The Friday Fillip: I Thank You, Dear Mr. Browning

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This is a letter, a rare thing nowadays. It was posted in 1845 by Miss Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Robert Browning, one of 573 love letters exchanged by the two in the course of twenty-one months, all of which are held—and made available online—by Baylor University and Wellesley College.

Coming at them through this link, you’ll see a chronological catalogue, with date, sender and the first line spelled out. (Simply letting your eye drop down the first lines, is a treat; they tease and delight even—or perhaps especially—in this truncated form.) A link beside each item takes you to a scan of the letter, which I find largely undecipherable, even magnified to the max, such a creature of printing have I become. Never fear: beside each MS is a link to the transcribed text.

I invite you to roam in the texts, for here are two of England’s great poets talking to each other, casually, gushingly, imploringly, and with humour. Let me only give you a few excerpts here chosen very much at random.

R to E …I know Tennyson “face to face,”-no more than that. I know Carlyle and love him-know him so well, that I would have told you he had shaken that grand head of his at “singing,” so thoroughly does he love and live by it. When I last saw him, a fortnight ago, he turned, from I don’t know what other talk, quite abruptly on me with “Did you never try to write a Song? Of all things in the world, that I should be proudest to do.”

E to R …Still the “stomp” with the peculiar significance, is better of course than the ‘stamp’ even with a rhyme ready for it, & I dare say you are justified in daring to put this old wine into the new bottle,-& we will drink to the health of the poem in it.

R to E …When I am away from you-a crowd of things press on me for utterance .. “I will say them, not write them,” I think:-when I see you-all to be said seems insignificant, irrelevant,-“they can be written, at all events”-I think that too. So, feeling so much, I say so little!

E to R …Dearest, did I write you a cold letter the last time? Almost it seems so to me! the reason being that my feelings were near to overflow, & that I had to hold the cup straight to prevent the possible dropping on your purple underneath.

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