2370. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 339–341.
Tuesday evening. [19 May 1846]
Do you remember how, when poor Abou Hassan, in the Arabian story, awakens from sleep in the Sultan’s chamber, to the sound of instruments of music, & is presently complimented by the grand vizier on the royal wisdom displayed throughout his reign .. do you remember? Because just as he listened, do I listen, when you talk to me about “the course I have taken”.... I, who have just had the wit to sit still in my chair with my eyes half shut, & dream .. dream!– Ah, whether I am asleep or awake, what do I know .. even now?– As to the “course I have taken,” it has been somewhere among the stars .. or under the trees of the Hesperides, at lowest .....
Why how can I write to you such foolishness? Rather I should be serious, grave, & keep away from myths & images, & speak the truth plainly. And speaking the truth plainly, I, when I look back, dearest beloved, see that you have done for me everything, instead of my doing anything for you—that you have lifted me … Can I speak? Heavens!,—how I had different thoughts of you & of myself & of the world & of life, last year at this hour! The spirits who look backward over the grave, cannot feel much otherwise from my feeling as I look back. As to your thanking me, that is monstrous, it seems to me– It is the action of your own heart alone, which has appeared to do you any good– For myself, if I do not spoil your life, it is the nearest to deserving thanks that I can come. Think what I was when you saw me first .. laid there on the sofa as an object of the merest compassion! & of a sadder spirit than even the face showed! .. & then think of all your generosity & persistance in goodness. Think of it!—shall I ever cease? Not while the heart beats, which beats for you.
And now as the year has rounded itself to “the perfect round,” I will speak of that first letter, about which so many words were, .. just to say, this time, that I am glad now, yes, glad, .. as we were to have a miracle, .. to have it so, a born-miracle from the beginning. I feel glad, now, that nothing was between the knowing & the loving .. & that the beloved eyes were never cold discerners & analyzers of me at any time. I am glad & grateful to you, my own altogether dearest!– Yet the letter was read in pain & agitation, & you have scarcely guessed how much. I could not sleep night after night,—cd not,—& my fear was at nights, lest the feverishness should make me talk deliriously & tell the secret aloud. Judge if the deeps of my heart were not shaken. From the first you had that power over me, notwithstanding those convictions which I also had & which you know.
For it was not the character of the letter apart from you, which shook me,—I could prove that to you– I received & answered very calmly,—with most absolute calmness,—a letter of the kind last summer .. knowing in respect to the writer of it, (just as I thought of you), that a moment’s enthusiasm had carried him a good way past his discretion. I am sure that he was perfectly satisfied with my way of answering his letter .. as I was myself. But you .. you .. I could not escape so from you. You were stronger than I, from the beginning, & I felt the mastery in you by the first word & first look.
Dearest & most generous! No man was ever like you, I know! May God keep me from laying a blot on one day of yours!—on one hour!—& rather blot out mine!
For my life, it is yours, as this year has been yours. But how can it make you happy, such a thing as my life? There, I wonder still. It never made me happy, without you!–
Your very own
Mrs Jameson was here today & brought a message from Mr Kenyon who comes tomorrow at one. The sun does not promise to come besides—does he?
Mrs Jameson goes to Brighton on thursday, & returns in a day or two to spend another month or six weeks in town, changing her lodgings.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 MY20 1846 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 177.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 713–715.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. EBB refers to “The Story of Abou Hassan, or the Sleeper Awakened” in The Arabian Nights (Jonathan Scott’s 1811 translation, 4, 177–283).
3. The three daughters of Hesperus. They guarded the tree of golden apples that grew in the Isles of the Blest.
4. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese (1856), XX.
5. Cf. Tennyson, “Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue” (1842), line 68.
6. EBB is referring to the offending declaration of love that RB wrote after their first visit (see letter 1925, and its note 2).
7. Cf. Sonnets from the Portuguese (1856), I, 12.