2314. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 249–252.
Thursday. [Postmark: 16 April 1846]
This morning, you would never guess what I have been doing!– Buying a bonnet– That looks like a serious purpose of going out, walking out, driving out .. now does’nt it? And having chosen one a little like a quaker’s, as I thought to myself, I am immediately assured by the learned that “nothing can be more fashionable” .. which is a most satisfactory proof of blind instinct, .. feeling towards the Bude lights of the world, & which Mrs Procter would highly esteem me for, if she did but know it. In the meanwhile assure yourself that I understand perfectly your feeling about the subject of yesterday– Flies are flies & yet they are vexatious with their buzzing, as flies– Only Mrs Jameson told me the other day that a remedy against the mosquitos .. ‘polvere di morchia’ .. had been discovered lately in Italy, so that the world might sleep there in peace—as you may here .. let us talk no more of it. I think I should not have told you if I had not needed it for a talking-ladder to something else. For the rest, it is amusing to me, quite amusing, to observe how people cannot conceive of work except under certain familiar forms. Men who dig in ditches have an idea that the man who leads the plough rather rests than works: & all men of out-door labour distrust the industry of the manufacturers in doors .. while both manufacturers & out-door labourers consider the holders of offices & clerkships as idle men .. gentlemen at ease. Then between all these classes & the intellectual worker, the difference is wider, & the want of perception more complete. The work of creation, nobody will admit .. though everybody has by heart, <without laying it to heart,> that God rested on the seventh day. Looking up to the stars at nights, they might as well take all to be motionless—though if there were no motion there would be no morning .. & they look for a morning after all. Why who could mind such obtuse stupidity? It is the stupidity of mankind, par excellence of foolishness. The hedger & ditcher, they see working, but God they do not see working. If one built a palace without noise & confusion & the stroke of hammers, one would scarcely get credit for it in this world .. so full of virtue & admiration it is, to make a noise!– Even I, you see, who said just now “Talk no more of it,” talk more & more, & make more noise than is necessary. Here is an end though– We leave Mrs Procter here. And do not think that the least word of disrespect was said of you—indeed it was not! neither disrespect nor reproach. So you & I will forgive everybody henceforward, for wishing you to be rich. And if Miss Procter would “commit suicide” rather than live as you like to live, I will not, as long as you are not tired of me: & that, just now & as things are, is of a little more consequence, perhaps …
Scarcely had you gone, dearest, yesterday, when I had two letters with the very prose of life in them, dropping its black blotchy oil upon all the bright colours of our poetry! I groaned in the spirit to read, & to have to answer them. First, was a Miss Georgiana Bennet .. did you ever hear of her? .. I never did before, .. but that was my base ignorance, for she is a most voluminous writer it appears .. & sent me five or six ‘works’ (observe), .. published under the ‘high sanction’ (& reiterated subscription) of ever so many Royal Highnesses & Right Reverends … written in prose & verse, upon female education & the portrait of Harrison Ainsworth … (“I gaze upon that noble face, & bright expressive eyes”!) .. miscellaneous subjects of that sort!—also, there is a poem of some length, called “The poetess,” which sets forth in detail how Miss Georgiana Bennet has found the laurel on her brow a mere nightshade, & the glories of fame no comfort in the world. Well—all these books were sent to me, with a note hortative—giving indeed a very encouraging opinion of my poems generally, but desiring me to consider, that poets write both for the learned & the unlearned, & that in fact I am in the habit of using a great many hard words, much to the confusion of the latter large class of readers. She has heard (Georgiana has) that I am a classical scholar which of course (of course) accounts for this peculiarity .. but it is the duty of one’s friends to tell one of one’s faults, which is the principle she goes upon. In return for which benevolence, I am requested to send back a copy of my poems directly, & to “think of her, as she thinks of me”– There an end– The next letter is from a Mrs Milner, who used to edit the ‘Christian Mother’s Magazine’, .. the most idiotic tract-literature, that magazine was, but supported by the queen dowager & a whole train of Duchesses proper .. very proper indeed!– She used to edit the Christian Mother, but now she has ‘generalized’ it she says to the [‘]‘Englishwoman’s Magazine” & wants me to write for it & says …
Oh– I cannot have patience to go on to tell you. Besides you will take me to be too bitter, when I ought to be grateful perhaps!– But if you knew how hard it is for me to have to read & write sometimes, as if you were not in the world with me .. as if … Is it wrong to laugh a little, to put it off, .. only to you, though? And do you know, I feel ill at ease in my conscience, on account of what I said (even to you) about Mrs Paine, who came to see me, you remember: & because she has written me a letter which quite affected me, I shall send it for you to read, to undo any false impression. Then you will not dislike reading it on other grounds– She is very different from the Georgiana Bennetts, & I am interested in her, & touched aright by what she says.
You will write– You think of me? I am better today, much—& it is strange to be so, when you are not here. Ever dearest, let your thoughts be with me– I am your own ..
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 8NT8 AP16 1846 E.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 154.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 624–626.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Patented in 1839 by Goldsworthy Gurney (1793–1875), the Bude Light was a modified oil lamp that produced the brightest artificial light then in existence. Intensified by the injection of oxygen into the center of the lamp’s flame and amplified by an arrangement of mirrors and chrystals, Gurney’s invention replaced candles in the House of Commons, coal mines, and lighthouses. The name Bude comes from the town in Cornwall where the inventor resided.
2. “Olive dust,” or “olive powder.”
3. The passage in angle brackets is interpolated above the line.
4. Georgiana Bennet (1812–76) had published six books prior to her meeting with EBB, among which were Remarks on Female Education (1842) and The Poetess (1844). Remarks on Female Education was “published under the immediate sanction of,” among others, the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Sutherland, W. Harrison Ainsworth, and several ministers.
5. Cf. “Stanzas; Written on Receiving the Portrait of William Harrison Ainsworth, Esq.” in The Poetess (1844). The portrait of Ainsworth was probably one of several likenesses of him painted by Daniel Maclise. Ainsworth was a prolific novelist and the editor of Ainsworth’s Magazine and later of The New Monthly Magazine. The DNB refers to him at sixteen as “a brillant, handsome youth,” and as “the tall handsome dandified figure presented in the portraits of him by Pickersgill and Maclise.”
6. Mary Milner (née Compton, 1797–1863) was the editor of The Christian Mother’s Magazine, which, begun in 1844, became The Englishwoman’s Magazine and Christian Mother’s Miscellany in 1846. To the October 1845 issue of the former, EBB had contributed two poems, “Sonnet: A Sketch” and “Wisdom Unapplied,” hoping to avoid the present request (see letter 1942, note 5).
7. See letter 2285, note 6.