2299. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 227–229.
Wednesday evening [8 April 1846]
After the question about the “Siren’s song to Ulysses,” dearest? Then directly before, I suppose, the other ‘difficult question’ talked of by your Sir Thomas Browne, as to “what name Achilles bore when he lived among the women”. That, you think, will be an appropriate position for our “moot point” which, once in England, was guilty of tiring you & making your head ache:—and as for Achilles’s name when he lived among women, it was Μωρος, you will readily guess, & I shall not dare to deny. Only .. only .. I never shall be convinced on the ‘previous question’ by the arguments of your letter—it is not possible.
May I say just one thing, without touching that specific subject? There is a certain class of sacrifice which men who live in society, should pay willingly to society .. the sacrifice of little or indifferent things, .. in respect to mere manners & costume. There is another class of sacrifice which should be refused by every righteous man though ever so eminently a social man, & though to the loss of his social position. Now you would be the last, I am sure, to confound these two classes of sacrifice—& you will admit that our question is simply between them .. & to which of them, duelling belongs .. & not at all whether society is in itself a desirable thing & much rejoiced in by the Browns & Smiths. You refuse to wear a fool’s cap in the street, because society forbids you—which is well: but if, in order to avoid wearing it, you shoot the “foolish child” who forces it upon you .. why, you do not well, by any means: it would not be well even for a Brown or a Smith—but for my poet of the Bells & Pomegranates, it is very ill, wonderfully ill .. so ill, that I shut my eyes, & have the heartache (for the headache!) only to think of it– So I will not. Why should we see things so differently, ever dearest? If anyone had asked me, I could have answered for you that you saw it quite otherwise– And you would hang men even—you!
Well! Because I do “not rue” (& am so much the more unfit to die) I am to be stabbed through the body by an act of “private judgement” of my next neighbour. So I must take care & ‘rue’ when I do anything wrong—and I begin now, for being the means of tiring you, .. & for seeming to persist so! You may be right & I wrong, of course—I only speak as I see. And will not speak any more last words .. taking pardon for these. I rue–
Today I was down stairs again—& if the sun shines on as brightly, I shall be out of doors before long perhaps.
Your headache!—tell me how your headache is,—remember to tell me. When your letter came, I kissed it by a sort of instinct .. not that I do always at first sight, (please to understand) but because the writing did not look angry .. not vexed writing. Then I read .. “First of all, kiss” ....
So it seemed like magic.
Only I know that if I went on to write disagreeing disagreeable letters, you might not help to leave off loving me at the end. I seem to see through this crevice.
Good Heavens!—how dreadfully natural it would be to me, seem to me, if you did leave off loving me!! How it would be like the sun’s setting .. & no more wonder! Only, more darkness, more pain– May God bless you my only dearest! & me, by keeping me
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 AP9 1846 D.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 149.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 606–608.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. See note 9 in the preceding letter.
3. “Fool,” or “foolish.” In the Iliad Homer does not supply Achilles’ female name. It was a subject for speculation and debate among ancient scholars.
4. Underscored three times.