The Collected Letters, Volume 27


TC TO ROBERT BROWNING ; 8 March 1852; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18520308-TC-RB-01; CL 27: 64-67


Chelsea, 8 March, 1852—

Dear Browning,

Above a fortnight ago I received your Letter, and the little Shelley Book along with;1 a most pleasant pair of objects, to which, having read the Book too the very night it arrived, I meant to answer on the morrow. Thanks were heartily ready, and a clear enough opinion which has not altered since: but, by some chance or other, the morrow came to be preoccupied, and then the next morrow and the next,—and the answer up to this moment you perceive, has never got out of the future tense. Such are the whirlings, cross-currents and regurgitations of this mad Gulf-Stream of an element: one's time, unless one fight for every minute of it, all goes devoured and annihilated here; to get any work at all out of one's life here, I often say, one has to snatch it like furniture from a house on fire;—and the soul of man is not always equal to feats of that kind! Alas, alas, the mud-gods are indeed very strong, in most places at present, and in this place I should say beyond most!—

I liked the Essay extremely well indeed: a solid, well-wrought massive manful bit of discourse; and interesting to me, over and above, as the first bit of prose I had ever seen from you;—I hope only the first of very many. You do not know how cheering to me the authentic sound of a human voice is! I get so little except ape-voices; the whole universe filled with one wide tempestuous cackle, which has neither depth nor sense, nor any kind of truth or nobleness in it: O Heaven, one feels as if it were too bad; as if the temptation were, to burst into tears, and sit down and weep till one died! I cannot now, in late years, laugh at such a phenomenon; oftenest it makes me inexpressibly sad,—as is very natural if one look at the whence and the inevitable whitherward;—wherefore in general I rather try to get out of it altogether, quite away from the beggarly sound of it; and to sit solitary, in company rather with the dumb Chaos than with the talking one. This Essay of yours, and another little word by Emerson are the only new things I have read with real pleasure for a great while past. I agree with what you say of Shelley's moralities and spiritual position; I honour and respect the weighty estimate you have formed of the Poetic Art; and I admire very much the grave expressiveness of Style (a little too elaborate here and there), and the dignified tone, in which you manage to deliver yourself on all that.2

The Letters themselves are very innocent and clear; and deserve printing, with such a name attached to them;3 but it is not they that I care for on the present occasion. In fact I am not sure but you would excommunicate me,—at least lay me under the “lesser sentence,” for a time,—if I told you all I thought of Shelley! Poor soul, he has always seemed to me an extremely weak creature, and lamentable much more than admirable. Weak in genius, weak in character (for these two always go together); a poor thin, spasmodic, hectic, shrill and pallid being;—one of those unfortunates, of whom I often speak, to whom the “talent of silence,” first of all, has been denied. The speech of such is never good for much. Poor Shelley, there is something void and Hades-like in the whole inner world of him; his universe is all vacant azure, hung with a few frosty mournful if beautiful stars; the very voice of him (his style &c), shrill, shrieky, to my ear has too much of the ghost!4— In a word, it is not with Shelley, but with Shelley's Commentator that I take up my quarters at all: and to this latter I will say with emphasis, Give us some more of your writing, my friend; we decidedly need a man or two like you, if we could get them! Seriously, dear Browning, you must at last gird up your loins5 again; and give us a right stroke of work:—I do not wish to hurry you; far the contrary: but I remind you of what is expected; and say with what joy I for one will see it arrive.— Nor do I restrict you to Prose, in spite of all I have said and still say: Prose or Poetry, either of them you can master; and we will wait for you with welcome in whatever form your own Daimon bids. Only see that he does bid it; and then go with your best speed;—and on the whole forgive, at any rate, these importunities, which I feel to partake much of the nature of impertinence, if you did not kindly interpret them.

About the time your Letter came, or shortly before it, I had given a Card of introduction to a certain M. Montégut of the Revue des Deux Mondes;6 which document I left him free to present or suppress, and know not which he has done. If he have done the former, pray understand that I do not know him in the flesh at all; that I only know him as a Writer on English things in that Révue;7 writer, in particular, of an Essay on myself some 2 or 3 years ago, which seemed to argue a very ingenuous and rather able and amiable man. If on sight you don't like him,—act accordingly without respect of me; who indeed am not cognisant of him beyond what I say, nor concerned in him except as a general son of Adam. That is the real truth; and so enough of that.

How is poor Mrs Browning in this fierce weather? I hardly remember a viler temperature than we have [had]8 for ten days back: grim frozen fog, except a few hours about noon; whirlpools of frosty dust, and a wind direct from Nova Zembla.9 However, it will end soon; and Summer come in spite of all this wriggling and Lancashire up-and-downing on the part of Winter.

We have got thro' the two first volumes (I read them yesterday) of Margt Fuller.10 What she says of me, I suppose, is in the 3d volume: the Pieces in the Newspaper (if that is all, as I suppose) were not perceptibly disagreeable to me.11 Poor Margaret meant well, and she might have read the phenomena infinitely worse, nay it is surprising she didn't. A gigantic Aspiration: in my life I have seen nothing stranger in that kind; and very loveable withal. Except Emerson's part, the Book is but indifferently done;—and indeed poor Yankeeland seems but little wiser than poor England. How I should like to see the flop hat of the old Chansonnier [singer]!12— Adieu, dear Browning,— Yours ever, T. Carlyle