2155. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 276–279.
Sunday Night. [4 January 1846]
Yesterday, nearly the last thing, I bade you “think of me”– I wonder if you could misunderstand me in that?– As if my words or actions or any of my ineffectual outside-self should be thought of, unless to be forgiven! But I do—dearest—feel confident that while I am in your mind,—cared for, rather than thought about,—no great harm can happen to me—and as, for great harm to reach me, it must pass thro’ you,—you will care for yourself,—my self, best self!
Come, let us talk: I found Horne’s book at home, and have had time to see that fresh beautiful things are there—I suppose “Delora” will stand alone still—but I got pleasantly smothered with that odd shower of wood-spoils at the end, the dwarf-story,—cup-masses and fern and spotty yellow leaves,—all that, I love heartily—and there is good sailor-speech in the “Ben Capstan”—though he does knock a man down with a “crow-bar”—instead of a marling-spike or, even, a belaying-pin! The first tale, tho’ good, seems least new and individual .. but I must know more– At one thing I wonder—his not reprinting a quaint clever real ballad, published before “Delora”, on the “Merry Devil of Edmonton”—the first of his works I ever read—no, the very first piece was a single stanza, if I remember, in which was this line “When bason-crested Quixote, lean and bold,” .. good, is it not? Oh, while it strikes me, good, too, is that Swineshead-Monk-ballad! Only I miss the old chronicler’s touch on the method of concocting the poison “Then stole this Monk into the garden and under a certain herb, found out a Toad, which, squeezing into a cup,” &c something to that effect. I suspect, par parenthèse, you have found out by this time my odd liking for “vermin”—you once wrote “your snails”—and certainly snails are old clients of mine—but efts!—Horne traced a line to me—in the rhymes of a “’prentice-hand” I used to look over and correct occasionally—taxed me (last week) with having altered the wise line “Cold as a lizard in a sunny stream” to “Cold as a newt hid in a shady brook”—for “what do you know about newts”? he asked of the author—who thereupon confessed. But never try and catch a speckled grey lizard when we are in Italy, love—and you see his tail hang out of the chink of a wall, his winter-house—because the strange tail will snap off, drop from him and stay in your fingers—and tho’ you afterwards learn that there is more desperation in it and glorious determination to be free, than positive pain—(so people say who have no tails to be twisted off)—and tho’, moreover, the tail grows again after a sort—yet .. don’t do it, for it will give you a thrill! What a fine fellow our English water-eft is,—“Triton paludis Linnæi”—e come guizza! —(that you can’t say in another language; cannot preserve the little in-and[-]out-motion along with the straight forwardness!)—I always loved all those wild creatures God “sets up for themselves” so independently of us, so successfully, with their strange happy minute inch of candle, as it were, to light them,—while we run about and against each other with our great cressets and fire-pots. I once saw a solitary bee nipping a leaf round till it exactly fitted the front of a hole,—his nest, no doubt,—or tomb, perhaps—“Safe as Œdipus’s grave-place, ’mid Colone’s olives swart”—(kiss me, my Siren!)—well, it seemed awful to watch that bee—he seemed so instantly from the teaching of God! Ælian says that .. a frog, does he say?—some animal, having to swim across the Nile, never fails to provide himself with a bit of reed, which he bites off and holds in his mouth transversely and so puts from shore gallantly .. because when the water-serpent comes swimming to meet him, there is the reed, wider than his serpent-jaws, and no hopes of a swallow that time—now fancy the two meeting heads, the frog’s wide eyes and the vexation of the snake!
Now, see! do I deceive you? Never say I began by letting down my dignity “that with no middle flight intends to soar above the Aonian Mount!”–
My best, dear, dear one,—may you be better, less depressed, .. I can hardly imagine frost reaching you if I could be by you. Think what happiness you mean to give me,—what a life,—what a death! “I may change”—too true,—yet, you see, as an eft was to me at the beginning so it continues– I may take up stones and pelt the next I see—but—do you much fear that?– Now, walk, move, guizza, anima mia dolce. Shall I not know one day how far your mouth will be from mine as we walk? May I let that stay .. dearest—(the line stay, not the mouth).
I am not very well to-day—or, rather, have not been so—now, I am well and with you– I just say that, very needlessly, but for strict frankness’ sake. Now, you are to write to me soon, and tell me all about yourself, and to love me ever, as I love you ever, and bless you, and leave you in the hands of God– My own love!
Tell me if I do wrong to send this by a morning post—so as to reach you earlier than the evening—when you will .. write to me?
Don’t let me forget to say that I shall receive the Review to-morrow, and will send it directly.
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 12NN12 JA5 1846 A.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 92.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 355–358.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Horne’s Ballad Romances had just been published. It contained “The Ballad of Delora,” which was first published in The Monthly Repository in 1836, and “Ben Capstan: a Ballad of the Night-Watch,” which appeared for the first time in this collection.
3. “The Rime of the Merrie Devil of Edmonton” appeared in the January 1836 issue of The Monthly Repository (pp. 25–30), the same issue in which RB’s “Porphyria” and “Johannes Agricola” appeared.
4. RB is quoting the third line from the first stanza of Horne’s “Stanzas to A Ruined Windmill,” which appeared in the October 1834 issue of The Monthly Repository (pp. 712–713). “Eyes, calm beside thee,” a sonnet by RB, immediately preceded Horne’s poem.
5. Horne’s poem has this prefatory note: “The following Ballad is founded upon the above Chronicle by Caxton [The Cronycle of Englonde], reprinted by Wynkyn de Worde, in Flete St., 1520. The same story is told in ‘Grafton’s Chronicle’ of some half a century later date, with a few circumstantial variations, which appear to have no other authority than the fancy of the veteran chronicler.”
7. Cf. Burns, “Green Grow the Rashes O” (1784), line 23. Based upon RB’s comments in letter 2171, it is likely that the author referred to here is Thomas Powell.
8. “‘Triton of a Linnaean lake’—and how it darts!”
9. EBB, “The Lost Bower,” line 280.
10. Claudius Ælianus (ca. 170–235), known as Meliglossus (“honey-tongued”), was the author of De natura animalium, a collection of anecdotes of animal life; however, the clever frog referred to is in his Historiæ Variæ, bk. I, ch. 3.
11. Cf. Sordello, vi, 621.
12. Paradise Lost, I, 14–15.
13. “Dart, my sweet soul.”
14. RB is referring to The English Review for December 1845, which contained Eliot Warburton’s reviews of EBB’s and RB’s works; for the text of these reviews, see pp. 351–355 and pp. 364–365.