2617. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 4–7.
Friday [18 September 1846]
My dearest friend I have your letter & your prophecy,—& the latter meets the event like a sword ringing into its scabbard. My dear dearest friend I would sit down by your feet & kiss your hands with many tears, & beseech you to think gently of me, & love me always, & have faith in me that I have struggled to do the right & the generous & not the selfish thing,—though when you read this letter I shall have given to one of the most gifted & admirable of men, a wife unworthy of him. I shall be the wife of Robert Browning. Against you, .. in allowing you no confidence, .. I have not certainly sinned, I think—so do not look at me with those reproachful eyes. I have made no confidence to any .. not even to my & his beloved friend Mr Kenyon—& this advisedly, & in order to spare him the anxiety & the responsibility. It would have been a wrong against him & against you to have told either of you—we were in peculiar circumstances—& to have made you a party, would have exposed you to the whole dreary rain—without the shelter we had– If I had loved you less—dearest Miss Mitford, I could have told you sooner.
And now .. oh, will you be hard on me? will you say .. “This is not well.”?
I tell you solemnly that nothing your thoughts can suggest against this act of mine, has been unsuggested by me to him– He has loved me for nearly two years, & said so at the beginning. I would not listen—I could not believe even. And he has said since, that almost he began to despair of making me believe in the force & stedfastness of his attachment. Certainly I conceived it to be a mere poet’s fancy .. an illusion of a confusion between the woman & the poetry. I have seen a little of the way of men in such respects, and I could not see beyond that with my weary, weeping eyes, for long.
How can I tell you on this paper, even if my hands did not tremble as the writing shows, how he persisted & overcame me with such letters, & such words, that you might tread on me like a stone if I had not given myself to him, heart & soul. When I bade him see that I was bruised & broken .. unfit for active duties, incapable of common pleasures .. that I had lost even the usual advantages of youth & good spirits—his answer was, “that with himself also the early freshness of youth had gone by, & that, throughout his season of youth, he had loved no woman at all, nor had believed himself made for any such affection—that he loved now once & for ever—he, knowing himself—— That, for my health, .. he had understood, on first seeing me, that I suffered from an accident on the spine of an incurable nature, & that he never could hope to have me stand up before him. He bade me tell him, what, if that imagination had been true, what there was in that truth, calculated to suppress any pure attachment, such as he professed for me? For his part, the wish of his heart had been then—that by consenting to be his wife even so, I would admit him to the simple privilege of sitting by my side two hours a day, as a brother would: he deliberately preferred the realization of that dream, to the brightest, excluding me, in this world or any other.”
My dear friend, feel for me. It is to your woman’s nature that I repeat these words, that they may commend themselves to you & teach you how I must have felt in hearing them—I who loved Flush for not hating to be near me .. I, who by a long sorrowfulness & solitude, had sunk into the very ashes of self humiliation– Think how I must have felt to have listened to such words from such a man. A man of genius & of miraculous attainments .. but of a heart & spirit beyond them all!——
He overcame me at last. Whether it was that an unusual alikeness of mind .. (the high & the low may be alike in the general features) .. a singular closeness of sympathy on a thousand subjects, .. drew him fast to me—or whether it was love simple .. which after all is love proper .. an unreasonable instinct, accident .. ‘falling’, as the idiom says .. the truth became obvious that he would be happier with me than apart from me—and I .. why I am only as any other woman in the world, with a heart belonging to her. He is best, noblest—— If you knew him, you should be the praiser.
I have seen him only & openly in this house, observe—never elsewhere, except in the parish church before the two necessary witnesses. We go to Italy .. to Pisa—cross to Havre from Southampton .. pass quickly along the Seine, & through Paris to Orleans—till we are out of hearing of the dreadful sounds behind. An escape from the winter will keep me well & still strengthen me—& in the summer we come back .. if anyone in the world will receive us– We go to live a quiet, simple, rational life—to do work “after the pattern in the mount” which we both see .. to write poems & read books, & try to live not in vain & not for vanities–
In the meanwhile, it is in anguish of heart that I think of leaving this house so– Oh—a little thread might have bound my hands, from even working at my own happiness– But all the love came from that side! on the other .. too still it was—not with intention .. I do not say so—yet too still. I was a woman & shall be a wife when you read this letter. It is finished, the struggle is——
As to marriage .. it never was high up in my ideal, even before my illness brought myself so far down. A happy marriage was the happiest condition, I believed vaguely—but where were the happy marriages? I, for my part, never could have married a common man—and never did any one man whom I have had the honour of hearing talk love, as men talk, lead me to think a quarter of a minute of the possibility of being married by such an one. Then I thought always that a man whom I could love, would never stoop to love me– That was my way of thinking, years ago, in my best days, as a woman’s days are counted—& often & often have I been gently upbraided for such romantic fancies—for expecting the grass underfoot to be sky blue, & for not taking Mr A or B or C for the “best possible” whatever might be.
We shall not be rich—but we shall have enough to live out our views of life—& fly from the winters in Italy.
I write on calmly to you– How little this paper represents what is working within in the intervals of a sort of stupour.
Feel for me if not with me my dear dear friend– He says that we shall justify by our lives this act,—which may & must appear to many, .. as I say .. wilful & rash. People will say that he is mad, & I, bad—with my long traditions & associations with all manner of sickness. Yet God judges, who sees the root of things– And I believe that no woman with a heart, could have done otherwise .. much otherwise– You do not know him.
May God bless you—I must end. Try to think of me gently—& if you can bear to write to me, let me hear .. at Orleans—Poste Restante.
Here is the truth—I could not meet you & part with you now, face to face.
Tell me of Mr Buckingham– I shall be as faithful as ever to anything you will tell me– Why that man must be a wretched villainous man,—after your inexpressible goodness to him! No friend–
May God bless you my dear dear kind friend——
Your most affectionate
Wilson goes with me, of course. And the last commission she has is to settle with Rolandi for you. God bless you–
Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 187–190.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Dated by EBB’s reference to her marriage the previous Saturday (12 September) and her impending departure to Italy, which took place on Saturday, 19 September.
2. EBB’s erratic handwriting reflects her emotional distress during her last few days in 50 Wimpole Street.
3. EBB’s maid Elizabeth Wilson and RB’s cousin James Silverthorne.
4. Cf. Hebrews 8:5.
5. Cf. I Samuel 16:7
6. i.e., for EBB’s gift subscription for Miss Mitford with the foreign bookseller (see letter 1601, note 4).