Correspondence

2359.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 324–326.

[London]

Wednesday. [Postmark: 13 May 1846]

Dearest, dearest, I shall be with you tomorrow and be comforted—and will tell you all about every thing– I am a little tired, (but very well, altogether well,—singularly so—) and I do fear a little about to-night’s affair, tho’ you may not,—you, indeed, to judge me by yourself! But, after all I do not greatly care .. I can but get up and stammer and say “thank you” and sit down again, like my betters; and,—as I say & say,—you are at the end of every thing .. so long as I find you!– I hoped that Tennyson was to have been Poet-respondent .. but Moxon says “no” .. and, moreover, that the Committee had meant (and he supposed had acted upon their meaning) to offer me the choice of taking either qualification, of Poetry or the Drama, as mine .. but they have altered their mind. As it is .. observe—(you will find a list of Stewards in last “Athenæum”)—observe that they are all Bishops or Deans or Doctors[1] .. and that all will be grave and heavy enough .. I dare say .. so I shall try and speak for about five minutes on the advantages of the Press over the Stage as a medium of communication of the Drama .. and so get done, if Heaven please![2]

I saw Tennyson last night—and .. oh, let me tell you to-morrow: also, Severn, I saw … Keats’ Severn,[3] who brought his own posthumous picture of Keats, and talked pleasantly about him and Shelley (Tennyson asked me “what I thought of Shelley”—in so many words–) Moxon’s care of him (Tennyson, not Severn[)] is the charmingest thing imaginable, and he seems to need it all—being in truth but a long[4], hazy kind of man, at least just after dinner .. yet there is something “naif” about him, too,—the genius you see, too–

May God bless you, my dearest dearest,—to-morrow repays for all–

Your own RB

 

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole St

Postmark: 8NT8 MY13 1846 O.

Docket, in EBB’s hand: 181.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 701–702.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Of the thirty seven “Stewards” listed in an advertisement in the 9 May 1846 issue, over half were clerics; the same advertisement appeared in the issue for 25 April.

2. RB’s speech, which was a response to Thomas Noon Talfourd’s toast to “Mr. Robert Browning and the Dramatists” (see illustration on facing page), was brief and contained no reference to “communication of the Drama.” That portion of Talfourd’s toast dealing with RB and the poet’s short reply, as recorded in the “Report of the Anniversary of 1846,” [Royal Corporation of the Literary Fund], List of Members, pp. 31–33, is as follows:

 

Mr. Serjeant Talfourd.—My Lord Bishop and Gentlemen, I have been honoured by the desire of the Committee and Stewards that I should solicit your sympathy with a delightful department of literature, and ask you to connect with it the name of a poet already associated with its honours, but still more nearly associated with its hopes—that I should ask you to drink success to Dramatic Literature, and to associate with that sentiment success to Robert Browning (cheers).... If I rejoice in being permitted to propose this toast under the happy auspices under which I offer it, I am also happy in being privileged to associate with it the name of a young Poet, young still in years, but not unknown to fame, whose genius, although it has too rarely lighted on the actual stage with visitations anticipatory and prophetic of its full developement, has elements worthy at once of large popular success and enduring fame (loud cheering); although his works, from the modesty with which they have stolen on the world (hear, hear), may as yet be unknown even to some of those who are able to detect, and bold to confess, the presence of original power; and although some may be repelled by the want of proportion incident to young genius, between the strength of conception and the facility of expression, I cannot doubt that the day is not distant when to many, who have not yet, like myself, been invited to the contemplation of his poems by affectionate esteem for his personal qualities, will allow that another true poet has been added to the poets of a great age of poetry—for such I esteem our own (hear, hear)—when no modesty of form, no quaintness of title, not even the depth of thought through which his imagination has struggled, will prevent the world from hailing his triumphs (cheers). In proposing the health of the Author of “Paracelsus,” of “Strafford,” of “Sordello,” and other works whose names I will not now enumerate; I trust that whether his genius may endue some fragment of history with present life, or expatiate in romantic images entirely its own, that in the cultivation of what is true and good, he will act up to his high vocation; and, whether he shall present those works his imagination may vivify, upon the actual scene, to touch our hearts and senses with noble electricity, or only on that ideal stage which all men erect in their own minds, and there set life’s “puppets dallying,” I trust and I believe that he will never write a line which “dying he would wish to blot,” that he will ever seek to achieve the greatest triumph the dramatist can ever achieve; that which commends his art to this Association; that, in relation to which our festivities began, and to which they should lead us—a triumph over the selfishness of the world, by awakening sympathy with those literary labourers on whom fortune frowns; and thus nurturing those affections which this Society fosters, and by which it endures (loud cheers). I beg to propose to you “Success to Dramatic Literature,” and with it “Success to Mr. Robert Browning” (great cheering).

Mr. Robert Browning.—Gentlemen, I feel so deeply impressed with your kindness, that I am really quite unable to do more than thank the learned Serjeant for the eloquent and indulgent manner in which he has proposed this toast, and to thank you for the warmth and cordiality with which you have responded to it (cheers). I assure you I feel it a privilege to have attended this anniversary, and I beg most cordially to express my warm interest in the prosperity of the Institution.

3. Joseph Severn (1793–1879), painter, is best-known for his intimacy with Keats and his circle. He travelled to Rome with the ailing poet in 1820, and was constantly by his side when he lay dying in 1821. He became the British consul in Rome in 1860.

4. Underscored three times.

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