2289.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 205–206.


Friday. [Postmark: 3 April 1846]

I want to tell you a thing before I forget it, my own Ba—a thing that pleased me to find out this morning– A few days ago there was a paragraph in the newspaper about Lord Compton [1] and his ways at Rome– His address was to be read in the general list of working-artists kept for public inspection at Monaldini’s news-room [2] —and the Earl’s self was to be found in fraternal association with “young art,” at board and sporting-place, wearing the same distinctive blouse and Louis II. hat with great flaps,—even his hair as picturesquely disordered as the best of them .. (the artists, not flaps)—at all which the reporter seemed scarcely to know whether he ought to laugh or cry. This I read in the Daily News with other gossip about Rome, last Wednesday. But this morning a “Cambridge Advertiser” [3] of the same day reaches me—and there, under the head of College news—(after recording that Mr A has been appointed to this vicarage, and Mr B, licenced to the other curacy)—one finds this– “The Earl Compton, M.A[.] (Hon. 1837)—is of great fame in Rome as a Painter!”—which the other authority wholly forgot to mention,—supposing, no doubt, all the love went to the blouse and flapped hat aforesaid! Now, is it not a good instance of that fascination which the true life at Rome (apart from the stupidities of the travelling English) exercises every now & then on susceptible people? The best thing for an English Earl to do,—(who will be a Marquis one day)—would be to stay here and vindicate his title by honest work with the opportunities it affords him—but if he cannot rise to the dignity of the best part, surely this, he chooses, is better than many others—being caught as some noblemen were yesterday, for instance, superintending a dog-fight in some horrible den of thieves in St Giles’. [4] I don’t know, after all, why I tell you this,—but that amid all the dull doings of the notable dull ones there, and their “honours” .. (such a wonder of a man was Smith’s prize-man, [5] —another had got to be gloriously first in the Classical Tripos) .. this bit of “fame at Rome” seemed like a break of blue real sky with a star in it, shining thro the canvass sham clouds and oil-paper moons of a theatre.

Now I get to you, my Ba! How strange! It does so happen that I took the pen and laid out the paper with, I really think, a completer, deeper yearning of love to you than usual even. I seemed to have a thousand things that I could say now—and on touching the paper .. see—I start off with a foolish story and still foolisher comment, as if there were no Ba close at my heart all the time, straight before my eyes too! So it is with me—I give the expressing-part up at once! It must be understood, inferred,—(proved, never!) <yet, yet I do appear to myself> [6] all nonsense, so I will stay—and try to be wise to-morrow—now, I have no note to guide me and half put into my mouth what I ought to say. So, dear, dear Ba, good bye! I very well know what this letter is worth—yet because of the love and endeavour unseen, may I not have the hand to kiss—and without the glove? It is kissed, whether you give it or no,—for there are two long days more to wait—and then comes Monday! Bless you till then, and ever, my dearest! My own Ba–

Your RB

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 AP3 1846 B.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 148.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 583–584.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Charles Compton (1816–77) succeeded his father as 3rd Marquess of Northampton in 1851, until which time he held the courtesy title, Earl Compton.

2. RB refers to the following from The Daily News for 1 April 1846, under the heading: “Doings in Rome—Pugnacious, Religious, Artistical, and Literary. Rome, 18th March.” “In the ‘address book’ of working artists lying for public inspection at Monaldinis news-room, the eye is somewhat bewildered in meeting with an English earl. In sooth, our pictorial brotherhood is augmented by the accession of Lord Compton, who ‘scorning’ more aristocratic ‘delights,’ sits at the mess-table of art, has donned the blouze, and wears that indescribable beaver in which rejoiceth your modern Rafaelle: for the rest, incomptus, to a hair completes the picture” (p.3).

3. This brief statement appeared under the sub-heading of “Trinity College” in the Cambridge Advertiser for 1 April 1846.

4. The incident RB refers to was reported in The Times of 3 April 1846: “Yesterday John Mansfield, William Smith, Daniel Nash, and Charles Hayes were … charged with aiding and abetting in a dog-fight, at a house in Neale’s-yard, Queen-street, Seven Dials.” During the subsequent hearing, defendants’ counsel “complained of the partiality of the police in retaining the poor men at the bar, and discharging at the same time the noblemen and gentlemen whom he had reason to know were present sanctioning and encouraging the exhibition” (p. 8).

5. The Times of 3 April 1846 noted, in the “University Intelligence” column, that Trinity College, “at all times in front in the race for academic honours, has this year left its competitors far behind. The Senior Wrangler, the first Smith’s Prizeman, the Senior Classic, both the University Scholars, both the Bell Scholars, and both the Chancellor’s Medallists, are all of Trinity” (p.6).

6. Bracketed passage is crossed out.


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