3202.  EBB to John Kenyon

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 19, 95–97.

Casa Guidi–

May 16– [1853][1]

My dearest Mr Kenyon you are to be thanked & loved as ever, & what can we say more? This– Do be good to us by a supererogatory virtue & write to us– You cant know how pleasant it is to be ‘en rapport’ with you, though by holding such a fringe of a garment as a scrap of letter is. We dont see you, we dont hear you! ‘Rap’ to us with the end of your pen, like the benign spirit you are, and let me (who am credulous) believe that you care for us & think kindly of us in the midst of your brilliant London gossipry & that you dont disdain the talk of us, dark ultramontanists as we are. You are good to us in so many ways that it’s a reason for being good in another way besides. At least, to reason so is one of the foolishnesses of my gratitude.

On the whole I am satisfied with regard to Colombe. I never expected a theatrical success, properly & vulgarly so called—and the play has taken rank, to judge by the various criticisms, in the right way, as a true poet’s work,—the defects of the acting drama seeming recognized as the qualities of the poem. It was impossible all that subtle tracery of thought & feeling should be painted out clear red & ochre with a house-painter’s brush, & lose nothing of its effect– A play that runs now-a-days has generally four legs to run with—something of the beast to keep it going. The human biped with the “os divinior”[2] is slower than a race-horse even– What I hope, is, that the poetical appreciation of Colombe will give an impulse to the sale of the poems,—which will be more acceptable to us than the other kind of success—only in order to it, why did’nt Mr Chapman advertise? Ask Mr Forster why Chapman did’nt advertise? It was the stranger omission that Robert suggested the propriety of it, in reference to this circumstance, long & long ago.[3] Mr Chapman is not an energetic publisher, I must say & think. We complained of Moxon, yet Moxon did the better of the two–

Yes, dearest Mr Kenyon—we mean, if we can, to go to Rome in the autumn. It is very wrong of you not to come too, & the reasons you give against it are by no means conclusive. My opinion is that whatever the term of your natural life may be, you would probably have an additional ten years fastened on to it by coming to the continent … and so I teaze you & teaze you, as is natural to such an opinion. People travel now in their arm-chairs, & the vitality in them kindles as they rush along. Remember how pleased you were when you were at Como! Dont draw a chalk circle round you & fancy you cant move. Even tables & chairs have taken to move lately, & hats spin round without a giddy head in them. Is this a time to stand still, even in the garden at Wimbledon? “I speak to a wise man,—judge what I say.”[4]

We tried the table experiment in this room a few days since, by the bye, & failed—but we were impatient, & Robert was playing Mephistopheles, as Mr Lytton said, & there was little chance of success under the circumstances. It has been done several times in Florence—& the fact of the possibility seems to have passed among “attested facts.” There was a placard on the wall yesterday—about a pamphlet purporting to be an account of these & similar phenomena “scoperte a Livorno”[5]—referring to “oggetti semoventi”[6] & other wonders. You cant even look at a wall without a touch of the subject. The “circoli”[7] at Florence are as revolutionary as ever .. only tilting over tables instead of states .. alas! From the Legation to the English chemist’s, people are “serving tables”[8] (in spite of the apostle) everywhere. When people gather round a table, it is’nt to play whist. So good, you say. You can believe in table-moving—because that may be “electricity”—but you wont believe, in the “rapping spirits,” with the history of whom these movements are undeniably connected, .. because it’s “a jump”. Well—but you will jump when the time comes for jumping, & when the evidence is strong enough– I know you,—you are strong enough & true enough to jump at anything, without being afraid. The tables jump, observe—& you may jump. Meanwhile, .. if you were to hear what we heard only the evening before last from a cultivated woman with truthful tearful eyes,[9] whose sister is a medium, & whose mother believes herself to be in daily communion with her eldest daughter,[10] dead years ago .. if you were to hear what we hear from nearly all the Americans who come [to] us .. their personal experiences, irrespectively of paid mediums, .. I wonder if you would admit the possibility of your ever jumping! Robert, who wont believe, he says, till he sees & hears with his own senses, .. Robert, who is a sceptic, .. observed, of himself, the other day, that we had received as much evidence of these spirits as of the existence of the town of Washington. But then of course he would add, & you would, reasonably enough, that, in a matter of this kind, (where you have to jump) you require more evidence, double the evidence, to what you require for the existence of Washington– That’s true, <***>

Publication: LEBB, II, 115–118 (in part).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by EBB’s reference to performances of Colombe’s Birthday, which opened at the Haymarket on 25 April 1853.

2. “More divine bone.”

3. See letter 3175.

4. Cf. I Corinthians 10:15.

5. “Discovered in Leghorn.”

6. “Self-propelled objects.”

7. “Circles.”

8. Cf. Acts 6:2.

9. Sara Jane Clarke; see letter 3200, note 3.

10. Delia Adelaide Clarke (1804–26).


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