Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 6, 2013

Happy Birthday Greetings
Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
on the
207th Anniversary of Her Natal Day
Rather than a letter today I offer a description of Mrs. Browning by Nathaniel Hawthorne written in Florence, June 9, 1858:
"Mrs. Browning met us at the door of the drawing-room, and greeted us most kindly - a pale, small person, scarcely embodied at all; at any rate, only substantial enough to put forth her slender fingers to be grasped, and to speak with a shrill, yet sweet, tenuity of voice. Really, I do not see how Mr. Browning can suppose that he has an earthly wife any more than an earthly child; both are of the elfin-race, and will flit away from him some day when he least thinks of it. She is a good and kind fairy, however, and sweetly disposed towards the human race, although only remotely akin to it. It is wonderful to see how small she is, how pale her cheek, how bright and dark her eyes. There is not such another figure in this world; and her black ringlets  cluster down into her neck, and make her face look the whiter by their sable profusion. I could not form an judgement about her age; it may range any where within the limits of human life, or elfin-life. When I met her in London, at Lord Houghton's breakfast-table she did not impress me so singularly; for the morning light is more prosaic that the dim illumination of the great tapestried drawing-room; and besides, sitting next to her, she did not have occasion to raise her voice in speaking, and I was not sensible what a slender voice she has. It is marvellous to me how extraordinary, so acute, so sensitive a creature, can impress us, as she does, with the certainty of her benevolence. It seems to me there were a million chances to one that she would have been a miracle of acidity and bitterness." 
Elsewhere Hawthorne noted that her speaking voice was, " if a grasshopper should speak."

Happy you could stop by our world, Mrs. Browning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20, 1852

There is one note extant that Mrs. Browning wrote to Browning after they were married. Their child was ill and she had to send for Browning at a society dinner on February 20, 1852:

You had better I think bring Dr. Macarthy or somebody with you to see Baby. He had had another attack, decidedly worse in character, & though he is now asleep, yet it may return, & we ought to know what to do at once--Don't be frightened. You know I lose my head--but really it is best that you shd. bring some one--Your Ba-"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14

I could not resist a love letter on Valentine's Day, although this letter from Browning is postmarked May 10, 1846. As usual he tries to muddle it up, but his meaning actually comes through pretty clear:

"I am always telling you, because always feeling, that I can express nothing of what goes from my heart to you, my Ba: but there is a certain choice I have all along exercised, of subjects on which I would try and express somewhat—while others might be let alone with less disadvantage. When we first met, it was in your thought that I loved you only for your poetry .. I think you thought that: and because one might be imagined to love that and not you,—because everybody must love it, indeed, that is worthy, and yet needs not of necessity love you,—yet might mistake, or determine to love you thro’ loving it .. for all these reasons, there was not the immediate demand on me for a full expression of my admiration for your intellectuality,—do you see?—rather, it was proper to insist as little as possible on it, and speak to the woman, Ba, simply—and so I have tried to speak,—partly, in truth, because I love her best, and love her mind by the light and warmth of her heart—reading her verses, saying 'and these are Ba’s',—not kissing her lips because they spoke the verses. But it does not follow that I have lost the sense of any delight that has its source in you, my dearest, dearest,—however I may choose to live habitually with certain others in preference. I would shut myself up with you, and die to the world, and live out fifty long,—long lives in bliss through your sole presence—but it is no less true that it will also be an ineffable pride,—something too sweet for the name of pride,—to avow myself, before anyone whose good opinion I am solicitous to retain, as so distinguished by you—it is too sweet, indeed,—so I guard against it,—for frequent allusion to it, might, .. (as I stammer, and make plain things unintelligible) .. might cause you to misconceive me, .. which would be dreadful .. for after all, Ba’s head has given the crown its worth,—though a wondrous crown it is, too!– All this means .. the avowal we were speaking of, will be a heart’s pride—above every other pride whenever you decide on making such an avowal. You will understand as you do ever your own RB"
Not that there is anything wrong with kissing a genius--but it is incidental to the genius that the kissing takes place. Just to be clear.

—On getting home I found letters and letters—the best being a summons to meet Tennyson at Moxon’s on Tuesday,—and the frightfullest .. nay, I will send it. Now, Ba, hold my hand from the distant room, tighter than ever, at about 8. o’clock on Wednesday, .. for I must go, I fear. 'Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking ..' &c &c 'ἐα, ἐα, ἀπεχε, φευ [ah, ah, refrain alas].' Then Mr Kenyon writes that his friend Commodore Jones is returned to England in bad health and that he must away to Portsmouth and see him. So I do not go on Monday. While I was away Chorley’s brother (John Chorley) called,—having been put to the trouble of a journey hither for nothing.

I have been out this morning—to church with my sister—and the sun shone almost oppressively,—but now all is black, and threatening. How I send my heart after your possible movements, my own all-beloved! Care for yourself, and for me. But a few months more,—if God shall please! May He bless you.

Ever your own RB

Hail and rain—at a quarter to four o’clock!"
Happy Valentine's Day to all the Blogoleers out there in BarrettBrowningBlogland!

Friday, January 25, 2013

October 17, 1858

As an encore I want to share a brief extract from a letter Mrs. Browning wrote to her sister Arabel. She is writing from Paris. It gives a glimpse of daily life with the Browning family as Mrs. B goes shopping with her eight year old son and her maid Annunciata.  Browning's sister Sarianna also makes a guest appearance. I get a kick out of this because it reflects her light touch and her frustration with her husband's frugality:

"Let me see what I have to tell you of our doings, less sad than that. In the first place-My bonnet came home very, very pretty--but as there was something I wanted changed, I went the next morning to have it done & to pay for it, Annunciata & Peni going with me,--& Robert gave me two napoleons for the purpose. On our arrival at the Modiste's,...purse gone!-Dropped in the street! Imagine the agreeable surprise!- So I had to retrace my steps in a deep state of humiliation-Penini full of compassion, proposed my waiting in a shop, while he ran on to 'tell Papa & get it over' -- & when I objected that 'we must confess our own sins',..'no,' said he, 'I won't let you- I'll be the priest this time!' So, off he ran full speed, & by the time I reached the door of our apartment, there was Robert perfectly magnanimous & forgiving, coming to pity & bring more money. It was very, very good of him- Still, as I say, he is human, & I expect to be reminded of it three times a day to the Day of Judgement."

We can see who holds the purse stings--and who doesn't! Of course, I looked these coins up on Wiki and the gold napoleons came in 20 and 40 franc denominations. And yes, at that time, the French were using real gold as currency. Apparently Pen was expecting the worst. But read on mon chere!

"Since then, I have been out buying last purchases, generally under guardianship-Twice, Sarianna arrived just as I was going out, & so accompanied me. Once, Robert went himself- I have bought a warm petticoat-'English'--red & black--twelve francs, & a pretty parasol, ten francs. Robert has bought an artist's manikin--& an opera glass, single, of great power for 30 francs-"

Robert went on a splurge there! As for the manikin and opera glass: so much for Mr. Frugality. And she was the one who needed guardianship! The difference being: she didn't care what he spent-she didn't care about money.

I don't know about you, but I am very interested in this red and black 'English' petticoat. That is a fairly radical color combination. Something else of note, she seems in pretty robust health (for her) in 1858, walking about Paris in the middle of October. I am guessing that the cool weather hadn't set in yet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not a Farewell...

I started this blog a year ago on a whim. Part of me believed that I could never sustain it for a year, but the letters were so interesting the blog really wrote itself. I enjoyed the research it took to interpret the letters. Perhaps because I started it on a whim there are things I would have done differently. The main think I would have done differently would have been beginning at the beginning of the courtship and follow it through until they left for Italy. As it was I squeezed two years-or more-together on one page. But it wasn't a fatal error. You and I both survived.

Also, when I began, and for a time, I included letters from other years and to other people. But over time I became more interested in following the thread of the courtship letters. Also, during this time I read the two volume set of Mrs. Browning's letters to her sister Arabel. I finished those letters at about the same time as the blog wound down. Mrs. Browning's sister Henrietta died in November 1860 and as her health began to fail her in late 1860 and early 1861 the depression she was going through seemed to be affecting me as I nightly read her letters. She seemed at times to lose her faith and talk herself back into it in the same paragraph. Her letters to Arabel were cathartic. At one point Arabel was apparently offended by Mrs. Browning's seeming lecture on not embracing grief and she had to explain that she was referring to herself and not Arabel. And then Mrs. Browning died all over again, 152 years later. My rational mind laughs at the absurdity of being sad about it, she would be very old indeed if she lived on.

I have also read many biographies over the past year and most of them are really bad. Only the more modern ones give me any hope for the profession of literary biographer. Too many of them have a strange prejudice against one or the other of the poets. Biographers are judgemental and so very orthodox. I plead with any of you to read the primary material rather than taking the biographers word for anything. I have read some real howlers from the biographer fraternity. They take quotes out of context, apply quotes to the wrong year, the wrong circumstance and the wrong poem. Many of the biographers of the early twentieth century made a romantic hash of the love story, making Browning into some kind of demi-god and Miss Barrett into something of a simpleton. What I make of them may be a irrelevant, but Browning was not a god and Miss Barrett was not a simpleton. Their relationship was not understood by them; I have no claim on understanding it any better than they did. I think Browning was a very conventional man, very conservative in many ways. He was no iconoclast, he conformed in almost every way to societal standards and norms. Mrs. Browning was far more unconventional in her thoughts and really very brave. She was not scared to tell the world, through her poetry, that she admired Napoleon III and supported the struggle for Italian unification. She became unpopular in her home country for her political views. She did not care. She was also very bold in her religion. She embraced and rejected most Christian religions. She went to Catholic Mass and many other mix and match services. She scandalized her conservative sister by allowing her young son to reenact the mass in exact detail in the drawing room. I think she was more interested that this young boy could remember all the words and actions of the priests and reproduce them, than worried that he might absorb the meaning and become a papist. Her letters are full of antidotes where she described things that she did which upset her conservative husband. (She let her dog Flush run free in the church with the other Italian dogs and he urinated on the altar, which she found amusing and Browning found appalling. He couldn't take her anywhere!) She was boldly anti-slavery, writing a very shocking (for the time--tepid for today) poem about a slave, pregnant by her master, who kills the offspring of the rape. She wrote about the conditions of child labor and in her masterwork took on the state of 19th century women, addressing rape, the class system, the education of women and the inability of women to choose their own profession. She was not scared. But Browning was.

I have mentioned many times in the blog that Browning was in a perpetual state of embarrassment. Some may call this modesty. But this seems to point to his conventionality. His wife embarrassed him on a regular basis. He was embarrassed by her politics and by her interest in spiritualism. The editors who publish the letters of the Browning's usually begin with an explanation of why they are publishing private letters. These discussion are often uncomfortable sessions in which they quote Browning's letters(!) explaining why he didn't want their letters published. He spent quite a bit of time in his later years trying to retrieve his wife's letters from people who might publish them and burning his own. Usually they quote from letters Browning wrote to his brother-in-law George Barrett in which Browning appeals to George and the other Barrett brothers to protect Mrs. Browning after his death. He is embarrassed especially by her enthusiastic interest in Spiritualism. He believed that this interest would ruin her reputation. Her unconventional religious inquiries seem pretty mainstream today and even conservative. From reading her letters it is perfectly clear that she desperately wanted to communicate with the dead but her experiments were almost total failures. She was not blind to this and always wanted controls and proof but seldom got proof, although she did get a lot of excited testimony about phenomena other people had experienced.

The Browning letters which remain are, for the most part, not especially interesting. The letters to his sister and later his son are mostly missing. Sarianna was his only intimate receiving letters. Even his letters to Isa Blagdon, which are interesting, are not especially revealing. They do not compare in power to the letters of his wife. I think ultimately he could not bring himself to destroy her letters because he knew how brilliant they are. And Mrs. Browning, I believe, knew that her letters might be published one day. I suspect she wrote, especially to her literary correspondents, with this in mind. And she was amazingly prolific; Wedgestone Press predicts that the entire set of the Browning Correspondence will run to forty volumes. However, she specifically and angrily stated she wanted people to wait until she was dead before they picked through her letters.

I often tell people that Mrs. Browning's letter remind me of "Letters from 'Nam". She wrote to each person for that person. A specific audience. Her letters to her sisters for the most part stuck to family news, sisterly news. She didn't discuss literature and politics to a great extent with her sisters and she shaped her religious discussions with them to reflect what she could agree with them about, occasionally tossing in a recommended book that would help to explain her less than conventional views. Trying to explain the brilliance of George Sand she recommended the less her salacious offerings. Her letters to her brother George have a totally different tone. She wrote to her brother on a higher level, treating him as a brother to be teased but as an intellectual equal. Which is not to say that she wasn't willing to portray herself as a weak and feeble woman, if it was required. Her letter to George at the time of her marriage and retreat from Wimpole Street is brilliant. The tone is perfect, reflecting excellent reasoning. It is not overly emotional nor pleading. It did not work, George did not forgive her for several years, but I suspect that it wasn't the fault of the letter, but instead, the fact that George had to protect his own position in the Barrett household which kept him from embracing her life change. Another of her brilliant letters was written two months prior to her death, even as her letters to Arabel were reflecting her personal despair. She had submitted a poem to be published in Cornhill Magazine which was rejected on decency grounds by the editor William Makepiece Thackeray. Her response to him was clever and witty and defended her poem as highly moral,  simply addressing a difficult subject. It in no way reflected the personal turmoil she was emerging from nor her poor health and wonderfully illustrates how her letters are tailored to her audience.

I want to comment as well about our poets relationship after they left England. Miss Barrett's fears that Browning would be disappointed in her and that he would throw his life away taking care of her dogged her to the end. Her health did improve a great deal in the sun of Italy but she remained fragile and gradually she withdrew physically more and more. You can see glimpses of her frustration in her letters to her sisters. The couple were together so much you see the frayed edges, almost always touched on with humor. We saw glimpses of Browning's temper in the courtship letters--never directed to her. We also saw how Miss Barrett feared verbal confrontations of any kind. We see in Mrs. Browning's letters to Arabel that there were times when she had to explain her husband's ill humors and address Arabel's contention that they were always quarreling during their visit to England. There were periods where Mrs. Browning did not speak to her husband about certain topics, usually spiritualism but also politics. She also grew frustrated at her husband's careful way with money. He never wanted to be accused of milking his wife dry--he was so very scrupulous--and she did not care. She knew he was honest to a fault. He took care of her to the very end. He carried her everywhere. Her descriptions of him bundling her up against the cold and cramming her head first into the carriage like a very large package are wonderful examples of her light touch. At one point in Rome he had to carry her up 88 steps to their apartment. She was very tiny and he was very strong. (They also used a devise called "The Queens Chair" to get her up the stairs.) Some biographers try to contend that his poems reflect his disappointment in her and their relationship. I do not believe that. For a man who burned almost all of his personal letters to write poems about his frustration with his wife I find ridiculous. Of course his poems reflected life, but we can see that he was able to address all situations from many angles. I think some people are desperate to find a thesis for their dissertations. After her death he did begin addressing her in his poems but these poems suggest a mythification, a longing, a frustration with his own long life and finally an acceptance. He did not have much luck with women after his wife's death although I suspect he was an incorrigible flirt. He loved the attention of pretty ladies. What man doesn't? But what does this all add up to? They were normal. But extraordinarily normal. They had a extraordinarily normal marriage.

Now, I am going to take a bit of a break from the blog. I am not going to stop completely. There will be a special treat on February 20 that you can look forward to. It is the only extant letter written by Mrs. Browning to her husband after they left England in 1846. I won't tease you too much. I may even pop back in before that if I find something of interest. I was able to get volume 6 of the correspondence for next to no money on eBay. They are $110.00 a volume if you buy them new so I consider myself lucky to have gotten this volume for $16.00.

I also would like to thank the editors of the most recent edition of the courtship letters for not suing me for copyright infringement. The letters are in the public domain, you can get them on The Gutenberg Project website, but I suspect that I may have been in violation of some law. I used their footnotes to guide my research. A shocking admission I know.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 19, 1846

Browning rethinks his letter of the 18th, on the 19th:

"Monday Mg

Love, if you knew but how vexed I was, so very few minutes after my note left last night, how angry with the unnecessary harshness into which some of the phrases might be construed—you would forgive me, indeed– But, when all is confessed and forgiven, the fact remains—that it would be the one trial I know I should not be able to bear,—the repetition of those 'scenes'—intolerable—not to be written of, even—my mind refuses to form a clear conception of them–"
Browning would beat down Papa Barrett if he hurt Miss Barrett. Emotionally speaking, of course. Oh yeah, I think he might. Well, maybe not. But I like to think he would.


"My own loved letter is come—and the news,—of which the reassuring postscript lets the interrupted joy flow on again. Well, and I am not to be grateful for that,—nor that you do 'eat your dinner'?– Indeed you will be ingenious to prevent me! I fancy myself meeting you on 'the stairs'—stairs and passages generally, and galleries, (ah, those indeed!)—all, with their picturesque accidents, of landing-places, and spiral heights & depths, and sudden turns, and visions of half-open doors into what Quarles calls 'mollitious chambers'—and above all, landing-placesthey are my heart’s delight– I would come upon you unaware on a landing-place in my next dream! One day we may walk in the galleries round and over the inner-court of the Doges’ Palace at Venice,—and read, on tablets against the wall, how such an one was banished for an 'enormous dig (intacco) into the public treasure'—another for .. what you are not to know because his friends have got chisels and chipped away the record of it—underneath the 'giants' on their stands, and in the midst of the cortile [courtyard] the bronze fountains whence the girls draw water–"
Browning really does like this idea of wandering around passages and stairs looking for someone. There are two poems in Men and Women, published in 1855, which this passage make me think of. Love in a Life and Life in a Love both have this theme of chasing after someone.
Love in a Life
Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her,
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch's perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew,— 
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.

Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune— 
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But 'tis twilight, you see,—with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!

Life in a Love

Escape me?
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth
While the one eludes, must the other pursue. My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,---
So the chase takes up one's life ' that's all. While, look but once from your farthest bound

At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me---

But what is lasting love but a continual interest in the one you love, a constant ambition to remain in love and discover something new to love in your love?

"So you too wrote French verses?– Mine were of less lofty argument—one couplet makes me laugh now for the reason of its false quantity– I translated the Ode of Alcæus,—and the last couplet ran thus ..
Harmodius, et toi, cher Aristogĭton!
∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
Comme l’astre du jour, brillera votre nom!
[Harmodious, and you too, dear Aristogiton!
 Your names will shine like the morning star!]

The fact was, I could not bear to hurt my French Master’s feelings—who inveterately maltreated 'αι’s and οι’s' and in this instance, an 'ει'– But 'Pauline' is altogether of a different sort of precocity—you shall see it when I can muster resolution to transcribe the explanation which I know is on the fly-leaf of a copy here– Of that work, the Athenæum said <…>—now, what outrageous folly,—I care, and you care, precisely nothing about its sayings and doings—yet here I talk!"
He crossed out a few lines of what the Athenæum 'said' about Pauline. I mean why bother? And how funny that he explains to her that Pauline is a 'different sort of precocity.' Indeed! She will see soon enough.

"Now to you—Ba! When I go thro’ sweetness to sweetness, at 'Ba' I stop last of all, and lie and rest. That is the quintessence of them all,—they all take colour and flavour from that– So, dear, dear Ba, be glad as you can to see me tomorrow– God knows how I embalm every such day,—I do not believe that one of the forty is confounded with another in my memory. So, that is gained and sure for ever. And of letters, this makes my 104th and, like Donne’s Bride, 'I take / My jewels from their boxes; call / My Diamonds, Pearls and Emeralds, and make / Myself a constellation of them all!'–Bless you, my own Beloved!"
Forty visits. From May to January that makes about eight a month. That's a pretty good pace for Mr. Barrett not to have caught on at all. No wonder he gets upset when she takes off with this Browning fellow. Who does he think he is? Mister Barrett trusted her. I wonder  what he thought was going on between these two when he was away in the city. Oh dear, think of the melancholy thoughts of his ruined daughter who had to run away with her lover. The shame of this failure of a father and protector. That is my attempt at advocacy for Mr. Barrett.

"—I am much better to-day—having been not so well yesterday—whence the note to you, perhaps! I put that to your charity for construction. By the way, let the foolish and needless story about my whilome friend be of this use, that it records one of the traits in that same generous lover of me, I once mentioned, I remember—one of the points in his character which, I told you, would account, if you heard them, for my parting company with a good deal of warmth of attachment to myself."
Mr. Footnote offers no help in telling us who this friend was who was so cruel to his wife, but apparently Miss Barrett knows who he is referring to.

What a day! But you do not so much care for rain, I think. My mother is no worse, but still suffering sadly.

Ever your own, dearest—ever–RB"
Well, we are back where I began this blog a year ago. We have met again, midpoint in the proceedings.

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 18, 1846

We get two letters to play with today. First, Miss Barrett is not happy with Chorley's review of Browning's Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in The Athenæum:


Your letter came just after the hope of one had past—the latest saturday post had gone, they said: & I was beginning to be as vexed as possible, looking into the long letterless sunday. Then, suddenly came the knock—the postman redivivus .. just when it seemed so beyond hoping for––it was half past eight, observe .. & there had been a post at nearly eight—suddenly came the knock, & your letter with it. Was I not glad, do you think?"
I don't know. How vexed would it be possible for Miss Barrett to get? Would she throw the crockery and upset the table if she didn't get a letter?

"And you call the Athenæum 'kind & satisfactory'? Well—I was angry instead. To make us wait so long for an ‘article’ like that, was not over-kind certainly, nor was it 'satisfactory' to class your peculiar qualities with other contemporary ones, as if they were not peculiar. It seemed to me cold & cautious, .. from the causes perhaps which you mention .. but the extracts will work their own way with everybody who knows what poetry is, & for others, let the critic do his worst with them. For what is said of 'mist' I have no patience,—because I who know when you are obscure & never think of denying it in some of your former works, do hold that this last number is as clear & self sufficing to a common understanding, as far as the expression & medium goes, as any book in the world, & that Mr Chorley was bound in verity to say so. If I except that one stanza, you know, it is to make the general observation stronger. And then 'mist' is an infamous word for your kind of obscurity– You never are misty, not even in Sordello .. never vague. Your graver cuts deep sharp lines always—& there is an extra-distinctness in your images & thoughts, from the midst of which, crossing each other infinitely, the general significance seems to escape. So that to talk of a ‘mist,’ when you are obscurest, is an impotent thing to do—— Indeed it makes me angry."
First she was preparing to be vexed, now she is angry. Her discussion of Browning's obscurity not being 'misty' nor 'vague' may or may not be true. But note the vehemence. Her objection to this criticism may be valid, but hardly anger inducing. This is a demonstration of her loyalty and her constancy. She makes a more valid point in her next paragraph:

"But the suggested virtue of 'selfrenunciation' only made me smile, because it is simply nonsense .. nonsense which proves itself to be nonsense at a glance. So genius is to renounce itself .. that is the new critical doctrine, is it? Now is it not foolish? To recognize the poetical faculty of a man, & then to instruct him in 'selfrenunciation' in that very relation—or rather, to hint the virtue of it, & hesitate the dislike of his doing otherwise? What atheists these critics are after all—& how the old heathens understood the divinity of gifts, better, beyond any comparison. We may take shame to ourselves, looking back–"
If you are going to renounce yourself to make yourself more popular with the general reader, this is all well and good. However, if you choose not to, if you choose to create poetry that is not readily accessible for the general reader you must be prepared to be rejected by the general reader. You cannot then call the reviewers who write for a general readership 'fools'. I look at this in contrast to Browning's argument in favor of dueling. He argued that to live in society you must conform to societal norms. Miss Barrett strongly rejected this and felt that you must do what is morally correct, no matter the circumstance. She is consistent here with her argument that Browning must not renounce his 'genius' to conform to the ignorance of the public and the reviewers. Browning, of course, did attempt for a time to be more commercially viable and was still rejected and ultimately went his own way and came to public acceptance through the back door of romantic myth; revered by academia and mythologized by the reading public.

"Now, shall I tell you what I did yesterday. It was so warm, so warm, the thermometer at 68 in this room, that I took it into my head to call it April instead of January, & put on a cloak & walked down stairs into the drawing room .. walked, mind!– Before, I was carried by one of my brothers, .. even to the last autumn-day when I went out … I never walked a step for fear of the cold in the passages. But yesterday it was so wonderfully warm, & I so strong besides—it was a feat worthy of the day—& I surprised them all as much as if I had walked out of the window instead. That kind dear Stormie who with all his shyness & awkwardness has the most loving of hearts in him, said that he was ‘so glad to see me’!–

Well!—setting aside the glory of it, it would have been as wise perhaps if I had abstained .. our damp detestable climate reaches us otherwise than by cold, & I am not quite as well as usual this morning after an uncomfortable feverish night—not very unwell, mind, nor unwell at all in the least degree of consequence: & I tell you, only to show how susceptible I really am still, though 'scarcely an invalid' say the complimenters."
Well, well, this is a development. I wonder if she walked back up the stairs, for that can be the challenge. But an improvement. It is interesting to see her leak this information to Browning. From the way she words it it seems that he was unaware of the fact that she could not walk down the stairs. I wonder what his reaction to this information will be, both known and unknown. He knows she is an 'invalid' but I wonder if he knows the extent of her incapacity. I have to doubt it, given the very timid nature of their relationship.

"What a way I am from your letter .. that letter .. or seem to be rather—for one may think of one thing & yet go on writing distractedly of other things. So you are ‘grateful’ to my sisters .. you! Now I beseech you not to talk such extravagances,—I mean such extravagances as words like these imply—& there are far worse words than these, in the letter .. such as I need not put my finger on,—words which are sense on my lips but no sense at all on yours, & which make me disquietedly sure that you are under an illusion. Observe!—certainly I should not choose to have a 'claim' see! Only, what I object to, in ‘illusions’, ‘miracles’, & things of that sort, is the want of continuity common to such. When Joshua caused the sun to stand still, it was not for a year even!– Ungrateful, I am!"
See how she dissects each word and makes excruciating points? I do see the distinction that she is trying to make--that miracles and illusions are short term things. But here again--as with the objection to the description of Browning's poetry as 'misty'-- she seem to be overly semantic in her arguments. Picking nits as the older folks like to say. Yes, she does seem 'ungrateful' when she goes on that way. But here again, she is safe with Browning, he will never fault her, although he might get frustrated with her negative argumentation. She, however, can't help herself, she is humble to a fault.

"And 'pretty well' means 'not well' I am afraid—or I should be gladder still of the new act– You will tell me on tuesday what 'pretty well' means, & if your mother is better—or I may have a letter tomorrow ––dearest!– May God bless you!–

Tomorrow too, at half past three oclock, how joyful I shall be that my 'kind considerateness' decided not to receive you until tuesday. My very kind considerateness, .. which made me eat my dinner, today!–

Your own Ba–

A hundred letters I have, by this last, .. to set against Napoleon’s Hundred Days—did you know that?

So much better I am tonight! it was nothing but a little chill from the damp—the fog, you see!–"
She ends on a cheery note. What does Browning have to say for himself? OH NO! Another epic:
"Sunday Evening.
You may have seen, I put off all the weighty business-part of the letter—but I shall do very little with it now: to be sure, a few words will serve, because you understand me, and believe in enough of me– First then, I am wholly satisfied, thoroughly made happy in your assuranceI would build up an infinity of lives, if I could plan them, one on the other, and all resting on you, on your word– I fully believe in it,—of my feeling, the gratitude, let there be no attempt to speak. And for 'waiting',—'not hurrying',—I leave all with you henceforth—all you say is most wise, most convincing."
Browning is responding here to Miss Barrett's letter of the 15th in which she describes her father's reaction and presumed reaction to any move by his children into the married state. Her letter rather sets Browning off:
"On the saddest part of all,—silence. You understand, and I can understand thro’ you. Do you know, that I never used to dream unless indisposed, and rarely then—(of late I dream of you, but quite of late)—and those nightmare dreams have invariably been of one sort—I stand by (powerless to interpose by a word even) and see the infliction of tyranny on the unresisting—man or beast (generally the last)—and I wake just in time not to die: let no one try this kind of experiment on me or mine! Tho’ I have observed that by a felicitous arrangement, the man with the whip puts it into use with an old horse commonly: I once knew a fine specimen of the boilingly passionate, desperately respectable on the Eastern principle that reverences a madman—and this fellow, whom it was to be death to oppose, (some bloodvessel was to break)he, once at a dinner party at which I was present, insulted his wife (a young pretty simple believer in his awful immunities from the ordinary terms that keep men in order)—brought the tears into her eyes and sent her from the room .. purely to 'show off' in the eyes of his guests .. (all males, law-friends &c he being a lawyer.) This feat accomplished, he, too, left us with an affectation of compensating relentment, to 'just say a word and return'—and no sooner was his back to the door than the biggest, stupidest of the company began to remark 'what a fortunate thing it was that Mr So & So had such a submissive wife—not one of the women who would resist,—that is, attempt to resist—and so exasperate our gentleman into .. Heaven only knew what!'– I said it was, in one sense, a fortunate thing,—because one of those women, without necessarily being the lion-tressed Bellona [the goddes of war], would richly give him his desert, I thought– 'Oh, indeed? No—this man was not to be opposed, wait, you might, till the fit was over, and then try what kind argument could do'—and so forth to unspeakable nausea. Presently we went up-stairs—there sate the wife with dried eyes and a smile at the tea table—and by her, in all the pride of conquest, with her hand in his, our friend—disposed to be very good-natured of course– I listened arrectis auribus[with ears pricked]—and in a minute he said he did not know somebody I mentioned– I told him, that I easily conceived—such a person would never condescend to know him, &c, and treated him to every consequence ingenuity could draw from that text—and at the end marched out of the room,—and the valorous man, who had sate like a post, got up, took a candle, followed me to the door, and only said in unfeigned wonder, 'what can have possessed you, my dear B?' —All which I as much expected beforehand, as that the above-mentioned man of the whip keeps it quiet in the presence of an ordinary-couraged dog– All this is quite irrelevant to the case .. indeed, I write to get rid of the thought altogether: but I do hold it the most stringent duty of all who can, to stop a condition, a relation of one human being to another which God never allowed to exist between Him and ourselves– Trees live and die, if you please, and accept will for a law—but with us, all commands surely refer to a previously-implanted conviction in ourselves of their rationality and justice—or why declare that 'the Lord is holy, just and good' unless there is recognized and independent conception of holiness and goodness, to which the subsequent assertion is referable? 'You know what holiness is, what it is to be good? Then, He is that'—not, 'that is so—because he is that'; tho’, of course, when once the converse is demonstrated, this, too, follows, and may be urged for practical purposes– All God’s urgency, so to speak, is on the justice of his judgments, rightness of his rule: yet why? one might ask—if one does believe that the rule is his,—why ask further?– Because, his is a 'reasonable service', once for all–"
I love this: " stop a condition...which God never allowed to exist between Him and ourselves...but with us, all commands surely refer to a previously-implanted conviction in ourselves of their rationality and justice....Because, his is a 'reasonable service', once for all-" Hey, that Browning is a Christian and a Gentleman! The implications here are immense.
"Understand why I turn my thoughts in this direction—if it is indeed as you fear—and no endeavour, concession, on my part will avail, under any circumstances—(and by endeavour, I mean all heart & soul could bring the flesh to perform)—in that case, you will not come to me with a shadow past hope of chasing–
The likelihood is—I over frighten myself for you, by the involuntary contrast with those here—you allude to them—if I went with this letter downstairs and said simply 'I want this taken to the direction to-night—and am unwell & unable to go—will you take it now?' —My father would not say a word,—or rather would say a dozen cheerful absurdities about his 'wanting a walk', 'just having been wishing to go out' &c– At night he sits studying my works—illustrating them (I will bring you drawings to make you laugh)—and yesterday I picked up a crumpled bit of paper .. 'his notion of what a criticism on this last number ought to be,—none, that have appeared, satisfying him!'– So judge of what he will say!—(And my mother loves me just as much more as must of necessity be–)"
I have to say that Mr. Barrett would surely do the same for his daughter, I cannot imagine that he would not. It is a simple enough thing to mail a letter, but I get his drift: his family will support him no matter what; Miss Barrett lives under a will that will not bend to her need for marriage.
"Once more, understand all this .. for the clock scares me of a sudden—I meant to say more—far more.
But may God bless you ever—my own dearest, my Ba–
I am wholly your RB. (Tuesday)."
A strong letter from Browning with a little show of anger and frustration on his part. Perfectly understandable in the circumstances. Miss Barrett's reaction will, I am sure, soften the harsh tone.