Correspondence

2581.  RB to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 13, 334–338.

[London]

Friday Morning. [Postmark: 4 September 1846]

You dearest, best Ba, I will say at the beginning of the letter, and not at the end, this time, that I am very much better—my head clear from pain, if a little uncertain– I was in the garden when your letter came. The worst is, that I am really forced to go & dine out to-day—but I shall take all imaginable care and get away early .. and be ready to go & see you at a minute’s notice, should a note signify your permission to-morrow .. if Mr Kenyon’s visit is over, for instance. I have to attribute this effect to that abstinent system of yours. Depend on it, I shall be well and continue well now–

Dear Ba, I wrote under the notion (as I said) that poor Flush was safe by your side; and only took that occasion to point at what I must still consider the wrongness of the whole system of giving way to, instead of opposing, such proceedings. I think it lamentable weakness .. though I can quite understand and allow for it in you,—but weakness it essentially is, as you know perfectly. For see, you first put the matter in the gentlest possible light .. “who would give much time and trouble to the castigation of such a fellow as that!” you ask: and immediately after, for another purpose, you very rightly rank this crime with that other enormous one, of the Spanish Banditti—nay, you confess that, in this very case, any such injury to Flush as you dread, would give you inexpressible grief—is the threatening this outrage then so little a matter? Am I to think it a less matter if the same miscreant should strike you in the street, because you would probably suffer less than by this that he has done? There is the inevitable inconsistency of wrong reasoning in all this—say, as I told you on another subject,—“I determine to resist no injury whatever, to be at the disposal of any villain in the world, trusting to God for protection here or recompense hereafter”—or take my course; which is the easier,—and in the long run, however strangely it may seem, the more profitable, no one can doubt—but I take the harder—in all but this responsibility—which, without any cant, would be intolerable to me. Look at this “society” with its “four thousand a year”—which unless its members are perfect fools they will go on to double & treble: would this have existed if a proper stand had been made at the beginning? The first silly man, woman or child who consented to pay five shillings, beyond the mere expense of keeping the dog, (on the supposition of its having been found, not stolen,)[1] is responsible for all the harm: what could the thief do but go and steal another, and ask double for its ransom?

And see—dogstealers so encouraged are the lowest of the vile—can neither write nor read, perhaps,—one of the fraternity possesses this knowledge however and aims higher accordingly: instead of stealing your dog, he determines to steal your character: if a guinea (at the beginning) ransoms the one, ten pounds shall ransom the other: accordingly Mr Barnard Gregory[2] takes pen in hand and writes to some timid man, in the first instance, that unless he receives that sum, his character will be blasted. The timid man takes your advice .. says that the “love of an abstract principle” must not run him into “cruel hazards” “for the sake of a few guineas”—so he pays them—who would bother himself with such vermin as Gregory?– So Gregory receives his pay for his five minutes’ penmanship—takes down a directory, and writes five hundred such letters. Serjt. Talfourd told me, counting them on his fingers, “such and such” (naming them) [“]cut their throats after robbing their families, employers &c—such fled the country—such went mad .. that was the commonest event”–– At last, even so poor a creature as the Duke of Brunswick,[3] with his detestable character and painted face,—even he plucks up courage and turns on Gregory, grown by this time into a really formidable monster by these amiable victims to the other principle of easy virtue,—and the event is that this execrable “Abhorson’s” trade is utterly destroyed[4]that form of atrocious persecution exists no longer[.] I am in no danger of being told, at next post delivery, that having been “tracked up Vere St down Bond St &c” into Wimpole St .. my character and yours will be the “subject of an article in the next Satirist unless ..”

To all of which you have a great answer—“what should I do if you were to be the victim?”– That my note yesterday, the second one, told you. I sacrifice myself .. all that belongs to me—but there are some interests which I belong to– I have no right, no more than inclination, in such a case, to think of myself if your safety is concerned, and as I could cut off a limb to save my head, so my head should fall most willingly to redeem yours. I would pay every farthing I had in the world, and shoot with my own hand the receiver of it after a chase of fifty years—esteeming that to be a very worthy recompense for the trouble. But why write all this string of truisms about the plainest thing in the world? All reformers are met at the outset by such dissuasion from their efforts “Better suffer the grievance and get off as cheaply as you [can]. You, Mahomet,—what if the Caaba be only a black stone?[5] You need only bow your head as the others, and make any inward remark you like on the blindness of the people: You, Hampden, have you really so little wit as to contest payment of a paltry 20s at such risk?”–[6]

Ah, but here all the fuss is just about stealing a dog—two or three words, and the matter becomes simply ludicrous—very easily got rid of! One cannot take vengeance on the “great man” with his cigar & room of pictures, and burlesque dignities of mediation! Just so, when Robert was inclined to be sorry for the fate of Bertha’s sister,[7] one can fancy what a relief and change would be operated in his feelings, if a goodnatured friend send him a version of his mighty crime in Lord Rochester’s funny account of “forsaken damsels”[8] .. with the motto “Women have died ere now & worms have eaten them—but not for love”[9]—or “At lover’s perjuries, Jove laughs[.]”[10] Why, Robert is a “lady-killer” like D’Orsay! Well, enough of sermonizing for the present: it is impossible for me to differ with you and treat that as a light matter— .. or, what on earth would have been so little to wonder at, as that, loving Flush, you should determine to save him at any price?

If “Chiappino” were to assure you, in terms that you could not disbelieve, that in the event of your marrying me he would destroy himself,—would you answer, as I should, “Do so, and take the consequences,”—and think no more about the matter? I should absolutely leave it, as not my concern but God’s—nor should blame myself any more than if the poor man, being uncertain what to do, had said “if a man first passes the window—yes—if a woman—no”—and I, a total stranger, had passed– One word more—in all this, I labour against the execrable policy of the world’s husbands, fathers, brothers, and domineerers in general: I am about to marry you .. “how wise, then, to encourage such a temper in you! such was that divine Griselda’s[11]—a word rules the gentle nature– “Do this, or” ....”

My own Ba, if I thought you could fear me, I think I should have the courage to give you up to-morrow!

Because to-day, I am altogether yours, and you are my very own—and to-morrow never comes, they say. Bless you, my best, dearest Ba—and if you think I deserve it, you shall test the excellence of those slippers on my cheek, (and not the flannelled side, neither,) the next happy time I see you .. which will be soon, soon, I trust! who am

more than ever your own RB

Address: Miss Barrett, / 50. Wimpole Street.

Postmark: 8NT8 SP4 1846.

Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 1041–44.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Parenthetical passage is interpolated above the line.

2. Barnard Gregory (1796–1852) was the editor and proprietor of The Satirist, or the Censor of the Times, which he used unashamedly as a weapon of blackmail and libel. The incident involving the Duke of Brunswick, to which RB refers below, was one of many actions of libel brought against Gregory. According to the DNB, “during a period of eighteen years Gregory was almost continually engaged in litigation, and several times was the inmate of a prison.” When the Duke, however, was unable to obtain satisfaction in the courts against Gregory, he opted for leading a mob in riot against the would-be actor when Gregory took the stage as Hamlet at Covent Garden in February 1843. Gregory immediately brought charges against the Duke, but the court ruled in favour of the Duke, who argued that Gregory “had during the past five years been busy slandering him and other persons, and that it was not for the public good that such a person should be permitted to appear on the stage” (DNB).

3. See preceding note. Charles II, Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg (1804–73) had arrived in England as an exile in 1830. His ongoing battle with Gregory was well-known and publicized. In August 1846 the Duke succeeded in cutting short Gregory’s appearance as Hamlet at the Haymarket by inciting the audience to riot. In Gregory’s will he “refers in bitter terms to ‘his enemy’ the Duke of Brunswick” (DNB).

4. A reference to the executioner in Measure for Measure.

5. A stone building in the mosque at Mecca, which is the most holy shrine of Islam. Set in one corner is a black stone said to have been given to Abraham from Gabriel.

6. John Hampden (1594–1643), statesman and opposition leader in the parliaments of Charles I, Hampden is best remembered for resisting the ship-money writ in 1635. According to the DNB “the total amount of the sum demanded from Hampden must have been nearer 20l. than 20s.” Nevertheless, he was convicted. The critics were not kind to RB’s portrayal of Hampden in Strafford, saying he was “shabbily treated” and calling him “a cipher” (see vol. 3, p. 390 and p. 398, respectively).

7. In EBB’s “Bertha in the Lane,” the unnamed narrator who dies from a broken heart when her lover forsakes her for her sister Bertha.

8. Doubtless a reference to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647–80); although there are various images of “forsaken damsels” in his poetry, we have been unable to trace anything to match RB’s specific reference.

9. Cf. As You Like It, IV, 1, 106–108.

10. Cf. Romeo and Juliet, II, 2, 92–93.

11. Griselda is the patient heroine in the final story of Boccaccio’s The Decameron, tested again and again by her husband. She is also depicted by Chaucer in “The Clerk’s Tale.”

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