Now, I'll tell you what it does deserve, and what it shall get. Give me, dearest beyond expression, what I have always dared to think I would ask you for ... one day! Give me ... wait—for your own sake, not mine who never, never dream of being worth such a gift ... but for your own sense of justice, and to say, so as my heart shall hear, that you were wrong and are no longer so, give me so much of you—all precious that you are—as may be given in a lock of your hair—I will live and die with it, and with the memory of you—this at the worst! If you give me what I beg,—shall I say next Tuesday ... when I leave you, I will not speak a word. If you do not, I will not think you unjust, for all my light words, but I will pray you to wait and remember me one day—when the power to deserve more may be greater ... never the will. God supplies all things: may he bless you, beloved! So I can but pray, kissing your hand.
Now pardon me, dearest, for what is written ... what I cannot cancel, for the love's sake that it grew from.
The Chronicle was through Moxon, I believe—Landor had sent the verses to Forster at the same time as to me, yet they do not appear. I never in my life less cared about people's praise or blame for myself, and never more for its influence on other people than now—I would stand as high as I could in the eyes of all about you—yet not, after all, at poor Chorley's expense whom your brother, I am sure, unintentionally, is rather hasty in condemning; I have told you of my own much rasher opinion and how I was ashamed and sorry when I corrected it after. C. is of a different species to your brother, differently trained, looking different ways—and for some of the peculiarities that strike at first sight, C. himself gives a good reason to the enquirer on better acquaintance. For 'Vulgarity'—NO! But your kind brother will alter his view, I know, on further acquaintance ... and,—woe's me—will find that 'assumption's' pertest self would be troubled to exercise its quality at such a house as Mr. K.'s, where every symptom of a proper claim is met half way and helped onward far too readily.
Good night, now. Am I not yours—are you not mine? And can that make you happy too?
Bless you once more and for ever.
That scrap of Landor's being for no other eye than mine—I made the foolish comment, that there was no blotting out—made it some four or five years ago, when I could read what I only guess at now, through my idle opening the hand and letting the caught bird go—but there used to be a real satisfaction to me in writing those grand Hebrew characters—the noble languages!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, November 24, 1845.]
But what unlawful things have I said about 'kindness'? I did not mean any harm—no, indeed! And as to thinking ... as to having ever thought, that you could 'imitate' (can this word be 'imitate'?) an unfelt feeling or a feeling unsupposed to be felt ... I may solemnly assure you that I never, never did so. 'Get up'—'imitate'!! But it was the contrary ... all the contrary! From the beginning, now did I not believe you too much? Did I not believe you even in your contradiction of yourself ... in your yes and no on the same subject, ... and take the world to be turning round backwards and myself to have been shut up here till I grew mad, ... rather than disbelieve you either way? Well!—You know it as well as I can tell you, and I will not, any more. If I have been 'wrong,' it was not so ... nor indeed then ... it is not so, though it is now, perhaps.
Therefore ... but wait! I never gave away what you ask me to give you, to a human being, except my nearest relatives and once or twice or thrice to female friends, ... never, though reproached for it; and it is just three weeks since I said last to an asker that I was 'too great a prude for such a thing'! it was best to anticipate the accusation!—And, prude or not, I could not—I never could—something would not let me. And now ... what am I to do ... 'for my own sake and not yours?' Should you have it, or not? Why I suppose ... yes. I suppose that 'for my own sense of justice and in order to show that I was wrong' (which is wrong—you wrote a wrong word there ... 'right,' you meant!) 'to show that I was right and am no longer so,' ... I suppose you must have it, 'Oh, You,' ... who have your way in everything! Which does not mean ... Oh, vous, qui avez toujours raison—far from it.
Also ... which does not mean that I shall give you what you ask for, to-morrow,—because I shall not—and one of my conditions is (with others to follow) that not a word be said to-morrow, you understand. Some day I will send it perhaps ... as you knew I should ... ah, as you knew I should ... notwithstanding that 'getting up' ... that 'imitation' ... of humility: as you knew too well I should!
Only I will not teaze you as I might perhaps; and now that your headache has begun again—the headache again: the worse than headache! See what good my wishes do! And try to understand that if I speak of my being 'wrong' now in relation to you ... of my being right before, and wrong now, ... I mean wrong for your sake, and not for mine ... wrong in letting you come out into the desert here to me, you whose place is by the waters of Damascus. But I need not tell you over again—you know. May God bless you till to-morrow and past it for ever. Mr. Kenyon brought me your note yesterday to read about the 'order in the button-hole'—ah!—or 'oh, you,' may I not re-echo? It enrages me to think of Mr. Forster; publishing too as he does, at a moment, the very sweepings of Landor's desk! Is the motive of the reticence to be looked for somewhere among the cinders?—Too bad it is. So, till to-morrow! and you shall not be 'kind' any more.
But how, 'a foolish comment'? Good and true rather! And I admired the writing ... worthy of the reeds of Jordan!
[Footnote 1: Mr. Browning's letter is written in an unusually bold hand.]
R.B. to E.B.B.
Thursday Morning. [Post-mark, November 27, 1845.]
How are you? and Miss Bayley's visit yesterday, and Mr. K.'s to-day—(He told me he should see you this morning—and I shall pass close by, having to be in town and near you,—but only the thought will reach you and be with you—) tell me all this, dearest.
How kind Mr. Kenyon was last night and the day before! He neither wonders nor is much vexed, I dare believe—and I write now these few words to say so—My heart is set on next Thursday, remember ... and the prize of Saturday! Oh, dearest, believe for truth's sake, that I WOULD most frankly own to any fault, any imperfection in the beginning of my love of you; in the pride and security of this present stage it has reached—I would gladly learn, by the full lights now, what an insufficient glimmer it grew from, ... but there never has been change, only development and increased knowledge and strengthened feeling—I was made and meant to look for you and wait for you and become yours for ever. God bless you, and make me thankful!
And you will give me that? What shall save me from wreck: but truly? How must I feel to you!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday Evening. [Post-mark, November 27, 1845.]
Now you must not blame me—you must not. To make a promise is one thing, and to keep it, quite another: and the conclusion you see 'as from a tower.' Suppose I had an oath in heaven somewhere ... near to 'coma Berenices,' ... never to give you what you ask for! ... would not such an oath be stronger than a mere half promise such as I sent you a few hours ago? Admit that it would—and that I am not to blame for saying now ... (listen!) that I never can nor will give you this thing;—only that I will, if you please, exchange it for another thing—you understand. I too will avoid being 'assuming'; I will not pretend to be generous, no, nor 'kind.' It shall be pure merchandise or nothing at all. Therefore determine!—remembering always how our 'ars poetica,' after Horace, recommends 'dare et petere vicissim'—which is making a clatter of pedantry to take advantage of the noise ... because perhaps I ought to be ashamed to say this to you, and perhaps I am! ... yet say it none the less.
And ... less lightly ... if you have right and reason on your side, may I not have a little on mine too? And shall I not care, do you think?... Think!
Then there is another reason for me, entirely mine. You have come to me as a dream comes, as the best dreams come ... dearest—and so there is need to me of 'a sign' to know the difference between dream and vision—and that is my completest reason, my own reason—you have none like it; none. A ticket to know the horn-gate from the ivory, ... ought I not to have it? Therefore send it to me before I send you anything, and if possible by that Lewisham post which was the most frequent bringer of your letters until these last few came, and which reaches me at eight in the evening when all the world is at dinner and my solitude most certain. Everything is so still then, that I have heard the footsteps of a letter of yours ten doors off ... or more, perhaps. Now beware of imagining from this which I say, that there is a strict police for my correspondence ... (it is not so—) nor that I do not like hearing from you at any and every hour: it is so. Only I would make the smoothest and sweetest of roads for ... and you understand, and do not imagine beyond.
Tuesday evening.—What is written is written, ... all the above: and it is forbidden to me to write a word of what I could write down here ... forbidden for good reasons. So I am silent on conditions ... those being ... first ... that you never do such things again ... no, you must not and shall not.... I will not let it be: and secondly, that you try to hear the unspoken words, and understand how your gift will remain with me while I remain ... they need not be said—just as it need not have been so beautiful, for that. The beauty drops 'full fathom five' into the deep thought which covers it. So I study my Machiavelli to contrive the possibility of wearing it, without being put to the question violently by all the curiosity of all my brothers;—the questions 'how' ... 'what' ... 'why' ... put round and edgeways. They are famous, some of them, for asking questions. I say to them—'well: how many more questions?' And now ... for me—have I said a word?—have I not been obedient? And by rights and in justice, there should have been a reproach ... if there could! Because, friendship or more than friendship, Pisa or no Pisa, it was unnecessary altogether from you to me ... but I have done, and you shall not be teazed.
Wednesday.—Only ... I persist in the view of the other question. This will not do for the 'sign,' ... this, which, so far from being qualified for disproving a dream, is the beautiful image of a dream in itself ... so beautiful: and with the very shut eyelids, and the "little folding of the hands to sleep." You see at a glance it will not do. And so—
Just as one might be interrupted while telling a fairy-tale, ... in the midst of the "and so's" ... just so, I have been interrupted by the coming in of Miss Bayley, and here she has been sitting for nearly two hours, from twelve to two nearly, and I like her, do you know. Not only she talks well, which was only a thing to expect, but she seems to feel ... to have great sensibility—and her kindness to me ... kindness of manner and words and expression, all together ... quite touched me.—I did not think of her being so loveable a person. Yet it was kind and generous, her proposition about Italy; (did I tell you how she made it to me through Mr. Kenyon long ago—when I was a mere stranger to her?) the proposition to go there with me herself. It was quite a grave, earnest proposal of hers—which was one of the reasons why I could not even wish not to see her to-day. Because you see, it was a tremendous degree of experimental generosity, to think of going to Italy by sea with an invalid stranger, "seule a seule." And she was wholly in earnest, wholly. Is there not good in the world after all?
Tell me how you are, for I am not at ease about you—You were not well even yesterday, I thought. If this goes on ... but it mustn't go on—oh, it must not. May God bless us more!
Do not fancy, in the meantime, that you stay here 'too long' for any observation that can be made. In the first place there is nobody to 'observe'—everybody is out till seven, except the one or two who will not observe if I tell them not. My sisters are glad when you come, because it is a gladness of mine, ... they observe. I have a great deal of liberty, to have so many chains; we all have, in this house: and though the liberty has melancholy motives, it saves some daily torment, and I do not complain of it for one.
May God bless you! Do not forget me. Say how you are. What good can I do you with all my thoughts, when you keep unwell? See!—Facts are against fancies. As when I would not have the lamp lighted yesterday because it seemed to make it later, and you proved directly that it would not make it earlier, by getting up and going away!
Wholly and ever your
R.B. to E.B.B.
[Post-mark, November 28, 1845.]
Take it, dearest; what I am forced to think you mean—and take no more with it—for I gave all to give long ago—I am all yours—and now, mine; give me mine to be happy with!
You will have received my note of yesterday.—I am glad you are satisfied with Miss Bayley, whom I, too, thank ... that is, sympathize with, ... (not wonder at, though)—for her intention.... Well, may it all be for best—here or at Pisa, you are my blessing and life.
... How all considerate you are, you that are the kind, kind one! The post arrangement I will remember—to-day, for instance, will this reach you at 8? I shall be with you then, in thought. 'Forget you!'—What does that mean, dearest?
And I might have stayed longer and you let me go. What does that mean, also tell me? Why, I make up my mind to go, always, like a man, and praise myself as I get through it—as when one plunges into the cold water—ONLY ... ah, that too is no more a merit than any other thing I do ... there is the reward, the last and best! Or is it the 'lure'?
I would not be ashamed of my soul if it might be shown you,—it is wholly grateful, conscious of you.
But another time, do not let me wrong myself so! Say, 'one minute more.'
On Monday?—I am much better—and, having got free from an engagement for Saturday, shall stay quietly here and think the post never intending to come—for you will not let me wait longer?
Shall I dare write down a grievance of my heart, and not offend you? Yes, trusting in the right of my love—you tell me, sweet, here in the letter, 'I do not look so well'—and sometimes, I 'look better' ... how do you know? When I first saw you—I saw your eyes—since then, you, it should appear, see mine—but I only know yours are there, and have to use that memory as if one carried dried flowers about when fairly inside the garden-enclosure. And while I resolve, and hesitate, and resolve again to complain of this—(kissing your foot ... not boldly complaining, nor rudely)—while I have this on my mind, on my heart, ever since that May morning ... can it be?
—No, nothing can be wrong now—you will never call me 'kind' again, in that sense, you promise! Nor think 'bitterly' of my kindness, that word!
Shall I see you on Monday?
God bless you my dearest—I see her now—and here and now the eyes open, wide enough, and I will kiss them—how gratefully!
[Footnote 1: Envelope endorsed by E.B.B. 'hair.']
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday. [Post-mark, December 1, 1845.]
It comes at eight o'clock—the post says eight ... I say nearer half past eight ... it comes—and I thank you, thank you, as I can. Do you remember the purple lock of a king on which hung the fate of a city? I do! And I need not in conscience—because this one here did not come to me by treason—'ego et rex meus,' on the contrary, do fairly give and take.
I meant at first only to send you what is in the ring ... which, by the way, will not fit you I know—(not certainly in the finger which it was meant for ...) as it would not Napoleon before you—but can easily be altered to the right size.... I meant at first to send you only what was in the ring: but your fashion is best so you shall have it both ways. Now don't say a word on Monday ... nor at all. As for the ring, recollect that I am forced to feel blindfold into the outer world, and take what is nearest ... by chance, not choice ... or it might have been better—a little better—perhaps. The best of it is that it's the colour of your blue flowers. Now you will not say a word—I trust to you.
It is enough that you should have said these others, I think. Now is it just of you? isn't it hard upon me? And if the charge is true, whose fault is it, pray? I have been ashamed and vexed with myself fifty times for being so like a little girl, ... for seeming to have 'affectations'; and all in vain: 'it was stronger than I,' as the French say. And for you to complain! As if Haroun Alraschid after cutting off a head, should complain of the want of an obeisance!—Well!—I smile notwithstanding. Nobody can help smiling—both for my foolishness which is great, I confess, though somewhat exaggerated in your statement—(because if it was quite as bad as you say, you know, I never should have seen you ... and I have!) and also for yours ... because you take such a very preposterously wrong way for overcoming anybody's shyness. Do you know, I have laughed ... really laughed at your letter. No—it has not been so bad. I have seen you at every visit, as well as I could with both eyes wide open—only that by a supernatural influence they won't stay open with you as they are used to do with other people ... so now I tell you. And for the rest I promise nothing at all—as how can I, when it is quite beyond my control—and you have not improved my capabilities ... do you think you have? Why what nonsense we have come to—we, who ought to be 'talking Greek!' said Mr. Kenyon.
Yes—he came and talked of you, and told me how you had been speaking of ... me; and I have been thinking how I should have been proud of it a year ago, and how I could half scold you for it now. Ah yes—and Mr. Kenyon told me that you had spoken exaggerations—such exaggerations!—Now should there not be some scolding ... some?
But how did you expect Mr. Kenyon to 'wonder' at you, or be 'vexed' with you? That would have been strange surely. You are and always have been a chief favourite in that quarter ... appreciated, praised, loved, I think.
While I write, a letter from America is put into my hands, and having read it through with shame and confusion of face ... not able to help a smile though notwithstanding, ... I send it to you to show how you have made me behave!—to say nothing of my other offences to the kind people at Boston—and to a stray gentleman in Philadelphia who is to perform a pilgrimage next year, he says, ... to visit the Holy Land and your E.B.B. I was naughty enough to take that letter to be a circular ... for the address of various 'Europaians.' In any case ... just see how I have behaved! and if it has not been worse than ... not opening one's eyes!—Judge. Really and gravely I am ashamed—I mean as to Mr. Mathews, who has been an earnest, kind friend to me—and I do mean to behave better. I say that to prevent your scolding, you know. And think of Mr. Poe, with that great Roman justice of his (if not rather American!), dedicating a book to one and abusing one in the preface of the same. He wrote a review of me in just that spirit—the two extremes of laudation and reprehension, folded in on one another. You would have thought that it had been written by a friend and foe, each stark mad with love and hate, and writing the alternate paragraphs—a most curious production indeed.
And here I shall end. I have been waiting ... waiting for what does not come ... the ring ... sent to have the hair put in; but it won't come (now) until too late for the post, and you must hear from me before Monday ... you ought to have heard to-day. It has not been my fault—I have waited. Oh these people—who won't remember that it is possible to be out of patience! So I send you my letter now ... and what is in the paper now ... and the rest, you shall have after Monday. And you will not say a word ... not then ... not at all!—I trust you. And may God bless you.
If ever you care less for me—I do not say it in distrust of you ... I trust you wholly—but you are a man, and free to care less, ... and if ever you do ... why in that case you will destroy, burn, ... do all but send back ... enough is said for you to understand.
May God bless you. You are best to me—best ... as I see ... in the world—and so, dearest aright to
Finished on Saturday evening. Oh—this thread of silk—And to post!! After all you must wait till Tuesday. I have no silk within reach and shall miss the post. Do forgive me.
E.B.B. to R.B.
This is the mere postscript to the letter I have just sent away. By a few minutes too late, comes what I have all day been waiting for, ... and besides (now it is just too late!) now I may have a skein of silk if I please, to make that knot with, ... for want of which, two locks meant for you, have been devoted to the infernal gods already ... fallen into a tangle and thrown into the fire ... and all the hair of my head might have followed, for I was losing my patience and temper fast, ... and the post to boot. So wisely I shut my letter, (after unwisely having driven everything to the last moment!)—and now I have silk to tie fast with ... to tie a 'nodus' ... 'dignus' of the celestial interposition—and a new packet shall be ready to go to you directly.
At last I remember to tell you that the first letter you had from me this week, was forgotten, (not by me) forgotten, and detained, so, from the post—a piece of carelessness which Wilson came to confess to me too frankly for me to grumble as I should have done otherwise.
For the staying longer, I did not mean to say you were wrong not to stay. In the first place you were keeping your father 'in a maze,' as you said yourself—and then, even without that, I never know what o'clock it is ... never. Mr. Kenyon tells me that I must live in a dream—which I do—time goes ... seeming to go round rather than go forward. The watch I have, broke its spring two years ago, and there I leave it in the drawer—and the clocks all round strike out of hearing, or at best, when the wind brings the sound, one upon another in a confusion. So you know more of time than I do or can.
Till Monday then! I send the 'Ricordi' to take care of the rest ... of mine. It is a touching story—and there is an impracticable nobleness from end to end in the spirit of it. How slow (to the ear and mind) that Italian rhetoric is! a language for dreamers and declaimers. Yet Dante made it for action, and Machiavelli's prose can walk and strike as well as float and faint.
The ring is smaller than I feared at first, and may perhaps—
Now you will not say a word. My excuse is that you had nothing to remember me by, while I had this and this and this and this ... how much too much!
If I could be too much
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday. [Post-mark, December 2, 1845.]
I was happy, so happy before! But I am happier and richer now. My love—no words could serve here, but there is life before us, and to the end of it the vibration now struck will extend—I will live and die with your beautiful ring, your beloved hair—comforting me, blessing me.
Let me write to-morrow—when I think on all you have been and are to me, on the wonder of it and the deliciousness, it makes the paper words that come seem vainer than ever—To-morrow I will write.
May God bless you, my own, my precious—
I am all your own
I have thought again, and believe it will be best to select the finger you intended ... as the alteration will be simpler, I find; and one is less liable to observation and comment.
Was not that Mr. Kenyon last evening? And did he ask, or hear, or say anything?
R.B. to E.B.B.
[Post-mark, December 3, 1845.]
See, dearest, what the post brings me this minute! Now, is it not a good omen, a pleasant inconscious prophecy of what is to be? Be it well done, or badly—there are you, leading me up and onward, in his review as everywhere, at every future time! And our names will go together—be read together. In itself this is nothing to you, dear poet—but the unexpectedness, unintended significance of it has pleased me very much—does it not please you?—I thought I was to figure in that cold Quarterly all by myself, (for he writes for it)—but here you are close by me; it cannot but be for good. He has no knowledge whatever that I am even a friend of yours. Say you are pleased!
There was no writing yesterday for me—nor will there be much to-day. In some moods, you know, I turn and take a thousand new views of what you say ... and find fault with you to your surprise—at others, I rest on you, and feel all well, all best ... now, for one instance, even that phrase of the possibility 'and what is to follow,'—even that I cannot except against—I am happy, contented; too well, too prodigally blessed to be even able to murmur just sufficiently loud to get, in addition to it all, a sweetest stopping of the mouth! I will say quietly and becomingly 'Yes—I do promise you'—yet it is some solace to—No—I will not even couple the promise with an adjuration that you, at the same time, see that they care for me properly at Hanwell Asylum ... the best by all accounts: yet I feel so sure of you, so safe and confident in you! If any of it had been my work, my own ... distrust and foreboding had pursued me from the beginning; but all is yours—you crust me round with gold and jewelry like the wood of a sceptre; and why should you transfer your own work? Wood enough to choose from in the first instance, but the choice once made!... So I rest on you, for life, for death, beloved—beside you do stand, in my solemn belief, the direct miraculous gift of God to me—that is my solemn belief; may I be thankful!
I am anxious to hear from you ... when am I not?—but not before the American letter is written and sent. Is that done? And who was the visitor on Monday—and if &c. what did he remark?—And what is right or wrong with Saturday—is it to be mine?
Bless you, dearest—now and for ever—words cannot say how much I am your own.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday Evening. [Post-mark, December 4, 1845.]
No Mr. Kenyon after all—not yesterday, not to-day; and the knock at the door belonged perhaps to the post, which brought me a kind letter from Mrs. Jameson to ask how I was, and if she might come—but she won't come on Saturday.... I shall 'provide'—she may as well (and better) come on a free day. On the other side, are you sure that Mr. Procter may not stretch out his hand and seize on Saturday (he was to dine with you, you said), or that some new engagement may not start up suddenly in the midst of it? I trust to you, in such a case, to alter our arrangement, without a second thought. Monday stands close by, remember, and there's a Saturday to follow Monday ... and I should understand at a word, or apart from a word.
Just as you understand how to 'take me with guile,' when you tell me that anything in me can have any part in making you happy ... you, who can say such words and call them 'vain words.' Ah, well! If I only knew certainly, ... more certainly than the thing may be known by either me or you, ... that nothing in me could have any part in making you unhappy, ... ah, would it not be enough ... that knowledge ... to content me, to overjoy me? but that lies too high and out of reach, you see, and one can't hope to get at it except by the ladder Jacob saw, and which an archangel helped to hide away behind the gate of Heaven afterwards.
Wednesday.—In the meantime I had a letter from you yesterday, and am promised another to-day. How ... I was going to say 'kind' and pull down the thunders ... how unkind ... will that do? ... how good you are to me—how dear you must be! Dear—dearest—if I feel that you love me, can I help it if, without any other sort of certain knowledge, the world grows lighter round me? being but a mortal woman, can I help it? no—certainly.
I comfort myself by thinking sometimes that I can at least understand you, ... comprehend you in what you are and in what you possess and combine; and that, if doing this better than others who are better otherwise than I, I am, so far, worthier of the ... I mean that to understand you is something, and that I account it something in my own favour ... mine.
Yet when you tell me that I ought to know some things, though untold, you are wrong, and speak what is impossible. My imagination sits by the roadside [Greek: apedilos] like the startled sea nymph in AEschylus, but never dares to put one unsandalled foot, unbidden, on a certain tract of ground—never takes a step there unled! and never (I write the simple truth) even as the alternative of the probability of your ceasing to care for me, have I touched (untold) on the possibility of your caring more for me ... never! That you should continue to care, was the utmost of what I saw in that direction. So, when you spoke of a 'strengthened feeling,' judge how I listened with my heart—judge!
'Luria' is very great. You will avenge him with the sympathies of the world; that, I foresee.... And for the rest, it is a magnanimity which grows and grows, and which will, of a worldly necessity, fall by its own weight at last; nothing less being possible. The scene with Tiburzio and the end of the act with its great effects, are more pathetic than professed pathos. When I come to criticise, it will be chiefly on what I take to be a little occasional flatness in the versification, which you may remove if you please, by knotting up a few lines here and there. But I shall write more of 'Luria,'—and well remember in the meanwhile, that you wanted smoothness, you said.
May God bless you. I shall have the letter to-night, I think gladly. Yes,—I thought of the greater safety from 'comment'—it is best in every way.
I lean on you and trust to you, and am always, as to one who is all to me,
E.B.B. to R.B.
[Post-mark, December 4, 1845.]
Why of course I am pleased—I should have been pleased last year, for the vanity's sake of being reviewed in your company. Now, as far as that vice of vanity goes ... shall I tell you?... I would infinitely prefer to see you set before the public in your own right solitude, and supremacy, apart from me or any one else, ... this, as far as my vice of vanity goes, ... and because, vainer I am of my poet than of my poems ... pour cause. But since, according to the Quarterly regime, you were to be not apart but with somebody of my degree, I am glad, pleased, that it should be with myself:—and since I was to be there at all, I am pleased, very much pleased that it should be with you,—oh, of course I am pleased!—I am pleased that the 'names should be read together' as you say, ... and am happily safe from the apprehension of that ingenious idea of yours about 'my leading you' &c. ... quite happily safe from the apprehension of that idea's occurring to any mind in the world, except just your own. Now if I 'find fault' with you for writing down such an extravagance, such an ungainly absurdity, (oh, I shall abuse it just as I shall choose!) can it be 'to your surprise?' can it? Ought you to say such things, when in the first place they are unfit in themselves and inapplicable, and in the second place, abominable in my eyes? The qualification for Hanwell Asylum is different peradventure from what you take it to be—we had better not examine it too nearly. You never will say such words again? It is your promise to me? Not those words—and not any in their likeness.
Also ... nothing is my work ... if you please! What an omen you take in calling anything my work! If it is my work, woe on it—for everything turns to evil which I touch. Let it be God's work and yours, and I may take breath and wait in hope—and indeed I exclaim to myself about the miracle of it far more even than you can do. It seems to me (as I say over and over ... I say it to my own thoughts oftenest) it seems to me still a dream how you came here at all, ... the very machinery of it seems miraculous. Why did I receive you and only you? Can I tell? no, not a word.
Last year I had such an escape of seeing Mr. Horne; and in this way it was. He was going to Germany, he said, for an indefinite time, and took the trouble of begging me to receive him for ten minutes before he went. I answered with my usual 'no,' like a wild Indian—whereupon he wrote me a letter so expressive of mortification and vexation ... 'mortification' was one of the words used, I remember, ... that I grew ashamed of myself and told him to come any day (of the last five or six days he had to spare) between two and five. Well!—he never came. Either he was overcome with work and engagements of various sorts and had not a moment, (which was his way of explaining the matter and quite true I dare say) or he was vexed and resolved on punishing me for my caprices. If the latter was the motive, I cannot call the punishment effective, ... for I clapped my hands for joy when I felt my danger to be passed—and now of course, I have no scruples.... I may be as capricious as I please, ... may I not? Not that I ask you. It is a settled matter. And it is useful to keep out Mr. Chorley with Mr. Horne, and Mr. Horne with Mr. Chorley, and the rest of the world with those two. Only the miracle is that you should be behind the enclosure—within it ... and so!—
That is my side of the wonder! of the machinery of the wonder, ... as I see it!—But there are greater things than these.
Speaking of the portrait of you in the 'Spirit of the Age' ... which is not like ... no!—which has not your character, in a line of it ... something in just the forehead and eyes and hair, ... but even that, thrown utterly out of your order, by another bearing so unlike you...! speaking of that portrait ... shall I tell you?—Mr. Horne had the goodness to send me all those portraits, and I selected the heads which, in right hero-worship, were anything to me, and had them framed after a rough fashion and hung up before my eyes; Harriet Martineau's ... because she was a woman and admirable, and had written me some kind letters—and for the rest, Wordsworth's, Carlyle's, Tennyson's and yours. The day you paid your first visit here, I, in a fit of shyness not quite unnatural, ... though I have been cordially laughed at for it by everybody in the house ... pulled down your portrait, ... (there is the nail, under Wordsworth—) and then pulled down Tennyson's in a fit of justice,—because I would not have his hung up and yours away. It was the delight of my brothers to open all the drawers and the boxes, and whatever they could get access to, and find and take those two heads and hang them on the old nails and analyse my 'absurdity' to me, day after day; but at last I tired them out, being obstinate; and finally settled the question one morning by fastening the print of you inside your Paracelsus. Oh no, it is not like—and I knew it was not, before I saw you, though Mr. Kenyon said, 'Rather like!'
By the way Mr. Kenyon does not come. It is strange that he should not come: when he told me that he could not see me 'for a week or a fortnight,' he meant it, I suppose.
So it is to be on Saturday? And I will write directly to America—the letter will be sent by the time you get this. May God bless you ever.
It is not so much a look of 'ferocity,' ... as you say, ... in that head, as of expression by intention. Several people have said of it what nobody would say of you ... 'How affected-looking.' Which is too strong—but it is not like you, in any way, and there's the truth.
So until Saturday. I read 'Luria' and feel the life in him. But walk and do not work! do you?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Night. [Post-mark, December 8, 1845.]
Well, I did see your brother last night ... and very wisely neither spoke nor kept silence in the proper degree, but said that 'I hoped you were well'—from the sudden feeling that I must say something of you—not pretend indifference about you now ... and from the impossibility of saying the full of what I might; because other people were by—and after, in the evening, when I should have remedied the first imperfect expression, I had not altogether the heart. So, you, dearest, will clear me with him if he wonders, will you not? But it all hangs together; speaking of you,—to you,—writing to you—all is helpless and sorrowful work by the side of what is in my soul to say and to write—or is it not the natural consequence? If these vehicles of feelings sufficed—there would be the end!—And that my feeling for you should end!... For the rest, the headache which kept away while I sate with you, made itself amends afterward, and as it is unkind to that warm Talfourd to look blank at his hospitable endeavours, all my power of face went a qui de droit—
Did your brother tell you ... yes, I think ... of the portentous book, lettered II, and thick as a law-book, of congratulatory letters on the appearance of 'Ion'?—But how under the B's in the Index came 'Miss Barrett' and, woe's me, 'R.B.'! I don't know when I have had so ghastly a visitation. There was the utterly forgotten letter, in the as thoroughly disused hand-writing, in the ... I fear ... still as completely obsolete feeling—no, not so bad as that—but at first there was all the novelty, and social admiration at the friend—it is truly not right to pluck all the rich soil from the roots and hold them up clean and dry as if they came so from all you now see, which is nothing at all ... like the Chinese Air-plant! Do you understand this? And surely 'Ion' is a very, very beautiful and noble conception, and finely executed,—a beautiful work—what has come after, has lowered it down by grade after grade ... it don't stand apart on the hill, like a wonder, now it is built up to by other attempts; but the great difference is in myself. Another maker of another 'Ion,' finding me out and behaving as Talfourd did, would not find that me, so to be behaved to, so to be honoured—though he should have all the good will! Ten years ago!
And ten years hence!
Always understand that you do not take me as I was at the beginning ... with a crowd of loves to give to something and so get rid of their pain and burden. I have known what that ends in—a handful of anything may be as sufficient a sample, serve your purposes and teach you its nature, as well as whole heaps—and I know what most of the pleasures of this world are—so that I can be surer of myself, and make you surer, on calm demonstrated grounds, than if I had a host of objects of admiration or ambition yet to become acquainted with. You say, 'I am a man and may change'—I answer, yes—but, while I hold my senses, only change for the presumable better ... not for the experienced worst.
Here is my Uncle's foot on the stair ... his knock hurried the last sentence—here he is by me!—Understand what this would have led to, how you would have been proved logically my own, best, extreme want, my life's end—YES; dearest! Bless you ever—
E.B.B. to R.B.
Sunday. [Post-mark, December 8, 1845.]
Let me hear how you are, and that you are better instead of worse for the exertions of last night. After you left me yesterday I considered how we might have managed it more conveniently for you, and had the lamp in, and arranged matters so as to interpose less time between the going and the dining, even if you and George did not go together, which might have been best, but which I did not like quite to propose. Now, supposing that on Thursday you dine in town, remember not to be unnecessarily 'perplext in the extreme' where to spend the time before ... five, ... shall I say, at any rate? We will have the lamp, and I can easily explain if an observation should be made ... only it will not be, because our goers-out here never come home until six, and the head of the house, not until seven ... as I told you. George thought it worth while going to Mr. Talfourd's yesterday, just to see the author of 'Paracelsus' dance the Polka ... should I not tell you?
I am vexed by another thing which he tells me—vexed, if amused a little by the absurdity of it. I mean that absurd affair of the 'Autography'—now isn't it absurd? And for neither you nor George to have the chivalry of tearing out that letter of mine, which was absurd too in its way, and which, knowing less of the world than I know now, I wrote as if writing for my private conscience, and privately repented writing in a day, and have gone on repenting ever since when I happened to think enough of it for repentance! Because if Mr. Serjeant Talfourd sent then his 'Ion' to me, he did it in mere good-nature, hearing by chance of me through the publisher of my 'Prometheus' at the moment, and of course caring no more for my 'opinion' than for the rest of me—and it was excessively bad taste in me to say more than the briefest word of thanks in return, even if I had been competent to say it. Ah well!—you see how it is, and that I am vexed you should have read it, ... as George says you did ... he laughing to see me so vexed. So I turn round and avenge myself by crying aloud against the editor of the 'Autography'! Surely such a thing was never done before ... even by an author in the last stage of a mortal disease of self-love. To edit the common parlance of conventional flatteries, ... lettered in so many volumes, bound in green morocco, and laid on the drawing-room table for one's own particular private public,—is it not a miracle of vanity ... neither more nor less?
I took the opportunity of the letter to Mr. Mathews (talking of vanity ... mine!) to send Landor's verses to America ... yours—so they will be in the American papers.... I know Mr. Mathews. I was speaking to him of your last number of 'Bells and Pomegranates,' and the verses came in naturally; just as my speaking did, for it is not the first time nor the second nor the third even that I have written to him of you, though I admire how in all those previous times I did it in pure disinterestedness, ... purely because your name belonged to my country and to her literature, ... and how I have a sort of reward at this present, in being able to write what I please without anyone's saying 'it is a new fancy.' As for the Americans, they have 'a zeal without knowledge' for poetry. There is more love for verse among them than among the English. But they suffer themselves to be led in their choice of poets by English critics of average discernment; this is said of them by their own men of letters. Tennyson is idolized deep down in the bush woods (to their honour be it said), but to understand you sufficiently, they wait for the explanations of the critics. So I wanted them to see what Landor says of you. The comfort in these questions is, that there can be no question, except between the sooner and the later—a little sooner, and a little later: but when there is real love and zeal it becomes worth while to try to ripen the knowledge. They love Tennyson so much that the colour of his waistcoats is a sort of minor Oregon question ... and I like that—do not you?
Monday.—Now I have your letter: and you will observe, without a finger post from me, how busily we have both been preoccupied in disavowing our own letters of old on 'Ion'—Mr. Talfourd's collection goes to prove too much, I think—and you, a little too much, when you draw inferences of no-changes, from changes like these. Oh yes—I perfectly understand that every sort of inconstancy of purpose regards a 'presumably better' thing—but I do not so well understand how any presumable doubt is to be set to rest by that fact, ... I do not indeed. Have you seen all the birds and beasts in the world? have you seen the 'unicorns'?—Which is only a pebble thrown down into your smooth logic; and we need not stand by to watch the bubbles born of it. And as to the 'Ion' letters, I am delighted that you have anything to repent, as I have everything. Certainly it is a noble play—there is the moral sublime in it: but it is not the work of a poet, ... and if he had never written another to show what was not in him, this might have been 'predicated' of it as surely, I hold. Still, it is a noble work—and even if you over-praised it, (I did not read your letter, though you read mine, alas!) you, under the circumstances, would have been less noble yourself not to have done so—only, how I agree with you in what you say against the hanging up of these dry roots, the soil shaken off! Such abominable taste—now isn't it? ... though you do not use that word.
I thought Mr. Kenyon would have come yesterday and that I might have something to tell you, of him at least.
And George never told me of the thing you found to say to him of me, and which makes me smile, and would have made him wonder if he had not been suffering probably from some legal distraction at the moment, inasmuch as he knew perfectly that you had just left me. My sisters told him down-stairs and he came into this room just before he set off on Saturday, with a, ... 'So I am to meet Mr. Browning?' But he made no observation afterwards—none: and if he heard what you said at all (which I doubt), he referred it probably to some enforced civility on 'Yorick's' part when the 'last chapter' was too much with him.
I have written about 'Luria' in another place—you shall have the papers when I have read through the play. How different this living poetry is from the polished rhetoric of 'Ion.' The man and the statue are not more different. After all poetry is a distinct thing—it is here or it is not here ... it is not a matter of 'taste,' but of sight and feeling.
As to the 'Venice' it gives proof (does it not?) rather of poetical sensibility than of poetical faculty? or did you expect me to say more?—of the perception of the poet, rather than of his conception. Do you think more than this? There are fine, eloquent expressions, and the tone of sentiment is good and high everywhere.
Do not write 'Luria' if your head is uneasy—and you cannot say that it is not ... can you? Or will you if you can? In any case you will do what you can ... take care of yourself and not suffer yourself to be tired either by writing or by too much going out, and take the necessary exercise ... this, you will do—I entreat you to do it.
May God bless and make you happy, as ... you will lose nothing if I say ... as I am yours—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Morning. [Post-mark, December 9, 1845.]
Well, then, I am no longer sorry that I did not read either of your letters ... for there were two in the collection. I did not read one word of them—and hear why. When your brother and I took the book between us in wonderment at the notion—we turned to the index, in large text-hand, and stopped at 'Miss B.'—and he indeed read them, or some of them, but holding the volume at a distance which defied my short-sighted eye—all I saw was the faint small characters—and, do you know ... I neither trusted myself to ask a nearer look ... nor a second look ... as if I were studying unduly what I had just said was most unfairly exposed to view!—so I was silent, and lost you (in that)—then, and for ever, I promise you, now that you speak of vexation it would give you. All I know of the notes, that one is addressed to Talfourd in the third person—and when I had run through my own ... not far off ... (BA-BR)—I was sick of the book altogether. You are generous to me—but, to say the truth, I might have remembered the most justifying circumstance in my case ... which was, that my own 'Paracelsus,' printed a few months before, had been as dead a failure as 'Ion' a brilliant success—for, until just before.... Ah, really I forget!—but I know that until Forster's notice in the Examiner appeared, every journal that thought worth while to allude to the poem at all, treated it with entire contempt ... beginning, I think, with the Athenaeum which then made haste to say, a few days after its publication, 'that it was not without talent but spoiled by obscurity and only an imitation of—Shelley'!—something to this effect, in a criticism of about three lines among their 'Library Table' notices. And that first taste was a most flattering sample of what the 'craft' had in store for me—since my publisher and I had fairly to laugh at his 'Book'—(quite of another kind than the Serjeant's)—in which he was used to paste extracts from newspapers and the like—seeing that, out of a long string of notices, one vied with its predecessor in disgust at my 'rubbish,' as their word went: but Forster's notice altered a good deal—which I have to recollect for his good. Still, the contrast between myself and Talfourd was so utter—you remember the world's-wonder 'Ion' made,—that I was determined not to pass for the curious piece of neglected merit I really was not—and so!—
But, dearest, why should you leave your own especial sphere of doing me good for another than yours?
Does the sun rake and hoe about the garden as well as thine steadily over it? Why must you, who give me heart and power, as nothing else did or could, to do well—concern yourself with what might be done by any good, kind ministrant only fit for such offices? Not that I feel, even, more bound to you for them—they have their weight, I know ... but what weight beside the divine gift of yourself? Do not, dear, dearest, care for making me known: you know me!—and they know so little, after all your endeavour, who are ignorant of what you are to me—if you ... well, but that will follow; if I do greater things one day—what shall they serve for, what range themselves under of right?—
Mr. Mathews sent me two copies of his poems—and, I believe, a newspaper, 'when time was,' about the 'Blot in the Scutcheon'—and also, through Moxon—(I believe it was Mr. M.)—a proposition for reprinting—to which I assented of course—and there was an end to the matter.
And might I have stayed till five?—dearest, I will never ask for more than you give—but I feel every single sand of the gold showers ... spite of what I say above! I have an invitation for Thursday which I had no intention of remembering (it admitted of such liberty)—but now....
Something I will say! 'Polka,' forsooth!—one lady whose head could not, and another whose feet could not, dance!—But I talked a little to your brother whom I like more and more: it comforts me that he is yours.
So, Thursday,—thank you from the heart! I am well, and about to go out. This week I have done nothing to 'Luria'—is it that my ring is gone? There surely is something to forgive in me—for that shameful business—or I should not feel as I do in the matter: but you did forgive me.
God bless my own, only love—ever—
N.B. An antiquarian friend of mine in old days picked up a nondescript wonder of a coin. I just remember he described it as Rhomboid in shape—cut, I fancy, out of church-plate in troubled times. What did my friend do but get ready a box, lined with velvet, and properly compartmented, to have always about him, so that the next such coin he picked up, say in Cheapside, he might at once transfer to a place of safety ... his waistcoat pocket being no happy receptacle for the same. I saw the box—and encouraged the man to keep a vigilant eye.
Parallel. R.B. having found an unicorn....
Do you forgive these strips of paper? I could not wait to send for more—having exhausted my stock.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday Evening [Post-mark, December 10, 1845.]
It was right of you to write ... (now see what jangling comes of not using the fit words.... I said 'right,' not to say 'kind') ... right of you to write to me to-day—and I had begun to be disappointed already because the post seemed to be past, when suddenly the knock brought the letter which deserves all this praising. If not 'kind' ... then kindest ... will that do better? Perhaps.
Mr. Kenyon was here to-day and asked when you were coming again—and I, I answered at random ... 'at the end of the week—Thursday or Friday'—which did not prevent another question about 'what we were consulting about.' He said that he 'must have you,' and had written to beg you to go to his door on days when you came here; only murmuring something besides of neither Thursday nor Friday being disengaged days with him. Oh, my disingenuousness!—Then he talked again of 'Saul.' A true impression the poem has made on him! He reads it every night, he says, when he comes home and just before he goes to sleep, to put his dreams into order, and observed very aptly, I thought, that it reminded him of Homer's shield of Achilles, thrown into lyrical whirl and life. Quite ill he took it of me the 'not expecting him to like it so much' and retorted on me with most undeserved severity (as I felt it), that I 'never understood anybody to have any sensibility except myself.' Wasn't it severe, to come from dear Mr. Kenyon? But he has caught some sort of evil spirit from your 'Saul' perhaps; though admiring the poem enough to have a good spirit instead. And do you remember of the said poem, that it is there only as a first part, and that the next parts must certainly follow and complete what will be a great lyrical work—now remember. And forget 'Luria' ... if you are better forgetting. And forget me ... when you are happier forgetting. I say that too.
So your idea of an unicorn is—one horn broken off. And you a poet!—one horn broken off—or hid in the blackthorn hedge!—
Such a mistake, as our enlightened public, on their part, made, when they magnified the divinity of the brazen chariot, just under the thunder-cloud! I don't remember the Athenaeum, but can well believe that it said what you say. The Athenaeum admires only what gods, men and columns reject. It applauds nothing but mediocrity—mark it, as a general rule! The good, they see—the great escapes them. Dare to breathe a breath above the close, flat conventions of literature, and you are 'put down' and instructed how to be like other people. By the way, see by the very last number, that you never think to write 'peoples,' on pain of writing what is obsolete—and these the teachers of the public! If the public does not learn, where is the marvel of it? An imitation of Shelley!—when if 'Paracelsus' was anything it was the expression of a new mind, as all might see—as I saw, let me be proud to remember, and I was not overdazzled by 'Ion.'
Ah, indeed if I could 'rake and hoe' ... or even pick up weeds along the walk, ... which is the work of the most helpless children, ... if I could do any of this, there would be some good of me: but as for 'shining' ... shining ... when there is not so much light in me as to do 'carpet work' by, why let anyone in the world, except you, tell me to shine, and it will just be a mockery! But you have studied astronomy with your favourite snails, who are apt to take a dark-lanthorn for the sun, and so.—
And so, you come on Thursday, and I only hope that Mrs. Jameson will not come too, (the carpet work makes me think of her; and, not having come yet, she may come on Thursday by a fatal cross-stitch!) for I do not hear from her, and my precautions are 'watched out,' May God bless you always.
But no—I did not forgive. Where was the fault to be forgiven, except in me, for not being right in my meaning?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday. [Post-mark, December 12, 1845.]
And now, my heart's love, I am waiting to hear from you; my heart is full of you. When I try to remember what I said yesterday, that thought, of what fills my heart—only that makes me bear with the memory.... I know that even such imperfect, poorest of words must have come from thence if not bearing up to you all that is there—and I know you are ever above me to receive, and help, and forgive, and wait for the one day which I will never say to myself cannot come, when I shall speak what I feel—more of it—or some of it—for now nothing is spoken.
Ah, you opposed very rightly, I dare say, the writing that paper I spoke of! The process should be so much simpler! I most earnestly expect of you, my love, that in the event of any such necessity as was then alluded to, you accept at once in my name any conditions possible for a human will to submit to—there is no imaginable condition to which you allow me to accede that I will not joyfully bend all my faculties to comply with. And you know this—but so, also do you know more ... and yet 'I may tire of you'—'may forget you'!
I will write again, having the long, long week to wait! And one of the things I must say, will be, that with my love, I cannot lose my pride in you—that nothing but that love could balance that pride—and that, blessing the love so divinely, you must minister to the pride as well; yes, my own—I shall follow your fame,—and, better than fame, the good you do—in the world—and, if you please, it shall all be mine—as your hand, as your eyes—
I will write and pray it from you into a promise ... and your promises I live upon.
May God bless you! your R.B.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday. [Post-mark, December 13, 1845.]
Do not blame me in your thoughts for what I said yesterday or wrote a day before, or think perhaps on the dark side of some other days when I cannot help it ... always when I cannot help it—you could not blame me if you saw the full motives as I feel them. If it is distrust, it is not of you, dearest of all!—but of myself rather:—it is not doubt of you, but for you. From the beginning I have been subject to the too reasonable fear which rises as my spirits fall, that your happiness might suffer in the end through your having known me:—it is for you I fear, whenever I fear:—and if you were less to me, ... should I fear do you think?—if you were to me only what I am to myself for instance, ... if your happiness were only as precious as my own in my own eyes, ... should I fear, do you think, then? Think, and do not blame me.
To tell you to 'forget me when forgetting seemed happiest for you,' ... (was it not that, I said?) proved more affection than might go in smoother words.... I could prove the truth of that out of my heart.
And for the rest, you need not fear any fear of mine—my fear will not cross a wish of yours, be sure! Neither does it prevent your being all to me ... all: more than I used to take for all when I looked round the world, ... almost more than I took for all in my earliest dreams. You stand in between me and not merely the living who stood closest, but between me and the closer graves, ... and I reproach myself for this sometimes, and, so, ask you not to blame me for a different thing.
As to unfavourable influences, ... I can speak of them quietly, having foreseen them from the first, ... and it is true, I have been thinking since yesterday, that I might be prevented from receiving you here, and should, if all were known: but with that act, the adverse power would end. It is not my fault if I have to choose between two affections; only my pain; and I have not to choose between two duties, I feel, ... since I am yours, while I am of any worth to you at all. For the plan of the sealed letter, it would correct no evil,—ah, you do not see, you do not understand. The danger does not come from the side to which a reason may go. Only one person holds the thunder—and I shall be thundered at; I shall not be reasoned with—it is impossible. I could tell you some dreary chronicles made for laughing and crying over; and you know that if I once thought I might be loved enough to be spared above others, I cannot think so now. In the meanwhile we need not for the present be afraid. Let there be ever so many suspectors, there will be no informers. I suspect the suspectors, but the informers are out of the world, I am very sure:—and then, the one person, by a curious anomaly, never draws an inference of this order, until the bare blade of it is thrust palpably into his hand, point outwards. So it has been in other cases than ours—and so it is, at this moment in the house, with others than ourselves.
I have your letter to stop me. If I had my whole life in my hands with your letter, could I thank you for it, I wonder, at all worthily? I cannot believe that I could. Yet in life and in death I shall be grateful to you.—
But for the paper—no. Now, observe, that it would seem like a prepared apology for something wrong. And besides—the apology would be nothing but the offence in another form—unless you said it was all a mistake—(will you, again?)—that it was all a mistake and you were only calling for your boots! Well, if you said that, it would be worth writing, but anything less would be something worse than nothing: and would not save me—which you were thinking of, I know—would not save me the least of the stripes. For 'conditions'—now I will tell you what I said once in a jest....
'If a prince of Eldorado should come, with a pedigree of lineal descent from some signory in the moon in one hand, and a ticket of good-behaviour from the nearest Independent chapel, in the other'—?
'Why even then,' said my sister Arabel, 'it would not do.' And she was right, and we all agreed that she was right. It is an obliquity of the will—and one laughs at it till the turn comes for crying. Poor Henrietta has suffered silently, with that softest of possible natures, which hers is indeed; beginning with implicit obedience, and ending with something as unlike it as possible: but, you see, where money is wanted, and where the dependence is total—see! And when once, in the case of the one dearest to me; when just at the last he was involved in the same grief, and I attempted to make over my advantages to him; (it could be no sacrifice, you know—I did not want the money, and could buy nothing with it so good as his happiness,—) why then, my hands were seized and tied—and then and there, in the midst of the trouble, came the end of all! I tell you all this, just to make you understand a little. Did I not tell you before? But there is no danger at present—and why ruffle this present with disquieting thoughts? Why not leave that future to itself? For me, I sit in the track of the avalanche quite calmly ... so calmly as to surprise myself at intervals—and yet I know the reason of the calmness well.
For Mr. Kenyon—dear Mr. Kenyon—he will speak the softest of words, if any—only he will think privately that you are foolish and that I am ungenerous, but I will not say so any more now, so as to teaze you.
There is another thing, of more consequence than his thoughts, which is often in my mind to ask you of—but there will be time for such questions—let us leave the winter to its own peace. If I should be ill again you will be reasonable and we both must submit to God's necessity. Not, you know, that I have the least intention of being ill, if I can help it—and in the case of a tolerably mild winter, and with all this strength to use, there are probabilities for me—and then I have sunshine from you, which is better than Pisa's.
And what more would you say? Do I not hear and understand! It seems to me that I do both, or why all this wonder and gratitude? If the devotion of the remainder of my life could prove that I hear, ... would it be proof enough? Proof enough perhaps—but not gift enough.
May God bless you always.
I have put some of the hair into a little locket which was given to me when I was a child by my favourite uncle, Papa's only brother, who used to tell me that he loved me better than my own father did, and was jealous when I was not glad. It is through him in part, that I am richer than my sisters—through him and his mother—and a great grief it was and trial, when he died a few years ago in Jamaica, proving by his last act that I was unforgotten. And now I remember how he once said to me: 'Do you beware of ever loving!—If you do, you will not do it half: it will be for life and death.'
So I put the hair into his locket, which I wear habitually, and which never had hair before—the natural use of it being for perfume:—and this is the best perfume for all hours, besides the completing of a prophecy.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Monday Morning. [Post-mark, December 15, 1845.]
Every word you write goes to my heart and lives there: let us live so, and die so, if God will. I trust many years hence to begin telling you what I feel now;—that the beam of the light will have reached you!—meantime it is here. Let me kiss your forehead, my sweetest, dearest.
Wednesday I am waiting for—how waiting for!
After all, it seems probable that there was no intentional mischief in that jeweller's management of the ring. The divided gold must have been exposed to fire—heated thoroughly, perhaps,—and what became of the contents then! Well, all is safe now, and I go to work again of course. My next act is just done—that is, being done—but, what I did not foresee, I cannot bring it, copied, by Wednesday, as my sister went this morning on a visit for the week.
On the matters, the others, I will not think, as you bid me,—if I can help, at least. But your kind, gentle, good sisters! and the provoking sorrow of the right meaning at bottom of the wrong doing—wrong to itself and its plain purpose—and meanwhile, the real tragedy and sacrifice of a life!
If you should see Mr. Kenyon, and can find if he will be disengaged on Wednesday evening, I shall be glad to go in that case.
But I have been writing, as I say, and will leave off this, for the better communing with you. Don't imagine I am unwell; I feel quite well, but a little tired, and the thought of you waits in such readiness! So, may God bless you, beloved!
I am all your own
E.B.B. to R.B.
Monday. [Post-mark, December 16, 1845.]
Mr. Kenyon has not come—he does not come so often, I think. Did he know from you that you were to see me last Thursday? If he did it might be as well, do you not think? to go to him next week. Will it not seem frequent, otherwise? But if you did not tell him of Thursday distinctly (I did not—remember!), he might take the Wednesday's visit to be the substitute for rather than the successor of Thursday's: and in that case, why not write a word to him yourself to propose dining with him as he suggested? He really wishes to see you—of that, I am sure. But you will know what is best to do, and he may come here to-morrow perhaps, and ask a whole set of questions about you; so my right hand may forget its cunning for any good it does. Only don't send messages by me, please!
How happy I am with your letter to-night.
When I had sent away my last letter I began to remember, and could not help smiling to do so, that I had totally forgotten the great subject of my 'fame,' and the oath you administered about it—totally! Now how do you read that omen? If I forget myself, who is to remember me, do you think?—except you?—which brings me where I would stay. Yes—'yours' it must be, but you, it had better be! But, to leave the vain superstitions, let me go on to assure you that I did mean to answer that part of your former letter, and do mean to behave well and be obedient. Your wish would be enough, even if there could be likelihood without it of my doing nothing ever again. Oh, certainly I have been idle—it comes of lotus-eating—and, besides, of sitting too long in the sun. Yet 'idle' may not be the word! silent I have been, through too many thoughts to speak just that!—As to writing letters and reading manuscripts' filling all my time, why I must lack 'vital energy' indeed—you do not mean seriously to fancy such a thing of me! For the rest.... Tell me—Is it your opinion that when the apostle Paul saw the unspeakable things, being snatched up into the third Heavens 'whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell,'—is it your opinion that, all the week after, he worked particularly hard at the tent-making? For my part, I doubt it.
I would not speak profanely or extravagantly—it is not the best way to thank God. But to say only that I was in the desert and that I am among the palm-trees, is to say nothing ... because it is easy to understand how, after walking straight on ... on ... furlong after furlong ... dreary day after dreary day, ... one may come to the end of the sand and within sight of the fountain:—there is nothing miraculous in that, you know!
Yet even in that case, to doubt whether it may not all be mirage, would be the natural first thought, the recurring dream-fear! now would it not? And you can reproach me for my thoughts, as if they were unnatural!
Never mind about the third act—the advantage is that you will not tire yourself perhaps the next week. What gladness it is that you should really seem better, and how much better that is than even 'Luria.'
Mrs. Jameson came to-day—but I will tell you.
May God bless you now and always.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday Evening. [Post-mark, December 17, 1845.]
Henrietta had a note from Mr. Kenyon to the effect that he was 'coming to see Ba' to-day if in any way he found it possible. Now he has not come—and the inference is that he will come to-morrow—in which case you will be convicted of not wishing to be with him perhaps. So ... would it not be advisable for you to call at his door for a moment—and before you come here? Think of it. You know it would not do to vex him—would it?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Friday Morning. [Post-mark, December 19, 1845.]
I ought to have written yesterday: so to-day when I need a letter and get none, there is my own fault besides, and the less consolation. A letter from you would light up this sad day. Shall I fancy how, if a letter lay there where I look, rain might fall and winds blow while I listened to you, long after the words had been laid to heart? But here you are in your place—with me who am your own—your own—and so the rhyme joins on,
She shall speak to me in places lone With a low and holy tone— Ay: when I have lit my lamp at night She shall be present with my sprite: And I will say, whate'er it be, Every word she telleth me!
Now, is that taken from your book? No—but from my book, which holds my verses as I write them; and as I open it, I read that.
And speaking of verse—somebody gave me a few days ago that Mr. Lowell's book you once mentioned to me. Anyone who 'admires' you shall have my sympathy at once—even though he do change the laughing wine-mark into a 'stain' in that perfectly beautiful triplet—nor am I to be indifferent to his good word for myself (though not very happily connected with the criticism on the epithet in that 'Yorkshire Tragedy'—which has better things, by the way—seeing that 'white boy,' in old language, meant just 'good boy,' a general epithet, as Johnson notices in the life of Dryden, whom the schoolmaster Busby was used to class with his 'white boys'—this is hypercriticism, however). But these American books should not be reprinted here—one asks, what and where is the class to which they address themselves? for, no doubt, we have our congregations of ignoramuses that enjoy the profoundest ignorance imaginable on the subjects treated of; but these are evidently not the audience Mr. Lowell reckons on; rather, if one may trust the manner of his setting to work, he would propound his doctrine to the class. Always to be found, of spirits instructed up to a certain height and there resting—vines that run up a prop and there tangle and grow to a knot—which want supplying with fresh poles; so the provident man brings his bundle into the grounds, and sticks them in laterally or a-top of the others, as the case requires, and all the old stocks go on growing again—but here, with us, whoever wanted Chaucer, or Chapman, or Ford, got him long ago—what else have Lamb, and Coleridge, and Hazlitt and Hunt and so on to the end of their generations ... what else been doing this many a year? What one passage of all these, cited with the very air of a Columbus, but has been known to all who know anything of poetry this many, many a year? The others, who don't know anything, are the stocks that have got to shoot, not climb higher—compost, they want in the first place! Ford's and Crashaw's rival Nightingales—why they have been dissertated on by Wordsworth and Coleridge, then by Lamb and Hazlitt, then worked to death by Hunt, who printed them entire and quoted them to pieces again, in every periodical he was ever engaged upon; and yet after all, here 'Philip'—'must read' (out of a roll of dropping papers with yellow ink tracings, so old!) something at which 'John' claps his hands and says 'Really—that these ancients should own so much wit &c.'! The passage no longer looks its fresh self after this veritable passage from hand to hand: as when, in old dances, the belle began the figure with her own partner, and by him was transferred to the next, and so to the next—they ever beginning with all the old alacrity and spirit; but she bearing a still-accumulating weight of tokens of gallantry, and none the better for every fresh pushing and shoving and pulling and hauling—till, at the bottom of the room—
To which Mr. Lowell might say, that—No, I will say the true thing against myself—and it is, that when I turn from what is in my mind, and determine to write about anybody's book to avoid writing that I love and love and love again my own, dearest love—because of the cuckoo-song of it,—then, I shall be in no better humour with that book than with Mr. Lowell's!
But I have a new thing to say or sing—you never before heard me love and bless and send my heart after—'Ba'—did you? Ba ... and that is you! I TRIED ... (more than wanted) to call you that, on Wednesday! I have a flower here—rather, a tree, a mimosa, which must be turned and turned, the side to the light changing in a little time to the leafy side, where all the fans lean and spread ... so I turn your name to me, that side I have not last seen: you cannot tell how I feel glad that you will not part with the name—Barrett—seeing you have two of the same—and must always, moreover, remain my EBB!
Dearest 'E.B.C.'—no, no! and so it will never be!
Have you seen Mr. Kenyon? I did not write ... knowing that such a procedure would draw the kind sure letter in return, with the invitation &c., as if I had asked for it! I had perhaps better call on him some morning very early.
Bless you, my own sweetest. You will write to me, I know in my heart!
Ever may God bless you!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Thursday Evening. [Post-mark, December 20, 1845.]
Dearest, you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either; I simply understand that you are my happiness, and that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you? That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier.
Talking of happiness—shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry and I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter—now—before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better and dearer and more to be considered than I, I do not choose it. I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps (who can say?), if I should prove the burden of your life.
For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—as with the extravagance yesterday—and seriously—too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past—I am frightened, I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing and displeasing you? I ask the question, and find no answer.
It is a poor answer, to say that I can do one thing well ... that I have one capacity largely. On points of the general affections, I have in thought applied to myself the words of Mme. de Stael, not fretfully, I hope, not complainingly, I am sure (I can thank God for most affectionate friends!) not complainingly, yet mournfully and in profound conviction—those words—'jamais je n'ai pas ete aimee comme j'aime.' The capacity of loving is the largest of my powers I think—I thought so before knowing you—and one form of feeling. And although any woman might love you—every woman,—with understanding enough to discern you by—(oh, do not fancy that I am unduly magnifying mine office) yet I persist in persuading myself that! Because I have the capacity, as I said—and besides I owe more to you than others could, it seems to me: let me boast of it. To many, you might be better than all things while one of all things: to me you are instead of all—to many, a crowning happiness—to me, the happiness itself. From out of the deep dark pits men see the stars more gloriously—and de profundis amavi—
It is a very poor answer! Almost as poor an answer as yours could be if I were to ask you to teach me to please you always; or rather, how not to displease you, disappoint you, vex you—what if all those things were in my fate?
And—(to begin!)—I am disappointed to-night. I expected a letter which does not come—and I had felt so sure of having a letter to-night ... unreasonably sure perhaps, which means doubly sure.
Friday.—Remember you have had two notes of mine, and that it is certainly not my turn to write, though I am writing.
Scarcely you had gone on Wednesday when Mr. Kenyon came. It seemed best to me, you know, that you should go—I had the presentiment of his footsteps—and so near they were, that if you had looked up the street in leaving the door, you must have seen him! Of course I told him of your having been here and also at his house; whereupon he enquired eagerly if you meant to dine with him, seeming disappointed by my negative. 'Now I had told him,' he said ... and murmured on to himself loud enough for me to hear, that 'it would have been a peculiar pleasure &c.' The reason I have not seen him lately is the eternal 'business,' just as you thought, and he means to come 'oftener now,' so nothing is wrong as I half thought.
As your letter does not come it is a good opportunity for asking what sort of ill humour, or (to be more correct) bad temper, you most particularly admire—sulkiness?—the divine gift of sitting aloof in a cloud like any god for three weeks together perhaps—pettishness? ... which will get you up a storm about a crooked pin or a straight one either? obstinacy?—which is an agreeable form of temper I can assure you, and describes itself—or the good open passion which lies on the floor and kicks, like one of my cousins?—Certainly I prefer the last, and should, I think, prefer it (as an evil), even if it were not the born weakness of my own nature—though I humbly confess (to you, who seem to think differently of these things) that never since I was a child have I upset all the chairs and tables and thrown the books about the room in a fury—I am afraid I do not even 'kick,' like my cousin, now. Those demonstrations were all done by the 'light of other days'—not a very full light, I used to be accustomed to think:—but you,—you think otherwise, you take a fury to be the opposite of 'indifference,' as if there could be no such thing as self-control! Now for my part, I do believe that the worst-tempered persons in the world are less so through sensibility than selfishness—they spare nobody's heart, on the ground of being themselves pricked by a straw. Now see if it isn't so. What, after all, is a good temper but generosity in trifles—and what, without it, is the happiness of life? We have only to look round us. I saw a woman, once, burst into tears, because her husband cut the bread and butter too thick. I saw that with my own eyes. Was it sensibility, I wonder! They were at least real tears and ran down her cheeks. 'You always do it'! she said.
Why how you must sympathize with the heroes and heroines of the French romances (do you sympathize with them very much?) when at the slightest provocation they break up the tables and chairs, (a degree beyond the deeds of my childhood!—I only used to upset them) break up the tables and chairs and chiffoniers, and dash the china to atoms. The men do the furniture, and the women the porcelain: and pray observe that they always set about this as a matter of course! When they have broken everything in the room, they sink down quite (and very naturally) abattus. I remember a particular case of a hero of Frederic Soulie's, who, in the course of an 'emotion,' takes up a chair unconsciously, and breaks it into very small pieces, and then proceeds with his soliloquy. Well!—the clearest idea this excites in me, is of the low condition in Paris, of moral government and of upholstery. Because—just consider for yourself—how you would succeed in breaking to pieces even a three-legged stool if it were properly put together—as stools are in England—just yourself, without a hammer and a screw! You might work at it comme quatre, and find it hard to finish, I imagine. And then as a demonstration, a child of six years old might demonstrate just so (in his sphere) and be whipped accordingly.
How I go on writing!—and you, who do not write at all!—two extremes, one set against the other.
But I must say, though in ever such an ill temper (which you know is just the time to select for writing a panegyric upon good temper) that I am glad you do not despise my own right name too much, because I never was called Elizabeth by any one who loved me at all, and I accept the omen. So little it seems my name that if a voice said suddenly 'Elizabeth,' I should as soon turn round as my sisters would ... no sooner. Only, my own right name has been complained of for want of euphony ... Ba ... now and then it has—and Mr. Boyd makes a compromise and calls me Elibet, because nothing could induce him to desecrate his organs accustomed to Attic harmonies, with a Ba. So I am glad, and accept the omen.
But I give you no credit for not thinking that I may forget you ... I! As if you did not see the difference! Why, I could not even forget to write to you, observe!—
Whenever you write, say how you are. Were you wet on Wednesday?
R.B. to E.B.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, December 20, 1845.]
I do not, nor will not think, dearest, of ever 'making you happy'—I can imagine no way of working that end, which does not go straight to my own truest, only true happiness—yet in every such effort there is implied some distinction, some supererogatory grace, or why speak of it at all? You it is, are my happiness, and all that ever can be: YOU—dearest!
But never, if you would not, what you will not do I know, never revert to that frightful wish. 'Disappoint me?' 'I speak what I know and testify what I have seen'—you shall 'mystery' again and again—I do not dispute that, but do not you dispute, neither, that mysteries are. But it is simply because I do most justice to the mystical part of what I feel for you, because I consent to lay most stress on that fact of facts that I love you, beyond admiration, and respect, and esteem and affection even, and do not adduce any reason which stops short of accounting for that, whatever else it would account for, because I do this, in pure logical justice—you are able to turn and wonder (if you do ... now) what causes it all! My love, only wait, only believe in me, and it cannot be but I shall, little by little, become known to you—after long years, perhaps, but still one day: I would say this now—but I will write more to-morrow. God bless my sweetest—ever, love, I am your
But my letter came last night, did it not?
Another thing—no, to-morrow—for time presses, and, in all cases, Tuesday—remember!
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, December 20, 1845.]
I have your letter now, and now I am sorry I sent mine. If I wrote that you had 'forgotten to write,' I did not mean it; not a word! If I had meant it I should not have written it. But it would have been better for every reason to have waited just a little longer before writing at all. A besetting sin of mine is an impatience which makes people laugh when it does not entangle their silks, pull their knots tighter, and tear their books in cutting them open.
How right you are about Mr. Lowell! He has a refined fancy and is graceful for an American critic, but the truth is, otherwise, that he knows nothing of English poetry or the next thing to nothing, and has merely had a dream of the early dramatists. The amount of his reading in that direction is an article in the Retrospective Review which contains extracts; and he re-extracts the extracts, re-quotes the quotations, and, 'a pede Herculem,' from the foot infers the man, or rather from the sandal-string of the foot, infers and judges the soul of the man—it is comparative anatomy under the most speculative conditions. How a writer of his talents and pretensions could make up his mind to make up a book on such slight substratum, is a curious proof of the state of literature in America. Do you not think so? Why a lecturer on the English Dramatists for a 'Young Ladies' academy' here in England, might take it to be necessary to have better information than he could gather from an odd volume of an old review! And then, Mr. Lowell's naivete in showing his authority,—as if the Elizabethan poets lay mouldering in inaccessible manuscript somewhere below the lowest deep of Shakespeare's grave,—is curious beyond the rest! Altogether, the fact is an epigram on the surface-literature of America. As you say, their books do not suit us:—Mrs. Markham might as well send her compendium of the History of France to M. Thiers. If they knew more they could not give parsley crowns to their own native poets when there is greater merit among the rabbits. Mrs. Sigourney has just sent me—just this morning—her 'Scenes in my Native Land' and, peeping between the uncut leaves, I read of the poet Hillhouse, of 'sublime spirit and Miltonic energy,' standing in 'the temple of Fame' as if it were built on purpose for him. I suppose he is like most of the American poets, who are shadows of the true, as flat as a shadow, as colourless as a shadow, as lifeless and as transitory. Mr. Lowell himself is, in his verse-books, poetical, if not a poet—and certainly this little book we are talking of is grateful enough in some ways—you would call it a pretty book—would you not? Two or three letters I have had from him ... all very kind!—and that reminds me, alas! of some ineffable ingratitude on my own part! When one's conscience grows too heavy, there is nothing for it but to throw it away!—
Do you remember how I tried to tell you what he said of you, and how you would not let me?
Mr. Mathews said of him, having met him once in society, that he was the concentration of conceit in appearance and manner. But since then they seem to be on better terms.
Where is the meaning, pray, of E.B.C.? your meaning, I mean?
My true initials are E.B.M.B.—my long name, as opposed to my short one, being Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett!—there's a full length to take away one's breath!—Christian name ... Elizabeth Barrett:—surname, Moulton Barrett. So long it is, that to make it portable, I fell into the habit of doubling it up and packing it closely, ... and of forgetting that I was a Moulton, altogether. One might as well write the alphabet as all four initials. Yet our family-name is Moulton Barrett, and my brothers reproach me sometimes for sacrificing the governorship of an old town in Norfolk with a little honourable verdigris from the Heralds' Office. As if I cared for the Retrospective Review! Nevertheless it is true that I would give ten towns in Norfolk (if I had them) to own some purer lineage than that of the blood of the slave! Cursed we are from generation to generation!—I seem to hear the 'Commination Service.'
May God bless you always, always! beyond the always of this world!—
Mr. Dickens's 'Cricket' sings repetitions, and, with considerable beauty, is extravagant. It does not appear to me by any means one of his most successful productions, though quite free from what was reproached as bitterness and one-sidedness, last year.
You do not say how you are—not a word! And you are wrong in saying that you 'ought to have written'—as if 'ought' could be in place so! You never 'ought' to write to me you know! or rather ... if you ever think you ought, you ought not! Which is a speaking of mysteries on my part!
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Night. [Post-mark, December 22, 1845.]
Now, 'ought' you to be 'sorry you sent that letter,' which made, and makes me so happy—so happy—can you bring yourself to turn round and tell one you have so blessed with your bounty that there was a mistake, and you meant only half that largess? If you are not sensible that you do make me most happy by such letters, and do not warm in the reflection of your own rays, then I do give up indeed the last chance of procuring you happiness. My own 'ought,' which you object to, shall be withdrawn—being only a pure bit of selfishness; I felt, in missing the letter of yours, next day, that I might have drawn it down by one of mine,—if I had begged never so gently, the gold would have fallen—there was my omitted duty to myself which you properly blame. I should stand silently and wait and be sure of the ever-remembering goodness.
Let me count my gold now—and rub off any speck that stays the full shining. First—that thought ... I told you; I pray you, pray you, sweet—never that again—or what leads never so remotely or indirectly to it! On your own fancied ground, the fulfilment would be of necessity fraught with every woe that can fall in this life. I am yours for ever—if you are not here, with me—what then? Say, you take all of yourself away but just enough to live on; then, that defeats every kind purpose ... as if you cut away all the ground from my feet but so much as serves for bare standing room ... why still, I stand there—and is it the better that I have no broader space, when off that you cannot force me? I have your memory, the knowledge of you, the idea of you printed into my heart and brain,—on that, I can live my life—but it is for you, the dear, utterly generous creature I know you, to give me more and more beyond mere life—to extend life and deepen it—as you do, and will do. Oh, how I love you when I think of the entire truthfulness of your generosity to me—how, meaning and willing to give, you gave nobly! Do you think I have not seen in this world how women who do love will manage to confer that gift on occasion? And shall I allow myself to fancy how much alloy such pure gold as your love would have rendered endurable? Yet it came, virgin ore, to complete my fortune! And what but this makes me confident and happy? Can I take a lesson by your fancies, and begin frightening myself with saying ... 'But if she saw all the world—the worthier, better men there ... those who would' &c. &c. No, I think of the great, dear gift that it was; how I 'won' NOTHING (the hateful word, and French thought)—did nothing by my own arts or cleverness in the matter ... so what pretence have the more artful or more clever for:—but I cannot write out this folly—I am yours for ever, with the utmost sense of gratitude—to say I would give you my life joyfully is little.... I would, I hope, do that for two or three other people—but I am not conscious of any imaginable point in which I would not implicitly devote my whole self to you—be disposed of by you as for the best. There! It is not to be spoken of—let me live it into proof, beloved!