2238.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 124–128.


Tuesday. [Postmark: 3 March 1846]

First and most important of all,—dearest, “angry”—with you, and for that! It is just as if I had spoken contemptuously of that Gallery I so love and so am grateful to—having been used to go there when a child, far under the age allowed by the regulations—those two Guidos, the wonderful Rembrandt of Jacob’s vision, such a Watteau, the triumphant three Murillo pictures, a Giorgione music-lesson group, all the Poussins with the “Armida” and “Jupiter’s nursing” [1] —and—no end to “ands”– I have sate before one, some one of those pictures I had predetermined to see,—a good hour and then gone away .. it used to be a green half-hour’s walk over the fields– So much for one error, now for the second like unto it—what I meant by charging you with seeing, (not, notlooking for”)—seeing undue “security” in that, in the form,—I meant to say “you talk about me being “free” now, free till then—and I am rather jealous of the potency attributed to the form, with all its solemnity, because it is a form, and no more—yet you frankly agree with me that that form complied with, there is no redemption; yours I am then sure enough, to repent at leisure &c. &c.[”] So I meant to ask, “then, all now said, all short of that particular form of saying it, all goes for comparatively nothing?” Here it is written down—you “wish to suspend all decisions as long as possible”—that form effects the decision, then,—till then, “where am I”?– Which is just what Lord Chesterfield cautions people against asking when they tell stories. [2] Love, Ba, my own heart’s dearest—if all is not decided now—why—hear a story, à propos of storytelling, and deduce what is deducible– A very old Unitarian minister met a still older Evangelical brother .. John Clayton [3] (from whose son’s mouth I heard what you shall hear)—the two fell to argument about the true faith to be held—after words enough, “Well,” said the Unitarian, as winding up the controversy, with an amicable smile—“at least let us hope we are both engaged in the pursuit of Truth!–[”] “Pursuit do you say?” cried the other, “here am I with my years eighty and odd—if I have’nt found Truth by this time where is my chance, pray?”– My own Ba, if I have not already decided—alas for me and the solemn words that are to help! (Tho’ in another point of view there would be some luxurious feeling, beyond the ordinary, in knowing one was kept safe to one’s heart’s good by yet another wall than the hitherto recognized ones,—is there any parallel in the notion I once heard a man deliver himself of in the street—a labourer talking with his friends about “wishes”—and this one wished, if he might get his wish, “to have a nine gallon cask of strong ale set running that minute and his own mouth to be tied under it”—the exquisiteness of the delight was to be in the security upon security,—the being “tied”–[)] Now, Ba says I shall not be “chained” if she can help!

But now—here all the jesting goes—you tell me what was observed in the “moment’s” visit,—by you, and (after, I suppose) by your sisters. First, I will always see with your eyes there—next, what I see I will never speak, if it pain you; but just this much truth I ought to say, I think. I always give myself to you for the worst I am,—full of faults as you will find, if you have not found them: but I will not affect to be so bad, so wicked, as I count wickedness, as to call that conduct other than intolerable—there, in my conviction of that, is your real “security” and mine for the future as the present—that a father choosing to give out of his whole day some five minutes to a daughter, supposed to be prevented from participating in what he, probably, in common with the whole world of sensible men, as distinguished from poets and dreamers, considers every pleasure of life,—by a complete foregoing of society—that he, after the Pisa business and the enforced continuance, and as he must believe, permanence of this state in which any other human being would go mad,—I do dare say, for the justification of God, who gave the mind to be used in this world,—where it saves us, we are taught, or destroys us,—and not to be sunk quietly, overlooked, and forgotten,—that, under these circumstances, finding—what, you say, unless he thinks he does find, he would close the door of his house instantly,—a mere sympathizing man, of the same literary tastes, who comes goodnaturedly, on a proper and unexceptionable introduction, to chat with and amuse a little that invalid daughter, once a month, so far as is known, for an hour perhaps,—that such a father should show himself “not pleased plainly,” at such a circumstance … my Ba, it is shocking! —See, I go wholly on the supposition that the real relation is not imagined to exist between us– I so completely could understand a repugnance to trust you to me were the truth known, that, I will confess, I have several times been afraid the very reverse of this occurrence would befall,—that your father would have at some time or other thought himself obliged, by the usual feeling of people in such cases, to see me for a few minutes and express some commonplace thanks after the customary mode .. (just as Capt. Domett sent a heap of unnecessary thanks to me not long ago for sending now a letter now a book to his son in New Zealand—keeping up the spirits of poor dear Alfred now he is cut off from the world at large—) and if this had been done, I shall not deny that my heart would have accused me .. unreasonably I know but still, suppression, and reserve, and apprehension .. the whole of that is horrible always! But this way of looking on the endeavour of anybody, however humble, to just preserve your life, remedy in some degree the first .. if it was the first .. unjustifiable measure,—this being “displeased”—is exactly what I did not calculate upon, observe, that in this only instance I am able to do as I shall be done by,—to take up the arms furnished by the world, the usages of society—this is monstrous on the world’s showing! I say this now that I may never need recur to it—that you may understand why I keep such entire silence henceforth.

Get but well, keep but as well, and all is easy now. This wonderful winter—the spring—this summer—you will take exercise, go up and down stairs, get strong– I [4]  pray you, at your feet, to do this, dearest! Then comes autumn, with the natural expectation, as after rouge one expects noir: [5] the likelihood of a severe winter after this mild one—which to prevent, you reiterate your demand to go and save your life in Italy .. ought you not to do that? And the matter brought to issue, (with even, if possible, less shadow of ground for a refusal than before, if you are well, plainly well enough to bear the voyage)—then I will bid you “be mine in the obvious way”—if you shall preserve your belief in me—and you may in much, in all important to you– Mr Kenyon’s praise is undeserved enough—but yesterday Milnes said I was the only literary man he ever knew, tenax propositi, [6] able to make out a life for himself and abide in it.—“for,” he went on, “you really do live without any of this titillation, <and fussy dependence upon adventitious excitement of all kinds,> [7] they all say they can do without–” That is more true—and I intend by God’s help, to live wholly for you,—to spend my whole energies in reducing to practise the feeling which occupies me, and in the practical operation of which, the other work I had proposed to do, will be found included, facilitated. I shall be able .. but of this there is plenty time to speak hereafter .. I shall, I believe, be able to do this without even allowing the world to very much misinterpret—against pure lying there is no defence, but all up to that I hope to hinder or render unimportant—as you shall know in time & place.

I have written myself grave—but write to me, dear, dearest, and I will answer in a lighter mood—even now I can say how it was yesterday’s hurry happened. I called on Milnes—who told me Hanmer had broken a bone in his leg and was laid up, so I called on him too—on Moxon, by the way, (his brother [8] telling me strangely cheering news, from the grimmest of faces, about my books selling and likely to sell .. your wishes, Ba!),—then in Bond St about some business with somebody, then on Mrs Montagu [9] who was out—walking all the time, and home too– I found a letter from Mr Kenyon, perfectly kind, asking me to go on Monday to meet friends—and with yours today comes another confirming the choice of the day. How entirely kind he is!

I am very well, much better, indeed—taking that bath with sensibly good effect—to-night I go to Montagu’s again,—for shame, having kept away too long.

And the rest shall answer yours—dear! Not “much to answer?” And Beethoven, and Painting and—what is the rest and shall be answered! Bless you, now, my darling– I love you, ever shall love you, ever be your own


Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole Street, / Cavendish Square.

Postmark: 8NT8MR31846B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 128.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 509–513.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. The 1842 and 1850 guides to the Dulwich Picture Gallery list fourteen paintings by Nicolo Poussin, two of which are “The Nursery of Jupiter” and “Rinaldo and Armida,” as well as four paintings by Gaspar Dughet Poussin. Also listed are six paintings by Guido and ten by Murillo. The Rembrandt RB refers to is “Jacob’s Dream.” Two paintings by Watteau are listed: “A Fete Champetre” and “Le Bal Champetre,” and one by Giorgione: “A Musical Party.”

2. Cf. Chesterfield’s advice to his son: “To begin a story or narration, when you are not perfect in it, and cannot go through with it; but are forced, possibly, to say, in the middle of it, ‘I have forgot the rest,’ is very unpleasant and bungling” (Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield to His Son, 1774, I, 149).

3. John Clayton (1754–1843) was the pastor of the King’s Weigh-house Chapel in Eastcheap for 48 years. He had three sons, all of whom became Congregational ministers. The middle son, George Clayton, RB’s source for this story, was the Browning family minister at Locks Field Chapel, Walworth (later known as the York Street Congregational Church), where RB was baptised.

4. Underscored twice.

5. “Red” and “Black.” Perhaps an allusion to the table game called “rouge et noir.”

6. “Resolute,” or “tenacious of purpose.”

7. The passage in angle brackets is interpolated above the line.

8. William Moxon (d. 1887), who was at this time a practising barrister in the Middle Temple. He had earlier provided RB with information regarding the sales of EBB’s books (see letter 2061).

9. Anna Dorothea Montagu (née Benson) was the third wife of Basil Montagu (1770–1851), legal author and philanthropist, the illegitimate son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–92). Her daughter Anne, by her first husband, Thomas Skepper, was the wife of Bryan Waller Procter.


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