2257.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 155–157.


Monday evening. [16 March 1846] [1]

Dearest, you are dearest always! Talk of Sirens, .. there must be some masculine ones ‘rari nantes’, [2] I fancy, (though we may not find them in unquestionable authorities like your Ælian!) to justify this voice I hear! Oh—how you speak——with that pretension too, to dumbness! What should people be made of, in order to bear such words, do you think?– Will all the wax from all the altar-candles in the Sistine chapel, keep the piercing danger from their ears? Being tied up a good deal tighter than Ulysses, did not save me. [3] Dearest dearest! I laugh, you see, as usual, not to cry!– But deep down, deeper than the Sirens go, deep underneath the tides, there, I bless & love you with the voice that makes no sound–

Other human creatures (how often I do think it to myself!) have their good things scattered over their lives, sown here & sown there, down the slopes, & by the waysides. But with me .. I have mine all poured down on one spot in the midst of the sands!——if you knew what I feel at moments, & at half-hours, when I give myself up to the feeling freely & take no thought of red eyes. A woman once was killed with gifts, crushed with the weight of golden bracelets thrown at her: [4] &, knowing myself, I have wondered more than a little, how it was that I could bear this strange & <light &> [5] unused gladness, without sinking as the emotion rose. Only I was incredulous at first, & the day broke slowly .. & the gifts fell like the rain .. softly:—& God gives strength, by His providence, for sustaining blessings as well as stripes. Dearest!

For the rest I understood you perfectly—perfectly. It was simply to your thoughts, that I replied .. & that you need not say to yourself any more, as you did once to me when you brought me flowers, .. that you wished they were diamonds. It was simply to prevent the accident of such a thought, that I spoke out mine. You would not wish accidentally that you had a doublebarrelled gun to give me, or a cardinal’s hat, or a snuffbox,—& I meant to say that you might as well .. as diamonds & satin sofas à la Chorley. Thoughts are something—& your thoughts are something more–. To be sure they are!–

You are better you say, which makes me happy of course. And you will not make the ‘better’ worse again by doing wrong things .. that is my petition. It was the excess of goodness to write those two letters for me in one day,—& I thank you, thank you. Beloved, when you write, let it be, if you choose, ever so few lines– Do not suffer me (for my own sake) to tire you—because two lines or three, bring you to me .. remember .. just as a longer letter would.

But where, pray, did I say .. & when, .. that “everything would end well”?– Was that in the dream, when we two met on the stairs? [6] I did not really say so I think. And “well” is how you understand it. If you jump out of the window you succeed in getting to the ground, somehow, dead or alive .. but whether that means “ending well”, depends on your way of considering matters. I am seriously of opinion nevertheless, that if “the arm,” you talk of, drops—it will not be for weariness nor even for weakness .. but because it is cut off at the shoulder. I [7] will not fail to you,—may God so deal with me, so bless me so leave me, as I live only for you & shall. Do you doubt that, my only beloved? Ah, you know well .. too well, people would say .. but I do not think it “too well” myself, .. knowing you.

Your Ba–

Here is a gossip which Mr Kenyon brought me on Sunday .. disbelieving it himself he asseverated, though Lady Chantrey said it ‘with authority’,––that Mr Harness had offered his hand heart & ecclesiastical dignities to Miss Burdett Coutts. [8] It is Lady Chantrey’s & Mr Kenyon’s secret, remember–

And .. will you tell me? .. How can a man spend four or five successive months on the sea, most cheaply .. at the least pecuniary expense, I mean? Because Miss Mitford’s friend, Mr Buckingham, [9] is ordered by his medical adviser to complete his cure by these means,—& he is not rich. Could he go with sufficient comfort by a merchant’s vessel to the Mediterranean .. & might he drift about among the Greek islands?

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

Postmark: 10FN10 MR17 1846.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 132.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 540–542.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. “Swimming here and there” (Æneid, I, 118).

3. EBB is alluding to the episode in the Odyssey (XII, 175–200).

4. According to legend, Tarpeia, daughter of the governor of the citadel of Rome, promised the Sabines that she would open the gates of the citadel if they gave her that which they wore on their left arms, i.e., their gold bracelets. When she let them in, however, their king threw on her not only his bracelet but also his shield; his army followed suit, and Tarpeia was crushed under the rain of shields and bracelets.

5. EBB has deleted the text in angle brackets.

6. In the second paragraph of letter 2180, RB had written “I fancy myself meeting you on ‘the stairs’—stairs and passages generally, and galleries.”

7. Underscored twice.

8. Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts (afterwards Baroness Burdett-Coutts, 1814–1906) was the granddaughter of the banker Thomas Coutts, whose vast wealth she inherited after the death of his second wife Harriet Mellon. Lady Chantrey is probably the wife of Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey (1781–1841), a sculptor from Sheffield, who gained fame for his portrait busts, particularly those of children.

9. See letter 2206, note 2.


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