2219.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 88–91.


Friday morning. [20 February 1846] [1]

As my sisters did not dine at home yesterday & I see nobody else in the evening, I never heard till just now & from Papa himself, that “George was invited to meet Mr Browning & Mr Procter”– How surprised you will be– It must have been a sudden thought of Mr Kenyon’s. [2]

And I have been thinking, thinking since last night that I wrote you then a letter all but … insolent .. which, do you know, I feel half ashamed to look back upon this morning .. particularly what I wrote about ‘missions of humanity’——now was it not insolent of me to write so? If I could take my letter again I would dip it into Lethe between the lilies, instead of the post office:——but I cant .. so if you wondered, you must forget as far as possible, & understand how it was, & that I was in brimming spirits when I wrote, from two causes .. first, because I had your letter which was a pure goodness of yours, & secondly because you were “noticeably” better you said, or “noticeably well” rather, to mind my quotations. So I wrote what I wrote, & gave it to Arabel when she came in at midnight, to give it to Henrietta who goes out before eight in the morning & often takes charge of my letters, .. & it was too late at the earliest this morning to feel a little ashamed.

Miss Thomson told me that she had determined to change the type of the few pages of her letterpress which had been touched, & that therefore Mr Burges’s revisions of my translations should be revised back again. [3] She appears to be a very acute person, full of quick perceptions .. naturally quick, & carefully trained—a little over anxious perhaps about mental lights, & opening her eyes still more than she sees—which is a common fault of clever people, if one must call it a fault. I like her—& she is kind & cordial. Will she ask you to help her book with a translation or two, I wonder. Perhaps—if the courage should come. Dearest, how I shall think of you this evening—& how near you will seem, not to be here. I had a letter from Mr Mathews the other day, & smiled to read in it just what I had expected, .. that he immediately sent Landor’s verses on you to a few editors, friends of his, in order to their communication to the public. He received my apology for myself with the utmost graciousness– A kind good man he is.

After all, do you know, I am a little vexed that I should have even seemed to do wrong in my speech about the letters. It must have been wrong, if it seemed so to you, I fancy now– Only I really did no more mean to try your letters .. mine .. such as they are to me now, .. by the common critical measure, .. than the shepherds praised the pure tenor of the angels who sang “Peace upon earth” [4] to them. It was enough that they knew it for angels’ singing. So do you forgive me, beloved, & put away from you the thought that I have let in between us any miserable stuff ‘de metier’, [5] which I hate as you hate. And I will not say any more about it, not to run into more imprudences of mischief–

On the other hand I warn you against saying again what you began to say yesterday & stopped .. do not try it again. What may be quite good sense from me, is from you, very much the reverse—& pray observe that difference. Or did you think that I was making my own road clear in the thing I said about … ‘jilts’—? No, you did not. Yet I am ready to repeat of myself as of others, that if I ceased to love you, I certainly would act out the whole consequence—but that is an impossible “if” to my nature, supposing the conditions of it otherwise to be probable. I never loved anyone much & ceased to love that person– Ask every friend of mine, if I am given to change even in friendship! And to you ..! Ah—but you never think of such a thing seriously .. & you are conscious that you did not say it very sagely– You & I are in different positions. Now let me tell you an apologue in exchange for your wednesday’s stories which I liked so—& mine perhaps may make you “a little wiser” .. who knows?

It befell that there stood in hall a bold baron, & out he spake to one of his serfs .. “Come thou; & take this baton of my baronie, & give me instead thereof that sprig of hawthorn thou holdest in thine hand.” Now the hawthorn-bough was no larger a thing than might be carried by a wood-pigeon to the nest, when she flieth low—and the baronial baton was covered with fine gold,—and the serf turning it in his hands, marvelled greatly.

And he answered & said, “Let not my lord be in haste, .. nor jest with his servant. Is it verily his will that I should keep his golden baton?– Let him speak again—lest it repent him of his gift.”

And the baron spake again that it was his will. “And I” .. he said once again—“shall it be lawful for me to keep this sprig of hawthorn—and will it not repent thee of thy gift?[”]–

Then all the servants who stood in hall, laughed—& the serf’s hands trembled till they dropped the baton into the rushes, knowing that his lord did but jest ....

Which mine did not. Only, “de te fabula narratur” [6] up to a point ..

And I have your letter– “What did I expect?” Why I expected just that .. a letter in turn. Also I am graciously pleased (yes, & very much pleased!) to “let you write tomorrow”. How you spoil me with goodness .. which makes one ‘insolent’ as I was saying, .. now & then.–

The worst is, that I write “too kind” letters .. I!… & what does that criticism mean, pray? It reminds me, at least, of .. now I will tell you what it reminds me of–

A few days ago Henrietta said to me that she was quite uncomfortable. She had written to somebody a not kind enough letter, she thought, .. & it might be taken ill. “Are you ever uncomfortable, Ba, after you have sent letters to the post”, she asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “sometimes—but from a reason just the very reverse of your reason—my letters, when they get into the post, seem too kind .. rather”. And my sisters laughed, .. laughed ..

But if you think so beside, I must seriously set to work, you see, to correct that flagrant fault, .. & shall do better in time ‘deis faventibus’ [7] —though it will be difficult–

Mr Kenyon’s dinner is a riddle which I cannot read. You are invited to meet Miss Thomson & Mr Bayley & “no one else”– George is invited to meet Mr Browning & Mr Procter & “no one else” .. just those words– The “absolu” (do you remember Balzac’s beautiful story?) [8] is just you & “no one else”, .. the other elements being mere uncertainties .. shifting while one looks for them.

Am I not writing nonsense tonight? I am not ‘too wise[’] in any case .. which is some comfort. It puts one in spirits to hear of your being ‘well’, ever & ever dearest– Keep so for me. May God bless you hour by hour– In every one of mine I am your own


For Miss Mitford ..

“Best people are not angels quite” [9]  ..

& she sees the whole world in stripes of black & white .. it is her way. I feel very affectionately towards her .. love her sincerely. She is affectionate to me beyond measure– Still, always I feel that if I were to vex her, the lower deep below the lowest deep would not be low enough for me .. I always feel that. She would advertise me directly for a wretch proper.

Then, for all I said about never changing, I have ice enough over me just now to hold ‘the sparrows’ [10]  .. in respect to a great crowd of people .. & she is among them—for reasons—for reasons–

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

Postmark: 10FN10 FE21 1846 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 119.; + Monday. Feb. 23. / 3–5½ p.m. (48.)

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 480–483.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Henry Crabb Robinson records in his diary, for Feb 20th [1846], that he “stepped in at Kenyon’s and found Browning and Procter there, and had an agreeable gossip also” (Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers, ed. Edith J. Morley, 1938, p. 658).

3. For an account of EBB’s involvement in the translations for Miss Thomson’s “classical album,” see vol. 10, p. 397.

4. Cf. Luke 2:14.

5. “Of profession,” or “of the trade.”

6. “The tale is told of you” (Horace, Satires, I, i, 69, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough).

7. “With the help of the gods.”

8. Parenthetical passage is interpolated above the line. La Recherche de l’absolu (1833–34). As in letter 2206, EBB uses “absolu” to mean “power.”

9. Pippa Passes, IV, 265.

10. See the second paragraph of letter 2207.


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