2146. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 257–261.
Sunday night. [21 December 1845]
But did I ‘dispute’? Surely not. Surely I believe in you & in ‘mysteries.’ Surely I prefer the no-reason to ever so much rationalism .. (rationalism & infidelity go together they say!). All which I may do, & be afraid sometimes notwithstanding—& when you overpraise me (not overlove) I must be frightened as I told you.
It is with me as with the theologians. I believe in you & can be happy & safe so: but when my ‘personal merits’ come into question in any way, even the least, .. why then the position grows untenable:—it is no more ‘of grace’.
Do I teaze you? as I teaze myself sometimes? But do not wrong me in turn! Do not keep repeating that ‘after long years’ I shall know you—know you!—as if I did not without the years. If you are forced to refer me to those long [y]ears, I must deserve the thistles besides. The thistles are the corollary.
For it is obvious .. manifest .. that I cannot doubt of you—that I may doubt of myself, of happiness, of the whole world, .. but of you .. not: it is obvious that if I could doubt of you & act so I should be a very idiot, or worse indeed. And you .. you think I doubt of you whenever I make an interjection!—now do you not? And is it reasonable?– Of you, I mean?
Monday/ For my part, you must admit it to be too possible that you may be, as I say, ‘disappointed’ in me—it is too possible. And if it does no good to say so, even now perhaps .. if it is mere weakness to say so & simply torments you, why do you be magnanimous & forgive that .. let it pass as a weakness & forgive it so. Often I think painful things which I do not tell you & ........
While I write, your letter comes. Kindest of you it was, to write me such a letter, when I expected scarcely the shadow of one!—this makes up for the other letter which I expected unreasonably & which you ‘ought not’ to have written, as was proved afterwards– And now why should I go on with that sentence? What had I to say of “painful things,” I wonder? All the painful things seem gone .. vanished—I forget what I had to say– Only do you still think of this, dearest beloved,—that I sit here in the dark but for you, & that the light you bring me (from my fault!—from the nature of my darkness!) is not a settled light as when you open the shutters in the morning, but a light made by candles which burn some of them longer & some shorter, & some brighter & briefer, both at once, being ‘double-wicks’, & that there is an intermission for a moment now & then between the dropping of the old light into the socket & the lighting of the new– Every letter of yours is a new light which burns so many hours .. & then!– I am morbid, you see—or call it by what name you like .. too wise or too foolish. [‘]‘If the light of the body is darkness, how great is that darkness.” Yet even when I grow too wise, I admit always that while you love me it is an answer to all. And I am never so much too foolish as to wish to be worthier for my own sake—only for yours!—not for my own sake, since I am content to owe all things to you.
And it could be so much to you to lose me!,—& you say so,—& then think it needful to tell me not to think the other thought.!! As if that were possible! Do you remember what you said once of the flowers .. that you ‘felt a respect for them when they had passed out of your hands’? and must it not be so with my life, which if you choose to have it, must be respected too? Much more with my life!– Also, see that I, who had my warmest affections on the other side of the grave, feel that it is otherwise with me now—quite otherwise. I did not like it at first to be so much otherwise. And I could not have had any such thought through a weariness of life or any of my old motives, but simply to escape the ‘risk’ I told you of. Should I have said to you instead of it .. “Love me for ever”?—— Well then, .. I do–
As to my ‘helping’ you, my help is in your fancy,—& if you go on with the fancy, I perfectly understand that it will be as good as deeds. We have sympathy too—we walk one way—oh, I do not forget the advantages. Only Mrs Tomkins’s ideas of happiness are below my ambition for you——
So often as I have said, (it reminds me) that in this situation I should be more exacting than any other woman—so often I have said it!—& so different everything is from what I thought it would be! Because if I am exacting it is for you & not for me—it is altogether for you—you understand that, dearest of all .. it is for you wholly. It never crosses my thought, in a lightning even, the question whether I may be happy so & so—I. It is the other question which comes always—too often for peace.
People used to say to me, “You expect too much—you are too romantic”– And my answer always was that “I could not expect too much when I expected nothing at all” .. which was the truth—for I never thought (& how often I have said that!) I never thought that anyone whom I could love, would stoop to love me .. the two things seemed clearly incompatible to my understanding.
And now when it comes in a miracle, you wonder at me for looking twice, thrice, four times, to see if it comes through ivory or horn– You wonder that it should seem to me at first all illusion—illusion for you, .. illusion for me as a consequence. But how natural–.
It is true of me .. very true .. that I have not a high appreciation of what passes in the world (& not merely the Tomkins-world!) under the name of love, & that a distrust of the thing had grown to be a habit of mind with me when I knew you first. It has appeared to me, through all the seclusion of my life & the narrow experience it admitted of, that in nothing, men .. & women too!, .. were so apt to mistake their own feelings, as in this one thing. Putting falseness quite on one side, .. quite out of sight & consideration, .. an honest mistaking of feeling appears wonderfully common—& no mistake has such frightful results—none can. Selflove & generosity, a mistake may come from either—from pity, from admiration, from any blind impulse——oh, when I look at the histories of my own female friends .. to go no step further!– And if it is true of the women, what must the other side be? To see the marriages which are made everyday! worse than solitudes & more desolate! In the case of the two happiest I ever knew, one of the husbands said in confidence to a brother of mine—not much in confidence or I should not have heard it, but in a sort of smoking frankness, .. that he had “ruined his prospects by marrying,”—& the other said to myself at the very moment of professing an extraordinary happiness, … “But I should have done as well if I had not married her.”
Then for the falseness——the first time I ever, in my own experience, heard that word which rhymes to glove & comes as easily off & on, (on some hands!) .. it was from a man of whose attentions to another woman I was at that time her confidante. I was bound so to silence for her sake, that I could not even speak the scorn that was in me—and in fact my uppermost feeling was a sort of horror .. a terror—for I was very young then, & the world did, at the moment, look ghastly!
The falseness & the calculations!—why how can you who are just, blame women .. when you must know what the “system” of men is towards them,—& of men not ungenerous otherwise? Why are women to be blamed if they act as if they had to do with swindlers?—is it not the mere instinct of preservation which makes them do it? Men make women what they are. And your ‘honorable men’, the most loyal of them, .. (for instance) .. is it not a rule with them (unless when taken unaware through a want of selfgovernment) to force a woman (trying all means) to force a woman to stand committed in her affections .. (they with their feet lifted all the time to trample on her for want of delicacy—) before they risk the pin-prick to their own personal pitiful vanities? Oh—to see how these things are set about by men! to see how a man carefully holding up on each side the skirts of an embroidered vanity to keep it quite safe from the wet, will contrive to tell you in so many words that he … might love you if the sun shone! And women are to be blamed!– Why there are, to be sure, cold & heartless, light & changeable, ungenerous & calculating women in the world!—that is sure. But for the most part, they are only what they are made—& far better than the nature of the making .. of that I am confident. The loyal make the loyal, the disloyal the disloyal. And I give no more discredit to those women you speak of, than I myself can take any credit in this thing—I– Because who could be disloyal with you .. with whatever corrupt inclination? You, who are the noblest of all? If you judge me so, .. it is my privilege rather than my merit .. as I feel of myself.
Wednesday/ All but the last few lines of all this was written before I saw you yesterday, ever dearest—& since, I have been reading your third act which is perfectly noble & worthy of you both in the conception & expression, & carries the reader on triumphantly .. to speak for one reader. It seems to me too that the language is freer—there is less inversion & more breadth of rhythm. It just strikes me so for the first impression: At any rate the interest grows & grows. You have a secret about Domizia, I guess—which will not be told till the last perhaps. And that poor, noble Luria, who will be equal to the leap .. as it is easy to see. It is full, altogether, of magnanimities:—noble,—& nobly put. I will go on with my notes, or those, you shall have at once .. I mean together .. presently. And dont hurry & chafe yourself for the fourth act—now that you are better! To be ill again—think what that would be!– Luria will be great now whatever you do—<or whatever you do not. Will he not?>
And never, never for a moment (I quite forgot to tell you) did I fancy that you were talking at me in the temper-observations—never. It was the most unprovoked egotism, all that I told you of my temper,—for certainly I never suspected you of asking questions so. I was simply amused a little by what you said, & thought to myself (if you will know my thoughts on that serious subject) that you had probably lived among very goodtempered persons, to hold such an opinion about the innocuousness of illtemper. It was all I thought, indeed. Now to fancy that I was capable of suspecting you of such a maneuvre!—— Why you would have asked me directly,—if you had wished ‘curiously to enquire.’
An excellent solemn chiming, the passage from Dante makes with your Sordello—and the Sordello deserves the labour which it needs, to make it appear the great work it is. I think that the principle of association is too subtly in movement throughout it—so that while you are going straightforward you go at the same time round & round, until the progress involved in the motion is lost sight of by the lookers on. Or did I tell you that before?
You have heard, I suppose, how Dickens’s ‘Cricket’ sells by nineteen thousand copies at a time, though he takes Michael Angelo to be ‘a humbug’ .. or for “though” read “because”. Tell me of Mr Kenyon’s dinner. And Moxon?
Is not this an infinite letter? I shall hear from you I hope .. I ask you to let me hear soon. I write all sorts of things to you, rightly & wrongly perhaps—when wrongly, forgive it. I think of you always– May God bless you. “Love me for ever,” as
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 8NT8 DE24 1845.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 94.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 338–343.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Doubtless an allusion to the Calvinist doctrine of salvation by grace rather than by good works.
3. Underscored three times.
4. Letter 2145.
5. Cf. Matthew 6:23.
6. This exclamation occurs as a parenthetical refrain in lines 10 and 17 of RB’s “Earth’s Immortalities” (1845).
7. See note 3 in the preceding letter.
8. Underscored twice.
9. See letter 2112, note 6.
10. EBB added this parenthetical remark as an afterthought.
11. Several passages in EBB’s Diary indicate that this is a reference to Ann Henrietta Boyd’s suitor, Mr. Biscoe, who finally rejected her.
12. See Appendix IV, pp. 396–397 for EBB’s notes on Act III.
13. EBB inserted the bracketed portion of text as an afterthought.
14. See EBB’s comments in letter 2025.
15. We have been unable to determine EBB’s source for this remark. Dickens’s comments about Michelangelo’s works were not published until they were included in “Travelling Letters—written on the Road,” which was serialised in The Daily News from 21 January through 11 March 1846 and subsequently published as Pictures from Italy in mid-1846.