2330. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 276–279.
Sunday. [26 April 1846]
Ever dearest you might have stayed ten minutes more. George did not come in till half past six after all—but there is the consciousness of being wise in one’s generation, which consoles so many for their eternity as children of light, .. yet does’nt console me for my ten minutes, .. so it is as well to say no more on this head!
I have glanced over the paper in the Athenæum & am of an increased certainty that Mr Chorley is the writer. It is his way from beginning to end—& that is the way, observe, in which little critics get to tread on the heels of great writers who are too great to kick backwards. Think of bringing George Sand to the level of the same sentence with such a woman as Mrs Ellis!!– And then, the infinite trash about the three eras in the frenchwoman’s career, .. which never would have been dragged into application there, if the critic had heard of her last two volumes .. published since the ‘Meunier d’Angibault’ .. ‘Teverino’ .. & ‘Isidora’. One may be angry & sin not, over such inapplicable commonplace. The motive of it .. the low expediency .. is worse to me than the offence– Why mention her at all .. why name in any fashion any of these French writers, for the reception of whom the English mind is certainly not prepared, unless they are to be named worthily, recognized righteously? It is just the principle of the advice about the De Kocks, whom people are to go & see & deny their acquaintance afterwards. Why not say boldly ‘These writers have high faculty, & imagination such as none of our romance-writers can pretend to .. but they have besides a devil—& we do not recommend them as fit reading for English families’! Now would’nt it answer every purpose? Or silence would!—silence, at least. But this digging & nagging at great reputations, .. it is to me quite insufferable: & not compensated for by the motive, which is a truckling to conventions rather than to morals. As if earnestness of aim was not, from the beginning, from ‘Rose et Blanche’ & ‘Indiana’, a characteristic of George Sand! Really it is pitiful.
The ‘Mysteries of the Heaths’, I suppose to be a translation of ‘Sept Jours au chateau’, a very clever story from the monstrous Hydra-headed imagination of Frederic Soulié. Dumas is inferior to them all of course, yet a right good storyteller when he is in the mind for storytelling;—telling, telling, telling, & never having done– You know I like listening to stories– I agree with the great Sultan & would forgo ever so much cutting off of heads for the sake of a story—it is a taste quite apart from a taste for literature: a storyteller, I like, apart from the sweet voice. Now that book of Dumas’s on the League wars, which distressed me so the other day, by having the cruelty .. the ‘villainie’ .. of hanging its hero in the fourth volume .. (regularly hanging him on a pair of gallows, was’nt it too bad? ..) that book is amusing enough, more than amusing enough, to take with one’s coffee .. which is my fashion, .. because you are not here & I have nobody to talk to me. The hero who was hanged, deserved it a little, I think, though the author meant it for a pure misfortune & though no good romance-reader in the world, such as I am, could bear to part with the hero of four volumes in that manner, without pain,—but the hero did deserve it a little when one came to consider. In the first place, he was a traitor once or twice in war & politics, & was quite ready to be so a third or fourth time, .. only .. as he said to the lady he loved .. ‘je perdrais votre estime’. “Is that your only objection” she enquired. “The only one” he answered! (How frightfully true, that those brilliant French writers have no moral sense at all! do not, for the most part, know right from wrong! here, an instance!) Then, from the beginning to the end of the four volumes, he loves two women together .. a “phenomène” by no means uncommon, says the historian musingly, … &, except for the hanging, there might have been a difficulty perhaps in the final arrangement– Yet oh .. to see one’s hero, the hero of four volumes, & not a bad hero either in some respects, hung up before one’s eyes! .. it wrings the natural affections to think of it!—it made me unhappy for a full hour! There should be a society for the prevention of cruelty to romance-readers, against the recurrence of such things! Pure nonsense I write to you, it seems to me.
What beautiful flowers you brought me!—& the sweetbriar is unfolding its leaves today, as if you did them, so, no wrong. And I have been considering,—& there are not, if you please, five but four days, between saturday & thursday. In the meanwhile say how you are, dearest dearest! My thoughts are with you constantly .. indeed, I could almost say, too much, .. because sometimes they grow weak & tired .. not of you, who are best & beloved, but of themselves, having been so long used to be sad. May God bless you, .. bless you! His best blessing for me (after that!), were to make me worthy of you—but it would take too many miracles–
Remember the letters, if they come.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 AP27 1846 M.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 161.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 652–655.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. Cf. Luke 16:8.
3. The Athenæum for 25 April 1846 (no. 965, pp. 420–421) contains an article entitled “French Novels and English Translations,” which reviewed George Sand’s Le Meûnier d’Angibault and Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine; the first part of The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; Frédéric Soulié’s The Mysteries of the Heaths, &c. and The Commander of Malta by Eugène Sue. The reviewer was Chorley.
4. Sarah Ellis (née Stickney, d. 1872) was the author of The Women of England (1839) and The Mothers of England (1843), as well as numerous other books of a similar nature. Referring to these kinds of books in general, and Mrs. Ellis specifically, EBB said to RB in letter 2156: “How I hate those ‘Women of England’ ‘Women and their mission’ & the rest.” In The Athenæum’s review of Sand’s Le Meûnier d’Angibault and Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine, Chorley wrote that no writer was more “in need of schooling than Madame Dudevant—but now that she keeps school herself, we must say that, for neatness and attractiveness in administering ‘her system,’ Miss Edgeworth and Miss Martineau beat her hollow—nay, as we read, we come to think with toleration of the prolix, and not very convincing lessoner of the Mothers, Wives, Daughters, Sisters-in-law, and Great-Aunts of England!” (p. 421).
5. In the opening remarks of The Athenæum review, Chorley wrote: “The signs of the moral zodiac through which, it seems agreed, every Frenchwoman must pass, have been as clearly marked, by common consent, as the symbols of the months. First, gallantry; then, philosophy; lastly, devotion” (p. 420).
6. Cf. Ephesians 4:26.
7. See letter 2233, note 5.
8. Indiana was published in 1832, and Rose et Blanche, written in collaboration with Jules Sandeau (1811–83), appeared in 1831. The first sentence of Chorley’s review stated: “In examining the somewhat miscellaneous heap before us, the lady claims the precedence, not merely in right of sex, but because of her earnestness of purpose” (p. 420).
9. The Mysteries of the Heath; or, the Chateau de Chevalaine was a translation of Soulié’s Huit Jours au château by George Fleming, published in New York in 1844.
10. The daughter of the Grand Vizier managed to stave off death by recounting the 1,001 stories in The Arabian Nights.
11. Probably an allusion to La Guerre des Femmes; EBB mentions it to Miss Mitford in letter 2358.
12. “I would lose your esteem.”