2169. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 304–305.
saturday. [Postmark: 10 January 1846]
Kindest & dearest you are!—that is “my secret”! and for the others, I leave them to you!—only it is no secret that I should & must be glad to have the words you sent with the book,—which I should have seen at all events, be sure, whether you had sent it or not– Should I not, do you think? And considering what the present generation of critics really is, the remarks on you may stand, although it is the dreariest impotency to complain of the want of flesh & blood & of human sympathy in general. Yet suffer them to say on—it is the stamp on the critical knife. There must be something eminently stupid, or farewell criticdom! And if anything more utterly untrue could be said than another, it is precisely that saying, which Mr Mackay stands up to catch the reversion of! Do you indeed suppose that Heraud could have done this? I scarcely can believe it, though some things are said rightly as about the ‘intellectuality’, & how you stand first by the brain,—which is as true as truth can be. Then, I shall have ‘Pauline’ in a day or two—yes, I shall & must .. & will.
The ‘Ballad poems & fancies’, the article calling itself by that name, seems indeed to be Mr Chorley’s, & is one of his very best papers, I think. There is to me a want of colour & thinness about his writings in general, with a grace & savoir faire nevertheless, & always a rightness & purity of intention– Observe what he says of ‘many sidedness’ seeming to trench on opinion & principle. That, he means for himself I know, for he has said to me that through having such largeness of sympathy he has been charged with want of principle—yet ‘many sidedness’ is certainly no word for him. The effect of general sympathies may be evolved both from an elastic fancy & from breadth of mind—& it seems to me that he rather bends to a phase of humanity & literature than contains it .. than comprehends it. Every part of a truth implies the whole,—& to accept truth all round, does not mean the recognition of contradictory things: universal sympathies cannot make a man inconsistent, but, on the contrary, sublimely consistent– A church tower may stand between the mountains & the sea, looking to either, & stand fast: but the willow tree at the gable-end, blown now toward the north & now toward the south while its natural leaning is due east or west, is different altogether .. as different as a willow tree from a church tower–
Ah, what nonsense! There is only one truth for me all this time, while I talk about truth & truth. And do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you—which is too much, perhaps. Shall I tell you?—it seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me—the fulness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy .. & only I know what was behind .. the long wilderness without the ‘footstep’, .. without the blossoming rose .. & the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, & disbelieve .. not you .. but my own fate? Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon & placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round & the heart turning faint, as mine do? And you love me more, you say?– Shall I thank you or God? Both, .. indeed—& there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may .. & as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you! how will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain–
Have so much faith in me, my only beloved, as to use me simply for your own advantage & happiness, & to your own ends without a thought of any others—that is all I could ask you with any disquiet as to the granting of it– May God bless you!–
But you have the review now—surely?
The Morning Chronicle attributes the authorship of ‘Modern Poets’ (our article) to Lord John Manners—so I hear this morning– I have not yet looked at the paper myself. The Athenæum, still abominably dumb!–
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: PD 8NT8 JA10 1846.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 101.; + Tuesday. Jany 13. 46 / 3½–5½. p.m. (40.)
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 375–377.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. See the preceding letter.
2. John Abraham Heraud (1799–1887), poet and dramatist, had become a contributor to The Athenæum in 1843, and later served as its dramatic critic. Lays and Legends by Charles Mackay (1814–89) was reviewed in The New Quarterly Review in the same article with RB’s Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.
3. See letter 2163, note 12.
4. The images here are evocative of several Biblical passages; e.g., Isaiah 35: 1–2 and Psalm 107:35.
5. John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton (1814–77) was not the author of “our article” which appeared in The English Review for December 1845; as indicated earlier, it was by Eliot Warburton. The Morning Chronicle for 10 January 1846 speculated on the authorship thus: “We have scarcely left ourselves space to add, that the English Review is, on the whole, an exceedingly respectable periodical. The first article, ‘On Modern English Poets,’ is such a one as Lord John Manners might write; for it abounds with those frank admissions and commonsense notions which his lordship associates with his chivalric and sentimental affection for the past” (p. 6).
6. The Athenæum reviewed Dramatic Romances and Lyrics the following week (for the text, see pp. 371–374).