Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28

So, how did Browning respond to Miss Barrett’s case against her father? I was expecting him to throw a fit of pique, but her calm description of the situation seems to have brought out calm in our hotheaded poet. His letter of January 28, 1846 is short and almost perfectly measured. I say “almost” because he, as ever, wants to add endless digressions. Here it is in full:

Ever dearest—I will say, as you desire, nothing on that subject—but this strictly for myself: you engaged me to consult my own good in the keeping or breaking our engagement; not your good as it might even seem to me; much less seem to another. My only good in this world—that against which all the world goes for nothing—is to spend my life with you, and be yours. You know that when I claim anything, it is really yourself in me—you give me a right and bid me use it, and I, in fact, am most obeying you when I appear most exacting on my own account—so, in that feeling, I dare claim, once for all, and in all possible cases (except that dreadful one of your becoming worse again ... in which case I wait till life ends with both of us), I claim your promise's fulfilment—say, at the summer's end: it cannot be for your good that this state of things should continue. We can go to Italy for a year or two and be happy as day and night are long. For me, I adore you. This is all unnecessary, I feel as I write: but you will think of the main fact as ordained, granted by God, will you not, dearest?—so, not to be put in doubt ever again—then, we can go quietly thinking of after matters. Till to-morrow, and ever after, God bless my heart's own, own Ba. All my soul follows you, love—encircles you—and I live in being yours.

Now wasn’t that nice? He can’t just say it simply, but he somehow gets his thesis out there.

Exactly a year earlier Browning had written only his third letter to Miss Barrett. His letter of January 28, 1845 seems a world away from 1846. His letter reads to me as if he can’t think of anything much to say but tells one of his ubiquitous stories, this time about literary criticism:

Here an odd memory comes—of a friend who,—volunteering such a service to a sonnet-writing somebody, gave him a taste of his quality in a side-column of short criticisms on sonnet the First, and starting off the beginning three lines with, of course, 'bad, worse, worst'—made by a generous mintage of words to meet the sudden run of his epithets, 'worser, worserer, worserest' pay off the second terzet in full—no 'badder, badderer, badderest' fell to the Second's allowance, and 'worser' &c. answered the demands of the Third; 'worster, worsterer, worsterest' supplied the emergency of the Fourth; and, bestowing his last 'worserestest and worstestest' on lines 13 and 14, my friend (slapping his forehead like an emptied strong-box) frankly declared himself bankrupt, and honourably incompetent, to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the rest of the series!

And ends with a complaint against letter writing:

If you hate writing to me as I hate writing to nearly everybody, I pray you never write—if you do, as you say, care for anything I have done. I will simply assure you, that meaning to begin work in deep earnest, begin without affectation, God knows,—I do not know what will help me more than hearing from you,—and therefore, if you do not so very much hate it, I know I shall hear from you—and very little more about your 'tiring me.'

What a difference a year and a visit to Wimpole Street makes. Miss Barrett must have been quite a woman.

1 comment:

  1. I like your comparing a letters year apart. Shows how their relationship grew over time. EBB had to have been a remarkable woman.