2421. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 57–59.
Tuesday evening. [16 June 1846]
Best .. best, you are, to write to me when you were tired, & so! When I am tired & write to you, it is too apt to be what may trouble you. With you, how different! In nothing do you show your strength more than in your divine patience & tenderness towards me, till .. not being used to it, I grow overwhelmed by it all, & would give you my life at a word. Why did you love me, my beloved, when you might have chosen from the most perfect of all women & each would have loved you with the perfectest of her nature?– That is my riddle in the world. I can understand everything else .. I was never stopped for the meaning of sorrow upon sorrow .. but that you should love me I do not understand,—& I think that I never shall.
Do I remember? Yes indeed, I remember. How I recalled & wondered afterwards, though at the moment it seemed very simple & what was to be met with in our philosophy every day. But there, you see, there’s the danger of using mala verba! The Fates catch them up & knit them into the web!– Then I remember all the more (though I should at any rate) through an imprudence of my own (or a piece of ill-luck rather .. it shall not be called an imprudence—) of which I will tell you. I was writing to Miss Mitford & of you—we differed about you often, .. because she did not appreciate you properly, & was fond of dwelling on the ‘obscurity’ when I talked of the light,—& I just then writing of you, added in my headlong unreflecting way that I had had a real letter from you which said that you loved me– [‘]‘Oh—but,” I wrote on, “you are not to mistake this, nor to repeat it—for of course, it is simply the purest of philanthropies” ...... some words to that effect!—and if yours was the purest of philanthropies, mine was the purest of innocences, as you may well believe, .. for if I had had the shadow of a foresight, I should not have fallen into the snare. So vexed I was afterwards!– Not that she thought anything at the time, or has referred to it since, or remembers a word now. Only I was vexed in my innermost heart .. & am .. do you know? .. that I should have spoken lightly of such an expression of yours—though you meant it lightly too. Dearest!– It was a disguised angel & I should have known it by its wings though they did not fly.
That I foresaw nothing, .. looked to you for nothing, .. nothing can prove better to myself, than my having mentioned the quaint word at all. For I know, & I hope you know, how impossible it always has been to me to choose for a subject of conversation & jest, things which never should be spoken to friend or sister—. But how was I to foresee? So the quaintness passed as quaintness with me. And never from that time (you grew sacred too soon!) never again from that moment, did I mention you to Miss Mitford—oh yes, .. I did, when she talked of introducing Mr Chorley, & when I replied that, being a woman, I would have my wilful way, & that my wilful way was to see you instead. But except then .. & when I sent her Mr Landor’s verses on you .. not a word have I spoken .. except in bare response. She thinks perhaps that my old fervour about you has sunk into the socket .. she suspects nothing—in fact she does not understand what love is .. & I never should think of asking her for sympathy. She is one of the Black Stones, which, when I climb up towards my Singing Tree & Golden Water, will howl behind me & call names.
You had my second letter today, speaking of Landor, & of Mr Kenyon’s visit. At half past six came Miss Bayley, talking exceeding kindnesses of Italy, & entreating me to use her .. to let her go with me & take care of me & do me all manner of good. What kindness, really, in a woman whom I have not seen six times in all!– I am very grateful to her. She held my hands, & told me to write to her if ever I had need of her—she would come at a moment, go for a year!—she would do anything for me I desired!– And this woman to believe of herself that she has no soul!– Help me to thank her in your thoughts of her!– She said by the way, that Mrs Jameson had talked to her of wishing to take me, .. but she thought (Miss Bayley thought) that she (Mrs Jameson) had too many objects & too much vivacity .. it would not do so well, she thought. In reply—I could just thank her, & scarcely could do that, .. only I am sure she saw & felt that I was grateful to her aright, let the words come ever so wrong. Tomorrow she leaves London for an indefinite time.
She told me too that a friend of hers, calling on Mrs Jameson, had found her on the point of coming to me today, to drive out .. but she suffered from toothache & was going to Cartwright’s first … & last, I suppose. I dare say he put her to torture, to be classified with ‘the thumbscrew & the gadge’ .. some disabling torture, for I have not seen her at all. So as at halfpast seven, Henrietta was going out to dinner, Lizzie & I & Flush took our places by her in the carriage, & went to Hyde Park .. drove close by the Serpentine, & saw by the ruffling of the water that there was a breath of wind more than we felt. The shadows were gathering in quite fast, shade upon shade; & at last the silvery water seemed to hold all the light left, as on the flat of a hand. Very much I liked & enjoyed it. And, as we came home, the gas was in the shops .. another strange sight for me—and we all liked everything. Flush had his head out of the window the whole way .. except when he saw a long whip, .. or had a frightful vision at the water of somebody washing a little dog .. which made him draw back into the carriage with dilated eyes & quivering ears, & set about licking my hands, for an “ora pro nobis.” And Lizzie confided to me, that, when she is ‘grown up’, she never will go out to dinners like Henrietta, but drive in the park like Ba, instead .. unless she can improve upon both, & live in a cottage covered with roses, in the country. I, in the meantime, between my companions, thought of neither of them more than was necessary, but of somebody whom I had been teazing perhaps .. dearest, was it so indeed? .. but I avenge you by teazing myself back again! A long rambling letter, with nothing in it!– [‘]‘Passages, that lead to nothing”—& staircases, too! May I be loved nevertheless, as usual? & forgiven for my ‘secret faults’? you are the whole world to me—& the stars besides!–
And I am your very own
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 JU17 1846 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 200.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 789–791.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. “Bad words” or “words of ill-omen.”
3. See EBB’s comments in letter 1865.
4. EBB is referring to the “The Story of the Sisters who Envied Their Younger Sister” in The Arabian Nights (trans. Jonathan Scott, 1811, 5, 342–411). The black stones prevented the faithful brothers, Bahman and Perviz, from obtaining for their sister, Parizadeh, the singing tree and the golden water. Parizadeh, however, cleverly stopped her ears with cotton to keep from hearing the black stones, obtained the rarities, and freed her brothers.
5. A Soul’s Tragedy, I, 332.
6. “Pray for us.”
7. An allusion to images in the second paragraph of letter 2180.
8. The Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 19:12.