Correspondence

2560.  EBB to RB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 294–297.

[London]

Tuesday evening– [25 August 1846][1]

Nor is it very long to wait”– Alas!– My note went two hours ago to cross out the application of that phrase, and now it is very long to wait, .. all the days to friday. Tell me dearest, if you think it wise, at least, to make such an unhappy arrangement, .. considering, you know, Mr Kenyon & my brothers– It ought to be wise, I think .. it is so unhappy, & disappointing. Consider what I am without you all this long dreary while; & how little, ever so much sense of wisdom, can console anybody.

Friday will come however,—& I may as well go on to tell you that Mrs Jameson came yesterday– “Anything settled?” she asked,—as she walked into the room. She looked at me with resolute, enquiring eyes– I wonder if she ever approaches to the divination of something like the truth—not the truth, but like it– Either she must see indistinctly “something new & strange”,[2] or attribute to me a strange delight in the mysterious. She half promised to see me again before she leaves England, & begged me to write & tell her all whenever I shall have it in my power to make the communication. Affectionate she was, as always–

Today I have seen nobody, except Mr Boyd for a little, after driving through street upon street, where I might have met you if I had been happy enough– Albemarle Street .. were you there? I sate there, in the carriage, opposite to the York Hotel,[3] while Henrietta paid her visit to old Lady Bolingbroke, a full halfhour .. Flush & I– Flush staring out of the window, & I .. doing what I generally do in this room—do you ask what it was? At the end of some twenty minutes, a boy passed, who had the impertinence to look full at Flush & whistle, whereupon Flush growled, & appealed to me with two immense eyes .. both seeming to say “I hope you observe how I am insulted”. So my reverie was broken in the middle—but being better tempered, rather, than Flush, or having larger resources, I did not growl, but took your latest letter out instead, which lasted for the whole remainder of the time. Then at Mr Boyd’s .. oh, I must tell you .. he began to tell me some romantic compliments of several young ladies who desired to be disguised in servant’s accoutrements, just to open the door to me, (to have a good stare, I suppose) or, in good earnest, to be my maid! (to go with us to Pisa, dearest .. how would you like that?– Seriously now do just calculate the wonderful good fortune of such a person, in falling upon two lions instead of one—nay, on a great wild forest-lion, this time, in addition to the little puny lioness of the original bargain!) Well!—but when Mr Boyd had done his report, I asked naturally, “And what am I to say to all this?”– “Why you are to say that you will be goodnatured, & give somebody pleasure at the cost of no pain to yourself, & go to the room down stairs & speak three words to Miss Smith[4] who is there, waiting.” Imagine anybody having a Miss Smith ready in the drawing room to let out upon one!– Imagine me too (to be less abstract) walking in to that same Miss Smith, .. to the effect of—[‘]‘Here I am! just come to be looked at. Is it at all what you expected, Miss Smith”?

The worst was, that dear Mr Boyd would have set it down to a species of malignancy, if I had refused—so I took my courage up with both hands, & remembering that I had seen two or three times, years ago, the stepmother of the said Miss Smith, I thought I might enquire after her with a sort of propriety– And I got through it somehow. “Will you let me shake hands with you & ask how Mrs Smith is? Does she remember me, I wonder? I am Elizabeth Barrett.” —“Is it possible? Ah! I thought you were one of your sisters at first! Dear me! why how much better, you must be, to be sure!– Oh dear me, what an illness you have had! Ah, Quite shut up so long! How very, very interesting, to be sure!”. —If Flush had swallowed her up in the middle, I might have forgiven him, to be sure. So interesting too, that catastrophe would have been!– But you shall not set me down as a savage—it was all kindness on her side, of course—but one may be savage to a situation, (.. which is just the way with me, ..) without being a born barbarian woman.

As to Miss Martineau, the expression which sounds so rampant with conceit,[5] may yet be the plainest proof of a mere instinct of selfpreservation. If three Smiths would be mob enough to mob me to death, (& three may make a mob, as three fine days, a summer!)[6] let us have some feeling for her, exposed, from various causes, to the thirties .. at the lowest comparative computation.

For Ossian, you admit the nucleus. Which is only like your Ba, dearest .. you will not stand higher as an Ossianic critic unless you believe the verbal authenticity, “nothing, extenuating”.[7] The cushion of the armchair! My place of deposit used to be between the mattrasses of my crib—a little mahogany crib with cane sides to it–– You were like Lord Byron (another point of likeness!) in imitating Ossian—but you were still earlier at the work than he was.[8]

It is very well to ascertain the prices by the steamers,—though my expectation is that you will find them higher than you fancy them. Nineteen guineas was the charge last year, as far as Gibralter only– Then, if you charmed ever so eloquently with the voice of the charmer, you never, as a passenger, would induce those people to diminish the rate, because of our being three; & a female servant is charged for at the higher rate .. if not the highest. Altogether the expense will be, out of all comparison, beyond that of the passage through France .. see if it will not. Ten pounds, as far as the travelling goes, seems to cover everything, in going from hence to Leghorn .. to Pisa .. taking Rouen & Orleans—& meaning of course, for one person. And if the advantages are, as you describe, besides .. why should we forgo them? Is the fatigue so much greater? If there are more changes & shiftings, there is also more absolute rest—and the rivers are smoother than the seas– Still, it is well to consider—& there are good reasons on each side, worthy of consideration.

So much more I had to say—I break off suddenly, being benighted. How you write to me!—how you wrote to me on sunday & yesterday! How I wish for two hearts to love you with, & two lives to give to you, & two souls to bear the weight worthily of all you have given to me. But if one heart & one life will do, .. they are yours .. I cannot give them again.

Beloved, if your mother should be ill, we must not think of your leaving her, surely?

May God bless you, dearest beloved–

I am your Ba–

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

Postmark: 10FN10 AU26 1846 E.

Docket, in RB’s hand: 257.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 1000–03.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Date provided by postmark.

2. Cf. The Tempest, I, 2, 402.

3. The York Hotel was located at 10 Albemarle Street. Isabella Charlotte Antoinette Sophia, formerly Baroness Hompesch, was the second wife and widow of George Richard St. John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke (1761–1824). There are several references to her in the ancillary correspondence; see SD977 and SD1023. She died in Torquay on 12 July 1848, aged 76.

4. A step-daughter of Adam Clarke’s youngest daughter, Mrs. Mary Ann Smith.

5. A reference to the second paragraph in letter 2555.

6. Parenthetical passage is interpolated above the line.

7. Cf. Othello, V, 2, 342.

8. “The Death of Calmar and Orla: An Imitation of Macpherson’s Ossian” in Byron’s Hours of Idleness (1807).

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