2184. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 14–16.
[Postmark: 23 January 1846]
Now, of all perverse interpretations that ever were and never ought to have been, commend me to this of Ba’s—after I bade her generosity “understand me”, too!—which meant, “let her pick out of my disjointed sentences a general meaning,—if she can,—which I very well know their imperfect utterance would not give to one unsupplied with the key of my whole heart’s-mystery”—and Ba, with the key in her hand, to pretend and poke feathers and pen-holders into the key-hole, and complain that the wards are wrong! So—when the poor scholar, one has read of, <uses not very dissimilar language and argument,—> who being threatened with the deprivation of his Virgil learnt the Æneid by heart and then said “Take what you can now”!—that Ba calls “feeling the loss would not be so hard after all”!– I do not, at least: and if at any future moment I should again be visited .. as I earnestly desire may never be the case .. with a sudden consciousness of the entire inutility of all earthly love, (since of my love,—) to hold its object back from the decree of God, if such should call it away,—one of those known facts which, for practical good, we treat as supremely common-place—but which, .. like those of the uncertainty of life,—the very existence of God, I may say,—if they were not commonplace, and could they be thoroughly apprehended (except in the chance minutes which make one grow old, not the mere years)—the business of the world would cease; (but when you find Chaucer’s graver at his work of “graving smale seles” by the sun’s light, you know that the sun’s self could not have been created on that day—do you “understand” that, Ba? And when I am with you, or here, or writing or walking—and perfectly happy in the sunshine of you, I very well know I am no wiser than is good for me and that there seems no harm in feeling it impossible this should change, or fail to go on increasing till this world ends and we are safe, I with you, forever.) —But when .. if only once,—as I told you, recording it for its very strangeness,—I do feel—in a flash—that words are words, and could not alter that decree .. will you tell me how, after all, that conviction and the true woe of it are better met than by the as thorough conviction that, for one blessing, the extreme woe is impossible now—that you are, and have been, mine, and me—one with me, never to be parted—so that the complete separation not being to be thought of,—such an incomplete one as is yet in Fate’s power may be the less likely to attract her notice? And, dearest, in all emergencies, see, I go to you for help,—for your gift of better comfort than is found in myself. Or ought I, if I could, to add one more proof to the Greek proverb “that the half is greater than the whole”—and only love you for myself (.. it is absurd,—but if I could disentwine you from my soul in that sense, …) only see my own will, and good .. (not in your will and good, as I now see them and shall ever see) .. should you say I did love you then? Perhaps. —And it would have been better for me, I know. I should not have written this or the like—there being no post in the Siren’s isle, as you will see–
And the end of the whole matter is—what? Not by any means what my Ba expects or ought to expect,—that I say with a flounce “Catch me blotting down on paper, again, the first vague impressions in the weakest words and being sure I have only to bid her “understand”!—when I can get “Blair on Rhetoric, and the additional chapter on the proper conduct of a letter–”! On the contrary I tell you, Ba, my own heart’s dearest, I will provoke you tenfold worse; will tell you all that comes uppermost, and what frightens me or reassures me, in moments lucid or opaque—and when all the pen-stumps and holders refuse to open the lock,—out will come the key perforce,—and once put that knowledge—of the entire love and worship of my heart and soul—to its proper use,—and all will be clear—tell me to-morrow that it will be clear when I call you to account and exact strict payment for every word and phrase and full-stop and partial stop, and no stop at all, in this wicked little note which got so treacherously the kisses and the thankfulness—written with no penholder that is to belong to me, I hope—but with the feather, possibly, which Sycorax wiped the dew from, as Caliban remembered when he was angry!—All but .. (that is, all was wrong but): to be just .. the old, dear, so dear ending which makes my heart beat now as at first .. and so pays for all—wherefore, all is right again, is it not? and you are my own priceless Ba, my very own—and I will have you,—if you like that style,—and want you, and must have you every day and all day long—much less see you to-morrow stand–
.. Now, there breaks down my new spirit—and, shame or no, I must pray you, in the old way, not to receive me standing. I should not remain master of myself I do believe!
You have put out of my head all I intended to write—and now I slowly begin to remember the matters they seem strangely unimportant—that poor impotency of a Newspaper! No—nothing of that for the present. To-morrow my dearest! (Ba’s first comment—“To-morrow? To-day is too soon, it seems—yet it is wise, perhaps, to avoid the satiety &c &c &c &c &c[”)]
Does she feel how I kissed that comment back on her dear self as fit punishment?
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St
Postmark: 8NT8 JA23 1846 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 104.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 413–415.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Bracketed passage is interpolated between lines.
2. Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, III, 1462.
3. Recorded in Hesiod’s Works and Days, lines 40–41.
4. The image of “siren’s isle” for Italy (and, later, “siren” for EBB) was suggested by the last line of Landor’s “To Robert Browning” (see letters 2150 and 2151). These images occur no fewer than a dozen times throughout the poets’ love letters.
5. Hugh Blair was the author of Lectures on Rhetoric (1783), which was often reprinted as a standard handbook.
6. The Tempest, I, 2, 321–322. In this and subsequent Shakespearean quotations, the line numbers correspond to those used in The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston, 1974).
7. i.e., The Daily News.