Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19

January 19th 1846 was a pretty busy letter day for our poets. It appears that it was a Monday and there were two letters postmarked from Browning and one from Miss Barrett. This was rather the exception since she was far more prolific than he. He apparently hated writing letters. I suspect that he didn't much like writing poetry either. He complained about both on a pretty regular basis.
At this point they were a year into their relationship, the first letter being sent January 10th 1945. In Browning's first letter, written on Sunday, he is showing his manly side, explaining how he will not allow anyone to hurt the fair Miss Barrett.
"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!"
As is his way, he illustrates his point by telling a long story about a man who bullied his wife into crying to show off in front of a group of men. At which point Browning cuts the heathen husband, "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, 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?'"
Miss Barrett could have no doubt that Browning would be the perfect husband after that tale, could she not?
I personally cannot wait to read Miss B's response to this parley. I have to think that she laughed, I mean who wouldn't?
But even he saw how overwrought his letter was and immediately penned another letter beginning:
"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."
So, of course, she will be too kind to toy with him too much over it. Anyway, that explains why he actually sent two letters on the same day. That probably won't happen again until he has to apologize again. And he will, because he is an opinionated, headstrong lad.
Meanwhile, Miss B is not happy because the Athenæum has given her boy a bad review. Well, he thought it was 'kind and satisfactory' but she wasn't buying that. Her statement that, "You never are misty, not even in 'Sordello'—never vague," surely demonstrates that they must have had some sort of cosmic connection, because, let's face it, most people were not living on Planet Browning and had no clue what he was talking about.
But she follows her denunciation of the idiot critics with a report of her walk downstairs where her brother was "so glad to see" her. She didn't say if she walked back upstairs or if her ‘glad’ brother carried her back up. Either all her brothers were wonderfully strong or she was tiny. Even a tiny woman with all those Mid-Victorian clothes must have been a handful.

Miss B. ends with a bit of glee that Browning would be visiting the next day and she counts his letters,A hundred letters I have, by this last, ... to set against Napoleon's Hundred Days—did you know that?” Of course Napoleon was defeated at the end of his hundred days. Hmm…could there possibly be a hidden meaning here?

The first volume of The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett as edited by their son Robert Barrett Browning can be found at the Project Gutenberg website.

The letters as edited by Elvan Kintner can be purchased used via Amazon. (The footnotes are a delight!)

Also, you can eventually get all of the Browning correspondence from Wedgestone Press which is on volume 18 of their continuing series.

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