2290. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 207–209.
Friday evening [3 April 1846]
Shall the heir to a Marquisate “justify his title” in these days? Is not the best thing he can do for himself, to forget it in a studio at Rome—? & one of the best things he can do for his country, perhaps, to desecrate it at dogfighting before the eyes of all men? I should not like to have to justify my Marquisate to reasonable men now-a-days,—should you .. seriously speaking? It would be a hard task, & rather dull in the performance. On the other hand, the noble dog-fighters (unconscious patriots!) find it easy & congenial occupation down in St Giles’s, rubbing out (as in the old game of fox & goose) figure by figure, prestige by prestige, the gross absurdity of hereditary legislators, lords, & the like. Yet of the three positions, I would rather be at Rome certainly .. a man looks nobler there .. is better .. is happier .. a good deal nearer the angels .. than on his ‘landed estates’ playing at feudal proprietor, or even in St Giles’s, dog-fighting. See what a republican you have for a .. Ba. Did you fancy me capable of writing such unlawful, disorderly things? And it is’nt out of bitterness, nor covetousness .. no, indeed. People in general would rather be Marquises than Roman artists, consulting their own wishes & inclination. I, for my part, ever since I could speak my mind & knew it, always openly & inwardly preferred the glory of those who live by their heads, to the opposite glory of those who carry other people’s arms. So much for glory– Happiness goes the same way to my fancy. There is something fascinating to me, in that Bohemian way of living .. all the conventions of society cut so close & thin, that the soul can see through .. beyond .. above. It is “real life” as you say .. whether at Rome or elsewhere. I am very glad that you like simplicity in habits of life—it has both reasonableness & sanctity. People are apt to suffocate their faculties by their manners .. English people especially. I admire that you, .. RB, .. who have had temptation more than enough, I am certain, under every form, .. have lived in the midst of this London of ours, close to the great social vortex, yet have kept so safe, & free, & calm & pure from the besetting sins of our society. When you came to see me first, I did not expect so much of you in that one respect. How could I? You had lived in the world, I knew, .. & I thought … well!—what matter, now, what I thought?
I will tell you instead how today has gone by with me. Not like yesterday, indeed! In the first place, I went down stairs, walked up & down the drawing room twice, & finding nobody there (they were all having luncheon in the dining room) came up stairs again … half way on the stairs, met Flush, who having been asleep, had not missed me till just then, & was in the act of search. I was lost for ever, thought poor Flush. At least I think he thought so by his eyes– They were three times their usual largeness—he looked quite wild .. & leaped against me with such an ecstasy of astonished joy, that I nearly fell backward down the stairs. (Whereupon, you would have had to go to the Sirens’ island, dearest, all by yourself!) After which escape of mine & Flushie’s, & when I had persuaded him to be good & quiet & to believe that I was not my own ghost, I came home with him & prepared to see ..
I will tell you. She is a Mrs Paine who lives at Farnham, & learns Greek, & writes to me such overcoming letters, that at last, & in a moment of imprudent reaction from an ungrateful discourtesy on my part, I agreed to see her if she ever came to London. Upon which, she comes directly—I am taken in my trap—she comes & returns the same day, & all to see me. Well—she had been kind to me: .. & she came at two today. Do you know, .. for the first five minutes, I repented quite? Dearest .. she came just with the sort of face which a child might take to see a real, alive lioness at the Zoological Gardens .. she just sate down on a chair, & stared. How can people do such things in this year of grace when they are abolishing the corn laws, I wonder? For my part, it was so unlike anything civilized I had ever been used to, that I felt as if my voice & breath went together. It would have saved me to be able to stare back again .. but that was out of my power. So I endured .. &, after a pause, ran violently down a steep place into .. some sort of conversation .. (thinking of your immortal Simpson, & vowing never to be drawn into such a situation again) and in a little while, I was able to recognize that there was nothing worse than bad manners .. ignorant manners .. & that, for the rest, my antagonist was a young, pretty woman .. (rather pretty ..) enthusiastic & provincial, .. with a strong love for poetry & literature generally .. loving Carlyle .. & yourself (could I hold out against that?) & telling me all her domestic happinesses with a frankness which quite appeased me & prevented my being too tired .. though she stayed two hours, & was’nt you!–
So there, is my history of today for you! Tomorrow you will have the proof—& perhaps, I shall!– Monday will bring a better thing than a proof– May God bless you, beloved. Say how you are .. tomorrow! Mind to do it .. or I will not sit any more in your gondola-chair. How can you make me, unless I choose?–
And you speak against my letter tonight? You shall not dare do such things– It is a good, dear letter, & it is mine to call so .. & I knew its fellows before I knew you & loved them before I loved you, & so, you are not to be proud & scornful & try to put them down “in that way”.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 AP4 1846 D.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 145.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 584–587.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. As previously explained (letter 1809, note 1), a board game dating back to the Middle Ages.
3. See letter 2285, note 6.
4. Cf. Aurora Leigh, III, 383–387.
5. Matthew 8:23.
6. See letter 1919, note 3.