Correspondence

2150.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 268–270.

[London]

Tuesday. [Postmark: 30 December 1845]

When you are gone I find your flowers; & you never spoke of nor showed them to me—so instead of yesterday I thank you today—thank you. Count among the miracles, that your flowers live with me—I accept that for an omen, dear—dearest! Flowers in general, all the flowers, die of despair when they come into the same atmosphere[1] .. used to do it so constantly & observably that it made me melancholy & I left off for the most part having them here. Now, you see, how they put up with the close room, & condescend to me & the dust!—it is true & no fancy! To be sure they know that I care for them & that I stand up by the table myself to change their water & cut their stalks freshly at intervals .. that may make a difference perhaps. Only the great reason must be that they are yours, & that you teach them to bear with me patiently.

Do not pretend even, to misunderstand what I meant to say yesterday of dear Mr Kenyon. His blame would fall as my blame of myself has fallen: he would say .. will say .. “it is ungenerous of her to let such a risk be run! I thought she would have been more generous.” There, is Mr Kenyon’s opinion as I forsee it! Not that it would be spoken, you know! he is too kind. And then, he said to me last summer, somewhere à propos to the flies or butterflies, that he had “long ceased to wonder at any extreme of foolishness produced by—love”– He will of course think you very very foolish, but not ungenerously foolish like other people——

Never mind. I do not mind indeed. I mean, that, having said to myself worse than the worst perhaps of what can be said against me by any who regard me at all, & feeling it put to silence by the fact that you do feel so & so for me,—feeling that fact to be an answer to all, .. I cannot mind much, in comparison, the railing at second remove.– There will be a nine days railing of it & no more!—and if on the ninth day, you should not exactly wish never to have known me, the better reason will be demonstrated to stand with us. On this one point the wise man cannot judge for the fool his neighbour.[2] If you do love me, the inference is that you would be happier with than without me—& whether you do, you know better than another: so I think of you & not of them .. always of you! When I talked of being afraid of dear Mr Kenyon, I just meant that he makes me nervous with his all-scrutinizing spectacles, put on for ‘great occasions,[’] & his questions which seem to belong to the spectacles, they go together so!—and then I have no presence of mind, as you may see without the spectacles. My only way of hiding (when people set themselves to look for me) would be the old child’s way of getting behind the window curtains or under the sofa:—& even that might not be effectual if I had recourse to it now– Do you think it would? Two or three times I have fancied that Mr Kenyon suspected something—but if he ever did, his only reproof was a reduplicated praise of you—he praises you always & in relation to every sort of subject.

What a misomonsism[3] you fell into yesterday, you who have so much great work to do which no one else can do except just yourself!—& you, too, who have courage & knowledge, & must know that every work, with the principle of life in it, will live, let it be trampled ever so under the heel of a faithless & unbelieving generation—yes, that it will live like one of your toads, for a thousand years in the heart of a rock. All men can teach at second or third hand, as you said .. by prompting the foremost rows .. by tradition & translation:—all, except poets, who must preach their own doctrine & sing their own song, to be the means of any wisdom or any music, & therefore have stricter duties thrust upon them, & may not lounge in the στοα[4] like the conversation-teachers. So much I have to say to you, till we are in the Siren’s island, … & I, jealous of the Siren!–

 

— “The Siren waits thee singing song for song,”[5]

says Mr Landor. A prophecy which refuses to class you with the ‘mute fishes,’[6] precisely as I do.

And are you not my ‘good’—all my good now—my only good ever? The Italians would say it better without saying more.

I had a letter from Miss Martineau this morning who accounts for her long silence by the supposition, .. put lately to an end by scarcely credible information from Mr Moxon, she says .. that I was out of England,—gone to the South from the 20th of September. She calls herself the strongest of women, & talks of “walking fifteen miles one day & writing fifteen pp. another day without fatigue”—also of mesmerizing & of being infinitely happy except in the continued alienation of two of her family who cannot forgive her for getting well by such unlawful means. And she is to write again to tell me of Wordsworth, & promises to send me her new work[7] in the meanwhile—all very kind.

So here is my letter to you which you asked for so “against the principles of universal justice.” Yes, very unjust—very unfair it was—only, you make me do just as you like in everything. Now confess to your own conscience that even if I had not a lawful claim of a debt against you, I might come to ask charity with another sort of claim, oh “son of humanity.” Think how much more need of a letter I have than you can have, .. & that if you have a giant’s power, ‘tis tyrannous to use it like a giant’–[8] Who would take tribute from the desert? How I grumble. Do let me have a letter directly! remember that no other light comes to my windows, & that I wait “as those who watch for the morning”[9]—“lux mea!”[10]

May God bless you—and mind to say how you are exactly, and dont neglect the walking, pray do not!

Your own–

And after all, those women! A great deal of doctrine commends & discommends itself by the delivery: & an honest thing may be said so foolishly as to disprove its very honesty. Now after all, what did she mean by that very silly expression about books, but that she did not feel as she considered herself capable of feeling—& what else but that was the meaning of the other woman? Perhaps it should have been spoken earlier—nay, clearly it should—but surely it was better spoken even in the last hour than not at all .. surely it is always & under all circumstances, better spoken at whatever cost—I have thought so steadily since I could think or feel at all. An entire openness to the last moment of possible liberty, at whatever cost & consequence, is the most honorable & most merciful way, both for men & women! perhaps for men in an especial manner. But I shall send this letter away, being in haste to get change for it.

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

Postmark: 8NT8 DE30 1845 E.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 96.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 348–351.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLIV. EBB had made a similar comment to Julia Martin in January 1843; see letter 1141.

2. Cf. I Corinthians 6:5.

3. The meaning of this neologism is unclear, but perhaps refers to RB’s self-doubt.

4. “Portico,” or “stoa,” from which the Stoics derive their name.

5. This is the last line of Landor’s lines “To Robert Browning”; see illustration facing p. 178.

6. Cf. Charles Lamb, A Quakers’ Meeting (1823).

7. Forest and Game Law Tales (3 vols., 1845); volume 1 had been reviewed in The Athenæum for 20 December 1845 (no. 947, p. 1214), and volumes 2 and 3 were mentioned in The Athenæum for 21 February 1846 (no. 956, p. 198). The first two volumes were sent to EBB in early January 1846 (see letter 2156); present whereabouts unknown.

8. Measure for Measure, II, 2, 108–109.

9. Cf. Psalm 130:6.

10. “My light.” Cf. Psalm 27:1.

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