2181.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 7–10.


Wednesday. [21 January 1846] [1]

Ever since I ceased to be with you .. ever dearest, .. I have been with your Luria, [2] if that is ceasing to be with you .. which it is, I feel at last. Yet the new act is powerful & subtle, & very affecting, it seems to me, after a grave, suggested pathos; the reasoning is done on every hand with admirable directness & adroitness, & poor Luria’s iron baptism under such a bright crossing of swords, most miserably complete. Still .. is he to die so? Can you mean it? Oh—indeed I never forsaw that—not a guess of mine ever touched such an end—and I can scarcely resign myself to it as a necessity, even now .. I mean, to the act, as Luria’s act, whether it is final or not—the act of suicide being so unheroical. But you are a dramatic poet & right perhaps, where, as a didactic poet, you would have been wrong, .. &, after the first shock, I begin to see that your Luria is the man Luria & that his “sun” lights him so far & not farther than so, & to understand the natural reaction of all that generous trust & hopefulness, what naturally it would be. Also, it is satisfactory that Domizia, having put her woman’s part off to the last, should be too late with it—it will be a righteous retribution. I had fancied that her object was to isolate him, .. to make his military glory & national recompense ring hollowly to his ears, &, so, commend herself, drawing back the veil.

Puccio’s scornful working out of the low work, is very finely given, I think, .. & you have ‘a cunning right hand,’ [3] to lift up Luria higher in the mind of your readers, by the very means used to pull down his fortunes—you show what a man he is by the very talk of his rivals .. by his “natural god”ship over Puccio– Then—Husain is nobly characteristic– I like those streaks of Moorish fire in his speeches. “Why ’twas all fighting” &c .. that passage perhaps is over-subtle for a Husain—but too nobly right in the abstract to be altered, if it is so or not. Domizia talks philosophically besides, & how eloquently;—& very noble she is where she proclaims


‘The angel in thee & rejects the sprites

That ineffectual crowd about his strength

And mingle with his work & claim the share–’ [4]

But why not “spirits” rather than “sprites,” which has a different association by custom? ‘Spirits’ is quite short enough, it seems to me, for a last word—it sounds like a monosyllable that trembles .. or thrills, rather. And, do you know, I agree with yourself a little when you say .. (as did you not say?)—that some of the speeches .. Domizia’s for instance .. are too lengthy. I think I should like them to coil up their strength, here & there, in a few passages. Luria .. poor Luria .. is great & pathetic when he stands alone at last, & “all his waves have gone over him”. [5] Poor Luria!– And now, I wonder where Mr Chorley will look, in this work, .. along all the edges of the hills, .. to find, or prove, his favorite “mist!” On the glass of his own opera-lorgnon, perhaps:—shall we ask him to try that?

But first, I want to ask you something—I have had it in my head a long time, but it might as well have been in a box—& indeed if it had been in the box with your letters, I should have remembered to speak of it long ago. So now, at last, tell me—how do you write, o my poet? [6] with steel pens, or Bramah pens, or goosequills or crowquills?– [7] Because I have a penholder which was given to me when I was a child, & which I have used both then & since in the production of various great epics & immortal ‘works,’ until in these latter years it has seemed to me too heavy & I have taken into service, instead of it, another two-inch-long instrument which makes Mr Kenyon laugh to look at—& so, my fancy has run upon your having the heavier holder, which is not very heavy after all, & which will make you think of me whether you choose it or not, besides being made of a splinter from the ivory gate of old, [8] & therefore not unworthy of a true prophet– Will you have it .. dearest? Yes—because you cant help it. When you come .. on saturday!–

And for ‘Pauline’, .. I am satisfied with the promise to see it some day .. when we are in the isle of the sirens, or ready for wandering in the Doge’s galleries … I seem to understand that you would really rather wish me not to see it now .. & as long as I do see it.! So that shall be!– Am I not good now, & not a teazer? If there is any poetical justice in ‘the seven worlds,’ [9] I shall have a letter tonight.

By the way you owe me two letters by your confession. A hundred & four of mine you have, & I, only a hundred & two of yours .. which is a ‘deficit’ scarcely creditable to me, (—now is it? ..) when according to the law & ordinance, a woman’s hundred & four letters would take two hundred & eight at least, from the other side, to justify them– Well! I feel inclined to wring out the legal per centage to the uttermost farthing,—but fall into a fit of gratitude, notwithstanding, thinking of monday, & how the second letter came beyond hope. Always better, you are, than I guess you to be,—& it was being best, to write, as you did, for me to hear twice on one day!—best & dearest!

But the first letter was not what you feared– I know you too well not to know how that letter was written & with what intention. Do you, on the other hand, endeavour to comprehend how there may be an eccentricity & obliquity in certain relations & on certain subjects, while the general character stands up worthily of esteem & regard .. even of yours. Mr Kenyon says broadly that it is monomania .. neither more nor less. Then the principle of passive filial obedience is held .. drawn (& quartered) from scripture– He sees the law & the gospel on his side. Only the other day, there was a setting forth of the whole doctrine, I hear, down stairs—“passive obedience, & particularly in respect to marriage.” One after the other, my brothers all walked out of the room, & there was left for sole auditor, Captain Surtees Cook, who had especial reasons for sitting it out against his will,—so he sate & asked “if children were to be considered slaves” as meekly as if he were asking for information. I could not help smiling when I heard of it. He is just succeeding in obtaining what is called an “adjutancy”, which, with the half pay, will put an end to many anxieties– [10]

Dearest .. when, in the next dream, you meet me in the “landing-place”, tell me why I am to stand up to be reviewed again. What a fancy, that is of yours, for ‘full-lengths’—& what bad policy, if a fancy, to talk of it so!—because you would have had the glory & advantage, & privelege, of seeing me on my feet twenty times before now, if you had not impressed on me, in some ineffable manner, that to stand on my head wd scarcely be stranger. Nevertheless you shall have it your own way, as you have everything—which makes you so very, very, exemplarily submissive, you know!–

Mr Kenyon does not come—puts it off to saturday perhaps.

The Daily News I have had a glance at. A weak leading article, I thought .. & nothing stronger from Ireland:—but enough advertisements to promise a long future. What do you think? or have you not seen the paper? No broad principles, laid down– A mere newspaper-support of the ‘League.’ [11]

May God bless you– Say how you are—& do walk, & ‘care’ for yourself

&, so, for your own Ba.

Have I expressed to you at all how Luria impresses me, & more & more? You shall see the ‘remarks’ with the other papers—the details of what strikes me.

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

Postmarks: 1846 JA22 8Mg8; 10FN10 JA22 1846A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 105.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 406–409.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Evidently RB had brought the first four acts of Luria to their meeting on the previous day.

3. Psalm 137:5.

4. Luria, IV, 196–198. In her critical notes on Act IV of Luria (see vol. 11, pp. 397–398), EBB questioned the use of the word “sprites,” but RB did not alter it.

5. We have been unable to identify the source of this quotation.

6. Cf. EBB, “Catarina to Camoëns,” lines 47 and 51.

7. Joseph Bramah (1749–1814) first introduced a nib stylized into a holder in 1809.

8. See letter 2112, note 6. EBB corrects herself in letter 2183.

9. A reference to the seven planets as defined in old astronomy: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (OED).

10. i.e., regarding his limited finances, on which it would be difficult to marry Henrietta. He assumed the post of adjutant of the 1st Somerset Militia on 28 April 1846, the same day he retired from the 83rd Regiment on half-pay. For further details of his life and his association with EBB and RB, see pp. 363–368.

11. i.e., the Anti-Corn Law League. The first issue of The Daily News appeared the day this letter was written.


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 4-05-2020.

Copyright © 2020 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.