Local

2558.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 292–293.

[London]

Tuesday. [Postmark: 25 August 1846]

When your letter came, my love, I could have easily borne the over-ruling its objections to a visit to-day, for all my cautious philosophy! But it seems best arranged as at present .. indeed it must be best, if you agree. Tomorrow repays me: nor is it very long to wait!

I will only write briefly because I want to go to Town, (since there is nothing better practicable,) and enquire precisely about that steam boat and the prices. I see that one may go to Trieste, a much greater journey, for “£12 and £15,” according to Mr Waghorn’s bill. [1] Besides, the advertisement speaks of the “economy” of this way—and certainly under ordinary circumstances anybody would prefer the river-voyage with its picturesqueness. There is a long account, in the paper to-day, of the earthquakes in Tuscany [2] —which have really been formidable enough to keep away the travelling English for the next month or two—whole villages are overthrown, Leghorn has suffered considerably, the inhabitants bivouac outside the walls—and at Pisa the roof of a church fell in .. also the villas in the vicinity have been damaged– Do you fear, dearest? If you do not,—I fear that the eligibility of Pisa as our place of abode is only doubled and tripled by all this. Think,—there is a new lake risen, just by! And great puffs of sulphureous smoke come up thro’ chinks in the plains– How do these wonders affect you?

You asked me about Ossian—now here is truth—the first book I ever bought in my life was Ossian [3]  .. it is now in the next room. And years before that, the first composition I ever was guilty of, was something in imitation of Ossian, whom I had not read, but conceived, thro’ two or three scraps in other books– I never can recollect not writing rhymes .. but I knew they were nonsense even then,—this, however, I thought exceedingly well of, and laid up for posterity under the cushion of a great arm-chair– “And now my soul is satisfied” [4] —so said one man after killing another, the death being suggested, in its height of horror, by stars and stars! (× × × ×). I could not have been five years old, that’s one consolation. Years after, when I bought this book, I found a vile dissertation of Laing .. all to prove Ossian was not Ossian .. I would not read it, but could not help knowing the purpose of it, and the pith of the hatefully-irresistible arguments. The worst came in another shape, though .. an after-gleaning of real Ossianic poems, by a firm believer whose name I forget—“if this is the real”—I thought!– Well, to this day I believe in a nucleus for all that haze, a foundation of truth to Macpherson’s fanciful superstructure—and I have been long intending to read once again those Fingals and Malvinas.

I remember that somewhere a chief cries “Come round me, my thousands!”– There is an Achilles! And another, complaining of old age remarks “Now—I feel the weight of my shield!”– Nestor,—and both beautifully perfect, are they not, you perfect Ba?

I will go now– Tomorrow I trust to see you face to face,—dearest that you are! Ever your own

RB

My poor mother suffers greatly– I am much better.

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole Street.

Postmark: 8NT8 AU25 1846 B.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 998–999.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Thomas Waghorn (1800–50) was largely responsible for developing overland and steam passage to India. RB must have seen one of his advertisements in a newspaper.

2. The detailed report in The Times for 25 August 1846 noted that 38 persons had been killed in an earthquake that struck Leghorn on the 14th of August.

3. Neither RB’s copy of Ossian’s poems, nor his “imitation of Ossian,” has survived; however, it seems likely from the context that the former was Malcolm Laing’s The Poems of Ossian, &c Containing the Poetical Works of James Macpherson, in Prose and Rhyme: with Notes and Illustrations (Edinburgh, 1805).

4. Cf. Psalm 63:5.

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