Correspondence

2405.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 32–34.

[London]

Monday morning– [8 June 1846][1]

The stars threaten you with a long letter today, it seems, for I stretch out my hand & take blindly the largest sheet. Dearest, I have been driving out before your letter came .. & to Hampstead! .. think of that. And see the proof of it—this grew in the hedges when the sun rose today. We had a great branch gathered, & “this was of it”, starred over with dog-roses. I did in the morning long for air, through the suffocation yesterday,—& the walking being better for another day, my sisters persuaded me into the carriage. Only I wanted to wait for your letter, my letter, & could not—it did not come by the usual early post, & the carriage was here before it .. so I had to go, thinking of it all the way, & having it on my return ready to gladden me. How you make me laugh with your phrenologist! “For the interests of science” you should have given your name– Then, would have come the whole history in the next lecture, .. how ‘Once in an omnibus he met an individual with a forehead & eyes of mark, & knew him at a glance for the first poet of the age.’ It would have made a feature in the lecture, & highly developped, I dare say, .. to suit the features in the omnibus. Just at the moment of his observation I too was thinking of eyes—‘calm eyes’ did I say? Yes, calm, serene .. which was what struck me first of all, in the look of them—was it ever observed before, I wonder? The most serene spiritual eyes, I ever saw—I thought that the first day I saw you. They may be called by other names beside, but they shall not lose the name I then gave them. Now to bear with the horrible portrait[2] in the matter of the eyes, is a hard thing– Mr Howitt must have his shut nearly, I think. The hair is like—& nothing else. The mouth, the form of the cheek, one is as unlike as the other. And the character of the whole is most unlike of the whole—it is a vulgarized caricature—& I only wonder how I could have fastened it inside of my Paracelsus frontispiece fashion– When it was hung up & framed, I did not know you face to face, remember. Mr Kenyon told me it was “rather like”– But always & uninstructed I seemed to know that it was not like you in some things ....

Monday evening. Observe how the sentence breaks off! While I was writing it, came a “tapping, tapping at the chamber door,”[3] as sings my dedicator Edgar Poe. Flush barked vociferously; I threw down the pen & shut up the writing case, .. & lo, Mrs Jameson!– I suppose she did not guess that I was writing to you. She brought me the engravings of Xanthian marbles, & also her new essays[4] .. & was very kind as usual, & proposed to come some day next week with a carriage to take me out––& all this time, how we treat her!– Will she not have a right to complain of being denied the degree of confidence we gave (.. Mr Kenyon gave for me ..) to Miss Bayley? Will she not think hereafter “There was no need of their deceiving me.”? And yet I doubt how to retreat now. Could I possibly say to her the next time she speaks of you .. or could I not?—it would set her on suspecting, perhaps. She talked a little today of Italy, & plainly asked me what thoughts I had of it,—to which I could answer truthfully, ‘No thoughts, but dreams’. Then she insisted, “But whenever you have thoughts, you will let me know them?– You will not be in Italy when I am there, without my knowing it?– And where will you go—? to Pisa?—to Sienna? to Naples?” And she advised .. “Dont go where the English are, in any case”. And encouraged like an oracle, .. “Remember that where there’s a will there’s a way”—knowing no more what she spoke, than a Pythian on the serpent’s skin.

Beloved, you are right in your fear about Mr Lough. I have decided not to go there. Oh, it is best certainly; &, quietly considered, I shall be happier as well as safer in not going. We must walk softly on the snowdrifts of the world, now that we have got to them.

For the rest, that is .. for the chief thing .. you wrote foolishly in your first letter today, my beloved,—you can write foolishly on occasion, let me grant to the critics. I have just so much logic as to be able to see (though I am a woman) that for me to be too good for you, & for you to be too good for me, cannot be true at once, both ways. Now I could discern & prove, from the beginning of the beginning, that you were too good for me—it is too late therefore to take up the other argument—the handle of it was broken last year.

Also, I do not go to the world to ask it to appraise you– I would fain leave to Robins the things of Robins–[5] I hope you have repented all day today having written so foolishly yesterday. Even Robins himself would not justify you.

Dearest, the avalanches are on us! Uncles & aunts coming down in a great crash!–[6] My uncle Hedley comes next week!—on the second or third of July, the eldest of my aunts, .. from Paris, .. who proposes to reside in this house for a week—it may be longer!—and, still in July, the rest of the Hedleys, I think!—everybody coming, coming!– Their welcome will be somewhat of a ghastly smile from me—for indeed I cannot be quite delighted, after the fashion of a thoroughly dutiful niece.

Ah, never mind them!– Nobody can change anything, if you do not change yourself. You have “a right” .. not the “shadow” of one, but the very right .. to all I am, & to all the life I live– Did you not see before, what I have felt so long, that indeed you have a right to me & over me?

I am your own

Ba

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

Postmark: 10FN10 JU9 1846 A.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 193.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 766–769.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. From the context, it seems probable that William Howitt, whom RB had seen at the dinner at Procter’s on 4 June (see letter 2401), had commented on the portrait of RB, which had appeared in Horne’s A New Spirit of the Age, and of which EBB had previously expressed her dislike (see letter 2127).

3. Cf. Poe, “The Raven” (1845), line 4.

4. Mrs. Jameson’s Memoirs and Essays Illustrative of Art, Literature, and Social Morals, which had just been published, contained two versions of EBB’s translation from the Odyssey (XX, 66–78) in the chapter “The Xanthian Marbles” (see letter 2304).

5. Cf. Matthew 22:21. George Henry Robins (1778–1847) was a well-known auctioneer. According to the DNB his advertisements were “high-flown and fantastic.”

6. These family members were arriving in anticipation of the forthcoming wedding on 4 August 1846 of EBB’s cousin Arabella Hedley to James Johnstone Bevan. In letters during the next few weeks, EBB’s comments about the numerous relatives and friends converging on Wimpole Street, as well as the lavish arrangements being made, including a reception at the fashionable Fenton’s Hotel in St. James’s Street, make an interesting contrast to the plans she and RB are making for their secret marriage and journey to Italy.

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