2466. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 124–127.
Monday. [6 July 1846]
But I meant to “leave it to you”, not to come before wednesday but after wednesday, in case of some wednesday’s engagement coming to cross mine. “Ba’s old way” .. do you cry out! Perhaps– Only that an engagement is a possible thing always. Not meaning an engagement with Miss Campbell. I hope, hope, then, to be able to see you, dearest Robert, on wednesday. On wednesday, at last!–
Here is a letter which I had this morning from Mr Landor, than which can anything be more gracious? It appears .. I forgot to tell you yesterday after I heard it from Mr Kenyon … it appears that my note of thanks had my signature affixed to it in such a state of bad writing, that Mr Landor, being sorely puzzled, sent the letter up to Mr Forster to be read. Mr Forster read it (so it could be read!) & then took it to Mr Kenyon, who read it too, & afterwards came to scold me for being perfectly illegible. It was signed at full length too, Elizabeth Barrett Barrett .. & really I could’nt believe that I was very guilty till Mr Landor’s own letter persuaded me this morning of its being so much pleasanter to be guilty than innocent, for the nonce.
Ah—you use the right word for the other subject. If a bequest, it is indeed a “dispiriting bequest,” this of poor Haydon’s. But I hope to the last that he meant simply to point to me as the actual holder of the papers—& certainly when he sent the great trunk here, it was with no intention of dying—; Mr Kenyon agreed with me to that effect– I showed him the notes which I had found & laid aside for you, & which you shall take with you on wednesday. Still, there must be an editor found somewhere—because the papers cannot go as they are to a publisher’s hands from mine, if I only hold them. Does any one say that I am a fit editor? Have I the power? the knowledge of art & artists? of the world? of the times? of the persons? All these things are against me—& others besides.
Now I will tell you one thing which he told me in confidence, but which is at length perhaps in those papers—I tell you because you are myself, & will understand the need & obligation to silence—and I want you to understand besides how the twenty six volumes hang heavily on my thoughts—— He told me in so many words that Mrs Norton had made advances towards him——& that his children in sympathy towards their mother, had dashed into atoms the bust of the poetess as it stood in his painting room.
If you can say anything safely for me at Mr Talfourd’s, of course I shall be glad––and Mr Kenyon will speak to Mr Forster, he said. I want to get back my letters too as soon as I can do it without disturbing anyone’s peace– What is in those letters, I cannot tell, so impulsively & foolishly, sometimes, I am apt to write,—& at that time through caring for nobody & feeling so loose to life, I threw away my thoughts without looking where they fell. Often my sisters have blamed me for writing in that wild way to strangers—& I should like to have the letters back before they shall have served to amuse two or three executors—but of this too, I spoke to Mr Kenyon.
Still it is not of me that we are called to think & I would not for the world refuse any last desire, if clearly signified, & if the power shd be with me. He was not a common man—he had in him the stuff of greatness, this poor Haydon had,—& we must consider reverently whatever rent garment he shall have left behind. Quite, in some respects, I think with you .. but your argument does appear to me to sweep out too far on one side, so that if you do not draw it back, Robert, you will efface all autobiography & confession .. tear out a page bent over by many learners—I mean when you say that because he is above (now), the passions & frailties he has recorded, we should put from us the record. True, he is above it all—true, he has done with the old Haydon,—like a man outgrowing his own childhood he will not spin this top any more. Oh, it is true– I feel it all just as you do. But, after all, a man outgrowing his childhood, may leave his top to children, & no one smile! This record is not for the angels, but for us, who are a little lower at highest. Three volumes perhaps may be taken from the twentysix full of character & interest, & not without melancholy teaching. Only some competent & sturdy hand should manage the selection,—as surely as mine is unfit for it. But where to seek discretion? delicacy?
Dearest, I speak the truth to you—I am not ill indeed. When I was at best in health I used sometimes to be a little weak & faint, & it has only been so, for this last day or two. By wednesday the cloud will have passed. And, do you know, I have found out something from our long parting, .. I have found out that I love you better than even I thought. There’s a piece of finding out!– My own dearest .. what would become of me indeed, if I could not see you on wednesday nor on thursday nor on friday?——no breath I have, for going on. No breath I should have, for living on. I do kiss you through the distance .. since you tell me. I love you with my soul.
Your own I am–
Three of the flowers & nearly all the little blue ones stay with me all this while to comfort me!! is’nt it kind of them?
Two letters today—& such letters!– Ah—if you love me always but half as much—I will agree with you now for half!—— Yet, O Hesiod, half is not better than the whole, by any means! Yet .. if the whole went away, & did not leave me half!——
When I was a child I heard two married women talking. One said to the other .. “The most painful part of marriage is the first year, when the lover changes into the husband by slow degrees”. The other woman agreed, as a matter of fact is agreed to. I listened with my eyes & ears, & never forgot it .. as you observe– It seemed to me, child as I was, a dreadful thing to have a husband by such a process. Now, it seems to me more dreadful.
‘Si l’ame est immortelle
L’amour ne l’est il pas?’
Beautiful verses—just to prove to you that I do not remember only the disagreeable things .. only to teaze you with, like so many undeserved reproaches– And you so good, so best– Ah—but it is that which frightens me! so far best!
You were foolish to begin to love me, you know, as always I told you my beloved!—but since you would begin, .. go on to do it as long as you can .. do not leave me in the wilderness. God bless you for me!–
I am your Ba.
Think if people were to get hold of that imputation on poor Mrs Norton—think!
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmarks: 12NN12 JY7 1846 A; 1AN1 JY7 1846 C.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 217.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 850–853.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. A jocular reference to the “Miss Campbell” first mentioned in letter 2375. In letter 2380, RB offered an explanation for “the Campbell mystery.”
3. Letter 2464.
4. For Haydon’s account to EBB, see letter 1173.
5. Cf. Hesiod, Works and Days, 40.
6. “If the soul is immortal, is not love so too?”
7. Cf. Numbers 32:15.