2145. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 253–256.
Sunday Night. [21 December 1845]
Now, “ought” you to be “sorry you sent that letter,” which made, & makes me so happy—so happy—can you bring yourself to turn round and tell one you have so blessed with your bounty that there was a mistake, and you meant only half that largess? If you are not sensible that you do make me most happy by such letters, and do not warm in the reflection of your own rays, then I do give up indeed the last chance of procuring you happiness; <…> My own “ought,” which you object to, shall be withdrawn—being only a pure bit of selfishness,—I felt, in missing the letter of yours, next day, that I might have drawn it down by one of mine,—if I had begged never so gently, the gold would have fallen—there was my omitted duty to myself which you properly blame– I should stand silently and wait and be sure of the ever-remembering goodness.
Let me count my gold now—and rub off any speck that stays the full shining. First—that thought .. I told you,—I pray you, pray you, sweet—never that again—or what leads, never so remotely or indirectly to it! On your own fancied ground—the fulfilment would be of necessity fraught with every woe that can fall in this life. I am yours for ever—if you are not here, with me—what then? Say, you take all of yourself away but—just enough to live on,—then, that defeats every kind purpose .. as if you cut away all the ground from my feet but so much as serves for bare standing room .. why still, I stand there—and is it the better that I have no broader space, when off that you cannot force me? I have your memory, the knowledge of you, the idea of you printed into my heart and brain,—on that, I can live my life—but it is for you, the dear, utterly generous creature I know you, to give me more and more beyond mere life—to extend life and deepen it—as you do, and will do. Oh, how I love you when I think of the entire truthfulness of your generosity to me—how, meaning, and willing to give, you gave nobly! Do you think I have not seen in this world how women who do love will manage to confer that gift on occasion? And shall I allow myself to fancy how much alloy such pure gold as your love would have rendered endurable?– Yet it came, virgin ore, to complete my fortune! And what but this makes me confident and happy? Can I take a lesson by your fancies, and begin frightening myself with saying .. “but if she saw all the world—the worthier, better men there .. those who would” &c &c[?] No, I think of the great, dear gift that it was,—how I “won” nothing (the hateful word, and French thought)—did nothing by my own arts or cleverness in the matter .. so what pretence have the more artful or more clever for—but I cannot write out this folly– I am yours for ever, with the utmost sense of gratitude—to say I would give you my life joyfully is little .. I would, I hope, do that for two or three other people—but I am not conscious of any imaginable point in which I would not implicitly devote my whole self to you—be disposed of by you as for the best. There! It is not to be spoken of—let me live it into proof, beloved!
And for “disappointment and a burthen” .. now—let us get quite away from ourselves, and not see one of the filaments, but only the cords of love with the world’s horny eye– Have we such jarring tastes, then? Does your inordinate attachment to gay life interfere with my deep passion for society? “Have they common sympathy in each other[’]s pursuits”—always asks Mrs Tomkins! Well, here was I when you knew me, fixed in my way of life, meaning with God’s help to write what may be written and so die at peace with myself so far– Can you help me or no? Do you not help me so much that, if you saw the more likely peril for poor human nature, you would say, “He will be jealous of all the help coming from me—none from him to me!”—and that would be a consequence of the help, all-too-great for hope of return, with any one less possessed than I with the exquisiteness of being transcended and the blest one.
But—“here comes the Silah and the voice is hushed”– I will speak of other things: when we are together one day—the days I believe in– I mean to set about that reconsidering “Sordello”—it has always been rather on my mind—but yesterday I was reading the “Purgatorio” and the first speech of the group of which Sordello makes one, struck me with a new significance, as well describing the man and his purpose and fate in my own poem—see,—one of the burthened, contorted souls tell Virgil & Dante,
Noi fummo già tutti per forza morti,
E peccatori infin’ all’ ultim’ ora:
Quivi—lume del ciel ne fece accorti;
Si chè, pentendo e perdonando, fora
Di vita uscimmo a Dio pacificati
Che del disio di se veder n’accora.
Which is just my Sordello’s story .. could I “do” it off hand, I wonder.
And sinners were we to the extreme hour;
Then, light from heaven fell, making us aware,
So that, repenting us and pardoned, out
Of life we passed to God, at peace with Him
Who fills the heart with yearning Him to see–
There were many singular incidents attending my work on that subject—thus, quite at the end, I found out there was printed and not published, a little historical tract by a Count V—something, called “Sordello”—with the motto “Post fata resurgam”! “I hope he prophecied”– The main of this—biographical notices—is extracted by Muratori—(I think). Last year when I set foot in Naples I found after a few minutes that at some theatre, that night, the opera was to be “one act of Sordello”—and I never looked twice, nor expended a couple of carlines on the libretto!
I wanted to tell you, in [my] last letter, that when I spoke of people’s tempers you have no concern with “people.” I do not glance obliquely at your temper—either to discover it, or praise it, or adapt myself to it– I speak of the relation one sees in other cases—how one opposes passionate foolish people, but hates cold clever people who take quite care enough of themselves: I myself am born supremely passionate—so I was born with light yellow hair—all changes; that is the passion changes its direction and, taking a channel large enough, looks calmer, perhaps, than it should—and all my sympathies go with quiet strength of course—but I know what the other kind is. As for the breakages of chairs, and the appreciation of Parisian meubles,—manibus, pedibusque descendo in tuam sententiam, Ba, mî ocelle! (“What was E.B.C?” why, the first letter after, and not E.B.B, my own B! There was no latent meaning in the C—but I had no inclination to go on to D, or E, for instance!) And so, love, Tuesday is to be our day—one day more—and then!. And meanwhile “care” for me! a good word for you—but my care, what is that! One day I aspire to care, though! I shall not go away at any dear Mr K.’s coming! They call me down-stairs to supper—and my fire is out, and you keep me from feeling cold and yet ask if I am well? Yes, well—yes, happy—and your own ever– I must bid God bless you—dearest!
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.
Postmark: 12NN12 DE22 1845 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 90.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 334–337.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Here RB obliterated about half a line.
3. We have been unable to identify anyone by this name. Perhaps she is only a figurative character used by the poets in these few letters.
4. Cf. An Essay on Mind (1826), line 1229, as well as EBB’s note to this line.
5. See letter 2025, note 8.
6. Dante, Purgatorio, V, lines 52–57.
7. RB originally wrote the words “were we” at the end of this line, but then crossed out the words and inserted them in their present position.
8. Sordello (Cremona, 1783) by Giovanni Battista Gherardo (1739–91) is described in the catalogue of the British Library as “a biography.” It is contained in the Rerum Italicarum Scriptores ab anno Æræ Christianæ quingentesimo ad millesimum quingentesimum, edited by Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1751), a compendium that RB used when writing Sordello (DeVane, p. 82). The motto is “I shall rise again after what was meant for me.”
9. A fragment from RB’s diary used in Italy (see letter 2106, note 3) indicates that he arrived in Naples on 26 September 1844. A notice appeared in the Giornale del regno delle Due Sicilie for a performance of the third act of Sordello at the Teatro Fenice that evening. This was the second performance, and others followed during October and November 1844.
11. “I acquiesce completely to your opinion, Ba, my little eye!”
12. RB wrote the “C” very large and underscored it twice. Later in this same passage, he twice underscored the second “B” in “E.B.B.,” and the same letter where it stands alone.
13. Written very large.