2164.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 294–297.


Wednesday. [Postmark: 7 January 1846]

But some things are indeed said very truly & as I like to read them .. of you, I mean of course!,—though I quite understand that it is doing no manner of good to go back so to Paracelsus, heading the article ‘Paracelsus & other poems’, as if the other poems could not front the reader broadly by a divine right of their own. Paracelsus is a great work & will live, but the way to do you good with the stiffnecked public (such good as critics can do in their degree) wd have been to hold fast & conspicuously the gilded horn of the last living crowned creature led by you to the altar, saying ‘Look here’. What had he to do else, as a critic? Was he writing for the Retrospective Review? And then, no attempt at analytical criticism—or a failure, at the least attempt! all slack & in sentences! Still there are right things, true things, worthy things, said of you as a poet, though your poems do not find justice:—& I like, for my own part, the issuing from my cathedral into your great world .. the outermost temple of divinest consecration [1] —I like that figure & association, & none the worse for its being a sufficient refutation of what he dared to impute, of your poetical sectarianism, in another place——yours!!!

For me, it is all quite kind enough—only I object, on my own part also, to being reviewed in the Seraphim, when my better books are nearer: & also it always makes me a little savage when people talk of Tennysonianisms! [2] I have faults enough as the Muses know, .. but let them be my faults! When I wrote the Romaunt of Margret, I had not read a line of Tennyson. I came from the country with my eyes only half open, & he had not penetrated where I had been living & sleeping: & in fact when I afterwards tried to reach him here in London, nothing cd be found except one slim volume, so that, till the collected works appeared .. favente Moxon, [3]  .. I was ignorant of his best early productions, & not even for the rhythmetical form of my Vision of the Poets, was I indebted to the Two Voices,—three pages of my Vision having been written several years ago .. at the beginning of my illness .. & thrown aside, & taken up again in the spring of 1844. Ah, well! there’s no use, talking! In a solitary review which noticed my Essay on Mind, somebody wrote .. ‘this young lady imitates Darwin’ [4] —& I never could read Darwin, .. was stopped always on the second page of the ‘Loves of the plants’ when I tried to read him to ‘justify myself in having an opinion’—the repulsion was too strong. Yet the “young lady imitated Darwin” of course, as the infallible critic said so–

And who are Mr Helps & Miss Emma Fisher & the ‘many others’, [5] whose company brings one down to the right plebeianism? The ‘three poets in three distant ages born’ [6] may well stare amazed!

After all you shall not by any means say that I upset the inkstand on your review in a passion—because pray mark that the ink has over-run some of your praises, & that if I had been angry to the overthrow of an inkstand, it would not have been precisely there. [7] It is the second book spoilt by me within these two days—& my fingers were so dabbled in blackness yesterday that to wring my hands wd only have made matters worse. Holding them up to Mr Kenyon they looked dirty enough to befit a poetess—as black ‘as bard beseemed’ [8] —& he took the review away with him to read & save it from more harm.

How could it be that you did not get my letter which would have reached you, I thought, on monday evening, or on tuesday at the very very earliest?—and how is it that I did not hear from you last night again when I was unreasonable enough to expect it? is it true that you hate writing to me?

At that word, comes the review back from dear Mr Kenyon & the letter [9] which I enclose to show you how it accounts reasonably for the ink—I did it ‘in a pet’, he thinks!– And I ought to buy you a new book .. certainly I ought—only it is not worth doing justice for .. & I shall therefore send it back to you spoilt as it is,—and you must forgive me as magnanimously as you can.

‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico’ [10]  .. do you think so? I hope not indeed! vo guizzando [11]  .. & everything else that I ought to do——except of course, that thinking of you which is so difficult.

May God bless you—. Till tomorrow!

Your own always–

Mr Kenyon refers to Festus—of which I had said that the fine things were worth looking for, in the design manqué. [12]

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

Postmark: PD 8NTJA71846B.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 99.; + Thursday Jan. 8. ’46 / 3–5. p.m. (39).

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 369–372.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. EBB is paraphrasing a passage from Warburton’s review in The English Review; for the text, see p. 364.

2. The reviewer said that EBB’s “‘Poet’s Vow’ has many Tennysonian faults and graces; we cannot but regret that our author, so original in mind, should condescend to be a plagiarist in manner.”

3. “With the help of Moxon.” Tennyson’s Poems (2 vols., 1842).

4. There were three reviews of An Essay on Mind, including the one in The Eclectic Review which remarked that “The subject of the present Essay is decidedly ill chosen, and the most brilliant success alone could have redeemed this original fault. In order to do this, a style far more remote from the sparkling, crackling style of Pope … or from the tinsel and affectation of [Erasmus] Darwin, should have been adopted” (vol. XXVI, July 1826, pp. 78–82). See letter 292 in which EBB expresses her dislike of this comment. The Literary Gazette for 15 July 1826, (no. 495, p. 436) reviewed the poem in a short paragraph; and La Belle Assemblée, or Court and Fashionable Magazine of August 1826 (n.s. vol. XX, p. 85) made the following brief remark: “Another young lady has treated the public with a metaphysical ‘Essay on Mind, with Other Poems.’ The said essay, though sufficiently clever, and very very profound, is quite a blue-stocking affair.”

5. These writers are both mentioned in an extensive list of “living poets” in Warburton’s article in The English Review (p. 263). Mr. Helps is probably Arthur Helps (1813–75), who was a poet and playwright. We are unable to provide further information about Miss Emma Fisher.

6. John Dryden, “Lines on Milton” (1688), line 1. EBB’s comment refers to a remark in Warburton’s article about Henry Taylor’s poetry being able to “stand Milton’s test” (p. 263).

7. The ink mark appears on two pages of Warburton’s review. See illustration facing page 295.

8. Cf. James Thomson, The Castle of Indolence (1748), bk. 1, st. lxviii.

9. No longer extant.

10. “The unknown is ever magnified” (cf. Tacitus, Agricola, 30, trans. Maurice Hutton).

11. See letter 2155 in which RB uses a different form of this verb.

12. “Lacking.”


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