2172. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 312–315.
Tuesday Night [13 January 1846]
Ah Mr Kenyon! how he vexed me today. To keep away all the ten days before, & to come just at the wrong time after all! It was better for you .. I suppose .. I believe .. to go with him down stairs—yes, it certainly was better! it was disagreeable enough to be very wise! Yet I, being addicted to every sort of superstition turning to melancholy, did hate so breaking off in the middle of that black thread .. (do you remember what we were talking of when they opened the door?) that I was on the point of saying “Stay one moment”, which I should have repented afterwards for the best of good reasons. Oh, I should have liked to have ‘fastened off’ that black thread, & taken one stitch with a blue or a green one!
You do not remember what we were talking of? what you, rather, were talking of? And what I remember, at least, because it is exactly the most unkind & hard thing you ever said to me .. ever dearest—so I remember it by that sign!– That you should say such a thing to me—!—think what it was, for indeed I will not write it down here—it would be worse than Mr Powell! Only the foolishness of it (I mean, the foolishness of it alone) saves it, smooths it to a degree!—the foolishness being the same as if you asked a man where he would walk when he lost his head. Why, if you had asked St Denis beforehand, he would have thought it a foolish question.
And you!—you, who talk so finely of never, never doubting,—of being such an example in the way of believing & trusting——it appears, after all, that you have an imagination apprehensive (or comprehensive) of “glass bottles” like other sublunary creatures, & worse than some of them– For mark, that I never went any farther than to the stone-wall-hypothesis of your forgetting me!– I always stopped there—& never climbed to the top of it over the broken-bottle fortification, to see which way you meant to walk afterwards. And you, to ask me so coolly—think what you asked me. That you should have the heart to ask such a question!
And the reason—! And it could seem a reasonable matter of doubt to you whether I would go to the south for my health’s sake—— And I answered quite a common ‘no’ I believe—for you bewildered me for the moment—& I have had tears in my eyes two or three times since, just through thinking back of it all .. of your asking me such questions. Now did I not tell you when I first knew you, that I was leaning out of the window? True, that was—I was tired of living .. unaffectedly tired. All I cared to live for was to do better some of the work which, after all, was out of myself & which I had to reach across to do. But I told you. Then, last year, .. for duty’s sake I would have consented to go to Italy!—but if you really fancy that I would have struggled in the face of all that difficulty, .. or struggled, indeed, anywise, to compass such an object as that—except for the motive of your caring for it & me .. why you know nothing of me after all—nothing!– And now, take away the motive .. & I am where I was .. leaning out of the window again. To put it in plainer words .. (as you really require information—) I should let them do what they liked to me till I was dead—only I would’nt go to Italy .. if anybody proposed Italy out of contradiction. In the meantime I do entreat you never to talk of such a thing to me any more.
You know, if you were to leave me by your choice & for your happiness, it would be another thing. It would be very lawful to talk of that–
& observe! I perfectly understand that you did not think of doubting me .. so to speak!– But you thought, all the same, that if such a thing happened, I should be capable of doing so & so.
Well– I am not quarrelling– I am uneasy about your head rather– That pain in it .. what can it mean? I do beseech you to think of me just so much as will lead you to take regular exercise everyday, never missing a day,—since to walk till you are tired on tuesday & then not to walk at all until friday, is not taking exercise, nor the thing required. Ah, if you knew how dreadfully natural every sort of evil seems to my mind, you would not laugh at me for being afraid. I do beseech you .. dearest!– And then, Sir John Hanmer invited you, besides Mr Warburton .. & suppose you went to him for a very little time .. just for the change of air? or if you went to the coast somewhere. Will you consider, & do what is right, for me? I do not propose that you should go to Italy, observe, nor any great thing at which you might reasonably hesitate. And .. did you ever try smoking as a remedy? If the nerves of the head chiefly are affected it might do you good, I have been thinking– Or without the smoking, to breathe where tobacco is burnt,—that calms the nervous system in a wonderful manner, as I experienced once myself when, recovering from an illness, I could not sleep, & tried in vain all sorts of narcotics & forms of hop-pillow & inhalation, yet was tranquillized in one half hour by a pinch of tobacco being burnt in a shovel near me. Should you mind it very much? the trying, I mean?
Wednesday/ For ‘Pauline’ .. when I had named it to you I was on the point of sending for the book to the booksellers—then suddenly I thought to myself that I would wait & hear whether you very, very much would dislike my reading it. See now! Many readers have done virtuously, but I, (in this virtue I tell you of) surpassed them all!– And now, because I may, I “must read it”—: & as there are misprints to be corrected, will you do what is necessary, or what you think is necessary, & bring me the book on monday? Do not send—bring it—! In the meanwhile I send back the review which I forgot to give to you yesterday in the confusion– Perhaps you have not read it in your house, & in any case there is no use in my keeping it—.
Shall I hear from you, I wonder? Oh my vain thoughts, that will not keep you well!– And, ever since you have known me, you have been worse—that, you confess!,—& what if it should be the crossing of my bad star? You, of the ‘Crown’ & the ‘Lyre’, to seek influences from this ‘chair of Cassiopeia’!!. I hope she will forgive me for using her name so!– I might as well have—compared her to a professorship of poetry in the university of Oxford, according to the latest election. You know, the qualification, there, is, … not to be a poet.
How vexatious, yesterday! The stars (talking of them) were out of spherical tune, .. through the damp weather, perhaps—and that scarlet sun was a sign! First Mr Chorley!—& last, dear Mr Kenyon,—who will say tiresome things without any provocation. Did you walk with him his way, or did he walk with you yours? or did you only walk down stairs together?
Write to me! Remember that it is a month to monday– Think of your very own who bids God bless you when she prays best for herself!–
Say particularly how you are—now do not omit it. And will you have Miss Martineau’s books when I can lend them to you? Just at this moment I dare not, because they are reading them here.
Let Mr Mackay have his full proprietary in his ‘Dead Pan’—which is quite a different conception of the subject, & executed in blank verse too. I have no claims against him, I am sure!–
But for the man!—— To call him a poet! A prince & potentate of Commonplaces, such as he is!– I have seen his name in the Athenæum attached to a lyric or two .. poems, correctly called fugitive,—more than usually fugitive!—but I never heard before that his hand was in the prose department.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmarks: PD 8NT JA14 1846; J PAID 14JA14 1846.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 102.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 384–387.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. The legendary patron saint of France who suffered matyrdom by beheading in the third century. He is said to have carried his head some distance to a spot where a cathedral dedicated to him now stands.
3. See letter 1852.
4. Here EBB wrote and marked out “perhaps.”
5. See letter 2104, note 2.
6. Cf. Proverbs 31:29.
7. The New Quarterly Review which RB sent with letter 2168, and which he had first mentioned having in letter 2163.
8. As previously noted (in letter 1975), EBB is referring to the preface to Paracelsus.
9. The constellation Cassiopeia forms the outline of a seated woman with arms raised in supplication.
10. James Garbett (1802–79) was elected to the professorship of poetry at Oxford in 1842 for a five-year term, and the term was afterwards extended. His election was something of a victory for the Anti-Tractarians, whose showing of a majority for him caused the Tractarian candidate, Isaac Williams, to withdraw (Bertram C.A. Windle, Who’s Who of The Oxford Movement, 1926, p. 126).
11. Forest and Game Law Tales, published in late 1845. EBB mentioned having received it in letter 2156.