Correspondence

2546.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 267–269.

[London]

Tuesday evening. [18 August 1846][1]

Your mother is not well, dearest?—that is bad news indeed– And then, I think of your superstition of your being ill & well with her—take care & keep well, Robert, .. or of what use will it be that I should be well? Today we drove out, & were as far as Finchley, & I am none the worse at all for it– Do you know Finchley? It is pretty & rural,—the ground rising & falling as if with the weight of verdure & dew:—fields, & hedgerows, & long slopes of grass thick & long enough, in its fresh greenness, quite to hide the nostrils of the grazing cows– The fields are little, too, as if the hedges wanted to get together. Then the village of Finchley straggles along the road with a line of cottages, or small houses, seeming to play at a village– No butchers, no bakers—only one shop in the place .. but gardens, & creepers round the windows. Such a way from London, it looked!– Arabel wanted to call on a friend of hers, a daughter of Sir William Russell’s, who married an adopted son of Lamartine, & was in the navy, and is now an Independent minister officiating in this selfsame metropolis of Finchley–[2] A concatenation, that is, altogether– Very poor they are—living on something less than two hundred a year, with five children, & the eldest five years old. And the children came out to us, everybody else being away—so I, who wd have stayed in the carriage under other circumstances, was tempted out by the children & the cottage, & they dragged us along to see the drawingroom, & diningroom, & “Papa’s flowers”, & their own particular book about the “twenty seven tailors,”:[3] & those of the children who could speak, thought Flush “very cool” for walking up stairs without being asked. (The baby opened its immense eyes wider than ever, thinking unutterable things.[4]) So as they had been so kind & hospitable to us, we could not do less (after a quantity of admiration upon the pretty house covered with roses, & the garden & lawn, & especially the literature of those twentyseven tailors) we could not do less than offer to give them a drive .. which was accepted with acclamation– Think of our taking into the carriage, all five children, with their prodigious eyes & cheeks—the nurse on the coachbox, to take them home at the end of some quarter of a mile! At the moment of parting, Alphonse Lamartine thought seriously of making a great scream—but upon Arabel’s perjuring herself by a promise to ‘come again soon,’ we got away without that catastrophe. A worse one is, that you may think yourself obliged to read this amusing history. To make amends, I send you what I gathered for you in the garden. “Pansy!—that’s for thoughts–”[5]

How wise we are about thursday! or rather about tuesday & wednesday, perhaps.

As for Mr Boyd, he had just heard your name, but he is blind & deaf to modern literature, & I am not anxious that he should know you much by your poetry. He asked some questions about you, & he enquired of Arabel particularly whether she thought we cared for each other enough– But to tell you the truth, his unqualified adhesion strikes me as less the result of his love for you, than of his anger towards another– I am sure he triumphs inwardly in the idea of a chain being broken which he has so often denounced in words that pained & vexed me—& then last year’s affair about Italy made him furious– Oh—I could see plainly by the sort of smile he smiled—— .. but we need not talk of it—I am at the end too of my time. How good you are to me not to upbraid me for imprudence or womanly talkativeness! You are too, too good. And you liked my verses to Mr Boyd!– Which I like to hear, of course. Dearest!——

Shall we go to Greece then, Robert? Let us, if you like it! When we have used a little the charm of your Italy .. & have been in England just to see that everybody is well, of yours & mine, .. (if you like that!) .. why straightway we can go “among the islands”—(and nearly as pleasant, it will be for me, as if I went there alone, having left you!). I should like to see Athens with my living eyes: Athens was in all the dreams I dreamed, before I knew you. Why should we not see Athens, & Ægypt too, & float down the mystical Nile, & stand in the shadow of the Pyramids? All of it is more possible now, than walking up this street seemed to me last year–

Indeed, there is only one miracle for me my beloved,—& that is your loving me. Everything else under the sun, & much over it, seems the merest commonplace & workday matter-of-fact. If I found myself, suddenly, riding in Paradise, on a white elephant of golden feet, .. I should shake the bridle, I fancy, with ever so much nonchalance, & absently wonder over “that miracle” of the previous world. Because “That’s[6] for thoughts”, as my flower says! look at it & listen.

As for me, I am your very own–

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

Postmark: PD 10FN AU19 1846 B.

Dockets, in RB’s hand: 250.; + Thursday, Aug. 20. / 310m.–5/.6.p.m. (87.) [sic, for 88].

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 976–978.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. A reference to George Roydes Birch. As previously explained (see letter 1990, note 7), he was not “the adopted son of Lamartine,” but rather a cousin of Lamartine’s English wife, Marianne Eliza de Lamartine. Birch was minister of a chapel in East Finchley from 1843 until 1854. His wife Sophia, the second daughter of Sir William Russell, and EBB’s sister Arabella were friends.

3. Nursery rhymes make reference to “four and twenty tailors,” but we have been unable to trace a book “about ‘twenty seven tailors’.”

4. Byron, Don Juan, I, xc, 2.

5. Cf. Hamlet, IV, 5, 176–177. This pansy is preserved with the flowers mentioned in letter 2438 (see note 2), and, along with those, is at Wellesley.

6. Underscored three times.

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