2569. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 315–317.
Sunday– [30 August 1846]
I have just come from the vestry in Paddington chapel, & bore it very well, & saw nobody except one woman. Arabel went with me, & during the singing we escaped & stood outside the door. Now, that is over,—& the next time I shall care less. It was a rambling sermon, which I could hear distinctly through the open door, quite wanting in coherence, but with good & touching things in it, the more touching that they came from a preacher whose life is known to us .. from Mr Stratten, for whom I have the greatest respect, though he never looked into Shakespeare till he was fifty, & shut the book quickly, perhaps, afterward– He is the very ideal of his class,—&, with some of the narrow views peculiar to it, has a heart of miraculous breadth & depth,—loving further than he can see, pitying beyond what he can approve, having in him a divine Christian spirit, the ‘love of love’ in the most expansive form. How that man is beloved by his congregation, the members of his church, by his children, his friends, is wonderful to see—for everybody seems to love him from afar, as a man is loved who is of a purer nature than others– There is that reverence in the love– And yet no fear. His children have been encouraged & instructed to speak aloud before him on religion & other subjects in all freedom of conscience—he turns to his little daughter seriously “to hear what she thinks”. The other day his eldest son, whom he had hoped to see succeed him at Paddington, determined to enter the Church of England: his wife became quite ill with grief about it, & to himself perhaps it was a trial, a disappointment. With the utmost gentleness & tenderness however, he desired him to take time for thought & act according to his conscience.– I believe for my part that there never was a holier man .. “except those bonds” .. never a man who more resolutely trod under his feet every form of evil & selfish passion when it was once recognized, & looked to God & the truth with a directer aspiration. Once I could not help wishing to put our affairs into his hands to settle them for us—but that would be wrong—because Papa would forbid Arabel’s going to the chapel or communicating with his family, & it would be depriving her of a comfort she holds dear– Oh no– And besides, you are wise in taking the other view–
Think of our waiting day after day to fall into the net so, yesterday! How I was provoked & vexed—but more for you, dearest dearest, than for me—much more for you. As for me I saw you, which was joy enough, let the hours be ever so clipped of their natural proportions—& then, you know, you were obliged to go soon, whether Mr Kenyon had come or not come. After you were gone, nothing was said, & nothing asked—and it is delightful to have heard of those intended absences one upon another till far into October, which will secure us from future embarrassments. See if he means to put us to the question! Not such a thing is in his thoughts.
And I said what you “would not have believed of me”! Have you forgiven me, beloved, for saying what you would not have believed of me,—understanding that I did not mean it very seriously, though I proved to be capable of saying it? Seriously, I dont want to make unnecessary delays– It is a horrible position, however I may cover it with your roses & the thoughts of you—& far worse to myself than to you, inasmuch that what is painful to you once a week, is to me so continually– To hear the voice of my father & meet his eye, makes me shrink back—to talk to my brothers, leaves my nerves all trembling .. & even to receive the sympathy of my sisters turns into sorrow & fear, lest they should suffer through their affection for me. How I can look & sleep as well as I do, is a miracle exactly like the rest—or would be, if the love were not the deepest & strongest thing of all, & did not hold & possess me overcomingly. I feel myself to be yours notwithstanding every other influence, & being yours, cannot but be happy by you. Ah—let people talk as they please of the happiness of early youth! Mrs Jameson did, the other day, when she wished kindly to take her young niece with her to the continent, that she might enjoy what in a few years she could not so much enjoy. There is a sort of blind joy common perhaps to such times—a blind joy which blunts itself with its own leaps & bounds; peculiar to a time of comparative ignorance & inexperience of evil:—but I for my part, with all the capacity for happiness which I had from the beginning, I look back & listen to my whole life, & feel sure of what I have already told you, .. that I am happier now than I ever was before .. infinitely happier now, through you .. infinitely happier; even now in this position I have just called ‘horrible’. When I hear you say for instance, that you ‘love me perceptibly more’ … why I cannot, cannot be more happy than when I hear you say that—going to Italy seems nothing! a vulgar walk to Primrose Hill after being caught up to the third Heaven!– I think nothing of Italy now, though I shall enjoy it of course when the time comes. I think only that you love me, that you are the angel of my life,—& for the despair & desolation behind me, they serve to mark the hour of your coming,—& they are behind, as Italy is before. Never can you feel for me, Robert, as I feel for you .. it is not possible of course. I am yours in a way & degree which the tenderest of other women could not be at her will– Which you know. Why should I repeat it to you? Why, except that it is a reason to prove that we cannot, as you say, “ever be a common wife & husband”. But I dont think I was intending to give proofs of that—no, indeed.
Tomorrow I shall hear from you. Say how your mother is, in the second letter if you do not in the first– May God bless you & keep you dearest beloved—
Your very own Ba.
There is not much in the article by Mr Chorley, but it is right & kind as far as it goes.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 AU31 1846.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 262.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 1019–22.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. The Rev. James Stratten (1795–1872) officiated at Paddington Chapel, which the Barretts attended. He assumed the pastorate of that congregation in 1818, and held that office for almost 42 years.
3. John Remington Stratten did not succeed his father at the Paddington Chapel. He entered the Church of England and was ordained in 1849. As indicated in a letter from EBB to her sister Arabella, dated 26 November , he and his wife called on the Brownings in Florence.
4. Cf. Acts 26:29.
5. II Corinthians 12:2.
6. See letter 2552, note 7.