E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, August 8, 1845.]
Just to show what may be lost by my crossings out, I will tell you the story of the one in the 'Duchess'—and in fact it is almost worth telling to a metaphysician like you, on other grounds, that you may draw perhaps some psychological good from the absurdity of it. Hear, then. When I had done writing the sheet of annotations and reflections on your poem I took up my pencil to correct the passages reflected on with the reflections, by the crosses you may observe, just glancing over the writing as I did so. Well! and, where that erasure is, I found a line purporting to be extracted from your 'Duchess,' with sundry acute criticisms and objections quite undeniably strong, following after it; only, to my amazement, as I looked and looked, the line so acutely objected to and purporting, as I say, to, be taken from the 'Duchess,' was by no means to be found in the 'Duchess,' ... nor anything like it, ... and I am certain indeed that, in the 'Duchess' or out of it, you never wrote such a bad line in your life. And so it became a proved thing to me that I had been enacting, in a mystery, both poet and critic together—and one so neutralizing the other, that I took all that pains you remark upon to cross myself out in my double capacity, ... and am now telling the story of it notwithstanding. And there's an obvious moral to the myth, isn't there? for critics who bark the loudest, commonly bark at their own shadow in the glass, as my Flush used to do long and loud, before he gained experience and learnt the [Greek: gnothi seauton] in the apparition of the brown dog with the glittering dilating eyes, ... and as I did, under the erasure. And another moral springs up of itself in this productive ground; for, you see, ... 'quand je m'efface il n'ya pas grand mal.'
And I am to be made to work very hard, am I? But you should remember that if I did as much writing as last summer, I should not be able to do much else, ... I mean, to go out and walk about ... for really I think I could manage to read your poems and write as I am writing now, with ever so much head-work of my own going on at the same time. But the bodily exercise is different, and I do confess that the novelty of living more in the outer life for the last few months than I have done for years before, make me idle and inclined to be idle—and everybody is idle sometimes—even you perhaps—are you not? For me, you know, I do carpet-work—ask Mrs. Jameson—and I never pretend to be in a perpetual motion of mental industry. Still it may not be quite as bad as you think: I have done some work since 'Prometheus'—only it is nothing worth speaking of and not a part of the romance-poem which is to be some day if I live for it—lyrics for the most part, which lie written illegibly in pure Egyptian—oh, there is time enough, and too much perhaps! and so let me be idle a little now, and enjoy your poems while I can. It is pure enjoyment and must be—but you do not know how much, or you would not talk as you do sometimes ... so wide of any possible application.
And do not talk again of what you would 'sacrifice' for me. If you affect me by it, which is true, you cast me from you farther than ever in the next thought. That is true.
The poems ... yours ... which you left with me,—are full of various power and beauty and character, and you must let me have my own gladness from them in my own way.
Now I must end this letter. Did you go to Chelsea and hear the divine philosophy?
Tell me the truth always ... will you? I mean such truths as may be painful to me though truths....
May God bless you, ever dear friend.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Afternoon. [Post-mark, August 8, 1845.]
Then there is one more thing 'off my mind': I thought it might be with you as with me—not remembering how different are the causes that operate against us; different in kind as in degree:—so much reading hurts me, for instance,—whether the reading be light or heavy, fiction or fact, and so much writing, whether my own, such as you have seen, or the merest compliment-returning to the weary tribe that exact it of one. But your health—that before all!... as assuring all eventually ... and on the other accounts you must know! Never, pray, pray, never lose one sunny day or propitious hour to 'go out or walk about.' But do not surprise me, one of these mornings, by 'walking' up to me when I am introduced' ... or I shall infallibly, in spite of all the after repentance and begging pardon—I shall [words effaced]. So here you learn the first 'painful truth' I have it in my power to tell you!
I sent you the last of our poor roses this morning—considering that I fairly owed that kindness to them.
Yes, I went to Chelsea and found dear Carlyle alone—his wife is in the country where he will join her as soon as his book's last sheet returns corrected and fit for press—which will be at the month's end about. He was all kindness and talked like his own self while he made me tea—and, afterward, brought chairs into the little yard, rather than garden, and smoked his pipe with apparent relish; at night he would walk as far as Vauxhall Bridge on my way home.
If I used the word 'sacrifice,' you do well to object—I can imagine nothing ever to be done by me worthy such a name.
God bless you, dearest friend—shall I hear from you before Tuesday?
Ever your own
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday. [Post-mark, August 8, 1845.]
It is very kind to send these flowers—too kind—why are they sent? and without one single word ... which is not too kind certainly. I looked down into the heart of the roses and turned the carnations over and over to the peril of their leaves, and in vain! Not a word do I deserve to-day, I suppose! And yet if I don't, I don't deserve the flowers either. There should have been an equal justice done to my demerits, O Zeus with the scales!
After all I do thank you for these flowers—and they are beautiful—and they came just in a right current of time, just when I wanted them, or something like them—so I confess that humbly, and do thank you, at last, rather as I ought to do. Only you ought not to give away all the flowers of your garden to me; and your sister thinks so, be sure—if as silently as you sent them. Now I shall not write any more, not having been written to. What with the Wednesday's flowers and these, you may think how I in this room, look down on the gardens of Damascus, let your Jew say what he pleases of them—and the Wednesday's flowers are as fresh and beautiful, I must explain, as the new ones. They were quite supererogatory ... the new ones ... in the sense of being flowers. Now, the sense of what I am writing seems questionable, does it not?—at least, more so, than the nonsense of it.
Not a word, even under the little blue flowers!!!—
[Footnote 1: 'R. Benjamin of Tudela' added in Robert Browning's handwriting.]
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Afternoon. [Post-mark, August 11, 1845.]
How good you are to the smallest thing I try and do—(to show I would please you for an instant if I could, rather than from any hope such poor efforts as I am restricted to, can please you or ought.) And that you should care for the note that was not there!—But I was surprised by the summons to seal and deliver, since time and the carrier were peremptory—and so, I dared divine, almost, I should hear from you by our mid-day post—which happened—and the answer to that, you received on Friday night, did you not? I had to go to Holborn, of all places,—not to pluck strawberries in the Bishop's Garden like Richard Crouchback, but to get a book—and there I carried my note, thinking to expedite its delivery: this notelet of yours, quite as little in its kind as my blue flowers,—this came last evening—and here are my thanks, dear E.B.B.—dear friend.
In the former note there is a phrase I must not forget to call on you to account for—that where it confesses to having done 'some work—only nothing worth speaking of.' Just see,—will you be first and only compact-breaker? Nor misunderstand me here, please, ... as I said, I am quite rejoiced that you go out now, 'walk about' now, and put off the writing that will follow thrice as abundantly, all because of the stopping to gather strength ... so I want no new word, not to say poem, not to say the romance-poem—let the 'finches in the shrubberies grow restless in the dark'—I am inside with the lights and music: but what is done, is done, pas vrai? And 'worth' is, dear my friend, pardon me, not in your arbitration quite.
Let me tell you an odd thing that happened at Chorley's the other night. I must have mentioned to you that I forget my own verses so surely after they are once on paper, that I ought, without affectation, to mend them infinitely better, able as I am to bring fresh eyes to bear on them—(when I say 'once on paper' that is just what I mean and no more, for after the sad revising begins they do leave their mark, distinctly or less so according to circumstances). Well, Miss Cushman, the new American actress (clever and truthful-looking) was talking of a new novel by the Dane Andersen, he of the 'Improvisatore,' which will reach us, it should seem, in translation, via America—she had looked over two or three proofs of the work in the press, and Chorley was anxious to know something about its character. The title, she said, was capital—'Only a Fiddler!'—and she enlarged on that word, 'Only,' and its significance, so put: and I quite agreed with her for several minutes, till first one reminiscence flitted to me, then another and at last I was obliged to stop my praises and say 'but, now I think of it, I seem to have written something with a similar title—nay, a play, I believe—yes, and in five acts—'Only an Actress'—and from that time, some two years or more ago to this, I have been every way relieved of it'!—And when I got home, next morning, I made a dark pocket in my russet horror of a portfolio give up its dead, and there fronted me 'Only a Player-girl' (the real title) and the sayings and doings of her, and the others—such others! So I made haste and just tore out one sample-page, being Scene the First, and sent it to our friend as earnest and proof I had not been purely dreaming, as might seem to be the case. And what makes me recall it now is, that it was Russian, and about a fair on the Neva, and booths and droshkies and fish-pies and so forth, with the Palaces in the back ground. And in Chorley's Athenaeum of yesterday you may read a paper of very simple moony stuff about the death of Alexander, and that Sir James Wylie I have seen at St. Petersburg (where he chose to mistake me for an Italian—'M. l'Italien' he said another time, looking up from his cards).... So I think to tell you.
Now I may leave off—I shall see you start, on Tuesday—hear perhaps something definite about your travelling.
Do you know, 'Consuelo' wearies me—oh, wearies—and the fourth volume I have all but stopped at—there lie the three following, but who cares about Consuelo after that horrible evening with the Venetian scamp, (where he bullies her, and it does answer, after all she says) as we say? And Albert wearies too—it seems all false, all writing—not the first part, though. And what easy work these novelists have of it! a Dramatic poet has to make you love or admire his men and women,—they must do and say all that you are to see and hear—really do it in your face, say it in your ears, and it is wholly for you, in your power, to name, characterize and so praise or blame, what is so said and done ... if you don't perceive of yourself, there is no standing by, for the Author, and telling you. But with these novelists, a scrape of the pen—out blurting of a phrase, and the miracle is achieved—'Consuelo possessed to perfection this and the other gift'—what would you more? Or, to leave dear George Sand, pray think of Bulwer's beginning a 'character' by informing you that lone, or somebody in 'Pompeii,' 'was endowed with perfect genius'—'genius'! What though the obliging informer might write his fingers off before he gave the pitifullest proof that the poorest spark of that same, that genius, had ever visited him? Ione has it 'perfectly'—perfectly—and that is enough! Zeus with the scales? with the false weights!
And now—till Tuesday good-bye, and be willing to get well as (letting me send porter instead of flowers—and beefsteaks too!) soon as may be! and may God bless you, ever dear friend.
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, August 11, 1845.]
But if it 'hurts' you to read and write ever so little, why should I be asked to write ... for instance ... 'before Tuesday?' And I did mean to say before to-day, that I wish you never would write to me when you are not quite well, as once or twice you have done if not much oftener; because there is not a necessity, ... and I do not choose that there should ever be, or seem a necessity, ... do you understand? And as a matter of personal preference, it is natural for me to like the silence that does not hurt you, better than the speech that does. And so, remember.
And talking of what may 'hurt' you and me, you would smile, as I have often done in the midst of my vexation, if you knew the persecution I have been subjected to by the people who call themselves (lucus a non lucendo) 'the faculty,' and set themselves against the exercise of other people's faculties, as a sure way to death and destruction. The modesty and simplicity with which one's physicians tell one not to think or feel, just as they would tell one not to walk out in the dew, would be quite amusing, if it were not too tryingly stupid sometimes. I had a doctor once who thought he had done everything because he had carried the inkstand out of the room—'Now,' he said, 'you will have such a pulse to-morrow.' He gravely thought poetry a sort of disease—a sort of fungus of the brain—and held as a serious opinion, that nobody could be properly well who exercised it as an art—which was true (he maintained) even of men—he had studied the physiology of poets, 'quotha'—but that for women, it was a mortal malady and incompatible with any common show of health under any circumstances. And then came the damnatory clause in his experience ... that he had never known 'a system' approaching mine in 'excitability' ... except Miss Garrow's ... a young lady who wrote verses for Lady Blessington's annuals ... and who was the only other female rhymer he had had the misfortune of attending. And she was to die in two years, though she was dancing quadrilles then (and has lived to do the same by the polka), and I, of course, much sooner, if I did not ponder these things, and amend my ways, and take to reading 'a course of history'!! Indeed I do not exaggerate. And just so, for a long while I was persecuted and pestered ... vexed thoroughly sometimes ... my own family, instructed to sing the burden out all day long—until the time when the subject was suddenly changed by my heart being broken by that great stone that fell out of Heaven. Afterwards I was let do anything I could best ... which was very little, until last year—and the working, last year, did much for me in giving me stronger roots down into life, ... much. But think of that absurd reasoning that went before!—the niaiserie of it! For, granting all the premises all round, it is not the utterance of a thought that can hurt anybody; while only the utterance is dependent on the will; and so, what can the taking away of an inkstand do? Those physicians are such metaphysicians! It's curious to listen to them. And it's wise to leave off listening: though I have met with excessive kindness among them, ... and do not refer to Dr. Chambers in any of this, of course.
I am very glad you went to Chelsea—and it seemed finer afterwards, on purpose to make room for the divine philosophy. Which reminds me (the going to Chelsea) that my brother Henry confessed to me yesterday, with shame and confusion of face, to having mistaken and taken your umbrella for another belonging to a cousin of ours then in the house. He saw you ... without conjecturing, just at the moment, who you were. Do you conjecture sometimes that I live all alone here like Mariana in the moated Grange? It is not quite so—: but where there are many, as with us, every one is apt to follow his own devices—and my father is out all day and my brothers and sisters are in and out, and with too large a public of noisy friends for me to bear, ... and I see them only at certain hours, ... except, of course, my sisters. And then as you have 'a reputation' and are opined to talk generally in blank verse, it is not likely that there should be much irreverent rushing into this room when you are known to be in it.
The flowers are ... so beautiful! Indeed it was wrong, though, to send me the last. It was not just to the lawful possessors and enjoyers of them. That it was kind to me I do not forget.
You are too teachable a pupil in the art of obliterating—and omne ignotum pro terrifico ... and therefore I won't frighten you by walking to meet you for fear of being frightened myself.
So good-bye until Tuesday. I ought not to make you read all this, I know, whether you like to read it or not: and I ought not to have written it, having no better reason than because I like to write on and on. You have better reasons for thinking me very weak—and I, too good ones for not being able to reproach you for that natural and necessary opinion.
May God bless you my dearest friend.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Evening. [Post-mark, August 13, 1845.]
What can I say, or hope to say to you when I see what you do for me?
This—for myself, (nothing for you!)—this, that I think the great, great good I get by your kindness strikes me less than that kindness.
All is right, too—
Come, I WILL have my fault-finding at last! So you can decypher my utterest hieroglyphic? Now droop the eyes while I triumph: the plains cower, cower beneath the mountains their masters—and the Priests stomp over the clay ridges, (a palpable plagiarism from two lines of a legend that delighted my infancy, and now instruct my maturer years in pretty nearly all they boast of the semi-mythologic era referred to—'In London town, when reigned King Lud, His lords went stomping thro' the mud'—would all historic records were half as picturesque!)
But you know, yes, you know you are too indulgent by far—and treat these roughnesses as if they were advanced to many a stage! Meantime the pure gain is mine, and better, the kind generous spirit is mine, (mine to profit by)—and best—best—best, the dearest friend is mine,
So be happy
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, August 13, 1845.]
Yes, I admit that it was stupid to read that word so wrong. I thought there was a mistake somewhere, but that it was yours, who had written one word, meaning to write another. 'Cower' puts it all right of course. But is there an English word of a significance different from 'stamp,' in 'stomp?' Does not the old word King Lud's men stomped withal, claim identity with our 'stamping.' The a and o used to 'change about,' you know, in the old English writers—see Chaucer for it. Still the 'stomp' with the peculiar significance, is better of course than the 'stamp' even with a rhyme ready for it, and I dare say you are justified in daring to put this old wine into the new bottle; and we will drink to the health of the poem in it. It is 'Italy in England'—isn't it? But I understand and understood perfectly, through it all, that it is unfinished, and in a rough state round the edges. I could not help seeing that, even if I were still blinder than when I read 'Lower' for 'Cower.'
But do not, I ask of you, speak of my 'kindness' ... my kindness!—mine! It is 'wasteful and ridiculous excess' and mis-application to use such words of me. And therefore, talking of 'compacts' and the 'fas' and 'nefas' of them, I entreat you to know for the future that whatever I write of your poetry, if it isn't to be called 'impertinence,' isn't to be called 'kindness,' any more, ... a fortiori, as people say when they are sure of an argument. Now, will you try to understand?
And talking still of compacts, how and where did I break any compact? I do not see.
It was very curious, the phenomenon about your 'Only a Player-Girl.' What an un-godlike indifference to your creatures though—your worlds, breathed away from you like soap bubbles, and dropping and breaking into russet portfolios unobserved! Only a god for the Epicurean, at best, can you be? That Miss Cushman went to Three Mile Cross the other day, and visited Miss Mitford, and pleased her a good deal, I fancied from what she said, ... and with reason, from what you say. And 'Only a Fiddler,' as I forgot to tell you yesterday, is announced, you may see in any newspaper, as about to issue from the English press by Mary Howitt's editorship. So we need not go to America for it. But if you complain of George Sand for want of art, how could you bear Andersen, who can see a thing under his eyes and place it under yours, and take a thought separately into his soul and express it insularly, but has no sort of instinct towards wholeness and unity; and writes a book by putting so many pages together, ... just so!—For the rest, there can be no disagreeing with you about the comparative difficulty of novel-writing and drama-writing. I disagree a little, lower down in your letter, because I could not deny (in my own convictions) a certain proportion of genius to the author of 'Ernest Maltravers,' and 'Alice' (did you ever read those books?), even if he had more impotently tried (supposing it to be possible) for the dramatic laurel. In fact his poetry, dramatic or otherwise, is 'nought'; but for the prose romances, and for 'Ernest Maltravers' above all, I must lift up my voice and cry. And I read the Athenaeum about your Sir James Wylie who took you for an Italian....
'Poi vi diro Signor, che ne fu causa Ch' avio fatto al scriver debita pausa.'—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Morning. [Post-mark, August 15, 1845.]
Do you know, dear friend, it is no good policy to stop up all the vents of my feeling, nor leave one for safety's sake, as you will do, let me caution you never so repeatedly. I know, quite well enough, that your 'kindness' is not so apparent, even, in this instance of correcting my verses, as in many other points—but on such points, you lift a finger to me and I am dumb.... Am I not to be allowed a word here neither?
I remember, in the first season of German Opera here, when 'Fidelio's' effects were going, going up to the gallery in order to get the best of the last chorus—get its oneness which you do—and, while perched there an inch under the ceiling, I was amused with the enormous enthusiasm of an elderly German (we thought,—I and a cousin of mine)—whose whole body broke out in billow, heaved and swayed in the perfection of his delight, hands, head, feet, all tossing and striving to utter what possessed him. Well—next week, we went again to the Opera, and again mounted at the proper time, but the crowd was greater, and our mild great faced white haired red cheeked German was not to be seen, not at first—for as the glory was at its full, my cousin twisted me round and made me see an arm, only an arm, all the body of its owner being amalgamated with a dense crowd on each side, before, and—not behind, because they, the crowd, occupied the last benches, over which we looked—and this arm waved and exulted as if 'for the dignity of the whole body,'—relieved it of its dangerous accumulation of repressed excitability. When the crowd broke up all the rest of the man disengaged itself by slow endeavours, and there stood our friend confessed—as we were sure!
—Now, you would have bade him keep his arm quiet? 'Lady Geraldine, you would!'
I have read those novels—but I must keep that word of words, 'genius'—for something different—'talent' will do here surely.
There lies 'Consuelo'—done with!
I shall tell you frankly that it strikes me as precisely what in conventional language with the customary silliness is styled a woman's book, in its merits and defects,—and supremely timid in all the points where one wants, and has a right to expect, some fruit of all the pretence and George Sandism. These are occasions when one does say, in the phrase of her school, 'que la Femme parle!' or what is better, let her act! and how does Consuelo comfort herself on such an emergency? Why, she bravely lets the uninspired people throw down one by one their dearest prejudices at her feet, and then, like a very actress, picks them up, like so many flowers, returning them to the breast of the owners with a smile and a courtesy and trips off the stage with a glance at the Pit. Count Christian, Baron Frederic, Baroness—what is her name—all open their arms, and Consuelo will not consent to entail disgrace &c. &c. No, you say—she leaves them in order to solve the problem of her true feeling, whether she can really love Albert; but remember that this is done, (that is, so much of it as ever is done, and as determines her to accept his hand at the very last)—this is solved sometime about the next morning—or earlier—I forget—and in the meantime, Albert gets that 'benefit of the doubt' of which chapter the last informs you. As for the hesitation and self examination on the matter of that Anzoleto—the writer is turning over the leaves of a wrong dictionary, seeking help from Psychology, and pretending to forget there is such a thing as Physiology. Then, that horrible Porpora:—if George Sand gives him to a Consuelo for an absolute master, in consideration of his services specified, and is of opinion that they warrant his conduct, or at least, oblige submission to it,—then, I find her objections to the fatherly rule of Frederic perfectly impertinent—he having a few claims upon the gratitude of Prussia also, in his way, I believe! If the strong ones will make the weak ones lead them—then, for Heaven's sake, let this dear old all-abused world keep on its course without these outcries and tearings of hair, and don't be for ever goading the Karls and other trodden-down creatures till they get their carbines in order (very rationally) to abate the nuisance—when you make the man a long speech against some enormity he is about to commit, and adjure and beseech and so forth, till he throws down the aforesaid carbine, falls on his knees, and lets the Frederic go quietly on his way to keep on killing his thousands after the fashion that moved your previous indignation. Now is that right, consequential—that is, inferential; logically deduced, going straight to the end—manly?
The accessories are not the Principal, the adjuncts—the essence, nor the ornamental incidents the book's self, so what matters it if the portraits are admirable, the descriptions eloquent, (eloquent, there it is—that is her characteristic—what she has to speak, she speaks out, speaks volubly forth, too well, inasmuch as you say, advancing a step or two, 'And now speak as completely here'—and she says nothing)—but all that, another could do, as others have done—but 'la femme qui parle'—Ah, that, is this all? So I am not George Sand's—she teaches me nothing—I look to her for nothing.
I am ever yours, dearest friend. How I write to you—page on page! But Tuesday—who could wait till then! Shall I not hear from you?
God bless you ever
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, August 16, 1845.]
But what likeness is there between opposites; and what has 'M. l'Italien' to do with the said 'elderly German'? See how little! For to bring your case into point, somebody should have been playing on a Jew's harp for the whole of the orchestra; and the elderly German should have quoted something about 'Harp of Judah' to the Venetian behind him! And there, you would have proved your analogy!—Because you see, my dear friend, it was not the expression, but the thing expressed, I cried out against—the exaggeration in your mind. I am sorry when I write what you do not like—but I have instincts and impulses too strong for me when you say things which put me into such a miserably false position in respect to you—as for instance, when in this very last letter (oh, I must tell you!) you talk of my 'correcting your verses'! My correcting your verses!!!—Now is that a thing for you to say?—And do you really imagine that if I kept that happily imagined phrase in my thoughts, I should be able to tell you one word of my impressions from your poetry, ever, ever again? Do you not see at once what a disqualifying and paralysing phrase it must be, of simple necessity? So it is I who have reason to complain, ... it appears to me, ... and by no means you—and in your 'second consideration' you become aware of it, I do not at all doubt.
As to 'Consuelo' I agree with nearly all that you say of it—though George Sand, we are to remember, is greater than 'Consuelo,' and not to be depreciated according to the defects of that book, nor classified as 'femme qui parle' ... she who is man and woman together, ... judging her by the standard of even that book in the nobler portions of it. For the inconsequency of much in the book, I admit it of course—and you will admit that it is the rarest of phenomena when men ... men of logic ... follow their own opinions into their obvious results—nobody, you know, ever thinks of doing such a thing: to pursue one's own inferences is to rush in where angels ... perhaps ... do not fear to tread, ... but where there will not be much other company. So the want of practical logic shall be a human fault rather than a womanly one, if you please: and you must please also to remember that 'Consuelo' is only 'half the orange'; and that when you complain of its not being a whole one, you overlook that hand which is holding to you the 'Comtesse de Rudolstadt' in three volumes! Not that I, who have read the whole, profess a full satisfaction about Albert and the rest—and Consuelo is made to be happy by a mere clap-trap at last: and Mme. Dudevant has her specialities,—in which, other women, I fancy, have neither part nor lot, ... even here!—Altogether, the book is a sort of rambling 'Odyssey,' a female 'Odyssey,' if you like, but full of beauty and nobleness, let the faults be where they may. And then, I like those long, long books, one can live away into ... leaving the world and above all oneself, quite at the end of the avenue of palms—quite out of sight and out of hearing!—Oh, I have felt something like that so often—so often! and you never felt it, and never will, I hope.
But if Bulwer had written nothing but the 'Ernest Maltravers' books, you would think perhaps more highly of him. Do you not think it possible now? It is his most impotent struggling into poetry, which sets about proving a negative of genius on him—that, which the Athenaeum praises as 'respectable attainment in various walks of literature'—! like the Athenaeum, isn't it? and worthy praise, to be administered by professed judges of art? What is to be expected of the public, when the teachers of the public teach so?—
When you come on Tuesday, do not forget the MS. if any is done—only don't let it be done so as to tire and hurt you—mind! And good-bye until Tuesday, from
E.B.B. to R.B.
Sunday. [Post-mark, August 18, 1845.]
I am going to propose to you to give up Tuesday, and to take your choice of two or three other days, say Friday, or Saturday, or to-morrow ... Monday. Mr. Kenyon was here to-day and talked of leaving London on Friday, and of visiting me again on 'Tuesday' ... he said, ... but that is an uncertainty, and it may be Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. So I thought (wrong or right) that out of the three remaining days you would not mind choosing one. And if you do choose the Monday, there will be no need to write—nor time indeed—; but if the Friday or Saturday, I shall hear from you, perhaps. Above all things remember, my dear friend, that I shall not expect you to-morrow, except as by a bare possibility. In great haste, signed and sealed this Sunday evening by
R.B. to E.B.B.
Monday, 7 P.M. [Post-mark, August 19, 1845.]
I this moment get your note—having been out since the early morning—and I must write just to catch the post. You are pure kindness and considerateness, no thanks to you!—(since you will have it so—). I choose Friday, then,—but I shall hear from you before Thursday, I dare hope? I have all but passed your house to-day—with an Italian friend, from Rome, whom I must go about with a little on weariful sight seeing, so I shall earn Friday.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday. [Post-mark, August 20, 1845.]
I fancied it was just so—as I did not hear and did not see you on Monday. Not that you were expected particularly—but that you would have written your own negative, it appeared to me, by some post in the day, if you had received my note in time. It happened well too, altogether, as you have a friend with you, though Mr. Kenyon does not come, and will not come, I dare say; for he spoke like a doubter at the moment; and as this Tuesday wears on, I am not likely to have any visitors on it after all, and may as well, if the rain quite ceases, go and spend my solitude on the park a little. Flush wags his tail at that proposition when I speak it loud out. And I am to write to you before Friday, and so, am writing, you see ... which I should not, should not have done if I had not been told; because it is not my turn to write, ... did you think it was?
Not a word of Malta! except from Mr. Kenyon who talked homilies of it last Sunday and wanted to speak them to Papa—but it would not do in any way—now especially—and in a little time there will be a decision for or against; and I am afraid of both ... which is a happy state of preparation. Did I not tell you that early in the summer I did some translations for Miss Thomson's 'Classical Album,' from Bion and Theocritus, and Nonnus the author of that large (not great) poem in some forty books of the 'Dionysiaca' ... and the paraphrases from Apuleius? Well—I had a letter from her the other day, full of compunction and ejaculation, and declaring the fact that Mr. Burges had been correcting all the proofs of the poems; leaving out and emending generally, according to his own particular idea of the pattern in the mount—is it not amusing? I have been wicked enough to write in reply that it is happy for her and all readers ... sua si bona norint ... if during some half hour which otherwise might have been dedicated by Mr. Burges to patting out the lights of Sophocles and his peers, he was satisfied with the humbler devastation of E.B.B. upon Nonnus. You know it is impossible to help being amused. This correcting is a mania with that man! And then I, who wrote what I did from the 'Dionysiaca,' with no respect for 'my author,' and an arbitrary will to 'put the case' of Bacchus and Ariadne as well as I could, for the sake of the art-illustrations, ... those subjects Miss Thomson sent me, ... and did it all with full liberty and persuasion of soul that nobody would think it worth while to compare English with Greek and refer me back to Nonnus and detect my wanderings from the text!! But the critic was not to be cheated so! And I do not doubt that he has set me all 'to rights' from beginning to end; and combed Ariadne's hair close to her cheeks for me. Have you known Nonnus, ... you who forget nothing? and have known everything, I think? For it is quite startling, I must tell you, quite startling and humiliating, to observe how you combine such large tracts of experience of outer and inner life, of books and men, of the world and the arts of it; curious knowledge as well as general knowledge ... and deep thinking as well as wide acquisition, ... and you, looking none the older for it all!—yes, and being besides a man of genius and working your faculty and not wasting yourself over a surface or away from an end. Dugald Stewart said that genius made naturally a lop-sided mind—did he not? He ought to have known you. And I who do ... a little ... (for I grow more loth than I was to assume the knowledge of you, my dear friend)—I do not mean to use that word 'humiliation' in the sense of having felt the thing myself in any painful way, ... because I never for a moment did, or could, you know,—never could ... never did ... except indeed when you have over praised me, which forced another personal feeling in. Otherwise it has always been quite pleasant to me to be 'startled and humiliated'—and more so perhaps than to be startled and exalted, if I might choose....
Only I did not mean to write all this, though you told me to write to you. But the rain which keeps one in, gives one an example of pouring on ... and you must endure as you can or will. Also ... as you have a friend with you 'from Italy' ... 'from Rome,' and commended me for my 'kindness and considerateness' in changing Tuesday to Friday ... (wasn't it?...) shall I still be more considerate and put off the visit-day to next week? mind, you let it be as you like it best to be—I mean, as is most convenient 'for the nonce' to you and your friend—because all days are equal, as to that matter of convenience, to your other friend of this ilk,
R.B. to E.B.B.
Wednesday Morning. [Post-mark, August 20, 1845.]
Mauvaise, mauvaise, mauvaise, you know as I know, just as much, that your 'kindness and considerateness' consisted, not in putting off Tuesday for another day, but in caring for my coming at all; for my coming and being told at the door that you were engaged, and I might call another time! And you are NOT, NOT my 'other friend,' any more than this head of mine is my other head, seeing that I have got a violin which has a head too! All which, beware lest you get fully told in the letter I will write this evening, when I have done with my Romans—who are, it so happens, here at this minute; that is, have left the house for a few minutes with my sister—but are not 'with me,' as you seem to understand it,—in the house to stay. They were kind to me in Rome, (husband and wife), and I am bound to be of what use I may during their short stay. Let me lose no time in begging and praying you to cry 'hands off' to that dreadful Burgess; have not I got a ... but I will tell you to-night—or on Friday which is my day, please—Friday. Till when, pray believe me, with respect and esteem,
Your most obliged and disobliged at these blank endings—what have I done? God bless you ever dearest friend.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Thursday, 7 o'clock. [Post-mark, August 21, 1845.]
I feel at home, this blue early morning, now that I sit down to write (or, speak, as I try and fancy) to you, after a whole day with those 'other friends'—dear good souls, whom I should be so glad to serve, and to whom service must go by way of last will and testament, if a few more hours of 'social joy,' 'kindly intercourse,' &c., fall to my portion. My friend the Countess began proceedings (when I first saw her, not yesterday) by asking 'if I had got as much money as I expected by any works published of late?'—to which I answered, of course, 'exactly as much'—e grazioso! (All the same, if you were to ask her, or the like of her, 'how much the stone-work of the Coliseum would fetch, properly burned down to lime?'—she would shudder from head to foot and call you 'barbaro' with good Trojan heart.) Now you suppose—(watch my rhetorical figure here)—you suppose I am going to congratulate myself on being so much for the better, en pays de connaissance, with my 'other friend,' E.B.B., number 2—or 200, why not?—whereas I mean to 'fulmine over Greece,' since thunder frightens you, for all the laurels,—and to have reason for your taking my own part and lot to yourself—I do, will, must, and will, again, wonder at you and admire you, and so on to the climax. It is a fixed, immovable thing: so fixed that I can well forego talking about it. But if to talk you once begin, 'the King shall enjoy (or receive quietly) his own again'—I wear no bright weapon out of that Panoply ... or Panoplite, as I think you call Nonnus, nor ever, like Leigh Hunt's 'Johnny, ever blythe and bonny, went singing Nonny, nonny' and see to-morrow, what a vengeance I will take for your 'mere suspicion in that kind'! But to the serious matter ... nay, I said yesterday, I believe—keep off that Burgess—he is stark staring mad—mad, do you know? The last time I met him he told me he had recovered I forget how many of the lost books of Thucydides—found them imbedded in Suidas (I think), and had disengaged them from his Greek, without loss of a letter, 'by an instinct he, Burgess, had'—(I spell his name wrongly to help the proper hiss at the end). Then, once on a time, he found in the 'Christus Patiens,' an odd dozen of lines, clearly dropped out of the 'Prometheus,' and proving that AEschylus was aware of the invention of gunpowder. He wanted to help Dr. Leonhard Schmitz in his 'Museum'—and scared him, as Schmitz told me. What business has he, Burges, with English verse—and what on earth, or under it, has Miss Thomson to do with him. If she must displease one of two, why is Mr. B. not to be thanked and 'sent to feed,' as the French say prettily? At all events, do pray see what he has presumed to alter ... you can alter at sufficient warrant, profit by suggestion, I should think! But it is all Miss Thomson's shame and fault: because she is quite in her propriety, saying to such intermeddlers, gently for the sake of their poor weak heads, 'very good, I dare say, very desirable emendations, only the work is not mine, you know, but my friend's, and you must no more alter it without her leave, than alter this sketch, this illustration, because you think you could mend Ariadne's face or figure,—Fecit Tizianus, scripsit E.B.B.' Dear friend, you will tell Miss Thomson to stop further proceedings, will you not? There! only, do mind what I say?
And now—till to-morrow! It seems an age since I saw you. I want to catch our first post ... (this phrase I ought to get stereotyped—I need it so constantly). The day is fine ... you will profit by it, I trust. 'Flush, wag your tail and grow restless and scratch at the door!'
God bless you,—my one friend, without an 'other'—bless you ever—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Wednesday. [Post-mark, August 25, 1845.]
But what have I done that you should ask what have you done? I have not brought any accusation, have I ... no, nor thought any, I am sure—and it was only the 'kindness and considerateness'—argument that was irresistible as a thing to be retorted, when your thanks came so naturally and just at the corner of an application. And then, you know, it is gravely true, seriously true, sadly true, that I am always expecting to hear or to see how tired you are at last of me!—sooner or later, you know!—But I did not mean any seriousness in that letter. No, nor did I mean ... (to pass to another question ...) to provoke you to the
Mister Hayley ... so are you....
reply complimentary. All I observed concerning yourself, was the combination—which not an idiom in chivalry could treat grammatically as a thing common to me and you, inasmuch as everyone who has known me for half a day, may know that, if there is anything peculiar in me, it lies for the most part in an extraordinary deficiency in this and this and this, ... there is no need to describe what. Only nuns of the strictest sect of the nunneries are rather wiser in some points, and have led less restricted lives than I have in others. And if it had not been for my 'carpet-work'—
Well—and do you know that I have, for the last few years, taken quite to despise book-knowledge and its effect on the mind—I mean when people live by it as most readers by profession do, ... cloistering their souls under these roofs made with heads, when they might be under the sky. Such people grow dark and narrow and low, with all their pains.
Friday.—I was writing you see before you came—and now I go on in haste to speak 'off my mind' some things which are on it. First ... of yourself; how can it be that you are unwell again, ... and that you should talk (now did you not?—did I not hear you say so?) of being 'weary in your soul' ... you? What should make you, dearest friend, weary in your soul; or out of spirits in any way?—Do ... tell me.... I was going to write without a pause—and almost I might, perhaps, ... even as one of the two hundred of your friends, ... almost I might say out that 'Do tell me.' Or is it (which I am inclined to think most probable) that you are tired of a same life and want change? It may happen to anyone sometimes, and is independent of your will and choice, you know—and I know, and the whole world knows: and would it not therefore be wise of you, in that case, to fold your life new again and go abroad at once? What can make you weary in your soul, is a problem to me. You are the last from whom I should have expected such a word. And you did say so, I think. I think that it was not a mistake of mine. And you, ... with a full liberty, and the world in your hand for every purpose and pleasure of it!—Or is it that, being unwell, your spirits are affected by that? But then you might be more unwell than you like to admit—. And I am teasing you with talking of it ... am I not?—and being disagreeable is only one third of the way towards being useful, it is good to remember in time.
And then the next thing to write off my mind is ... that you must not, you must not, make an unjust opinion out of what I said to-day. I have been uncomfortable since, lest you should—and perhaps it would have been better if I had not said it apart from all context in that way; only that you could not long be a friend of mine without knowing and seeing what so lies on the surface. But then, ... as far as I am concerned, ... no one cares less for a 'will' than I do (and this though I never had one, ... in clear opposition to your theory which holds generally nevertheless) for a will in the common things of life. Every now and then there must of course be a crossing and vexation—but in one's mere pleasures and fantasies, one would rather be crossed and vexed a little than vex a person one loves ... and it is possible to get used to the harness and run easily in it at last; and there is a side-world to hide one's thoughts in, and 'carpet-work' to be immoral on in spite of Mrs. Jameson, ... and the word 'literature' has, with me, covered a good deal of liberty as you must see ... real liberty which is never enquired into—and it has happened throughout my life by an accident (as far as anything is accident) that my own sense of right and happiness on any important point of overt action, has never run contrariwise to the way of obedience required of me ... while in things not exactly overt, I and all of us are apt to act sometimes up to the limit of our means of acting, with shut doors and windows, and no waiting for cognisance or permission. Ah—and that last is the worst of it all perhaps! to be forced into concealments from the heart naturally nearest to us; and forced away from the natural source of counsel and strength!—and then, the disingenuousness—the cowardice—the 'vices of slaves'!—and everyone you see ... all my brothers, ... constrained bodily into submission ... apparent submission at least ... by that worst and most dishonouring of necessities, the necessity of living, everyone of them all, except myself, being dependent in money-matters on the inflexible will ... do you see? But what you do not see, what you cannot see, is the deep tender affection behind and below all those patriarchal ideas of governing grown up children 'in the way they must go!' and there never was (under the strata) a truer affection in a father's heart ... no, nor a worthier heart in itself ... a heart loyaller and purer, and more compelling to gratitude and reverence, than his, as I see it! The evil is in the system—and he simply takes it to be his duty to rule, and to make happy according to his own views of the propriety of happiness—he takes it to be his duty to rule like the Kings of Christendom, by divine right. But he loves us through and through it—and I, for one, love him! and when, five years ago, I lost what I loved best in the world beyond comparison and rivalship ... far better than himself as he knew ... for everyone who knew me could not choose but know what was my first and chiefest affection ... when I lost that, ... I felt that he stood the nearest to me on the closed grave ... or by the unclosing sea ... I do not know which nor could ask. And I will tell you that not only he has been kind and patient and forbearing to me through the tedious trial of this illness (far more trying to standers by than you have an idea of perhaps) but that he was generous and forbearing in that hour of bitter trial, and never reproached me as he might have done and as my own soul has not spared—never once said to me then or since, that if it had not been for me, the crown of his house would not have fallen. He never did ... and he might have said it, and more—and I could have answered nothing. Nothing, except that I had paid my own price—and that the price I paid was greater than his loss ... his!! For see how it was; and how, 'not with my hand but heart,' I was the cause or occasion of that misery—and though not with the intention of my heart but with its weakness, yet the occasion, any way!
They sent me down you know to Torquay—Dr. Chambers saying that I could not live a winter in London. The worst—what people call the worst—was apprehended for me at that time. So I was sent down with my sister to my aunt there—and he, my brother whom I loved so, was sent too, to take us there and return. And when the time came for him to leave me, I, to whom he was the dearest of friends and brothers in one ... the only one of my family who ... well, but I cannot write of these things; and it is enough to tell you that he was above us all, better than us all, and kindest and noblest and dearest to me, beyond comparison, any comparison, as I said—and when the time came for him to leave me I, weakened by illness, could not master my spirits or drive back my tears—and my aunt kissed them away instead of reproving me as she should have done; and said that she would take care that I should not be grieved ... she! ... and so she sate down and wrote a letter to Papa to tell him that he would 'break my heart' if he persisted in calling away my brother—As if hearts were broken so! I have thought bitterly since that my heart did not break for a good deal more than that! And Papa's answer was—burnt into me, as with fire, it is—that 'under such circumstances he did not refuse to suspend his purpose, but that he considered it to be very wrong in me to exact such a thing.' So there was no separation then: and month after month passed—and sometimes I was better and sometimes worse—and the medical men continued to say that they would not answer for my life ... they! if I were agitated—and so there was no more talk of a separation. And once he held my hand, ... how I remember! and said that he 'loved me better than them all and that he would not leave me ... till I was well,' he said! how I remember that! And ten days from that day the boat had left the shore which never returned; never—and he had left me! gone! For three days we waited—and I hoped while I could—oh—that awful agony of three days! And the sun shone as it shines to-day, and there was no more wind than now; and the sea under the windows was like this paper for smoothness—and my sisters drew the curtains back that I might see for myself how smooth the sea was, and how it could hurt nobody—and other boats came back one by one.
Remember how you wrote in your 'Gismond'
What says the body when they spring Some monstrous torture-engine's whole Strength on it? No more says the soul,
and you never wrote anything which lived with me more than that. It is such a dreadful truth. But you knew it for truth, I hope, by your genius, and not by such proof as mine—I, who could not speak or shed a tear, but lay for weeks and months half conscious, half unconscious, with a wandering mind, and too near to God under the crushing of His hand, to pray at all. I expiated all my weak tears before, by not being able to shed then one tear—and yet they were forbearing—and no voice said 'You have done this.'
Do not notice what I have written to you, my dearest friend. I have never said so much to a living being—I never could speak or write of it. I asked no question from the moment when my last hope went: and since then, it has been impossible for me to speak what was in me. I have borne to do it to-day and to you, but perhaps if you were to write—so do not let this be noticed between us again—do not! And besides there is no need! I do not reproach myself with such acrid thoughts as I had once—I know that I would have died ten times over for him, and that therefore though it was wrong of me to be weak, and I have suffered for it and shall learn by it I hope; remorse is not precisely the word for me—not at least in its full sense. Still you will comprehend from what I have told you how the spring of life must have seemed to break within me then; and how natural it has been for me to loathe the living on—and to lose faith (even without the loathing), to lose faith in myself ... which I have done on some points utterly. It is not from the cause of illness—no. And you will comprehend too that I have strong reasons for being grateful to the forbearance.... It would have been cruel, you think, to reproach me. Perhaps so! yet the kindness and patience of the desisting from reproach, are positive things all the same.
Shall I be too late for the post, I wonder? Wilson tells me that you were followed up-stairs yesterday (I write on Saturday this latter part) by somebody whom you probably took for my father. Which is Wilson's idea—and I hope not yours. No—it was neither father nor other relative of mine, but an old friend in rather an ill temper.
And so good-bye until Tuesday. Perhaps I shall ... not ... hear from you to-night. Don't let the tragedy or aught else do you harm—will you? and try not to be 'weary in your soul' any more—and forgive me this gloomy letter I half shrink from sending you, yet will send.
May God bless you.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Wednesday Morning, [Post-mark, August 27, 1845.]
On the subject of your letter—quite irrespective of the injunction in it—I would not have dared speak; now, at least. But I may permit myself, perhaps, to say I am most grateful, most grateful, dearest friend, for this admission to participate, in my degree, in these feelings. There is a better thing than being happy in your happiness; I feel, now that you teach me, it is so. I will write no more now; though that sentence of 'what you are expecting,—that I shall be tired of you &c.,'—though I could blot that out of your mind for ever by a very few words now,—for you would believe me at this moment, close on the other subject:—but I will take no such advantage—I will wait.
I have many things (indifferent things, after those) to say; will you write, if but a few lines, to change the associations for that purpose? Then I will write too.—
May God bless you,—in what is past and to come! I pray that from my heart, being yours
E.B.B. to R.B.
Wednesday Morning, [Post-mark, August 27, 1845.]
But your 'Saul' is unobjectionable as far as I can see, my dear friend. He was tormented by an evil spirit—but how, we are not told ... and the consolation is not obliged to be definite, ... is it? A singer was sent for as a singer—and all that you are called upon to be true to, are the general characteristics of David the chosen, standing between his sheep and his dawning hereafter, between innocence and holiness, and with what you speak of as the 'gracious gold locks' besides the chrism of the prophet, on his own head—and surely you have been happy in the tone and spirit of these lyrics ... broken as you have left them. Where is the wrong in all this? For the right and beauty, they are more obvious—and I cannot tell you how the poem holds me and will not let me go until it blesses me ... and so, where are the 'sixty lines' thrown away? I do beseech you ... you who forget nothing, ... to remember them directly, and to go on with the rest ... as directly (be it understood) as is not injurious to your health. The whole conception of the poem, I like ... and the execution is exquisite up to this point—and the sight of Saul in the tent, just struck out of the dark by that sunbeam, 'a thing to see,' ... not to say that afterwards when he is visibly 'caught in his fangs' like the king serpent, ... the sight is grander still. How could you doubt about this poem....
At the moment of writing which, I receive your note. Do you receive my assurances from the deepest of my heart that I never did otherwise than 'believe' you ... never did nor shall do ... and that you completely misinterpreted my words if you drew another meaning from them. Believe me in this—will you? I could not believe you any more for anything you could say, now or hereafter—and so do not avenge yourself on my unwary sentences by remembering them against me for evil. I did not mean to vex you ... still less to suspect you—indeed I did not! and moreover it was quite your fault that I did not blot it out after it was written, whatever the meaning was. So you forgive me (altogether) for your own sins: you must:—
For my part, though I have been sorry since to have written you such a gloomy letter, the sorrow unmakes itself in hearing you speak so kindly. Your sympathy is precious to me, I may say. May God bless you. Write and tell me among the 'indifferent things' something not indifferent, how you are yourself, I mean ... for I fear you are not well and thought you were not looking so yesterday.
Dearest friend, I remain yours,
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday Evening. [Post-mark, August 30, 1845].
I do not hear; and come to you to ask the alms of just one line, having taken it into my head that something is the matter. It is not so much exactingness on my part, as that you spoke of meaning to write as soon as you received a note of mine ... which went to you five minutes afterwards ... which is three days ago, or will be when you read this. Are you not well—or what? Though I have tried and wished to remember having written in the last note something very or even a little offensive to you, I failed in it and go back to the worse fear. For you could not be vexed with me for talking of what was 'your fault' ... 'your own fault,' viz. in having to read sentences which, but for your commands, would have been blotted out. You could not very well take that for serious blame! from me too, who have so much reason and provocation for blaming the archangel Gabriel.—No—you could not misinterpret so,—and if you could not, and if you are not displeased with me, you must be unwell, I think. I took for granted yesterday that you had gone out as before—but to-night it is different—and so I come to ask you to be kind enough to write one word for me by some post to-morrow. Now remember ... I am not asking for a letter—but for a word ... or line strictly speaking.
Ever yours, dear friend,
R.B. to E.B.B.
[Post-mark, August 30, 1845.]
This sweet Autumn Evening, Friday, comes all golden into the room and makes me write to you—not think of you—yet what shall I write?
It must be for another time ... after Monday, when I am to see you, you know, and hear if the headache be gone, since your note would not round to the perfection of kindness and comfort, and tell me so.
God bless my dearest friend.
I am much better—well, indeed—thank you.
R.B. to E.B.B.
[Post-mark, August 30, 1845.]
Can you understand me so, dearest friend, after all? Do you see me—when I am away, or with you—'taking offence' at words, 'being vexed' at words, or deeds of yours, even if I could not immediately trace them to their source of entire, pure kindness; as I have hitherto done in every smallest instance?
I believe in you absolutely, utterly—I believe that when you bade me, that time, be silent—that such was your bidding, and I was silent—dare I say I think you did not know at that time the power I have over myself, that I could sit and speak and listen as I have done since? Let me say now—this only once—that I loved you from my soul, and gave you my life, so much of it as you would take,—and all that is done, not to be altered now: it was, in the nature of the proceeding, wholly independent of any return on your part. I will not think on extremes you might have resorted to; as it is, the assurance of your friendship, the intimacy to which you admit me, now, make the truest, deepest joy of my life—a joy I can never think fugitive while we are in life, because I KNOW, as to me, I could not willingly displease you,—while, as to you, your goodness and understanding will always see to the bottom of involuntary or ignorant faults—always help me to correct them. I have done now. If I thought you were like other women I have known, I should say so much!—but—(my first and last word—I believe in you!)—what you could and would give me, of your affection, you would give nobly and simply and as a giver—you would not need that I tell you—(tell you!)—what would be supreme happiness to me in the event—however distant—
I repeat ... I call on your justice to remember, on your intelligence to believe ... that this is merely a more precise stating the first subject; to put an end to any possible misunderstanding—to prevent your henceforth believing that because I do not write, from thinking too deeply of you, I am offended, vexed &c. &c. I will never recur to this, nor shall you see the least difference in my manner next Monday: it is indeed, always before me ... how I know nothing of you and yours. But I think I ought to have spoken when I did—and to speak clearly ... or more clearly what I do, as it is my pride and duty to fall back, now, on the feeling with which I have been in the meantime—Yours—God bless you—
Let me write a few words to lead into Monday—and say, you have probably received my note. I am much better—with a little headache, which is all, and fast going this morning. Of yours you say nothing—I trust you see your ... dare I say your duty in the Pisa affair, as all else must see it—shall I hear on Monday? And my 'Saul' that you are so lenient to.
Bless you ever—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Sunday. [August 31, 1845.]
I did not think you were angry—I never said so. But you might reasonably have been wounded a little, if you had suspected me of blaming you for any bearing of yours towards myself; and this was the amount of my fear—or rather hope ... since I conjectured most that you were not well. And after all you did think ... do think ... that in some way or for some moment I blamed you, disbelieved you, distrusted you—or why this letter? How have I provoked this letter? Can I forgive myself for having even seemed to have provoked it? and will you believe me that if for the past's sake you sent it, it was unnecessary, and if for the future's, irrelevant? Which I say from no want of sensibility to the words of it—your words always make themselves felt—but in fulness of purpose not to suffer you to hold to words because they have been said, nor to say them as if to be holden by them. Why, if a thousand more such words were said by you to me, how could they operate upon the future or present, supposing me to choose to keep the possible modification of your feelings, as a probability, in my sight and yours? Can you help my sitting with the doors all open if I think it right? I do attest to you—while I trust you, as you must see, in word and act, and while I am confident that no human being ever stood higher or purer in the eyes of another, than you do in mine,—that you would still stand high and remain unalterably my friend, if the probability in question became a fact, as now at this moment. And this I must say, since you have said other things: and this alone, which I have said, concerns the future, I remind you earnestly.
My dearest friend—you have followed the most generous of impulses in your whole bearing to me—and I have recognised and called by its name, in my heart, each one of them. Yet I cannot help adding that, of us two, yours has not been quite the hardest part ... I mean, to a generous nature like your own, to which every sort of nobleness comes easily. Mine has been more difficult—and I have sunk under it again and again: and the sinking and the effort to recover the duty of a lost position, may have given me an appearance of vacillation and lightness, unworthy at least of you, and perhaps of both of us. Notwithstanding which appearance, it was right and just (only just) of you, to believe in me—in my truth—because I have never failed to you in it, nor been capable of such failure: the thing I have said, I have meant ... always: and in things I have not said, the silence has had a reason somewhere different perhaps from where you looked for it. And this brings me to complaining that you, who profess to believe in me, do yet obviously believe that it was only merely silence, which I required of you on one occasion—and that if I had 'known your power over yourself,' I should not have minded ... no! In other words you believe of me that I was thinking just of my own (what shall I call it for a motive base and small enough?) my own scrupulousness ... freedom from embarrassment! of myself in the least of me; in the tying of my shoestrings, say!—so much and no more! Now this is so wrong, as to make me impatient sometimes in feeling it to be your impression: I asked for silence—but also and chiefly for the putting away of ... you know very well what I asked for. And this was sincerely done, I attest to you. You wrote once to me ... oh, long before May and the day we met: that you 'had been so happy, you should be now justified to yourself in taking any step most hazardous to the happiness of your life'—but if you were justified, could I be therefore justified in abetting such a step,—the step of wasting, in a sense, your best feelings ... of emptying your water gourds into the sand? What I thought then I think now—just what any third person, knowing you, would think, I think and feel. I thought too, at first, that the feeling on your part was a mere generous impulse, likely to expand itself in a week perhaps. It affects me and has affected me, very deeply, more than I dare attempt to say, that you should persist so—and if sometimes I have felt, by a sort of instinct, that after all you would not go on to persist, and that (being a man, you know) you might mistake, a little unconsciously, the strength of your own feeling; you ought not to be surprised; when I felt it was more advantageous and happier for you that it should be so. In any case, I shall never regret my own share in the events of this summer, and your friendship will be dear to me to the last. You know I told you so—not long since. And as to what you say otherwise, you are right in thinking that I would not hold by unworthy motives in avoiding to speak what you had any claim to hear. But what could I speak that would not be unjust to you? Your life! if you gave it to me and I put my whole heart into it; what should I put but anxiety, and more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you, which it would not be ungenerous to give? Therefore we must leave this subject—and I must trust you to leave it without one word more; (too many have been said already—but I could not let your letter pass quite silently ... as if I had nothing to do but to receive all as matter of course so!) while you may well trust me to remember to my life's end, as the grateful remember; and to feel, as those do who have felt sorrow (for where these pits are dug, the water will stand), the full price of your regard. May God bless you, my dearest friend. I shall send this letter after I have seen you, and hope you may not have expected to hear sooner.
Monday, 6 p.m.—I send in disobedience to your commands, Mrs. Shelley's book—but when books accumulate and when besides, I want to let you have the American edition of my poems ... famous for all manner of blunders, you know; what is to be done but have recourse to the parcel-medium? You were in jest about being at Pisa before or as soon as we were?—oh no—that must not be indeed—we must wait a little!—even if you determine to go at all, which is a question of doubtful expediency. Do take more exercise, this week, and make war against those dreadful sensations in the head—now, will you?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Evening. [Post-mark, September 3, 1845.]
I rather hoped ... with no right at all ... to hear from you this morning or afternoon—to know how you are—that, 'how are you,' there is no use disguising, is,—vary it how one may—my own life's question.—
I had better write no more, now. Will you not tell me something about you—the head; and that too, too warm hand ... or was it my fancy? Surely the report of Dr. Chambers is most satisfactory,—all seems to rest with yourself: you know, in justice to me, you do know that I know the all but mockery, the absurdity of anyone's counsel 'to be composed,' &c. &c. But try, dearest friend!
God bless you—
I am yours
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Night. [Post-mark, September 3, 1845.]
Before you leave London, I will answer your letter—all my attempts end in nothing now—
Dearest friend—I am yours ever
But meantime, you will tell me about yourself, will you not? The parcel came a few minutes after my note left—Well, I can thank you for that; for the Poems,—though I cannot wear them round my neck—and for the too great trouble. My heart's friend! Bless you—
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, September 4, 1845.]
Indeed my headaches are not worth enquiring about—I mean, they are not of the slightest consequence, and seldom survive the remedy of a cup of coffee. I only wish it were the same with everybody—I mean, with every head! Also there is nothing the matter otherwise—and I am going to prove my right to a 'clean bill of health' by going into the park in ten minutes. Twice round the inner enclosure is what I can compass now—which is equal to once round the world—is it not?
I had just time to be afraid that the parcel had not reached you. The reason why I sent you the poems was that I had a few copies to give to my personal friends, and so, wished you to have one; and it was quite to please myself and not to please you that I made you have it; and if you put it into the 'plum-tree' to hide the errata, I shall be pleased still, if not rather more. Only let me remember to tell you this time in relation to those books and the question asked of yourself by your noble Romans, that just as I was enclosing my sixty-pounds debt to Mr. Moxon, I did actually and miraculously receive a remittance of fourteen pounds from the selfsame bookseller of New York who agreed last year to print my poems at his own risk and give me 'ten per cent on the profit.' Not that I ever asked for such a thing! They were the terms offered. And I always considered the 'per centage' as quite visionary ... put in for the sake of effect, to make the agreement look better! But no—you see! One's poetry has a real 'commercial value,' if you do but take it far away enough from the 'civilization of Europe.' When you get near the backwoods and the red Indians, it turns out to be nearly as good for something as 'cabbages,' after all! Do you remember what you said to me of cabbages versus poems, in one of the first letters you ever wrote to me?—of selling cabbages and buying Punches?
People complain of Dr. Chambers and call him rough and unfeeling—neither of which I ever found him for a moment—and I like him for his truthfulness, which is the nature of the man, though it is essential to medical morality never to let a patient think himself mortal while it is possible to prevent it, and even Dr. Chambers may incline to this on occasion. Still he need not have said all the good he said to me on Saturday—he used not to say any of it; and he must have thought some of it: and, any way, the Pisa-case is strengthened all round by his opinion and injunction, so that all my horror and terror at the thoughts of his visit, (and it's really true that I would rather suffer to a certain extent than be cured by means of those doctors!) had some compensation. How are you? do not forget to say! I found among some papers to-day, a note of yours which I asked Mr. Kenyon to give me for an autograph, two years ago.
May God bless you, dearest friend. And I have a dispensation from 'beef and porter' [Greek: eis tous aionas]. 'On no account' was the answer!
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Afternoon. [Post-mark, September 5, 1845.]
What you tell me of Dr. Chambers, 'all the good of you' he said, and all I venture to infer; this makes me most happy and thankful. Do you use to attach our old [Greek: tuphlas elpidas] (and the practice of instilling them) to that medical science in which Prometheus boasted himself proficient? I had thought the 'faculty' dealt in fears, on the contrary, and scared you into obedience: but I know most about the doctors in Moliere. However the joyous truth is—must be, that you are better, and if one could transport you quietly to Pisa, save you all worry,—what might one not expect!
When I know your own intentions—measures, I should say, respecting your journey—mine will of course be submitted to you—it will just be 'which day next—month'?—Not week, alas.
I can thank you now for this edition of your poems—I have not yet taken to read it, though—for it does not, each volume of it, open obediently to a thought, here, and here, and here, like my green books ... no, my Sister's they are; so these you give me are really mine. And America, with its ten per cent., shall have my better word henceforth and for ever ... for when you calculate, there must have been a really extraordinary circulation; and in a few months: it is what newspapers call 'a great fact.' Have they reprinted the 'Seraphim'? Quietly, perhaps!
I shall see you on Monday, then—
And my all-important headaches are tolerably kept under—headaches proper they are not—but the noise and slight turning are less troublesome—will soon go altogether.
Bless you ever—ever dearest friend.
Oh, oh, oh! As many thanks for that precious card-box and jewel of a flower-holder as are consistent with my dismay at finding you only return them ... and not the costly brown paper wrappages also ... to say nothing of the inestimable pins with which my sister uses to fasten the same!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, September 8, 1845.]
I am in the greatest difficulty about the steamers. Will you think a little for me and tell me what is best to do? It appears that the direct Leghorn steamer will not sail on the third, and may not until the middle of October, and if forced to still further delay, which is possible, will not at all. One of my brothers has been to Mr. Andrews of St. Mary Axe and heard as much as this. What shall I do? The middle of October, say my sisters ... and I half fear that it may prove so ... is too late for me—to say nothing for the uncertainty which completes the difficulty.
On the 20th of September (on the other hand) sails the Malta vessel; and I hear that I may go in it to Gibraltar and find a French steamer there to proceed by. Is there an objection to this—except the change of steamers ... repeated ... for I must get down to Southampton—and the leaving England so soon? Is any better to be done? Do think for me a little. And now that the doing comes so near ... and in this dead silence of Papa's ... it all seems impossible, ... and I seem to see the stars constellating against me, and give it as my serious opinion to you that I shall not go. Now, mark.
But I have had the kindest of letters from dear Mr. Kenyon, urging it—.
Well—I have no time for writing any more—and this is only a note of business to bespeak your thoughts about the steamers. My wisdom looks back regretfully ... only rather too late ... on the Leghorn vessel of the third of September. It would have been wise if I had gone then.
May God bless you, dearest friend.
But if your head turns still, ... do you walk enough? Is there not fault in your not walking, by your own confession? Think of this first—and then, if you please, of the steamers.
So, till Monday!—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday. [Post-mark, September 9, 1845.]
One reason against printing the tragedies now, is your not being well enough for the necessary work connected with them, ... a sure reason and strong ... nay, chiefest of all. Plainly you are unfit for work now—and even to complete the preparation of the lyrics, and take them through the press, may be too much for you, I am afraid; and if so, why you will not do it—will you?—you will wait for another year,—or at least be satisfied for this, with bringing out a number of the old size, consisting of such poems as are fairly finished and require no retouching. 'Saul' for instance, you might leave—! You will not let me hear when I am gone, of your being ill—you will take care ... will you not? Because you see ... or rather I see ... you are not looking well at all—no, you are not! and even if you do not care for that, you should and must care to consider how unavailing it will be for you to hold those golden keys of the future with a more resolute hand than your contemporaries, should you suffer yourself to be struck down before the gate ... should you lose the physical power while keeping the heart and will. Heart and will are great things, and sufficient things in your case—but after all we carry a barrow-full of clay about with us, and we must carry it a little carefully if we mean to keep to the path and not run zigzag into the border of the garden. A figure which reminds me ... and I wanted no figure to remind me ... to ask you to thank your sister for me and from me for all her kindness about the flowers. Now you will not forget? you must not. When I think of the repeated trouble she has taken week after week, and all for a stranger, I must think again that it has been very kind—and I take the liberty of saying so moreover ... as I am not thanking you. Also these flowers of yesterday, which yesterday you disdained so, look full of summer and are full of fragrance, and when they seem to say that it is not September, I am willing to be lied to just so. For I wish it were not September. I wish it were July ... or November ... two months before or after: and that this journey were thrown behind or in front ... anywhere to be out of sight. You do not know the courage it requires to hold the intention of it fast through what I feel sometimes. If it (the courage) had been prophesied to me only a year ago, the prophet would have been laughed to scorn. Well!—but I want you to see. George's letter, and how he and Mrs. Hedley, when she saw Papa's note of consent to me, give unhesitating counsel. Burn it when you have read it. It is addressed to me ... which you will doubt from the address of it perhaps ... seeing that it goes [Greek: ba ... rbarizon]. We are famous in this house for what are called nick-names ... though a few of us have escaped rather by a caprice than a reason: and I am never called anything else (never at all) except by the nom de paix which you find written in the letter:—proving as Mr. Kenyon says, that I am just 'half a Ba-by' ... no more nor less;—and in fact the name has that precise definition. Burn the note when you have read it.
And then I take it into my head, as you do not distinguish my sisters, you say, one from the other, to send you my own account of them in these enclosed 'sonnets' which were written a few weeks ago, and though only pretending to be 'sketches,' pretend to be like, as far as they go, and are like—my brothers thought—when I 'showed them against' a profile drawn in pencil by Alfred, on the same subjects. I was laughing and maintaining that mine should be as like as his—and he yielded the point to me. So it is mere portrait-painting—and you who are in 'high art,' must not be too scornful. Henrietta is the elder, and the one who brought you into this room first—and Arabel, who means to go with me to Pisa, has been the most with me through my illness and is the least wanted in the house here, ... and perhaps ... perhaps—is my favourite—though my heart smites me while I write that unlawful word. They are both affectionate and kind to me in all things, and good and lovable in their own beings—very unlike, for the rest; one, most caring for the Polka, ... and the other for the sermon preached at Paddington Chapel, ... that is Arabel ... so if ever you happen to know her you must try not to say before her how 'much you hate &c.' Henrietta always 'managed' everything in the house even before I was ill, ... because she liked it and I didn't, and I waived my right to the sceptre of dinner-ordering.
I have been thinking much of your 'Sordello' since you spoke of it—and even, I had thought much of it before you spoke of it yesterday; feeling that it might be thrown out into the light by your hand, and greatly justify the additional effort. It is like a noble picture with its face to the wall just now—or at least, in the shadow. And so worthy as it is of you in all ways! individual all through: you have made even the darkness of it! And such a work as it might become if you chose ... if you put your will to it! What I meant to say yesterday was not that it wanted more additional verses than the 'ten per cent' you spoke of ... though it does perhaps ... so much as that (to my mind) it wants drawing together and fortifying in the connections and associations ... which hang as loosely every here and there, as those in a dream, and confound the reader who persists in thinking himself awake.
How do you mean that I am 'lenient'? Do you not believe that I tell you what I think, and as I think it? I may think wrong, to be sure—but that is not my fault:—and so there is no use reproaching me generally, unless you can convict me definitely at the same time:—is there, now?
And I have been reading and admiring these letters of Mr. Carlyle, and receiving the greatest pleasure from them in every way. He is greatly himself always—which is the hardest thing for a man to be, perhaps. And what his appreciation of you is, it is easy to see—and what he expects from you—notwithstanding that prodigious advice of his, to write your next work in prose! Also Mrs. Carlyle's letter—thank you for letting me see it. I admire that too! It is as ingenious 'a case' against poor Keats, as could well be drawn—but nobody who knew very deeply what poetry is, could, you know, draw any case against him. A poet of the senses, he may be and is, just as she says—but then it is of the senses idealized; and no dream in a 'store-room' would ever be like the 'Eve of St. Agnes,' unless dreamed by some 'animosus infans,' like Keats himself. Still it is all true ... isn't it?... what she observes of the want of thought as thought. He was a seer strictly speaking. And what noble oppositions—(to go back to Carlyle's letters) ... he writes to the things you were speaking of yesterday! These letters are as good as Milton's picture for convicting and putting to shame. Is not the difference between the men of our day and 'the giants which were on the earth,' less ... far less ... in the faculty ... in the gift, ... or in the general intellect, ... than in the stature of the soul itself? Our inferiority is not in what we can do, but in what we are. We should write poems like Milton if [we] lived them like Milton.
I write all this just to show, I suppose, that I am not industrious as you did me the honour of apprehending that I was going to be ... packing trunks perhaps ... or what else in the way of 'active usefulness.'
Say how you are—will you? And do take care, and walk and do what is good for you. I shall be able to see you twice before I go. And oh, this going! Pray for me, dearest friend. May God bless you.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Thursday Morning. [Post-mark, September 11, 1845.]
Here are your beautiful, and I am sure true sonnets; they look true—I remember the light hair, I find. And who paints, and dares exhibit, E.B.B.'s self? And surely 'Alfred's' pencil has not foregone its best privilege, not left the face unsketched? Italians call such an 'effect defective'—'l'andar a Roma senza vedere il Papa.' He must have begun by seeing his Holiness, I know, and ... he will not trust me with the result, that my sister may copy it for me, because we are strangers, he and I, and I could give him nothing, nothing like the proper price for it—but you would lend it to me, I think, nor need I do more than thank you in my usual effective and very eloquent way—for I have already been allowed to visit you seventeen times, do you know; and this last letter of yours, fiftieth is the same! So all my pride is gone, pride in that sense—and I mean to take of you for ever, and reconcile myself with my lot in this life. Could, and would, you give me such a sketch? It has been on my mind to ask you ever since I knew you if nothing in the way of good portrait existed—and this occasion bids me speak out, I dare believe: the more, that you have also quieted—have you not?—another old obstinate and very likely impertinent questioning of mine—as to the little name which was neither Orinda, nor Sacharissa (for which thank providence) and is never to appear in books, though you write them. Now I know it and write it—'Ba'—and thank you, and your brother George, and only burned his kind letter because you bade me who know best. So, wish by wish, one gets one's wishes—at least I do—for one instance, you will go to Italy
Why, 'lean and harken after it' as Donne says—
Don't expect Neapolitan Scenery at Pisa, quite in the North, remember. Mrs. Shelley found Italy for the first time, real Italy, at Sorrento, she says. Oh that book—does one wake or sleep? The 'Mary dear' with the brown eyes, and Godwin's daughter and Shelley's wife, and who surely was something better once upon a time—and to go through Rome and Florence and the rest, after what I suppose to be Lady Londonderry's fashion: the intrepidity of the commonplace quite astounds me. And then that way, when she and the like of her are put in a new place, with new flowers, new stones, faces, walls, all new—of looking wisely up at the sun, clouds, evening star, or mountain top and wisely saying 'who shall describe that sight!'—Not you, we very well see—but why don't you tell us that at Rome they eat roasted chestnuts, and put the shells into their aprons, the women do, and calmly empty the whole on the heads of the passengers in the street below; and that at Padua when a man drives his waggon up to a house and stops, all the mouse-coloured oxen that pull it from a beam against their foreheads sit down in a heap and rest. But once she travelled the country with Shelley on arm; now she plods it, Rogers in hand—to such things and uses may we come at last! Her remarks on art, once she lets go of Rio's skirts, are amazing—Fra Angelico, for instance, only painted Martyrs, Virgins &c., she had no eyes for the divine bon-bourgeoisie of his pictures; the dear common folk of his crowds, those who sit and listen (spectacle at nose and bent into a comfortable heap to hear better) at the sermon of the Saint—and the children, and women,—divinely pure they all are, but fresh from the streets and market place—but she is wrong every where, that is, not right, not seeing what is to see, speaking what one expects to hear—I quarrel with her, for ever, I think.
I am much better, and mean to be well as you desire—shall correct the verses you have seen, and make them do for the present.
Saturday, then! And one other time only, do you say?
God bless you, my own, best friend.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Thursday. [Post-mark, September 11, 1845.]
Will you come on Friday ... to-morrow ... instead of Saturday—will it be the same thing? Because I have heard from Mr. Kenyon, who is to be in London on Friday evening he says, and therefore may mean to visit me on Saturday I imagine. So let it be Friday—if you should not, for any reason, prove Monday to be better still.
May God bless you—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Saturday Morning. [Post-mark, September 13, 1845.]
Now, dearest, I will try and write the little I shall be able, in reply to your letter of last week—and first of all I have to entreat you, now more than ever, to help me and understand from the few words the feelings behind them—(should speak rather more easily, I think—but I dare not run the risk: and I know, after all, you will be just and kind where you can.) I have read your letter again and again. I will tell you—no, not you, but any imaginary other person, who should hear what I am going to avow; I would tell that person most sincerely there is not a particle of fatuity, shall I call it, in that avowal; cannot be, seeing that from the beginning and at this moment I never dreamed of winning your love. I can hardly write this word, so incongruous and impossible does it seem; such a change of our places does it imply—nor, next to that, though long after, would I, if I could, supplant one of any of the affections that I know to have taken root in you—that great and solemn one, for instance. I feel that if I could get myself remade, as if turned to gold, I WOULD not even then desire to become more than the mere setting to that diamond you must always wear. The regard and esteem you now give me, in this letter, and which I press to my heart and bow my head upon, is all I can take and all too embarrassing, using all my gratitude. And yet, with that contented pride in being infinitely your debtor as it is, bound to you for ever as it is; when I read your letter with all the determination to be just to us both; I dare not so far withstand the light I am master of, as to refuse seeing that whatever is recorded as an objection to your disposing of that life of mine I would give you, has reference to some supposed good in that life which your accepting it would destroy (of which fancy I shall speak presently)—I say, wonder as I may at this, I cannot but find it there, surely there. I could no more 'bind you by words,' than you have bound me, as you say—but if I misunderstand you, one assurance to that effect will be but too intelligible to me—but, as it is, I have difficulty in imagining that while one of so many reasons, which I am not obliged to repeat to myself, but which any one easily conceives; while any one of those reasons would impose silence on me for ever (for, as I observed, I love you as you now are, and would not remove one affection that is already part of you,)—would you, being able to speak so, only say that you desire not to put 'more sadness than I was born to,' into my life?—that you 'could give me only what it were ungenerous to give'?
Have I your meaning here? In so many words, is it on my account that you bid me 'leave this subject'? I think if it were so, I would for once call my advantages round me. I am not what your generous self-forgetting appreciation would sometimes make me out—but it is not since yesterday, nor ten nor twenty years before, that I began to look into my own life, and study its end, and requirements, what would turn to its good or its loss—and I know, if one may know anything, that to make that life yours and increase it by union with yours, would render me supremely happy, as I said, and say, and feel. My whole suit to you is, in that sense, selfish—not that I am ignorant that your nature would most surely attain happiness in being conscious that it made another happy—but that best, best end of all, would, like the rest, come from yourself, be a reflection of your own gift.
Dearest, I will end here—words, persuasion, arguments, if they were at my service I would not use them—I believe in you, altogether have faith in you—in you. I will not think of insulting by trying to reassure you on one point which certain phrases in your letter might at first glance seem to imply—you do not understand me to be living and labouring and writing (and not writing) in order to be successful in the world's sense? I even convinced the people here what was my true 'honourable position in society,' &c. &c. therefore I shall not have to inform you that I desire to be very rich, very great; but not in reading Law gratis with dear foolish old Basil Montagu, as he ever and anon bothers me to do;—much less—enough of this nonsense.