2153. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 273–275.
Jan. 1. 1845. [sic, for 1846]
How good you are—how best! It is a favorite play of my memory to take up the thought of what you were to me (to my mind gazing!) years ago, as the poet in an abstraction .. then the thoughts of you .. a little clearer, in concrete personality, as Mr Kenyon’s friend, who had dined with him on such a day, or met him at dinner on such another, & said some great memorable thing ‘on wednesday last’, & enquired kindly about me perhaps on thursday, .. till I was proud! .. & so, the thoughts of you .. nearer & nearer (yet still far!) as the Mr Browning who meant to do me the honor of writing to me, & who did write; & who asked me once in a letter (does he remember?) “not to lean out of the window while his foot was on the stair”! .. to take up all those thoughts, & more than those, one after another, & tie them together with all these, which cannot be named so easily—which cannot be classed in botany & Greek. It is a nosegay of mystical flowers, looking strangely & brightly, .. & keeping their May-dew through the Christmases—better even than your flowers!—And I am not ‘ashamed’ of mine, .. be very sure! no!
For the siren, I never suggested to you any such thing—why you do not pretend to have read such a suggestion in my letter certainly. That would have been most exemplarily modest of me! would it not, O Ulysses?
And you meant to write, .. you meant!—& went to walk in ‘Poets’ lane’ instead, (in the [“]Aonius of Highgate,”) which I remember to have read of—does not Hunt speak of it in his memoirs?—& so now there is another track of light in the traditions of the place, & people may talk of the pomegranate-smell between the hedges. So you really have hills at New Cross, & not hills by courtesy? I was at Hampstead once—& there was something attractive to me in that fragment of heath with its wild smell, thrown down .. like a Sicilian rose from Proserpine’s lap when the car drove away, .. into all that arid civilization, “laurel-clumps & invisible visible fences”, as you say!—& the grand, eternal smoke rising up in the distance, with its witness against nature!– People grow severely in jest about cockney landscape—but is it not true that the trees & grass in the close neighbourhood of great cities, must of necessity excite deeper emotion than the woods & valleys will, a hundred miles off .. where human creatures ruminate stupidly as the cows do .. the ‘county families’ es-chewing all men who are not ‘landed proprietors’ .. & the farmers never looking higher than to the fly on the uppermost turnip-leaf! Do you know at all what English country-life is, which the English praise so, & ‘moralize upon into a thousand similies’, as that one greatest, purest, noblest thing in the world .. the purely English & excellent thing?– It is to my mind simply & purely abominable, & I would rather live in a street than be forced to live it out, .. that English country-life,—for I dont mean life in the country. The social exigencies .. why, nothing can be so bad—nothing!– That is the way by which Englishmen grow up to top the world in their peculiar line of respectable absurdities.
Think of my talking so as if I could be vexed with any one of them! I!– On the contrary I wish them all a happy new year to abuse one another, or visit each of them his nearest neighbour whom he hates, three times a week, because ‘the distance is so convenient,’ .. & give great dinners in noble rivalship: (venison from the Lord Lieutenant against turbot from London!) & talk popularity & gamelaws by turns to the tenantry, & beat down tythes to the rector. This glorious England of ours,—with its peculiar glory of the rural districts!!– And my glory of patriotic virtue, who am so happy in spite of it all .. & make a pretence of talking .. talking .. while I think the whole time of your letter. I think of your letter—I am no more a patriot than that!–
May God bless you, best & dearest! You say things to me which I am not worthy to listen to for a moment, .. even if I were deaf dust the next moment .. I confess it humbly & earnestly as before God.
Yet He knows, .. if the entireness of a gift means anything, .. that I have not given with a reserve—that I am yours in my life & soul, for this year & for other years. Let me be used for you rather than against you!—& that unspeakable, immeasurable grief of feeling myself a stone in your path, a cloud in your sky .. may I be saved from it!—pray it for me .. for my sake rather than yours. For the rest, I thank you, I thank you. You will be always to me, what today you are—& that is all!––I am your own–
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 8NT8 1846 B.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 97.; + Saturday, Jan. 3. 1846. / 3–5. p.m. 38.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 353–355.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Year provided by postmark.
2. Cf. The Merchant of Venice, I, 3, 126.
3. In letter 1854.
4. EBB has added this parenthetical remark as an afterthought. See letter 2151, note 5. Aonia is the traditional dwelling place of the muses.
5. A reference to the abduction of Proserpine, who, while gathering flowers in the plains of Enna, was carried off to the underworld by Pluto in his chariot.
6. Cf. As You Like It, II, 1, 44–45.