Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23

And so February 23, 1846 brought a sweet and calming letter from Browning who begins by confessing a slip of the lip at the previous night's dinner at Mr. Kenyon's.

"So all was altered, my love—and, instead of Miss T. and the other friend, I had your brother and Procter—to my great pleasure. After, I went to that place, and soon got away, and am very well this morning in the sunshine; which I feel with you, do I not? Yesterday after dinner we spoke of Mrs. Jameson, and, as my wont is—(Here your letter reaches me—let me finish this sentence now I have finished kissing you, dearest beyond all dearness—My own heart's Ba!)—oh, as I am used, I left the talking to go on by itself, with the thought busied elsewhere, till at last my own voice startled me for I heard my tongue utter 'Miss Barrett ... that is, Mrs. Jameson says' ... or 'does ... or does not.' I forget which! And if anybody noticed the gaucherie it must have been just your brother!"

But he moves on to the wooing of a letter writer whose 'very ink and paper' is a palliative:

"The other day I stumbled on a quotation from J. Baptista Porta—wherein he avers that any musical instrument made out of wood possessed of medicinal properties retains, being put to use, such virtues undiminished,—and that, for instance, a sick man to whom you should pipe on a pipe of elder-tree would so receive all the advantage derivable from a decoction of its berries. From whence, by a parity of reasoning, I may discover, I think, that the very ink and paper were—ah, what were they?"

And he must comfort her fear that she has been insolent:

"No more, ever, of that strange suspicion—'insolent'—oh, what a word!—nor suppose I shall particularly wonder at its being fancied applicable to that, of all other passages of your letter! It is quite as reasonable to suspect the existence of such a quality there as elsewhere: how can such a thing, could such a thing come from you to me? But, dear Ba, do you know me better! Do feel that I know you, I am bold to believe, and that if you were to run at me with a pointed spear I should be sure it was a golden sanative, Machaon's* touch, for my entire good, that I was opening my heart to receive! As for words, written or spoken—I, who sin forty times in a day by light words, and untrue to the thought, I am certainly not used to be easily offended by other peoples' words, people in the world. But your words!"

*Machaon was a general and physician present at the siege of Troy.
And then he addressed her sad analogy with Browning as a baron who gave his golden baton to a serf (Miss Barrett) in exchange for a hawthorn twig and then laughed and took it back to the amusement of the entire court.

"As for your apologue, it is naught—as you felt, and so broke off—for the baron knew well enough it was a spray of the magical tree which once planted in his domain would shoot up, and out, and all round, and be glorious with leaves and musical with birds' nests, and a fairy safeguard and blessing thenceforward and for ever, when the foolish baton had been broken into ounces of gold, even if gold it were, and spent and vanished: for, he said, such gold lies in the highway, men pick it up, more of it or less; but this one slip of the flowering tree is all of it on this side Paradise. Whereon he laid it to his heart and was happy—in spite of his disastrous chase the night before, when so far from catching an unicorn, he saw not even a respectable prize-heifer, worth the oil-cake and rape-seed it had doubtless cost to rear her—'insolence!'"

So Browning had read Miss Barrett's mood of unrest and was quietly wise and gentle with his nervous lady today even though he had been out the night before at a wild dinner party, chasing unicorns....

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