2433. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 78–81.
Tuesday. [23 June 1846]
Ever tenderest, kindest & most beloved, I thank you from the quick of my heart, where the thought of you lives constantly!– In this world full of sadness, of which I have had my part .. full of sadness & bitterness & wrong .. full of most ghastly contrasts of life & death, strength & weakness side by side .. it is too much, to have you to hold by, as the river rushes on .. too much good, too much grace for such as I, .. as I feel always, & cannot cease to feel!–
Oh yes—it has shocked me, this dreadful news of poor Mr Haydon—it chilled the blood in my veins when I heard it from Alfred, who, seeing the Times at the Great Western Terminus, wrote out the bare extract & sent it to me by the post. He just thought that the Chronicle did not mention it, .. & that I had not seen Mr Haydon .. he did not perhaps think how it would shock me–
For, this, I cannot help thinking—Could anyone .. could my own hand even—have averted what has happened?– My head & heart have ached today over the inactive hand!– But, for the moment, it was out of my power, without an application where it would have been useless—& then, I never fancied this case to be more than a piece of a continuous case .. of a habit fixed: two years ago he sent me boxes & pictures precisely so, & took them back again—poor, poor Haydon!—as he will not this time. And he said last week that Peel had sent him fifty pounds .. adding .. ‘I do not however want charity, but employment.’ Also, I have been told again & again (oh, never by you my beloved!) that to give money there, was to drop it into a hole of the ground.
But if to have dropped it so, dust to dust, would have saved a living man——what then?–
Yet of the three notes I had from him last week, the first was written so lightly, that the second came to desire me not to attribute to him a “want of feeling”. And who could think .. contemplate .. this calamity? May God have mercy on the strongest of us, for we are weak. Oh, that a man so high hearted & highly endowed .. a bold man, who has thrown down gauntlet after gauntlet in the face of the world—that such a man should go mad for a few paltry pounds! For he was mad if he killed himself!—of that I am as sure as if I knew it. If he killed himself, he was mad first.
Some day, when I have the heart to look for it, you shall see his last note. I understand now that there are touches in it of a desperate pathos—but never could he have meditated self destruction while writing that note. He said he should write six sets of lectures more .. six more volumes. He said he was painting a new background to a picture, which made him “feel as if his soul had wings”. And then he hoped his brain would not turn. And he ‘gloried’ in the naval dangers of his son at sea. And he repeated an old phrase of his, which I had heard from him often before, & which now rings hollowly to the ears of my memory .. that he could’nt & would’nt die. Strange & dreadful!–
It is nearly two years since we had a correspondence of some few months—from which at last I receded, notwithstanding the individuality & spirit of his letters, & my admiration for a certain fervour & magnanimity of genius, no one could deny to him. His very faults partook of that nobleness. But for a year & a half or more perhaps, I scarcely have written or heard from him—until last week when he wrote to ask for a shelter for his boxes & pictures. If you had enquired of me the week before, I might have answered that I did not wish to renew the intercourse—yet who could help being shocked & saddened? Would it have availed, to have dropped something into that ‘hole in the ground’? Oh, to imagine that! Yet a little would have been but as nothing!– & he did not ask even for a little:—& I should have been ashamed to have offered but a little. Yet I cannot turn the thought away— .. that I did not offer.
Henry went to the house as I begged him. His son came to the door, & to a general enquiry ‘after the family’, said, that “Mr Haydon was dead & that his family were quite as well as could be expected.’[’] That horrible banality is all I know more than you know–
Yesterday at Rogers’s, Mrs Jameson led me to his picture of Napoleon at St Helena. At the moment we looked at it, his hand was scarcely cold, perhaps. Surely it was not made of the commonest clay of men,—that hand!–
I pour out my thoughts to you, dearest dearest, as if it were right rather to think of doing myself that good & relief, than of you who have to read all. But you spoil me into an excess of liberty, by your tenderness. Best in the world!– Oh—you help me to live– I am better & lighter since I have drawn near to you even on this paper—already I am better & lighter. And now I am going to dream of you .. to meet you on some mystical landing place .. in order to be quite well tomorrow. Oh—we are so selfish on this earth, that nothing grieves us very long, let it be ever so grievous, unless we are touched in ourselves .. in the apple of our eye .. in the quick of our heart .. in what you are, & where you are .. my own dearest beloved! So you need not be afraid for me! We all look to our own, as I to you; the thunderbolts may strike the tops of the cedars, &, except in the first start, none of us be moved. True it is of me—not of you perhaps—certainly you are better than I, in all things. Best in the world, you are!—no one is like you. Can you read what I have written? Do not love me less! Do you think that I cannot feel you love me, through all this distance? If you loved me less, I should know,—without a word or a sign. Because I live by your loving me!
I am your Ba.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmarks: 12NN12 JU24 1846 A; 1AN1 JU24 1846.
Dockets, in RB’s hand: 205.; + Thursday, June 25. / 3–6. p.m. (73.) [sic, for 74].
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 811–814.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. The first volume of Haydon’s Lectures on Painting and Design had been published in 1844; a second volume had appeared the preceding month.
3. This is one of 23 copies made of the original, which was completed in June 1831 and bought by Peel. It was the inspiration for Wordsworth’s sonnet “To B.R. Haydon, On Seeing His Picture of Napoleon Bonaparte on the Island of St. Helena,” published in 1832. Haydon had mentioned it in a letter to EBB in April 1843 (see letter 1201, note 10).
4. EBB is alluding to the second paragraph of letter 2180, as she does at the end of letter 2421 and the beginning of letter 2451.