2212.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 76–79.


Monday morning– [16 February 1846] [1]

Méchant comme quatre! [2] you are, & not deserving to be let see the famous letter–––is there any grammar in that concatenation, can you tell me, now that you are in an arch-critical humour?– And remember (turning back to the subject) that personally she & I are strangers & that therefore what she writes for me is naturally scene painting to be looked at from a distance, done with a masterly hand & most amiable intention, but quite a different thing of course from the intimate revelations of heart & mind which make a living thing of a letter– If she had sent such to me, I should not have sent it to Mr Kenyon .. but then, she would not have sent it to me in any case– What she has sent me might be a chapter in a book & has the life proper to itself .. & I shall not let you try it by another standard, even if you wished, but you dont—for I am not so béte [3] as not to understand how the jest crosses the serious all the way you write. Well—& Mr Kenyon wants the letter the second time, not for himself, but for Mr Crabb Robinson who promises to let me have a new sonnet of Wordsworth’s in exchange for the loan, [4] & whom I cannot refuse because he is an intimate friend of Miss Martineau’s & once allowed me to read a whole packet of letters from her to him. She does not object (as I have read under her hand) to her letters being shown about in M∙S., notwithstanding the anathema against all printers of the same .. (which completes the extravagance of the unreason I think): & people are more anxious to see them from this presumed nearness to annihilation. I, for my part, value letters .. (to talk literature) .. as the most vital part of biography, .. & for any rational human being to put his foot on the traditions of his kind in this particular class, does seem to me as wonderful as possible– Who would put away one of those multitudinous volumes, even, which stereotype Voltaire’s wrinkles of wit .. even Voltaire?– I can read book after book of such reading,—or could.! And if her principle were carried out, there would be an end! Death would be deader from henceforth. Also it is a wrong selfish principle & unworthy of her whole life & profession—because we should all be ready to say that if the secrets of our daily lives & inner souls, may instruct other surviving souls, let them be open to men hereafter, even as they are to God now– Dust to dust, & soul-secrets to humanity——there are natural heirs to all these things. Not that I do not intimately understand the shrinking back from the idea of publicity on any terms—not that I would not myself destroy papers of mine which were sacred to me for personal reasons—but then I never would call this natural weakness, virtue—nor would I, as a teacher of the public, announce it & attempt to justify it as an example to other minds & acts, I hope.

How hard you are on the mending of stockings & the rest of it?– Why not agree with me & like that sort of homeliness & simplicity in combination with such large faculty as we must admit there? Lord Bacon did a great deal of trifling besides the stuffing of the fowl you mention .. which I did not remember: & in fact, all the great work done in the world, is done just by the people who know how to trifle .. do you not think so? When a man makes a principle of ‘never losing a moment,’ he is a lost man– Great men are eager to find an hour, & not to avoid losing a moment– “What are you doing” said somebody once (as I heard the tradition) to the beautiful Lady Oxford as she sate in her open carriage on the race-ground– “Only a little algebra,” said she. People who do a little algebra on the race ground, are not likely to do much of anything with ever so many hours for meditation. Why, you must agree with me in all this, so I shall not be sententious any longer. Mending stockings is not exactly the sort of pastime I should choose .. who do things quite as trifling without the utility .. & even your Seigneurie peradventure .... I stop there for fear of growing impertinent. The ‘argumentum ad hominem’ is apt to bring down the ‘argumentum ad baculum,’ it is as well to remember in time.

For Wordsworth .. you are right in a measure & by a standard—but I have heard such really desecrating things of him, of his selfishness, his love of money, his worldly cunning (rather than prudence) that I felt a relief & gladness in the new chronicle;—& you can understand how that was. Miss Mitford’s doctrine is that everything put into the poetry, is taken out of the man—& lost utterly by him .. her general doctrine about poets, quite amounts to that .. I do not say it too strongly. And knowing that such opinions are held by minds not feeble, it is very painful (as it would be indeed in any case) to see them apparently justified by royal poets like Wordsworth—. Ah, but I know an answer—I see one in my mind!–

So again for the letters. Now ought I not to know about letters, I who have had so many .. from chief minds too, as society goes in England & America? [5] And your letters began by being first to my intellect, before they were first to my heart. All the letters in the world are not like yours .. & I would trust them for that verdict with any jury in Europe, if they were not so far too dear!– Mr Kenyon wanted to make me show him your letters– I did show him the first, & resisted gallantly afterwards, which made him say what vexed me at the moment, .. “oh—you let me see only women’s letters.”—till I observed that it was a breach of confidence, except in some cases, .. & that I should complain very much, if anyone, man or woman, acted so by myself. But nobody in the world writes like you .. not so vitally—and I have a right, if you please, to praise my letters, besides the reason of it which is as good.

Ah—you made me laugh about Mr Chorley’s free speaking—&, without the personal knowledge, I can comprehend how it could be nothing very ferocious .. some ‘pardonnez moi, vous êtes un ange’ [6] —. The amusing part is that by the same post which brought me the Ambleside document, [7] I heard from Miss Mitford “that it was an admirable thing of Chorley to have persisted in not allowing Harriet Martineau to quarrel with him” .. so that there are laurels on both sides, it appears.

And I am delighted to hear from you today just so, though I reproach you in turn just so .. because you were not ‘depressed’ in writing all this & this & this which has made me laugh—you were not, .. dearest—& you call yourself better, “much better”, which means a very little perhaps, but is a golden word, let me take it as I may. May God bless you. Wednesday seems too near, (now that this is monday & you are better) to be our day .. perhaps it does: & thursday is close beside it at the worst.

Dearest I am your own


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

Postmark: 10FN10 FE17 1846 K.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 116.; + Wednesday, Feb. 17. [sic, for 18] / 3–5¼. p.m. (47.)

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 468–471 (as [15 February 1846]).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. This letter was written on the same day as letter 2214 and enclosed in the same envelope, which bears the postmark of 17 February 1846, a Tuesday.

2. Literally, “bad as four!”

3. “Stupid.”

4. “To Lucca Giordano,” No. XIV in the series entitled “Evening Voluntaries,” collected in Poems (1850). The source for the sonnet was doubtless one of three paintings sent from Italy by the Poet Laureate’s son, John (The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Alan G. Hill, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1988, 7, 747). Robinson was an intimate friend of Wordsworth. In his diary entry for 18 February [1846] he records that he “read this morning a very interesting letter from Harriet Martineau to Miss Barrett [no. 2203], which she sent me. I was pleased, on the whole, with a character of Wordsworth, sharp as it was and not at all flattering” (Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers, ed. Edith J. Morley, 1938, p. 657).

5. An allusion to Horne’s comment in A New Spirit of the Age that EBB “‘lives’ in constant correspondence with many of the most eminent persons of the time” (II, 132, and our volume 8, p. 342).

6. “Pardon me, you are an angel.”

7. Letter 2203.


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