Correspondence

2171.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 306–312.

[London]

Sunday. [11 January 1846][1]

I have no words for you, my dearest,—I shall never have–

You are mine, I am yours. Now, here is one sign of what I said: that I must love you more than at first .. a little sign, and to be looked narrowly for or it escapes me, but then the increase it shows can only be little, so very little now—and as the fine French Chemical Analysts bring themselves to appreciate matter in its refined stages by millionths,[2] so—! At first I only thought of being happy in you,—in your happiness: now I most think of you in the dark hours that must come– I shall grow old with you, and die with you—as far as I can look into the night I see the light with me: and surely with that provision of comfort one should turn with fresh joy and renewed sense of security to the sunny middle of the day,—I am in the full sunshine now,—and after, all seems cared for—is it too homely an illustration if I say the day’s visit is not crossed by uncertainties as to the return thro’ the wild country at nightfall?– Now Keats speaks of “Beauty—that must die—and Joy whose hand is ever at his lips, bidding farewell.”[3] And who spoke of—looking up into the eyes and asking “And how long will you love us”?[4] —There is a Beauty that will not die, a Joy that bids no farewell, dear dearest eyes that will love forever!

And I—am to love no longer than I can– Well, dear—and when I can no longer—you will not blame me?—you will do only as ever, kindly and justly,—hardly more: I do not pretend to say I have chosen to put my fancy to such an experiment, and consider how that is to happen, and what measures ought to be taken in the emergency—because in the “universality of my sympathies” I certainly number a very lively one with my own heart and soul, and cannot amuse myself by such a spectacle as their supposed extinction or paralysis,—there is no doubt I should be an object for the deepest commiseration of you or any more fortunate human being:—and I hope that because such a calamity does not obtrude itself on me as a thing to be prayed against, it is no less duly implied with all the other visitations from which no humanity can be altogether exempt—just as God bids us ask for the continuance of the “daily bread”,—“battle, murder and sudden death” lie behind doubtless—I repeat, and perhaps in so doing, only give one more example of the instantaneous conversion of that indignation we bestow in another’s case, into wonderful lenity when it becomes our own, .. that I only contemplate the possibility you make me recognize, with pity, and fear .. no anger at all,—and imprecations of vengeance, for what? —Observe, I only speak of cases possible; of sudden impotency of mind,—that is possible—there are other ways of “changing”, “ceasing to love” &c which it is safest not to think of nor believe in– A man may never leave his writing desk without seeing safe in one corner of it the folded slip which directs the disposal of his papers in the event of his reason suddenly leaving him—or he may never go out into the street without a card in his pocket to signify his address to those who may have to pick him up in an apoplectic fit—but if he once begins to fear he is growing a glass bottle, and, so, liable to be smashed,—do you see? And now, love, dear heart of my heart, my own, only Ba—see no more—see what I am, what God in his constant mercy ordinarily grants to those who have, as I, received already so much,—much, past expression! It is but .. if you will so please—at worst, forestalling the one or two years, for my sake; for you will be as sure of me one day as I can be now of myself—and why not now be sure? See, love—a year is gone by—we were in one relation when you wrote at the end of a letter “Do not say I do not tire you” (by writing)—“I am sure I do”–[5] A year has gone by– Did you tire me then? Now, you tell me what is told; for my sake, sweet, let the few years go by,—we are married—and my arms are round you, and my face touches yours, and I am asking you, “Were you not to me, in that dim beginning of 1846, a joy beyond all joys, a life added to and transforming mine, the good I choose from all the possible gifts of God on this earth, for which I seem to have lived,—which accepting, I thankfully step aside and let the rest get what they can,—of what, it is very likely, they esteem more—for why should my eye be evil because God’s is good,—why should I grudge that, giving them, I do believe, infinitely less, he gives them a content in the inferior good and belief in its worth—I should have wished that further concession, that illusion as I believe it, for their sakes—but I cannot undervalue my own treasure and so scant the only tribute of mere gratitude which is in my power to pay.”– Hear this said now before the few years, and believe in it now, for then, dearest!

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Must you see “Pauline”? At least then let me wait a few days,—to correct the misprints which affect the sense, and to write you the history of it; what is necessary you should know before you see it.[6] That article I suppose to be by Heraud .. about two thirds .. and the rest,—or a little less—by that Mr Powell—whose unimaginable, impudent vulgar stupidity you get some inkling of in the “Story from Boccaccio”—of which the words quoted were his,[7] I am sure—as sure as that he knows not whether Boccaccio lived before or after Shakespeare, whether Florence or Rome be the more northern city,—one word of Italian in general, or letter of Boccaccio’s in particular.– When I took pity on him once on a time and helped his verses into a sort of grammar and sense,[8] I did not think he was a buyer of other men’s verses, to be printed as his own,—thus he bought two modernizations of Chaucer .. “Ugolino” & another story—from Leigh Hunt .. and one, “Sir Thopas” from Horne .. and printed them as his own .. as I learned only last week:[9] he paid me extravagant court and, seeing no harm in the mere folly of the man, I was on good terms with him—till ten months ago he grossly insulted a friend of mine who had written an article for the Review[10]—(which is as good as his, he being a large proprietor of the delectable property, and influencing the voices of his co-mates in council)—well, he insulted my friend, who had written that article at my special solicitation, and did all he could to avoid paying the price of it– Why?– Because the poor creature had actually taken the article to the Editor as one by his friend Serjt Talfourd contributed for pure love of him, Powell-the-aforesaid,—cutting, in consequence, no inglorious figure in the eyes of Printer & Publisher!– Now I was away all this time in Italy or he would never have ventured on such a piece of childish impertinence: and my friend being a true gentleman, and quite unused to this sort of “practice”, in the American sense, held his peace and went without his “honorarium”– But on my return, I enquired—and made him make a proper application—which Mr Powell treated with all the insolence in the world .. because, as the event showed, the having to write a cheque for “the Author of the Article”—that author’s name not being Talfourd’s .. there was certain disgrace! Since then (ten months ago—) I have never seen him—and he accuses himself, observe, of “sucking my plots while I drink his tea”[11]—one as much as the other! And now why do I tell you this, all of it? Ah,—now you shall hear! Because, it has often been in my mind to ask you what you know of this Mr Powell, or ever knew: for he, (being profoundly versed in every sort of untruth, as every fresh experience shows me—and the rest of his acquaintance—) he told me long ago, “he used to correspond with you, and that he quarrelled with you”—which I supposed to mean—that he began by sending you his books—(as with me and everybody)—and that, in return for your note of acknowledgement, he had chosen to write again, and perhaps, again—is it so? Do not write one word in answer to me .. the name of such a miserable nullity, and husk of a man, ought not to have place in your letters .. and that way he would get near to me again,—near indeed this time!– So tell me, in a word—or do not tell me.

How I never say what I sit down to say! How saying the little makes me want to say the more! How the least of little things, once taken up as a thing to be imparted to you, seems to need explanations and commentaries,—all is of importance to me—every breath you breathe, every little fact (like this) you are to know!

I was out last night—to see the rest of Frank Talfourd’s theatricals,[12]—and met Dickens and his set—so my evenings go away! If I do not bring the Act you must forgive me[13]—yet I shall .. I think; the roughness matters little in this stage– Chorley says very truly that a tragedy implies as much power kept back as brought out—very true that is—I do not, on the whole, feel dissatisfied .. as was to be but expected .. with the effect of this last—the shelve of the hill, whence the end is seen, you continuing to go down to it .. so that at the very last you may pass off into a plain and so away—not come to a stop like your horse against a church wall. It is all in long speeches—the action, proper, is in them—they are no descriptions, or amplifications—but here .. in a drama of this kind, all the events, (and interest,) take place in the minds of the actors .. somewhat like Paracelsus in that respect; you know, or don’t know, that the general charge against me, of late, from the few quarters I thought it worth while to listen to, has been that of abrupt, spasmodic writing—they will find some fault with this, of course.

How you know Chorley! That is precisely the man, that willow blowing now here now there—precisely! I wish he minded the Athenæum, its silence or its eloquence, no more nor less than I—but he goes on painfully plying me with invitation after invitation, only to show me, I feel confident, that he has no part nor lot in the matter: I have two kind little notes asking me to go on Thursday & Saturday .. See the absurd position of us both; he asks more of my presence than he can want, just to show his own kind feeling, of which I do not doubt,—and I must try and accept more hospitality than suits me, only to prove my belief in that same! For myself—if I have vanity which such Journals can raise,—would the praise of them raise it, they who praised Mr Mackay’s own, own Dead Pan,[14] quite his own, the other day (—By the way, Miss Cushman informed me the other evening that the gentleman had written a certain “Song of the Bell” .. “singularly like Schiller’s,—considering that Mr M. had never seen it!”– I am told he writes for the Athenæum, but don’t know—)[15] would that sort of praise be flattering, or his holding the tongue—which Forster, deep in the mysteries of the craft, corroborated my own notion about—as pure willingness to hurt, and confessed impotence and little clever spite, and enforced sense of what may be safe at the last– You shall see they will not notice .. unless a fresh publication alters the circumstances .. until some seven or eight months—as before; and then they will notice, and praise, and tell anybody who cares to enquire, “So we noticed the work”– So do not you go expecting justice or injustice till I tell you: it amuses me to be found writing so, so anxious to prove I understand the laws of the game, when that game is only “Thimble-rig” and for prizes of gingerbread-nuts– Prize or no prize, Mr Dilke does shift the pea, and so did from the beginning—as Charles Lamb’s pleasant sobriquet (—Mr Bilk, he would have it—) testifies– Still he behaved kindly to that poor Frances Brown[16]—let us forget him.

And now, my Audience, my crown-bearer, my path-preparer—I am with you again and out of them all—there, here, in my arms, is my proved, palpable success!—my life, my poetry,—gained nothing, oh no!—but this found them, and blessed them[.] —On Tuesday I shall see you, dearest. I am much better,—well today—are you well—or “scarcely to be called an invalid”? Oh, when I have you, am by you–

Bless you, dearest. And be very sure you have your wish about the length of the week—still Tuesday must come! and with it your own, happy, grateful

RB

 

 

 

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St.

Postmark:10FN10 JA12 1846 A.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 97.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 378–383.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Perhaps RB has in mind French chemists such as Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–94) or Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace (1749–1827) both of whom were renowned for their pioneering work in the field of qualitative and quantitative analysis.

3. Keats, “Ode on Melancholy” (1820), 21–23.

4. EBB, “The Cry of the Human,” line 67.

5. See letter 1816.

6. There are at least two forms of such a “history,” or “explanation” as RB calls it in a letter dated [19 January 1846]. The text given here is from the copy of Pauline now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Reconstruction, B20):

The following Poem was written in pursuance of a foolish plan which occupied me mightily for a time, and which had for its object the enabling me to assume & realize I know not how many different characters;—meanwhile the world was never to guess that “Brown, Smith, Jones, & Robinson” (as the spelling books have it) the respective authors of this poem, the other novel, such an opera, such a speech &c &c were no other than one and the same individual. The present abortion was the first work of the Poet of the batch, who would have been more legitimately myself than most of the others; but I surrounded him with all manner of (to my then notion) poetical accessories, and had planned quite a delightful life for him.

Only this crab remains of the shapely Tree of Life in this Fool’s paradise of mine.

RB

 

7. An anonymously published work entitled Stories from Boccaccio was reviewed in the same article as RB’s Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in The New Quarterly Review; the work has since been attributed to Thomas Powell.

8. See letter 2155, note 7, as well as Reconstruction, E565.

9. We have been unable to verify these accusations. Powell’s “The Rime of Sir Thopas” appears as one of his “Modernisations from Chaucer” in Poems (1842), and a poem called “Ugolino of Pisa” was published in Poems (1845).

10. A reference to Joseph Arnould’s review mentioned by RB in letter 1847 (see note 2).

11. RB is referring to a line from the first canto of “The Abbot of Florence” in Powell’s Stories from Boccaccio as excerpted in the article in The New Quarterly Review:

 

Jones likened them to Powell’s tragedies,

Which are made up of Horne’s and Browning’s leavings;

For he, I’m told, asks dramatists to tea,

And sucks their plots as they suck his Bohea!

 

12. Evidently a private performance of a play by Francis Talfourd (1828–62), son of Thomas Noon Talfourd. There was no public performance of his work until 1847.

13. RB refers to the fourth act of Luria which he had mentioned in the preceding letter as completed.

14. A review of Mackay’s Legends of the Isles and other poems (Edinburgh, 1845) appeared in The Athenæum for 2 August 1845 (no. 927, p. 758), and it contained extracts from “The Death of Pan,” a poem based upon the same subject matter as EBB’s “The Dead Pan.” Mackay’s poem had appeared in Hood’s Magazine four months before EBB’s poem was published.

15. Mackay had previously been a sub-editor for The Morning Chronicle, and, at the time of this letter, he was editor of The Glasgow Argus, and although he was a contributor, there is no evidence that he was officially connected to The Athenæum. “The Founding of the Bell” appears in The Poetical Works of Charles Mackay (1876), pp. 267–268, with the following note: “When this Ballad was written, the author had not read Schiller’s poem on the same subject; or it is possible—and most probable—that he would not have incurred the formidable risk of a comparison.”

16. Frances Elizabeth Browne (1816–79?), of Stranorlar in Co. Donegal, was blind and evidently “the daughter of an Irish postmaster” (see letter 1747). She gained some recognition as a minor poet after Dilke had introduced her in the early 1840’s. Ten of her poems appeared in The Athenæum in 1842.

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