TC TO ROBERT BROWNING; 23 June 1847; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18470623-TC-RB-01; CL 21:239-241.
TC TO ROBERT BROWNING
Chelsea, London, 23 june, 1847—
Many thanks for your Italian Letter; which dropped in, by the Penny Post, with right good welcome, like a friendly neighbour, some week or two ago.1 I am right glad to hear of your welfare; your's and your fair Partner's. No marriage has taken place, within my circle, these many years, in which I could so heartily rejoice. You I had known, and judged of; her too, conclusively enough, if less directly; and certainly if ever there was a union indicated by the finger of Heaven itself, and sanctioned and prescribed by the Eternal Laws under which poor transitory Sons of Adam live, it seemed to me, from all I could hear or know of it, to be this! Courage, therefore; follow piously the Heavenly Omens, and fear not. He that can follow these, he, in the loneliest desert, in the densest jostle and sordid whirlpool of London Fog, will find his haven: “Se to segui tua stella [If you follow your star]!”2— Perpetually serene weather is not to be looked for by anybody, least of all by the like of you two,—in whom precisely as more is given, more also in the same proportion is required: but unless I altogether mistake, here is a Life-partnership which, in all kinds of weather, has in it a capacity of being blessed to the Parties. May it indeed prove so. May the weather, on the whole, be moderate;—and if joy be ever absent for a season, may nobleness never! That is the best I can wish. The Sun cannot shine always; but the places of the Stars, these ought to be known always, and these can.
What you say of visiting Italy is infinitely tempting to one's love of travel, to what small remnants of it one still has.3 I was in young years the most ardent of travellers; and executed immense journeyings, and worshippings at foreign shrines; all in idea, since it could not be otherwise: neither yet has the passion quite left me; tho' a set of nerves, in the highest degree unfit for locomotion under any terms, has taught me many times “the duty of staying at home.” In fact there are moments, this very season, when I do scheme out a Winter in Italy as no unsuitable practical resource for me. There is, in many ways, a kind of pause in my existence this year. Ever since I got the Cromwell lumber shaken fairly off me, I am idle; idle not for want of work, but rather in sight of a whole universe of work, which I have to despair of accomplishing, which in my sulky humour I could feel a disgust at attempting. My value for human ways of working in this time, for almost all human ways, including what they call “Literature” among the rest, has not risen of late! We seem to me a People so enthralled, and buried under bondage to the Hearsays and the Cants and the Grimaces, as no People ever were before. Literally so. From the top of our Metropolitan Cathedral to the sill of our lowest Cobler's shop, it is to me, too often, like one general somnambulism, most strange, most miserable,—most damnable! Surely, I say, men called “of genius,”—if genius be anything but a paltry toybox fit for Bartholomew Fair,4—are commissioned, and commanded under pain of eternal death, to throw their whole “genius,” however great or small it be, into the remedy of this; into the hopeful or the desperate battle against this! And they spend their time in traditionary rope-dancings, and mere Vauxhall5 gymnastics; and talk about “Art,” and “High Art,” and I know not what; and show proudly their week's salary, of gold or of copper, of sweet voices and of long-eared brayings, and say comfortably, “Anch' io!”6 Surely such a function, gas-light it as we may, is essentially that of a slave. Surely I am against all that, from the very foundations of my being;—and the length to which it goes, and the depth and height of it, and the fruit it bears (to Irish Sanspotatoes visibly, and to nobler men less visibly but still more fatally) has become frightfully apparent to me. A mighty harvest indeed; and the labourers few or none. O for a thousand sharp sickles in as many strong right hands! And I, poor devil, have but one rough sickle, and a hand that will soon be weary!— And, in fact, I stand here in a solitude (among so many millions of my fellow-creatures) which is sometimes almost sublime, which is always altogether frightful and painful,—if one could help it well. God mend us all! In short, I believe it would do me real good to get into some new concrete scene for a while: and if I could travel, Italy might be the place rather than another. Or perhaps to get into dialogue with the crags and brooks again,—that might be the best? That is the likeliest: for I am called to Scotland, where my good old Mother still is, by a kind of errand; and elsewhither there is none precise enough. I will think farther. Italy is not quite impossible; but I guess it to be too improbable. After all, the true remedy comes of itself, so soon as one is miserable enough: work, some farther attempt at work,—even by the pen!
We have no news here worth spending ink upon. Miss Martineau has been to Jerusalem, and is back; called here yesterday: brown as a berry; full of life, loquacity, dogmatism, and various “gospels of the east-wind.”7 Dickens writes a Dombey & Son, Thackeray a Vanity Fair; not reapers they, either of them!8 In fact the business of rope-dancing goes to a great height; and d'Israeli's Tancred (readable to the end of the first volume), a kind of transcendant spiritual Houndsditch, marks an epoch in the history of this poor country.9— — When do you think of coming home? Is not Chelsea an eligible side of London? My Wife salutes you both, with many true regards. Adieu, dear Browning, and dear Mrs Browning. Yours ever truly
Margaret Fuller is the name of the American Lady: I think she has no writing of mine to your Address:10 but she knows you, both of you, well; and will really prove worthy (when once you get into her dialect) of being known to you.