Correspondence

2142.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 247–249.

[London]

Friday Morning. [Postmark: 19 December 1845]

I ought to have written yesterday—so to-day when I need a letter and get none, there is my own fault besides, and the less consolation– A letter from you would light up this sad day: shall I fancy how, if a letter lay there, where I look,—rain might fall and winds blow while I listened to you, long after the words had been laid to heart? But here you are—in your place—with me who am your own—your own—and so the rhyme joins on,

 

—She shall speak to me in places lone

With a low and holy tone.

Ay! when I have lit my lamp at night

She shall be present with my sprite:

And I will say, whate’er it be,

Every word she telleth me![1]

Now, is that taken from your book? No—but from my book, which holds my verses as I write them; and as I open it, I read that–

And speaking of verse—somebody gave me a few days ago that Mr Lowell’s book you once mentioned to me:[2] anyone who “admires” you shall have my sympathy at once—even though he do change the laughing wine-mark into a “stain” in that perfectly beautiful triplet—nor am I to be indifferent to his good word for myself (—tho’ not very happily connected with the criticism on the epithet in that “Yorkshire Tragedy”[3] (which has better things, by the way)—seeing that “white boy,” in old language, meant just “good boy,” a general epithet—as Johnson notices in the life of Dryden—whom the schoolmaster Busby[4] was used to class with his “white boys” .. this is hypercriticism, however)– But these American books should not be reprinted here—one asks, what and where is the class to which they address themselves? for, no doubt, we have our congregations of ignoramuses that enjoy the profoundest ignorance imaginable on the subjects treated of—but these are evidently not the audience Mr Lowell reckons on, .. rather,—if one may trust the manner of his setting to work,—he would propound his doctrine to the class always to be found, of spirits instructed up to a certain height and there resting—vines that run up a prop and there tangle and grow to a knot—which want supplying with fresh poles; so the provident man brings his bundle into the grounds, and sticks them in laterally or a-top of the others, as the case requires, and all the old stocks go on growing again—but here, with us, whoever wanted Chaucer, or Chapman, or Ford, got him long ago—what else have Lamb, & Coleridge, & Hazlitt & Hunt and so on to the end of their generation .. what else been doing this many a year? What one passage of all these, cited with the very air of a Columbus, but has been known to all who know anything of poetry this many, many a year? The others, who don’t know anything, are the stocks that have got to shoot, not climb higher—compost, they want in the first place! Ford’s & Crashaw’s rival nightingales[5]—why they have been dissertated on by Wordsworth & Coleridge—then by Lamb & Hazlitt—then worked to death by Hunt, who printed them entire and quoted them to pieces again, in every periodical he was ever engaged upon—and yet after all, here “Philip”—“must read” (out of a roll of dropping papers with yellow ink tracings, so old!) something at which “John” claps his hands and says “Really—that these ancients should own so much wit ” &c! The passage no longer looks its fresh self after this veritable passage from hand to hand: as when, in old dances, the belle began the figure with her own partner, and by him was transferred to the next, and so to the next—they ever beginning with all the old alacrity and spirit,—but she bearing a still-accumulating weight of tokens of galantry, and none the better for every fresh pushing and shoving and pulling and hauling—till, at the bottom of the room …

To which Mr Lowell might say, that—No, I will say the true thing against myself .. and it is, that—when I turn from what is in my mind and determine to write about anybody’s book to avoid writing that I love & love & love again my own, dearest love—because of the cuckoo-song[6] of it,—then, I shall be in no better humour with that book than with Mr Lowell’s!

(But I have a new thing to say or sing—you never before heard me love and bless and send my heart after .. “Ba”—did you?[)] Ba .. and that is you![7] I tried (—more than wanted—) to call you that, on Wednesday! I have a flower here—rather, a star, a mimosa, which must be turned and turned, the side to the light changing in a little time to the leafy side, where all the fans lean and spread .. so I turn your name to me, that side I have not last seen: you cannot tell how I feel glad that you will not part with the name—Barrett—seeing you have two of the same—and must always, moreover, remain my EBB!

Dearest “E.B.C”[8]—no, no! and so it will never be!

Have you seen Mr Kenyon? I did not write .. knowing that such a procedure would draw the kind sure letter in return, with the invitation &c, as if I had asked for it! I had perhaps better call on him some morning very early–

Bless you, my own sweetest. You will write to me, I know in my heart! Ever may God bless you!

RB

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 DE19 1845 A.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 86.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 328–330.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. EBB’s “The Past” (1826), lines 27–32. RB’s “book” referred to here is a writing portfolio in which he kept his working manuscripts; see illustration facing p. 294; see also Reconstruction, H686.

2. Conversations on Some of the Old Poets (Cambridge, Mass., 1845). A copy inscribed by Lowell to EBB was sold as lot 879 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A1489). The passage to which RB refers is on pp. 37–38 in Conversations where Lowell quotes lines 388–390 of EBB’s “A Vision of Poets,” changing line 390 from “That mark upon his lip is wine” to “That stain upon his lips is wine.”

3. RB refers to Lowell’s discussion of a scene from A Yorkshire Tragedy, in which the child about to be killed says, “‘O, what will you do, father? I am your white boy.’”; the conversation continues: “That is very touching. How is it that this simpleness, the very essence of tragic pathos, has become unattainable of late? I know only one modern dramatist capable of it, though nothing would seem easier; I mean Robert Browning” (Conversations, pp. 67–68).

4. Richard Busby (1606–95) was the headmaster of Westminster when Dryden was a student there, but we have been unable to verify this reference in Johnson’s life of Dryden. There are accounts of Busby’s favourites being referred to as “white boys”; e.g., “When Bagshawe was a ‘King’s Scholar at Westminster, he was a little well-favour’d, white-hair’d Youth, and his Father was liberal to the Master; all which concurring with a good docible Inclination, made him one of Mr. Busby’s White Boys or Chief Favourites’” (quoted from Walter Pope’s Life of Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, 1697, in Memoirs of Richard Busby, by G.F. Russell Barker, 1895, p. 37).

5. RB refers to the end of the “Third Conversation” in Lowell’s Conversations (pp. 258–263), where the passage from John Ford’s The Lover’s Melancholy (1629), in which a lutist challenges a nightingale, is compared to Richard Crashaw’s “Musick’s Duell” from The Delights of the Muses (1646).

6. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese, XXI, 3.

7. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese, XXXIII, 1–2.

8. RB wrote an exceptionally large and heavy “C,” which he explains in letter 2145.

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