2163. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 291–294.
Tuesday Night. [6 January 1846]
But, my sweet, there is safer going in letters than in visits, do you not see? In the letter, one may go to the utmost limit of one’s supposed tether without danger—there is the distance so palpably between the most audacious step there, and the next .. which is no where, seeing it is not in the letter: quite otherwise in personal intercourse, where any indication of turning to a certain path, even, might possibly be checked not for its own fault but lest, the path once reached and proceeded in, some other forbidden turning might come into sight, we will say: in the letter, all ended there, just there .. and you may think of that, and forgive,—at all events, may avoid speaking irrevocable words—and when, as to me, those words are intensely true, doom-words—think, dearest! Because, as I told you once, what most characterizes my feeling for you is the perfect respect in it, the full belief .. (I shall get presently to poor Robert’s very avowal of “owing you all esteem”!)– It is on that I build, and am secure—for how should I know, of myself, how to serve you and be properly yours if it all was to be learnt by my own interpreting, and what you professed to dislike you were to be considered as wishing for, and what liking, as it seemed, you were loathing at your heart, and if so many “noes” made a “yes”, and “one refusal no rebuff” and all that horrible bestiality which stout gentlemen turn up the whites of their eyes to, when they rise after dinner and, pressing the right hand to the left side say, “The toast be dear woman!” Now, love, with this feeling in me from the beginning,—I do believe,—now, when I am utterly blest in this gift of your love and least able to imagine what I should do without it,—I cannot but believe, I say, that had you given me once a “refusal”—clearly derived from your own feelings, and quite apart from any fancied consideration for my interests,—had this come upon me, whether slowly but inevitably in the course of events, or suddenly as precipitated by any step of mine,—I should, believing you, have never again renewed directly or indirectly such solicitation,—I should have begun to count how many other ways were yet open to serve you and devote myself to you .. but from the outside, now, and not in your livery! Now, if I should have acted thus under any circumstances, how could I but redouble my endeavours at precaution after my own foolish … you know, and forgave long since, and I, too, am forgiven in my own eyes, for the cause, tho’ not the manner—but could I do other than keep “farther from you” than in the letters, dearest? For your own part in that matter, seeing it with all the light you have since given me (and then, not inadequately by my own light) I could, I do kiss your feet, kiss every letter in your name, bless you with my whole heart and soul if I could pour them out, from me, before you, to stay and be yours,—when I think on your motives and pure perfect generosity– It was the plainness of that which determined me to wait and be patient and grateful and your own for ever in any shape or capacity you might please to accept– Do you think that because I am so rich now, I could not have been most rich, too, then—in what would seem little only to me, only with this great happiness? I should have been proud beyond measure & happy past all desert, to call and be allowed to see you simply, speak with you and be spoken to—what am I more than others? Don’t think this mock-humility—it is not—you take me in your mantle, and we shine together, but I know my part in it! All this is written breathlessly on a sudden fancy that you might .. if not now, at some future time, .. give other than this, the true reason, for that discrepancy you see, that nearness in the letters, that early farness in the visits! And, love, all love is but a passionate drawing closer– I would be one with you, dearest,—let my soul press close to you, as my lips, dear life of my life.
Wednesday/ You are entirely right about those poems of Horne’s. I spoke only of the effect of the first glance, and it is a principle with me to begin by welcoming any strangeness, intention of originality in men—the other way of safe copying precedents being so safe! So I began by praising all that was at all questionable in the form .. reserving the ground-work for after consideration. The Elf-story turns out a pure mistake, I think—and a common mistake, too. Fairy Stories, the good ones, were written for men & women, and, being true, pleased also children—now, people set about writing for children and miss them and the others, too,—with that detestable irreverence and plain mocking all the time at the very wonder they profess to want to excite– All obvious bending down to the lower capacity,—determining not to be the great complete man one is, by half,—any patronizing minute to be spent in the nursery over the books and work and healthful play, of a visitor who will presently bid good bye and betake himself to the Beefsteak Club– Keep us from all that!– The Sailor-language is good in its way,—but as wrongly used in Art as real clay & mud would be, if one plastered them on the foreground of a landscape in order to attain to so much truth .. at all events—the true thing to endeavour is the making a golden colour which shall do every good in the power of the dirty brown– Well, then, what a veering weathercock am I, to write so and now, so! Not altogether,—for first it was but the stranger’s welcome I gave, the right of every newcomer who must stand or fall by his behavior once admitted within the door—and then—when I know what Horne thinks of—you, dearest,—how he knew you first, and from the soul admired you,—and how little he thinks of my good fortune .. I could not begin by giving you a bad impression of anything he sends—he has such very few rewards for a great deal of hard excellent enduring work, and none, no reward, I do think, would he less willingly forego than your praise & sympathy– But your own opinion once expressed—truth remains the truth—so, at least, I excuse myself .. and quite as much for what I say now as for what was said then! King John is very fine and full of purpose: The Noble Heart—sadly faint and uncharacteristic. The chief incident, too, turns on that poor conventional fallacy about what constitutes a proper wrong to resist—a piece of morality, after a different standard, is introduced to complete another fashioned morality—a segment of a circle of larger dimensions is fitted into a smaller one—now, you may have your own standard of morality in this matter of resistance to wrong, how and when if at all—and you may quite understand and sympathize with quite different standards innumerable of other people,—but go from one to the other abruptly, you cannot, I think– “Bear patiently all injuries—revenge in no case”—that is plain. “Take what you conceive to be God’s part, do his evident work, stand up for good & destroy evil, and coöperate with this whole scheme here”—that is plain, too,—but, call Otto’s conduct no wrong, or being one, not such as should be avenged—and then, call the remark of a stranger that one is a “recreant”,—just what needs the slight punishment of instant death to the remarker—and .. where is the way? What is clear?
—not my letter! which goes on and on—“dear letters”—sweetest? because they cost all the precious labour of making out? Well, I shall see you to-morrow, I trust—bless you, my own. I have not half said what was to say even in the letter I thought to write, and which proves only what you see! But at a thought I fly off with you, “at a cock crow from the Grange”– Ever your own
Last night, I received a copy of the New Quarterly—now here is popular praise, a sprig of it! Instead of the attack I supposed it to be, from my foolish friend’s account—the notice is outrageously eulogistical, a stupidly extravagant laudation from first to last—and in three other articles, as my sister finds by diligent fishing, they introduce my name with the same felicitous praise—(except one instance, though, in a good article by Chorley I am certain)—and with me—I don’t know how many poetical crétins are praised as noticeably—and, in the turning of a page, somebody is abused in the richest style of scavengering—only Carlyle! And I love him enough not to envy him nor wish to change places, and giving him mine, mount into his–
All which, let me forget in the thoughts of to-morrow! Bless you, my Ba.
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 8NT8 JA7 1846 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 94.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 364–368.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Cf. EBB, “Bertha in the Lane” in Poems (1844), line 130.
3. Byron, Mazeppa (1819), line 281.
4. i.e., his Ballad Romances, just published.
5. “The Elf of the Woodlands: a Child’s Story” was the final work in Horne’s volume.
6. Founded in 1709, it was meeting at this time in the New Lyceum where a large room had been provided. It went out of existence in 1867.
7. In “Ben Capstan: a Ballad of the Night-Watch.”
8. “The Monk of Swineshead Abbey: A Ballad Chronicle of the Death of King John.”
9. “The Noble Heart: a Bohemian Legend.”
10. “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” line 186.
11. For the text of this review, see pp. 369–371.
12. i.e., in the same issue of The New Quarterly Review. First, in a review of four different volumes of Irish poetry, RB was named in the same paragraph with Shakespeare, Sidney, Jonson, Byron, Shelley, and Tennyson (p. 63). Second, in the opening remarks of praise for My Life, by Ernest Charles Jones (pseud. Percy Vere, 1819–69), the reviewer remarked that it “contains more pregnant thoughts, more bursts of lyric power, more, in fine, of the purely grand and beautiful, than any poetical work which has made its appearance for years, if we except the magnificent productions of Browning, and perhaps the lays of Tennyson” (p. 222). Third, in an unfavourable review of The Earl of Gowrie by the Rev. James White, the following comparison of White’s work to that of Philip von Artevelde by Henry Taylor was made: “Now, as no ‘Edinburgh’ or ‘Quarterly’ page has yet proclaimed Mr. White the greatest dramatic poet of the day (as which these ‘critics’ actually upheld Mr. Taylor, to the utter confusion, no doubt, of such scribblers as Sheridan Knowles and Browning)” (p. 229). Despite RB’s assertion here, and EBB’s agreement in letter 2169, we have been unable to verify that Chorley was the author of the article entitled “Ballad Poems and Fancies,” which does mention RB.
13. A review of Carlyle’s Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches appeared on pp. 164–177.