2218. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 86–87.
Thursday evening. [19 February 1846]
And I offended you by praising your letters .. or rather mine, if you please .. as if I had not the right! Still, you shall not, shall not fancy that I meant to praise them in the way you seem to think .. by calling them “graphic”, “philosophic”, .. why did I ever use such words? I agree with you that if I could play critic upon your letters, it would be an end!—but no, no .. I did not, for a moment. In what I said I went back to my first impressions—& they were vital letters, I said—which was the resumé of my thoughts upon the early ones you sent me .. because I felt your letters to be you from the very first, & I began, from the beginning, to read every one several times over—nobody, I felt, nobody of all these writers, did write as you did—. Well! & had I not a right to say that now at last, .. & was it not natural to say just that, when I was talking of other people’s letters & how it had grown almost impossible for me to read them,—& do I deserve to be scolded … No indeed.
And if I had the misfortune to think now, when you say it is a fine day,—that that is said in more music than it could be said in by another .. where is the sin against you I should like to ask– It is yourself who is the critic, I think, after all. But over all the brine, I hold my letters .. just as Camoens did his poem. They are best to me—& they are best. I knew what they were, before I knew what you were .. all of you. And I like to think that I never fancied anyone on a level with you, even in a letter.
What makes you take them to be so bad, I suppose, is just feeling in them how near we are– You say that!—not I.
Bad or good, you are better—yes, “better than the works & words”!—though it was very shameful of you to insinuate that I talked of fine speeches & passages & graphical & philosophical sentences, as if I had proposed a publication of ‘Elegant extracts’ from your letters … See what blasphemy one falls into through a beginning of light speech!– It is wiser to talk of St Petersburgh; for all Voltaire’s “ne disons pas de mal de Nicolas”.
Wiser—because you will not go. If you were going .. well!—but there is no danger:—it would not do you good to go, I am so happy this time as to be able to think—& your ‘mission of humanity’ lies nearer—‘strictly private & confidential’? but not in Harley Street—so if you go there, dearest, keep to the ‘one hour’ & do not suffer yourself to be tired & stunned in those hot rooms & made unwell again—it is plain that you cannot bear that sort of excitement. For Mr Kenyon’s note, .. it was a great temptation to make a day of friday—but I resist both for monday’s sake & for your’s, because it seems to me safer not to hurry you from one house to another till you are tired completely. I shall think of you so much the nearer for Mr Kenyon’s note—which is something gained. In the meanwhile you are better, which is everything … or seems so. Ever dearest, do remember what it is to me that you should be better, & keep from being worse again– I mean, of course, try to keep from being worse—be wise .. & do not stay long in those hot Harley St rooms. —Ah—now you will think that I am afraid of the unicorns!–
Through your being ill the other day I forgot, … & afterwards went on forgetting .. to speak of & to return the ballad .. which is delightful .. I have an unspeakable delight in those suggestive ballads, which seem to make you touch with the end of your finger, the full warm life of other times .. so near they bring you, yet so suddenly all passes in them. Certainly there is a likeness to your Duchess—it is a curious crossing. And does it not strike you that a verse or two must be wanting in the ballad—there is a gap, I fancy.
Tell Mr Kenyon (if he enquires) that you come here on monday instead of saturday—& if you can help it, do not mention wednesday .. it will be as well, not. You met Alfred at the door—he came up to me afterwards & observed that “at last he had seen you”!– ‘Virgilium tantum vidi!’
As to the thing which you try to say in the first page of this letter, & which you “stop” yourself in saying .. I need not stop you in it....
And now there is no time, if I am to sleep tonight– May God bless you, dearest, dearest–
I must be your own while He blesses me–
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 FE20 1846 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 118.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 477–479.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. i.e., The Lusiads, the manuscript of which was the only thing Camoëns managed to salvage when his ship was wrecked at the mouth of the Mekong (Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Luis de Camoens, ed. John Adamson, 1820, I, 155).
3. “Do not speak evil of Nicholas.” We have been unable to trace this quotation in Voltaire’s works.
4. This figurative representation of EBB as a “unicorn” occurs no fewer than ten times throughout the poets’ love letters (see letter 2031, note 3).
5. See letter 2198, note 7.
6. “Virgil I only saw” (Ovid, Tristia, IV, x, 51, trans. Arthur Leslie Wheeler).