Saturday, February 4, 2012

February 4

Browning's letter of February 4, 1846 amuses me because he essentially admits that he lied to Miss Barrett. The previous year, after their first meeting, he had written a letter to Miss Barrett, apparently expressing his love for her in no uncertain terms. This did not go over well with Miss Barrett who panicked a bit and sent the incriminating letter back to him telling him essentially to cool it. None of that love stuff with her, just friendship, thank you. At the end of her letter of response she had told him that their next scheduled visit might have to be rescheduled. Browning saw this as a ploy to lock him out completely and panicked a bit himself, writing another headlong letter which told her she was reading too much into what he said. So complicated. It was this letter of retreat from Browning which Miss Barrett had referred to in the February 3, 1846 letter. I suspect she was feeling him out to see if he still stood by his earlier retreat.

Well, now the truth was out. Backtracking again......

"You ought hardly,—ought you, my Ba?—to refer to that letter or any expression in it; I had—and have, I trust—your forgiveness for what I wrote, meaning to be generous or at least just, God knows. That, and the other like exaggerations were there to serve the purpose of what you properly call a crisis. I did believe,—taking an expression, in the note that occasioned mine, in connection with an excuse which came in the postscript for not seeing me on the day previously appointed, I did fully believe that you were about to deny me admittance again unless I blotted out—not merely softened down—the past avowal. All was wrong, foolish, but from a good notion, I dare to say."

"I am as little likely to be led by delusions as can be,—...whereas I saw the plain truth without one mistake,.....about which, first I was very sorry, and after rather proud—...." (I was right, you did love me after all! Ha!)

The last paragraph of this short letter is Browning's attempt, in a very delicate fashion to address her use of opium. One must tread lightly when discussing personal medical issues with Victorian ladies.

"And as you amuse me sometimes, as now, by seeming surprised at some chance expression of a truth which is grown a veriest commonplace to me—like Charles Lamb's 'letter to an elderly man whose education had been neglected'—when he finds himself involuntarily communicating truths above the capacity and acquirements of his friend, and stops himself after this fashion—'If you look round the world, my dear Sir—for it is round!—so I will make you laugh at me, if you will, for my inordinate delight at hearing the success of your experiment with the opium. I never dared, nor shall dare inquire into your use of that—for, knowing you utterly as I do, I know you only bend to the most absolute necessity in taking more or less of it—so that increase of the quantity must mean simply increased weakness, illness—and diminution, diminished illness. And now there is diminution!"

Careful, careful lest a nerve be touched and the door swung shut again....more will she respond to this gentle, typically analogy filled, query. If she waits a day to respond, will he panic?

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