On February 25, 1846 Browning responds to Miss Barrett's accusation that he 'came with the intention of loving whomever I should find'. Browning makes one of his typically complicated denials:
"No! wreathed shells and hollows in ruins, and roofs of caves may transform a
voice wonderfully, make more of it or less, or so change it as to almost alter,
but turn a 'no' into a 'yes' can no echo (except the Irish one), and I said 'no'
to such a charge, and still say 'no.' I did have a presentiment—and
though it is hardly possible for me to look back on it now without lending it
the true colours given to it by the event, yet I can put them aside, if I
please, and remember that I not merely hoped it would not be so (not that
the effect I expected to be produced would be less than in anticipation,
certainly I did not hope that, but that it would range itself with the
old feelings of simple reverence and sympathy and friendship, that I should love
you as much as I supposed I could love, and no more) but in the
confidence that nothing could occur to divert me from my intended way of life, I
made—went on making arrangements to return to Italy. You know—did I not tell
you—I wished to see you before I returned? And I had heard of you just so much
as seemed to make it impossible such a relation could ever exist."
Ya got that?
I recently read a biography of Browning covering the period after EBB's death, "Robert Browning: A Life After Death" by Pamela Neville-Sington. It is an interesting book which filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of Browning. But the over-riding impression I got from the author was that Miss Barrett was correct, she did ruin his life, not just through her illnesses but by the burden placed upon him with the dreaded Sonnets. And not just his life with her, but his afterlife as well. He does seem to be an angry man in old age but he was an angry man when he was courting her, let alone 25 years after she had died. I suspect that if she had survived to spend old age with him he still would have been angry but she would have moderated his anger. She seemed to have the knack of teasing him out of his anger. And yes, he was often 'vexed' with her in the later years of their marriage, but anyone who is a caregiver for an invalid loses patience-and she was such an opinionated invalid!
We sometimes forget that great men and women are fully human. Browning, for all of his genius, was a conventional man. Middle-class in his morality and his human tastes, raised up by a woman of a higher standard-as he wanted, but drawn to the conventional all his life. EBB was far more avant garde than he could ever allow himself to be, with her interest in Spiritualism and very unconventional political stands. It was almost like she deliberately courted controversy. As evidence of his conventionality I point to his letters to George Barrett many years after her death in which he expressed acute embarrassment at her letters that discuss Spiritualism and his wish to have them destroyed for fear that they would hurt her reputation. Having said that, all evidence points the fact that he loved her, defended her reputation and held her on her pedestal until he died, despite all of his masculine dalliances. Twenty eight years is a long time for anyone to live in the shadow of the dead.
But let us return to our daily letter. Browning now addresses something that they both have noticed and we have touched on in the blog. The fact that they communicate differently in person than they do through the letters.
"Now I will convince you! yourself have noticed the difference between the
letters and the writer; the greater 'distance of the latter from
you,' why was that? Why, if not because the conduct began with
him, with one who had now seen you—was no continuation of the conduct, as
influenced by the feeling, of the letters—else, they, if near, should
have enabled him, if but in the natural course of time and with increase of
familiarity, to become nearer—but it was not so! The letters began by
loving you after their way—but what a world-wide difference between that
love and the true, the love from seeing and hearing and feeling, since you make
me resolve, what now lies blended so harmoniously, into its component parts...and if you let me, love, I will not again, ever again, consider how it came and
whence, and when, so curiously, so pryingly, but believe that it was always so,
and that it all came at once, all the same; the more unlikelinesses the better,
for they set off the better the truth of truths that here, ('how begot? how
nourished?')—here is the whole wondrous Ba filling my whole heart and soul; and
over-filling it, because she is in all the world, too, where I look, where I
fancy. At the same time, because all is so wondrous and so sweet, do you think
that it would be so difficult for me to analyse it, and give causes to
the effects in sufficiently numerous instances, even to 'justify my
presentiment?' Ah, dear, dearest Ba, I could, could indeed, could account for
all, or enough! But you are unconscious, I do believe, of your power, and the
knowledge of it would be no added grace, perhaps! So let us go on—taking a
lesson out of the world's book in a different sense. You shall think I love you
for—(tell me, you must, what for) while in my secret heart I know what my
'mission of humanity' means, and what telescopic and microscopic views it
procures me. Enough—"
His love for her pried into him. I love that image. He ends the letter by urging her to continue writing her poetry which is interesting given her response in the next letter.
"You that in all else help me and will help me, beyond words—beyond dreams—if,
because I find you, your own works stop—'then comes the Selah and the
voice is hushed.' Oh, no, no, dearest, so would the help cease to be
help—the joy to be joy, Ba herself to be quite Ba, and my own Siren
singing song for song. Dear love, will that be kind, and right, and like the
rest? Write and promise that all shall be resumed, the romance-poem chiefly, and
I will try and feel more yours than ever now. Am I not with you in the world,
proud of you—and vain, too, very likely, which is all the sweeter if it
is a sin as you teach me. Indeed dearest, I have set my heart on your fulfilling
your mission—my heart is on it! Bless you, my Ba—"