Correspondence

2476.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 141–143.

[London]

Thursday evening– [9 July 1846][1]

How I have waited for your letter tonight,—& it comes nearly at ten!– It comes at last—thank you for it, ever dearest. And I knew .. quite understood yesterday, that you were sorry for me, which made you angry with another .. but, as to poor Haydon, you are too generous & too pitiful to refuse him any justice—I was sure that the letters would touch you. The particular letter about the ‘background’ & the ‘neglect’ & Napoleon, .. that, you will observe, was the last I had from him. Every word you say of it, I think & feel. Yes, it was just so! His conscience was not a sufficient witness, .. nor was God. He must also have the Royal Academy & the appreciators of Tom Thumb. A “weak man”, of course he was,—for all vain men are weak men. They cannot stand alone. But that he had in him the elements of greatness—that he looked to noble aims in art & life, however distractedly, .. that his thoughts & feelings were not those of a common man, .. it is true, it is undeniable, .. & you would think so more & more if you read through the packets of letters which I have of his .. so fervid, so full of earnestness & individuality .. so alive with egotism which yet seemed to redeem itself. Mr Kenyon said of the letter we have spoken of, that it was scarcely the production of a sane mind. But I who was used to his letters, saw nothing in it in the least unusual—he has written to me far wilder letters! That he ‘never should die,’ he had said once or twice before. Then Napoleon was a favorite subject of his .. constantly recurred to. He was not mad then!

Poor Haydon! Think what an agony, life was to him, so constituted! his own genius a clinging curse! the fire & the clay in him seething & quenching one another! the man seeing maniacally in all men, the assassins of his fame! &, with the whole world against him, struggling for the thing which was his life, through night & day, in thoughts & in dreams .. struggling, stifling, breaking the hearts of the creatures dearest to him, in the conflict for which there was no victory, though he could not choose but fight it. Tell me if Laocoon’s anguish was not as an infant’s sleep, compared to this?[2] And could a man, suffering so, stop to calculate very nicely the consideration due to A, & the delicacy which should be observed toward B? Was he scrupulously to ask himself whether this or that cry of his might not give C a headache? Indeed no, no. It is for us rather to look back & consider! Poor Haydon.

As to grief as grief—of course he had no killing grief. But he suffered

Often it has struck me as a curious thing (yet it is not perhaps curious) that suicides are occasioned nearly always by a mortified selflove .. by losses in money, which force a man into painful positions .. & scarcely ever by bereavement through death .. scarcely ever. The wound on the vanity is more irritating than the wound on the affections—and the word Death, if it does not make us recoil, (which it does I think sometimes, .. even from the graves of beloved beings!) yet keeps us humble .. casts us down from our heights .. we may despond, but we do not rebel—we feel God over us.

Ah—your poor gardener!– All that hope in vain—& the many, many hopes which in a father’s heart must have preceded it!– How sorry I am for him–[3]

You never can have a grief, dearest dearest, of which I shall not have half for my share. That is my right from henceforth .. & if I could have it all .. would I not, do you think, .. & give my love to you to keep instead? Yes, .. indeed yes! May God bless you always. I have walked out today, you did me so much good yesterday. As for saturday, it certainly is our day, since you are not ‘particularly engaged’ to Miss Campbell. Saturday, the day after tomorrow!– But the mules may wait long at La Cava for us, if the tradition, which I sent you, is trustworthy—may they not? I feel as disappointed .. as disappointed!–

Your own, very own Ba–

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

Postmark: 10FN10 JY10 1846 A.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 221.; + July 11. Saturday. 3.10m.—6.p.m. / (76.) [sic, for 77].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 864–866.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Laocoon, son of Priam and Hecuba, and his two sons were squeezed to death by serpents while making a sacrifice to Poseidon.

3. In the first publication of this letter (1899), the Brownings’ son provided this note: “Some months later the discovery was made that there had been a mistake in the War Office in the name, and that the son was unharmed.—R.B.B.”

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