2244.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 137–139.


Saturday Mg [Postmark: 7 March 1846]

You call me “kind”; and by this time I have no heart to call you such names: I told you, did I not once? that “Ba” had got to convey infinitely more of you to my sense than “dearest”, “sweetest”, all or any epithets that break down with their load of honey like bees—to say you are “kind,” you that so entirely and unintermittingly bless me,—it will never do now, “Ba”—(all the same, one way there is to make even “Ba” dearer,—“my Ba”, I say to myself!)

About my fears—whether of opening doors or entering people—one thing is observable, and prevents the possibility of any misconception– I desire, have been in the habit of desiring, to increase them, far from diminishing—they relate, of course, entirely to you,—and only thro’ you affect me the least in the world: put your well-being out of the question, so far as I can understand it to be involved,—and the pleasure & pride I should immediately choose would be that the whole world knew our position .. what pleasure, what pride! But I endeavour to remember on all occasions,—and perhaps succeed in too few,—that it is very easy for me to go away and leave you who cannot go– I only allude to this because some people are “naturally nervous” and all that—and I am quite of another kind[.]

Last evening I went out .. having been kept at home in the afternoon to see somebody .. went walking for hours. I am quite well to-day and, now your letter comes, my Ba, most happy– And, as the sun shines, you are perhaps making the perilous descent now, while I write—oh, to meet you on the stairs! And I shall really see you on Monday, dearest? So soon, it ought to feel, considering the dreary weeks that now get to go between our days! For music, I made myself melancholy just now with some “Concertos for the Harpsichord by Mr Handel”—brought home by my father the day before yesterday:—what were light, modern things once! Now I read not very long ago a french Memoir of “Claude Le Jeune”[1] called in his time the Prince of Musicians,—no, “Phœnix”—the unapproachable wonder to all time .. that is, twenty years after his death about! and to this pamphlet was prefixed as motto this startling axiom—“In Music, the Beau Idéal changes every thirty years”[2]—well,—is not that true? The Idea, mind, changes,—the general standard .. so that it is no answer, that a single air, such as many one knows, may strike as freshly as ever—they were not according to the Ideal of their own time,—just now, they drop into the ready ear,—next hundred years, who will be the Rossini? who is no longer the Rossini even I remember—his early overtures are as purely Rococo as Cimarosa’s or more–[3] The sounds remain, keep their character perhaps—the scale’s proportioned notes affect the same, that is,—the major third, or minor seventh,—but the arrangement of these, the sequences—the law for them, .. if it should change every thirty years! To Corelli—nothing seemed so conclusive in Heaven or earth as this


I don’t believe there is one of his sonatas wherein that formula does not do duty– In these things of Handel that seems replaced by


—that was the only true consummation! Then,—to go over the hundred years,—came Rossini’s unanswerable coda


which serves as base to the infinitity [sic] of songs, gone, gone—so gone by! From all of which Ba draws this “conclusion” that there may be worse things than Bartoli’s Tuscan to cover a page with!—yet, yet the pity of it! Le Jeune, the Phœnix,—and Rossini who directed his letters to his mother as “Mother of the famous composer”—and Henry Lawes, and Dowland’s Lute,[4] ah me!

Well, my conclusion is the best, the everlasting, here and I trust elsewhere. I am your own, my Ba, ever your


Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 MR7 1846 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 131.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 522–525.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Esquisse biographique et bibliographique sur Claude Lejeune, natif de Valenciennes, surnommé le Phénix des musiciens, compositeur de la musique de la chambre des rois Henri III et Henri IV (Valenciennes, 1845) by Ernest Bouton. Claude (or Claudin) Le Jeune (1529?–1600) was a Huguenot musician whose settings for some of the Psalms were used in the Geneva Psalter. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980), he “had a lasting influence on French sacred and secular music” (10, 647).

2. The motto on the title page of Bouton’s memoir of Le Jeune reads: “Le beau idéal change tous les trente ans en musique.”

3. Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801) was an Italian composer mainly of comic operas, and during the 1770’s and 80’s he was the leading composer in Italy. According to The New Grove Dictionary, his “reputation in his last years and during the early part of the 19th century, was unparalleled in Italian opera until Rossini” (4, 399).

4. John Dowland (1563–1626) had established a great reputation in England as a lutenist and composer in the last decade of the seventeenth century. After living in Denmark for ten years, however, he returned to England “to find himself almost forgotten, and a new school of lute-players had arisen who looked upon him as old-fashioned” (DNB). Henry Lawes (1596–1662) composed the music for Comus (first performed in 1634), which he had arranged for his friend John Milton to write, and he was the subject of the poet’s sonnet “To Mr. H. Lawes on his Aires” (1648). He “was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, … but later writers formed a lower estimate of his abilities as a composer” (Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1954, V, 93).


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