2382. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 358–361.
Monday Morning. [25 May 1846]
My beloved I scarcely know what to say about the poem– It is almost profane & a sin to keep you from writing it when your mind goes that way,—yet I am afraid that you cannot begin without doing too much & without suffering as a consequence in your head. Now if you make yourself ill, what will be the end? So you see my fears!– Let it be however as it must be! Only you will promise to keep from all excesses, & to write very very gently .... Ah—can you keep such a promise, if it is made ever so? There, are the fears again.
You are very strange in what you say about my reading your poetry, ––as if it were not my peculiar gladness & glory!—my own, which no man can take from me– And not you, indeed!– Yet I am not likely to mistake your poetry for the flower of your nature, knowing what that flower is, knowing something of what that flower is without a name, & feeling something of the mystical perfume of it– When I said, or when others said for me, that my poetry was the flower of me, was it praise, did you think, or blame? might it not stand for a sarcasm? It might,—if it were not true, miserably true after a fashion.
Yet something of the sort is true, of course, with all poets who write directly from their personal experience & emotions—their ideal rises to the surface & floats like the bell of the waterlily. The roots & the muddy water are subaudita, you know .. as surely there, as the flower.
But you, .. you have the superabundant mental life & individuality which admits of shifting a personality & speaking the truth still. That is the highest faculty, the strongest & rarest, which exercises itself in Art,—we are all agreed there is none so great faculty as the dramatic. Several times you have hinted to me that I made you care less for the drama, & it has puzzled me to fancy how it could be, when I understand myself so clearly both the difficulty & the glory of dramatic art. Yet I am conscious of wishing you to take the other crown besides,—& after having made your own creatures speak in clear human voices, to speak yourself out of that personality which God made, & with the voice which He tuned into such power & sweetness of speech. I do not think that, with all that music in you, only your own personality should be dumb, nor that having thought so much & deeply on life & its ends, you should not teach what you have learnt, in the directest & most impressive way, the mask thrown off however moist with the breath. And it is not, I believe, by the dramatic medium, that poets teach most impressively .. I have seemed to observe that! .. it is too difficult for the common reader to analyze, & to discern between the vivid & the earnest—also he is apt to understand better always, when he sees the lips move. Now, here is yourself, with your wonderful faculty!—it is wondered at & recognized on all sides where there are eyes to see—it is called wonderful & admirable! Yet, with an inferior power, you might have taken yourself closer to the hearts & lives of men, & made yourself dearer, though being less great. Therefore I do want you to do this with your surpassing power—it will be so easy to you to speak, & so noble, when spoken.
Not that I use’nt to fancy I could see you & know you, in a reflex image, in your creations! I used, you remember. How those broken lights & forms look strange & unlike now to me, when I stand by the complete idea. Yes, now I feel that no one can know you worthily by those poems. Only .. I guessed a little. Now let us have your own voice speaking of yourself—if the voice may not hurt the speaker– Which is my fear.
Evening/ Thank you, dearest dearest! I have your parcel—I have your letters … three letters today, it is certainly feast day with me. Thank you my own dearest– The drawings I had just fixed in my mind, courageously to ask for, because as you meant me to keep them I did not see why I should throw away fortune—and they return to me with interest .. I observe these new vivid sketches! Some day I shall put them into a book, as you should have done. Then for the Roman ode, & all the rest, thank you, thank you. I looked here & looked there, though, for a letter– I could not find it at first, & was just saying to myself quite articulately “What wickedness”! … meaning that it was wickedness in you to send me a parcel without a word, … when I came upon the folded paper. For I looked inside the books, be sure. I did not toss them away …
There’s the gratitude of the world, you see! & of womankind in particular! there’s the malign spirit of the genus coffee-cup-throw-arum!– Talking of which coffee cups, you dare me to it. Which is imprudent, to say the least of it. I heard once of her most gracious Majesty’s throwing a tea cup,—whereupon Albertus Magnus, who is no conjuror, could find nothing better to do than to walk out of the room in solemn silence. If I had been he, I should have tied the royal hands, I think,—for when women get to be warlike after that demonstrative fashion, it seems to me to be allowable to teach them that they are not the strongest– I say it, never thinking of my ‘licence to’ throw coffeecups—which you granted, knowing very well what I know intimately, .. that .. that ..
I have a theory about you—. Was ever anybody in the world, .. a woman at least, .. angry with you? If anyone ever tried, did she not fail in the first breath of the trying?—go out to curse like the prophet, & bless instead? Tell me if anyone was ever angry with you? It is impossible, I know perfectly. Therefore, as to the coffeecup-license, .. the divine Achilles, invulnerable all but the heel, might as well have said to his dearest foe “Draw out your sword, O Diomede, & strike me across the head, prick me in the forehead, slash me over the ears, ..” & that stand for a proof of courage!–
What stuff I do write, to be sure. I was out today walking, with Arabel & Flush, & rested at the bookseller’s,—but as I went farther than the other day, I let Stormie carry me up stairs, .. it is such a long way! Say how you are, dearest—you do not! Shall you walk so fast when you walk with me under the trees? I shall not let you—I shall hang back, as Flush does, when he wont go with a string. Ah—little, (altogether) you know perhaps what a hard Degree that B:A: is, to take .. the BA which is not a Bachelor’s.
No, no, for the rest. It was not any Brown on earth, but the only Browning of the great genius, who was shown up as intimate friend to the Miss Cokers & elect husband of that cloud, Miss Campbell the “great heiress”—all in proportion, observe!– But I do entreat you not to say a word to Dr White or another. Why should you? It is mere nonsense,—so do let it evaporate quietly. Why, with all my doubts for which you have blamed me, .. at the thickest & saddest of the doubting, it never was what people could say of you that could move me. And this is so foolish, & unbelieved even by the very persons who say it, perhaps!– Let it pass away with other dust, in the wind. It is not worth the watering.
May God bless you! This is my last letter .. already! I had another criticism today from America, in a book called ‘Thoughts on the poets,’ which is written by a Mr Tuckermann, & selects its poets on the most singular principle .. or rather on none at all .. beginning with Petrarch, ending with Bryant, receiving Tennyson, Procter, Hunt, & your Ba .. & not a word of you! Stupid book—Petrarch & Alfieri are the only foreign poets admitted—criticisms, swept back to the desk from the magazines, I dare say. Very kind to me—you shall see if you like.
And now .. goodnight at last!—it must come. Have I not written you one letter as long as the three? Only not worth a third as much—that I know.
Wholly & ever your Ba–
Oh I must speak, though I meant to be silent!—though first, I meant to keep the great subject of the Statesmen for an explosion on wednesday. I gave up the early poems because I felt contented to read them afterwards—but listen .. my Statesmen, I will not give up. Now listen—I expect nothing at all from them—they were written for another person, & under peculiar circumstances .. they are probably as bad as anything written by you, can be. Will that do, to say? And may I see them? Now I ask ever so humbly––Dearest!——
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmarks: 10FN10 MY26 1846; 12NN MY26 1846 A; 1AN1 MY26 1846 C.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 182.; <+ W>ednesday, May 27. / 3–5¾. p.m. (67.) [sic, for 68].
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 731–734.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. The one he mentioned in the last part of letter 2378.
4. Sent with letter 2380.
5. Underscored twice.
6. An allusion to the anecdote in letter 2372.
7. Numbers 24:10.
8. Hodgson’s, as identified by EBB in a letter to RB on [28 May 1846].
9. An allusion to RB’s comment at the end of letter 2378.
10. Thoughts on the Poets (1846) by Henry Theodore Tuckerman (1813–71), included a chapter entitled “Miss Barrett” (pp. 281–289). Tuckerman’s essay appeared in no fewer than four American editions of EBB’s works in the 1850’s and 60’s. He felt that EBB had a “want of abandon of manner, a lack of gushing melody” (p. 284), but “sound and vigorous thought” (p. 285).
11. One of these being Pauline; see letter 2181.