2475. RB to EBB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 140–141.
Thursday. [Postmark: 9 July 1846]
My own darling, my Ba, do you know when I read those letters (as soon as I remembered I had got them,—for you hold me long after both doors, up and downstairs, shut) when I looked thro’ them, under a gateway .. I was pricked at the heart to have thought so, and spoken so, of the poor writer: I will believe that he was good and even great when in communication with you .. indeed all men are made, or make themselves, different in their approaches to different men—and the secret of goodness and greatness is in choosing whom you will approach, and live with, in memory or imagination, thro’ the crowding obvious people who seem to live with you– That letter about the glory of being a painter “if only for the neglect” is most touching and admirable .. there is the serene spot attained, the solid siren’s isle amid the sea; and while there, he was safe and well .. but he would put out to sea again, after a breathing time, I suppose: though even a smaller strip of land was enough to maintain Blake, for one instance, in power and glory thro’ the poor, fleeting “sixty years”—then comes the rest from cartooning and exhibiting– But, there is no standing, one foot on land and one on the waves, now with the high aim in view, now with the low aim,—and all the strange mistaken talk about “prestiges”, “youth and its luck”, Napoleon and the world’s surprize and interest, .. there comes the low aim between the other,—an organ grinds Mr. Jullien’s newest dance-tune, and Camoens is vexed that the “choral singing which brought angels down”, can’t also draw street-passengers round.
I take your view of H.’s freedom, at that time, from the thoughts of what followed–
He was weak—a strong man would have borne what so many bear: what were his griefs, as grief goes? Do you remember I told you, when the news of Aliwal and the other battles came to England, of our gardener, and his son, a serjeant in one of the regiments engaged .. how the father could learn nothing at first, of course .. how they told him at the Horse Guards he should be duly informed in time, after his betters, whether this son was dead, or wounded: since then, no news came .. “which is good news”, the father persuaded himself to think .. so the apprehensions subside, and the hope confirms itself more and more, while the old fellow digs and mows and rakes away, like a man painting historical pictures .. only without the love of it. Well, this morning we had his daughter here to say “the letter” had arrived at last .. her brother was killed in the first battle .. so there’s an end of the three months’ sickness of heart, and the poor fellow must bear his loss “like a man” .. or like a woman .. for I recollect another case, of an old woman whom my mother was in the habit of relieving,—who brought a letter one day which she could hardly understand .. it was from her son, a sailor, and went on for a couple of pages about his good health and expectations,—then, in a different hand writing, somebody, “your son’s shipmate” “took up his pen to inform you that he fell from the masthead into the sea and was drowned yesterday,—which he therefore thought it right to put in the unfinished letter”– All which the old woman bore somehow,—seeing she lives yet.
Well,—ought not I to say Mr Kenyon was as kind as usual, and his party as pleasant? No, for you know—what you cannot by possibility know, it seems, is, that I am not particularly engaged next Saturday! Ba, shall I really see you so soon? Bless you ever, my very, very own! I shall not hear to-day .. but to-morrow, .. do but not keep me waiting for that letter, and the mules shall be ready hours and hours, for any anger I will have, at La Cava!
Ever your RB
Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole Street.
Postmark: 8NT8 JY9 1846 B.
Docket, in EBB’s hand: 227 [altered from “226”].
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 860–862.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Louis Antoine Jullien (1812–60), French-born music conductor and composer of dance music, had first appeared in England in 1841, and was popular thereafter for his theatrical productions, which included, according to the DNB, humoring “his patrons with military quadrilles.”
2. “Catarina to Camoëns,” lines 83–84.
3. The scene of a decisive battle in North India in January 1846, by which the Sikhs were driven from the south side of the Sutlej.