Correspondence

2205.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 57–60.

[London]

Tuesday. [Postmark: 10 February 1846]

Ever dearest, I have been possessed by your Luria[1] just as you would have me, & I should like you to understand, not simply how fine a conception the whole work seems to me, so developed, but how it has moved & affected me, without the ordinary means & dialect of pathos, by that calm attitude of moral grandeur which it has:—it is very fine. For the execution, that too is worthily done .. although I agree with you, that a little quickening & drawing in closer here & there, especially towards the close where there is no time to lose, the reader feels, would make the effect stronger—but you will look to it yourself—and such a conception must come in thunder & lightning, as a chief god would—must make its own way .. & will not let its poet go until he speaks it out to the ultimate syllable. Domizia disappoints me rather– You might throw a flash more of light on her face .. might you not? But what am I talking? I think it a magnificent work—a noble exposition of the ingratitude of men against their “heroes”, & (what is peculiar) an humane exposition .. not misanthropical, after the usual fashion of such things: for the return, the remorse, saves it—& the “Too late” of the repentance & compensation covers with its solemn toll, the fate of persecutors & victim—we feel that Hussain himself could only say afterward .. “That is done.” And now .. surely you think well of the work as a whole? You cannot doubt, I fancy, of the grandeur of it—& of the subtilty too, for it is subtle—too subtle perhaps for stage purposes, though as clear, .. as to expression .. as to medium .. as “bricks & mortar”[2] .. shall I say?

 

“A people is but the attempt of many

To rise to the completer life of one”.[3]

There, is one of the fine thoughts– And how fine he is, your Luria, when he looks back to his East, through the half pardon & half disdain of Domizia– Ah—Domizia!—would it hurt her to make her more a woman .. a little .. I wonder!–

So I shall begin from the beginning, from the first act, & read through .. since I have read the fifth twice over. And remember, please, that I am to read besides, the ‘Soul’s tragedy’ .. & that I shall dun you for it presently. Because you told me it was finished .. otherwise I would not speak a word, .. feeling that you want rest, & that I, who am anxious about you, should be crossing my own purposes by driving you into work. It is the overwork, the overwear of mind & heart, (for the feelings come as much into use as the thoughts in these productions) that makes you so pale, .. dearest! that distracts your head .. & does all the harm on saturdays & so many other days besides–

Today .. how are you? It was right & just for me to write this time, after the two dear notes .. the one on saturday night which made me praise you to myself & think you kinder than kindest, & the other on monday morning which took me unaware .. such a note, that was!– Oh it was right & just that I should not teaze you to send me another after those two others,——yet I was very near doing it—yet I should like infinitely to hear today how you are—unreasonable!– Well! you will write now—you will answer what I am writing, & mention yourself particularly & sincerely– Remember! Above all, you will care for your head—. I have been thinking since yesterday that coming out of the cold, you might not have refused as usual to take something .. hot wine & water, or coffee? will you have coffee with me on saturday? “shunning the salt,”[4] will you have the sugar? And do tell me—for I have been thinking … are you careful as to diet .. & will such sublunary things as coffee & tea & cocoa, affect your head .. for or against? Then you do not touch wine—and perhaps you ought. Surely something may be found or done to do you good—. If it had not been for me, you would be travelling in Italy by this time & quite well perhaps.

This morning I had a letter from Miss Martineau[5] & really read it to the end without thinking it too long, which is extraordinary for me just now, & scarcely ordinary in the letter .. & indeed it is a delightful letter, as letters go, which are not yours! You shall take it with you on saturday to read, & you shall see that it is worth reading, & interesting for Wordsworth’s sake & her own– Mr Kenyon has it now, because he presses on to have her letters, & I should not like to tell him that you had it first from me. Also saturday will be time enough.

Oh—poor Mr Horne!—shall I tell you some of his offences? That he desires to be called at four in the morning, & does not get up till eight– That he pours libations on his bare head out of the water-glasses at great dinners. That being in the midst of sportsmen .. rural aristocrats .. lords of soil,—& all talking learnedly of pointers’ noses & spaniels’ ears,—he has exclaimed aloud in a mocking paraphrase .. “If I were to hold up a horse by the tail ..”—— (The wit is certainly doubtful)—— That being asked to dinner on tuesday, he will go on wednesday instead.– That he throws himself at full length with a gesture approaching to a “summerset” on satin sofas. That he giggles. That he only thinks he can talk. That his ignorance on all subjects is astounding. That he never read the old ballads, nor saw Percy’s collection.[6] That he asked who wrote “Drink to me only with thine Eyes”.[7] That after making himself ridiculous in attempting to speak at a public meeting, he said to a compassionate friend “I got very well out of that” .. That, in writing his work on Napoleon,[8] he employed a man to study the subject for him .. That he cares for nobody’s poetry or fame except his own, & considers Tennyson chiefly illustrious as being his contemporary– That, as to politics, he does’nt care “which side”– That he is always talking of “my shares”, “my income”, as if he were a Kilmansegg.[9] Lastly (& understand, this is my ‘lastly’ & not Miss Mitford’s, who is far from being out of breath so soon) that he has a mania for heiresses—that he has gone out at half past five & ‘proposed’ to Miss M or N with fifty thousand pounds, & being rejected (as the lady thought fit to report herself) came back to tea & the same evening ‘fell in love’ with Miss O or P .. with forty thousand—went away for a few months, & upon his next visit, did as much to a Miss Q or W, on the promise of four blood horses—has a prospect now of a Miss R or S … with hounds, perhaps.

Too, too bad—isnt it? I would repeat none of it except to you—& as to the worst part, the last, why some may be coincidence, & some, exaggeration, .. for I have not the least doubt that every now & then a fine poetical compliment was turned into a serious thing by the listener, .. & then the poor poet had critics as well as listeners all round him. Also, he rather ‘wears his heart on his sleeve’,[10] there is no denying—& in other respects he is not much better, perhaps, than other men– But for the base traffic of the affair .. I do not believe a word. He is too generous—has too much real sensibility. I fought his battles, poor Orion. “And so,” she said “you believe it possible for a disinterested man to become really attached to two women .. heiresses .. on the same day?” I doubted the fact. And then she showed me a note, an autograph note from the poet, confessing the M or N part of the business—while Miss O or P confessed herself, said Miss Mitford– But I persisted in doubting, notwithstanding the lady’s confessions, & convictions, as they might be. And just think of Mr Horne, not having tact enough to keep out of these multitudinous scrapes, for those few days which on three separate occasions he paid Miss Mitford in a neighbourhood where all were strangers to him! & never outstaying his week! He must have been foolish, .. read it all how we may.

And so am I, to write this ‘personal talk’ to you when you will not care for it—yet you asked me, & it may make you smile, though Wordsworth’s teakettle outsings it all.

When your monday letter came, I was reading the criticism on Hunt & his Italian poets, in the Examiner.[11] How I liked to be pulled by the sleeve to your translations!—— How I liked everything!—— Pulci, Pietro .. & you, best!

Yet here’s a naivëté which I found in your letter! I will write it out that you may read it–

“However it” (the headache) “was no sooner gone in a degree, than a worse plague came—I sate thinking of you.”[12]

Very satisfactory that is, & very clear.

May God bless you dearest, dearest! Be careful of yourself. The cold makes me languid .. as heat is apt to make everybody; but I am not unwell, & keep up the fire & the thoughts of you.

Your worse .. worst plague

your own

Ba–

I shall hear? Yes! And admire my obedience in having written “a long letter” to the letter!

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

Postmark: 8NT8 FE10 1846 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 113.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 445–449.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. EBB’s comments here refer to the fifth act of Luria; for her written notes on this act, see vol. 11, pp. 398–399.

2. See letter 2198, note 3.

3. Luria, V, 295–296.

4. Cf. Byron, The Corsair (1814), II, iv, 117–120.

5. Letter 2203.

6. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) by Thomas Percy (1729–1811). EBB’s copy, the three-volume 5th edition (1812), sold as part of lot 929 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A1835).

7. Ben Jonson, The Forest, ix, “Song. To Celia” (1616), line 1.

8. History of Napoleon (1840); Mary Gillies was his collaborator.

9. The reference is to Thomas Hood’s “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg” (1840–41), a satirical poem on wealth and materialism.

10. Cf. Othello, I, 1, 64.

11. A review of Leigh Hunt’s Stories From the Italian Poets: with Lives of the Writers appeared in the 7 February 1846 issue of The Examiner (no. 1984, pp. 83–85).

12. Quoted from letter 2202.

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