Tuesday, March 11, 2008

shadow in the glass

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Post-mark, August 8, 1845.]

ust to show what may be lost by my crossings out, I will tell you the story of the one in the 'Duchess'—and in fact it is almost worth telling to a metaphysician like you, on other grounds, that you may draw perhaps some psychological good from the absurdity of it. Hear, then. When I had done writing the sheet of annotations and reflections on your poem I took up my pencil to correct the passages reflected on with the reflections, by the crosses you may observe, just glancing over the writing as I did so. Well! and, where that erasure is, I found a line purporting to be extracted from your 'Duchess,' with sundry acute criticisms and objections quite undeniably strong, following after it; only, to my amazement, as I looked and looked, the line so acutely objected to and purporting, as I say, to, be taken from the 'Duchess,' was by no means to be found in the 'Duchess,' ... nor anything like it, ... and I am certain indeed that, in the 'Duchess' or out of it, you never wrote such a bad line in your life. And so it became a proved thing to me that I had been enacting, in a mystery, both poet and critic together—and one so neutralizing the other, that I took all that pains you remark upon to cross myself out in my double capacity, ... and am now telling the story of it notwithstanding. And there's an obvious moral to the myth, isn't there? for critics who bark the loudest, commonly bark at their own shadow in the glass, as my Flush used to do long and loud, before he gained experience and learnt the γνωθι σεαυτον in the apparition of the brown dog with the glittering dilating eyes, ... and as I did, under the erasure. And another moral springs up of itself in this productive ground; for, you see, ... 'quand je m'efface il n'ya pas grand mal.'

And I am to be made to work very hard, am I? But you should remember that if I did as much writing as last summer, I should not be able to do much else, ... I mean, to go out and walk about ... for really I think I could manage to read your poems and write as I am writing now, with ever so much head-work of my own going on at the same time. But the bodily exercise is different, and I do confess that the novelty of living more in the outer life for the last few months than I have done for years before, make me idle and inclined to be idle—and everybody is idle sometimes—even you perhaps—are you not? For me, you know, I do carpet-work—ask Mrs. Jameson—and I never pretend to be in a perpetual motion of mental industry. Still it may not be quite as bad as you think: I have done some work since 'Prometheus'—only it is nothing worth speaking of and not a part of the romance-poem which is to be some day if I live for it—lyrics for the most part, which lie written illegibly in pure Egyptian—oh, there is time enough, and too much perhaps! and so let me be idle a little now, and enjoy your poems while I can. It is pure enjoyment and must be—but you do not know how much, or you would not talk as you do sometimes ... so wide of any possible application.

And do not talk again of what you would 'sacrifice' for me. If you affect me by it, which is true, you cast me from you farther than ever in the next thought. That is true.

The poems ... yours ... which you left with me,—are full of various power and beauty and character, and you must let me have my own gladness from them in my own way.

Now I must end this letter. Did you go to Chelsea and hear the divine philosophy?

Tell me the truth always ... will you? I mean such truths as may be painful to me though truths....
May God bless you, ever dear friend.

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

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