. without a hammer & a screw!—— You might work at it “comme quatre”,[9] & find it hard to finish, I imagine. And then .. as a demonstration, … a child of six years old might demonstrate just so (in his sphere) & be whipped accordingly.

How I go on writing!—& you, who do not write at all!—two extremes, one set against the other.

But I must say, though in ever such an ill temper (which you know is just the time to select for writing a panegyric upon good temper) that I am glad you do not despise my own right name too much, because I never was called Elizabeth by any one who loved me at all, & I accept the omen– So little it seems my name that if a voice said suddenly ‘Elizabeth,’ I should as soon turn round as my sisters would .. no sooner. Only, my own right name has been complained of for want of euphony .. Ba .. now & then it has—& Mr Boyd makes a compromise & calls me Elibet .. because nothing could induce him to desecrate his organs accustomed to Attic harmonies, with a Ba– So I am glad, & accept the omen.

But I give you no credit for not thinking that I may forget you .. I!– As if you did not see the difference! Why, I could not even forget to write to you, observe!——

Whenever you write, say, how you are. Were you wet on wednesday?

Your own ..

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

Postmark: N 20 DE20 1845.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 92.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 324–327.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. “I have never been loved as I have loved.”

3. Cf. Romans 11:13.

4. “Out of the depths have I loved” (cf. Psalm 130:1).

5. Underscored twice.

6. Probably Elizabeth Jane Hedley (b. 1834) who had been staying with the Barretts at Wimpole Street (see letter 1972); in that letter, EBB described her to Miss Mitford as “full of fancy & joy,—& with an overflow of life which really seems to flow in an electric current down to the very shining ends of her long golden ringlets.” Another cousin, Georgiana Elizabeth Barrett, was described in the same letter as “quietness itself.”

7. Thomas Moore, “Oft in the Stilly Night,” lines 3–4 (in National Airs, 1815).

8. “Beaten down.”

9. “As hard as possible.”

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