Correspondence

2180.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 5–7.

[London]

Monday Mg [Postmark: 19 January 1846]

Love, if you knew but how vexed I was, so very few minutes after my note left last night, how angry with the unnecessary harshness into which some of the phrases might be construed—you would forgive me, indeed– But, when all is confessed and forgiven, the fact remains—that it would be the one trial I know I should not be able to bear,—the repetition of those “scenes”—intolerable—not to be written of, even—my mind refuses to form a clear conception of them–

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My own loved letter is come—and the news,—of which the reassuring postscript lets the interrupted joy flow on again. Well, and I am not to be grateful for that,—nor that you do “eat your dinner”?– Indeed you will be ingenious to prevent me! I fancy myself meeting you on “the stairs”—stairs and passages generally, and galleries, (ah, those indeed!)—all, with their picturesque accidents, of landing-places, and spiral heights & depths, and sudden turns, and visions of half-open doors into what Quarles calls “mollitious chambers”[1]—and above all, landing-places—they are my heart’s delight– I would come upon you unaware on a landing-place in my next dream! One day we may walk in the galleries round and over the inner-court of the Doges’ Palace at Venice,—and read, on tablets against the wall, how such an one was banished for an “enormous dig (intacco) into the public treasure”—another for .. what you are not to know because his friends have got chisels and chipped away the record of it—underneath the “giants” on their stands, and in the midst of the cortile[2] the bronze fountains whence the girls draw water–

So you too wrote French verses?– Mine were of less lofty argument—one couplet makes me laugh now for the reason of its false quantity– I translated the Ode of Alcæus,—and the last couplet ran thus ..

 

Harmodius, et toi, cher Aristogĭton!

∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙

∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙

Comme l’astre du jour, brillera votre nom![3]

The fact was, I could not bear to hurt my French Master’s feelings—who inveterately maltreated “αι’s and οι’s” and in this instance, an “ει”–[4] But “Pauline” is altogether of a different sort of precocity—you shall see it when I can muster resolution to transcribe the explanation which I know is on the fly-leaf of a copy here–[5] Of that work, the Athenæum said <…>[6]—now, what outrageous folly,—I care, and you care, precisely nothing about its sayings and doings—yet here I talk!

Now to you—Ba! When I go thro’ sweetness to sweetness, at “Ba” I stop last of all, and lie and rest. That is the quintessence of them all,—they all take colour and flavour from that– So, dear, dear Ba, be glad as you can to see me tomorrow– God knows how I embalm every such day,—I do not believe that one of the forty[7] is confounded with another in my memory. So, that is gained and sure for ever. And of letters, this makes my 104th and, like Donne’s Bride, “I take / My jewels from their boxes; call / My Diamonds, Pearls and Emeralds, and make / Myself a constellation of them all!”–[8] Bless you, my own Beloved!

—I am much better to-day—having been not so well yesterday—whence the note to you, perhaps! I put that to your charity for construction. By the way, let the foolish and needless story about my whilome friend[9] be of this use, that it records one of the traits in that same generous lover of me, I once mentioned, I remember—one of the points in his character which, I told you, would account, if you heard them, for my parting company with a good deal of warmth of attachment to myself.

What a day! But you do not so much care for rain, I think. My mother is no worse, but still suffering sadly.

Ever your own, dearest—ever–

RB

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 JA19 1846 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 102.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 403–406.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. RB owned several books by Francis Quarles (1592–1644); see Reconstruction, A1909–14. Quarles does not use the adjective “mollitious” as given here by RB; however, cf. Sordello, III, 129 and The Ring and the Book, IX, 1195.

2. “Courtyard.” The Stairway of the Giants is just opposite the main entrance to the courtyard, and is so called because of the statues of Mars and Neptune that are situated at the top. The bronze well-heads date from the 16th century.

3. “Harmodious, and you too, dear Aristogiton!” / “Your names will shine like the morning star!” Cf. “In Harmodium et Aristogitonem Hymnus,” lines 14–16, in Carmina, cum Sapphonis et Alcaei Fragmentis (Glasgow, 1783). This volume formed lot 333 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A61). Harmodious and Aristogiton, who were instrumental in ending the tyranny of Pisistratus’s two sons, lived some time after the Lesbian poet Alcæus.

4. Cf. EBB, “Wine of Cyprus,” line 72. RB’s French tutor was Auguste Loradoux (see letter 2031, note 8).

5. See letter 2171, note 6.

6. Here RB obliterated about two-thirds of a line, leaving only an opening quotation mark. The Athenæum review of Pauline, by Allan Cunningham, is reprinted in volume 3, p. 345.

7. EBB and RB had their fortieth meeting on 13 January.

8. Cf. Donne, “An Epithalamion, or Mariage Song on the Lady Elizabeth” (1633), lines 34–36.

9. See letter 2178.

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