2242. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 133–135.
Friday Mg [Postmark: 6 March 1846]
I am altogether your own, dearest. The words were only words <and the playful feelings mere play—while> the fact has always been so irresistibly obvious as to make them break on, and off it, fantastically, like water turning to spray and spurts of foam on a great solid rock– Now, you call the rock, a rock—but you must have known what chance you had of pushing it down when you sent all those light fancies, and free-leaves, and refusals-to-hold-responsible .. to do what they could. It is a rock; and may be quite barren of good to you,—not large enough to build houses on, not small enough to make a mantelpiece of, much less a pedestal for a statue,—but it is real rock, that is all.
It is always I who “torment” you—instead of taking the present and blessing you, and leaving the future to its own cares– I certainly am not apt to look curiously into what next week is to bring, much less next month or six months—but you, the having you, my own, dearest—beloved—that is as different in kind as in degree from any other happiness or semblance of it that even seemed possible of realization– Then, now, the health is all to stay, or retard us—oh, be well, my Ba!
(Let me speak of that letter. I am ashamed at having mentioned those circumstances, and should not have done so but for their insignificance—for I knew that if you ever did hear of them, all anybody would say would not amount to enough to be repeated to me and so get explained at once– Now that the purpose is gained, it seems little worth gaining: you bade me not send the letter—I will not)––
As for “what people say”—ah—Here lies a book, Bartoli’s “Simboli”—and this morning I dipped into his Chapter XIX. His “symbol” is “Socrate fatto ritrar su’ Boccali” and the theme of his disertating, “L’indegnità del mettere in disprezzo i più degni filosofi dell’ antichità.” He sets out by enlarging on the horror of it—then describes the character of Socrates, then tells the story of the representation of the “Clouds”, and thus gets to his “symbol”—“le pazzie fatte spacciare a Socrate in quella commedia … il misero in tanto scherno e derisione del pubblico, che perfino i vasai dipingevano il suo ritratto sopra gli orci, i fiaschi, i boccali, e ogni vasellamento da più vile servigio. Così quel sommo filosofo .. fu condotto a far di se par le case d’Atene una continua commedia, con solamente vederlo comparir così scontraffato e ‘ridicolo, come i vasai sel formavano d’ invenzione–”
There you have what a very clever man can say in choice Tuscan on a passage in Ælian which he takes care not to quote nor allude to, but which is the sole authority for the fact. Ælian, speaking of Socrates’ magnanimity, says that on the first representation, a good many foreigners being present who were at a loss to know “who could be this Socrates”—the sage himself stood up that he might be pointed out to them by the auditory at large .. “which” says Ælian—“was no difficulty for them, to whom his features were most familiar,—the very potters being in the habit of decorating their vessels with his likeness”—no doubt out of a pleasant and affectionate admiration! Yet see how “people” can turn this out of its sense,—“say” their say on the simplest, plainest word or deed, and change it to its opposite! “God’s great gift of speech abused” indeed!
But what shall we hear of it there, my Siren?
On Monday—is it not?—(Who was it looked into the room just at our leave-taking?)
Bless you, my ever dearest,—remember to walk, to go down stairs—and be sure that I will endeavour to get well for my part—to-day I am very well—with this letter!
Your own RB
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole St
Postmark: 8NT8 MR6 1846 A.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 130.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 518–520.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. RB has interpolated the words in angle brackets above the line.
2. We take this to be an allusion to the “paper” or “sealed letter” that was first mentioned in December 1845 (see letters 2135 and 2136).
3. An edition of De’ Simboli Trasportati al Morale by Daniello Bartoli (1608–85) was published by subscription by Rolandi ca. 1830. RB and his sister Sarianna subscribed for three copies each. This edition was edited by RB’s Italian teacher, Angelo Cerutti, and used by him as a text. The passage RB cites occurs on pp. 357–358.
4. “Socrates pictured on jugs.”
5. “The indignity of demeaning the worthiest philosophers of antiquity.”
6. A play by Aristophanes satirizing Socrates and his school.
7. “The foolish things Socrates is made to say and do in that comedy … the pitiable man, held in such public scorn and derision that even the potters were picturing his features on the pitchers, flasks, jugs, and every vessel of the vilest use. Thus that greatest philosopher .. was led to wear a constant comic mask among the households of Athens, only seeing him so disguised was ‘ridiculous, as the potters moulded him in their imaginations’–”
8. Claudius Ælianus, Historiæ Variæ, bk. II, ch. 13.
9. Tennyson, “A Dirge,” from Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830), line 43.