Correspondence

2179.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 3–5.

[London]

Sunday. [18 January 1846][1]

Your letter came just after the hope of one had past—the latest saturday post had gone, they said: & I was beginning to be as vexed as possible, looking into the long letterless sunday. Then, suddenly came the knock—the postman redivivus .. just when it seemed so beyond hoping for––it was half past eight, observe .. & there had been a post at nearly eight—suddenly came the knock, & your letter with it. Was I not glad, do you think?

And you call the Athenæum “kind & satisfactory”? Well—I was angry instead. To make us wait so long for an ‘article’ like that, was not over-kind certainly, nor was it “satisfactory” to class your peculiar qualities with other contemporary ones, as if they were not peculiar.[2] It seemed to me cold & cautious, .. from the causes perhaps which you mention .. but the extracts will work their own way with everybody who knows what poetry is, & for others, let the critic do his worst with them. For what is said of “mist” I have no patience,—because I who know when you are obscure & never think of denying it in some of your former works, do hold that this last number is as clear & self sufficing to a common understanding, as far as the expression & medium goes, as any book in the world, & that Mr Chorley was bound in verity to say so. If I except that one stanza, you know, it is to make the general observation stronger.[3] And then “mist” is an infamous word for your kind of obscurity– You never are misty, not even in Sordello .. never vague. Your graver cuts deep sharp lines always—& there is an extra-distinctness in your images & thoughts, from the midst of which, crossing each other infinitely, the general significance seems to escape. So that to talk of a ‘mist,’ when you are obscurest, is an impotent thing to do—— Indeed it makes me angry.

But the suggested virtue of “selfrenunciation” only made me smile, because it is simply nonsense .. nonsense which proves itself to be nonsense at a glance. So genius is to renounce itself .. that is the new critical doctrine, is it? Now is it not foolish? To recognize the poetical faculty of a man, & then to instruct him in “selfrenunciation” in that very relation—or rather, to hint the virtue of it, & hesitate the dislike of his doing otherwise?[4] What atheists these critics are after all—& how the old heathens understood the divinity of gifts, better, beyond any comparison. We may take shame to ourselves, looking back–

Now, shall I tell you what I did yesterday. It was so warm, so warm, the thermometer at 68 in this room, that I took it into my head to call it April instead of January, & put on a cloak & walked down stairs into the drawing room .. walked, mind!– Before, I was carried by one of my brothers, .. even to the last autumn-day when I went out … I never walked a step for fear of the cold in the passages. But yesterday it was so wonderfully warm, & I so strong besides—it was a feat worthy of the day—& I surprised them all as much as if I had walked out of the window instead. That kind dear Stormie who with all his shyness & awkwardness has the most loving of hearts in him, said that he was ‘so glad to see me’!–

Well!—setting aside the glory of it, it would have been as wise perhaps if I had abstained .. our damp detestable climate reaches us otherwise than by cold, & I am not quite as well as usual this morning after an uncomfortable feverish night—not very unwell, mind, nor unwell at all in the least degree of consequence: & I tell you, only to show how susceptible I really am still, though “scarcely an invalid” say the complimenters.

What a way I am from your letter .. that letter .. or seem to be rather—for one may think of one thing & yet go on writing distractedly of other things. So you are ‘grateful’ to my sisters .. you! Now I beseech you not to talk such extravagances,—I mean such extravagances as words like these imply—& there are far worse words than these, in the letter .. such as I need not put my finger on,—words which are sense on my lips but no sense at all on yours, & which make me disquietedly sure that you are under an illusion. Observe!—certainly I should not choose to have a “claim” see! Only, what I object to, in ‘illusions’, ‘miracles’, & things of that sort, is the want of continuity common to such. When Joshua caused the sun to stand still, it was not for a year even!–[5] Ungrateful, I am!

And “pretty well” means “not well” I am afraid—or I should be gladder still of the new act– You will tell me on tuesday what “pretty well” means, & if your mother is better—or I may have a letter tomorrow ––dearest!– May God bless you!–

Tomorrow too, at half past three oclock, how joyful I shall be that my “kind considerateness” decided not to receive you until tuesday. My very kind considerateness, .. which made me eat my dinner, today!–

Your own Ba–

A hundred letters I have, by this last, .. to set against Napoleon’s Hundred Days—did you know that?

So much better I am tonight! it was nothing but a little chill from the damp—the fog, you see!–

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

Postmark: 10FN10 JA19 1846 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 104.; + Tuesday. Jan. 20. / 3–5. p.m. (41.)

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 401–403.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. This reference, as well as subsequent ones, are to Chorley’s review of Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in The Athenæum; for the text, see vol. 11, pp. 371–374.

3. EBB had previously expressed her doubt about the penultimate stanza of “The Lost Mistress” in letters 2070 and 2086.

4. Cf. Pope, An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1734), line 204.

5. An allusion to Joshua 10:12–13.

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