2185. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 16–19.
[25 January 1846]
I must begin by invoking my own stupidity! To forget after all the pen-holder! I had put it close beside me too on the table, & never once thought of it afterwards from first to last—just as I should do if I had a commonplace book, the memoranda all turning to obliviscenda as by particular contract. So I shall send the holder with Miss Martineau’s books which you can read or not as you like,—they have beauty in passages .. but trained up against the wall of a set design, want room for branching & blossoming, great as her skill is. I like her “Playfellow” stories twice as well– Do you know them? Written for children, & in such a fine heroic child-spirit as to be too young & too old for nobody. Oh, & I send you besides a most frightful extract from an American magazine sent to me yesterday .. no, the day before .. on the subject of mesmerism—& you are to understand, if you please, that the Mr Edgar Poe who stands committed in it, is my dedicator .. whose dedication I forgot, by the way, with the rest—so, while I am sending, you shall have his poems with his mesmeric experience & decide whether the outrageous compliment to EBB or the experiment on M. Vandeleur goes furthest to prove him mad– There is poetry in the man, though, now & then, seen between the great gaps of bathos .. ‘Politian’ will make you laugh—as the ‘Raven’ made me laugh, though with something in it which accounts for the hold it took upon people such as Mr N. P. Willis & his peers—it was sent to me from four different quarters besides the author himself, before its publication in this form, & when it had only a newspaper life. Some of the other lyrics have power of a less questionable sort. For the author, I do not know him at all—never heard from him nor wrote to him—and in my opinion, there is more faculty shown in the account of that horrible mesmeric experience (mad or not mad) than in his poems. Now do read it from the beginning to the end. That “going out” of the hectic, struck me very much .. & the writhing away of the upper lip. Most horrible!– Then I believe so much of mesmerism, as to give room for the full acting of the story on me .. without absolutely giving full credence to it, understand.
Ever dearest, you could not think me in earnest in that letter? It was because I understood you so perfectly that I felt at liberty for the jesting a little—for had I not thought of that before, myself, & was I not reproved for speaking of it, when I said that I was content, for my part, even so? Surely you remember—and I should not have said it if I had not felt with you, felt & known, that “there is, with us, less for the future to give or take away than in the ordinary cases. So much less! All the happiness I have known has come to me through you, & it is enough to live for or die in—therefore living or dying I would thank God, & use that word “enough” … being yours in life & death. And always understanding that if either of us should go, you must let it be this one here who was nearly gone when she knew you, since I could not bear—
Now see if it is possible to write on this subject, unless one laughs to stop the tears. I was more wise on friday.
Let me tell you instead of my sister’s affairs, which are so publicly talked of in this house that there is no confidence to be broken in respect to them—yet my brothers only see & hear, & are told nothing, to keep them as clear as possible from responsibility. I may say of Henrietta that her only fault is .. her virtues being written in water– I know of not one other fault: she has too much softness to be able to say ‘no’ in the right place—& thus, without the slightest levity—perfectly blameless in that respect, .. she says half a yes or a quarter of a yes, or a yes in some sort of form, too often—but I will tell you. Two years ago, three men were loving her, as they called it– After a few months, & the proper quantity of interjections, one of them consoled himself by giving nic names to his rivals .. Perseverance & Despair he called them, .. & so, went up to the boxes to see out the rest of the play. Despair ran to a crisis, was rejected in so many words, but appealed against the judgment & had his claim admitted—it was all silence & mildness on each side .. a tacit gaining of ground,—Despair “was at least a gentleman”, said my brothers. On which Perseverance came on with violent re-iterations, .. insisted that she loved him, without knowing it, or should .. elbowed poor Despair in the open streets .. who being a gentleman, would’nt elbow again .. swore that “if she married another he would wait till she became a widow, trusting to Providence”––did wait every morning till the head of the house was out, & sate day by day, in spite of the disinclination of my sisters & the rudeness of all my brothers, four hours in the drawingroom .. let himself be refused once a week & sate all the longer .. allowed everybody in the house (& a few visitors) to see & hear him in fits of hysterical sobbing, & sate on unabashed; the end being that he sits now sole regnant, my poor sister saying softly, with a few tears of remorse for her own instability, that she is ‘taken by storm & cannot help it’. I give you only the resumé of this military movement—& though I seem to smile, which it was impossible to avoid at some points of the evidence as I heard it from first one person & then another, yet I am woman enough rather to be glad that the decision is made so– He is sincerely attached to her, I believe; & the want of refinement & sensibility (for he understood her affections to be engaged to another at one time) is covered in a measure by the earnestness, .. & justified too by the event .. everybody being quite happy & contented, even to Despair who has a new horse & takes lessons in music.
That’s love—is it not? And that’s my answer (if you look for it) to the question you asked me yesterday.
Yet do not think that I am turning it all to game. I could not do so with any real earnest sentiment .. I never could .. & now least, & with my own sister whom I love so– One may smile to oneself & yet wish another well .. & so I smile to you—& it is all safe with you I know– He is a second or third cousin of ours & has golden opinions from all his friends & fellow-officers—& for the rest, most of these men are like one another .. I never could see the difference between fuller’s earth & common clay, among them all.
What do you think he has said since– To her too?—“I always persevere about everything. Once I began to write a farce .. which they told me was as bad as could be– Well!—I persevered!—I finished it–” Perfectly unconscious, both he & she were of there being anything mal á propos in that—& no kind of harm was meant,—only it expresses the man.
Dearest .. it had better be thursday I think .. our day! I was showing today your father’s drawings, .. & my brothers, & Arabel besides, admired them very much on the right grounds. Say how you are. You did not seem to me to answer frankly this time, & I was more than half uneasy when you went away. Take exercise dear, dearest,—think of me enough for it,—& do not hurry Luria. May God bless you!–
Your own Ba–
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 JA26 1846 B.
Docket, in RB’s hand: (107).
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 415–419 (as 24–25 January 1846).
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark and EBB’s reference to a question RB had asked her during the visit on Saturday the 24th.
2. The Playfellow: A Series of Tales (1841) consisted of four stories in separate volumes: The Settlers at Home; The Prince and the Peasant; Feats on the Fiord; and The Crofton Boys. EBB had given a copy of Feats on the Fiord to her cousin, Georgiana Elizabeth Barrett; see Reconstruction, C627 (now at Eton). The volumes she is sending here are from Harriet Martineau’s Forest and Game Law Tales (3 vols., 1845); see letter 2150, note 7.
3. Sic, for Valdemar. “The Facts of M. Valdemar’s Case,” by Poe, to which EBB refers, was published in The American Whig Review for December 1845, pp. 561–565. In letter 2167 EBB mentioned having “received Mr. Edgar Poe’s Book,” and in letter 2174 RB asked her to let “Mr Poe’s book lie on the table on Monday.” Evidently, she had forgotten to do so, and is only now sending it to RB.
4. Poe’s “Scenes from Politian” was published in The Raven and Other Poems (1845).
5. Poe’s friend, Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–67), a journalist and dramatist, was editor of the Evening Mirror, on which he employed Poe. Willis was responsible for the initial publication of The Raven in the Evening Mirror for 29 January 1845.
6. Cf. Henry VIII, IV, 2, 45–46.
7. The principals in this affair were Matthew Bell, William Surtees Cook, and Palmer Chapman. Bell referred to Surtees Cook as “Perseverance” and to Chapman as “Despair.” The issue was still undecided as recently as 1 September 1845, at which time Surtees recorded the following in his journal: “I met dear Henrietta on the stairs—and looking so beautiful it was hard to suffer as I did afterwards. … We walked alone—we cried. Henrietta said harsh and cruel things—that I had no chance—that she knew Mr. Chapman first—&c &c. … I came home and wept bitterly—cried myself to sleep—woke in the middle of the night—heard the clocks strike on as I wept bitterly.”
8. See letter 2178.