2253.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 150–152.


Sunday [15 March 1846][1]

Ever dearest I am going to say one word first of all lest I should forget it afterward, of the two or three words which you said yesterday & so passingly that you probably forget today having said them at all. We were speaking of Mr Chorley & his house .. & you said that you did not care for such & such things for yourself, but that for others … now you remember the rest. And I just want to say what it would have been simpler to have said at the time .. only not so easy .. (I could’nt say it at the time) .. that you are not if you please to fancy that because I am a woman I have not the pretension to do with as little in any way as you yourself .. no, it is not that I mean to say .. I mean that you are not, if you please, to fancy that, because I am a woman, I look to be cared for in those outside things or should have the slightest pleasure in any of them—. So never wish nor regret in your thoughts to be able or not to be able to care this & this for me,—for while you are thinking so, our thoughts go different ways,—which is wrong. Mr Fox did me a great deal too much honour in calling me ‘a religious hermit’,[2] .. he was ‘curiously’ in fault, as you saw. It is not my vocation to sit on a stone in a cave—I was always too fond of lolling upon sofas or in chairs nearly as large,—& this, which I sit in, was given to me when I was a child by my uncle, the uncle I spoke of to you once,[3] & has been lolled in nearly ever since .. when I was well enough. Well—that is a sort of luxury, of course—but it is more idle than expensive, as a habit, & I do believe that it is the ‘head & foot of my offending’[4] in that matter. Yes—‘confiteor tibi’[5] besides, that I do hate white dimity curtains, which is highly improper for a religious hermit of course, but excusable in me who would accept brown serge as a substitute with ever so much indifference. It is the white light which comes in the dimity which is so hateful to me– To “go mad in white dimity”[6] seems perfectly natural, & consequential even.– Set aside these foibles, & one thing is as good as another with me, & the more simplicity in the way of living, the better. If I saw Mr Chorley’s satin sofas & gilded ceilings I should call them very pretty I dare say, but never covet the possession of the like—it would never enter my mind to do so– Then Papa has not kept a carriage since I have been grown up—(they grumble about it here in the house, but when people have once had great reverses they get nervous about spending money)—so I shall not miss the Clarence & greys .. & I do entreat you not to put those two ideas together again of me & the finery which has nothing to do with me. I have talked a great deal too much of all this, you will think, but I want you, once for all, to apply it broadly to the whole of the future both in the general views & the details, so that we need not return to the subject—judge for me as for yourself—what is good for you is good for me. Otherwise I shall be humiliated, you know, just as far as I know your thoughts–

Mr Kenyon has been here today .. & I have been down stairs—two great events!– He was in brilliant spirits & sate talking ever so long, & named you as he always does– Something he asked, & then said suddenly .. “But I dont see why I should ask you, when I ought to know him better than you can.” On which I was wise enough to change colour, as I felt, to the roots of my hair. There is the effect of a bad conscience! & it has happened to me before, with Mr Kenyon, three times—once particularly, when I could have cried with vexation, (to complete the effects!) he looked at me with such infinite surprise in a dead pause of any speaking. That was in the summer,—& all to be said for it now, is, that it could’nt be helped! could’nt!

Mr Kenyon asked of ‘Saul’. (By the way, you never answered about the blue lilies.)[7] He asked of Saul & whether it would be finished in the new number. He hangs on the music of your David. Did you read in the Athenæum how Jules Janin .. no, how the critic on Jules Janin .. (was it the critic? was it Jules Janin? the glorious confusion is gaining on me I think) has magnificently confounded places & persons in Robert Southey’s urn by the Adriatic & devoted friendship for Lord Byron?.[8] And immediately, the English observer of the phenomenon, after moralizing a little on the crass ignorance of Frenchmen in respect to our literature, goes on to write like an ignoramus himself, on Madme Charles Reybaud, .. encouraging that pure budding novelist, who is in fact a hack writer of romances third & fourth rate, of questionable purity enough, too. It does certainly appear wonderful that we should not sufficiently stand abreast here in Europe, to justify & necessitate the establishment of an European review .. journal rather .. (the “Foreign review’[’],[9] so called, touching only the summits of the hills ..) a journal .. which might be on a level with the intelligent readers of all the countries of Europe, & take all the rising reputations of each, with the natural light on them as they rise, into observation & judgment. If nobody can do this, it is a pity I think to do so much less .. both in France & England .. to snatch up a French book from over the channel as ever & anon they do in the Athenæum, & say something prodigiously absurd of it, till people cry out “oh oh” as in the House of Commons.

Oh—oh—& how wise I am today, as if I were a critic myself! Yesterday I was foolish instead—for I could’nt get out of my head all the evening how you said that you would come ‘to see a candle held up at the window’. Well! but I do not mean to love you any more just now—so I tell you plainly. Certainly I will not. I love you already too much perhaps .. I feel like the turning Dervishes turning in the sun when you say such words to me—& I never shall love you any “less,” .. because it is too much to be made less of.–

And you write to-morrow? and will tell me how you are? honestly will tell me? May God bless you, most dear! I am yours– ‘Tota tua est’[10]


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

Postmark: 10FN10 MR16 1846 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 131.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 535–537.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. See letter 2223, note 4.

3. Samuel Moulton-Barrett (see letter 2136, note 5).

4. Cf. Othello, I, 3, 80.

5. “I confess to thee,” the opening words of the liturgical General Confession; cf. Psalms 32:5.

6. Cf. Sheridan, The Critic, III, 1.

7. See letter 2237, note 2. For Kenyon’s comments to Mrs. Jameson about “Saul,” specifically the “Song of David,” see SD1247.

8. EBB refers to the “Foreign Correspondence” column in the 14 March 1846 issue of The Athenæum (no. 959, p. 271), which quoted part of an article by Jules Janin from the 2 February Journal des Débats: “Cet ami de Lord Byron, Robert Southey, un des beaux esprits de l’Angleterre moderne, dont le bucher s’est élevé sur les bords de l’Adriatique … a écrit une poëme, dans lequel ce Comte Julien joue le grand rôle.” The correspondent went on to recommend a “very charming novel” by Madame Reybaud.

9. According to The Wellesley Index, The Foreign Review developed out of The Foreign Quarterly Review in the very early stages of the former, which was started in 1827 and continued until late 1846 when it merged with The Westminster Review to become The Westminster and Foreign Quarterly Review. The Foreign Review only survived for a few years before merging with the original. During its twenty-year history, The Foreign Quarterly Review was “devoted exclusively or principally to the consideration of foreign thought and foreign literature.”

10. “Completely yours.”


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