Correspondence

2530.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 237–239.

[London]

Sunday. [9 August 1846][1]

Ever dearest I shall write to you a little this morning & try to manage to post myself what shall be written, too early to permit the possibility (almost) of your being without a letter tomorrow. Dearest, how you were with me yesterday, after you went away!—— I thought, thought, thought of you,—& the books I took up one by one .. (I tried a romance too .. “Les femmes”[2] by a writer called Desnoyers .. quite new, & weak & foolish enough as a story, but full of clever things about shoe tyes .. philosophy in small:) the books were all so many lorgnons through which I looked at you again & again. Did you ever hear a story of the late Lord Grey, that he was haunted by a head—a head without a body?[3] If he turned to right or left there it was—if he looked up in the air, there it hung .. or down to the floor, there it lay—or walked up or down stairs, there it bounded before him—flop .. flop .. just on its chin– “Alas, poor ghost!”[4] And just such another, as far as the haunting goes, were you to me, dearest, yesterday—only that you were of the celestial rather than ghastly apparitionery, & bore plainly with you airs from Heaven full against my forehead—— How did I ever deserve you—how ever? Never indeed!—— And how can it seem right to submit to so much happiness, undeservingly, as the knowledge of your affection gives, you who are “great in everything”, as Mr Kenyon said the other day! Shall I tell you how I reconcile myself to the good? thus it is– First I think that no woman in the world, let her be ever so much better than I, could quite be said to deserve you—& that therefore there may not be such harm in your taking the one who will owe you most with the fullest consciousness! If it may not be merit, it shall be gratitude—that is how I look at it when I would keep myself from falling back into the old fears. Ah!—you may prevent my rising up to receive you .. though I did not know that I did .. it was a pure instinct!—but you cannot prevent my sinking down to the feet of your spirit when I think of the love it has given me from the beginning & not taken away. Dearest, dearest– I am content to owe all to you—it is not too much humiliation!

While I was writing, came Mr Kenyon .. the spectacles mended, & looking whole catechisms from behind them– The first word was, “Have you seen Browning lately?” I, taken by surprise, answered en niaise,[5] “Yes, yesterday.” “And did he tell you that he was coming on wednesday, next wednesday?” “He said something of it”.

A simpleton would have done better—to call me one, were too much honour!—yet it seemed impossible to be adroit under the fire of the full face, spectacles included– The words came without the will– And now, what had we better do? Take tuesday, that you may be able to say on wednesday, “I was not there today”, ..? or be frank for the hour & let it all pass? Think for us, Robert– I am quite frightened at what I have done. It seemed to me too, afterwards, that Mr Kenyon looked grave. Still he talked of Miss Mitford & Mr Buckingham, & Landor, & of going to the Lakes himself for a few days, and laughed & jested in great good humour, the subject being turned—he asked me too if I had ever discussed your poetry with Miss Mitford, on which I said that she did not much believe in you–[6] “Not even in Saul,”? said he. I dont know what to think. I am in a fog off the Nore.[7] And he proposes coming tomorrow with a carriage, to drive me up the Harrow Road to see the train coming in, & then to take me to his house, &, so, home,—all, in his infinite kindness. He comes at half past three—let me have your thoughts with me then—& the letter, farther on– Two letters, I am to have tomorrow. If sunday is the worst day, monday is the best,—of those I mean of course, on which I do not see you– May God bless you my own beloved– I love you in the deepest of my heart,—which seems ever to grow deeper. I live only for you,—& feel that it is worth while–

Your Ba.

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

Postmark: 10FN10 AU10 1846 H.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 242.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 947–949.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. A two-volume edition of this novel by Louis Claude Desnoyers (1805–68) was published in Brussels in 1846.

3. Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845), Prime Minister from 1830 until 1834, was, according to his biographers, haunted throughout his life by nightmares from having witnessed an execution at Tyburn when he was very young (Ernest Anthony Smith, Lord Grey, 1990, p. 8).

4. Hamlet, I, 5, 4.

5. “Something foolish.

6. Although the first recorded reference to Miss Mitford’s opinion of RB’s poetry was not altogether negative (see letter 828, note 8), she was subsequently unwilling to adopt EBB’s praise for RB’s works (see letters 1028 and 1037, as well as letter 1819, note 5). Miss Mitford’s views of RB as a poet were obviously clouded by her notion of him as a person. In a letter to Charles Boner on 22 February 1847, she recalled meeting RB in 1836, and said he “resembled a girl drest in boy’s clothes” with “long ringlets … Femmelette is a word made for him” (vol. 3, p. 320). In a letter to Emily Jephson ([ca. March 1847]), Miss Mitford wrote of EBB’s miraculous transformation, and said she did “not know Mr. Browning; but this fact is enough to make me his friend. He is a poet also; but I believe his acquirements are more remarkable than his poetry” (L’Estrange (2), III, 204). The earlier appraisal of RB caused EBB to drop him as a subject in her letters to Miss Mitford. For Kenyon’s opinion of “Saul,” see letter 2134.

7. A sandbank and anchorage in the Thames estuary.

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