February 5, 1846.
Miss Barrett is not offended and does not tease Browning for his comments on her laudanum. She wisely addresses the question head-on. This leads to a very interesting discussion of her general disposition:
"And that you should care so much about the opium! Then I must care,
and get to do with less—at least. On the other side of your goodness and
indulgence (a very little way on the other side) it might strike you as strange
that I who have had no pain—no acute suffering to keep down from its
angles—should need opium in any shape. But I have had restlessness till it made
me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the
day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides
palpitation—as if one's life, instead of giving movement to the body, were
imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get
out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me opium—a
preparation of it, called morphine, and ether—and ever since I have been calling
it my amreeta draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been
wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered
by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it
would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very
slowly and gradually. But slowly and gradually something may be done—and you are
to understand that I never increased upon the prescribed quantity ...
prescribed in the first instance—no! Now think of my writing all this to you!—
And after all the lotus-eaters are blessed beyond the opium-eaters; and the
best of lotuses are such thoughts as I know."
Yes! Think of her writing all that to him! Was part of her motive in discussing her opium use and the reason for it part of her ongoing campaign to warn him off her? But also, think if he had been a cad, how he could have ruined her reputation. And yet, at the same time...I think maybe she didn't trust him completely.
Some biographers of Miss Barrett seem to think that her reticence to discuss certain subjects openly with Browning--at least in the letters--was social convention. That may be partially true, but I also think that she did not, for a long time, even after their 'engagement', totally trust him. These letters, in her own hand, would have caused quite a sensation. Even relatively innocent letters which she wrote to Miss Mitford and which Miss Mitford allowed others to read embarrassed her to the point of nervous prostration. Imagine if Browning had betrayed her. That would have been the end of her indeed (although probably not, she was pretty resilient.)
To save you a trip to Dictionary.com, "amreeta" is from Hindu mythology and refers to "the beverage of immortality or a beverage that confers immortality.