HotFreeBooks.com
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846
by Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE LETTERS

OF

ROBERT BROWNING

AND

ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT

1845-1846

WITH PORTRAITS AND FACSIMILES

IN TWO VOLUMES

VOL. I.

FOURTH IMPRESSION

LONDON

SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE

1900



NOTE

In considering the question of publishing these letters, which are all that ever passed between my father and mother, for after their marriage they were never separated, it seemed to me that my only alternatives were to allow them to be published or to destroy them. I might, indeed, have left the matter to the decision of others after my death, but that would be evading a responsibility which I feel that I ought to accept.

Ever since my mother's death these letters were kept by my father in a certain inlaid box, into which they exactly fitted, and where they have always rested, letter beside letter, each in its consecutive order and numbered on the envelope by his own hand.

My father destroyed all the rest of his correspondence, and not long before his death he said, referring to these letters: 'There they are, do with them as you please when I am dead and gone!'

A few of the letters are of little or no interest, but their omission would have saved only a few pages, and I think it well that the correspondence should be given in its entirety.

I wish to express my gratitude to my father's friend and mine, Mrs. Miller Morison, for her unfailing sympathy and assistance in deciphering some words which had become scarcely legible owing to faded ink.

R.B.B.

1898.



ADVERTISEMENT

The correspondence contained in these volumes is printed exactly as it appears in the original letters, without alteration, except in respect of obvious slips of the pen. Even the punctuation, with its characteristic dots and dashes, has for the most part been preserved. The notes in square brackets [] have been added mainly in order to translate the Greek phrases, and to give the references to Greek poets. For these, thanks are due to Mr. F.G. Kenyon, who has revised the proofs with the assistance of Mr. Roger Ingpen, the latter being responsible for the Index.



ILLUSTRATIONS

PORTRAIT OF ROBERT BROWNING Frontispiece After the picture by Gordigiani

FACSIMILE OF LETTER OF ROBERT BROWNING To face p. 578



THE LETTERS OF

ROBERT BROWNING

AND

ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT

1845-1846



R.B. to E.B.B.

New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey. [Post-mark, January 10, 1845.]

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,—and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,—whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius, and there a graceful and natural end of the thing. Since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me, for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration—perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter!—but nothing comes of it all—so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew—Oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat, and prized highly, and put in a book with a proper account at top and bottom, and shut up and put away ... and the book called a 'Flora,' besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give a reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought; but in this addressing myself to you—your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart—and I love you too. Do you know I was once not very far from seeing—really seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning 'Would you like to see Miss Barrett?' then he went to announce me,—then he returned ... you were too unwell, and now it is years ago, and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels, as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel or crypt, only a screen to push and I might have entered, but there was some slight, so it now seems, slight and just sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be?

Well, these Poems were to be, and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself,

Yours ever faithfully,

ROBERT BROWNING.

Miss Barrett,[1] 50 Wimpole St. R. Browning.

[Footnote 1: With this and the following letter the addresses on the envelopes are given; for all subsequent letters the addresses are the same. The correspondence passed through the post.]



E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Wimpole Street: Jan. 11, 1845.

I thank you, dear Mr. Browning, from the bottom of my heart. You meant to give me pleasure by your letter—and even if the object had not been answered, I ought still to thank you. But it is thoroughly answered. Such a letter from such a hand! Sympathy is dear—very dear to me: but the sympathy of a poet, and of such a poet, is the quintessence of sympathy to me! Will you take back my gratitude for it?—agreeing, too, that of all the commerce done in the world, from Tyre to Carthage, the exchange of sympathy for gratitude is the most princely thing!

For the rest you draw me on with your kindness. It is difficult to get rid of people when you once have given them too much pleasure—that is a fact, and we will not stop for the moral of it. What I was going to say—after a little natural hesitation—is, that if ever you emerge without inconvenient effort from your 'passive state,' and will tell me of such faults as rise to the surface and strike you as important in my poems, (for of course, I do not think of troubling you with criticism in detail) you will confer a lasting obligation on me, and one which I shall value so much, that I covet it at a distance. I do not pretend to any extraordinary meekness under criticism and it is possible enough that I might not be altogether obedient to yours. But with my high respect for your power in your Art and for your experience as an artist, it would be quite impossible for me to hear a general observation of yours on what appear to you my master-faults, without being the better for it hereafter in some way. I ask for only a sentence or two of general observation—and I do not ask even for that, so as to tease you—but in the humble, low voice, which is so excellent a thing in women—particularly when they go a-begging! The most frequent general criticism I receive, is, I think, upon the style,—'if I would but change my style'! But that is an objection (isn't it?) to the writer bodily? Buffon says, and every sincere writer must feel, that 'Le style c'est l'homme'; a fact, however, scarcely calculated to lessen the objection with certain critics.

Is it indeed true that I was so near to the pleasure and honour of making your acquaintance? and can it be true that you look back upon the lost opportunity with any regret? But—you know—if you had entered the 'crypt,' you might have caught cold, or been tired to death, and wished yourself 'a thousand miles off;' which would have been worse than travelling them. It is not my interest, however, to put such thoughts in your head about its being 'all for the best'; and I would rather hope (as I do) that what I lost by one chance I may recover by some future one. Winters shut me up as they do dormouse's eyes; in the spring, we shall see: and I am so much better that I seem turning round to the outward world again. And in the meantime I have learnt to know your voice, not merely from the poetry but from the kindness in it. Mr. Kenyon often speaks of you—dear Mr. Kenyon!—who most unspeakably, or only speakably with tears in my eyes,—has been my friend and helper, and my book's friend and helper! critic and sympathiser, true friend of all hours! You know him well enough, I think, to understand that I must be grateful to him.

I am writing too much,—and notwithstanding that I am writing too much, I will write of one thing more. I will say that I am your debtor, not only for this cordial letter and for all the pleasure which came with it, but in other ways, and those the highest: and I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, in proportion to my love for it and my devotion to it, I must be a devout admirer and student of your works. This is in my heart to say to you—and I say it.

And, for the rest, I am proud to remain

Your obliged and faithful

ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.

Robert Browning, Esq. New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey.



R.B. to E.B.B.

New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey. Jan. 13, 1845.

Dear Miss Barrett,—I just shall say, in as few words as I can, that you make me very happy, and that, now the beginning is over, I dare say I shall do better, because my poor praise, number one, was nearly as felicitously brought out, as a certain tribute to no less a personage than Tasso, which I was amused with at Rome some weeks ago, in a neat pencilling on the plaister-wall by his tomb at Sant'Onofrio—'Alla cara memoria—di—(please fancy solemn interspaces and grave capital letters at the new lines) di—Torquato Tasso—il Dottore Bernardini—offriva—il seguente Carme—O tu'—and no more,—the good man, it should seem, breaking down with the overload of love here! But my 'O tu'—was breathed out most sincerely, and now you have taken it in gracious part, the rest will come after. Only,—and which is why I write now—it looks as if I have introduced some phrase or other about 'your faults' so cleverly as to give exactly the opposite meaning to what I meant, which was, that in my first ardour I had thought to tell you of everything which impressed me in your verses, down, even, to whatever 'faults' I could find,—a good earnest, when I had got to them, that I had left out not much between—as if some Mr. Fellows were to say, in the overflow of his first enthusiasm of rewarded adventure: 'I will describe you all the outer life and ways of these Lycians, down to their very sandal-thongs,' whereto the be-corresponded one rejoins—'Shall I get next week, then, your dissertation on sandal-thongs'? Yes, and a little about the 'Olympian Horses,' and God-charioteers as well!

What 'struck me as faults,' were not matters on the removal of which, one was to have—poetry, or high poetry,—but the very highest poetry, so I thought, and that, to universal recognition. For myself, or any artist, in many of the cases there would be a positive loss of time, peculiar artist's pleasure—for an instructed eye loves to see where the brush has dipped twice in a lustrous colour, has lain insistingly along a favourite outline, dwelt lovingly in a grand shadow; for these 'too muches' for the everybody's picture are so many helps to the making out the real painter's picture as he had it in his brain. And all of the Titian's Naples Magdalen must have once been golden in its degree to justify that heap of hair in her hands—the only gold effected now!

But about this soon—for night is drawing on and I go out, yet cannot, quiet at conscience, till I report (to myself, for I never said it to you, I think) that your poetry must be, cannot but be, infinitely more to me than mine to you—for you do what I always wanted, hoped to do, and only seem now likely to do for the first time. You speak out, you,—I only make men and women speak—give you truth broken into prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light, even if it is in me, but I am going to try; so it will be no small comfort to have your company just now, seeing that when you have your men and women aforesaid, you are busied with them, whereas it seems bleak, melancholy work, this talking to the wind (for I have begun)—yet I don't think I shall let you hear, after all, the savage things about Popes and imaginative religions that I must say.

See how I go on and on to you, I who, whenever now and then pulled, by the head and hair, into letter-writing, get sorrowfully on for a line or two, as the cognate creature urged on by stick and string, and then come down 'flop' upon the sweet haven of page one, line last, as serene as the sleep of the virtuous! You will never more, I hope, talk of 'the honour of my acquaintance,' but I will joyfully wait for the delight of your friendship, and the spring, and my Chapel-sight after all!

Ever yours most faithfully,

R. BROWNING.

For Mr. Kenyon—I have a convenient theory about him, and his otherwise quite unaccountable kindness to me; but 'tis quite night now, and they call me.



E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Wimpole Street: Jan. 15, 1845.

Dear Mr. Browning,—The fault was clearly with me and not with you.

When I had an Italian master, years ago, he told me that there was an unpronounceable English word which absolutely expressed me, and which he would say in his own tongue, as he could not in mine—'testa lunga.' Of course, the signor meant headlong!—and now I have had enough to tame me, and might be expected to stand still in my stall. But you see I do not. Headlong I was at first, and headlong I continue—precipitously rushing forward through all manner of nettles and briars instead of keeping the path; guessing at the meaning of unknown words instead of looking into the dictionary—tearing open letters, and never untying a string,—and expecting everything to be done in a minute, and the thunder to be as quick as the lightning. And so, at your half word I flew at the whole one, with all its possible consequences, and wrote what you read. Our common friend, as I think he is, Mr. Horne, is often forced to entreat me into patience and coolness of purpose, though his only intercourse with me has been by letter. And, by the way, you will be sorry to hear that during his stay in Germany he has been 'headlong' (out of a metaphor) twice; once, in falling from the Drachenfels, when he only just saved himself by catching at a vine; and once quite lately, at Christmas, in a fall on the ice of the Elbe in skating, when he dislocated his left shoulder in a very painful manner. He is doing quite well, I believe, but it was sad to have such a shadow from the German Christmas tree, and he a stranger.

In art, however, I understand that it does not do to be headlong, but patient and laborious—and there is a love strong enough, even in me, to overcome nature. I apprehend what you mean in the criticism you just intimate, and shall turn it over and over in my mind until I get practical good from it. What no mere critic sees, but what you, an artist, know, is the difference between the thing desired and the thing attained, between the idea in the writer's mind and the [Greek: eidolon] cast off in his work. All the effort—the quick'ning of the breath and beating of the heart in pursuit, which is ruffling and injurious to the general effect of a composition; all which you call 'insistency,' and which many would call superfluity, and which is superfluous in a sense—you can pardon, because you understand. The great chasm between the thing I say, and the thing I would say, would be quite dispiriting to me, in spite even of such kindnesses as yours, if the desire did not master the despondency. 'Oh for a horse with wings!' It is wrong of me to write so of myself—only you put your finger on the root of a fault, which has, to my fancy, been a little misapprehended. I do not say everything I think (as has been said of me by master-critics) but I take every means to say what I think, which is different!—or I fancy so!

In one thing, however, you are wrong. Why should you deny the full measure of my delight and benefit from your writings? I could tell you why you should not. You have in your vision two worlds, or to use the language of the schools of the day, you are both subjective and objective in the habits of your mind. You can deal both with abstract thought and with human passion in the most passionate sense. Thus, you have an immense grasp in Art; and no one at all accustomed to consider the usual forms of it, could help regarding with reverence and gladness the gradual expansion of your powers. Then you are 'masculine' to the height—and I, as a woman, have studied some of your gestures of language and intonation wistfully, as a thing beyond me far! and the more admirable for being beyond.

Of your new work I hear with delight. How good of you to tell me. And it is not dramatic in the strict sense, I am to understand—(am I right in understanding so?) and you speak, in your own person 'to the winds'? no—but to the thousand living sympathies which will awake to hear you. A great dramatic power may develop itself otherwise than in the formal drama; and I have been guilty of wishing, before this hour (for reasons which I will not thrust upon you after all my tedious writing), that you would give the public a poem unassociated directly or indirectly with the stage, for a trial on the popular heart. I reverence the drama, but—

But I break in on myself out of consideration for you. I might have done it, you will think, before. I vex your 'serene sleep of the virtuous' like a nightmare. Do not say 'No.' I am sure I do! As to the vain parlance of the world, I did not talk of the 'honour of your acquaintance' without a true sense of honour, indeed; but I shall willingly exchange it all (and now, if you please, at this moment, for fear of worldly mutabilities) for the 'delight of your friendship.'

Believe me, therefore, dear Mr. Browning,

Faithfully yours, and gratefully,

ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.

For Mr. Kenyon's kindness, as I see it, no theory will account. I class it with mesmerism for that reason.



R.B. to E.B.B.

New Cross, Hatcham, Monday Night. [Post-mark, January 28, 1845.]

Dear Miss Barrett,—Your books lie on my table here, at arm's length from me, in this old room where I sit all day: and when my head aches or wanders or strikes work, as it now or then will, I take my chance for either green-covered volume, as if it were so much fresh trefoil to feel in one's hands this winter-time,—and round I turn, and, putting a decisive elbow on three or four half-done-with 'Bells' of mine, read, read, read, and just as I have shut up the book and walked to the window, I recollect that you wanted me to find faults there, and that, in an unwise hour, I engaged to do so. Meantime, the days go by (the whitethroat is come and sings now) and as I would not have you 'look down on me from your white heights' as promise breaker, evader, or forgetter, if I could help: and as, if I am very candid and contrite, you may find it in your heart to write to me again—who knows?—I shall say at once that the said faults cannot be lost, must be somewhere, and shall be faithfully brought you back whenever they turn up,—as people tell one of missing matters. I am rather exacting, myself, with my own gentle audience, and get to say spiteful things about them when they are backward in their dues of appreciation—but really, really—could I be quite sure that anybody as good as—I must go on, I suppose, and say—as myself, even, were honestly to feel towards me as I do, towards the writer of 'Bertha,' and the 'Drama,' and the 'Duchess,' and the 'Page' and—the whole two volumes, I should be paid after a fashion, I know.

One thing I can do—pencil, if you like, and annotate, and dissertate upon that I love most and least—I think I can do it, that is.

Here an odd memory comes—of a friend who,—volunteering such a service to a sonnet-writing somebody, gave him a taste of his quality in a side-column of short criticisms on sonnet the First, and starting off the beginning three lines with, of course, 'bad, worse, worst'—made by a generous mintage of words to meet the sudden run of his epithets, 'worser, worserer, worserest' pay off the second terzet in full—no 'badder, badderer, badderest' fell to the Second's allowance, and 'worser' &c. answered the demands of the Third; 'worster, worsterer, worsterest' supplied the emergency of the Fourth; and, bestowing his last 'worserestest and worstestest' on lines 13 and 14, my friend (slapping his forehead like an emptied strong-box) frankly declared himself bankrupt, and honourably incompetent, to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the rest of the series!

What an illustration of the law by which opposite ideas suggest opposite, and contrary images come together!

See now, how, of that 'Friendship' you offer me (and here Juliet's word rises to my lips)—I feel sure once and for ever. I have got already, I see, into this little pet-handwriting of mine (not anyone else's) which scratches on as if theatrical copyists (ah me!) and BRADBURY AND EVANS' READER were not! But you shall get something better than this nonsense one day, if you will have patience with me—hardly better, though, because this does me real good, gives real relief, to write. After all, you know nothing, next to nothing of me, and that stops me. Spring is to come, however!

If you hate writing to me as I hate writing to nearly everybody, I pray you never write—if you do, as you say, care for anything I have done. I will simply assure you, that meaning to begin work in deep earnest, begin without affectation, God knows,—I do not know what will help me more than hearing from you,—and therefore, if you do not so very much hate it, I know I shall hear from you—and very little more about your 'tiring me.'

Ever yours faithfully,

ROBERT BROWNING.

E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Walpole Street: Feb. 3, 1845. [Transcriber's Note: So in original. Should be "Wimpole Street."]

Why how could I hate to write to you, dear Mr. Browning? Could you believe in such a thing? If nobody likes writing to everybody (except such professional letter writers as you and I are not), yet everybody likes writing to somebody, and it would be strange and contradictory if I were not always delighted both to hear from you and to write to you, this talking upon paper being as good a social pleasure as another, when our means are somewhat straitened. As for me, I have done most of my talking by post of late years—as people shut up in dungeons take up with scrawling mottoes on the walls. Not that I write to many in the way of regular correspondence, as our friend Mr. Horne predicates of me in his romances (which is mere romancing!), but that there are a few who will write and be written to by me without a sense of injury. Dear Miss Mitford, for instance. You do not know her, I think, personally, although she was the first to tell me (when I was very ill and insensible to all the glories of the world except poetry), of the grand scene in 'Pippa Passes.' She has filled a large drawer in this room with delightful letters, heart-warm and soul-warm, ... driftings of nature (if sunshine could drift like snow), and which, if they should ever fall the way of all writing, into print, would assume the folio shape as a matter of course, and take rank on the lowest shelf of libraries, with Benedictine editions of the Fathers, [Greek: k.t.l.]. I write this to you to show how I can have pleasure in letters, and never think them too long, nor too frequent, nor too illegible from being written in little 'pet hands.' I can read any MS. except the writing on the pyramids. And if you will only promise to treat me en bon camarade, without reference to the conventionalities of 'ladies and gentlemen,' taking no thought for your sentences (nor for mine), nor for your blots (nor for mine), nor for your blunt speaking (nor for mine), nor for your badd speling (nor for mine), and if you agree to send me a blotted thought whenever you are in the mind for it, and with as little ceremony and less legibility than you would think it necessary to employ towards your printer—why, then, I am ready to sign and seal the contract, and to rejoice in being 'articled' as your correspondent. Only don't let us have any constraint, any ceremony! Don't be civil to me when you feel rude,—nor loquacious when you incline to silence,—nor yielding in the manners when you are perverse in the mind. See how out of the world I am! Suffer me to profit by it in almost the only profitable circumstance, and let us rest from the bowing and the courtesying, you and I, on each side. You will find me an honest man on the whole, if rather hasty and prejudging, which is a different thing from prejudice at the worst. And we have great sympathies in common, and I am inclined to look up to you in many things, and to learn as much of everything as you will teach me. On the other hand you must prepare yourself to forbear and to forgive—will you? While I throw off the ceremony, I hold the faster to the kindness.

Is it true, as you say, that I 'know so "little"' of you? And is it true, as others say, that the productions of an artist do not partake of his real nature, ... that in the minor sense, man is not made in the image of God? It is not true, to my mind—and therefore it is not true that I know little of you, except in as far as it is true (which I believe) that your greatest works are to come. Need I assure you that I shall always hear with the deepest interest every word you will say to me of what you are doing or about to do? I hear of the 'old room' and the '"Bells" lying about,' with an interest which you may guess at, perhaps. And when you tell me besides, of my poems being there, and of your caring for them so much beyond the tide-mark of my hopes, the pleasure rounds itself into a charm, and prevents its own expression. Overjoyed I am with this cordial sympathy—but it is better, I feel, to try to justify it by future work than to thank you for it now. I think—if I may dare to name myself with you in the poetic relation—that we both have high views of the Art we follow, and stedfast purpose in the pursuit of it, and that we should not, either of us, be likely to be thrown from the course, by the casting of any Atalanta-ball of speedy popularity. But I do not know, I cannot guess, whether you are liable to be pained deeply by hard criticism and cold neglect, such as original writers like yourself are too often exposed to—or whether the love of Art is enough for you, and the exercise of Art the filling joy of your life. Not that praise must not always, of necessity, be delightful to the artist, but that it may be redundant to his content. Do you think so? or not? It appears to me that poets who, like Keats, are highly susceptible to criticism, must be jealous, in their own persons, of the future honour of their works. Because, if a work is worthy, honour must follow it, though the worker should not live to see that following overtaking. Now, is it not enough that the work be honoured—enough I mean, for the worker? And is it not enough to keep down a poet's ordinary wearing anxieties, to think, that if his work be worthy it will have honour, and, if not, that 'Sparta must have nobler sons than he'? I am writing nothing applicable, I see, to anything in question, but when one falls into a favourite train of thought, one indulges oneself in thinking on. I began in thinking and wondering what sort of artistic constitution you had, being determined, as you may observe (with a sarcastic smile at the impertinence), to set about knowing as much as possible of you immediately. Then you spoke of your 'gentle audience' (you began), and I, who know that you have not one but many enthusiastic admirers—the 'fit and few' in the intense meaning—yet not the diffused fame which will come to you presently, wrote on, down the margin of the subject, till I parted from it altogether. But, after all, we are on the proper matter of sympathy. And after all, and after all that has been said and mused upon the 'natural ills,' the anxiety, and wearing out experienced by the true artist,—is not the good immeasurably greater than the evil? Is it not great good, and great joy? For my part, I wonder sometimes—I surprise myself wondering—how without such an object and purpose of life, people find it worth while to live at all. And, for happiness—why, my only idea of happiness, as far as my personal enjoyment is concerned, (but I have been straightened in some respects and in comparison with the majority of livers!) lies deep in poetry and its associations. And then, the escape from pangs of heart and bodily weakness—when you throw off yourself—what you feel to be yourself—into another atmosphere and into other relations where your life may spread its wings out new, and gather on every separate plume a brightness from the sun of the sun! Is it possible that imaginative writers should be so fond of depreciating and lamenting over their own destiny? Possible, certainly—but reasonable, not at all—and grateful, less than anything!

My faults, my faults—Shall I help you? Ah—you see them too well, I fear. And do you know that I also have something of your feeling about 'being about to begin,' or I should dare to praise you for having it. But in you, it is different—it is, in you, a virtue. When Prometheus had recounted a long list of sorrows to be endured by Io, and declared at last that he was [Greek: medepo en prooimiois],[1] poor Io burst out crying. And when the author of 'Paracelsus' and the 'Bells and Pomegranates' says that he is only 'going to begin' we may well (to take 'the opposite idea,' as you write) rejoice and clap our hands. Yet I believe that, whatever you may have done, you will do what is greater. It is my faith for you.

And how I should like to know what poets have been your sponsors, 'to promise and vow' for you,—and whether you have held true to early tastes, or leapt violently from them, and what books you read, and what hours you write in. How curious I could prove myself!—(if it isn't proved already).

But this is too much indeed, past all bearing, I suspect. Well, but if I ever write to you again—I mean, if you wish it—it may be in the other extreme of shortness. So do not take me for a born heroine of Richardson, or think that I sin always to this length, else,—you might indeed repent your quotation from Juliet—which I guessed at once—and of course—

I have no joy in this contract to-day! It is too unadvised, too rash and sudden.

Ever faithfully yours,

ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.

[Footnote 1: 'Not yet reached the prelude' (Aesch. Prom. 741).]



R.B. to E.B.B.

Hatcham, Tuesday. [Post-mark, February 11, 1845.]

Dear Miss Barrett,—People would hardly ever tell falsehoods about a matter, if they had been let tell truth in the beginning, for it is hard to prophane one's very self, and nobody who has, for instance, used certain words and ways to a mother or a father could, even if by the devil's help he would, reproduce or mimic them with any effect to anybody else that was to be won over—and so, if 'I love you' were always outspoken when it might be, there would, I suppose, be no fear of its desecration at any after time. But lo! only last night, I had to write, on the part of Mr. Carlyle, to a certain ungainly, foolish gentleman who keeps back from him, with all the fussy impotence of stupidity (not bad feeling, alas! for that we could deal with) a certain MS. letter of Cromwell's which completes the collection now going to press; and this long-ears had to be 'dear Sir'd and obedient servanted' till I said (to use a mild word) 'commend me to the sincerities of this kind of thing.'! When I spoke of you knowing little of me, one of the senses in which I meant so was this—that I would not well vowel-point my common-place letters and syllables with a masoretic other sound and sense, make my 'dear' something intenser than 'dears' in ordinary, and 'yours ever' a thought more significant than the run of its like. And all this came of your talking of 'tiring me,' 'being too envious,' &c. &c., which I should never have heard of had the plain truth looked out of my letter with its unmistakable eyes. Now, what you say of the 'bowing,' and convention that is to be, and tant de facons that are not to be, helps me once and for ever—for have I not a right to say simply that, for reasons I know, for other reasons I don't exactly know, but might if I chose to think a little, and for still other reasons, which, most likely, all the choosing and thinking in the world would not make me know, I had rather hear from you than see anybody else. Never you care, dear noble Carlyle, nor you, my own friend Alfred over the sea, nor a troop of true lovers!—Are not their fates written? there! Don't you answer this, please, but, mind it is on record, and now then, with a lighter conscience I shall begin replying to your questions. But then—what I have printed gives no knowledge of me—it evidences abilities of various kinds, if you will—and a dramatic sympathy with certain modifications of passion ... that I think—But I never have begun, even, what I hope I was born to begin and end—'R.B. a poem'—and next, if I speak (and, God knows, feel), as if what you have read were sadly imperfect demonstrations of even mere ability, it is from no absurd vanity, though it might seem so—these scenes and song-scraps are such mere and very escapes of my inner power, which lives in me like the light in those crazy Mediterranean phares I have watched at sea, wherein the light is ever revolving in a dark gallery, bright and alive, and only after a weary interval leaps out, for a moment, from the one narrow chink, and then goes on with the blind wall between it and you; and, no doubt, then, precisely, does the poor drudge that carries the cresset set himself most busily to trim the wick—for don't think I want to say I have not worked hard—(this head of mine knows better)—but the work has been inside, and not when at stated times I held up my light to you—and, that there is no self-delusion here, I would prove to you (and nobody else), even by opening this desk I write on, and showing what stuff, in the way of wood, I could make a great bonfire with, if I might only knock the whole clumsy top off my tower! Of course, every writing body says the same, so I gain nothing by the avowal; but when I remember how I have done what was published, and half done what may never be, I say with some right, you can know but little of me. Still, I hope sometimes, though phrenologists will have it that I cannot, and am doing better with this darling 'Luria'—so safe in my head, and a tiny slip of paper I cover with my thumb!

Then you inquire about my 'sensitiveness to criticism,' and I shall be glad to tell you exactly, because I have, more than once, taken a course you might else not understand. I shall live always—that is for me—I am living here this 1845, that is for London. I write from a thorough conviction that it is the duty of me, and with the belief that, after every drawback and shortcoming, I do my best, all things considered—that is for me, and, so being, the not being listened to by one human creature would, I hope, in nowise affect me. But of course I must, if for merely scientific purposes, know all about this 1845, its ways and doings, and something I do know, as that for a dozen cabbages, if I pleased to grow them in the garden here, I might demand, say, a dozen pence at Covent Garden Market,—and that for a dozen scenes, of the average goodness, I may challenge as many plaudits at the theatre close by; and a dozen pages of verse, brought to the Rialto where verse-merchants most do congregate, ought to bring me a fair proportion of the Reviewers' gold currency, seeing the other traders pouch their winnings, as I do see. Well, when they won't pay me for my cabbages, nor praise me for my poems, I may, if I please, say 'more's the shame,' and bid both parties 'decamp to the crows,' in Greek phrase, and yet go very lighthearted back to a garden-full of rose-trees, and a soul-full of comforts. If they had bought my greens I should have been able to buy the last number of Punch, and go through the toll-gate of Waterloo Bridge, and give the blind clarionet-player a trifle, and all without changing my gold. If they had taken to my books, my father and mother would have been proud of this and the other 'favourable critique,' and—at least so folks hold—I should have to pay Mr. Moxon less by a few pounds, whereas—but you see! Indeed I force myself to say ever and anon, in the interest of the market-gardeners regular, and Keatses proper, 'It's nothing to you, critics, hucksters, all of you, if I have this garden and this conscience—I might go die at Rome, or take to gin and the newspaper, for what you would care!' So I don't quite lay open my resources to everybody. But it does so happen, that I have met with much more than I could have expected in this matter of kindly and prompt recognition. I never wanted a real set of good hearty praisers—and no bad reviewers—I am quite content with my share. No—what I laughed at in my 'gentle audience' is a sad trick the real admirers have of admiring at the wrong place—enough to make an apostle swear. That does make me savage—never the other kind of people; why, think now—take your own 'Drama of Exile' and let me send it to the first twenty men and women that shall knock at your door to-day and after—of whom the first five are the Postman, the seller of cheap sealing-wax, Mr. Hawkins Junr, the Butcher for orders, and the Tax-gatherer—will you let me, by Cornelius Agrippa's assistance, force these five and these fellows to read, and report on, this 'Drama'—and, when I have put these faithful reports into fair English, do you believe they would be better than, if as good, as, the general run of Periodical criticisms? Not they, I will venture to affirm. But then—once again, I get these people together and give them your book, and persuade them, moreover, that by praising it, the Postman will be helping its author to divide Long Acre into two beats, one of which she will take with half the salary and all the red collar,—that a sealing-wax vendor will see red wafers brought into vogue, and so on with the rest—and won't you just wish for your Spectators and Observers and Newcastle-upon-Tyne—Hebdomadal Mercuries back again! You see the inference—I do sincerely esteem it a perfectly providential and miraculous thing that they are so well-behaved in ordinary, these critics; and for Keats and Tennyson to 'go softly all their days' for a gruff word or two is quite inexplicable to me, and always has been. Tennyson reads the Quarterly and does as they bid him, with the most solemn face in the world—out goes this, in goes that, all is changed and ranged. Oh me!

Out comes the sun, in comes the Times and eleven strikes (it does) already, and I have to go to Town, and I have no alternative but that this story of the Critic and Poet, 'the Bear and the Fiddle,' should 'begin but break off in the middle'; yet I doubt—nor will you henceforth, I know, say, 'I vex you, I am sure, by this lengthy writing.' Mind that spring is coming, for all this snow; and know me for yours ever faithfully,

R. BROWNING.

I don't dare—yet I will—ask can you read this? Because I could write a little better, but not so fast. Do you keep writing just as you do now!



E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Wimpole Street, February 17, 1845.

Dear Mr. Browning,—To begin with the end (which is only characteristic of the perverse like myself), I assure you I read your handwriting as currently as I could read the clearest type from font. If I had practised the art of reading your letters all my life, I couldn't do it better. And then I approve of small MS. upon principle. Think of what an immense quantity of physical energy must go to the making of those immense sweeping handwritings achieved by some persons ... Mr. Landor, for instance, who writes as if he had the sky for a copybook and dotted his i's in proportion. People who do such things should wear gauntlets; yes, and have none to wear; or they wouldn't waste their time so. People who write—by profession—shall I say?—never should do it, or what will become of them when most of their strength retires into their head and heart, (as is the case with some of us and may be the case with all) and when they have to write a poem twelve times over, as Mr. Kenyon says I should do if I were virtuous? Not that I do it. Does anybody do it, I wonder? Do you, ever? From what you tell me of the trimming of the light, I imagine not. And besides, one may be laborious as a writer, without copying twelve times over. I believe there are people who will tell you in a moment what three times six is, without 'doing it' on their fingers; and in the same way one may work one's verses in one's head quite as laboriously as on paper—I maintain it. I consider myself a very patient, laborious writer—though dear Mr. Kenyon laughs me to scorn when I say so. And just see how it could be otherwise. If I were netting a purse I might be thinking of something else and drop my stitches; or even if I were writing verses to please a popular taste, I might be careless in it. But the pursuit of an Ideal acknowledged by the mind, will draw and concentrate the powers of the mind—and Art, you know, is a jealous god and demands the whole man—or woman. I cannot conceive of a sincere artist who is also a careless one—though one may have a quicker hand than another, in general,—and though all are liable to vicissitudes in the degree of facility—and to entanglements in the machinery, notwithstanding every degree of facility. You may write twenty lines one day—or even three like Euripides in three days—and a hundred lines in one more day—and yet on the hundred, may have been expended as much good work, as on the twenty and the three. And also, as you say, the lamp is trimmed behind the wall—and the act of utterance is the evidence of foregone study still more than it is the occasion to study. The deep interest with which I read all that you had the kindness to write to me of yourself, you must trust me for, as I find it hard to express it. It is sympathy in one way, and interest every way! And now, see! Although you proved to me with admirable logic that, for reasons which you know and reasons which you don't know, I couldn't possibly know anything about you; though that is all true—and proven (which is better than true)—I really did understand of you before I was told, exactly what you told me. Yes, I did indeed. I felt sure that as a poet you fronted the future—and that your chief works, in your own apprehension, were to come. Oh—I take no credit of sagacity for it; as I did not long ago to my sisters and brothers, when I professed to have knowledge of all their friends whom I never saw in my life, by the image coming with the name; and threw them into shouts of laughter by giving out all the blue eyes and black eyes and hazel eyes and noses Roman and Gothic ticketed aright for the Mr. Smiths and Miss Hawkinses,—and hit the bull's eye and the true features of the case, ten times out of twelve! But you are different. You are to be made out by the comparative anatomy system. You have thrown out fragments of os ... sublime ... indicative of soul-mammothism—and you live to develop your nature,—if you live. That is easy and plain. You have taken a great range—from those high faint notes of the mystics which are beyond personality ... to dramatic impersonations, gruff with nature, 'gr-r-r- you swine'; and when these are thrown into harmony, as in a manner they are in 'Pippa Passes' (which I could find in my heart to covet the authorship of, more than any of your works—), the combinations of effect must always be striking and noble—and you must feel yourself drawn on to such combinations more and more. But I do not, you say, know yourself—you. I only know abilities and faculties. Well, then, teach me yourself—you. I will not insist on the knowledge—and, in fact, you have not written the R.B. poem yet—your rays fall obliquely rather than directly straight. I see you only in your moon. Do tell me all of yourself that you can and will ... before the R.B. poem comes out. And what is 'Luria'? A poem and not a drama? I mean, a poem not in the dramatic form? Well! I have wondered at you sometimes, not for daring, but for bearing to trust your noble works into the great mill of the 'rank, popular' playhouse, to be ground to pieces between the teeth of vulgar actors and actresses. I, for one, would as soon have 'my soul among lions.' 'There is a fascination in it,' says Miss Mitford, and I am sure there must be, to account for it. Publics in the mass are bad enough; but to distil the dregs of the public and baptise oneself in that acrid moisture, where can be the temptation? I could swear by Shakespeare, as was once sworn 'by those dead at Marathon,' that I do not see where. I love the drama too. I look to our old dramatists as to our Kings and princes in poetry. I love them through all the deeps of their abominations. But the theatre in those days was a better medium between the people and the poet; and the press in those days was a less sufficient medium than now. Still, the poet suffered by the theatre even then; and the reasons are very obvious.

How true—how true ... is all you say about critics. My convictions follow you in every word. And I delighted to read your views of the poet's right aspect towards criticism—I read them with the most complete appreciation and sympathy. I have sometimes thought that it would be a curious and instructive process, as illustrative of the wisdom and apprehensiveness of critics, if anyone would collect the critical soliloquies of every age touching its own literature, (as far as such may be extant) and confer them with the literary product of the said ages. Professor Wilson has begun something of the kind apparently, in his initiatory paper of the last Blackwood number on critics, beginning with Dryden—but he seems to have no design in his notice—it is a mere critique on the critic. And then, he should have begun earlier than Dryden—earlier even than Sir Philip Sydney, who in the noble 'Discourse on Poetry,' gives such singular evidence of being stone-critic-blind to the gods who moved around him. As far as I can remember, he saw even Shakespeare but indifferently. Oh, it was in his eyes quite an unillumed age, that period of Elizabeth which we see full of suns! and few can see what is close to the eyes though they run their heads against it; the denial of contemporary genius is the rule rather than the exception. No one counts the eagles in the nest, till there is a rush of wings; and lo! they are flown. And here we speak of understanding men, such as the Sydneys and the Drydens. Of the great body of critics you observe rightly, that they are better than might be expected of their badness, only the fact of their influence is no less undeniable than the reason why they should not be influential. The brazen kettles will be taken for oracles all the world over. But the influence is for to-day, for this hour—not for to-morrow and the day after—unless indeed, as you say, the poet do himself perpetuate the influence by submitting to it. Do you know Tennyson?—that is, with a face to face knowledge? I have great admiration for him. In execution, he is exquisite,—and, in music, a most subtle weigher out to the ear of fine airs. That such a poet should submit blindly to the suggestions of his critics, (I do not say that suggestions from without may not be accepted with discrimination sometimes, to the benefit of the acceptor), blindly and implicitly to the suggestions of his critics, is much as if Babbage were to take my opinion and undo his calculating machine by it. Napoleon called poetry science creuse—which, although he was not scientific in poetry himself, is true enough. But anybody is qualified, according to everybody, for giving opinions upon poetry. It is not so in chymistry and mathematics. Nor is it so, I believe, in whist and the polka. But then these are more serious things.

Yes—and it does delight me to hear of your garden full of roses and soul full of comforts! You have the right to both—you have the key to both. You have written enough to live by, though only beginning to write, as you say of yourself. And this reminds me to remind you that when I talked of coveting most the authorship of your 'Pippa,' I did not mean to call it your finest work (you might reproach me for that), but just to express a personal feeling. Do you know what it is to covet your neighbour's poetry?—not his fame, but his poetry?—I dare say not. You are too generous. And, in fact, beauty is beauty, and, whether it comes by our own hand or another's, blessed be the coming of it! I, besides, feel that. And yet—and yet, I have been aware of a feeling within me which has spoken two or three times to the effect of a wish, that I had been visited with the vision of 'Pippa,' before you—and confiteor tibi—I confess the baseness of it. The conception is, to my mind, most exquisite and altogether original—and the contrast in the working out of the plan, singularly expressive of various faculty.

Is the poem under your thumb, emerging from it? and in what metre? May I ask such questions?

And does Mr. Carlyle tell you that he has forbidden all 'singing' to this perverse and froward generation, which should work and not sing? And have you told Mr. Carlyle that song is work, and also the condition of work? I am a devout sitter at his feet—and it is an effort to me to think him wrong in anything—and once when he told me to write prose and not verse, I fancied that his opinion was I had mistaken my calling,—a fancy which in infinite kindness and gentleness he stooped immediately to correct. I never shall forget the grace of that kindness—but then! For him to have thought ill of me, would not have been strange—I often think ill of myself, as God knows. But for Carlyle to think of putting away, even for a season, the poetry of the world, was wonderful, and has left me ruffled in my thoughts ever since. I do not know him personally at all. But as his disciple I ventured (by an exceptional motive) to send him my poems, and I heard from him as a consequence. 'Dear and noble' he is indeed—and a poet unaware of himself; all but the sense of music. You feel it so—do you not? And the 'dear sir' has let him have the 'letter of Cromwell,' I hope; and satisfied 'the obedient servant.' The curious thing in this world is not the stupidity, but the upper-handism of the stupidity. The geese are in the Capitol, and the Romans in the farmyard—and it seems all quite natural that it should be so, both to geese and Romans!

But there are things you say, which seem to me supernatural, for reasons which I know and for reasons which I don't know. You will let me be grateful to you,—will you not? You must, if you will or not. And also—I would not wait for more leave—if I could but see your desk—as I do your death's heads and the spider-webs appertaining; but the soul of Cornelius Agrippa fades from me.

Ever faithfully yours,

ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.



R.B. to E.B.B.

Wednesday Morning—Spring! [Post-mark, February 26, 1845.]

Real warm Spring, dear Miss Barrett, and the birds know it; and in Spring I shall see you, surely see you—for when did I once fail to get whatever I had set my heart upon? As I ask myself sometimes, with a strange fear.

I took up this paper to write a great deal—now, I don't think I shall write much—'I shall see you,' I say!

That 'Luria' you enquire about, shall be my last play—for it is but a play, woe's me! I have one done here, 'A Soul's Tragedy,' as it is properly enough called, but that would not do to end with (end I will), and Luria is a Moor, of Othello's country, and devotes himself to something he thinks Florence, and the old fortune follows—all in my brain yet, but the bright weather helps and I will soon loosen my Braccio and Puccio (a pale discontented man), and Tiburzio (the Pisan, good true fellow, this one), and Domizia the Lady—loosen all these on dear foolish (ravishing must his folly be), golden-hearted Luria, all these with their worldly-wisdom and Tuscan shrewd ways; and, for me, the misfortune is, I sympathise just as much with these as with him,—so there can no good come of keeping this wild company any longer, and 'Luria' and the other sadder ruin of one Chiappino—these got rid of, I will do as you bid me, and—say first I have some Romances and Lyrics, all dramatic, to dispatch, and then, I shall stoop of a sudden under and out of this dancing ring of men and women hand in hand, and stand still awhile, should my eyes dazzle, and when that's over, they will be gone and you will be there, pas vrai? For, as I think I told you, I always shiver involuntarily when I look—no, glance—at this First Poem of mine to be. 'Now,' I call it, what, upon my soul,—for a solemn matter it is,—what is to be done now, believed now, so far as it has been revealed to me—solemn words, truly—and to find myself writing them to any one else! Enough now.

I know Tennyson 'face to face,'—no more than that. I know Carlyle and love him—know him so well, that I would have told you he had shaken that grand head of his at 'singing,' so thoroughly does he love and live by it. When I last saw him, a fortnight ago, he turned, from I don't know what other talk, quite abruptly on me with, 'Did you never try to write a Song? Of all things in the world, that I should be proudest to do.' Then came his definition of a song—then, with an appealing look to Mrs. C., 'I always say that some day in spite of nature and my stars, I shall burst into a song' (he is not mechanically 'musical,' he meant, and the music is the poetry, he holds, and should enwrap the thought as Donne says 'an amber-drop enwraps a bee'), and then he began to recite an old Scotch song, stopping at the first rude couplet, 'The beginning words are merely to set the tune, they tell me'—and then again at the couplet about—or, to the effect that—'give me' (but in broad Scotch) 'give me but my lass, I care not for my cogie.' 'He says,' quoth Carlyle magisterially, 'that if you allow him the love of his lass, you may take away all else, even his cogie, his cup or can, and he cares not,' just as a professor expounds Lycophron. And just before I left England, six months ago, did not I hear him croon, if not certainly sing, 'Charlie is my darling' ('my darling' with an adoring emphasis), and then he stood back, as it were, from the song, to look at it better, and said 'How must that notion of ideal wondrous perfection have impressed itself in this old Jacobite's "young Cavalier"—("They go to save their land, and the young Cavalier!!")—when I who care nothing about such a rag of a man, cannot but feel as he felt, in speaking his words after him!' After saying which, he would be sure to counsel everybody to get their heads clear of all singing! Don't let me forget to clap hands, we got the letter, dearly bought as it was by the 'Dear Sirs,' &c., and insignificant scrap as it proved, but still it is got, to my encouragement in diplomacy.

Who told you of my sculls and spider webs—Horne? Last year I petted extraordinarily a fine fellow, (a garden spider—there was the singularity,—the thin clever-even-for-a-spider-sort, and they are so 'spirited and sly,' all of them—this kind makes a long cone of web, with a square chamber of vantage at the end, and there he sits loosely and looks about), a great fellow that housed himself, with real gusto, in the jaws of a great scull, whence he watched me as I wrote, and I remember speaking to Horne about his good points. Phrenologists look gravely at that great scull, by the way, and hope, in their grim manner, that its owner made a good end. He looks quietly, now, out at the green little hill behind. I have no little insight to the feelings of furniture, and treat books and prints with a reasonable consideration. How some people use their pictures, for instance, is a mystery to me; very revolting all the same—portraits obliged to face each other for ever,—prints put together in portfolios. My Polidoro's perfect Andromeda along with 'Boors Carousing,' by Ostade,—where I found her,—my own father's doing, or I would say more.

And when I have said I like 'Pippa' better than anything else I have done yet, I shall have answered all you bade me. And now may I begin questioning? No,—for it is all a pure delight to me, so that you do but write. I never was without good, kind, generous friends and lovers, so they say—so they were and are,—perhaps they came at the wrong time—I never wanted them—though that makes no difference in my gratitude I trust,—but I know myself—surely—and always have done so, for is there not somewhere the little book I first printed when a boy, with John Mill, the metaphysical head, his marginal note that 'the writer possesses a deeper self-consciousness than I ever knew in a sane human being.' So I never deceived myself much, nor called my feelings for people other than they were. And who has a right to say, if I have not, that I had, but I said that, supernatural or no. Pray tell me, too, of your present doings and projects, and never write yourself 'grateful' to me, who am grateful, very grateful to you,—for none of your words but I take in earnest—and tell me if Spring be not coming, come, and I will take to writing the gravest of letters, because this beginning is for gladness' sake, like Carlyle's song couplet. My head aches a little to-day too, and, as poor dear Kirke White said to the moon, from his heap of mathematical papers,

'I throw aside the learned sheet; I cannot choose but gaze, she looks so—mildly sweet.'

Out on the foolish phrase, but there's hard rhyming without it.

Ever yours faithfully,

ROBERT BROWNING.



E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Wimpole Street: Feb. 27, 1845.

Yes, but, dear Mr. Browning, I want the spring according to the new 'style' (mine), and not the old one of you and the rest of the poets. To me unhappily, the snowdrop is much the same as the snow—it feels as cold underfoot—and I have grown sceptical about 'the voice of the turtle,' the east winds blow so loud. April is a Parthian with a dart, and May (at least the early part of it) a spy in the camp. That is my idea of what you call spring; mine, in the new style! A little later comes my spring; and indeed after such severe weather, from which I have just escaped with my life, I may thank it for coming at all. How happy you are, to be able to listen to the 'birds' without the commentary of the east wind, which, like other commentaries, spoils the music. And how happy I am to listen to you, when you write such kind open-hearted letters to me! I am delighted to hear all you say to me of yourself, and 'Luria,' and the spider, and to do him no dishonour in the association, of the great teacher of the age, Carlyle, who is also yours and mine. He fills the office of a poet—does he not?—by analysing humanity back into its elements, to the destruction of the conventions of the hour. That is—strictly speaking—the office of the poet, is it not?—and he discharges it fully, and with a wider intelligibility perhaps as far as the contemporary period is concerned, than if he did forthwith 'burst into a song.'

But how I do wander!—I meant to say, and I will call myself back to say, that spring will really come some day I hope and believe, and the warm settled weather with it, and that then I shall be probably fitter for certain pleasures than I can appear even to myself now.

And, in the meantime, I seem to see 'Luria' instead of you; I have visions and dream dreams. And the 'Soul's Tragedy,' which sounds to me like the step of a ghost of an old Drama! and you are not to think that I blaspheme the Drama, dear Mr. Browning; or that I ever thought of exhorting you to give up the 'solemn robes' and tread of the buskin. It is the theatre which vulgarises these things; the modern theatre in which we see no altar! where the thymele is replaced by the caprice of a popular actor. And also, I have a fancy that your great dramatic power would work more clearly and audibly in the less definite mould—but you ride your own faculty as Oceanus did his sea-horse, 'directing it by your will'; and woe to the impertinence, which would dare to say 'turn this way' or 'turn from that way'—it should not be my impertinence. Do not think I blaspheme the Drama. I have gone through 'all such reading as should never be read' (that is, by women!), through my love of it on the contrary. And the dramatic faculty is strong in you—and therefore, as 'I speak unto a wise man, judge what I say.'

For myself and my own doings, you shall hear directly what I have been doing, and what I am about to do. Some years ago, as perhaps you may have heard, (but I hope not, for the fewer who hear of it the better)—some years ago, I translated or rather undid into English, the 'Prometheus' of AEschylus. To speak of this production moderately (not modestly), it is the most miserable of all miserable versions of the class. It was completed (in the first place) in thirteen days—the iambics thrown into blank verse, the lyrics into rhymed octosyllabics and the like,—and the whole together as cold as Caucasus, and as flat as the nearest plain. To account for this, the haste may be something; but if my mind had been properly awakened at the time, I might have made still more haste and done it better. Well,—the comfort is, that the little book was unadvertised and unknown, and that most of the copies (through my entreaty of my father) are shut up in the wardrobe of his bedroom. If ever I get well I shall show my joy by making a bonfire of them. In the meantime, the recollection of this sin of mine has been my nightmare and daymare too, and the sin has been the 'Blot on my escutcheon.' I could look in nobody's face, with a 'Thou canst not say I did it'—I know, I did it. And so I resolved to wash away the transgression, and translate the tragedy over again. It was an honest straightforward proof of repentance—was it not? and I have completed it, except the transcription and last polishing. If AEschylus stands at the foot of my bed now, I shall have a little breath to front him. I have done my duty by him, not indeed according to his claims, but in proportion to my faculty. Whether I shall ever publish or not (remember) remains to be considered—that is a different side of the subject. If I do, it may be in a magazine—or—but this is another ground. And then, I have in my head to associate with the version, a monodrama of my own,—not a long poem, but a monologue of AEschylus as he sate a blind exile on the flats of Sicily and recounted the past to his own soul, just before the eagle cracked his great massy skull with a stone.

But my chief intention just now is the writing of a sort of novel-poem—a poem as completely modern as 'Geraldine's Courtship,' running into the midst of our conventions, and rushing into drawing-rooms and the like, 'where angels fear to tread'; and so, meeting face to face and without mask the Humanity of the age, and speaking the truth as I conceive of it out plainly. That is my intention. It is not mature enough yet to be called a plan. I am waiting for a story, and I won't take one, because I want to make one, and I like to make my own stories, because then I can take liberties with them in the treatment.

Who told me of your skulls and spiders? Why, couldn't I know it without being told? Did Cornelius Agrippa know nothing without being told? Mr. Horne never spoke it to my ears—(I never saw him face to face in my life, although we have corresponded for long and long), and he never wrote it to my eyes. Perhaps he does not know that I know it. Well, then! if I were to say that I heard it from you yourself, how would you answer? And it was so. Why, are you not aware that these are the days of mesmerism and clairvoyance? Are you an infidel? I have believed in your skulls for the last year, for my part.

And I have some sympathy in your habit of feeling for chairs and tables. I remember, when I was a child and wrote poems in little clasped books, I used to kiss the books and put them away tenderly because I had been happy near them, and take them out by turns when I was going from home, to cheer them by the change of air and the pleasure of the new place. This, not for the sake of the verses written in them, and not for the sake of writing more verses in them, but from pure gratitude. Other books I used to treat in a like manner—and to talk to the trees and the flowers, was a natural inclination—but between me and that time, the cypresses grow thick and dark.

Is it true that your wishes fulfil themselves? And when they do, are they not bitter to your taste—do you not wish them unfulfilled? Oh, this life, this life! There is comfort in it, they say, and I almost believe—but the brightest place in the house, is the leaning out of the window—at least, for me.

Of course you are self-conscious—How could you be a poet otherwise? Tell me.

Ever faithfully yours,

E.B.B.

And was the little book written with Mr. Mill, pure metaphysics, or what?



R.B. to E.B.B.

Saturday Night, March 1 [1845].

Dear Miss Barrett,—I seem to find of a sudden—surely I knew before—anyhow, I do find now, that with the octaves on octaves of quite new golden strings you enlarged the compass of my life's harp with, there is added, too, such a tragic chord, that which you touched, so gently, in the beginning of your letter I got this morning, 'just escaping' &c. But if my truest heart's wishes avail, as they have hitherto done, you shall laugh at East winds yet, as I do! See now, this sad feeling is so strange to me, that I must write it out, must, and you might give me great, the greatest pleasure for years and yet find me as passive as a stone used to wine libations, and as ready in expressing my sense of them, but when I am pained, I find the old theory of the uselessness of communicating the circumstances of it, singularly untenable. I have been 'spoiled' in this world—to such an extent, indeed, that I often reason out—make clear to myself—that I might very properly, so far as myself am concerned, take any step that would peril the whole of my future happiness—because the past is gained, secure, and on record; and, though not another of the old days should dawn on me, I shall not have lost my life, no! Out of all which you are—please—to make a sort of sense, if you can, so as to express that I have been deeply struck to find a new real unmistakable sorrow along with these as real but not so new joys you have given me. How strangely this connects itself in my mind with another subject in your note! I looked at that translation for a minute, not longer, years ago, knowing nothing about it or you, and I only looked to see what rendering a passage had received that was often in my thoughts.[1] I forget your version (it was not yours, my 'yours' then; I mean I had no extraordinary interest about it), but the original makes Prometheus (telling over his bestowments towards human happiness) say, as something [Greek: peraitero tonde], that he stopped mortals [Greek: me proderkesthai moron—to poion euron], asks the Chorus, [Greek: tesde pharmakon nosou]? Whereto he replies, [Greek: tuphlas en autois elpidas katokisa] (what you hear men dissertate upon by the hour, as proving the immortality of the soul apart from revelation, undying yearnings, restless longings, instinctive desires which, unless to be eventually indulged, it were cruel to plant in us, &c. &c.). But, [Greek: meg' ophelema tout' edoreso brotois]! concludes the chorus, like a sigh from the admitted Eleusinian AEschylus was! You cannot think how this foolish circumstance struck me this evening, so I thought I would e'en tell you at once and be done with it. Are you not my dear friend already, and shall I not use you? And pray you not to 'lean out of the window' when my own foot is only on the stair; do wait a little for

Yours ever,

R.B.

[Footnote 1: The following is the version of the passage in Mrs. Browning's later translation of the 'Prometheus' (II. 247-251 of the original):

Prom. I did restrain besides My mortals from premeditating death.

Cho. How didst thou medicine the plague-fear of death?

Prom. I set blind hopes to inhabit in their house.

Cho. By that gift thou didst help thy mortals well.]



E.B.B. to R.B.

March 5, 1845.

But I did not mean to strike a 'tragic chord'; indeed I did not! Sometimes one's melancholy will be uppermost and sometimes one's mirth,—the world goes round, you know—and I suppose that in that letter of mine the melancholy took the turn. As to 'escaping with my life,' it was just a phrase—at least it did not signify more than that the sense of mortality, and discomfort of it, is peculiarly strong with me when east winds are blowing and waters freezing. For the rest, I am essentially better, and have been for several winters; and I feel as if it were intended for me to live and not die, and I am reconciled to the feeling. Yes! I am satisfied to 'take up' with the blind hopes again, and have them in the house with me, for all that I sit by the window. By the way, did the chorus utter scorn in the [Greek: meg' ophelema]. I think not. It is well to fly towards the light, even where there may be some fluttering and bruising of wings against the windowpanes, is it not?

There is an obscurer passage, on which I covet your thoughts, where Prometheus, after the sublime declaration that, with a full knowledge of the penalty reserved for him, he had sinned of free will and choice—goes on to say—or to seem to say—that he had not, however, foreseen the extent and detail of the torment, the skiey rocks, and the friendless desolation. See v. 275. The intention of the poet might have been to magnify to his audience the torment of the martyrdom—but the heroism of the martyr diminishes in proportion—and there appears to be a contradiction, and oversight. Or is my view wrong? Tell me. And tell me too, if AEschylus not the divinest of all the divine Greek souls? People say after Quintilian, that he is savage and rude; a sort of poetic Orson, with his locks all wild. But I will not hear it of my master! He is strong as Zeus is—and not as a boxer—and tender as Power itself, which always is tenderest.

But to go back to the view of Life with the blind Hopes; you are not to think—whatever I may have written or implied—that I lean either to the philosophy or affectation which beholds the world through darkness instead of light, and speaks of it wailingly. Now, may God forbid that it should be so with me. I am not desponding by nature, and after a course of bitter mental discipline and long bodily seclusion, I come out with two learnt lessons (as I sometimes say and oftener feel),—the wisdom of cheerfulness—and the duty of social intercourse. Anguish has instructed me in joy, and solitude in society; it has been a wholesome and not unnatural reaction. And altogether, I may say that the earth looks the brighter to me in proportion to my own deprivations. The laburnum trees and rose trees are plucked up by the roots—but the sunshine is in their places, and the root of the sunshine is above the storms. What we call Life is a condition of the soul, and the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault. These tears in our eyes, these faintings of the flesh, will not hinder such improvement.

And I do like to hear testimonies like yours, to happiness, and I feel it to be a testimony of a higher sort than the obvious one. Still, it is obvious too that you have been spared, up to this time, the great natural afflictions, against which we are nearly all called, sooner or later, to struggle and wrestle—or your step would not be 'on the stair' quite so lightly. And so, we turn to you, dear Mr. Browning, for comfort and gentle spiriting! Remember that as you owe your unscathed joy to God, you should pay it back to His world. And I thank you for some of it already.

Also, writing as from friend to friend—as you say rightly that we are—I ought to confess that of one class of griefs (which has been called too the bitterest), I know as little as you. The cruelty of the world, and the treason of it—the unworthiness of the dearest; of these griefs I have scanty knowledge. It seems to me from my personal experience that there is kindness everywhere in different proportions, and more goodness and tenderheartedness than we read of in the moralists. People have been kind to me, even without understanding me, and pitiful to me, without approving of me:—nay, have not the very critics tamed their beardom for me, and roared delicately as sucking doves, on behalf of me? I have no harm to say of your world, though I am not of it, as you see. And I have the cream of it in your friendship, and a little more, and I do not envy much the milkers of the cows.

How kind you are!—how kindly and gently you speak to me! Some things you say are very touching, and some, surprising; and although I am aware that you unconsciously exaggerate what I can be to you, yet it is delightful to be broad awake and think of you as my friend.

May God bless you!

Faithfully yours,

ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.



R.B. to E.B.B.

Tuesday Morning. [Post-mark, March 12, 1845.]

Your letter made me so happy, dear Miss Barrett, that I have kept quiet this while; is it too great a shame if I begin to want more good news of you, and to say so? Because there has been a bitter wind ever since. Will you grant me a great favour? Always when you write, though about your own works, not Greek plays merely, put me in, always, a little official bulletin-line that shall say 'I am better' or 'still better,' will you? That is done, then—and now, what do I wish to tell you first? The poem you propose to make, for the times; the fearless fresh living work you describe, is the only Poem to be undertaken now by you or anyone that is a Poet at all; the only reality, only effective piece of service to be rendered God and man; it is what I have been all my life intending to do, and now shall be much, much nearer doing, since you will along with me. And you can do it, I know and am sure—so sure, that I could find in my heart to be jealous of your stopping in the way even to translate the Prometheus; though the accompanying monologue will make amends too. Or shall I set you a task I meant for myself once upon a time?—which, oh, how you would fulfil! Restore the Prometheus [Greek: purphoros] as Shelley did the [Greek: Lyomenos]; when I say 'restore,' I know, or very much fear, that the [Greek: purphoros] was the same with the [Greek: purkaeus] which, by a fragment, we sorrowfully ascertain to have been a Satyric Drama; but surely the capabilities of the subject are much greater than in this, we now wonder at; nay, they include all those of this last—for just see how magnificently the story unrolls itself. The beginning of Jupiter's dynasty, the calm in Heaven after the storm, the ascending—(stop, I will get the book and give the words), [Greek: opos tachista ton patroon eis thronon kathezet', euthus daimosin nemei gera alloisin alla—k.t.l.],[1] all the while Prometheus being the first among the first in honour, as [Greek: kaitoi theoisi tois neois toutois gera tis allos, e 'go, pantelos diorise]?[2] then the one black hand-cloudlet storming the joyous blue and gold everywhere, [Greek: broton de ton talaiporon logon ouk eschen oudena],[3] and the design of Zeus to blot out the whole race, and plant a new one. And Prometheus with his grand solitary [Greek: ego d' etolmesa],[4] and his saving them, as the first good, from annihilation. Then comes the darkening brow of Zeus, and estrangement from the benign circle of grateful gods, and the dissuasion of old confederates, and all the Right that one may fancy in Might, the strongest reasons [Greek: pauesthai tropou philanthropou][5] coming from the own mind of the Titan, if you will, and all the while he shall be proceeding steadily in the alleviation of the sufferings of mortals whom, [Greek: nepious ontas to prin, ennous kai phrenon epebolous etheke],[6] while still, in proportion, shall the doom he is about to draw on himself, manifest itself more and more distinctly, till at the last, he shall achieve the salvation of man, body (by the gift of fire) and soul (by even those [Greek: tuphlai elpides],[7] hopes of immortality), and so having rendered him utterly, according to the mythos here, independent of Jove—for observe, Prometheus in the play never talks of helping mortals more, of fearing for them more, of even benefiting them more by his sufferings. The rest is between Jove and himself; he will reveal the master-secret to Jove when he shall have released him, &c. There is no stipulation that the gifts to mortals shall be continued; indeed, by the fact that it is Prometheus who hangs on Caucasus while 'the ephemerals possess fire,' one sees that somehow mysteriously they are past Jove's harming now. Well, this wholly achieved, the price is as wholly accepted, and off into the darkness passes in calm triumphant grandeur the Titan, with Strength and Violence, and Vulcan's silent and downcast eyes, and then the gold clouds and renewed flushings of felicity shut up the scene again, with Might in his old throne again, yet with a new element of mistrust, and conscious shame, and fear, that writes significantly enough above all the glory and rejoicing that all is not as it was, nor will ever be. Such might be the framework of your Drama, just what cannot help striking one at first glance, and would not such a Drama go well before your translation? Do think of this and tell me—it nearly writes itself. You see, I meant the [Greek: meg' ophelema][8] to be a deep great truth; if there were no life beyond this, I think the hope in one would be an incalculable blessing for this life, which is melancholy for one like AEschylus to feel, if he could only hope, because the argument as to the ulterior good of those hopes is cut clean away, and what had he left?

I do not find it take away from my feeling of the magnanimity of Prometheus that he should, in truth, complain (as he does from beginning to end) of what he finds himself suffering. He could have prevented all, and can stop it now—of that he never thinks for a moment. That was the old Greek way—they never let an antagonistic passion neutralise the other which was to influence the man to his praise or blame. A Greek hero fears exceedingly and battles it out, cries out when he is wounded and fights on, does not say his love or hate makes him see no danger or feel no pain. AEschylus from first word to last ([Greek: idesthe me, oia pascho][9] to [Greek: esoras me, hos ekdika pascho][10]) insists on the unmitigated reality of the punishment which only the sun, and divine ether, and the godhead of his mother can comprehend; still, still that is only what I suppose AEschylus to have done—in your poem you shall make Prometheus our way.

And now enough of Greek, which I am fast forgetting (for I never look at books I loved once)—it was your mention of the translation that brought out the old fast fading outlines of the Poem in my brain—the Greek poem, that is. You think—for I must get to you—that I 'unconsciously exaggerate what you are to me.' Now, you don't know what that is, nor can I very well tell you, because the language with which I talk to myself of these matters is spiritual Attic, and 'loves contractions,' as grammarians say; but I read it myself, and well know what it means, that's why I told you I was self-conscious—I meant that I never yet mistook my own feelings, one for another—there! Of what use is talking? Only do you stay here with me in the 'House' these few short years. Do you think I shall see you in two months, three months? I may travel, perhaps. So you have got to like society, and would enjoy it, you think? For me, I always hated it—have put up with it these six or seven years past, lest by foregoing it I should let some unknown good escape me, in the true time of it, and only discover my fault when too late; and now that I have done most of what is to be done, any lodge in a garden of cucumbers for me! I don't even care about reading now—the world, and pictures of it, rather than writings about the world! But you must read books in order to get words and forms for 'the public' if you write, and that you needs must do, if you fear God. I have no pleasure in writing myself—none, in the mere act—though all pleasure in the sense of fulfilling a duty, whence, if I have done my real best, judge how heart-breaking a matter must it be to be pronounced a poor creature by critic this and acquaintance the other! But I think you like the operation of writing as I should like that of painting or making music, do you not? After all, there is a great delight in the heart of the thing; and use and forethought have made me ready at all times to set to work—but—I don't know why—my heart sinks whenever I open this desk, and rises when I shut it. Yet but for what I have written you would never have heard of me—and through what you have written, not properly for it, I love and wish you well! Now, will you remember what I began my letter by saying—how you have promised to let me know if my wishing takes effect, and if you still continue better? And not even ... (since we are learned in magnanimity) don't even tell me that or anything else, if it teases you,—but wait your own good time, and know me for ... if these words were but my own, and fresh-minted for this moment's use!...

Yours ever faithfully,

R. BROWNING.

[Footnote 1: Aeschylus, Prometheus, 228ff.:

'When at first He filled his father's throne, he instantly Made various gifts of glory to the gods.']

[Footnote 2: Ib. 439, 440:

'For see—their honours to these new-made gods, What other gave but I?']

[Footnote 3: Ib. 231, 232:

'Alone of men, Of miserable men, he took no count.']

[Footnote 4: Ib. 235: 'But I dared it.']

[Footnote 5: Ib. 11: 'Leave off his old trick of loving man.']

[Footnote 6: Ib. 443, 444:

'Being fools before, I made them wise and true in aim of soul.']

[Footnote 7: Ib. 250: 'Blind hopes.']

[Footnote 8: Ib. 251: 'A great benefit.']

[Footnote 9: Ib. 92: 'Behold what I suffer.']

[Footnote 10: Ib. 1093: 'Dost see how I suffer this wrong?']



E.B.B. to R.B.

50 Wimpole Street: March 20, 1845.

Whenever I delay to write to you, dear Mr. Browning, it is not, be sure, that I take my 'own good time,' but submit to my own bad time. It was kind of you to wish to know how I was, and not unkind of me to suspend my answer to your question—for indeed I have not been very well, nor have had much heart for saying so. This implacable weather! this east wind that seems to blow through the sun and moon! who can be well in such a wind? Yet for me, I should not grumble. There has been nothing very bad the matter with me, as there used to be—I only grow weaker than usual, and learn my lesson of being mortal, in a corner—and then all this must end! April is coming. There will be both a May and a June if we live to see such things, and perhaps, after all, we may. And as to seeing you besides, I observe that you distrust me, and that perhaps you penetrate my morbidity and guess how when the moment comes to see a living human face to which I am not accustomed, I shrink and grow pale in the spirit. Do you? You are learned in human nature, and you know the consequences of leading such a secluded life as mine—notwithstanding all my fine philosophy about social duties and the like—well—if you have such knowledge or if you have it not, I cannot say, but I do say that I will indeed see you when the warm weather has revived me a little, and put the earth 'to rights' again so as to make pleasures of the sort possible. For if you think that I shall not like to see you, you are wrong, for all your learning. But I shall be afraid of you at first—though I am not, in writing thus. You are Paracelsus, and I am a recluse, with nerves that have been all broken on the rack, and now hang loosely—quivering at a step and breath.

And what you say of society draws me on to many comparative thoughts of your life and mine. You seem to have drunken of the cup of life full, with the sun shining on it. I have lived only inwardly; or with sorrow, for a strong emotion. Before this seclusion of my illness, I was secluded still, and there are few of the youngest women in the world who have not seen more, heard more, known more, of society, than I, who am scarcely to be called young now. I grew up in the country—had no social opportunities, had my heart in books and poetry, and my experience in reveries. My sympathies drooped towards the ground like an untrained honeysuckle—and but for one, in my own house—but of this I cannot speak. It was a lonely life, growing green like the grass around it. Books and dreams were what I lived in—and domestic life only seemed to buzz gently around, like the bees about the grass. And so time passed, and passed—and afterwards, when my illness came and I seemed to stand at the edge of the world with all done, and no prospect (as appeared at one time) of ever passing the threshold of one room again; why then, I turned to thinking with some bitterness (after the greatest sorrow of my life had given me room and time to breathe) that I had stood blind in this temple I was about to leave—that I had seen no Human nature, that my brothers and sisters of the earth were names to me, that I had beheld no great mountain or river, nothing in fact. I was as a man dying who had not read Shakespeare, and it was too late! do you understand? And do you also know what a disadvantage this ignorance is to my art? Why, if I live on and yet do not escape from this seclusion, do you not perceive that I labour under signal disadvantages—that I am, in a manner, as a blind poet? Certainly, there is a compensation to a degree. I have had much of the inner life, and from the habit of self-consciousness and self-analysis, I make great guesses at Human nature in the main. But how willingly I would as a poet exchange some of this lumbering, ponderous, helpless knowledge of books, for some experience of life and man, for some....

But all grumbling is a vile thing. We should all thank God for our measures of life, and think them enough for each of us. I write so, that you may not mistake what I wrote before in relation to society, although you do not see from my point of view; and that you may understand what I mean fully when I say, that I have lived all my chief joys, and indeed nearly all emotions that go warmly by that name and relate to myself personally, in poetry and in poetry alone. Like to write? Of course, of course I do. I seem to live while I write—it is life, for me. Why, what is to live? Not to eat and drink and breathe,—but to feel the life in you down all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully. And thus, one lives in composition surely—not always—but when the wheel goes round and the procession is uninterrupted. Is it not so with you? oh—it must be so. For the rest, there will be necessarily a reaction; and, in my own particular case, whenever I see a poem of mine in print, or even smoothly transcribed, the reaction is most painful. The pleasure, the sense of power, without which I could not write a line, is gone in a moment; and nothing remains but disappointment and humiliation. I never wrote a poem which you could not persuade me to tear to pieces if you took me at the right moment! I have a seasonable humility, I do assure you.

How delightful to talk about oneself; but as you 'tempted me and I did eat,' I entreat your longsuffering of my sin, and ah! if you would but sin back so in turn! You and I seem to meet in a mild contrarious harmony ... as in the 'si no, si no' of an Italian duet. I want to see more of men, and you have seen too much, you say. I am in ignorance, and you, in satiety. 'You don't even care about reading now.' Is it possible? And I am as 'fresh' about reading, as ever I was—as long as I keep out of the shadow of the dictionaries and of theological controversies, and the like. Shall I whisper it to you under the memory of the last rose of last summer? I am very fond of romances; yes! and I read them not only as some wise people are known to do, for the sake of the eloquence here and the sentiment there, and the graphic intermixtures here and there, but for the story! just as little children would, sitting on their papa's knee. My childish love of a story never wore out with my love of plum cake, and now there is not a hole in it. I make it a rule, for the most part, to read all the romances that other people are kind enough to write—and woe to the miserable wight who tells me how the third volume endeth. Have you in you any surviving innocence of this sort? or do you call it idiocy? If you do, I will forgive you, only smiling to myself—I give you notice,—with a smile of superior pleasure! Mr. Chorley made me quite laugh the other day by recommending Mary Hewitt's 'Improvisatore,' with a sort of deprecating reference to the descriptions in the book, just as if I never read a novel—I! I wrote a confession back to him which made him shake his head perhaps, and now I confess to you, unprovoked. I am one who could have forgotten the plague, listening to Boccaccio's stories; and I am not ashamed of it. I do not even 'see the better part,' I am so silly.

Ah! you tempt me with a grand vision of Prometheus! I, who have just escaped with my life, after treading Milton's ground, you would send me to AEschylus's. No, I do not dare. And besides ... I am inclined to think that we want new forms, as well as thoughts. The old gods are dethroned. Why should we go back to the antique moulds, classical moulds, as they are so improperly called? If it is a necessity of Art to do so, why then those critics are right who hold that Art is exhausted and the world too worn out for poetry. I do not, for my part, believe this: and I believe the so-called necessity of Art to be the mere feebleness of the artist. Let us all aspire rather to Life, and let the dead bury their dead. If we have but courage to face these conventions, to touch this low ground, we shall take strength from it instead of losing it; and of that, I am intimately persuaded. For there is poetry everywhere; the 'treasure' (see the old fable) lies all over the field. And then Christianity is a worthy myth, and poetically acceptable.

I had much to say to you, or at least something, of the 'blind hopes' &c., but am ashamed to take a step into a new sheet. If you mean 'to travel,' why, I shall have to miss you. Do you really mean it? How is the play going on? and the poem?

May God bless you!

Ever and truly yours,

E.B.B.



R.B. to E.B.B.

Monday Morning. [Post-mark, March 31, 1845.]

When you read Don Quixote, my dear romance-reader, do you ever notice that flower of an incident of good fellowship where the friendly Squire of Him of the Moon, or the Looking glasses, (I forget which) passes to Sancho's dry lips, (all under a cork-tree one morning)—a plump wine-skin,—and do you admire dear brave Miguel's knowledge of thirsty nature when he tells you that the Drinker, having seriously considered for a space the Pleiads, or place where they should be, fell, as he slowly returned the shrivelled bottle to its donor, into a deep musing of an hour's length, or thereabouts, and then ... mark ... only then, fetching a profound sigh, broke silence with ... such a piece of praise as turns pale the labours in that way of Rabelais and the Teian (if he wasn't a Byzantine monk, alas!) and our Mr. Kenyon's stately self—(since my own especial poet a moi, that can do all with anybody, only 'sips like a fly,' she says, and so cares not to compete with these behemoths that drink up Jordan)—Well, then ... (oh, I must get quick to the sentence's end, and be brief as an oracle-explainer!)—the giver is you and the taker is I, and the letter is the wine, and the star-gazing is the reading the same, and the brown study is—how shall I deserve and be grateful enough to this new strange friend of my own, that has taken away my reproach among men, that have each and all their friend, so they say (... not that I believe all they say—they boast too soon sometimes, no doubt,—I once was shown a letter wherein the truth stumbled out after this fashion 'Dere Smith,—I calls you "dere" ... because you are so in your shop!')—and the great sigh is,—there is no deserving nor being grateful at all,—and the breaking silence is, and the praise is ... ah, there, enough of it! This sunny morning is as if I wished it for you—10 strikes by the clock now—tell me if at 10 this morning you feel any good from my heart's wishes for you—I would give you all you want out of my own life and gladness and yet keep twice the stock that should by right have sufficed the thin white face that is laughing at me in the glass yonder at the fancy of its making anyone afraid ... and now, with another kind of laugh, at the thought that when its owner 'travels' next, he will leave off Miss Barrett along with port wine—Dii meliora piis, and, among them to

Yours every where, and at all times yours

R. BROWNING.

I have all to say yet—next letter. R.B.



R.B. to E.B.B.

Tuesday Night. [Post-mark, April 16, 1845.]

I heard of you, dear Miss Barrett, between a Polka and a Cellarius the other evening, of Mr. Kenyon—how this wind must hurt you! And yesterday I had occasion to go your way—past, that is, Wimpole Street, the end of it,—and, do you know, I did not seem to have leave from you to go down it yet, much less count number after number till I came to yours,—much least than less, look up when I did come there. So I went on to a viperine she-friend of mine who, I think, rather loves me she does so hate me, and we talked over the chances of certain other friends who were to be balloted for at the 'Athenaeum' last night,—one of whom, it seems, was in a fright about it—'to such little purpose' said my friend—'for he is so inoffensive—now, if one were to style you that—' 'Or you'—I said—and so we hugged ourselves in our grimness like tiger-cats. Then there is a deal in the papers to-day about Maynooth, and a meeting presided over by Lord Mayor Gibbs, and the Reverend Mr. Somebody's speech. And Mrs. Norton has gone and book-made at a great rate about the Prince of Wales, pleasantly putting off till his time all that used of old to be put off till his mother's time;—altogether, I should dearly like to hear from you, but not till the wind goes, and sun comes—because I shall see Mr. Kenyon next week and get him to tell me some more. By the way, do you suppose anybody else looks like him? If you do, the first room full of real London people you go among you will fancy to be lighted up by a saucer of burning salt and spirits of wine in the back ground.

Monday—last night when I could do nothing else I began to write to you, such writing as you have seen—strange! The proper time and season for good sound sensible and profitable forms of speech—when ought it to have occurred, and how did I evade it in these letters of mine? For people begin with a graceful skittish levity, lest you should be struck all of a heap with what is to come, and that is sure to be the stuff and staple of the man, full of wisdom and sorrow,—and then again comes the fringe of reeds and pink little stones on the other side, that you may put foot on land, and draw breath, and think what a deep pond you have swum across. But you are the real deep wonder of a creature,—and I sail these paper-boats on you rather impudently. But I always mean to be very grave one day,—when I am in better spirits and can go fuori di me.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse