2207.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 64–67.


Wednesday Morning. [Postmark: 11 February 1846]

My sweetest “plague”, did I really write that sentence so, without gloss or comment in close vicinity? I can hardly think it—but you know well, well, where the real plague lay,—that I thought of you as thinking, in your infinite goodness, of untoward chances which had kept me from you—and if I did not dwell more particularly on that thinking of yours, which became as I say, in the knowledge of it, a plague when brought before me with the thought of you,—if I passed this slightly over it was for pure unaffected shame that I should take up the care and stop the “reverie serene” of .. ah, the rhyme lets me say .. “sweetest eyes were ever seen” [1] —were ever seen! And yourself confess, in the Saturday’s note, to having been “unhappy for half an hour till” &c &c—and do not I feel that here, and am not I plagued by it?

Well, having begun at the end of your letter, dearest, I will go back gently (that is, backwards)—and tell you I “sate thinking,” too, and with no greater comfort, on the cold yesterday—the pond before the window was frozen (“so as to bear sparrows” somebody said) and I knew you would feel it—“but you are not unwell”—really? Thank God—and the month wears on: beside I have got a reassurance—you asked me here if I were superstitious, I remember .. (as what do I forget that you say?)– However that may be, yesterday morning as I turned to look for a book, an old fancy seized me to try the “sortes” and dip into the first page of the first I chanced upon, for my fortune; I said “what will be the event of my love for Her”—in so many words—and my book turned out to be—“Cerutti’s Italian Grammar!” [2] —a propitious source of information .. the best to be hoped, what could it prove but some assurance that you were in the Dative Case, or I, not in the ablative absolute? I do protest that, with the knowledge of so many horrible pitfalls, or rather spring guns with wires on every bush .. such dreadful possibilities of stumbling on “conditional moods,” “imperfect tenses” .. “singular numbers,”—I should have been too glad to put up with the safe spot for the sole of my foot tho’ no larger than afforded by such a word as “Conjunction”, “possessive pronoun”,—secure, so far, from poor Tippet’s catastrophe: well, I ventured—and what did I find? This—which I copy from the book now– “If we love in the other world as we do in this, I shall love thee to eternity .” [3] —from “Promiscuous Exercises,” to be translated into Italian, at the end.

And now I reach Horne and his characteristics [4] —of which I can tell you with confidence that they are grossly misrepresented where not altogether false—whether it proceed from inability to see what one may see, or disinclination, I cannot say. I know very little of Horne; but my one visit to him a few weeks ago would show the uncandidness of those charges—for instance, he talked a good deal about horses—meaning to ride in Ireland—and described very cleverly an old hunter he had hired once,—how it galloped and could not walk—also he propounded a theory of the true method of behaving in the saddle when a horse rears, which I besought him only to practice in fancy on the sofa, where he lay telling it—so much for professing his ignorance in that matter! On a sofa he does throw himself—but when thrown there, he can talk, with Miss Mitford’s leave, admirably,—I never heard better stories than Horne’s—some Spanish-American incidents of travel want printing—or have been printed, for aught I know. That he cares for nobody’s poetry is false—he praises more unregardingly of his own retreat, more unprovidingly for his own fortune,—(do I speak clearly?)—less like a man who himself has written somewhat in the “line” of the other man he is praising,—which “somewhat” has to be guarded in its interests, &c—less like the poor professional praise of the “craft” than any other I ever met—instance after instance starting into my mind as I write: to his income I never heard him allude—unless one should so interpret a remark to me this last time we met, that he had been on some occasion put to inconvenience by somebody’s withholding ten or twelve pounds due to him for an article, and promised in the confidence of getting them, to a tradesman—which does not look like “boasting of his income”! As for the “heiresses”—I don’t believe one word of it,—of the succession, and transition and trafficking. Altogether, what miserable “set-offs” to the achievement of an “Orion”, a “Marlowe”, a “Delora”! Miss Martineau understands him better.

Now I come to myself and my health– I am quite well now—at all events, much better—just a little turning in the head,—since you appeal to my sincerity. For the coffee—thank you,—indeed thank you, but nothing after the “œnomel [5] and before half past six! I know all about that song and its Greek original [6] if Horne does not—and can tell you,—how truly!–


The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth ask a drink divine—

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup

I would not change for Thine! No, no, no! [7]

(And, by the bye, I have misled you, as my wont is, on the subject of wine, “that I do not touch it”—not habitually, nor so as to feel the loss of it; that on a principle: but every now and then, of course—)

And now, Luria—so long as the parts cohere and the whole is discernible, all will be well yet– I shall not look at it, nor think of it, for a week or two, and then see what I have forgotten– Domizia is all wrong, I told you I knew that her special colour had faded; it was but a bright line, and the more distinctly deep that it was so narrow– One of my half dozen words on my scrap of paper “pro memoriâ” was, under the “Act V.” “she loves”—to which I could not bring it, you see! Yet the play requires it still,—something may yet be effected, though: I meant that she should propose to go to Pisa with him, and begin a new life. But there is no hurry—I suppose it is no use publishing much before Easter– I will try and remember what my whole character did mean—it was, in two words, understood at the time by “panther’s-beauty”—on which hint I ought to have spoken!– But the work grew cold, and you came between, and the Sun put out the fire on the hearth—“nec vult panthera domari!” [8]

For the Soul’s Tragedy—that will surprise you, I think—there is no trace of you there, [9] —you have not put out the black face of it—it is all sneering and disillusion—and shall not be printed but burned if you say the word—now wait and see and then say! I will bring the first of the two parts next Saturday.

And now, dearest, I am with you—and the other matters are forgotten already– God bless you,—I am ever your own R–

(You will write to me I trust? And tell me how you bear the cold.)

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50 Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 FE11 1846 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 114.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 449–452.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. A recurring line from EBB’s “Catarina to Camoëns.”

2. Probably Sarianna Browning’s inscribed copy of A New Italian Grammar; or, a Course of Lessons in the Italian Language (2nd ed., 1828), by Angelo Cerutti, which sold in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, A602). On 4 March 1847, RB wrote Mrs. Jameson that he knew Cerutti “… very well—who was my Sister’s Master—his Italian Grammar is one of, or rather, the best grammar I know” (MS at California State University, Hayward).

3. This is from the chapter entitled “Promiscuous Exercises,” (IX, no. 24, p. 330), in A New Italian Grammar (2nd ed., 1828), by Angelo Cerutti. It seems possible that the text of the sortes may have suggested the close of Sonnets from the Portuguese (1856), XLIII.

4. RB is responding to EBB’s report from Miss Mitford concerning Horne; see letter 2205. For an account of RB’s visit to Horne in December 1845; see letter 2151.

5. EBB, “Wine of Cyprus,” line 172.

6. RB is referring to EBB’s comment about Horne in letter 2205 (see note 7).

7. Jonson’s “Song. To Celia” (1616) is based upon a number of passages from the Epistles of Philostratus. For a detailed examination of the specific sources from Philostratus, see the chapter “Source Material,” pp. 289–390, in Poems by Ben Jonson, ed. Ian Donaldson, 1975.

8. “Nor does the panther wish to be tamed!”

9. RB’s first recorded mention of A Soul’s Tragedy was in a letter to Domett on 22 May 1842 (no. 964). It was published in the eighth number of the Bells and Pomegranates series on 13 April 1846.


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