2239.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 128–130.


Tuesday evening. [3 March 1846][1]

Yes, but, dearest, you mistake me, or you mistake yourself– I am sure I do not over-care for forms—it is not my way to do it—& in this case .. no. Still you must see that here is a fact as well as a form, & involving a frightful quantity of social inconvenience (to use the mildest word) if too hastily entered on. I deny altogether looking for, or ‘seeing’ any ‘security’ in it for myself—it is a mere form for the heart & the happiness: illusions may pass after as before– Still the truth is that if they were to pass with you now, you stand free to act according to the wide-awakeness of your eyes, & to reform your choice .. see! whereas afterward you could not carry out such a reformation while I was alive, even if I helped you. All I could do for you would be to walk away—— And you pretend not to see this broad distinction?—ah! .. For me I have seen just this & no more, & have felt averse to forstall, to seem to forstall even by an hour, or a word, that stringency of the legal obligation from which there is in a certain sense no redemption– Tie up your drinker under the pour of his nine gallons, & in two minutes he will moan & writhe (as you perfectly know) like a Brinvilliers under the water-torture.[2] That he asked to be tied up, was unwise on his own principle of loving ale. And you shant be ‘chained’ up, if you were to ask twenty times,—if you have found truth or not in the water-well.

You do not see aright what I meant to tell you on another subject. If he was displeased .. (& it was expressed by a shadow, a mere negation of pleasure ..) it was not with you as a visitor & my friend—you must not fancy such a thing. It was a sort of instinctive indisposition towards seeing you here—unexplained to himself, I have no doubt—of course unexplained, or he would have desired me to receive you never again .. that would have been done at once & unscrupulously. But without defining his own feeling, he rather disliked seeing you here—it just touched one of his vibratory wires .. brushed by & touched it—oh, we understand in this house. He is not a nice observer, but, at intervals very wide, he is subject to lightnings .. call them fancies, sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Certainly it was not in the character of a ‘sympathizing friend’ that you made him a very little cross on monday–[3] And yet you never were nor will be in danger of being thanked .. he would not think of it. For the reserve, the apprehension .. dreadful those things are, & desecrating to one’s own nature—but we did not make this position .. we only endure it– The root of the evil is the miserable misconception of the limits & character of parental rights—it is a mistake of the intellect rather than of the heart. Then, after using one’s children as one’s chattels for a time, the children drop lower & lower toward the level of the chattels, & the duties of human sympathy to them become difficult in proportion. And, (it seems strange to say it, yet it is true) love, he does not conceive of at all. He has feeling .. he can be moved deeply .. he is capable of affection in a peculiar way—but that, he does not understand, .. any more than he understands Chaldee, respecting it less of course.

And you fancy that I could propose Italy again? after saying too that I never would? Oh no no—yet there is time to think of this, a superfluity of time, .. ‘time, times & half a time’[4] & to make one’s head swim with leaning over a precipice, is not wise. The roar of the world comes up too, as you hear & as I heard from the beginning. There will be no lack of ‘lying’, be sure .. ‘pure lying’ too, & nothing you can do, dearest dearest, shall hinder my being torn to pieces by most of the particularly affectionate friends I have in the world. Which I do not think of much .. any more than of Italy. You will be mad, & I shall be bad .. & that will be the effect of being poets!– “Till when, where are you?”—why in the very deepest of my soul .. wherever in it, is the fountainhead of loving!—beloved, there you are!

Some day I shall ask you ‘in form’, .. as I care so much for forms, it seems, .. what your “faults” are .. these immense multitudinous faults of yours .. which I hear such talk of, & never, never, can get to see. Will you give me a catalogue raisonnée of your faults? I should like it, I think. In the meantime they seem to be faults of obscurity .. that is, invisible faults, .. like those in the poetry .. which do not keep it from selling as I am so, so glad to understand. I am glad too that Mr Milnes knows you a little––

Now I must end—there is no more time tonight. God bless you, very dearest! Keep better .. try to be well—as I do for you since you ask me. Did I ever think that you would think it worth while to ask me that? What a dream! reaching out into the morning! Today however I did not go down stairs, because it was colder & the wind blew its way into the passages:—if I can tomorrow without risk, I will, .. be sure .. be sure. Till thursday then!—till eternity!

“Till when, where am I”, but with you?, & what, but yours

Your Ba.

I have been writing ‘autographs’ (save my mark)[5] for the north & the south today .. the fens, & golden square. Somebody asked for a verse .. from either ‘Catarina’ or ‘Flush’[6] .. “those poems” &c &c! such a concatenation of criticisms. So I preferred Flush of course .. i.e. gave him the preferment–

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

Postmark: 10FN10 MR4 1846 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 125.; + Thursday March 5. / 3¼–5¾. p.m. (50.)

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 513–515.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Marie Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers (ca. 1630–76), plotted with her lover Godin de Sainte-Croix to poison her husband and family. An account of her water torture and subsequent beheading occurs in the penultimate chapter of The Marchioness of Brinvilliers, the Poisoner of the Seventeenth Century, A Romance of Old Paris (1846) by Albert Smith. EBB alludes to the water torture in Aurora Leigh, I, 467–469.

3. A slip of the pen for “Saturday” since EBB is referring to the encounter between her father and RB during the latter’s visit of the previous Saturday (see letter 2234).

4. Cf. Revelation 12:14 (see letter 2230, note 5).

5. Cf. I Henry IV, I, 3, 56.

6. EBB sent a stanza from “To Flush, My Dog” to Dr. Marsden (see Reconstruction, D975), possibly William Marsden (1796–1867), who founded the the Royal Free Hospital in 1828 (then officially named The London General Institution for the Gratuitous Care of Malignant Diseases) and was its senior surgeon.


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