Thursday, March 13, 2008

rosicrucians and cloaks

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Wednesday.[Post-mark, October 1, 1845.]

I have read to the last line of your 'Rosicrucian'*; and my scepticism grew and grew through Hume's process of doubtful doubts, and at last rose to the full stature of incredulity ... for I never could believe Shelley capable of such a book (call it a book!), not even with a flood of boarding-school idiocy dashed in by way of dilution. Altogether it roused me to deny myself so far as to look at the date of the book, and to get up and travel to the other end of the room to confront it with other dates in the 'Letters from Abroad' **... (I, who never think of a date except the 'A.D.,' and am inclined every now and then to write that down as 1548 ...) well! and on comparing these dates in these two volumes before my eyes, I find that your Rosicrucian was 'printed for Stockdale' in 1822***, and that Shelley died in the July of the same year!!—There, is a vindicating fact for you! And unless the 'Rosicrucian' went into more editions than one, and dates here from a later one, ... which is not ascertainable from this fragment of a titlepage, ... the innocence of the great poet stands proved—now doesn't it? For nobody will say that he published such a book in the last year of his life, in the maturity of his genius, and that Godwin's daughter helped him in it! That 'dripping dew' from the skeleton is the only living word in the book!—which really amused me notwithstanding, from the intense absurdity of the whole composition ... descriptions ... sentiments ... and morals.

Judge yourself if I had not better say 'No' about the cloak! I would take it if you wished such a kindness to me—and although you might find it very useful to yourself ... or to your mother or sister ... still if you wished me to take it I should like to have it, and the mantle of the prophet might bring me down something of his spirit! but do you remember ... do you consider ... how many talkers there are in this house, and what would be talked—or that it is not worth while to provoke it all? And Papa, knowing it, would not like it—and altogether it is far better, believe me, that you should keep your own cloak, and I, the thought of the kindness you meditated in respect to it. I have heard nothing more—nothing.

I was asked the other day by a very young friend of mine ... the daughter of an older friend who once followed you up-stairs in this house ... Mr. Hunter, an Independent minister ... for 'Mr. Browning's autograph.' She wants it for a collection ... for her album—and so, will you write out a verse or two on one side of note paper ... not as you write for the printers ... and let me keep my promise and send it to her? I forgot to ask you before. Or one verse will do ... anything will do ... and don't let me be bringing you into vexation. It need not be of MS. rarity.

You are not better ... really ... I fear. And your mother's being ill affects you more than you like to admit, I fear besides. Will you, when you write, say how both are ... nothing extenuating, you know. May God bless you, my dearest friend.
Ever yours,

* St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: a Romance by Percy Bysshe Shelley, originally published anonymously ["By a Gentleman of the Univesity of Oxford"] in 1811.

** Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mary Shelley (London: Moxon, 1840) 2 vols.

*** Shelley's second gothic tale, St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: a Romance originally published by Stockdale in 1811 and reissued with a new title page in 1822.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

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