'To bring!' Next Wednesday—if you know how happy you make me! may I not say that, my dear friend, when I feel it from my soul?
I thank God that you are better: do pray make fresh endeavours to profit by this partial respite of the weather! All about you must urge that: but even from my distance some effect might come of such wishes. But you are better—look so and speak so! God bless you.
You let 'flowers be sent you in a letter,' every one knows, and this hot day draws out our very first yellow rose.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, June 17, 1845.]
Yes, I quite believe as you do that what is called the 'creative process' in works of Art, is just inspiration and no less—which made somebody say to me not long since; And so you think that Shakespeare's 'Othello' was of the effluence of the Holy Ghost?'—rather a startling deduction, ... only not quite as final as might appear to somebodies perhaps. At least it does not prevent my going on to agree with the saying of Spiridion, ... do you remember?... 'Tout ce que l'homme appelle inspiration, je l'appelle aussi revelation,' ... if there is not something too self-evident in it after all—my sole objection! And is it not true that your inability to analyse the mental process in question, is one of the proofs of the fact of inspiration?—as the gods were known of old by not being seen to move their feet,—coming and going in an equal sweep of radiance.—And still more wonderful than the first transient great light you speak of, ... and far beyond any work of reflection, except in the pure analytical sense in which you use the word, ... appears that gathering of light on light upon particular points, as you go (in composition) step by step, till you get intimately near to things, and see them in a fullness and clearness, and an intense trust in the truth of them which you have not in any sunshine of noon (called real!) but which you have then ... and struggle to communicate:—an ineffectual struggle with most writers (oh, how ineffectual!) and when effectual, issuing in the 'Pippa Passes,' and other master-pieces of the world.
You will tell me what you mean exactly by being jealous of your own music? You said once that you had had a false notion of music, or had practised it according to the false notions of other people: but did you mean besides that you ever had meant to despise music altogether—because that, it is hard to set about trying to believe of you indeed. And then, you can praise my verses for music?—Why, are you aware that people blame me constantly for wanting harmony—from Mr. Boyd who moans aloud over the indisposition of my 'trochees' ... and no less a person than Mr. Tennyson, who said to somebody who repeated it, that in the want of harmony lay the chief defect of the poems, 'although it might verily be retrieved, as he could fancy that I had an ear by nature.' Well—but I am pleased that you should praise me—right or wrong—I mean, whether I am right or wrong in being pleased! and I say so to you openly, although my belief is that you are under a vow to our Lady of Loretto to make giddy with all manner of high vanities, some head, ... not too strong for such things, but too low for them, ... before you see again the embroidery on her divine petticoat. Only there's a flattery so far beyond praise ... even your praise—as where you talk of your verses being liked &c., and of your being happy to bring them here, ... that is scarcely a lawful weapon; and see if the Madonna may not signify so much to you!—Seriously, you will not hurry too uncomfortably, or uncomfortably at all, about the transcribing? Another day, you know, will do as well—and patience is possible to me, if not 'native to the soil.'
Also I am behaving very well in going out into the noise; not quite out of doors yet, on account of the heat—and I am better as you say, without any doubt at all, and stronger—only my looks are a little deceitful; and people are apt to be heated and flushed in this weather, one hour, to look a little more ghastly an hour or two after. Not that it is not true of me that I am better, mind! Because I am.
The 'flower in the letter' was from one of my sisters—from Arabel (though many of these poems are ideal ... will you understand?) and your rose came quite alive and fresh, though in act of dropping its beautiful leaves, because of having to come to me instead of living on in your garden, as it intended. But I thank you—for this, and all, my dear friend.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Thursday Morning. [Post-mark, June 19, 1845.]
When I next see you, do not let me go on and on to my confusion about matters I am more or less ignorant of, but always ignorant. I tell you plainly I only trench on them, and intrench in them, from gaucherie, pure and respectable ... I should certainly grow instructive on the prospects of hay-crops and pasture-land, if deprived of this resource. And now here is a week to wait before I shall have any occasion to relapse into Greek literature when I am thinking all the while, 'now I will just ask simply, what flattery there was,' &c. &c., which, as I had not courage to say then, I keep to myself for shame now. This I will say, then—wait and know me better, as you will one long day at the end.
Why I write now, is because you did not promise, as before, to let me know how you are—this morning is miserably cold again—Will you tell me, at your own time?
God bless you, my dear friend.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Thursday Evening. [Post-mark, June 20, 1845.]
If on Greek literature or anything else it is your pleasure to cultivate a reputation for ignorance, I will respect your desire—and indeed the point of the deficiency in question being far above my sight I am not qualified either to deny or assert the existence of it; so you are free to have it all your own way.
About the 'flattery' however, there is a difference; and I must deny a little having ever used such a word ... as far as I can recollect, and I have been trying to recollect, ... as that word of flattery. Perhaps I said something about your having vowed to make me vain by writing this or that of my liking your verses and so on—and perhaps I said it too lightly ... which happened because when one doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry, it is far best, as a general rule, to laugh. But the serious truth is that it was all nonsense together what I wrote, and that, instead of talking of your making me vain, I should have talked (if it had been done sincerely) of your humbling me—inasmuch as nothing does humble anybody so much as being lifted up too high. You know what vaulting Ambition did once for himself? and when it is done for him by another, his fall is still heavier. And one moral of all this general philosophy is, that if when your poems come, you persist in giving too much importance to what I may have courage to say of this or of that in them, you will make me a dumb critic and I shall have no help for my dumbness. So I tell you beforehand—nothing extenuating nor exaggerating nor putting down in malice. I know so much of myself as to be sure of it. Even as it is, the 'insolence' which people blame me for and praise me for, ... the 'recklessness' which my friends talk of with mitigating countenances ... seems gradually going and going—and really it would not be very strange (without that) if I who was born a hero worshipper and have so continued, and who always recognised your genius, should find it impossible to bring out critical doxies on the workings of it. Well—I shall do what I can—as far as impressions go, you understand—and you must promise not to attach too much importance to anything said. So that is a covenant, my dear friend!—
And I am really gaining strength—and I will not complain of the weather. As long as the thermometer keeps above sixty I am content for one; and the roses are not quite dead yet, which they would have been in the heat. And last and not least—may I ask if you were told that the pain in the head was not important (or was) in the causes, ... and was likely to be well soon? or was not? I am at the end.
Upon second or third thoughts, isn't it true that you are a little suspicious of me? suspicious at least of suspiciousness?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Afternoon. [Post-mark, June 23, 1845.]
And if I am 'suspicious of your suspiciousness,' who gives cause, pray? The matter was long ago settled, I thought, when you first took exception to what I said about higher and lower, and I consented to this much—that you should help seeing, if you could, our true intellectual and moral relation each to the other, so long as you would allow me to see what is there, fronting me. 'Is my eye evil because yours is not good?' My own friend, if I wished to 'make you vain,' if having 'found the Bower' I did really address myself to the wise business of spoiling its rose-roof,—I think that at least where there was such a will, there would be also something not unlike a way,—that I should find a proper hooked stick to tear down flowers with, and write you other letters than these—quite, quite others, I feel—though I am far from going to imagine, even for a moment, what might be the precise prodigy—like the notable Son of Zeus, that was to have been, and done the wonders, only he did not, because &c. &c.
But I have a restless head to-day, and so let you off easily. Well, you ask me about it, that head, and I am not justified in being positive when my Doctor is dubious; as for the causes, they are neither superfluity of study, nor fancy, nor care, nor any special naughtiness that I know how to amend. So if I bring you 'nothing to signify' on Wednesday ... though I hope to do more than that ... you will know exactly why it happens. I will finish and transcribe the 'Flight of the Duchess' since you spoke of that first.
I am truly happy to hear that your health improves still.
For me, going out does me good—reading, writing, and, what is odd,—infinitely most of all, sleeping do me the harm,—never any very great harm. And all the while I am yours
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, June 24, 1845.]
I had begun to be afraid that I did not deserve to have my questions answered; and I was afraid of asking them over again. But it is worse to be afraid that you are not better at all in any essential manner (after all your assurances) and that the medical means have failed so far. Did you go to somebody who knows anything?—because there is no excuse, you see, in common sense, for not having the best and most experienced opinion when there is a choice of advice—and I am confident that that pain should not be suffered to go on without something being done. What I said about nerves, related to what you had told me of your mother's suffering and what you had fancied of the relation of it to your own, and not that I could be thinking about imaginary complaints—I wish I could. Not (either) that I believe in the relation ... because such things are not hereditary, are they? and the bare coincidence is improbable. Well, but, I wanted particularly to say this—Don't bring the 'Duchess' with you on Wednesday. I shall not expect anything, I write distinctly to tell you—and I would far far rather that you did not bring it. You see it is just as I thought—for that whether too much thought or study did or did not bring on the illness, ... yet you admit that reading and writing increase it ... as they would naturally do any sort of pain in the head—therefore if you will but be in earnest and try to get well first, we will do the 'Bells' afterwards, and there will be time for a whole peal of them, I hope and trust, before the winter. Now do admit that this is reasonable, and agree reasonably to it. And if it does you good to go out and take exercise, why not go out and take it? nay, why not go away and take it? Why not try the effect of a little change of air—or even of a great change of air—if it should be necessary, or even expedient? Anything is better, you know ... or if you don't know, I know—than to be ill, really, seriously—I mean for you to be ill, who have so much to do and to enjoy in the world yet ... and all those bells waiting to be hung! So that if you will agree to be well first, I will promise to be ready afterwards to help you in any thing I can do ... transcribing or anything ... to get the books through the press in the shortest of times—and I am capable of a great deal of that sort of work without being tired, having the habit of writing in any sort of position, and the long habit, ... since, before I was ill even, I never used to write at a table (or scarcely ever) but on the arm of a chair, or on the seat of one, sitting myself on the floor, and calling myself a Lollard for dignity. So you will put by your 'Duchess' ... will you not? or let me see just that one sheet—if one should be written—which is finished? ... up to this moment, you understand? finished now.
And if I have tired and teazed you with all these words it is a bad opportunity to take—and yet I will persist in saying through good and bad opportunities that I never did 'give cause' as you say, to your being 'suspicious of my suspiciousness' as I believe I said before. I deny my 'suspiciousness' altogether—it is not one of my faults. Nor is it quite my fault that you and I should always be quarrelling about over-appreciations and under-appreciations—and after all I have no interest nor wish, I do assure you, to depreciate myself—and you are not to think that I have the remotest claim to the Monthyon prize for good deeds in the way of modesty of self-estimation. Only when I know you better, as you talk of ... and when you know me too well, ... the right and the wrong of these conclusions will appear in a fuller light than ever so much arguing can produce now. Is it unkindly written of me? no—I feel it is not!—and that 'now and ever we are friends,' (just as you think) I think besides and am happy in thinking so, and could not be distrustful of you if I tried. So may God bless you, my ever dear friend—and mind to forget the 'Duchess' and to remember every good counsel!—Not that I do particularly confide in the medical oracles. They never did much more for me than, when my pulse was above a hundred and forty with fever, to give me digitalis to make me weak—and, when I could not move without fainting (with weakness), to give me quinine to make me feverish again. Yes—and they could tell from the stethoscope, how very little was really wrong in me ... if it were not on a vital organ—and how I should certainly live ... if I didn't die sooner. But then, nothing has power over affections of the chest, except God and his winds—and I do hope that an obvious quick remedy may be found for your head. But do give up the writing and all that does harm!—
Ever yours, my dear friend,
Miss Mitford talked of spending Wednesday with me—and I have put it off to Thursday:—and if you should hear from Mr. Chorley that he is coming to see her and me together on any day, do understand that it was entirely her proposition and not mine, and that certainly it won't be acceded to, as far as I am concerned; as I have explained to her finally. I have been vexed about it—but she can see him down-stairs as she has done before—and if she calls me perverse and capricious (which she will do) I shall stop the reflection by thanking her again and again (as I can do sincerely) for her kindness and goodness in coming to see me herself, so far!—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Morning, [Post-mark, June 24, 1845.]
(So my friend did not in the spirit see me write that first letter, on Friday, which was too good and true to send, and met, five minutes after, its natural fate accordingly. Then on Saturday I thought to take health by storm, and walked myself half dead all the morning—about town too: last post-hour from this Thule of a suburb—4 P.M. on Saturdays, next expedition of letters, 8 A.M. on Mondays;—and then my real letter set out with the others—and, it should seem, set at rest a 'wonder whether thy friend's questions deserved answering'—de-served—answer-ing—!)
Parenthetically so much—I want most, though, to tell you—(leaving out any slightest attempt at thanking you) that I am much better, quite well to-day—that my doctor has piloted me safely through two or three illnesses, and knows all about me, I do think—and that he talks confidently of getting rid of all the symptoms complained of—and has made a good beginning if I may judge by to-day. As for going abroad, that is just the thing I most want to avoid (for a reason not so hard to guess, perhaps, as why my letter was slow in arriving).
So, till to-morrow,—my light through the dark week.
God ever bless you, dear friend,
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday Evening. [Post-mark, June 25, 1845.]
What will you think when I write to ask you not to come to-morrow, Wednesday; but ... on Friday perhaps, instead? But do see how it is; and judge if it is to be helped.
I have waited hour after hour, hoping to hear from Miss Mitford that she would agree to take Thursday in change for Wednesday,—and just as I begin to wonder whether she can have received my letter at all, or whether she may not have been vexed by it into taking a vengeance and adhering to her own devices; (for it appealed to her esprit de sexe on the undeniable axiom of women having their way ... and she might choose to act it out!) just as I wonder over all this, and consider what a confusion of the elements it would be if you came and found her here, and Mr. Chorley at the door perhaps, waiting for some of the light of her countenance;—comes a note from Mr. Kenyon, to the effect that he will be here at four o'clock P.M.—and comes a final note from my aunt Mrs. Hedley (supposed to be at Brighton for several months) to the effect that she will be here at twelve o'clock, M.!! So do observe the constellation of adverse stars ... or the covey of 'bad birds,' as the Romans called them, and that there is no choice, but to write as I am writing. It can't be helped—can it? For take away the doubt about Miss Mitford, and Mr. Kenyon remains—and take away Mr. Kenyon, and there is Mrs. Hedley—and thus it must be for Friday ... which will learn to be a fortunate day for the nonce—unless Saturday should suit you better. I do not speak of Thursday, because of the doubt about Miss Mitford—and if any harm should happen to Friday, I will write again; but if you do not hear again, and are able to come then, you will come perhaps then.
In the meantime I thank you for the better news in your note—if it is really, really to be trusted in—but you know, you have said so often that you were better and better, without being really better, that it makes people ... 'suspicious.' Yet it is full amends for the disappointment to hope ... here I must break off or be too late. May God bless you my dear friend.
R.B. to E.B.B.
12. Wednesday. [Post-mark, June 25, 1845.]
Pomegranates you may cut deep down the middle and see into, but not hearts,—so why should I try and speak?
Friday is best day because nearest, but Saturday is next best—it is next near, you know: if I get no note, therefore, Friday is my day.
Now is Post-time,—which happens properly.
God bless you, and so your own
E.B.B. to R.B.
Thursday Evening. [Post-mark, June 27, 1845.]
After all it must be for Saturday, as Mrs. Hedley comes again on Friday, to-morrow, from New Cross,—or just beyond it, Eltham Park—to London for a few days, on account of the illness of one of her children. I write in the greatest haste after Miss Mitford has left me ... and so tired! to say this, that if you can and will come on Saturday, ... or if not on Monday or Tuesday, there is no reason against it.
Your friend always,
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Morning. [Post-mark, June 27, 1845.]
Let me make haste and write down To-morrow, Saturday, and not later, lest my selfishness be thoroughly got under in its struggle with a better feeling that tells me you must be far too tired for another visitor this week.
What shall I decide on?
Well—Saturday is said—but I will stay not quite so long, nor talk nearly so loud as of old-times; nor will you, if you understand anything of me, fail to send down word should you be at all indisposed. I should not have the heart to knock at the door unless I really believed you would do that. Still saying this and providing against the other does not amount, I well know, to the generosity, or justice rather, of staying away for a day or two altogether. But—what 'a day or two' may not bring forth! Change to you, change to me—
Not all of me, however, can change, thank God—
Or, write, as last night, if needs be: Monday, Tuesday is not so long to wait. Will you write?
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday Evening. [Post-mark, June 28, 1845.]
You are very kind and always—but really that does not seem a good reason against your coming to-morrow—so come, if it should not rain. If it rains, it concludes for Monday ... or Tuesday; whichever may be clear of rain. I was tired on Wednesday by the confounding confusion of more voices than usual in this room; but the effect passed off, and though Miss Mitford was with me for hours yesterday I am not unwell to-day. And pray speak bona verba about the awful things which are possible between this now and Wednesday. You continue to be better, I do hope? I am forced to the brevity you see, by the post on one side, and my friends on the other, who have so long overstayed the coming of your note—but it is enough to assure you that you will do no harm by coming—only give pleasure.
Ever yours, my dear friend,
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [June 30, 1845.]
I send back the prize poems which have been kept far too long even if I do not make excuses for the keeping—but our sins are not always to be measured by our repentance for them. Then I am well enough this morning to have thought of going out till they told me it was not at all a right day for it ... too windy ... soft and delightful as the air seems to be—particularly after yesterday, when we had some winter back again in an episode. And the roses do not die; which is quite magnanimous of them considering their reverses; and their buds are coming out in most exemplary resignation—like birds singing in a cage. Now that the windows may be open, the flowers take heart to live a little in this room.
And think of my forgetting to tell you on Saturday that I had known of a letter being received by somebody from Miss Martineau, who is at Ambleside at this time and so entranced with the lakes and mountains as to be dreaming of taking or making a house among them, to live in for the rest of her life. Mrs. Trollope, you may have heard, had something of the same nympholepsy—no, her daughter was 'settled' in the neighbourhood—that is the more likely reason for Mrs. Trollope! and the spirits of the hills conspired against her the first winter and almost slew her with a fog and drove her away to your Italy where the Oreadocracy has gentler manners. And Miss Martineau is practising mesmerism and miracles on all sides she says, and counts on Archbishop Whately as a new adherent. I even fancy that he has been to see her in the character of a convert. All this from Mr. Kenyon.
There's a strange wild book called the Autobiography of Heinrich Stilling ... one of those true devout deep-hearted Germans who believe everything, and so are nearer the truth, I am sure, than the wise who believe nothing; but rather over-German sometimes, and redolent of sauerkraut—and he gives a tradition ... somewhere between mesmerism and mysticism, ... of a little spirit with gold shoebuckles, who was his familiar spirit and appeared only in the sunshine I think ... mottling it over with its feet, perhaps, as a child might snow. Take away the shoebuckles and I believe in the little spirit—don't you? But these English mesmerists make the shoebuckles quite conspicuous and insist on them broadly; and the Archbishops Whately may be drawn by them (who can tell?) more than by the little spirit itself. How is your head to-day? now really, and nothing extenuating? I will not ask of poems, till the 'quite well' is authentic. May God bless you always! my dear friend!
After all the book must go another day. I live in chaos do you know? and I am too hurried at this moment ... yes it is here.
R.B. to E.B.B.
How are you—may I hope to hear soon?
I don't know exactly what possessed me to set my next day so far off as Saturday—as it was said, however, so let it be. And I will bring the rest of the 'Duchess'—four or five hundred lines,—'heu, herba mala crescit'—(as I once saw mournfully pencilled on a white wall at Asolo)—but will you tell me if you quite remember the main of the first part—(parts there are none except in the necessary process of chopping up to suit the limits of a magazine—and I gave them as much as I could transcribe at a sudden warning)—because, if you please, I can bring the whole, of course.
After seeing you, that Saturday, I was caught up by a friend and carried to see Vidocq—who did the honours of his museum of knives and nails and hooks that have helped great murderers to their purposes—he scarcely admits, I observe, an implement with only one attestation to its efficacy; but the one or two exceptions rather justify his latitude in their favour—thus one little sort of dessert knife did only take one life.... 'But then,' says Vidocq, 'it was the man's own mother's life, with fifty-two blows, and all for' (I think) 'fifteen francs she had got?' So prattles good-naturedly Vidocq—one of his best stories of that Lacenaire—'jeune homme d'un caractere fort avenant—mais c'etait un poete,' quoth he, turning sharp on me out of two or three other people round him.
Here your letter breaks in, and sunshine too.
Why do you send me that book—not let me take it? What trouble for nothing!
An old French friend of mine, a dear foolish, very French heart and soul, is coming presently—his poor brains are whirling with mesmerism in which he believes, as in all other unbelief. He and I are to dine alone (I have not seen him these two years)—and I shall never be able to keep from driving the great wedge right through his breast and descending lower, from riveting his two foolish legs to the wintry chasm; for I that stammer and answer hap-hazard with you, get proportionately valiant and voluble with a mere cupful of Diderot's rinsings, and a man into the bargain.
If you were prevented from leaving the house yesterday, assuredly to-day you will never attempt such a thing—the wind, rain—all is against it: I trust you will not make the first experiment except under really favourable auspices ... for by its success you will naturally be induced to go on or leave off—Still you are better! I fully believe, dare to believe, that will continue. As for me, since you ask—find me but something to do, and see if I shall not be well!—Though I am well now almost.
How good you are to my roses—they are not of my making, to be sure. Never, by the way, did Miss Martineau work such a miracle as I now witness in the garden—I gathered at Rome, close to the fountain of Egeria, a handful of fennel-seeds from the most indisputable plant of fennel I ever chanced upon—and, lo, they are come up ... hemlock, or something akin! In two places, moreover. Wherein does hemlock resemble fennel? How could I mistake? No wonder that a stone's cast off from that Egeria's fountain is the Temple of the God Ridiculus.
Well, on Saturday then—at three: and I will certainly bring the verses you mention—and trust to find you still better.
Vivi felice—my dear friend, God bless you!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Wednesday-Thursday Evening [Post-mark, July 4, 1845.]
Yes—I know the first part of the 'Duchess' and have it here—and for the rest of the poem, don't mind about being very legible, or even legible in the usual sense; and remember how it is my boast to be able to read all such manuscript writing as never is read by people who don't like caviare. Now you won't mind? really I rather like blots than otherwise—being a sort of patron-saint of all manner of untidyness ... if Mr. Kenyon's reproaches (of which there's a stereotyped edition) are justified by the fact—and he has a great organ of order, and knows 'disorderly persons' at a glance, I suppose. But you won't be particular with me in the matter of transcription? that is what I want to make sure of. And even if you are not particular, I am afraid you are not well enough to be troubled by writing, and writing and the thinking that comes with it—it would be wiser to wait till you are quite well—now wouldn't it?—and my fear is that the 'almost well' means 'very little better.' And why, when there is no motive for hurrying, run any risk? Don't think that I will help you to make yourself ill. That I refuse to do even so much work as the 'little dessert-knife' in the way of murder, ... do think! So upon the whole, I expect nothing on Saturday from this distance—and if it comes unexpectedly (I mean the Duchess and not Saturday) let it be at no cost, or at the least cost possible, will you? I am delighted in the meanwhile to hear of the quantity of 'mala herba'; and hemlock does not come up from every seed you sow, though you call it by ever such bad names.
Talking of poetry, I had a newspaper 'in help of social and political progress' sent to me yesterday from America—addressed to—just my name ... poetess, London! Think of the simplicity of those wild Americans in 'calculating' that 'people in general' here in England know what a poetess is!—Well—the post office authorities, after deep meditation, I do not doubt, on all probable varieties of the chimpanzee, and a glance to the Surrey Gardens on one side, and the Zoological department of Regent's Park on the other, thought of 'Poet's Corner,' perhaps, and wrote at the top of the parcel, 'Enquire at Paternoster Row'! whereupon the Paternoster Row people wrote again, 'Go to Mr. Moxon'—and I received my newspaper.
And talking of poetesses, I had a note yesterday (again) which quite touched me ... from Mr. Hemans—Charles, the son of Felicia—written with so much feeling, that it was with difficulty I could say my perpetual 'no' to his wish about coming to see me. His mother's memory is surrounded to him, he says, 'with almost a divine lustre'—and 'as it cannot be to those who knew the writer alone and not the woman.' Do you not like to hear such things said? and is it not better than your tradition about Shelley's son? and is it not pleasant to know that that poor noble pure-hearted woman, the Vittoria Colonna of our country, should be so loved and comprehended by some ... by one at least ... of her own house? Not that, in naming Shelley, I meant for a moment to make a comparison—there is not equal ground for it. Vittoria Colonna does not walk near Dante—no. And if you promised never to tell Mrs. Jameson ... nor Miss Martineau ... I would confide to you perhaps my secret profession of faith—which is ... which is ... that let us say and do what we please and can ... there is a natural inferiority of mind in women—of the intellect ... not by any means, of the moral nature—and that the history of Art and of genius testifies to this fact openly. Oh—I would not say so to Mrs. Jameson for the world. I believe I was a coward to her altogether—for when she denounced carpet work as 'injurious to the mind,' because it led the workers into 'fatal habits of reverie,' I defended the carpet work as if I were striving pro aris et focis, (I, who am so innocent of all that knowledge!) and said not a word for the poor reveries which have frayed away so much of silken time for me ... and let her go away repeating again and again ... 'Oh, but you may do carpet work with impunity—yes! because you can be writing poems all the while.'!
Think of people making poems and rugs at once. There's complex machinery for you!
I told you that I had a sensation of cold blue steel from her eyes!—And yet I really liked and like and shall like her. She is very kind I believe—and it was my mistake—and I correct my impressions of her more and more to perfection, as you tell me who know more of her than I.
Only I should not dare, ... ever, I think ... to tell her that I believe women ... all of us in a mass ... to have minds of quicker movement, but less power and depth ... and that we are under your feet, because we can't stand upon our own. Not that we should either be quite under your feet! so you are not to be too proud, if you please—and there is certainly some amount of wrong—: but it never will be righted in the manner and to the extent contemplated by certain of our own prophetesses ... nor ought to be, I hold in intimate persuasion. One woman indeed now alive ... and only that one down all the ages of the world—seems to me to justify for a moment an opposite opinion—that wonderful woman George Sand; who has something monstrous in combination with her genius, there is no denying at moments (for she has written one book, Leila, which I could not read, though I am not easily turned back,) but whom, in her good and evil together, I regard with infinitely more admiration than all other women of genius who are or have been. Such a colossal nature in every way,—with all that breadth and scope of faculty which women want—magnanimous, and loving the truth and loving the people—and with that 'hate of hate' too, which you extol—so eloquent, and yet earnest as if she were dumb—so full of a living sense of beauty, and of noble blind instincts towards an ideal purity—and so proving a right even in her wrong. By the way, what you say of the Vidocq museum reminds me of one of the chamber of masonic trial scenes in 'Consuelo.' Could you like to see those knives?
I began with the best intentions of writing six lines—and see what is written! And all because I kept my letter back ... from a doubt about Saturday—but it has worn away, and the appointment stands good ... for me: I have nothing to say against it.
But belief in mesmerism is not the same thing as general unbelief—to do it justice—now is it? It may be super-belief as well. Not that there is not something ghastly and repelling to me in the thought of Dr. Elliotson's great bony fingers seeming to 'touch the stops' of a whole soul's harmonies—as in phreno-magnetism. And I should have liked far better than hearing and seeing that, to have heard you pour the 'cupful of Diderot's rinsings,' out,—and indeed I can fancy a little that you and how you could do it—and break the cup too afterwards!
Another sheet—and for what?
What is written already, if you read, you do so meritoriously—and it's an example of bad writing, if you want one in the poems. I am ashamed, you may see, of having written too much, (besides)—which is much worse—but one writes and writes: I do at least—for you are irreproachable. Ever yours my dear friend, as if I had not written ... or had!
R.B. to E.B.B.
Monday Afternoon. [Post-mark July 7, 1845.]
While I write this,—3 o'clock you may be going out, I will hope, for the day is very fine, perhaps all the better for the wind: yet I got up this morning sure of bad weather. I shall not try to tell you how anxious I am for the result and to know it. You will of course feel fatigued at first—but persevering, as you mean to do, do you not?—persevering, the event must be happy.
I thought, and still think, to write to you about George Sand, and the vexed question, a very Bermoothes of the 'Mental Claims of the Sexes Relatively Considered' (so was called the, ... I do believe, ... worst poem I ever read in my life), and Mrs. Hemans, and all and some of the points referred to in your letter—but 'by my fay, I cannot reason,' to-day: and, by a consequence, I feel the more—so I say how I want news of you ... which, when they arrive, I shall read 'meritoriously'—do you think? My friend, what ought I to tell you on that head (or the reverse rather)—of your discourse? I should like to match you at a fancy-flight; if I could, give you nearly as pleasant an assurance that 'there's no merit in the case,' but the hot weather and lack of wit get the better of my good will—besides, I remember once to have admired a certain enticing simplicity in the avowal of the Treasurer of a Charitable Institution at a Dinner got up in its behalf—the Funds being at lowest, Debt at highest ... in fact, this Dinner was the last chance of the Charity, and this Treasurer's speech the main feature in the chance—and our friend, inspired by the emergency, went so far as to say, with a bland smile—'Do not let it be supposed that we—despise annual contributors,—we rather—solicit their assistance.' All which means, do not think that I take any 'merit' for making myself supremely happy, I rather &c. &c.
Always rather mean to deserve it a little better—but never shall: so it should be, for you and me—and as it was in the beginning so it is still. You are the—But you know and why should I tease myself with words?
Let me send this off now—and to-morrow some more, because I trust to hear you have made the first effort and with success.
Ever yours, my dear friend,
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, July 8, 1845.]
Well—I have really been out; and am really alive after it—which is more surprising still—alive enough I mean, to write even so, to-night. But perhaps I say so with more emphasis, to console myself for failing in my great ambition of getting into the Park and of reaching Mr. Kenyon's door just to leave a card there vaingloriously, ... all which I did fail in, and was forced to turn back from the gates of Devonshire Place. The next time it will be better perhaps—and this time there was no fainting nor anything very wrong ... not even cowardice on the part of the victim (be it recorded!) for one of my sisters was as usual in authority and ordered the turning back just according to her own prudence and not my selfwill. Only you will not, any of you, ask me to admit that it was all delightful—pleasanter work than what you wanted to spare me in taking care of your roses on Saturday! don't ask that, and I will try it again presently.
I ought to be ashamed of writing this I and me-ism—but since your kindness made it worth while asking about I must not be over-wise and silent on my side.
Tuesday.—Was it fair to tell me to write though, and be silent of the 'Duchess,' and when I was sure to be so delighted—and you knew it? I think not indeed. And, to make the obedience possible, I go on fast to say that I heard from Mr. Horne a few days since and that he said—'your envelope reminds me of'—you, he said ... and so, asked if you were in England still, and meant to write to you. To which I have answered that I believe you to be in England—thinking it strange about the envelope; which, as far as I remember, was one of those long ones, used, the more conveniently to enclose to him back again a MS. of his own I had offered with another of his, by his desire, to Colburn's Magazine, as the productions of a friend of mine, when he was in Germany and afraid of his proper fatal onymousness, yet in difficulty how to approach the magazines as a nameless writer (you will not mention this of course). And when he was in Germany, I remember, ... writing just as your first letter came ... that I mentioned it to him, and was a little frankly proud of it! but since, your name has not occurred once—not once, certainly!—and it is strange.... Only he can't have heard of your having been here, and it must have been a chance-remark—altogether! taking an imaginary emphasis from my evil conscience perhaps. Talking of evils, how wrong of you to make that book for me! and how ill I thanked you after all! Also, I couldn't help feeling more grateful still for the Duchess ... who is under ban: and for how long I wonder?
My dear friend, I am ever yours,
R.B. to E.B.B.
Wednesday Morning. [Post-mark, July 9, 1845.]
You are all that is good and kind: I am happy and thankful the beginning (and worst of it) is over and so well. The Park and Mr. Kenyon's all in good time—and your sister was most prudent—and you mean to try again: God bless you, all to be said or done—but, as I say it, no vain word. No doubt it was a mere chance-thought, and a propos de bottes of Horne—neither he or any other can know or even fancy how it is. Indeed, though on other grounds I should be all so proud of being known for your friend by everybody, yet there's no denying the deep delight of playing the Eastern Jew's part here in this London—they go about, you know by travel-books, with the tokens of extreme destitution and misery, and steal by blind ways and by-paths to some blank dreary house, one obscure door in it—which being well shut behind them, they grope on through a dark corridor or so, and then, a blaze follows the lifting a curtain or the like, for they are in a palace-hall with fountains and light, and marble and gold, of which the envious are never to dream! And I, too, love to have few friends, and to live alone, and to see you from week to week. Do you not suppose I am grateful?
And you do like the 'Duchess,' as much as you have got of it? that delights me, too—for every reason. But I fear I shall not be able to bring you the rest to-morrow—Thursday, my day—because I have been broken in upon more than one morning; nor, though much better in my head, can I do anything at night just now. All will come right eventually, I hope, and I shall transcribe the other things you are to judge.
To-morrow then—only (and that is why I would write) do, do know me for what I am and treat me as I deserve in that one respect, and go out, without a moment's thought or care, if to-morrow should suit you—leave word to that effect and I shall be as glad as if I saw you or more—reasoned gladness, you know. Or you can write—though that is not necessary at all,—do think of all this!
I am yours ever, dear friend,
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, July 12, 1845.]
You understand that it was not a resolution passed in favour of formality, when I said what I did yesterday about not going out at the time you were coming—surely you do; whatever you might signify to a different effect. If it were necessary for me to go out every day, or most days even, it would be otherwise; but as it is, I may certainly keep the day you come, free from the fear of carriages, let the sun shine its best or worst, without doing despite to you or injury to me—and that's all I meant to insist upon indeed and indeed. You see, Jupiter Tonans was good enough to come to-day on purpose to deliver me—one evil for another! for I confess with shame and contrition, that I never wait to enquire whether it thunders to the left or the right, to be frightened most ingloriously. Isn't it a disgrace to anyone with a pretension to poetry? Dr. Chambers, a part of whose office it is, Papa says, 'to reconcile foolish women to their follies,' used to take the side of my vanity, and discourse at length on the passive obedience of some nervous systems to electrical influences; but perhaps my faint-heartedness is besides traceable to a half-reasonable terror of a great storm in Herefordshire, where great storms most do congregate, (such storms!) round the Malvern Hills, those mountains of England. We lived four miles from their roots, through all my childhood and early youth, in a Turkish house my father built himself, crowded with minarets and domes, and crowned with metal spires and crescents, to the provocation (as people used to observe) of every lightning of heaven. Once a storm of storms happened, and we all thought the house was struck—and a tree was so really, within two hundred yards of the windows while I looked out—the bark, rent from the top to the bottom ... torn into long ribbons by the dreadful fiery hands, and dashed out into the air, over the heads of other trees, or left twisted in their branches—torn into shreds in a moment, as a flower might be, by a child! Did you ever see a tree after it has been struck by lightning? The whole trunk of that tree was bare and peeled—and up that new whiteness of it, ran the finger-mark of the lightning in a bright beautiful rose-colour (none of your roses brighter or more beautiful!) the fever-sign of the certain death—though the branches themselves were for the most part untouched, and spread from the peeled trunk in their full summer foliage; and birds singing in them three hours afterwards! And, in that same storm, two young women belonging to a festive party were killed on the Malvern Hills—each sealed to death in a moment with a sign on the chest which a common seal would cover—only the sign on them was not rose-coloured as on our tree, but black as charred wood. So I get 'possessed' sometimes with the effects of these impressions, and so does one, at least, of my sisters, in a lower degree—and oh!—how amusing and instructive all this is to you! When my father came into the room to-day and found me hiding my eyes from the lightning, he was quite angry and called 'it disgraceful to anybody who had ever learnt the alphabet'—to which I answered humbly that 'I knew it was'—but if I had been impertinent, I might have added that wisdom does not come by the alphabet but in spite of it? Don't you think so in a measure? non obstantibus Bradbury and Evans? There's a profane question—and ungrateful too ... after the Duchess—I except the Duchess and her peers—and be sure she will be the world's Duchess and received as one of your most striking poems. Full of various power the poem is.... I cannot say how deeply it has impressed me—but though I want the conclusion, I don't wish for it; and in this, am reasonable for once! You will not write and make yourself ill—will you? or read 'Sybil' at unlawful hours even? Are you better at all? What a letter! and how very foolishly to-day
I am yours,
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Morning. [Post-mark, July 14, 1845.]
Very well—I shall say no more on the subject—though it was not any piece of formality on your part that I deprecated; nor even your over-kindness exactly—I rather wanted you to be really, wisely kind, and do me a greater favour then the next great one in degree; but you must understand this much in me, how you can lay me under deepest obligation. I daresay you think you have some, perhaps many, to whom your well-being is of deeper interest than to me. Well, if that be so, do for their sakes make every effort with the remotest chance of proving serviceable to you; nor set yourself against any little irksomeness these carriage-drives may bring with them just at the beginning; and you may say, if you like, 'how I shall delight those friends, if I can make this newest one grateful'—and, as from the known quantity one reasons out the unknown, this newest friend will be one glow of gratitude, he knows that, if you can warm your finger-tips and so do yourself that much real good, by setting light to a dozen 'Duchesses': why ought I not to say this when it is so true? Besides, people profess as much to their merest friends—for I have been looking through a poem-book just now, and was told, under the head of Album-verses alone, that for A. the writer would die, and for B. die too but a crueller death, and for C. too, and D. and so on. I wonder whether they have since wanted to borrow money of him on the strength of his professions. But you must remember we are in July; the 13th it is, and summer will go and cold weather stay ('come' forsooth!)—and now is the time of times. Still I feared the rain would hinder you on Friday—but the thunder did not frighten me—for you: your father must pardon me for holding most firmly with Dr. Chambers—his theory is quite borne out by my own experience, for I have seen a man it were foolish to call a coward, a great fellow too, all but die away in a thunderstorm, though he had quite science enough to explain why there was no immediate danger at all—whereupon his younger brother suggested that he should just go out and treat us to a repetition of Franklin's experiment with the cloud and the kite—a well-timed proposition which sent the Explainer down with a white face into the cellar. What a grand sight your tree was—is, for I see it. My father has a print of a tree so struck—torn to ribbons, as you describe—but the rose-mark is striking and new to me. We had a good storm on our last voyage, but I went to bed at the end, as I thought—and only found there had been lightning next day by the bare poles under which we were riding: but the finest mountain fit of the kind I ever saw has an unfortunately ludicrous association. It was at Possagno, among the Euganean Hills, and I was at a poor house in the town—an old woman was before a little picture of the Virgin, and at every fresh clap she lighted, with the oddest sputtering muttering mouthful of prayer imaginable, an inch of guttery candle, which, the instant the last echo had rolled away, she as constantly blew out again for saving's sake—having, of course, to light the smoke of it, about an instant after that: the expenditure in wax at which the elements might be propitiated, you see, was a matter for curious calculation. I suppose I ought to have bought the whole taper for some four or five centesimi (100 of which make 8d. English) and so kept the countryside safe for about a century of bad weather. Leigh Hunt tells you a story he had from Byron, of kindred philosophy in a Jew who was surprised by a thunderstorm while he was dining on bacon—he tried to eat between-whiles, but the flashes were as pertinacious as he, so at last he pushed his plate away, just remarking with a compassionate shrug, 'all this fuss about a piece of pork!' By the way, what a characteristic of an Italian late evening is Summer-lightning—it hangs in broad slow sheets, dropping from cloud to cloud, so long in dropping and dying off. The 'bora,' which you only get at Trieste, brings wonderful lightning—you are in glorious June-weather, fancy, of an evening, under green shock-headed acacias, so thick and green, with the cicalas stunning you above, and all about you men, women, rich and poor, sitting standing and coming and going—and through all the laughter and screaming and singing, the loud clink of the spoons against the glasses, the way of calling for fresh 'sorbetti'—for all the world is at open-coffee-house at such an hour—when suddenly there is a stop in the sunshine, a blackness drops down, then a great white column of dust drives straight on like a wedge, and you see the acacia heads snap off, now one, then another—and all the people scream 'la bora, la bora!' and you are caught up in their whirl and landed in some interior, the man with the guitar on one side of you, and the boy with a cageful of little brown owls for sale, on the other—meanwhile, the thunder claps, claps, with such a persistence, and the rain, for a finale, falls in a mass, as if you had knocked out the whole bottom of a huge tank at once—then there is a second stop—out comes the sun—somebody clinks at his glass, all the world bursts out laughing, and prepares to pour out again,—but you, the stranger, do make the best of your way out, with no preparation at all; whereupon you infallibly put your foot (and half your leg) into a river, really that, of rainwater—that's a Bora (and that comment of yours, a justifiable pun!) Such things you get in Italy, but better, better, the best of all things you do not (I do not) get those. And I shall see you on Wednesday, please remember, and bring you the rest of the poem—that you should like it, gratifies me more than I will try to say, but then, do not you be tempted by that pleasure of pleasing which I think is your besetting sin—may it not be?—and so cut me off from the other pleasure of being profited. As I told you, I like so much to fancy that you see, and will see, what I do as I see it, while it is doing, as nobody else in the world should, certainly, even if they thought it worth while to want—but when I try and build a great building I shall want you to come with me and judge it and counsel me before the scaffolding is taken down, and while you have to make your way over hods and mortar and heaps of lime, and trembling tubs of size, and those thin broad whitewashing brushes I always had a desire to take up and bespatter with. And now goodbye—I am to see you on Wednesday I trust—and to hear you say you are better, still better, much better? God grant that, and all else good for you, dear friend, and so for R.B.
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, July 18, 1845.]
I suppose nobody is ever expected to acknowledge his or her 'besetting sin'—it would be unnatural—and therefore you will not be surprised to hear me deny the one imputed to me for mine. I deny it quite and directly. And if my denial goes for nothing, which is but reasonable, I might call in a great cloud of witnesses, ... a thundercloud, ... (talking of storms!) and even seek no further than this table for a first witness; this letter, I had yesterday, which calls me ... let me see how many hard names ... 'unbending,' ... 'disdainful,' ... 'cold hearted,' ... 'arrogant,' ... yes, 'arrogant, as women always are when men grow humble' ... there's a charge against all possible and probable petticoats beyond mine and through it! Not that either they or mine deserve the charge—we do not; to the lowest hem of us! for I don't pass to the other extreme, mind, and adopt besetting sins 'over the way' and in antithesis. It's an undeserved charge, and unprovoked! and in fact, the very flower of self-love self-tormented into ill temper; and shall remain unanswered, for me, ... and should, ... even if I could write mortal epigrams, as your Lamia speaks them. Only it serves to help my assertion that people in general who know something of me, my dear friend, are not inclined to agree with you in particular, about my having an 'over-pleasure in pleasing,' for a besetting sin. If you had spoken of my sister Henrietta indeed, you would have been right—so right! but for me, alas, my sins are not half as amiable, nor given to lean to virtue's side with half such a grace. And then I have a pretension to speak the truth like a Roman, even in matters of literature, where Mr. Kenyon says falseness is a fashion—and really and honestly I should not be afraid ... I should have no reason to be afraid, ... if all the notes and letters written by my hand for years and years about presentation copies of poems and other sorts of books were brought together and 'conferred,' as they say of manuscripts, before my face—I should not shrink and be ashamed. Not that I always tell the truth as I see it—but I never do speak falsely with intention and consciousness—never—and I do not find that people of letters are sooner offended than others are, by the truth told in gentleness;—I do not remember to have offended anyone in this relation, and by these means. Well!—but from me to you; it is all different, you know—you must know how different it is. I can tell you truly what I think of this thing and of that thing in your 'Duchess'—but I must of a necessity hesitate and fall into misgiving of the adequacy of my truth, so called. To judge at all of a work of yours, I must look up to it, and far up—because whatever faculty I have is included in your faculty, and with a great rim all round it besides! And thus, it is not at all from an over-pleasure in pleasing you, not at all from an inclination to depreciate myself, that I speak and feel as I do and must on some occasions; it is simply the consequence of a true comprehension of you and of me—and apart from it, I should not be abler, I think, but less able, to assist you in anything. I do wish you would consider all this reasonably, and understand it as a third person would in a moment, and consent not to spoil the real pleasure I have and am about to have in your poetry, by nailing me up into a false position with your gold-headed nails of chivalry, which won't hold to the wall through this summer. Now you will not answer this?—you will only understand it and me—and that I am not servile but sincere, but earnest, but meaning what I say—and when I say I am afraid, you will believe that I am afraid; and when I say I have misgivings, you will believe that I have misgivings—you will trust me so far, and give me liberty to breathe and feel naturally ... according to my own nature. Probably, or certainly rather, I have one advantage over you, ... one, of which women are not fond of boasting—that of being older by years—for the 'Essay on Mind,' which was the first poem published by me (and rather more printed than published after all), the work of my earliest youth, half childhood, half womanhood, was published in 1826 I see. And if I told Mr. Kenyon not to let you see that book, it was not for the date, but because Coleridge's daughter was right in calling it a mere 'girl's exercise'; because it is just that and no more, ... no expression whatever of my nature as it ever was, ... pedantic, and in some things pert, ... and such as altogether, and to do myself justice (which I would fain do of course), I was not in my whole life. Bad books are never like their writers, you know—and those under-age books are generally bad. Also I have found it hard work to get into expression, though I began rhyming from my very infancy, much as you did (and this, with no sympathy near to me—I have had to do without sympathy in the full sense—), and even in my 'Seraphim' days, my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth,—from leading so conventual recluse a life, perhaps—and all my better poems were written last year, the very best thing to come, if there should be any life or courage to come; I scarcely know. Sometimes—it is the real truth—I have haste to be done with it all. It is the real truth; however to say so may be an ungrateful return for your kind and generous words, ... which I do feel gratefully, let me otherwise feel as I will, ... or must. But then you know you are liable to such prodigious mistakes about besetting sins and even besetting virtues—to such a set of small delusions, that are sure to break one by one, like other bubbles, as you draw in your breath, ... as I see by the law of my own star, my own particular star, the star I was born under, the star Wormwood, ... on the opposite side of the heavens from the constellations of 'the Lyre and the Crown.' In the meantime, it is difficult to thank you, or not to thank you, for all your kindnesses—[Greek: algos de sigan]. Only Mrs. Jameson told me of Lady Byron's saying 'that she knows she is burnt every day in effigy by half the world, but that the effigy is so unlike herself as to be inoffensive to her,' and just so, or rather just in the converse of so, is it with me and your kindnesses. They are meant for quite another than I, and are too far to be so near. The comfort is ... in seeing you throw all those ducats out of the window, (and how many ducats go in a figure to a 'dozen Duchesses,' it is profane to calculate) the comfort is that you will not be the poorer for it in the end; since the people beneath, are honest enough to push them back under the door. Rather a bleak comfort and occupation though!—and you may find better work for your friends, who are (some of them) weary even unto death of the uses of this life. And now, you who are generous, be generous, and take no notice of all this. I speak of myself, not of you so there is nothing for you to contradict or discuss—and if there were, you would be really kind and give me my way in it. Also you may take courage; for I promise not to vex you by thanking you against your will,—more than may be helped.
Some of this letter was written before yesterday and in reply of course to yours—so it is to pass for two letters, being long enough for just six. Yesterday you must have wondered at me for being in such a maze altogether about the poems—and so now I rise to explain that it was assuredly the wine song and no other which I read of yours in Hood's. And then, what did I say of the Dante and Beatrice? Because what I referred to was the exquisite page or two or three on that subject in the 'Pentameron.' I do not remember anything else of Landor's with the same bearing—do you? As to Montaigne, with the threads of my thoughts smoothly disentangled, I can see nothing coloured by him ... nothing. Do bring all the Hood poems of your own—inclusive of the 'Tokay,' because I read it in such haste as to whirl up all the dust you saw, from the wheels of my chariot. The 'Duchess' is past speaking of here—but you will see how I am delighted. And we must make speed—only taking care of your head—for I heard to-day that Papa and my aunt are discussing the question of sending me off either to Alexandria or Malta for the winter. Oh—it is quite a passing talk and thought, I dare say! and it would not be in any case, until September or October; though in every case, I suppose, I should not be much consulted ... and all cases and places would seem better to me (if I were) than Madeira which the physicians used to threaten me with long ago. So take care of your headache and let us have the 'Bells' rung out clear before the summer ends ... and pray don't say again anything about clear consciences or unclear ones, in granting me the privilege of reading your manuscripts—which is all clear privilege to me, with pride and gladness waiting on it. May God bless you always my dear friend!
You left behind your sister's little basket—but I hope you did not forget to thank her for my carnations.
R.B. to E.B.B.
I shall just say, at the beginning of a note as at the end, I am yours ever, and not till summer ends and my nails fall out, and my breath breaks bubbles,—ought you to write thus having restricted me as you once did, and do still? You tie me like a Shrove-Tuesday fowl to a stake and then pick the thickest cudgel out of your lot, and at my head it goes—I wonder whether you remembered having predicted exactly the same horror once before. 'I was to see you—and you were to understand'—Do you? do you understand—my own friend—with that superiority in years, too! For I confess to that—you need not throw that in my teeth ... as soon as I read your 'Essay on Mind'—(which of course I managed to do about 12 hours after Mr. K's positive refusal to keep his promise, and give me the book) from preface to the 'Vision of Fame' at the end, and reflected on my own doings about that time, 1826—I did indeed see, and wonder at, your advance over me in years—what then? I have got nearer you considerably—(if only nearer)—since then—and prove it by the remarks I make at favourable times—such as this, for instance, which occurs in a poem you are to see—written some time ago—which advises nobody who thinks nobly of the Soul, to give, if he or she can help, such a good argument to the materialist as the owning that any great choice of that Soul, which it is born to make and which—(in its determining, as it must, the whole future course and impulses of that soul)—which must endure for ever, even though the object that induced the choice should disappear—owning, I say, that such a choice may be scientifically determined and produced, at any operator's pleasure, by a definite number of ingredients, so much youth, so much beauty, so much talent &c. &c., with the same certainty and precision that another kind of operator will construct you an artificial volcano with so much steel filings and flower of sulphur and what not. There is more in the soul than rises to the surface and meets the eye; whatever does that, is for this world's immediate uses; and were this world all, all in us would be producible and available for use, as it is with the body now—but with the soul, what is to be developed afterward is the main thing, and instinctively asserts its rights—so that when you hate (or love) you shall not be so able to explain 'why' ('You' is the ordinary creature enough of my poem—he might not be so able.)
There, I will write no more. You will never drop me off the golden hooks, I dare believe—and the rest is with God—whose finger I see every minute of my life. Alexandria! Well, and may I not as easily ask leave to come 'to-morrow at the Muezzin' as next Wednesday at three?
God bless you—do not be otherwise than kind to this letter which it costs me pains, great pains to avoid writing better, as truthfuller—this you get is not the first begun. Come, you shall not have the heart to blame me; for, see, I will send all my sins of commission with Hood,—blame them, tell me about them, and meantime let me be, dear friend, yours,
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, July 21, 1845.]
But I never did strike you or touch you—and you are not in earnest in the complaint you make—and this is really all I am going to say to-day. What I said before was wrung from me by words on your part, while you know far too well how to speak so as to make them go deepest, and which sometimes it becomes impossible, or over-hard to bear without deprecation:—as when, for instance, you talk of being 'grateful' to me!!—Well! I will try that there shall be no more of it—no more provocation of generosities—and so, (this once) as you express it, I 'will not have the heart to blame' you—except for reading my books against my will, which was very wrong indeed. Mr. Kenyon asked me, I remember, (he had a mania of sending my copybook literature round the world to this person and that person, and I was roused at last into binding him by a vow to do so no more) I remember he asked me ... 'Is Mr. Browning to be excepted?'; to which I answered that nobody was to be excepted—and thus he was quite right in resisting to the death ... or to dinner-time ... just as you were quite wrong after dinner. Now, could a woman have been more curious? Could the very author of the book have done worse? But I leave my sins and yours gladly, to get into the Hood poems which have delighted me so—and first to the St. Praxed's which is of course the finest and most powerful ... and indeed full of the power of life ... and of death. It has impressed me very much. Then the 'Angel and Child,' with all its beauty and significance!—and the 'Garden Fancies' ... some of the stanzas about the name of the flower, with such exquisite music in them, and grace of every kind—and with that beautiful and musical use of the word 'meandering,' which I never remember having seen used in relation to sound before. It does to mate with your 'simmering quiet' in Sordello, which brings the summer air into the room as sure as you read it. Then I like your burial of the pedant so much!—you have quite the damp smell of funguses and the sense of creeping things through and through it. And the 'Laboratory' is hideous as you meant to make it:—only I object a little to your tendency ... which is almost a habit, and is very observable in this poem I think, ... of making lines difficult for the reader to read ... see the opening lines of this poem. Not that music is required everywhere, nor in them certainly, but that the uncertainty of rhythm throws the reader's mind off the rail ... and interrupts his progress with you and your influence with him. Where we have not direct pleasure from rhythm, and where no peculiar impression is to be produced by the changes in it, we should be encouraged by the poet to forget it altogether; should we not? I am quite wrong perhaps—but you see how I do not conceal my wrongnesses where they mix themselves up with my sincere impressions. And how could it be that no one within my hearing ever spoke of these poems? Because it is true that I never saw one of them—never!—except the 'Tokay,' which is inferior to all; and that I was quite unaware of your having printed so much with Hood—or at all, except this 'Tokay,' and this 'Duchess'! The world is very deaf and dumb, I think—but in the end, we need not be afraid of its not learning its lesson.
Could you come—for I am going out in the carriage, and will not stay to write of your poems even, any more to-day—could you come on Thursday or Friday (the day left to your choice) instead of on Wednesday? If I could help it I would not say so—it is not a caprice. And I leave it to you, whether Thursday or Friday. And Alexandria seems discredited just now for Malta—and 'anything but Madeira,' I go on saying to myself. These Hood poems are all to be in the next 'Bells' of course—of necessity?
May God bless you my dear friend, my ever dear friend!—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Morning. [Post-mark, July 22, 1845.]
I will say, with your leave, Thursday (nor attempt to say anything else without your leave).
The temptation of reading the 'Essay' was more than I could bear: and a wonderful work it is every way; the other poems and their music—wonderful!
And you go out still—so continue better!
I cannot write this morning—I should say too much and have to be sorry and afraid—let me be safely yours ever, my own dear friend—
I am but too proud of your praise—when will the blame come—at Malta?
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, July 25, 1845.]
Are you any better to-day? and will you say just the truth of it? and not attempt to do any of the writing which does harm—nor of the reading even, which may do harm—and something does harm to you, you see—and you told me not long ago that you knew how to avoid the harm ... now, did you not? and what could it have been last week which you did not avoid, and which made you so unwell? Beseech you not to think that I am going to aid and abet in this wronging of yourself, for I will not indeed—and I am only sorry to have given you my querulous queries yesterday ... and to have omitted to say in relation to them, too, how they were to be accepted in any case as just passing thoughts of mine for your passing thoughts, ... some right, it may be ... some wrong, it must be ... and none, insisted on even by the thinker! just impressions, and by no means pretending to be judgments—now will you understand? Also, I intended (as a proof of my fallacy) to strike out one or two of my doubts before I gave the paper to you—so whichever strikes you as the most foolish of them, of course must be what I meant to strike out—(there's ingenuity for you!). The poem did, for the rest, as will be suggested to you, give me the very greatest pleasure, and astonish me in two ways ... by the versification, mechanically considered; and by the successful evolution of pure beauty from all that roughness and rudeness of the sin of the boar-pinner—successfully evolved, without softening one hoarse accent of his voice. But there is to be a pause now—you will not write any more—no, nor come here on Wednesday, if coming into the roar of this London should make the pain worse, as I cannot help thinking it must—and you were not well yesterday morning, you admitted. You will take care? And if there should be a wisdom in going away...!
Was it very wrong of me, doing what I told you of yesterday? Very imprudent, I am afraid—but I never knew how to be prudent—and then, there is not a sharing of responsibility in any sort of imaginable measure; but a mere going away of so many thoughts, apart from the thinker, or of words, apart from the speaker, ... just as I might give away a pocket-handkerchief to be newly marked and mine no longer. I did not do—and would not have done, ... one of those papers singly. It would have been unbecoming of me in every way. It was simply a writing of notes ... of slips of paper ... now on one subject, and now on another ... which were thrown into the great cauldron and boiled up with other matter, and re-translated from my idiom where there seemed a need for it. And I am not much afraid of being ever guessed at—except by those Oedipuses who astounded me once for a moment and were after all, I hope, baffled by the Sphinx—or ever betrayed; because besides the black Stygian oaths and indubitable honour of the editor, he has some interest, even as I have the greatest, in being silent and secret. And nothing is mine ... if something is of me ... or from me, rather. Yet it was wrong and foolish, I see plainly—wrong in all but the motives. How dreadful to write against time, and with a side-ways running conscience! And then the literature of the day was wider than his knowledge, all round! And the booksellers were barking distraction on every side!—I had some of the mottos to find too! But the paper relating to you I never was consulted about—or in one particular way it would have been better,—as easily it might have been. May God bless you, my dear friend,
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Morning. [Post-mark, July 25, 1845.]
You would let me now, I dare say, call myself grateful to you—yet such is my jealousy in these matters—so do I hate the material when it puts down, (or tries) the immaterial in the offices of friendship; that I could almost tell you I was not grateful, and try if that way I could make you see the substantiality of those other favours you refuse to recognise, and reality of the other gratitude you will not admit. But truth is truth, and you are all generosity, and will draw none but the fair inference, so I thank you as well as I can for this also—this last kindness. And you know its value, too—how if there were another you in the world, who had done all you have done and whom I merely admired for that; if such an one had sent me such a criticism, so exactly what I want and can use and turn to good; you know how I would have told you, my you I saw yesterday, all about it, and been sure of your sympathy and gladness:—but the two in one!
For the criticism itself, it is all true, except the over-eating—all the suggestions are to be adopted, the improvements accepted. I so thoroughly understand your spirit in this, that, just in this beginning, I should really like to have found some point in which I could cooeperate with your intention, and help my work by disputing the effect of any alteration proposed, if it ought to be disputed—that would answer your purpose exactly as well as agreeing with you,—so that the benefit to me were apparent; but this time I cannot dispute one point. All is for best.
So much for this 'Duchess'—which I shall ever rejoice in—wherever was a bud, even, in that strip of May-bloom, a live musical bee hangs now. I shall let it lie (my poem), till just before I print it; and then go over it, alter at the places, and do something for the places where I (really) wrote anyhow, almost, to get done. It is an odd fact, yet characteristic of my accomplishings one and all in this kind, that of the poem, the real conception of an evening (two years ago, fully)—of that, not a line is written,—though perhaps after all, what I am going to call the accessories in the story are real though indirect reflexes of the original idea, and so supersede properly enough the necessity of its personal appearance, so to speak. But, as I conceived the poem, it consisted entirely of the Gipsy's description of the life the Lady was to lead with her future Gipsy lover—a real life, not an unreal one like that with the Duke. And as I meant to write it, all their wild adventures would have come out and the insignificance of the former vegetation have been deducible only—as the main subject has become now; of course it comes to the same thing, for one would never show half by half like a cut orange.—
Will you write to me? caring, though, so much for my best interests as not to write if you can work for yourself, or save yourself fatigue. I think before writing—or just after writing—such a sentence—but reflection only justifies my first feeling; I would rather go without your letters, without seeing you at all, if that advantaged you—my dear, first and last friend; my friend! And now—surely I might dare say you may if you please get well through God's goodness—with persevering patience, surely—and this next winter abroad—which you must get ready for now, every sunny day, will you not? If I venture to weary you again with all this, is there not the cause of causes, and did not the prophet write that 'there was a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the E.B.B.' led on to the fortune of
Oh, let me tell you in the bitterness of my heart, that it was only 4 o'clock—that clock I enquired about—and that, ... no, I shall never say with any grace what I want to say ... and now dare not ... that you all but owe me an extra quarter of an hour next time: as in the East you give a beggar something for a few days running—then you miss him; and next day he looks indignant when the regular dole falls and murmurs—'And, for yesterday?'—Do I stay too long, I want to know,—too long for the voice and head and all but the spirit that may not so soon tire,—knowing the good it does. If you would but tell me.
God bless you—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, July 28, 1845]
You say too much indeed in this letter which has crossed mine—and particularly as there is not a word in it of what I most wanted to know and want to know ... how you are—for you must observe, if you please, that the very paper you pour such kindness on, was written after your own example and pattern, when, in the matter of my 'Prometheus' (such different wearying matter!), you took trouble for me and did me good. Judge from this, if even in inferior things, there can be gratitude from you to me!—or rather, do not judge—but listen when I say that I am delighted to have met your wishes in writing as I wrote; only that you are surely wrong in refusing to see a single wrongness in all that heap of weedy thoughts, and that when you look again, you must come to the admission of it. One of the thistles is the suggestion about the line
Was it singing, was it saying,
which you wrote so, and which I proposed to amend by an intermediate 'or.' Thinking of it at a distance, it grows clear to me that you were right, and that there should be and must be no 'or' to disturb the listening pause. Now should there? And there was something else, which I forget at this moment—and something more than the something else. Your account of the production of the poem interests me very much—and proves just what I wanted to make out from your statements the other day, and they refused, I thought, to let me, ... that you are more faithful to your first Idea than to your first plan. Is it so? or not? 'Orange' is orange—but which half of the orange is not predestinated from all eternity—: is it so?
Sunday.—I wrote so much yesterday and then went out, not knowing very well how to speak or how to be silent (is it better to-day?) of some expressions of yours ... and of your interest in me—which are deeply affecting to my feelings—whatever else remains to be said of them. And you know that you make great mistakes, ... of fennel for hemlock, of four o'clocks for five o'clocks, and of other things of more consequence, one for another; and may not be quite right besides as to my getting well 'if I please!' ... which reminds me a little of what Papa says sometimes when he comes into this room unexpectedly and convicts me of having dry toast for dinner, and declares angrily that obstinacy and dry toast have brought me to my present condition, and that if I pleased to have porter and beefsteaks instead, I should be as well as ever I was, in a month!... But where is the need of talking of it? What I wished to say was this—that if I get better or worse ... as long as I live and to the last moment of life, I shall remember with an emotion which cannot change its character, all the generous interest and feeling you have spent on me—wasted on me I was going to write—but I would not provoke any answering—and in one obvious sense, it need not be so. I never shall forget these things, my dearest friend; nor remember them more coldly. God's goodness!—I believe in it, as in His sunshine here—which makes my head ache a little, while it comes in at the window, and makes most other people gayer—it does me good too in a different way. And so, may God bless you! and me in this ... just this, ... that I may never have the sense, ... intolerable in the remotest apprehension of it ... of being, in any way, directly or indirectly, the means of ruffling your smooth path by so much as one of my flint-stones!—In the meantime you do not tire me indeed even when you go later for sooner ... and I do not tire myself even when I write longer and duller letters to you (if the last is possible) than the one I am ending now ... as the most grateful (leave me that word) of your friends.
How could you think that I should speak to Mr. Kenyon of the book? All I ever said to him has been that you had looked through my 'Prometheus' for me—and that I was not disappointed in you, these two things on two occasions. I do trust that your head is better.
R.B. to E.B.B.
[Post-mark, July 28, 1845.]
How must I feel, and what can, or could I say even if you let me say all? I am most grateful, most happy—most happy, come what will!
Will you let me try and answer your note to-morrow—before Wednesday when I am to see you? I will not hide from you that my head aches now; and I have let the hours go by one after one—I am better all the same, and will write as I say—'Am I better' you ask!
Yours I am, ever yours my dear friend R.B.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Thursday. [Post-mark, July 31, 1845.]
In all I say to you, write to you, I know very well that I trust to your understanding me almost beyond the warrant of any human capacity—but as I began, so I shall end. I shall believe you remember what I am forced to remember—you who do me the superabundant justice on every possible occasion,—you will never do me injustice when I sit by you and talk about Italy and the rest.
—To-day I cannot write—though I am very well otherwise—but I shall soon get into my old self-command and write with as much 'ineffectual fire' as before: but meantime, you will write to me, I hope—telling me how you are? I have but one greater delight in the world than in hearing from you.
God bless you, my best, dearest friend—think what I would speak—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Thursday. [Post-mark, August 2, 1845.]
Let me write one word ... not to have it off my mind ... because it is by no means heavily on it; but lest I should forget to write it at all by not writing it at once. What could you mean, ... I have been thinking since you went away ... by applying such a grave expression as having a thing 'off your mind' to that foolish subject of the stupid book (mine), and by making it worth your while to account logically for your wish about my not mentioning it to Mr. Kenyon? You could not fancy for one moment that I was vexed in the matter of the book? or in the other matter of your wish? Now just hear me. I explained to you that I had been silent to Mr. Kenyon, first because the fact was so; and next and a little, because I wanted to show how I anticipated your wish by a wish of my own ... though from a different motive. Your motive I really did take to be (never suspecting my dear kind cousin of treason) to be a natural reluctancy of being convicted (forgive me!) of such an arch-womanly curiosity. For my own motive ... motives ... they are more than one ... you must trust me; and refrain as far as you can from accusing me of an over-love of Eleusinian mysteries when I ask you to say just as little about your visits here and of me as you find possible ... even to Mr. Kenyon ... as to every other person whatever. As you know ... and yet more than you know ... I am in a peculiar position—and it does not follow that you should be ashamed of my friendship or that I should not be proud of yours, if we avoid making it a subject of conversation in high places, or low places. There! that is my request to you—or commentary on what you put 'off your mind' yesterday—probably quite unnecessary as either request or commentary; yet said on the chance of its not being so, because you seemed to mistake my remark about Mr. Kenyon.
And your head, how is it? And do consider if it would not be wise and right on that account of your health, to go with Mr. Chorley? You can neither work nor enjoy while you are subject to attacks of the kind—and besides, and without reference to your present suffering and inconvenience, you ought not to let them master you and gather strength from time and habit; I am sure you ought not. Worse last week than ever, you see!—and no prospect, perhaps, of bringing out your "Bells" this autumn, without paying a cost too heavy!—Therefore ... the therefore is quite plain and obvious!—
Friday.—Just as it is how anxious Flush and I are, to be delivered from you; by these sixteen heads of the discourse of one of us, written before your letter came. Ah, but I am serious—and you will consider—will you not? what is best to be done? and do it. You could write to me, you know, from the end of the world; if you could take the thought of me so far.
And for me, no, and yet yes,—I will say this much; that I am not inclined to do you injustice, but justice, when you come here—the justice of wondering to myself how you can possibly, possibly, care to come. Which is true enough to be unanswerable, if you please—or I should not say it. 'As I began, so I shall end—' Did you, as I hope you did, thank your sister for Flush and for me? When you were gone, he graciously signified his intention of eating the cakes—brought the bag to me and emptied it without a drawback, from my hand, cake after cake. And I forgot the basket once again.
And talking of Italy and the cardinals, and thinking of some cardinal points you are ignorant of, did you ever hear that I was one of
'those schismatiques of Amsterdam'
whom your Dr. Donne would have put into the dykes? unless he meant the Baptists, instead of the Independents, the holders of the Independent church principle. No—not 'schismatical,' I hope, hating as I do from the roots of my heart all that rending of the garment of Christ, which Christians are so apt to make the daily week-day of this Christianity so called—and caring very little for most dogmas and doxies in themselves—too little, as people say to me sometimes, (when they send me 'New Testaments' to learn from, with very kind intentions)—and believing that there is only one church in heaven and earth, with one divine High Priest to it; let exclusive religionists build what walls they please and bring out what chrisms. But I used to go with my father always, when I was able, to the nearest dissenting chapel of the Congregationalists—from liking the simplicity of that praying and speaking without books—and a little too from disliking the theory of state churches. There is a narrowness among the dissenters which is wonderful; an arid, grey Puritanism in the clefts of their souls: but it seems to me clear that they know what the 'liberty of Christ' means, far better than those do who call themselves 'churchmen'; and stand altogether, as a body, on higher ground. And so, you see, when I talked of the sixteen points of my discourse, it was the foreshadowing of a coming event, and you have had it at last in the whole length and breadth of it. But it is not my fault if the wind began to blow so that I could not go out—as I intended—as I shall do to-morrow; and that you have received my dulness in a full libation of it, in consequence. My sisters said of the roses you blasphemed, yesterday, that they 'never saw such flowers anywhere—anywhere here in London—' and therefore if I had thought so myself before, it was not so wrong of me. I put your roses, you see, against my letter, to make it seem less dull—and yet I do not forget what you say about caring to hear from me—I mean, I do not affect to forget it.
May God bless you, far longer than I can say so.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Evening. [Post-mark, August 4, 1845.]
I said what you comment on, about Mr. Kenyon, because I feel I must always tell you the simple truth—and not being quite at liberty to communicate the whole story (though it would at once clear me from the charge of over-curiosity ... if I much cared for that!)—I made my first request in order to prevent your getting at any part of it from him which should make my withholding seem disingenuous for the moment—that is, till my explanation came, if it had an opportunity of coming. And then, when I fancied you were misunderstanding the reason of that request—and supposing I was ambitious of making a higher figure in his eyes than your own,—I then felt it 'on my mind' and so spoke ... a natural mode of relief surely! For, dear friend, I have once been untrue to you—when, and how, and why, you know—but I thought it pedantry and worse to hold by my words and increase their fault. You have forgiven me that one mistake, and I only refer to it now because if you should ever make that a precedent, and put any least, most trivial word of mine under the same category, you would wrong me as you never wronged human being:—and that is done with. For the other matter,—the talk of my visits, it is impossible that any hint of them can ooze out of the only three persons in the world to whom I ever speak of them—my father, mother and sister—to whom my appreciation of your works is no novelty since some years, and whom I made comprehend exactly your position and the necessity for the absolute silence I enjoined respecting the permission to see you. You may depend on them,—and Miss Mitford is in your keeping, mind,—and dear Mr. Kenyon, if there should be never so gentle a touch of 'garrulous God-innocence' about those kind lips of his. Come, let me snatch at that clue out of the maze, and say how perfect, absolutely perfect, are those three or four pages in the 'Vision' which present the Poets—a line, a few words, and the man there,—one twang of the bow and the arrowhead in the white—Shelley's 'white ideal all statue-blind' is—perfect,—how can I coin words? And dear deaf old Hesiod—and—all, all are perfect, perfect! But 'the Moon's regality will hear no praise'—well then, will she hear blame? Can it be you, my own you past putting away, you are a schismatic and frequenter of Independent Dissenting Chapels? And you confess this to me—whose father and mother went this morning to the very Independent Chapel where they took me, all those years back, to be baptised—and where they heard, this morning, a sermon preached by the very minister who officiated on that other occasion! Now will you be particularly encouraged by this successful instance to bring forward any other point of disunion between us that may occur to you? Please do not—for so sure as you begin proving that there is a gulf fixed between us, so sure shall I end proving that ... Anne Radcliffe avert it!... that you are just my sister: not that I am much frightened, but there are such surprises in novels!—Blame the next,—yes, now this is to be real blame!—And I meant to call your attention to it before. Why, why, do you blot out, in that unutterably provoking manner, whole lines, not to say words, in your letters—(and in the criticism on the 'Duchess')—if it is a fact that you have a second thought, does it cease to be as genuine a fact, that first thought you please to efface? Why give a thing and take a thing? Is there no significance in putting on record that your first impression was to a certain effect and your next to a certain other, perhaps completely opposite one? If any proceeding of yours could go near to deserve that harsh word 'impertinent' which you have twice, in speech and writing, been pleased to apply to your observations on me; certainly this does go as near as can be—as there is but one step to take from Southampton pier to New York quay, for travellers Westward. Now will you lay this to heart and perpend—lest in my righteous indignation I [some words effaced here]! For my own health—it improves, thank you! And I shall go abroad all in good time, never fear. For my 'Bells,' Mr. Chorley tells me there is no use in the world of printing them before November at earliest—and by that time I shall get done with these Romances and certainly one Tragedy (that could go to press next week)—in proof of which I will bring you, if you let me, a few more hundreds of lines next Wednesday. But, 'my poet,' if I would, as is true, sacrifice all my works to do your fingers, even, good—what would I not offer up to prevent you staying ... perhaps to correct my very verses ... perhaps read and answer my very letters ... staying the production of more 'Berthas' and 'Caterinas' and 'Geraldines,' more great and beautiful poems of which I shall be—how proud! Do not be punctual in paying tithes of thyme, mint, anise and cummin, and leaving unpaid the real weighty dues of the Law; nor affect a scrupulous acknowledgment of 'what you owe me' in petty manners, while you leave me to settle such a charge, as accessory to the hiding the Talent, as best I can! I have thought of this again and again, and would have spoken of it to you, had I ever felt myself fit to speak of any subject nearer home and me and you than Rome and Cardinal Acton. For, observe, you have not done ... yes, the 'Prometheus,' no doubt ... but with that exception have you written much lately, as much as last year when 'you wrote all your best things' you said, I think? Yet you are better now than then. Dearest friend, I intend to write more, and very likely be praised more, now I care less than ever for it, but still more do I look to have you ever before me, in your place, and with more poetry and more praise still, and my own heartfelt praise ever on the top, like a flower on the water. I have said nothing of yesterday's storm ... thunder ... may you not have been out in it! The evening draws in, and I will walk out. May God bless you, and let you hold me by the hand till the end—Yes, dearest friend!