2726.  EBB to Fanny Dowglass

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 15, 45–47.

Direct Poste Restante, Florence.

April 6th [1848] [1]

If I were capable of misunderstanding a silence of yours my very dear friend, [2] I might well fancy that you misunderstood this of mine, setting it down as a piece of extra-legal lex talionis, a silence for a silence—whereas the truth is, I was delighted to have your letter & meant to answer it directly, or with only such a delay as might admit of my replying to some parts of it in a satisfactory way– But there is nothing satisfactory about me, as usual—you know I am not used to be very satisfactory to anybody .. always excepting my husband & my dog … & least of all to myself, I may say in justice to my own power of idealism. In the first place, events have proved that the learned were out in their chronology about me, the day I was forbidden to go to Rome. Oh, provoking mistake! Not my fault, as far as my opinion went, neither! only what I said was counted for no more than a King’s word during the last three weeks! I made a mistake at Pisa, & therefore had no right to be persistent at Florence:—& so, we were forbidden Rome & you, when you might have been easily achieved, both of you! There’s woe the first– The second being, that since your letter came, & just as I was about to answer it, I was taken ill again & laid in bed for a week, without permission to move hand or foot, .. involving a heavy disappointment indeed. Of course I am a good deal weakened, but am recovering my strength day by day, .. hour by hour, almost: & although it is not much compensation to my ungrateful soul, the being told by my physician that “the constitution has shown an astonishing energy,” the right thought suggests itself naturally, that God has blessed me so abundantly in some things, there is scarcely room for a greater weight of blessing. Children may be kept for those, who have not such a husband as I, perhaps!– At any rate, I ought to do nothing but thank the divine Giver all day .. so much better my lot is, than my hope ever was. You, who know how to speak to Him, thank Him for me, my dearest friend. And now, … yes, now .. I am going to have what is called “the face”, actually to ask you to write to me soon & tell me more of your dear self. A bad account you gave in that last letter—& in this lovely weather, there seems a prophecy of good for you in the air. I long to hear of you,—of your health, of your plans .. if such a thing as a “plan” can be meditated now a days, even by a provisional government. Well, might you say that a “clash” between antagonistical principles was about to take place. What wonderful times we live in, to be sure!—full of wonder for the thinkers & the prophets. A very intelligent Swedenborgian (do you believe in very intelligent Swedenborgians?) said to us the other day .. “It is the time of the last judgement, undoubtedly”. [3] I should like to know how some of our English theologians class these phenomena. It is a common tendency, to exaggerate the events of one’s epoch, .. but exaggeration just now appears the only impossible thing. One’s imagination is outstripped. I say to my husband, when he goes to look at the newspaper, “Bring me news of a revolution or two”. And he brings me news of three. And then the peculiar features of these movements—the manner in which the breath of the people bows down fields of drawn swords, like the breath of God Himself! & the moderation, .. the profession at least, of such doctrines as fraternity & peace! Strange—wonderful it all is. Tell me if you are frightened .. or if from any cause, you still mean to go to England this summer. And when? And how? And whether you think of returning? I hope so: for surely England will not suit you in the winter. For us, when we visit dear England it will be a mere summer-visit, & not for this summer in any case, I think– People are flying on all sides of us; but we, being sceptical of the danger, (please to read that as the paraphrase for heroic courage!) shall stay quietly, .. that is, as quietly as we can, .. in Tuscany, .. if not in Florence, at Lucca .. at the Baths. My husband bids me beg you to give us the meeting at the Baths of Lucca .. ah, but there’s little chance for us, I feel as I write it. Yet, if you go to England, shall you not pass through us somehow or somewhere? so, tell me how you go. Is Clara Lindsay still in Rome? [4] Give her my love if you have the opportunity. Very glad I am of her popularity in her clan, knowing that she well deserves it all. Another cousin of mine lately married, Arlette Reynolds, is in your neighbourhood, I think. Of Lord Lindsay’s books, [5] shameful to confess, I have read none—neither has my husband:—but, as you observe, “progression by antagonism” has grown to be a truism long since. It is true even where one would least expect the evidence of it, in the remotest cloister of the church. Is it not? To “walk together as far as we are agreed [6]  .. that is, a practical & affectionate toleration of intellectual differences, .. is the apostle’s own definition of ecclesiastical unity– To wrench into oneness the various members of Christ, can only be done violently, by the screws & wheels of Inquisitional torture. Difference of opinion is the natural consequence of partial knowledge & human individuality. The unity we pray for, is rather of the heart than of the intellect– Tell me if the most frightful feature of the late Parisian convulsion, was not the sudden unanimity, as expressed in the newspapers of all parties. It was more frightfully significant to me than any shot fired on these three days. Now that the Debats begins to growl again, [7] I begin to take breath & believe in the calm & safety of Paris.–

Will you write to me? & speak particularly of your health? Of course, if you go to England, your cousins [8] will go with you– We talk of Rome for next winter. Shall we not find you there? My husband’s regards go to you as of right—and I .. am I not as ever & for ever,

your very affectionate Ba–

Address, on integral page: Alla signora / Signora Dowglass. / 93 Piazza di Spagna / Roma.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: Huntington Library.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. Frances Jones Dowglass (1808–59), daughter of Major George Dowglass and his wife Frances (née Pollock), was born in Co. Down, Ireland. She died in London on 15 January 1859. See letter 935, note 1, for an earlier biographical note about Miss Dowglass.

3. The speaker was Charles Augustus Tulk; see letter 2724.

4. Clara Lindsay (née Bayford, 1811–93), EBB’s cousin, married Martin Lindsay (1794–1864) at St. Mary Abbotts, Kensington, 5 March 1846. They were in Rome for the sake of his health.

5. Alexander William Crawford Lindsay (1812–80), eldest son of the 24th Earl of Crawford, was the author of numerous works on religious subjects, including Progression by Antagonism: A Theory, involving considerations touching the present position, duties, and destiny of Great Britain (1846).

6. Cf. Amos 3:3.

7. The Journal des Débats, a popular Paris daily founded in 1789, had supported the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe.

8. James Edward Pollock and his wife Marianne (née Malvars); see letter 2681, note 9.


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