Correspondence

2554.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 283–286.

[London]

Sunday morning [23 August 1846][1]

But dearest—did you not understand that I understood? I know your words better than you think, you see. Were you afraid to trust me to give a chase to them in my recollection, lest I should fall blindly upon some ‘Secret Sin’[2] of yours? a wild boar, instead of a poor little coney belonging to the rocks of my desolation?[3]—such as it was before you made the yellow furze grow everywhere on it? Now, it is like me for wickedness, to begin talking of your “secret sins,” just by this opportunity– You overcome me with goodness—there’s the real truth, & the whole of it.

While I am writing, comes in Arabel with such a face!– My brothers had been talking, talking of me. Stormie suddenly touched her & said [‘]‘Is it true that there is an engagement between Mr Browning & Ba—”? she was taken unaware, but had just power to say “You had better ask them, if you want to know– What nonsense, Storm.” “Well!” he resumed “I’ll ask Ba when I go up stairs”. George was by, looking as grave as if antedating his judgeship– Think how frightened I was, Robert .. expecting them up stairs every minute—for all my brothers come here on sunday, all together– But they came, & not a single word was said—not on that subject .. & I talked on every other in a sort of hurried way—I was so frightened–

Yesterday Mr Boyd & I talked on it for two hours nearly, he would not let me go with his kindness– Nothing, he said, would make him gladder than our having gone, & escaped the storms. In fact, what with affection for me & disaffection in other directions, he thinks of nothing besides, I do believe– He only wishes that he had known last year, in order to exhort me properly. The very triumph of reason & righteousness, he considers the whole affair– But I told you what Mr Boyd is—dear, poor Mr Boyd! Talking such pure childishness sometimes, in such pure Attic– Yet one of the very most upright men, after all, that I ever dreamt of—one of the men born shepherds—with a crook in the hand, instead of the metaphorical “silver spoon in the mouth”. Good, dear Mr Boyd! I am very grateful to him for his goodness to me just now– I assure you that he takes us up exactly as if we were Ossian & Macpherson, or a criticism of Porson’s, or a new chapter of Bentley on Phalaris–[4] By the way, do you believe in Ossian? Let me be properly prepared for that question.

But I have a question for you of my own– Listen to me, my Famous in Counsel,[5] & give me back words of wisdom. A long, long while ago, nearly a year since perhaps, I wrote to the Blackwoods of Edinburgh to mention my new Prometheus, & to ask if they would care to use, in their magazine, that, & verses more my own,[6] .. whether they would care to have them at the usual magazine-terms– I had some lyrics by me, & people have constantly advised me to print in Blackwood, with the prospect of republishing in the independent form– You get at the public so, & are paid for your poems instead of paying for them– Did I tell you all this before—& about my having written the enquiry? At any rate, no reply came– I concluded that Mr Blackwood did not think it worth while to write, & eschewed the poems—& the subject passed from my thoughts till last night. Then, came a very civil note– The Authorities, receiving nothing from me, were afraid that their answer to my letter had not reached me, & therefore wrote again– They would “like to see” my Prometheus though apprehensive of its being unfit for the magazine—but particularly desire to have all manner of lyrics, whatever I have by me– Now, what do you think? what shall I do? Would it not be well to let this door between us & Blackwood stand open– One is not in the worst company there—they pay well,—& you have the opportunity of standing face to face with the public at any moment—without hindering the solemner interviews. When we are in Italy, particularly,——! Do you not see? Tell me your thoughts.

Since I began this letter I have been to the Scotch church in our neighbourhood—& it has all been in vain—I could not stay. We heard that a French minister, a M. Alphonse Monod of Montauban,[7] was to preach at three oclock, in French—& counting on a small congregation, & Arabel (through a knowledge of the localities) encouraging me with the prospect of sitting close to the door, & retiring back into the entrance-hall when the singing began, so as to escape that excitement, .. I agreed to make the trial,—& she & I set out in a cab from the cabstand hard by .. to which we walked. But the church was filling, obviously filling, as we arrived .. & grew fuller & fuller. We went in & came out again, & I sate down on the stairs—& the people came faster & faster, & I could not keep the tears out of my eyes to begin with– One gets nervous among all those people if a straw stirs– So Arabel after due observations on every side, decided that it would be too much of a congregation for me, & that I had better go home to Flush—(Poor Flush having been left at home in a state of absolute despair.) She therefore put me into a cab & sent me to Wimpole Street, & stayed behind herself to hear M. Monod– There’s my adventure today. When I opened my door on my return, Flush threw himself upon me with a most ecstatical agony, & for full ten minutes, did not cease jumping & kissing my hands—he thought he had lost me for certain, this time. Oh! & you warn me against the danger of losing him– Indeed I take care & take thought too—those “organized banditti” are not merely banditti “de comedie”[8] .. they are a dreadful reality. Did I not tell you once that they had announced to me that I should not have Flush back the next time, for less than ten guineas—? But you will let him come with us to Italy, instead—will you not, dear, dearest? in good earnest, will you not? Because, if I leave him behind, he will be hanged for my sins in this house—or I could not be sure of the reverse of it!– And even if he escaped that fate, consider how he would break his heart about me– Dogs pine to death sometimes—& if ever a dog loved a man, or a woman, Flush loves me– But you say that he shall keep the house at Pisa—and you mean it, I hope & I think?—you are in earnest?– May God bless you!– .. so, I say my prayers, though I missed the church– Tomorrow, comes my letter .. come my two letters! the happy monday! The happier tuesday, if on tuesday comes the writer of the letters!

His very own Ba.

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

Postmark: 10FN10 AU24 1846 E.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 254.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 989–991.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Cf. Psalm 90:8.

3. This seems to be an allusion to Psalm 104:18.

4. Richard Bentley (1662–1742), classical scholar and author of A Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1698), which disputes the genuineness of the letters of Phalaris, Tyrant of Agrigentum, supposedly written in the 6th century B.C. Bentley’s celebrated feud with Charles Boyle on this subject gave rise to Swift’s Battle of the Books.

5. See letter 2450.

6. Seven poems by EBB appeared in the October 1846 issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (pp. 488–495). They were “A Woman’s Shortcomings,” “A Man’s Requirements,” “Maud’s Spinning,” “A Dead Rose,” “Change on Change,” “A Reed,” and “Hector in the Garden.” These works were later collected in Poems (1850). In a letter to her sister Arabella dated [16–19 October 1846], EBB asked that Arabella “request that the immature translation of Prometheus not be brought before the public.” EBB’s revision of Prometheus Bound was first published in Poems (1850).

7. Adolphe Louis Frédéric Théodore Monod (1802–56) is described in the EB as “the foremost Protestant preacher of 19th century France.” He was a professor of theology at Montauban from 1836 until 1847, when he took up the post of preacher at the Oratoire in Paris. He was in England to attend the Evangelical Alliance Conference on 19 August. An advertisement in The Times for 20 August 1846 notes that “a sermon, in French, will be preached by the Rev. Adolphe Monod, of Montauban, on Sabbath next, August 23, in the afternoon at 3 o’clock, in the Marylebone Presbyterian Church.” Referring to this event, Monod wrote: “At three o’clock I preached in the chapel of Mr. Chalmers (Free Church) to a tolerable large audience on ‘Jesus healing the sick,’ with a collection for the Toulouse [Religious Book and Tract] Society” (Life and Letters of Adolphe Monod, by one of his daughters, 1885, p. 155).

8. “Play bandits.”

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