Correspondence

2365.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 333–334.

[London]

Saturday morning [Postmark: 16 May 1846]

You shall hear from me on this sunday, though it cannot be as an answer, dearest, to your letter of tonight. But I being so wretchedly tired last night, & ‘yawning’ being, to your mind, so ‘intolerable’, it is as well to leave a better impression with you than that .. though there is nothing to say, & the east wind blows on virulently.

The Athenæum has put me out of humour for the day .. besides. Not a word of Luria—not a word of the Literary Fund dinner: & a great, drawling carrying out of the ‘Poetry for the Million’ article[1] .. as if all this trash could not die of itself!—as if it were not dead of itself!– That the critics of a country should set themselves to such work .. is as if the Premier of England took his official seat in the window to kill flies, .. talking, with his first finger out, of “my administration”. Only flies are flies & have fly-life in them: they are nobler game than those.

Mrs Jameson, while she was here the five minutes yesterday, talked, in an under-breath to my under-breath opposition, her opinion about the present age—“That the present age did not, could not, ought not, to express itself by Art, .. though the next age would.” She is surprisingly wrong, it appears to me. There is no predominant character in the age, she says, to be so expressed!—there is no unity, to bear expression.

But art surely, if art is anything, is the expression, not of the characteristics of an age except accidentally, .. essentially it is the expression of Humanity in the individual being—& unless we are men no longer, I cannot conceive how such an argument as hers, can be upheld for a moment. Also it is exasperating to hear such things.

Then I do not believe, for one, that genius in the arts, is a mere reflection of the character of the times. Genius precedes surely,—initiates. It is Genius which gives an age its character & imposes its own colour … But I shall not write any more. Her paper on ‘Titian’s house at Venice’, which she let me read in proof,[2] & which is one of the essays she is printing now, is full of beauty & truth, & I admired it heartily. Then there is a quotation about the “calm, cold, beautiful regard”, of “Virgin child & saint” … which you may remember perhaps.[3] I know you will like the essay & feel it to be Venetian.

That you were feeling the east wind, beloved, meant that you were not well, though you have quite left off telling me a word of yourself lately. And why? It shall not be so next week,—now shall it? May God bless you. I am afraid of going down stairs, because of the double-knocks. It will be great gain to have the loudest noises from the cicale. Except when somebody else is noisy,—which is a noise I am always forgetting, just as if it were impossible.

Your own Ba.

Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.

Postmark: 8NT8 MY16 1846 B.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 175.; Monday May 18. / 3–5¾. p.m. (65) [sic, for 66].[4]

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 708–709.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. In the “Poetry of the Million” column in the issue of 16 May 1846 (no. 968, pp. 496–498), four works were reviewed, the first of which, Belisarius, a Tragedy by William R. Scott, received the following comment: “This play, the author tells us, was the recreation of his leisure hours at college; and, as such recreations of leisure are supposed to reflect the hours of study, the University, we dare say, will not insist on this as a favourable specimen of its own results.”

2. See letter 2357, note 2.

3. Cf. RB, “Pictor Ignotus,” line 60.

4. RB misnumbered this visit “65,” the same as his previous visit; his numbering of subsequent visits reflects this error.

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