And for 'disappointment and a burden' ... now—let us get quite away from ourselves, and not see one of the filaments, but only the cords of love with the world's horny eye. Have we such jarring tastes, then? Does your inordinate attachment to gay life interfere with my deep passion for society? 'Have they common sympathy in each other's pursuits?'—always asks Mrs. Tomkins! Well, here was I when you knew me, fixed in my way of life, meaning with God's help to write what may be written and so die at peace with myself so far. Can you help me or no? Do you not help me so much that, if you saw the more likely peril for poor human nature, you would say, 'He will be jealous of all the help coming from me,—none from him to me!'—And that would be a consequence of the help, all-too-great for hope of return, with any one less possessed than I with the exquisiteness of being transcended and the blest one.
But—'here comes the Selah and the voice is hushed'—I will speak of other things. When we are together one day—the days I believe in—I mean to set about that reconsidering 'Sordello'—it has always been rather on my mind—but yesterday I was reading the 'Purgatorio' and the first speech of the group of which Sordello makes one struck me with a new significance, as well describing the man and his purpose and fate in my own poem—see; one of the burthened, contorted souls tells Virgil and Dante—
Noi fummo gia tutti per forza morti, E peccatori infin' all' ultim' ora: QUIVI—lume del ciel ne fece accorti Si che, pentendo e perdonando, fora Di vita uscimmo a Dio pacificati Che del disio di se veder n'accora.
Which is just my Sordello's story ... could I 'do' it off hand, I wonder—
And sinners were we to the extreme hour; Then, light from heaven fell, making us aware, So that, repenting us and pardoned, out Of life we passed to God, at peace with Him Who fills the heart with yearning Him to see.
There were many singular incidents attending my work on that subject—thus, quite at the end, I found out there was printed and not published, a little historical tract by a Count V—— something, called 'Sordello'—with the motto 'Post fata resurgam'! I hope he prophesied. The main of this—biographical notices—is extracted by Muratori, I think. Last year when I set foot in Naples I found after a few minutes that at some theatre, that night, the opera was to be 'one act of Sordello' and I never looked twice, nor expended a couple of carlines on the libretto!
I wanted to tell you, in last letter, that when I spoke of people's tempers you have no concern with 'people'—I do not glance obliquely at your temper—either to discover it, or praise it, or adapt myself to it. I speak of the relation one sees in other cases—how one opposes passionate foolish people, but hates cold clever people who take quite care enough of themselves. I myself am born supremely passionate—so I was born with light yellow hair: all changes—that is the passion changes its direction and, taking a channel large enough, looks calmer, perhaps, than it should—and all my sympathies go with quiet strength, of course—but I know what the other kind is. As for the breakages of chairs, and the appreciation of Parisian meubles; manibus, pedibusque descendo in tuam sententiam, Ba, mi ocelle! ('What was E.B. C?' why, the first letter after, and not, E.B. B, my own B! There was no latent meaning in the C—but I had no inclination to go on to D, or E, for instance).
And so, love, Tuesday is to be our day—one day more—and then! And meanwhile 'care' for me! a good word for you—but my care, what is that! One day I aspire to care, though! I shall not go away at any dear Mr. K.'s coming! They call me down-stairs to supper—and my fire is out, and you keep me from feeling cold and yet ask if I am well? Yes, well—yes, happy—and your own ever—I must bid God bless you—dearest!
[Footnote 1: 'Purg.' v. 52 7.]
E.B.B. to R.B.
Sunday Night. [Post-mark, December 24, 1845.]
But did I dispute? Surely not. Surely I believe in you and in 'mysteries.' Surely I prefer the no-reason to ever so much rationalism ... (rationalism and infidelity go together they say!). All which I may do, and be afraid sometimes notwithstanding, and when you overpraise me (not overlove) I must be frightened as I told you.
It is with me as with the theologians. I believe in you and can be happy and safe so; but when my 'personal merits' come into question in any way, even the least, ... why then the position grows untenable: it is no more 'of grace.'
Do I tease you as I tease myself sometimes? But do not wrong me in turn! Do not keep repeating that 'after long years' I shall know you—know you!—as if I did not without the years. If you are forced to refer me to those long ears, I must deserve the thistles besides. The thistles are the corollary.
For it is obvious—manifest—that I cannot doubt of you, that I may doubt of myself, of happiness, of the whole world,—but of you—not: it is obvious that if I could doubt of you and act so I should be a very idiot, or worse indeed. And you ... you think I doubt of you whenever I make an interjection!—now do you not? And is it reasonable?—Of you, I mean?
Monday.—For my part, you must admit it to be too possible that you may be, as I say, 'disappointed' in me—it is too possible. And if it does me good to say so, even now perhaps ... if it is mere weakness to say so and simply torments you, why do you be magnanimous and forgive that ... let it pass as a weakness and forgive it so. Often I think painful things which I do not tell you and....
While I write, your letter comes. Kindest of you it was, to write me such a letter, when I expected scarcely the shadow of one!—this makes up for the other letter which I expected unreasonably and which you 'ought not' to have written, as was proved afterwards. And now why should I go on with that sentence? What had I to say of 'painful things,' I wonder? all the painful things seem gone ... vanished. I forget what I had to say. Only do you still think of this, dearest beloved; that I sit here in the dark but for you, and that the light you bring me (from my fault!—from the nature of my darkness!) is not a settled light as when you open the shutters in the morning, but a light made by candles which burn some of them longer and some shorter, and some brighter and briefer, at once—being 'double-wicks,' and that there is an intermission for a moment now and then between the dropping of the old light into the socket and the lighting of the new. Every letter of yours is a new light which burns so many hours ... and then!—I am morbid, you see—or call it by what name you like ... too wise or too foolish. 'If the light of the body is darkness, how great is that darkness.' Yet even when I grow too wise, I admit always that while you love me it is an answer to all. And I am never so much too foolish as to wish to be worthier for my own sake—only for yours:—not for my own sake, since I am content to owe all things to you.
And it could be so much to you to lose me!—and you say so,—and then think it needful to tell me not to think the other thought! As if that were possible! Do you remember what you said once of the flowers?—that you 'felt a respect for them when they had passed out of your hands.' And must it not be so with my life, which if you choose to have it, must be respected too? Much more with my life! Also, see that I, who had my warmest affections on the other side of the grave, feel that it is otherwise with me now—quite otherwise. I did not like it at first to be so much otherwise. And I could not have had any such thought through a weariness of life or any of my old motives, but simply to escape the 'risk' I told you of. Should I have said to you instead of it ... 'Love me for ever'? Well then, ... I do.
As to my 'helping' you, my help is in your fancy; and if you go on with the fancy, I perfectly understand that it will be as good as deeds. We have sympathy too—we walk one way—oh, I do not forget the advantages. Only Mrs. Tomkins's ideas of happiness are below my ambition for you.
So often as I have said (it reminds me) that in this situation I should be more exacting than any other woman—so often I have said it: and so different everything is from what I thought it would be! Because if I am exacting it is for you and not for me—it is altogether for you—you understand that, dearest of all ... it is for you wholly. It never crosses my thought, in a lightning even, the question whether I may be happy so and so—I. It is the other question which comes always—too often for peace.
People used to say to me, 'You expect too much—you are too romantic.' And my answer always was that 'I could not expect too much when I expected nothing at all' ... which was the truth—for I never thought (and how often I have said that!) I never thought that anyone whom I could love, would stoop to love me ... the two things seemed clearly incompatible to my understanding.
And now when it comes in a miracle, you wonder at me for looking twice, thrice, four times, to see if it comes through ivory or horn. You wonder that it should seem to me at first all illusion—illusion for you,—illusion for me as a consequence. But how natural.
It is true of me—very true—that I have not a high appreciation of what passes in the world (and not merely the Tomkins-world!) under the name of love; and that a distrust of the thing had grown to be a habit of mind with me when I knew you first. It has appeared to me, through all the seclusion of my life and the narrow experience it admitted of, that in nothing men—and women too—were so apt to mistake their own feelings, as in this one thing. Putting falseness quite on one side, quite out of sight and consideration, an honest mistaking of feeling appears wonderfully common, and no mistake has such frightful results—none can. Self-love and generosity, a mistake may come from either—from pity, from admiration, from any blind impulse—oh, when I look at the histories of my own female friends—to go no step further! And if it is true of the women, what must the other side be? To see the marriages which are made every day! worse than solitudes and more desolate! In the case of the two happiest I ever knew, one of the husbands said in confidence to a brother of mine—not much in confidence or I should not have heard it, but in a sort of smoking frankness,—that he had 'ruined his prospects by marrying'; and the other said to himself at the very moment of professing an extraordinary happiness, ... 'But I should have done as well if I had not married her.'
Then for the falseness—the first time I ever, in my own experience, heard that word which rhymes to glove and comes as easily off and on (on some hands!)—it was from a man of whose attentions to another woman I was at that time her confidante. I was bound so to silence for her sake, that I could not even speak the scorn that was in me—and in fact my uppermost feeling was a sort of horror ... a terror—for I was very young then, and the world did, at the moment, look ghastly!
The falseness and the calculations!—why how can you, who are just, blame women ... when you must know what the 'system' of man is towards them,—and of men not ungenerous otherwise? Why are women to be blamed if they act as if they had to do with swindlers?—is it not the mere instinct of preservation which makes them do it? These make women what they are. And your 'honourable men,' the most loyal of them, (for instance) is it not a rule with them (unless when taken unaware through a want of self-government) to force a woman (trying all means) to force a woman to stand committed in her affections ... (they with their feet lifted all the time to trample on her for want of delicacy) before they risk the pin-prick to their own personal pitiful vanities? Oh—to see how these things are set about by men! to see how a man carefully holding up on each side the skirts of an embroidered vanity to keep it quite safe from the wet, will contrive to tell you in so many words that he ... might love you if the sun shone! And women are to be blamed! Why there are, to be sure, cold and heartless, light and changeable, ungenerous and calculating women in the world!—that is sure. But for the most part, they are only what they are made ... and far better than the nature of the making ... of that I am confident. The loyal make the loyal, the disloyal the disloyal. And I give no more discredit to those women you speak of, than I myself can take any credit in this thing—I. Because who could be disloyal with you ... with whatever corrupt inclination? you, who are the noblest of all? If you judge me so, ... it is my privilege rather than my merit ... as I feel of myself.
Wednesday.—All but the last few lines of all this was written before I saw you yesterday, ever dearest—and since, I have been reading your third act which is perfectly noble and worthy of you both in the conception and expression, and carries the reader on triumphantly ... to speak for one reader. It seems to me too that the language is freer—there is less inversion and more breadth of rhythm. It just strikes me so for the first impression. At any rate the interest grows and grows. You have a secret about Domizia, I guess—which will not be told till the last perhaps. And that poor, noble Luria, who will be equal to the leap ... as it is easy to see. It is full, altogether, of magnanimities;—noble, and nobly put. I will go on with my notes, and those, you shall have at once ... I mean together ... presently. And don't hurry and chafe yourself for the fourth act—now that you are better! To be ill again—think what that would be! Luria will be great now whatever you do—or whatever you do not. Will he not?
And never, never for a moment (I quite forgot to tell you) did I fancy that you were talking at me in the temper-observations—never. It was the most unprovoked egotism, all that I told you of my temper; for certainly I never suspected you of asking questions so. I was simply amused a little by what you said, and thought to myself (if you will know my thoughts on that serious subject) that you had probably lived among very good-tempered persons, to hold such an opinion about the innocuousness of ill-temper. It was all I thought, indeed. Now to fancy that I was capable of suspecting you of such a manoeuvre! Why you would have asked me directly;—if you had wished 'curiously to enquire.'
An excellent solemn chiming, the passage from Dante makes with your 'Sordello,' and the 'Sordello' deserves the labour which it needs, to make it appear the great work it is. I think that the principle of association is too subtly in movement throughout it—so that while you are going straight forward you go at the same time round and round, until the progress involved in the motion is lost sight of by the lookers on. Or did I tell you that before?
You have heard, I suppose, how Dickens's 'Cricket' sells by nineteen thousand copies at a time, though he takes Michael Angelo to be 'a humbug'—or for 'though' read 'because.' Tell me of Mr. Kenyon's dinner and Moxon?
Is not this an infinite letter? I shall hear from you, I hope.... I ask you to let me hear soon. I write all sorts of things to you, rightly and wrongly perhaps; when wrongly forgive it. I think of you always. May God bless you. 'Love me for ever,' as
R.B. to E.B.B.
25th Dec. [1845.]
My dear Christmas gift of a letter! I will write back a few lines, (all I can, having to go out now)—just that I may forever,—certainly during our mortal 'forever'—mix my love for you, and, as you suffer me to say, your love for me ... dearest! ... these shall be mixed with the other loves of the day and live therein—as I write, and trust, and know—forever! While I live I will remember what was my feeling in reading, and in writing, and in stopping from either ... as I have just done ... to kiss you and bless you with my whole heart.—Yes, yes, bless you, my own!
All is right, all of your letter ... admirably right and just in the defence of the women I seemed to speak against; and only seemed—because that is a way of mine which you must have observed; that foolish concentrating of thought and feeling, for a moment, on some one little spot of a character or anything else indeed, and in the attempt to do justice and develop whatever may seem ordinarily to be overlooked in it,—that over vehement insisting on, and giving an undue prominence to, the same—which has the effect of taking away from the importance of the rest of the related objects which, in truth, are not considered at all ... or they would also rise proportionally when subjected to the same (that is, correspondingly magnified and dilated) light and concentrated feeling. So, you remember, the old divine, preaching on 'small sins,' in his zeal to expose the tendencies and consequences usually made little account of, was led to maintain the said small sins to be 'greater than great ones.' But then ... if you look on the world altogether, and accept the small natures, in their usual proportion with the greater ... things do not look quite so bad; because the conduct which is atrocious in those higher cases, of proposal and acceptance, may be no more than the claims of the occasion justify (wait and hear) in certain other cases where the thing sought for and granted is avowedly less by a million degrees. It shall all be traffic, exchange (counting spiritual gifts as only coin, for our purpose), but surely the formalities and policies and decencies all vary with the nature of the thing trafficked for. If a man makes up his mind during half his life to acquire a Pitt-diamond or a Pilgrim-pearl—[he] gets witnesses and testimony and so forth—but, surely, when I pass a shop where oranges are ticketed up seven for sixpence I offend no law by sparing all words and putting down the piece with a certain authoritative ring on the counter. If instead of diamonds you want—(being a king or queen)—provinces with live men on them ... there is so much more diplomacy required; new interests are appealed to—high motives supposed, at all events—whereas, when, in Naples, a man asks leave to black your shoe in the dusty street 'purely for the honour of serving your Excellency' you laugh and would be sorry to find yourself without a 'grano' or two—(six of which, about, make a farthing)—Now do you not see! Where so little is to be got, why offer much more? If a man knows that ... but I am teaching you! All I mean is, that, in Benedick's phrase, 'the world must go on.' He who honestly wants his wife to sit at the head of his table and carve ... that is be his help-meat (not 'help mete for him')—he shall assuredly find a girl of his degree who wants the table to sit at; and some dear friend to mortify, who would be glad of such a piece of fortune; and if that man offers that woman a bunch of orange-flowers and a sonnet, instead of a buck-horn-handled sabre-shaped knife, sheathed in a 'Every Lady Her Own Market-Woman, Being a Table of' &c. &c.—then, I say he is—
Bless you, dearest—the clock strikes—and time is none—but—bless you!
Your own R.B.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Saturday 4. p.m. [Post-mark, December 27, 1845.]
I was forced to leave off abruptly on Christmas Morning—and now I have but a few minutes before our inexorable post leaves. I hoped to return from Town earlier. But I can say something—and Monday will make amends.
'For ever' and for ever I do love you, dearest—love you with my whole heart—in life, in death—
Yes; I did go to Mr. Kenyon's—who had a little to forgive in my slack justice to his good dinner, but was for the rest his own kind self—and I went, also, to Moxon's—who said something about my number's going off 'rather heavily'—so let it!
Too good, too, too indulgent you are, my own Ba, to 'acts' first or last; but all the same, I am glad and encouraged. Let me get done with these, and better things will follow.
Now, bless you, ever, my sweetest—I have you ever in my thoughts—And on Monday, remember, I am to see you.
Your own R.B.
See what I cut out of a Cambridge Advertiser of the 24th—to make you laugh!
[Footnote 1: The cutting enclosed is:—'A Few Rhymes for the Present Christmas' by J. Purchas, Esq., B.A. It is headed by several quotations, the first of which is signed 'Elizabeth B. Barrett:'
'This age shows to my thinking, still more infidels to Adam, Than directly, by profession, simple infidels to God.'
This is followed by extracts from Pindar, 'Lear,' and the Hon. Mrs. Norton.]
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, December 27, 1845.]
Yes, indeed, I have 'observed that way' in you, and not once, and not twice, and not twenty times, but oftener than any,—and almost every time ... do you know, ... with an uncomfortable feeling from the reflection that that is the way for making all sorts of mistakes dependent on and issuing in exaggeration. It is the very way!—the highway.
For what you say in the letter here otherwise, I do not deny the truth—as partial truth:—I was speaking generally quite. Admit that I am not apt to be extravagant in my esprit de sexe: the Martineau doctrines of intellectual equality &c., I gave them up, you remember, like a woman—most disgracefully, as Mrs. Jameson would tell me. But we are not on that ground now—we are on ground worth holding a brief for!—and when women fail here ... it is not so much our fault. Which was all I meant to say from the beginning.
It reminds me of the exquisite analysis in your 'Luria,' this third act, of the worth of a woman's sympathy,—indeed of the exquisite double-analysis of unlearned and learned sympathies. Nothing could be better, I think, than this:—
To the motive, the endeavour,—the heart's self— Your quick sense looks; you crown and call aright The soul of the purpose ere 'tis shaped as act, Takes flesh i' the world, and clothes itself a king;
except the characterizing of the 'learned praise,' which comes afterwards in its fine subtle truth. What would these critics do to you, to what degree undo you, who would deprive you of the exercise of the discriminative faculty of the metaphysicians? As if a poet could be great without it! They might as well recommend a watchmaker to deal only in faces, in dials, and not to meddle with the wheels inside! You shall tell Mr. Forster so.
And speaking of 'Luria,' which grows on me the more I read, ... how fine he is when the doubt breaks on him—I mean, when he begins ... 'Why then, all is very well.' It is most affecting, I think, all that process of doubt ... and that reference to the friends at home (which at once proves him a stranger, and intimates, by just a stroke, that he will not look home for comfort out of the new foreign treason) is managed by you with singular dramatic dexterity....
... 'so slight, so slight, And yet it tells you they are dead and gone'—
And then, the direct approach....
You now, so kind here, all you Florentines, What is it in your eyes?—
Do you not feel it to be success, ... 'you now?' I do, from my low ground as reader. The whole breaking round him of the cloud, and the manner in which he stands, facing it, ... I admire it all thoroughly. Braccio's vindication of Florence strikes me as almost too poetically subtle for the man—but nobody could have the heart to wish a line of it away—that would be too much for critical virtue!
I had your letter yesterday morning early. The post-office people were so resolved on keeping their Christmas, that they would not let me keep mine. No post all day, after that general post before noon, which never brings me anything worth the breaking of a seal!
Am I to see you on Monday? If there should be the least, least crossing of that day, ... anything to do, anything to see, anything to listen to,—remember how Tuesday stands close by, and that another Monday comes on the following week. Now I need not say that every time, and you will please to remember it—Eccellenza!—
May God bless you—
From the New Monthly Magazine. 'The admirers of Robert Browning's poetry, and they are now very numerous, will be glad to hear of the issue by Mr. Moxon of a seventh series of the renowned "Bells" and delicious "Pomegranates," under the title of "Dramatic Romances and Lyrics."'
E.B.B. to R.B.
Tuesday. [Post-mark, December 30, 1845.]
When you are gone I find your flowers; and you never spoke of nor showed them to me—so instead of yesterday I thank you to-day—thank you. Count among the miracles that your flowers live with me—I accept that for an omen, dear—dearest! Flowers in general, all other flowers, die of despair when they come into the same atmosphere ... used to do it so constantly and observably that it made me melancholy and I left off for the most part having them here. Now you see how they put up with the close room, and condescend to me and the dust—it is true and no fancy! To be sure they know that I care for them and that I stand up by the table myself to change their water and cut their stalk freshly at intervals—that may make a difference perhaps. Only the great reason must be that they are yours, and that you teach them to bear with me patiently.
Do not pretend even to misunderstand what I meant to say yesterday of dear Mr. Kenyon. His blame would fall as my blame of myself has fallen: he would say—will say—'it is ungenerous of her to let such a risk be run! I thought she would have been more generous.' There, is Mr. Kenyon's opinion as I foresee it! Not that it would be spoken, you know! he is too kind. And then, he said to me last summer, somewhere a propos to the flies or butterflies, that he had 'long ceased to wonder at any extreme of foolishness produced by—love.' He will of course think you very very foolish, but not ungenerously foolish like other people.
Never mind. I do not mind indeed. I mean, that, having said to myself worse than the worst perhaps of what can be said against me by any who regard me at all, and feeling it put to silence by the fact that you do feel so and so for me; feeling that fact to be an answer to all,—I cannot mind much, in comparison, the railing at second remove. There will be a nine days' railing of it and no more: and if on the ninth day you should not exactly wish never to have known me, the better reason will be demonstrated to stand with us. On this one point the wise man cannot judge for the fool his neighbour. If you do love me, the inference is that you would be happier with than without me—and whether you do, you know better than another: so I think of you and not of them—always of you! When I talked of being afraid of dear Mr. Kenyon, I just meant that he makes me nervous with his all-scrutinizing spectacles, put on for great occasions, and his questions which seem to belong to the spectacles, they go together so:—and then I have no presence of mind, as you may see without the spectacles. My only way of hiding (when people set themselves to look for me) would be the old child's way of getting behind the window curtains or under the sofa:—and even that might not be effectual if I had recourse to it now. Do you think it would? Two or three times I fancied that Mr. Kenyon suspected something—but if he ever did, his only reproof was a reduplicated praise of you—he praises you always and in relation to every sort of subject.
What a misomonsism you fell into yesterday, you who have much great work to do which no one else can do except just yourself!—and you, too, who have courage and knowledge, and must know that every work, with the principle of life in it, will live, let it be trampled ever so under the heel of a faithless and unbelieving generation—yes, that it will live like one of your toads, for a thousand years in the heart of a rock. All men can teach at second or third hand, as you said ... by prompting the foremost rows ... by tradition and translation:—all, except poets, who must preach their own doctrine and sing their own song, to be the means of any wisdom or any music, and therefore have stricter duties thrust upon them, and may not lounge in the [Greek: stoa] like the conversation-teachers. So much I have to say to you, till we are in the Siren's island—and I, jealous of the Siren!—
The Siren waits thee singing song for song,
says Mr. Landor. A prophecy which refuses to class you with the 'mute fishes,' precisely as I do.
And are you not my 'good'—all my good now—my only good ever? The Italians would say it better without saying more.
I had a letter from Miss Martineau this morning who accounts for her long silence by the supposition,—put lately to an end by scarcely credible information from Mr. Moxon, she says—that I was out of England; gone to the South from the 20th of September. She calls herself the strongest of women, and talks of 'walking fifteen miles one day and writing fifteen pages another day without fatigue,'—also of mesmerizing and of being infinitely happy except in the continued alienation of two of her family who cannot forgive her for getting well by such unlawful means. And she is to write again to tell me of Wordsworth, and promises to send me her new work in the meanwhile—all very kind.
So here is my letter to you, which you asked for so 'against the principles of universal justice.' Yes, very unjust—very unfair it was—only, you make me do just as you like in everything. Now confess to your own conscience that even if I had not a lawful claim of a debt against you, I might come to ask charity with another sort of claim, oh 'son of humanity.' Think how much more need of a letter I have than you can have; and that if you have a giant's power, ''tis tyrannous to use it like a giant.' Who would take tribute from the desert? How I grumble. Do let me have a letter directly! remember that no other light comes to my windows, and that I wait 'as those who watch for the morning'—'lux mea!'
May God bless you—and mind to say how you are exactly, and don't neglect the walking, pray do not.
And after all, those women! A great deal of doctrine commends and discommends itself by the delivery: and an honest thing may be said so foolishly as to disprove its very honesty. Now after all, what did she mean by that very silly expression about books, but that she did not feel as she considered herself capable of feeling—and that else but that was the meaning of the other woman? Perhaps it should have been spoken earlier—nay, clearly it should—but surely it was better spoken even in the last hour than not at all ... surely it is always and under all circumstances, better spoken at whatever cost—I have thought so steadily since I could think or feel at all. An entire openness to the last moment of possible liberty, at whatever cost and consequence, is the most honourable and most merciful way, both for men and women! perhaps for men in an especial manner. But I shall send this letter away, being in haste to get change for it.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Wednesday, December 31, 1845.
I have been properly punished for so much treachery as went to that re-urging the prayer that you would begin writing, when all the time (after the first of those words had been spoken which bade me write) I was full of purpose to send my own note last evening; one which should do its best to thank you: but see, the punishment! At home I found a note from Mr. Horne—on the point of setting out for Ireland, too unwell to manage to come over to me; anxious, so he said, to see me before leaving London, and with only Tuesday or to-day to allow the opportunity of it, if I should choose to go and find him out. So I considered all things and determined to go—but not till so late did I determine on Tuesday, that there was barely time to get to Highgate—wherefore no letter reached you to beg pardon ... and now this undeserved—beyond the usual undeservedness—this last-day-of-the-Year's gift—do you think or not think my gratitude weighs on me? When I lay this with the others, and remember what you have done for me—I do bless you—so as I cannot but believe must reach the all-beloved head all my hopes and fancies and cares fly straight to. Dearest, whatever change the new year brings with it, we are together—I can give you no more of myself—indeed, you give me now (back again if you choose, but changed and renewed by your possession) the powers that seemed most properly mine. I could only mean that, by the expressions to which you refer—only could mean that you were my crown and palm branch, now and for ever, and so, that it was a very indifferent matter to me if the world took notice of that fact or no. Yes, dearest, that is the meaning of the prophecy, which I was stupidly blind not to have read and taken comfort from long ago. You ARE the veritable Siren—and you 'wait me,' and will sing 'song for song.' And this is my first song, my true song—this love I bear you—I look into my heart and then let it go forth under that name—love. I am more than mistrustful of many other feelings in me: they are not earnest enough; so far, not true enough—but this is all the flower of my life which you call forth and which lies at your feet.
Now let me say it—what you are to remember. That if I had the slightest doubt, or fear, I would utter it to you on the instant—secure in the incontested stability of the main fact, even though the heights at the verge in the distance should tremble and prove vapour—and there would be a deep consolation in your forgiveness—indeed, yes; but I tell you, on solemn consideration, it does seem to me that—once take away the broad and general words that admit in their nature of any freight they can be charged with,—put aside love, and devotion, and trust—and then I seem to have said nothing of my feeling to you—nothing whatever.
I will not write more now on this subject. Believe you are my blessing and infinite reward beyond possible desert in intention,—my life has been crowned by you, as I said!
May God bless you ever—through you I shall be blessed. May I kiss your cheek and pray this, my own, all-beloved?
I must add a word or two of other things. I am very well now, quite well—am walking and about to walk. Horne, or rather his friends, reside in the very lane Keats loved so much—Millfield Lane. Hunt lent me once the little copy of the first Poems dedicated to him—and on the title-page was recorded in Hunt's delicate characters that 'Keats met him with this, the presentation-copy, or whatever was the odious name, in M—— Lane—called Poets' Lane by the gods—Keats came running, holding it up in his hand.' Coleridge had an affection for the place, and Shelley 'knew' it—and I can testify it is green and silent, with pleasant openings on the grounds and ponds, through the old trees that line it. But the hills here are far more open and wild and hill-like; not with the eternal clump of evergreens and thatched summer house—to say nothing of the 'invisible railing' miserably visible everywhere.
You very well know what a vision it is you give me—when you speak of standing up by the table to care for my flowers—(which I will never be ashamed of again, by the way—I will say for the future; 'here are my best'—in this as in other things.) Now, do you remember, that once I bade you not surprise me out of my good behaviour by standing to meet me unawares, as visions do, some day—but now—omne ignotum? No, dearest!
Ought I to say there will be two days more? till Saturday—and if one word comes, one line—think! I am wholly yours—yours, beloved!
E.B.B. to R.B.
January 1, 1845 .
How good you are—how best! it is a favourite play of my memory to take up the thought of what you were to me (to my mind gazing!) years ago, as the poet in an abstraction—then the thoughts of you, a little clearer, in concrete personality, as Mr. Kenyon's friend, who had dined with him on such a day, or met him at dinner on such another, and said some great memorable thing 'on Wednesday last,' and enquired kindly about me perhaps on Thursday,—till I was proud! and so, the thoughts of you, nearer and nearer (yet still afar!) as the Mr. Browning who meant to do me the honour of writing to me, and who did write; and who asked me once in a letter (does he remember?) 'not to lean out of the window while his foot was on the stair!'—to take up all those thoughts, and more than those, one after another, and tie them together with all these, which cannot be named so easily—which cannot be classed in botany and Greek. It is a nosegay of mystical flowers, looking strangely and brightly, and keeping their May-dew through the Christmases—better than even your flowers! And I am not 'ashamed' of mine, ... be very sure! no!
For the siren, I never suggested to you any such thing—why you do not pretend to have read such a suggestion in my letter certainly. That would have been most exemplarily modest of me! would it not, O Ulysses?
And you meant to write, ... you meant! and went to walk in 'Poet's lane' instead, (in the 'Aonius of Highgate') which I remember to have read of—does not Hunt speak of it in his Memoirs?—and so now there is another track of light in the traditions of the place, and people may talk of the pomegranate-smell between the hedges. So you really have hills at New Cross, and not hills by courtesy? I was at Hampstead once—and there was something attractive to me in that fragment of heath with its wild smell, thrown down ... like a Sicilian rose from Proserpine's lap when the car drove away, ... into all that arid civilization, 'laurel-clumps and invisible visible fences,' as you say!—and the grand, eternal smoke rising up in the distance, with its witness against nature! People grew severely in jest about cockney landscape—but is it not true that the trees and grass in the close neighbourhood of great cities must of necessity excite deeper emotion than the woods and valleys will, a hundred miles off, where human creatures ruminate stupidly as the cows do, the 'county families' es-chewing all men who are not 'landed proprietors,' and the farmers never looking higher than to the fly on the uppermost turnip-leaf! Do you know at all what English country-life is, which the English praise so, and 'moralize upon into a thousand similes,' as that one greatest, purest, noblest thing in the world—the purely English and excellent thing? It is to my mind simply and purely abominable, and I would rather live in a street than be forced to live it out,—that English country-life; for I don't mean life in the country. The social exigencies—why, nothing can be so bad—nothing! That is the way by which Englishmen grow up to top the world in their peculiar line of respectable absurdities.
Think of my talking so as if I could be vexed with any one of them! I!—On the contrary I wish them all a happy new year to abuse one another, or visit each of them his nearest neighbour whom he hates, three times a week, because 'the distance is so convenient,' and give great dinners in noble rivalship (venison from the Lord Lieutenant against turbot from London!), and talk popularity and game-law by turns to the tenantry, and beat down tithes to the rector. This glorious England of ours; with its peculiar glory of the rural districts! And my glory of patriotic virtue, who am so happy in spite of it all, and make a pretence of talking—talking—while I think the whole time of your letter. I think of your letter—I am no more a patriot than that!
May God bless you, best and dearest! You say things to me which I am not worthy to listen to for a moment, even if I was deaf dust the next moment.... I confess it humbly and earnestly as before God.
Yet He knows,—if the entireness of a gift means anything,—that I have not given with a reserve, that I am yours in my life and soul, for this year and for other years. Let me be used for you rather than against you! and that unspeakable, immeasurable grief of feeling myself a stone in your path, a cloud in your sky, may I be saved from it!—pray it for me ... for my sake rather than yours. For the rest, I thank you, I thank you. You will be always to me, what to-day you are—and that is all!—!
I am your own—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday Night. [Post-mark, January 5, 1846.]
Yesterday, nearly the last thing, I bade you 'think of me'—I wonder if you could misunderstand me in that?—As if my words or actions or any of my ineffectual outside-self should be thought of, unless to be forgiven! But I do, dearest, feel confident that while I am in your mind—cared for, rather than thought about—no great harm can happen to me; and as, for great harm to reach me, it must pass through you, you will care for yourself; myself, best self!
Come, let us talk. I found Horne's book at home, and have had time to see that fresh beautiful things are there—I suppose 'Delora' will stand alone still—but I got pleasantly smothered with that odd shower of wood-spoils at the end, the dwarf-story; cup-masses and fern and spotty yellow leaves,—all that, I love heartily—and there is good sailor-speech in the 'Ben Capstan'—though he does knock a man down with a 'crow-bar'—instead of a marling-spike or, even, a belaying-pin! The first tale, though good, seems least new and individual, but I must know more. At one thing I wonder—his not reprinting a quaint clever real ballad, published before 'Delora,' on the 'Merry Devil of Edmonton'—the first of his works I ever read. No, the very first piece was a single stanza, if I remember, in which was this line: 'When bason-crested Quixote, lean and bold,'—good, is it not? Oh, while it strikes me, good, too, is that 'Swineshead Monk' ballad! Only I miss the old chronicler's touch on the method of concocting the poison: 'Then stole this Monk into the Garden and under a certain herb found out a Toad, which, squeezing into a cup,' &c. something to that effect. I suspect, par parenthese, you have found out by this time my odd liking for 'vermin'—you once wrote 'your snails'—and certainly snails are old clients of mine—but efts! Horne traced a line to me—in the rhymes of a ''prentice-hand' I used to look over and correct occasionally—taxed me (last week) with having altered the wise line 'Cold as a lizard in a sunny stream' to 'Cold as a newt hid in a shady brook'—for 'what do you know about newts?' he asked of the author—who thereupon confessed. But never try and catch a speckled gray lizard when we are in Italy, love, and you see his tail hang out of the chink of a wall, his winter-house—because the strange tail will snap off, drop from him and stay in your fingers—and though you afterwards learn that there is more desperation in it and glorious determination to be free, than positive pain (so people say who have no tails to be twisted off)—and though, moreover, the tail grows again after a sort—yet ... don't do it, for it will give you a thrill! What a fine fellow our English water-eft is; 'Triton paludis Linnaei'—e come guizza (that you can't say in another language; cannot preserve the little in-and-out motion along with the straightforwardness!)—I always loved all those wild creatures God 'sets up for themselves' so independently of us, so successfully, with their strange happy minute inch of a candle, as it were, to light them; while we run about and against each other with our great cressets and fire-pots. I once saw a solitary bee nipping a leaf round till it exactly fitted the front of a hole; his nest, no doubt; or tomb, perhaps—'Safe as Oedipus's grave-place, 'mid Colone's olives swart'—(Kiss me, my Siren!)—Well, it seemed awful to watch that bee—he seemed so instantly from the teaching of God! AElian says that ... a frog, does he say?—some animal, having to swim across the Nile, never fails to provide himself with a bit of reed, which he bites off and holds in his mouth transversely and so puts from shore gallantly ... because when the water-serpent comes swimming to meet him, there is the reed, wider than his serpent's jaws, and no hopes of a swallow that time—now fancy the two meeting heads, the frog's wide eyes and the vexation of the snake!
Now, see! do I deceive you? Never say I began by letting down my dignity 'that with no middle flight intends to soar above the Aonian Mount'!—
My best, dear, dear one,—may you be better, less depressed, ... I can hardly imagine frost reaching you if I could be by you. Think what happiness you mean to give me,—what a life; what a death! 'I may change'—too true; yet, you see, as an eft was to me at the beginning so it continues—I may take up stones and pelt the next I see—but—do you much fear that?—Now, walk, move, guizza, anima mia dolce. Shall I not know one day how far your mouth will be from mine as we walk? May I let that stay ... dearest, (the line stay, not the mouth)?
I am not very well to-day—or, rather, have not been so—now, I am well and with you. I just say that, very needlessly, but for strict frankness' sake. Now, you are to write to me soon, and tell me all about your self, and to love me ever, as I love you ever, and bless you, and leave you in the hands of God—My own love!—
Tell me if I do wrong to send this by a morning post—so as to reach you earlier than the evening—when you will ... write to me?
Don't let me forget to say that I shall receive the Review to-morrow, and will send it directly.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Sunday. [Post-mark, January 6, 1846.]
When you get Mr. Horne's book you will understand how, after reading just the first and the last poems, I could not help speaking coldly a little of it—and in fact, estimating his power as much as you can do, I did think and do, that the last was unworthy of him, and that the first might have been written by a writer of one tenth of his faculty. But last night I read the 'Monk of Swineshead Abbey' and the 'Three Knights of Camelott' and 'Bedd Gelert' and found them all of different stuff, better, stronger, more consistent, and read them with pleasure and admiration. Do you remember this application, among the countless ones of shadow to the transiency of life? I give the first two lines for clearness—
Like to the cloud upon the hill We are a moment seen Or the shadow of the windmill-sail Across yon sunny slope of green.
New or not, and I don't remember it elsewhere, it is just and beautiful I think. Think how the shadow of the windmill-sail just touches the ground on a bright windy day! the shadow of a bird flying is not faster! Then the 'Three Knights' has beautiful things, with more definite and distinct images than he is apt to show—for his character is a vague grand massiveness,—like Stonehenge—or at least, if 'towers and battlements he sees' they are 'bosomed high' in dusky clouds ... it is a 'passion-created imagery' which has no clear outline. In this ballad of the 'Knights,' and in the Monk's too, we may look at things, as on the satyr who swears by his horns and mates not with his kind afterwards, 'While, holding beards, they dance in pairs—and that is all excellent and reminds one of those fine sylvan festivals, 'in Orion.' But now tell me if you like altogether 'Ben Capstan' and if you consider the sailor-idiom to be lawful in poetry, because I do not indeed. On the same principle we may have Yorkshire and Somersetshire 'sweet Doric'; and do recollect what it ended in of old, in the Blowsibella heroines. Then for the Elf story ... why should such things be written by men like Mr. Horne? I am vexed at it. Shakespeare and Fletcher did not write so about fairies:—Drayton did not. Look at the exquisite 'Nymphidia,' with its subtle sylvan consistency, and then at the lumbering coarse ... 'machina intersit' ... Grandmama Grey!—to say nothing of the 'small dog' that isn't the 'small boy.' Mr. Horne succeeds better on a larger canvass, and with weightier material; with blank verse rather than lyrics. He cannot make a fine stroke. He wants subtlety and elasticity in the thought and expression. Remember, I admire him honestly and earnestly. No one has admired more than I the 'Death of Marlowe,' scenes in 'Cosmo,' and 'Orion' in much of it. But now tell me if you can accept with the same stretched out hand all these lyrical poems? I am going to write to him as much homage as can come truly. Who combines different faculties as you do, striking the whole octave? No one, at present in the world.
Dearest, after you went away yesterday and I began to consider, I found that there was nothing to be so over-glad about in the matter of the letters, for that, Sunday coming next to Saturday, the best now is only as good as the worst before, and I can't hear from you, until Monday ... Monday! Did you think of that—you who took the credit of acceding so meekly! I shall not praise you in return at any rate. I shall have to wait ... till what o'clock on Monday, tempted in the meanwhile to fall into controversy against the 'new moons and sabbath days' and the pausing of the post in consequence.
You never guessed perhaps, what I look back to at this moment in the physiology of our intercourse, the curious double feeling I had about you—you personally, and you as the writer of these letters, and the crisis of the feeling, when I was positively vexed and jealous of myself for not succeeding better in making a unity of the two. I could not! And moreover I could not help but that the writer of the letters seemed nearer to me, long ... long ... and in spite of the postmark, than did the personal visitor who confounded me, and left me constantly under such an impression of its being all dream-work on his side, that I have stamped my feet on this floor with impatience to think of having to wait so many hours before the 'candid' closing letter could come with its confessional of an illusion. 'People say,' I used to think, 'that women always know, and certainly I do not know, and therefore ... therefore.'—The logic crushed on like Juggernaut's car. But in the letters it was different—the dear letters took me on the side of my own ideal life where I was able to stand a little upright and look round. I could read such letters for ever and answer them after a fashion ... that, I felt from the beginning. But you—!
Monday.—Never too early can the light come. Thank you for my letter! Yet you look askance at me over 'newt and toad,' and praise so the Elf-story that I am ashamed to send you my ill humour on the same head. And you really like that? admire it? Grandmama Grey and the night cap and all? and 'shoetye and blue sky?' and is it really wrong of me to like certainly some touches and images, but not the whole, ... not the poem as a whole? I can take delight in the fantastical, and in the grotesque—but here there is a want of life and consistency, as it seems to me!—the elf is no elf and speaks no elf-tongue: it is not the right key to touch, ... this, ... for supernatural music. So I fancy at least—but I will try the poem again presently. You must be right—unless it should be your over-goodness opposed to my over-badness—I will not be sure. Or you wrote perhaps in an accidental mood of most excellent critical smoothness, such as Mr. Forster did his last Examiner in, when he gave the all-hail to Mr. Harness as one of the best dramatists of the age!! Ah no!—not such as Mr. Forster's. Your soul does not enter into his secret—There can be nothing in common between you. For him to say such a word—he who knows—or ought to know!—And now let us agree and admire the bowing of the old ministrel over Bedd Gelert's unfilled grave—
The long beard fell like snow into the grave With solemn grace
A poet, a friend, a generous man Mr. Horne is, even if no laureate for the fairies.
I have this moment a parcel of books via Mr. Moxon—Miss Martineau's two volumes—and Mr. Bailey sends his 'Festus,' very kindly, ... and 'Woman in the Nineteenth Century' from America from a Mrs. or a Miss Fuller—how I hate those 'Women of England,' 'Women and their Mission' and the rest. As if any possible good were to be done by such expositions of rights and wrongs.
Your letter would be worth them all, if you were less you! I mean, just this letter, ... all alive as it is with crawling buzzing wriggling cold-blooded warm-blooded creatures ... as all alive as your own pedant's book in the tree. And do you know, I think I like frogs too—particularly the very little leaping frogs, which are so high-hearted as to emulate the birds. I remember being scolded by my nurses for taking them up in my hands and letting them leap from one hand to the other. But for the toad!—why, at the end of the row of narrow beds which we called our gardens when we were children, grew an old thorn, and in the hollow of the root of the thorn, lived a toad, a great ancient toad, whom I, for one, never dared approach too nearly. That he 'wore a jewel in his head' I doubted nothing at all. You must see it glitter if you stooped and looked steadily into the hole. And on days when he came out and sate swelling his black sides, I never looked steadily; I would run a hundred yards round through the shrubs, deeper than knee-deep in the long wet grass and nettles, rather than go past him where he sate; being steadily of opinion, in the profundity of my natural history-learning, that if he took it into his toad's head to spit at me I should drop down dead in a moment, poisoned as by one of the Medici.
Oh—and I had a field-mouse for a pet once, and should have joined my sisters in a rat's nest if I had not been ill at the time (as it was, the little rats were tenderly smothered by over-love!): and blue-bottle flies I used to feed, and hated your spiders for them; yet no, not much. My aversion proper ... call it horror rather ... was for the silent, cold, clinging, gliding bat; and even now, I think, I could not sleep in the room with that strange bird-mouse-creature, as it glides round the ceiling silently, silently as its shadow does on the floor. If you listen or look, there is not a wave of the wing—the wing never waves! A bird without a feather! a beast that flies! and so cold! as cold as a fish! It is the most supernatural-seeming of natural things. And then to see how when the windows are open at night those bats come sailing ... without a sound—and go ... you cannot guess where!—fade with the night-blackness!
You have not been well—which is my first thought if not my first word. Do walk, and do not work; and think ... what I could be thinking of, if I did not think of you ... dear—dearest! 'As the doves fly to the windows,' so I think of you! As the prisoners think of liberty, as the dying think of Heaven, so I think of you. When I look up straight to God ... nothing, no one, used to intercept me—now there is you—only you under him! Do not use such words as those therefore any more, nor say that you are not to be thought of so and so. You are to be thought of every way. You must know what you are to me if you know at all what I am,—and what I should be but for you.
So ... love me a little, with the spiders and the toads and the lizards! love me as you love the efts—and I will believe in you as you believe ... in AElian—Will that do?
Say how you are when you write—and write.
R.B. to E.B.B.
I this minute receive the Review—a poor business, truly! Is there a reason for a man's wits dwindling the moment he gets into a critical High-place to hold forth?—I have only glanced over the article however. Well, one day I am to write of you, dearest, and it must come to something rather better than that!
I am forced to send now what is to be sent at all. Bless you, dearest. I am trusting to hear from you—
And I find by a note from a fairer friend and favourer of mine that in the New Quarterly 'Mr. Browning' figures pleasantly as 'one without any sympathy for a human being!'—Then, for newts and efts at all events!
R.B. to E.B.B.
Tuesday Night. [Post-mark, January 7, 1846.]
But, my sweet, there is safer going in letters than in visits, do you not see? In the letter, one may go to the utmost limit of one's supposed tether without danger—there is the distance so palpably between the most audacious step there, and the next ... which is nowhere, seeing it is not in the letter. Quite otherwise in personal intercourse, where any indication of turning to a certain path, even, might possibly be checked not for its own fault but lest, the path once reached and proceeded in, some other forbidden turning might come into sight, we will say. In the letter, all ended there, just there ... and you may think of that, and forgive; at all events, may avoid speaking irrevocable words—and when, as to me, those words are intensely true, doom-words—think, dearest! Because, as I told you once, what most characterizes my feeling for you is the perfect respect in it, the full belief ... (I shall get presently to poor Robert's very avowal of 'owing you all esteem'!). It is on that I build, and am secure—for how should I know, of myself, how to serve you and be properly yours if it all was to be learnt by my own interpreting, and what you professed to dislike you were to be considered as wishing for, and what liking, as it seemed, you were loathing at your heart, and if so many 'noes' made a 'yes,' and 'one refusal no rebuff' and all that horrible bestiality which stout gentlemen turn up the whites of their eyes to, when they rise after dinner and pressing the right hand to the left side say, 'The toast be dear woman!' Now, love, with this feeling in me from the beginning,—I do believe,—now, when I am utterly blest in this gift of your love, and least able to imagine what I should do without it,—I cannot but believe, I say, that had you given me once a 'refusal'—clearly derived from your own feelings, and quite apart from any fancied consideration for my interests; had this come upon me, whether slowly but inevitably in the course of events, or suddenly as precipitated by any step of mine; I should, believing you, have never again renewed directly or indirectly such solicitation; I should have begun to count how many other ways were yet open to serve you and devote myself to you ... but from the outside, now, and not in your livery! Now, if I should have acted thus under any circumstances, how could I but redouble my endeavours at precaution after my own foolish—you know, and forgave long since, and I, too, am forgiven in my own eyes, for the cause, though not the manner—but could I do other than keep 'farther from you' than in the letters, dearest? For your own part in that matter, seeing it with all the light you have since given me (and then, not inadequately by my own light) I could, I do kiss your feet, kiss every letter in your name, bless you with my whole heart and soul if I could pour them out, from me, before you, to stay and be yours; when I think on your motives and pure perfect generosity. It was the plainness of that which determined me to wait and be patient and grateful and your own for ever in any shape or capacity you might please to accept. Do you think that because I am so rich now, I could not have been most rich, too, then—in what would seem little only to me, only with this great happiness? I should have been proud beyond measure—happy past all desert, to call and be allowed to see you simply, speak with you and be spoken to—what am I more than others? Don't think this mock humility—it is not—you take me in your mantle, and we shine together, but I know my part in it! All this is written breathlessly on a sudden fancy that you might—if not now, at some future time—give other than this, the true reason, for that discrepancy you see, that nearness in the letters, that early farness in the visits! And, love, all love is but a passionate drawing closer—I would be one with you, dearest; let my soul press close to you, as my lips, dear life of my life.
Wednesday.—You are entirely right about those poems of Horne's—I spoke only of the effect of the first glance, and it is a principle with me to begin by welcoming any strangeness, intention of originality in men—the other way of safe copying precedents being so safe! So I began by praising all that was at all questionable in the form ... reserving the ground-work for after consideration. The Elf-story turns out a pure mistake, I think—and a common mistake, too. Fairy stories, the good ones, were written for men and women, and, being true, pleased also children; now, people set about writing for children and miss them and the others too,—with that detestable irreverence and plain mocking all the time at the very wonder they profess to want to excite. All obvious bending down to the lower capacity, determining not to be the great complete man one is, by half; any patronizing minute to be spent in the nursery over the books and work and healthful play, of a visitor who will presently bid good-bye and betake himself to the Beefsteak Club—keep us from all that! The Sailor Language is good in its way; but as wrongly used in Art as real clay and mud would be, if one plastered them in the foreground of a landscape in order to attain to so much truth, at all events—the true thing to endeavour is the making a golden colour which shall do every good in the power of the dirty brown. Well, then, what a veering weathercock am I, to write so and now, so! Not altogether,—for first it was but the stranger's welcome I gave, the right of every new comer who must stand or fall by his behaviour once admitted within the door. And then—when I know what Horne thinks of—you, dearest; how he knew you first, and from the soul admired you; and how little he thinks of my good fortune ... I could NOT begin by giving you a bad impression of anything he sends—he has such very few rewards for a great deal of hard excellent enduring work, and none, no reward, I do think, would he less willingly forego than your praise and sympathy. But your opinion once expressed—truth remains the truth—so, at least, I excuse myself ... and quite as much for what I say now as for what was said then! 'King John' is very fine and full of purpose; 'The Noble Heart,' sadly faint and uncharacteristic. The chief incident, too, turns on that poor conventional fallacy about what constitutes a proper wrong to resist—a piece of morality, after a different standard, is introduced to complete another fashioned morality—a segment of a circle of larger dimensions is fitted into a smaller one. Now, you may have your own standard of morality in this matter of resistance to wrong, how and when if at all. And you may quite understand and sympathize with quite different standards innumerable of other people; but go from one to the other abruptly, you cannot, I think. 'Bear patiently all injuries—revenge in no case'—that is plain. 'Take what you conceive to be God's part, do his evident work, stand up for good and destroy evil, and co-operate with this whole scheme here'—that is plain, too,—but, call Otto's act no wrong, or being one, not such as should be avenged—and then, call the remark of a stranger that one is a 'recreant'—just what needs the slight punishment of instant death to the remarker—and ... where is the way? What is clear?
—Not my letter! which goes on and on—'dear letters'—sweetest? because they cost all the precious labour of making out? Well, I shall see you to-morrow, I trust. Bless you, my own—I have not half said what was to say even in the letter I thought to write, and which proves only what you see! But at a thought I fly off with you, 'at a cock-crow from the Grange.'—Ever your own.
Last night, I received a copy of the New Quarterly—now here is popular praise, a sprig of it! Instead of the attack I supposed it to be, from my foolish friend's account, the notice is outrageously eulogistical, a stupidly extravagant laudation from first to last—and in three other articles, as my sister finds by diligent fishing, they introduce my name with the same felicitous praise (except one instance, though, in a good article by Chorley I am certain); and with me I don't know how many poetical cretins are praised as noticeably—and, in the turning of a page, somebody is abused in the richest style of scavengering—only Carlyle! And I love him enough not to envy him nor wish to change places, and giving him mine, mount into his.
All which, let me forget in the thoughts of to-morrow! Bless you, my Ba.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Wednesday. [Post-mark, January 7, 1846.]
But some things are indeed said very truly, and as I like to read them—of you, I mean of course,—though I quite understand that it is doing no manner of good to go back so to 'Paracelsus,' heading the article 'Paracelsus and other poems,' as if the other poems could not front the reader broadly by a divine right of their own. 'Paracelsus' is a great work and will live, but the way to do you good with the stiffnecked public (such good as critics can do in their degree) would have been to hold fast and conspicuously the gilded horn of the last living crowned creature led by you to the altar, saying 'Look here.' What had he to do else, as a critic? Was he writing for the Retrospective Review? And then, no attempt at analytical criticism—or a failure, at the least attempt! all slack and in sentences! Still these are right things to say, true things, worthy things, said of you as a poet, though your poems do not find justice: and I like, for my own part, the issuing from my cathedral into your great world—the outermost temple of divinest consecration. I like that figure and association, and none the worse for its being a sufficient refutation of what he dared to impute, of your poetical sectarianism, in another place—yours!
For me, it is all quite kind enough—only I object, on my own part also, to being reviewed in the 'Seraphim,' when my better books are nearer: and also it always makes me a little savage when people talk of Tennysonianisms! I have faults enough as the Muses know,—but let them be my faults! When I wrote the 'Romaunt of Margret,' I had not read a line of Tennyson. I came from the country with my eyes only half open, and he had not penetrated where I had been living and sleeping: and in fact when I afterwards tried to reach him here in London, nothing could be found except one slim volume, so that, till the collected works appeared ... favente Moxon, ... I was ignorant of his best early productions; and not even for the rhythmetical form of my 'Vision of the Poets,' was I indebted to the 'Two Voices,'—three pages of my 'Vision' having been written several years ago—at the beginning of my illness—and thrown aside, and taken up again in the spring of 1844. Ah, well! there's no use talking! In a solitary review which noticed my 'Essay on Mind,' somebody wrote ... 'this young lady imitates Darwin'—and I never could read Darwin, ... was stopped always on the second page of the 'Loves of the Plants' when I tried to read him to 'justify myself in having an opinion'—the repulsion was too strong. Yet the 'young lady imitated Darwin' of course, as the infallible critic said so.
And who are Mr. Helps and Miss Emma Fisher and the 'many others,' whose company brings one down to the right plebeianism? The 'three poets in three distant ages born' may well stare amazed!
After all you shall not by any means say that I upset the inkstand on your review in a passion—because pray mark that the ink has over-run some of your praises, and that if I had been angry to the overthrow of an inkstand, it would not have been precisely there. It is the second book spoilt by me within these two days—and my fingers were so dabbled in blackness yesterday that to wring my hands would only have made matters worse. Holding them up to Mr. Kenyon they looked dirty enough to befit a poetess—as black 'as bard beseemed'—and he took the review away with him to read and save it from more harm.
How could it be that you did not get my letter which would have reached you, I thought, on Monday evening, or on Tuesday at the very very earliest?—and how is it that I did not hear from you last night again when I was unreasonable enough to expect it? is it true that you hate writing to me?
At that word, comes the review back from dear Mr. Kenyon, and the letter which I enclose to show you how it accounts reasonably for the ink—I did it 'in a pet,' he thinks! And I ought to buy you a new book—certainly I ought—only it is not worth doing justice for—and I shall therefore send it back to you spoilt as it is; and you must forgive me as magnanimously as you can.
'Omne ignotum pro magnifico'—do you think so? I hope not indeed! vo quietando—and everything else that I ought to do—except of course, that thinking of you which is so difficult.
May God bless you. Till to-morrow!
Your own always.
Mr. Kenyon refers to 'Festus'—of which I had said that the fine things were worth looking for, in the design manque.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Friday Morning. [Post-mark, January 9, 1846.]
You never think, ever dearest, that I 'repent'—why what a word to use! You never could think such a word for a moment! If you were to leave me even,—to decide that it is best for you to do it, and do it,—I should accede at once of course, but never should I nor could I 'repent' ... regret anything ... be sorry for having known you and loved you ... no! Which I say simply to prove that, in no extreme case, could I repent for my own sake. For yours, it might be different.
Not out of 'generosity' certainly, but from the veriest selfishness, I choose here, before God, any possible present evil, rather than the future consciousness of feeling myself less to you, on the whole, than another woman might have been.
Oh, these vain and most heathenish repetitions—do I not vex you by them, you whom I would always please, and never vex? Yet they force their way because you are the best noblest and dearest in the world, and because your happiness is so precious a thing.
Cloth of frieze, be not too bold, Though thou'rt matched with cloth of gold!
—that, beloved, was written for me. And you, if you would make me happy, always will look at yourself from my ground and by my light, as I see you, and consent to be selfish in all things. Observe, that if I were vacillating, I should not be so weak as to tease you with the process of the vacillation: I should wait till my pendulum ceased swinging. It is precisely because I am your own, past any retraction or wish of retraction,—because I belong to you by gift and ownership, and am ready and willing to prove it before the world at a word of yours,—it is precisely for this, that I remind you too often of the necessity of using this right of yours, not to your injury, of being wise and strong for both of us, and of guarding your happiness which is mine. I have said these things ninety and nine times over, and over and over have you replied to them,—as yesterday!—and now, do not speak any more. It is only my preachment for general use, and not for particular application,—only to be ready for application. I love you from the deepest of my nature—the whole world is nothing to me beside you—and what is so precious, is not far from being terrible. 'How dreadful is this place.'
To hear you talk yesterday, is a gladness in the thought for to-day,—it was with such a full assent that I listened to every word. It is true, I think, that we see things (things apart from ourselves) under the same aspect and colour—and it is certainly true that I have a sort of instinct by which I seem to know your views of such subjects as we have never looked at together. I know you so well (yes, I boast to myself of that intimate knowledge), that I seem to know also the idola of all things as they are in your eyes—so that never, scarcely, I am curious,—never anxious, to learn what your opinions may be. Now, have I been curious or anxious? It was enough for me to know you.
More than enough! You have 'left undone'—do you say? On the contrary, you have done too much,—you are too much. My cup,—which used to hold at the bottom of it just the drop of Heaven dew mingling with the absinthus,—has overflowed all this wine: and that makes me look out for the vases, which would have held it better, had you stretched out your hand for them.
Say how you are—and do take care and exercise—and write to me, dearest!
Ever your own—
How right you are about 'Ben Capstan,'—and the illustration by the yellow clay. That is precisely what I meant,—said with more precision than I could say it. Art without an ideal is neither nature nor art. The question involves the whole difference between Madame Tussaud and Phidias.
I have just received Mr. Edgar Poe's book—and I see that the deteriorating preface which was to have saved me from the vanity-fever produceable by the dedication, is cut down and away—perhaps in this particular copy only!
Tuesday is so near, as men count, that I caught myself just now being afraid lest the week should have no chance of appearing long to you! Try to let it be long to you—will you? My consistency is wonderful.
R.B. to E.B.B.
As if I could deny you anything! Here is the Review—indeed it was foolish to mind your seeing it at all. But now, may I stipulate?—You shall not send it back—but on your table I shall find and take it next Tuesday—c'est convenu! The other precious volume has not yet come to hand (nor to foot) all through your being so sure that to carry it home would have been the death of me last evening!
I cannot write my feelings in this large writing, begun on such a scale for the Review's sake; and just now—there is no denying it, and spite of all I have been incredulous about—it does seem that the fact is achieved and that I do love you, plainly, surely, more than ever, more than any day in my life before. It is your secret, the why, the how; the experience is mine. What are you doing to me?—in the heart's heart.
E.B.B. to R.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, January 10, 1846.]
Kindest and dearest you are!—that is 'my secret' and for the others, I leave them to you!—only it is no secret that I should and must be glad to have the words you sent with the book,—which I should have seen at all events be sure, whether you had sent it or not. Should I not, do you think? And considering what the present generation of critics really is, the remarks on you may stand, although it is the dreariest impotency to complain of the want of flesh and blood and of human sympathy in general. Yet suffer them to say on—it is the stamp on the critical knife. There must be something eminently stupid, or farewell criticdom! And if anything more utterly untrue could be said than another, it is precisely that saying, which Mr. Mackay stands up to catch the reversion of! Do you indeed suppose that Heraud could have done this? I scarcely can believe it, though some things are said rightly as about the 'intellectuality,' and how you stand first by the brain,—which is as true as truth can be. Then, I shall have 'Pauline' in a day or two—yes, I shall and must, and will.
The 'Ballad Poems and Fancies,' the article calling itself by that name, seems indeed to be Mr. Chorley's, and is one of his very best papers, I think. There is to me a want of colour and thinness about his writings in general, with a grace and savoir faire nevertheless, and always a rightness and purity of intention. Observe what he says of 'many-sidedness' seeming to trench on opinion and principle. That, he means for himself I know, for he has said to me that through having such largeness of sympathy he has been charged with want of principle—yet 'many-sidedness' is certainly no word for him. The effect of general sympathies may be evolved both from an elastic fancy and from breadth of mind, and it seems to me that he rather bends to a phase of humanity and literature than contains it—than comprehends it. Every part of a truth implies the whole; and to accept truth all round, does not mean the recognition of contradictory things: universal sympathies cannot make a man inconsistent, but, on the contrary, sublimely consistent. A church tower may stand between the mountains and the sea, looking to either, and stand fast: but the willow-tree at the gable-end, blown now toward the north and now toward the south while its natural leaning is due east or west, is different altogether ... as different as a willow-tree from a church tower.
Ah, what nonsense! There is only one truth for me all this time, while I talk about truth and truth. And do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you—which is too much, perhaps. Shall I tell you? it seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me—the fulness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy ... and only I know what was behind—the long wilderness without the blossoming rose ... and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve—not you—but my own fate? Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do? And you love me more, you say?—Shall I thank you or God? Both,—indeed—and there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may ... and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? How will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain.
Have so much faith in me, my only beloved, as to use me simply for your own advantage and happiness, and to your own ends without a thought of any others—that is all I could ask you with any disquiet as to the granting of it—May God bless you!—
But you have the review now—surely?
The Morning Chronicle attributes the authorship of 'Modern Poets' (our article) to Lord John Manners—so I hear this morning. I have not yet looked at the paper myself. The Athenaeum, still abominably dumb!—
R.B. to E.B.B.
Saturday. [Post-mark, January 10, 1846.]
This is no letter—love,—I make haste to tell you—to-morrow I will write. For here has a friend been calling and consuming my very destined time, and every minute seemed the last that was to be; and an old, old friend he is, beside—so—you must understand my defection, when only this scrap reaches you to-night! Ah, love,—you are my unutterable blessing,—I discover you, more of you, day by day,—hour by hour, I do think!—I am entirely yours,—one gratitude, all my soul becomes when I see you over me as now—God bless my dear, dearest.
My 'Act Fourth' is done—but too roughly this time! I will tell you—
One kiss more, dearest!
Thanks for the Review.
R.B. to E.B.B.
Sunday. [Post-mark, January 12, 1846.]
I have no words for you, my dearest,—I shall never have.
You are mine, I am yours. Now, here is one sign of what I said ... that I must love you more than at first ... a little sign, and to be looked narrowly for or it escapes me, but then the increase it shows can only be little, so very little now—and as the fine French Chemical Analysts bring themselves to appreciate matter in its refined stages by millionths, so—! At first I only thought of being happy in you,—in your happiness: now I most think of you in the dark hours that must come—I shall grow old with you, and die with you—as far as I can look into the night I see the light with me. And surely with that provision of comfort one should turn with fresh joy and renewed sense of security to the sunny middle of the day. I am in the full sunshine now; and after, all seems cared for,—is it too homely an illustration if I say the day's visit is not crossed by uncertainties as to the return through the wild country at nightfall?—Now Keats speaks of 'Beauty, that must die—and Joy whose hand is ever at his lips, bidding farewell!' And who spoke of—looking up into the eyes and asking 'And how long will you love us'?—There is a Beauty that will not die, a Joy that bids no farewell, dear dearest eyes that will love for ever!
And I—am to love no longer than I can. Well, dear—and when I can no longer—you will not blame me? You will do only as ever, kindly and justly; hardly more. I do not pretend to say I have chosen to put my fancy to such an experiment, and consider how that is to happen, and what measures ought to be taken in the emergency—because in the 'universality of my sympathies' I certainly number a very lively one with my own heart and soul, and cannot amuse myself by such a spectacle as their supposed extinction or paralysis. There is no doubt I should be an object for the deepest commiseration of you or any more fortunate human being. And I hope that because such a calamity does not obtrude itself on me as a thing to be prayed against, it is no less duly implied with all the other visitations from which no humanity can be altogether exempt—just as God bids us ask for the continuance of the 'daily bread'!—'battle, murder and sudden death' lie behind doubtless. I repeat, and perhaps in so doing only give one more example of the instantaneous conversion of that indignation we bestow in another's case, into wonderful lenity when it becomes our own, ... that I only contemplate the possibility you make me recognize, with pity, and fear ... no anger at all; and imprecations of vengeance, for what? Observe, I only speak of cases possible; of sudden impotency of mind; that is possible—there are other ways of 'changing,' 'ceasing to love' &c. which it is safest not to think of nor believe in. A man may never leave his writing desk without seeing safe in one corner of it the folded slip which directs the disposal of his papers in the event of his reason suddenly leaving him—or he may never go out into the street without a card in his pocket to signify his address to those who may have to pick him up in an apoplectic fit—but if he once begins to fear he is growing a glass bottle, and, so, liable to be smashed,—do you see? And now, love, dear heart of my heart, my own, only Ba—see no more—see what I am, what God in his constant mercy ordinarily grants to those who have, as I, received already so much; much, past expression! It is but—if you will so please—at worst, forestalling the one or two years, for my sake; but you will be as sure of me one day as I can be now of myself—and why not now be sure? See, love—a year is gone by—we were in one relation when you wrote at the end of a letter 'Do not say I do not tire you' (by writing)—'I am sure I do.' A year has gone by—Did you tire me then? Now, you tell me what is told; for my sake, sweet, let the few years go by; we are married, and my arms are round you, and my face touches yours, and I am asking you, 'Were you not to me, in that dim beginning of 1846, a joy behind all joys, a life added to and transforming mine, the good I choose from all the possible gifts of God on this earth, for which I seemed to have lived; which accepting, I thankfully step aside and let the rest get what they can; what, it is very likely, they esteem more—for why should my eye be evil because God's is good; why should I grudge that, giving them, I do believe, infinitely less, he gives them a content in the inferior good and belief in its worth? I should have wished that further concession, that illusion as I believe it, for their sakes—but I cannot undervalue my own treasure and so scant the only tribute of mere gratitude which is in my power to pay. Hear this said now before the few years; and believe in it now for then, dearest!