Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 31

As good as his word Browning sends a short note on March 31, 1846 which he dedicates to telling Miss Barrett that:

"...somehow you, you my dearest, my Ba, look out of all imaginable nooks and crevices in the materiality--I see you thro' your goodness,--I cannot distinguish between your acts now,--the greater, indeed and the lesser! Which is the 'lesser'?"

And he will finish the correcting of the proofs:

" tonight all shall be corrected, I hope, and got rid of fairly. And tomorrow, I will have you to myself, my best one, and will write till you cry out against me."

Miss Barrett is having none of his praise:

"The actual good you get out of me, may be stated at about two commas & a semi-colon--do I overstate it I wonder?--You, on the other side, never over state anything..never enlarge..never exaggerate!--In fact, the immense 'worldly' advantages which fall to you from me, are plain to behold. Dearest what nonsense you talk sometimes, for a man so wise! nonsense as wonderful in its ways for 'Robert Browning' as the dancing of polkas!--The worst is that it sets me wishing impotently, to do some really good helpful thing for you--and I cannot, cannot. The good comes to me from you, & will not go back again. Even the loving you..which is all I can,..have I not had to question of it again & again...'Is that good?' Now see."

She talks a good deal about her translation of Hector and Andromache which she has sent to Mr. Kenyon but which she says Browning will never see:

"Old Homer laughs his translators to very scorn..& he does not spare me, for being a woman. Surpassingly & profoundly beautiful that scene is. I have tried it in blank verse. About a year ago, when I has a sudden fit of translating, I made an experiment on the first fifty lines of the Iliad in a rhymed measure which seemed to me rather nearer to the Greek cadence than out common heroic verse..."

She loves Browning perhaps as much as poetry. Can that be right?

March 30

On March 30, 1846 Browning begins by stating that there was no 'pretence' on which he would accept her not writing to him and then responds to Miss Barrett's assertion that if she had refused to see him the previous year after his first declaration he would have forgotten her by now:

"And do you think you could have refused to see me after that visit? I mean, do you think I did not resolve so to conduct myself; so to 'humble myself and go still and softly all my days.'--that your suspicion should needs insensibly clear up...(if it had been so pre-ordained, and that no more was in my destiny..) and at last I should have been written down your friend for ever, and let come and stay, on that footing. But you really think the confirmation of that sentence must have been attended with such an effect--that I should have forgotten you or so remembered you? You think that on the strength of such a love as that, I would have ventured a month of my future life..much less, the whole of it? Not you, Ba,--my dearest, dearest!"

Yeah, what was she thinking? To have stuck with her this long with all her squirming and fighting, to think he would have given up that easily. This guy sticks. He would have found a way.
He then asks her if she has received the proofs of 'Luria' and advises that he has a headache.

Miss Barrett responds to the receipt of the proofs by returning them:

"On a slip of paper are two or three inanities in the form of doubts I had in reading the first part--I think upon the whole that you owe me all gratitude for the help of so much high critical wisdom--of which this paper is fair proof & expression...

Your sister's word about the picture proves very conclusively how wonderfully like it must be as a portrait!--That would settle the question of any 'Royal Commission' in the world--only we need not go so far. Dearest I end here-to begin again in another half hour. Ah--and you promise, you promise--"

Such sarcasm from the poetess today! But what did he promise? Whatever it was she seems a bit excited.

And as good as her word, she sends a second letter the same day:

" 'Not on any PRETENCE' will you do without!--And you count it among the imaginations of your heart that I could do without them better whom they are sun, air, & human voices, at the lowest calculation? Why seriously you don't imagine that your letters are not a thousand times more to ME, than letters ever in the world were before..since 'Heaven first brought them to some wretch's aid'? If you do, that is the foolishest fancy of all."

Her quote is from Pope's poem Eloisa to Abelard about another pair of famous lovers whose only form of communication was letters.

And then we come to the great 'promise' which has sent Miss Barrett into a celebration of happiness. She has been lobbying for this strenuously and almost painfully for nearly ten letters. Never quite demanding this promise but pounding away almost irrationally at his 'hating' to write to her:

"What you said in the letter this morning made me grateful,..& oh, so glad! so glad! what you said, I mean of writing to me on every day that we did not meet on otherwise. That promise seemed to bring us nearer, (see how I think of letters!) nearer than another word could, though you went for it to the end of the universe,..that other word. So I accept the promise as a promise of pure gold, & thank you, as pure as gold too, which you are, or rather far above. Only my own dearest, you shall not write long letter..long letters are out of the agreement..I never feel the need of length as long as the writing is there..just the little shred of the Koran, to be gathered up reverently..(Inshallah!) [If Allah wills!]--and then you shall not write at all when you are not, you shall not. So remember from henceforth! Shall I whip my enchanted dog when he is so good & true?--not to say that the tags of the lashes (do they call them tags?) would swing round & strike me on the shoulders?..."

Her notion that Browning 'went for it to the end of the universe' strikes me an rather amusing, when she has been going on and on about him supposedly hating to write to her but she never actually comes out and asks him to write a line to her everyday. She needed some sort of assurance but can't bring herself to ask for it. Is this what the head shrinkers call 'passive agressive'? Well, whatever it was, it seemed to work and made her extremely happy. She seems to have some sort of letter mania!

Next she addresses Browning's musing that he wanted to dedicate his poems to her:

"As to dedications...believe me that I would not have them if I could..that it, even if there were no dangers. I could not bear to have words from you which the world might listen to..I mean, that to be commended of you in that way..on that ground, would make me feel cold to the heart. Oh no, no, no!--It is better to have the proofsheet as I had it this morning: it is the better glory!"

And finally she returns to the portrait that Browning's sister thought beautiful:

"That wonderful picture, which is not much like a unicorn or even 'a whale'..but rather more perhaps than like may keep for weeks or months, if you choose; if it continues 'not to make you cross.' Because IT does not flatter, & because YOU do not flatter, (in such equal proportions!) the sympathy accounts for the liking..or absence of dislike; on your part."

Oh, she of the self deprecating wit.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29

March 29, 1846 was the day after one of Browning's visits to Wimpole street to sit by the sofa of our 'invalid' poet. Apparently she continued her harassment of Browning that he 'hated' to write to her. This has moved Browning into overdrive:

"My own, dearest and best,--it is not so,--not wrong, my heart's self tells me,--and tells you! But for the rest these shall never pass a day till my death wherein I will not write to you, so long as you let me, excepting those days I may spend with you, partly or..altogether--Love, shall I have very, very long to be hating to write, yet writing?"

And Browning has received the long promised portrait:

"My Mother was greatly impressed by it--and my sister, coming (from my room) into the room where I was with a visitor, before whom she could not speak English, said 'Emolto bella' [She is very beautiful]!"

I wonder what our poetess with low self esteem will think of this comment?

And he wants to dedicate his latest book of poems to the beautiful Miss Barrett but knows that he cannot due to the nature of their secret affair:

"I have felt,--not for the first time now,--but from the beginning vexed, foolishly vexed perhaps, that I could not without attracting undesirable notice, "dedicate," in the true sense of the word, this or the last number to you: but if any really worthy performance should follow, mouth will be unsealed. All is forewritten!"

Miss Barrett also writes following their meeting and praises his 'Luria' but then notices that is has been almost a year since their first meeting:

"If I had done my duty like the enchanted fish leaping on the gridiron, & seen you never again after the first visit, you would have forgotten all about me by this day. Or at least, "that prude" I should be!--Somewhere under your feet, I should be put down by this day!--Yes! and my enchanted dog would be coursing "some small dear"..some unicorn of a "golden horn"...(not the Kilmansegg gold!) out of hearing if I should have a mind to whistle ever so..but out of harm's way perhaps besides....
Yet I think again how He of the heavens and earth brought us together so wonderfully, holding two souls in His hand--If my fault was in it, my will at least was not. Believe it of me, dear dearest, that I who am as clear-sighted as other women,..& not more humble..(as to the approaches of common men)..was quite resolutely blind when you came--I could not understand the possibility of that. It was too much..too surpassing. And so it will seem to the end. The astonishment, I mean, will not cease to be. It is my own especial fairy-tale..from the spells of which, may you be unharmed...!"

It may be like a dream, but a dream that she continues to try and wake Browning out of...and can't seem to succeed. I suspect that he is enjoying the dream as well.

March 28

Browning responds immediately to Miss Barrett's dog tale:

"--And did you think to warn me out of the Flush-simile by the hint of Amine's privilege which it would warrant? If the "ever so much whipping" should please you!...And beside it was, if I recollect, for the creature's good, those poor imprisoned sisters, all the time. Moreover, I was "born" all this and more, that you will know, at least--and only walked glorious & erect on two legs till dear Siren; an old friend of, and deep in the secrets of Circe,--sprinkled the waters..."

And he is pleased to hear of the visit by Mrs. Jameson:

"I am glad you like Mrs. Jameson--do I not like her all the better, much the better! But it is fortunate I shall not see her by any chance just now--she would be sure to begin and tell me about you--and if my hands did not turn cold, my ear tips would assuredly turn red."

The English race's curse: The blush.

March 27

March 27, 1846 Miss Barrett continues Browning's suggestion that she is treating him like her dog with an allusion to a story from the Arabian Nights, casting herself as Zobeide, who is almost killed by her sisters, but rescued by a fairy who turns her sisters into dogs. (Miss Barrett gets the name wrong--Amine was one of the sisters who was turned into a dog.) She then must give each dog 100 lashes each night or be turned into a dog herself:

"For the rest, when you turn into a dog & lie down, are you not afraid that a sorcerer should go by & dash the water & speak the formula of the old tales--"If thou wert born a dog, remain a dog, but if not"...If not..what is to happen? Amine whipped her enchanted hounds ever so often in the day...ah, what nonsense happens!"

But she moves on to other news. Mrs.Jameson came by to visit:

" were right to teach me to like her--and now, do you know, I look in vain for the 'steely eyes' I fancied I saw once, & see nothing but two good & true ones."

How great a role Mrs. Jameson pays in the life of Miss Barrett is yet to be seen. A well cultivated friendship will fill out your life....

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26

March 26, 1846 finds Browning in a frustrated mood, perhaps having to parry one too many thrusts from Miss Barrett's pen:

"You dwell on that notion of your being peculiarly isolated,--of any kindness to you, in your present state, seeming doubled and quadrupled--what do I, what could anyone infer from that but, most obviously, that it was --a very fortunate thing for such kindness, and that the presumable bestower of it got all his distinction from the fact that no better...however, I hate this and cannot go on. Dearest believe that under ordinary circumstances, with ordinary people, all operates differently--the imaginary kindness-bestower with his ideal methods of showing and proving his love,--there would be a rival to fear!
Do not let us talk of this--you always beat me, beside, turn my own illustrations into obscurations...."

But he gets one response in about her accusations about his hating to write:

"Just a moment to say your second note has come, and that I do hate, hate having to write, not kiss my answer on your dearest mouth-kindest, dearest--tomorrow I will try--and meantime--tho' Ba by the fire will not be cold at heart, cold of heart, and I will talk to her & more than talk--My dearest, dearest one!"

And you are correct to think that she will not let him off the hook:

"Shall I let you off the rest, dearest, dearest? though you deserve ever so much more, for implying such monstrous things, & treading down all of my violets, so & so--What did I say to set you writing so? I cannot remember at all? If I 'dwell' on anything, beloved, it is that I feel it strongly, be sure...."

But Browning is not done writing today:

"Sometimes I have a disposition to dispute with dearest Ba, to wrench her simile-weapons out of the dexterous hand (that is, try and do so)--and have the truth of things my way and its own way, not hers, if she be Ba--(observe, I say nothing about ever meeting with remarkable success in such undertakings,--only that they are entered on sometimes): but at other times I seem as if I must lie down, like Flush, with all manner of coral necklaces about my neck, and two sweet mysterious hands on my head, and so be forced to hear verses on me, Ba's verses, in which I, that am but Flush of the lower nature, am called loving friend and praised for not preferring to go "coursing hares"--with "other dogs."

So a frustrated Browning lies down with Flush and ends with praise of her poetry:

"By the way, dearest, what enchanted poetry all your translations for Miss Thomson are:--As Carlyle says! "Nobody can touch them, get at them!"

He tries, poor fellow, but he cannot get her to relax in his love. But in the end, he must surrender and allow her to accept him in the only way that she can.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25

I knew Browning was making a mistake trying to explain 'if he should' sometimes not care to write to Miss Barrett. She was not going to let it go:

Ah; if I 'do' ... if I 'should' ... if I shall ... if I will ... if I must ... what can all the 'ifs' prove, but a most hypothetical state of the conscience? And in brief, I beg you to stand convinced of one thing, that whenever the 'certain time' comes for to 'hate writing to me' confessedly, 'avowedly,' (oh what words!) I shall not like it at all—not for all the explanations ... and the sights in gondola chairs, which the person seen is none the better for! The ειδωλον [image] sits by the fire—the real Ba is cold at heart through wanting her letter. And that's the doctrine to be preached now, ... is it? I 'shrink,' shrink from it. That's your word!—and mine! Dearest, I began by half a jest and end by half-gravity, which is the fault of your doctrine and not of me I think. Yet it is ungrateful to be grave, when practically you are good and just about the letters, and generous too sometimes, and I could not bear the idea of obliging you to write to me, even once ... when.... Now do not fancy that I do not understand. I understand perfectly, on the contrary. Only do you try not to dislike writing when you write, or not to write when you dislike it ... that, I ask of you, dear dearest—and forgive me for all this over-writing and teazing and vexing which is foolish and womanish in the bad sense. It is a way of meeting, ... the meeting in letters, ... and next to receiving a letter from you, I like to write one to you ... and, so, revolt from thinking it lawful for you to dislike.... Well! the Goddess of Dulness herself couldn't have written this better, anyway, nor more characteristically.

But even she sees that she can take it only so far so she ends by praising his poetry:

Your head aches, dearest. Mr. Moxon will have done his worst, however, presently, and then you will be a little better I do hope and trust—and the proofs, in the meanwhile, will do somewhat less harm than the manuscript. You will take heart again about 'Luria' ... which I agree with you, is more diffuse ... that is, less close, than any of your works, not diffuse in any bad sense, but round, copious, and another proof of that wonderful variety of faculty which is so striking in you, and which signalizes itself both in the thought and in the medium of the thought. You will appreciate 'Luria' in time—or others will do it for you. It is a noble work under every aspect. Dear 'Luria'! Do you remember how you told me of 'Luria' last year, in one of your early letters? Little I thought that ever, ever, I should feel so, while 'Luria' went to be printed! A long trail of thoughts, like the rack in the sky, follows his going. Can it be the same 'Luria,' I think, that 'golden-hearted Luria,' whom you talked of to me, when you complained of keeping 'wild company,' in the old dear letter? And I have learnt since, that 'golden-hearted' is not a word for him only, or for him most. May God bless you, best and dearest! I am your own to live and to die—


Say how you are. I shall be down-stairs to-morrow if it keeps warm.

Miss Thomson wants me to translate the Hector and Andromache scene from the 'Iliad' for her book; and I am going to try it.

And that is for all of the idiot biographers who say she didn't work during the courtship.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

March 24

March 24, 1846 was the day following a visit from Mr. Browning and Miss Barrett begins with thanks for the flowers:

"My first business when you are out of the room and the house, and the street perhaps, is to arrange the flowers and to gather out of them all the thoughts you leave between the leaves and at the end of the stalks. And shall I tell you what happened, not yesterday, but the Thursday before? no, it was the Friday morning, when I found, or rather Wilson found and held up from my chair, a bunch of dead blue violets. Quite dead they seemed! You had dropped them and I had sate on them, and where we murdered them they had lain, poor things, all the night through. And Wilson thought it the vainest of labours when she saw me set about reviving them, cutting the stalks afresh, and dipping them head and ears into water—but then she did not know how you, and I, and ours, live under a miraculous dispensation, and could only simply be astonished when they took to blowing again as if they never had wanted the dew of the garden, ... yes, and when at last they outlived all the prosperity of the contemporary white violets which flourished in water from the beginning, and were free from the disadvantage of having been sate upon. Now you shall thank me for this letter, it is at once so amusing and instructive."

All this talk of sitting on the flowers makes me wonder where the 'e' went in 'sate'. At what point did it become superfluous in standard English? Next she turns to poetry again, wondering why he wont explain the meaning of the title of his series of poems, "Bells and Pomegranates":

"Dearest, I persist in thinking that you ought not to be too disdainful to explain your meaning in the Pomegranates. Surely you might say in a word or two that, your title having been doubted about (to your surprise, you might say!), you refer the doubters to the Jewish priest's robe, and the Rabbinical gloss ... for I suppose it is a gloss on the robe ... do you not think so? Consider that Mr. Kenyon and I may fairly represent the average intelligence of your readers,—and that he was altogether in the clouds as to your meaning ... had not the most distant notion of it,—while I, taking hold of the priest's garment, missed the Rabbins and the distinctive significance, as completely as he did. Then for Vasari, it is not the handbook of the whole world, however it may be Mrs. Jameson's. Now why should you be too proud to teach such persons as only desire to be taught? I persist—I shall teaze you."

Well, there is no doubt that she shall 'teaze' him. That is what she does. The best part is that he does provide an explanation in this next edition and I can't make heads or tails out of it. So much for my "average intelligence".

And next a report from the brothers Barrett:

"This morning my brothers have been saying ... 'Ah you had Mr. Browning with you yesterday, I see by the flowers,' ... just as if they said 'I see queen Mab has been with you.' Then Stormie took the opportunity of swearing to me by all his gods that your name was mentioned lately in the House of Commons—is that true? or untrue? He forgot to tell me at the time, he says,—and you were named with others and in relation to copyright matters. Is it true?
If you have killed Luria as you helped to kill my violets, what shall I say, do you fancy? Well—we shall see! Do not kill yourself, beloved, in any case! The ιοστεφανοι Μουσαι [violet crowned Muses] had better die themselves first! Ah—what am I writing? What nonsense? I mean, in deep earnest, the deepest, that you should take care and exercise, and not be vexed for Luria's sake—Luria will have his triumph presently!"

So while Miss Barrett is writing in the lightest of moods Browning wades into the murky waters of 'hating' to write to her:

"My own dearest, if you do—(for I confess to nothing of the kind), but if you should detect an unwillingness to write at certain times, what would that prove,—I mean, what that one need shrink from avowing? If I never had you before me except when writing letters to you—then! Why, we do not even talk much now! witness Mr. Buckingham and his voyage that ought to have been discussed!—Oh, how coldly I should write,—how the bleak-looking paper would seem unpropitious to carry my feeling—if all had to begin and try to find words this way!"

So he would rather talk than write but then they don't talk when together. This does not bode well for future correspondence.

"Now, this morning I have been out—to town and back—and for all the walking my head aches—and I have the conviction that presently when I resign myself to think of you wholly, with only the pretext,—the make-believe of occupation, in the shape of some book to turn over the leaves of,—I shall see you and soon be well; so soon! You must know, there is a chair (one of the kind called gondóla-chairs by upholsterers—with an emphasized o)—which occupies the precise place, stands just in the same relation to this chair I sit on now, that yours stands in and occupies—to the left of the fire: and, how often, how always I turn in the dusk and see the dearest real Ba with me.

How entirely kind to take that trouble, give those sittings for me! Do you think the kindness has missed its due effect? No, no, I am glad,—(knowing what I now know,—what you meant should be, and did all in your power to prevent) that I have not received the picture, if anything short of an adequate likeness. 'Nil nisi—te!' [Nothing if not-you!] But I have set my heart on seeing it—will you remember next time, next Saturday?"

This last paragraph apparently refers to a portrait that Miss Barrett sate for with her brother Alfred which Browning is coveting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23

Just a short note from Browning on March 23, 1846 to admonish Miss Barrett for saying that he hates to write to her:

"Oh, my Ba—how you shall hear of this to-morrow—that is all: I hate writing? See when presently I only write to you daily, hourly if you let me? Just this now—I will be with you to-morrow in any case—I can go away at once, if need be, or stay—if you like you can stop me by sending a note for me to Moxon's before 10 o'clock—if anything calls for such a measure.

Always the need for discretion!

Now briefly,—I am unwell and entirely irritated with this sad 'Luria'—I thought it a failure at first, I find it infinitely worse than I thought—it is a pure exercise of cleverness, even where most successful; clever attempted reproduction of what was conceived by another faculty, and foolishly let pass away. If I go on, even hurry the more to get on, with the printing,—it is to throw out and away from me the irritating obstruction once and forever. I have corrected it, cut it down, and it may stand and pledge me to doing better hereafter. I say, too, in excuse to myself, unlike the woman at her spinning-wheel, 'He thought of his flax on the whole far more than of his singing'—more of his life's sustainment, of dear, dear Ba he hates writing to, than of these wooden figures—no wonder all is as it is?"

Never finding the work good enough but always trying. Sound familiar?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22

March 22, 1844 Miss Barrett writes a letter to her friend Hugh Stuart Boyd. Boyd was a blind Greek scholar who became friends with and helped Miss Barrett master Greek. As a young woman she visited his home for hours at a time reading Greek to him. He appears to have been something of a Greek snob, thinking that no other type of poetry ever rivalled the ancient Greek forms. This particular letter is very interesting in that it introduces some background on what ultimately became known as "A Drama of Exile".

"At last my book is in the press. My great poem (in the modest comparative sense), my 'Masque of Exile' (as I call it at last), consists of some nineteen hundred or two thousand lines, and I call it 'Masque of Exile' because it refers to Lucifer's exile, and to that other mystical exile of the Divine Being which was the means of the return homewards of my Adam and Eve. After the exultation of boldness of composition, I fell into one of my deepest fits of despondency, and at last, at the end of most painful vacillations, determined not to print it. Never was a manuscript so near the fire as my 'Masque' was. I had not even the instinct of applying for help to anybody. In the midst of this Mr. Kenyon came in by accident, and asked about my poem. I told him that I had given it up, despairing of my republic. In the kindest way he took it into his hands, and proposed to carry it home and read it, and tell me his impression. 'You know,' he said, 'I have a prejudice against these sacred subjects for poetry, but then I have another prejudice for you, and one may neutralise the other.' The next day I had a letter from him with the returned manuscript—a letter which I was absolutely certain, before I opened it, would counsel against the publication. On the contrary! His impression is clearly in favour of the poem, and, while he makes sundry criticisms on minor points, he considers it very superior as a whole to anything I ever did before—more sustained, and fuller in power. So my nerves are braced, and I grow a man again; and the manuscript, as I told you, is in the press. Moreover, you will be surprised to hear that I think of bringing out two volumes of poems instead of one, by advice of Mr. Moxon, the publisher. Also, the Americans have commanded an American edition, to come out in numbers, either a little before or simultaneously with the English one, and provided with a separate preface for themselves."

The poem finally went to press as "A Drama of Exile" depicting Eve's emotions, her discussion with Lucifer and the ultimate road back for her after the exile from Paradise. This look at the expulsion from the point of view of Eve was certainly new, Adam normally being the focus of attention. The insight into her cousin John Kenyon's intervention in the publishing of the book shows the influence he had on her. A little bit of positive encouragement goes a long way. His influence of introducing her to Browning early in the next year certainly influenced her in a way she never expected.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March 21

March 21, 1846 finds Browning in a hurry to get "Luria" and "A Soul's Tragedy" to the printer, Moxon. Miss Barrett has offered some corrections and Browning is working with his sister Sarianna to get the edits together. He writes just a short note to let her know that he needs direction as to when he is next expected in Wimpole Street:

"Dear, dear Ba! I cannot thank you, know not how to thank you for the notes! I adopt every one, of course, not as Ba's notes but as Miss Barrett's, not as Miss Barrett's but as anybody's, everybody's—such incontestable improvements they suggest. When shall I tell you more ... on Monday or Tuesday? That I must know—because you appointed Monday, 'if nothing happened—' and Mr. K. happened—can you let me hear by our early post to-morrow—as on Monday I am to be with Moxon early, you know—and no letters arrive before 11-1/2 or 12. I was not very well yesterday, but to-day am much better—and you,—I say how I am precisely to have a double right to know all about you, dearest, in this snow and cold! How do you bear it?"

But as always, she second guesses herself:

"Beware of the notes! They are not Ba's—except for the insolence, nor EBB's—because of the carelessness. If I had known, moreover, that you were going to Moxon's on Monday, they should have gone to the fire rather than provoked you into superfluous work for the short interval. Just so much are they despised of both EBB and Ba.
I am glad I did not hear from you yesterday because you were not well, and you must never write when you are not well. But if you had been quite well, should I have heard?—I doubt it. You meant me to hear from you only once, from Thursday to Monday. Is it not the truth now that you hate writing to me?
...While I write this you are in town, but you will not read it till Sunday unless I am more fortunate than usual. On Monday then! And no word before? No—I shall be sure not to hear to-night. Now do try not to suffer through 'Luria.' Let Mr. Moxon wait a week rather. There is time enough."

As I often I point out her teasing, I have to wonder if she has gone a bit too far. What has Browning said, done or not done that gives her this opening to accuse him of hating to write to her? She sounds more petulant than teasing here. Hopefully her next letter will show her in a better mood.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20

March 20, 1845 brings one of my favorite letters from Miss Barrett. This is her seventh letter to Browning and she is still trying to explain to him what she wants from him and herself:

"You are Paracelsus, and I am a recluse, with nerves that have been all broken on the rack, and now hang loosely—quivering at a step and breath...You seem to have drunken of the cup of life full, with the sun shining on it. I have lived only inwardly; or with sorrow, for a strong emotion. Before this seclusion of my illness, I was secluded still, and there are few of the youngest women in the world who have not seen more, heard more, known more, of society, than I, who am scarcely to be called young now. I grew up in the country—had no social opportunities, had my heart in books and poetry, and my experience in reveries. My sympathies drooped towards the ground like an untrained honeysuckle—and but for one, in my own house—but of this I cannot speak. It was a lonely life, growing green like the grass around it. Books and dreams were what I lived in—and domestic life only seemed to buzz gently around, like the bees about the grass. And so time passed, and passed—and afterwards, when my illness came and I seemed to stand at the edge of the world with all done, and no prospect (as appeared at one time) of ever passing the threshold of one room again; why then, I turned to thinking with some bitterness (after the greatest sorrow of my life had given me room and time to breathe) that I had stood blind in this temple I was about to leave—that I had seen no Human nature, that my brothers and sisters of the earth were names to me, that I had beheld no great mountain or river, nothing in fact. I was as a man dying who had not read Shakespeare, and it was too late! do you understand? And do you also know what a disadvantage this ignorance is to my art? Why, if I live on and yet do not escape from this seclusion, do you not perceive that I labour under signal disadvantages—that I am, in a manner, as a blind poet? Certainly, there is a compensation to a degree. I have had much of the inner life, and from the habit of self-consciousness and self-analysis, I make great guesses at Human nature in the main. But how willingly I would as a poet exchange some of this lumbering, ponderous, helpless knowledge of books, for some experience of life and man, for some..."

She wanted to make contact with the world, to get out and DO something, to learn something. She was bored and obviously recognized it. Like Sherlock Holmes turning to cocaine when he didn't have a case, she turned within herself and wrote poetry to fight the depression.

"...I have lived all my chief joys, and indeed nearly all emotions that go warmly by that name and relate to myself personally, in poetry and in poetry alone. Like to write? Of course, of course I do. I seem to live while I write—it is life, for me. Why, what is to live? Not to eat and drink and breathe,—but to feel the life in you down all the fibres of being, passionately and joyfully...

How delightful to talk about oneself; but as you 'tempted me and I did eat,' I entreat your longsuffering of my sin, and ah! if you would but sin back so in turn! You and I seem to meet in a mild contrarious harmony ... as in the 'si no, si no' of an Italian duet. I want to see more of men, and you have seen too much, you say. I am in ignorance, and you, in satiety. 'You don't even care about reading now.' Is it possible? And I am as 'fresh' about reading, as ever I was—as long as I keep out of the shadow of the dictionaries and of theological controversies, and the like. Shall I whisper it to you under the memory of the last rose of last summer? I am very fond of romances; yes! and I read them not only as some wise people are known to do, for the sake of the eloquence here and the sentiment there, and the graphic intermixtures here and there, but for the story! just as little children would, sitting on their papa's knee. My childish love of a story never wore out with my love of plum cake, and now there is not a hole in it. I make it a rule, for the most part, to read all the romances that other people are kind enough to write—and woe to the miserable wight who tells me how the third volume endeth. Have you in you any surviving innocence of this sort? or do you call it idiocy? If you do, I will forgive you, only smiling to myself—I give you notice,—with a smile of superior pleasure!
Ah! you tempt me with a grand vision of Prometheus! I, who have just escaped with my life, after treading Milton's ground, you would send me to Æschylus's. No, I do not dare. And besides ... I am inclined to think that we want new forms, as well as thoughts. The old gods are dethroned. Why should we go back to the antique moulds, classical moulds, as they are so improperly called? If it is a necessity of Art to do so, why then those critics are right who hold that Art is exhausted and the world too worn out for poetry. I do not, for my part, believe this: and I believe the so-called necessity of Art to be the mere feebleness of the artist. Let us all aspire rather to Life, and let the dead bury their dead. If we have but courage to face these conventions, to touch this low ground, we shall take strength from it instead of losing it; and of that, I am intimately persuaded. For there is poetry everywhere; the 'treasure' (see the old fable) lies all over the field. And then Christianity is a worthy myth, and poetically acceptable."

I am so tempted to quote the entire letter, but I won't. Go and read it here. To find this letter do Ctrl + F and type March 20, 1845 into the box and press enter.
The wonderful thing about this letter is that it is true. Her philosophy of growth lives with her until the end of her life. She is steeped in the art of the Greek poets but moves forward to create new forms of poetry for the 19th Century. She is true to the vision she sets out to Browning in 1845: Learn, grow, try new things, fail, move forward.

The her letter of March 20, 1846 touches briefly on her art as well, using a letter praising her work to praise Browning instead:

"The writer doesn't see anything 'in Browning and Turner,' she confesses—'may perhaps with time and study,' but for the present sees nothing,—only has wide-open eyes of admiration for E.B.B. ... now isn't it satisfactory to me? Do you understand the full satisfaction of just that sort of thing ... to be praised by somebody who sees nothing in Shakespeare?—to be found on the level of somebody so flat?"

And then she explains the risks he runs in choosing her:

"Will you be pleased to understand in the meanwhile a little about the 'risks' I am supposed to run, and not hold to such a godlike simplicity ('gods and bulls,' dearest!) as you made show of yesterday? If we two went to the gaming-table, and you gave me a purse of gold to play with, should I have a right to talk proudly of 'my stakes?' and would any reasonable person say of both of us playing together as partners, that we ran 'equal risks'? I trow not—and so do you ... when you have not predetermined to be stupid, and mix up the rouge and noir into 'one red' of glorious confusion. What had I to lose on the point of happiness when you knew me first?—and if now I lose (as I certainly may according to your calculation) the happiness you have given me, why still I am your debtor for the gift ... now see! Yet to bring you down into my ashes ... that has been so intolerable a possibility to me from the first. Well, perhaps I run more risk than you, under that one aspect. Certainly I never should forgive myself again if you were unhappy. 'What had I to do,' I should think, 'with touching your life?' And if ever I am to think so, I would rather that I never had known you, seen your face, heard your voice—which is the uttermost sacrifice and abnegation. I could not say or sacrifice any more—not even for you! You, for you ... is all I can!"

She can only win and he can only lose. She is so mixed up. She sees no worth in herself, but she sees Browning as Shakespeare. This girl deserves some love. I almost want to slap her and say, "Snap out of it! Let him love you for pity's sake! Give yourself a bit of credit!" But perhaps this comes of the secret nature of their relationship. She had no one to discuss this with at all. There was no friend to say, "Ba, you are worthy, enjoy what life offers you."

This letter ends with an interesting postscript. Edgar Allen Poe has dedicated his latest book of poems to EBB:

"Mr. Poe has sent me his poems and tales—so now I must write to thank him for his dedication. Just now I have the book."

Browning hasn't dedicated anything to her. Does he have competition?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18

On March 18, 1846 Miss Barrett is almost as obscure as Browning, but not quite:

Ah well—we shall see. Only remember that it is not my fault if I throw the double sixes, and if you, on [some sun-shiny day, (a day too late to help yourself) stand face to face with a milkwhite unicorn.] Ah—do not be angry. It is ungrateful of me to write so—I put a line through it to prove I have a conscience after all. I know that you love me, and I know it so well that I was reproaching myself severely not long ago, for seeming to love your love more than you. Let me tell you how I proved that, or seemed. For ever so long, you remember, I have been talking finely about giving you up for your good and so on. Which was sincere as far as the words went—but oh, the hypocrisy of our souls!—of mine, for instance! 'I would give you up for your good'—but when I pressed upon myself the question whether (if I had the power) I would consent to make you willing to be given up, by throwing away your love into the river, in a ring like Charlemagne's, ... why I found directly that I would throw myself there sooner. I could not do it in fact—I shrank from the test. A very pitiful virtue of generosity, is your Ba's! Still, it is not possible, I think, that she should 'love your love more than you.' There must be a mistake in the calculation somewhere—a figure dropt. It would be too bad for her!
...let us talk of it a little on Thursday. On Monday I forgot.
...It is my last word till Thursday's first. A fine queen you have, by the way!—a queen Log, whom you had better leave in the bushes! Witness our hand....

A footnote note from Kintner explains that in a fable the frogs requested a king from Zeus who produces a log and when they protest against the log, he provides a stork.
Browning often referred to EBB as a unicorn perhaps based on the Donne poem "The Perfume" which was about a jealous father with an imprisoned daughter. This imagery also builds on the myth of the hunt for the unicorn, which Browning uses to form his response:

Indeed, dearest, you shall not have last word as you think,—all the 'risk' shall not be mine, neither; how can I, in the event, throw ambs-ace (is not that the old word?) and not peril your stakes too, when once we have common stock and are partners? When I see the unicorn and grieve proportionately, do you mean to say you are not going to grieve too, for my sake? And if so—why, you clearly run exactly the same risk,—must,—unless you mean to rejoice in my sorrow! So your chance is my chance; my success your success, you say, and my failure, your failure, will you not say? You see, you see, Ba, my own—own! What do you think frightened me in your letter for a second or two? You write 'Let us talk on Thursday ... Monday I forgot'—which I read,—'no, not on Thursday—I had forgotten! It is to be Monday when we meet next'!—whereat
... as a goose
In death contracts his talons close,
as Hudibras sings—I clutched the letter convulsively—till relief came."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

March 17

March 17, 1846 finds Miss Barrett being fatalistic again. She does not guarantee a happy ending:

"But where, pray, did I say, and when, that 'everything would end well?' Was that in the dream, when we two met on the stairs? I did not really say so I think. And 'well' is how you understand it. If you jump out of the window you succeed in getting to the ground, somehow, dead or alive ... but whether that means 'ending well,' depends on your way of considering matters. I am seriously of opinion nevertheless, that if 'the arm,' you talk of, drops, it will not be for weariness nor even for weakness, but because it is cut off at the shoulder. I will not fail to you,—may God so deal with me, so bless me, so leave me, as I live only for you and shall. Do you doubt that, my only beloved! Ah, you know well—too well, people would say ... but I do not think it 'too well' myself, ... knowing you."

Plus a bit of gossip after the signature:

"Here is a gossip which Mr. Kenyon brought me on Sunday—disbelieving it himself, he asseverated, though Lady Chantrey said it 'with authority,'—that Mr. Harness had offered his hand heart and ecclesiastical dignities to Miss Burdett Coutts."

But Browning is having none of any of that; to him there is no risk, it is written in the stars:

'Out of window' would be well, as I see the leap, if it ended (so far as I am concerned) in the worst way imaginable—I would I 'run the risk' (Ba's other word) rationally, deliberately,—knowing what the ordinary law of chances in this world justifies in such a case; and if the result after all was unfortunate, it would be far easier to undergo the extremest penalty with so little to reproach myself for,—than to put aside the adventure,—waive the wondrous probability of such best fortune, in a fear of the barest possibility of an adverse event, and so go to my grave, Walter the Penniless, with an eternal recollection that Miss Burdett Coutts once offered to wager sundry millions with me that she could throw double-sixes a dozen times running—which wager I wisely refused to accept because it was not written in the stars that such a sequence might never be. I had rather, rather a thousand-fold lose my paltry stake, and be the one recorded victim to such an unexampled unluckiness that half a dozen mad comets, suns gone wrong, and lunatic moons must have come laboriously into conjunction for my special sake to bring it to pass, which were no slight honour, properly considered!—And this is my way of laughing, dearest Ba, when the excess of belief in you, and happiness with you, runs over and froths if it don't sparkle—underneath is a deep, a sea not to be moved. But chance, chance! there is no chance here! I have gained enough for my life, I can only put in peril the gaining more than enough. You shall change altogether my dear, dearest love, and I will be happy to the last minute on what I can remember of this past year—I could do that. Now, jump with me out, Ba! If you feared for yourself—all would be different, sadly different—But saying what you do say, promising 'the strength of arm'—do not wonder that I call it an assurance of all being 'well'! All is best, as you promise—dear, darling Ba!—and I say, in my degree, with all the energy of my nature, as you say, promise as you promise—only meaning a worship of you that is solely fit for me, fit by position—are not you my 'mistress?' Come, some good out of those old conventions, in which you lost faith after the Bower's disappearance, (it was carried by the singing angels, like the house at Loretto, to the Siren's isle where we shall find it preserved in a beauty 'very rare and absolute')—is it not right you should be my Lady, my Queen? and you are, and ever must be, dear Ba. Because I am suffered to kiss the lips, shall I ever refuse to embrace the feet? and kiss lips, and embrace feet, love you wholly, my Ba! May God bless you—

Yes, he was a charming, quick thinking rascal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 16

March 16, 1846 brings more clarification from Miss Barrett regarding the mode of life that the poets will live once they are married. Miss Barrett wants to make it clear that she is nor expecting to live extravagantly:

"We were speaking of Mr. Chorley and his house, and you said that you did not care for such and such things for yourself, but that for others—now you remember the rest. And I just want to say what it would have been simpler to have said at the time—only not so easy—(I couldn't say it at the time) that you are not if you please to fancy that because I am a woman I have not the pretension to do with as little in any way as you yourself ... no, it is not that I mean to say.... I mean that you are not, if you please, to fancy that, because I am a woman, I look to be cared for in those outside things, or should have the slightest pleasure in any of them. So never wish nor regret in your thoughts to be able or not to be able to care this and this for me; for while you are thinking so, our thoughts go different ways, which is wrong. Mr. Fox did me a great deal too much honour in calling me 'a religious hermit'; he was 'curiously' in fault, as you saw. It is not my vocation to sit on a stone in a cave—I was always too fond of lolling upon sofas or in chairs nearly as large,—and this, which I sit in, was given to me when I was a child by my uncle, the uncle I spoke of to you once, and has been lolled in nearly ever since ... when I was well enough. Well—that is a sort of luxury, of course—but it is more idle than expensive, as a habit, and I do believe that it is the 'head and foot of my offending' in that matter. Yes—'confiteor tibi' [I thank thee] besides, that I do hate white dimity curtains, which is highly improper for a religious hermit of course, but excusable in me who would accept brown serge as a substitute with ever so much indifference. It is the white light which comes in the dimity which is so hateful to me. To 'go mad in white dimity' seems perfectly natural, and consequential even. Set aside these foibles, and one thing is as good as another with me, and the more simplicity in the way of living, the better....and I do entreat you not to put those two ideas together again of me and the finery which has nothing to do with me. I have talked a great deal too much of all this, you will think, but I want you, once for all, to apply it broadly to the whole of the future both in the general view and the details, so that we need not return to the subject. Judge for me as for yourself—what is good for you is good for me. Otherwise I shall be humiliated, you know; just as far as I know your thoughts."

This was not written by a woman who was daydreaming. She was thinking of the practicalities of living on a limited income. I imagine that she had thought through the financials even without factoring Browning into the equation, but it is obvious she is thinking it through, she is preparing to leave her father's house and live without his support and knows the frugality that this will require. Now she was factoring Browning in and wants to make sure they are on the same page. And yet again she is too shy to speak it to him directly. She is not good with confrontations of any sort. But she can write about it with humor and self deprecation as to her need for sofas to lounge on.

Next she turns to the difficulties of keeping her emotions under control when it came to news of Browning. Imagine this scene:

"Mr. Kenyon has been here to-day—and I have been down-stairs—two great events! He was in brilliant spirits and sate talking ever so long, and named you as he always does. Something he asked, and then said suddenly ... 'But I don't see why I should ask you, when I ought to know him better than you can.' On which I was wise enough to change colour, as I felt, to the roots of my hair. There is the effect of a bad conscience! and it has happened to me before, with Mr. Kenyon, three times—once particularly, when I could have cried with vexation (to complete the effects!), he looked at me with such infinite surprise in a dead pause of any speaking. That was in the summer; and all to be said for it now, is, that it couldn't be helped: couldn't!"

And Browning had been charming again to his lady:

"Oh—oh—and how wise I am to-day, as if I were a critic myself! Yesterday I was foolish instead—for I couldn't get out of my head all the evening how you said that you would come 'to see a candle held up at the window.' Well! but I do not mean to love you any more just now—so I tell you plainly. Certainly I will not. I love you already too much perhaps. I feel like the turning Dervishes turning in the sun when you say such words to me—and I never shall love you any 'less,' because it is too much to be made less of."

Even she can see that he is crazy in love and Browning continuies this crazy in love in his next letter. He can't think of anything but her and goes on and on for three paragraphs about how in love he is with her after their visit that day. This boy is rather drunk on love, so I will just give you one paragraph and if you want the whole thing, seek it out:

"How will the love my heart is full of for you, let me be silent? Insufficient speech is better than no speech, in one regard—the speaker had tried words, and if they fail, hereafter he needs not reflect that he did not even try—so with me now, that loving you, Ba, with all my heart and soul, all my senses being lost in one wide wondering gratitude and veneration, I press close to you to say so, in this imperfect way, my dear dearest beloved! Why do you not help me, rather than take my words, my proper word, from me and call them yours, when yours they are not? You said lately love of you 'made you humble'—just as if to hinder me from saying that earnest truth!—entirely true it is, as I feel ever more convincingly. You do not choose to understand it should be so, nor do I much care, for the one thing you must believe, must resolve to believe in its length and breadth, is that I do love you and live only in the love of you."

Good grief man, I think you are going to burst!

And in the evening of the same day he writes a short note to answer hers:

"Indeed I would, dearest Ba, go with entire gladness and pride to see a light that came from your room—why should that surprise you? Well, you will know one day.

We understand each other too about the sofas and gilding—oh, I know you, my own sweetest! For me, if I had set those matters to heart, I should have turned into the obvious way of getting them—not out of it, as I did resolutely from the beginning. All I meant was, to express a very natural feeling—if one could give you diamonds for flowers, and if you liked diamonds,—then, indeed! As it is, wherever we are found shall be, if you please, 'For the love's sake found therein—sweetest house was ever seen!'"

This last of course is another reference to her poem "Catarina to Camoens"-'sweetest eyes were ever seen'. Those Portuguese poets! Always making their presence known.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11

March 11, 1846 brings a mixed bag from Miss Barrett, cajoling Browning about his health, a dog story and the impossibility of his love for her.

"You find my letter I trust, for it was written this morning in time; and if these two lines should not be flattery ... oh, rank flattery! ... why happy letter is it, to help to bring you home ten minutes earlier, when you never ought to have left home—no, indeed! I knew how it would be yesterday, and how you would be worse and not better. You are not fit to go out, dear dearest, to sit in the glare of lights and talk and listen, and have the knives and forks to rattle all the while and remind you of the chains of necessity. Oh—should I bear it, do you think?"

The imagery of the cutlery clattering around a large dinner table and the implication that all of the noisy social interaction would have a bad impact on Miss Barrett's nervous system is quite obvious. She makes it clear to Browning with her next story that she will not be up to the same social interaction that he is accustomed to:

"I was thinking, when you went away—after you had quite gone. You would laugh to see me at my dinner—Flush and me—Flush placing in me such an heroic confidence, that, after he has cast one discriminating glance on the plate, and, in the case of 'chicken,' wagged his tail with an emphasis, ... he goes off to the sofa, shuts his eyes and allows a full quarter of an hour to pass before he returns to take his share. Did you ever hear of a dog before who did not persecute one with beseeching eyes at mealtimes? And remember, this is not the effect of discipline. Also if another than myself happens to take coffee or break bread in the room here, he teazes straightway with eyes and paws, ... teazes like a common dog and is put out of the door before he can be quieted by scolding. But with me he is sublime! Moreover he has been a very useful dog in his time (in the point of capacity), causing to disappear supererogatory dinners and impossible breakfasts which, to do him justice, is a feat accomplished without an objection on his side, always."

What a handy little dog. He carries away unwanted food and he doesn't make noises with knife or fork and he doesn't talk. The perfect companion. And then she turns again to trying to comprehend what is happening to her through him (Browning, not the dog):

"You mean, you say, to run all risks with me, and I don't mean to draw back from my particular risk of ... what am I to do to you hereafter to make you vexed with me? What is there in marriage to make all these people on every side of us, (who all began, I suppose, by talking of love,) look askance at one another from under the silken mask ... and virtually hate one another through the tyranny of the stronger and the hypocrisy of the weaker party. It never could be so with usI know that. But you grow awful to me sometimes with the very excess of your goodness and tenderness, and still, I think to myself, if you do not keep lifting me up quite off the ground by the strong faculty of love in you, I shall not help falling short of the hope you have placed in me—it must be 'supernatural' of you, to the end! or I fall short and disappoint you. Consider this, beloved. Now if I could put my soul out of my body, just to stand up before you and make it clear."

She is so sure that she will disappoint him. She never seems to fear that he will disappoint her. I read a rather bad thesis by an erstwhile English teacher who was trying to prove via an examination of Browning's book of poems on relationships, "Men and Women", that Browning was disappointed by his wife. If that was the hidden meaning of "Men and Women" how unutterably cruel to dedicate the book to her while she lived. Was this acutely sensitive creature, who dissected every word of this letters, so blind that she would not have comprehended this hidden psychological message in his poems?

But to lighten the letter she sends forth to mock his modesty and encourage him onward:

"You know from my letter how I found you out in the matter of the 'Soul's Tragedy.' Oh! so bad ... so weak, so unworthy of your name! If some other people were half a quarter as much the contrary!"

And so Browning responds the same day:
Dear, dear Ba, but indeed I did return home earlier by two or three good hours than the night before—and to find no letter,—none of yours! That was reserved for this morning early, and then a rest came, a silence, over the thoughts of you—and now again, comes this last note! Oh, my love—why—what is it you think to do, or become 'afterward,' that you may fail in and so disappoint me? It is not very unfit that you should thus punish yourself, and that, sinning by your own ambition of growing something beyond my Ba even, you should 'fear' as you say! For, sweet, why wish, why think to alter ever by a line, change by a shade, turn better if that were possible, and so only rise the higher above me, get further from instead of nearer to my heart? What I expect, what I build my future on, am quite, quite prepared to 'risk' everything for,—is that one belief that you will not alter, will just remain as you are—meaning by 'you,' the love in you, the qualities I have known (for you will stop me, if I do not stop myself) what I have evidence of in every letter, in every word, every look. Keeping these, if it be God's will that the body passes,—what is that? Write no new letters, speak no new words, look no new looks,—only tell me, years hence that the present is alive, that what was once, still is—and I am, must needs be, blessed as ever! You speak of my feeling as if it were a pure speculation—as if because I see somewhat in you I make a calculation that there must be more to see somewhere or other—where bdellium is found, the onyx-stone may be looked for in the mystic land of the four rivers! And perhaps ... ah, poor human nature!—perhaps I do think at times on what may be to find! But what is that to you? I offer for the bdellium—the other may be found or not found ... what I see glitter on the ground, that will suffice to make me rich as—rich as—

Is this written by a man who would then, five years into their marriage, write a book of poems implying how disappointed he was in her? He might think it, but he would never put it in writing. It would have broken her tender heart. Silly people write essays. Really clever people write blogs.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 10

Finally, March 10, 1846, Browning has permitted Miss Barrett to read "A Soul's Tragedy" and she is back in her comfort zone: Poetry!

"Now I shall know what to believe when you talk of very bad and very indifferent doings of yours. Dearest, I read your 'Soul's Tragedy' last night and was quite possessed with it, and fell finally into a mute wonder how you could for a moment doubt about publishing it. It is very vivid, I think, and vital, and impressed me more than the first act of 'Luria' did, though I do not mean to compare such dissimilar things, and for pure nobleness 'Luria' is unapproachable—will prove so, it seems to me. But this 'Tragedy' shows more heat from the first, and then, the words beat down more closely ... well! I am struck by it all as you see. If you keep it up to this passion, if you justify this high key-note, it is a great work, and worthy of a place next 'Luria.' Also do observe how excellently balanced the two will be, and how the tongue of this next silver Bell will swing from side to side. And you to frighten me about it. Yes, and the worst is (because it was stupid in me) the worst is that I half believed you and took the manuscript to be something inferior—for you—and the adviseableness of its publication, a doubtful case. And yet, after all, the really worst is, that you should prove yourself such an adept at deceiving! For can it be possible that the same

'Robert Browning'

who (I heard the other day) said once that he could 'wait three hundred years,' should not feel the life of centuries in this work too—can it be? Why all the pulses of the life of it are beating in even my ears!"

Oh, she is a sly teaser. 

Another one of the interesting aspects of this correspondence is that while Miss Barrett is known for her frail health, she is constantly worried about Browning's health, his headaches, etc. His head aches when he reads, his head aches when he writes, his head aches when he goes out for an evening's entertainment or simply dinner. He repeatedly says that brisk walks alleviate the headaches and she is constantly telling him not to write letters or poetry and not to read or go out to dinner or take shower baths. We actually hear far more about his poor health that hers.

"Tell me, beloved, how you are—I shall hear it to-night—shall I not? To think of your being unwell, and forced to go here and go there to visit people to whom your being unwell falls in at best among the secondary evils!—makes me discontented—which is one shade more to the uneasiness I feel. Will you take care, and not give away your life to these people? Because I have a better claim than they ... and shall put it in, if provoked ... shall. Then you will not use the shower-bath again—you promise? I dare say Mr. Kenyon observed yesterday how unwell you were looking—tell me if he didn't! Now do not work, dearest! Do not think of Chiappino, leave him behind ... he has a good strong life of his own, and can wait for you. Oh—but let me remember to say of him, that he and the other personages appear to me to articulate with perfect distinctness and clearness ... you need not be afraid of having been obscure in this first part. It is all as lucid as noon."

She wants him to be healthy and not work on his poem to prepare it for publication so she assures him that it is as "lucid as noon." Really? What a hoot!
And she ends with another typical disagreement:

"You don't call me 'kind' I confess—but then you call me 'too kind' which is nearly as bad, you must allow on your part. Only you were not in earnest when you said that, as it appeared afterward. Were you, yesterday, in pretending to think that I owed you nothing ... I?
May God bless you. He knows that to give myself to you, is not to pay you. Such debts are not so paid."

Browning is in a contemplative mood when he writes today. This is always dangerous because Miss Barrett will dissect everything he writes. When you are comfortable with someone you can get into a habit of thinking out loud, or in Browning's case, writing out loud. Until he lands his fish he should be a very careful man.

"Dear, dear Ba, if you were here I should not much speak to you, not at first—nor, indeed, at last,—but as it is, sitting alone, only words can be spoken, or (worse) written, and, oh how different to look into the eyes and imagine what might be said, what ought to be said, though it never can be—and to sit and say and write, and only imagine who looks above me, looks down, understanding and pardoning all! My love, my Ba, the fault you found once with some expressions of mine about the amount of imperishable pleasures already hoarded in my mind, the indestructible memories of you; that fault, which I refused to acquiesce under the imputation of, at first, you remember—well, what a fault it was, by this better light! If all stopped here and now; horrible! complete oblivion were the thing to be prayed for, rather! As it is, now, I must go on, must live the life out, and die yours."

He ends with a report on his health and a bit of gossip:

"I will write to-morrow more: I came home last night with a head rather worse; which in the event was the better, for I took a little medicine and all is very much improved to-day. I shall go out presently, and return very early and take as much care as is proper—for I thought of Ba, and the sublimities of Duty, and that gave myself airs of importance, in short, as I looked at my mother's inevitable arrow-root this morning. So now I am well; so now, is dearest Ba well? I shall hear to-night ... which will have its due effect, that circumstance, in quickening my retreat from Forster's Rooms. All was very pleasant last evening—and your letter &c. went à qui de droit [to whom it may concern], and Mr. W. Junior had to smile good-naturedly when Mr. Burges began laying down this general law, that the sons of all men of genius were poor creatures—and Chorley and I exchanged glances after the fashion of two Augurs meeting at some street-corner in Cicero's time, as he says. And Mr. Kenyon was kind, kinder, kindest, as ever, 'and thus ends a wooing'!—no, a dinner—my wooing ends never, never; and so prepare to be asked to give, and give, and give till all is given in Heaven! And all I give you is just my heart's blessing; God bless you, my dearest, dearest Ba!"

'Mr. W. Junior' being the son of Wordsworth, being the son of a genius, may have been a 'poor creature' but he certainly must have been a gentleman to 'smile good-naturedly' at that comment. Do you wonder what our Poet's son will be like? Hard act to follow. But we must all find our own way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March 7

We are getting in a point in the correspondence, in March 1846, where our poets are so obviously in love with each other that people are starting to take notice. Miss Barrett, who loves to tease her brothers is also teased by her brothers and their friends:

"Because it is colder to-day I have not been down-stairs but let to-morrow be warm enough—facilis descensus. There's something infernal to me really, in the going down, and now too that our cousin is here! Think of his beginning to attack Henrietta the other day.... 'So Mr. C. has retired and left the field to Surtees Cook. Oh ... you needn't deny ... it's the news of all the world except your father. And as to him, I don't blame you—he never will consent to the marriage of son or daughter. Only you should consider, you know, because he won't leave you a shilling, &c. &c....' You hear the sort of man. And then in a minute after ... 'And what is this about Ba?' 'About Ba' said my sisters, 'why who has been persuading you of such nonsense?' 'Oh, my authority is very good,—perfectly unnecessary for you to tell any stories, Arabel,—a literary friendship, is it?' ... and so on ... after that fashion! This comes from my brothers of course, but we need not be afraid of its passing beyond, I think, though I was a good deal vexed when I heard first of it last night and have been in cousinly anxiety ever since to get our Orestes safe away from those Furies his creditors, into Brittany again. He is an intimate friend of my brothers besides the relationship, and they talk to him as to each other, only they oughtn't to have talked that, and without knowledge too."

Oh dear, so much for a secret. And then some literary gossip:

I forgot to tell you that Mr. Kenyon was in an immoderate joy the day I saw him last, about Mr. Poe's 'Raven' as seen in the Athenæum extracts, and came to ask what I knew of the poet and his poetry, and took away the book. It's the rhythm which has taken him with 'glamour' I fancy."

And then to end the wondering:

"Who 'looked in at the door?' Nobody. But Arabel a little way opened it, and hearing your voice, went back. There was no harm—is no fear of harm. Nobody in the house would find his or her pleasure in running the risk of giving me pain. I mean my brothers and sisters would not."

Yes, indeed, for if it was Papa Barrett he would most certainly have come in to see what exactly these two poets were up to.

But Browning has no fear of Mr. Barrett:

"About my fears—whether of opening doors or entering people—one thing is observable and prevents the possibility of any misconception—I desire, have been in the habit of desiring, to increase them, far from diminishing—they relate, of course, entirely to you—and only through you affect me the least in the world. Put your well-being out of the question, so far as I can understand it to be involved,—and the pleasure and pride I should immediately choose would be that the whole world knew our position. What pleasure, what pride! But I endeavour to remember on all occasions—and perhaps succeed in too few—that it is very easy for me to go away and leave you who cannot go. I only allude to this because some people are 'naturally nervous' and all that—and I am quite of another kind."

He can be so charming. What a dude.
And even his complaints are charming. Browning has a problem with being called 'kind', which as we all know is not good enough for Miss Barrett who is beyond 'kind':

"You call me 'kind'; and by this time I have no heart to call you such names—I told you, did I not once? that 'Ba' had got to convey infinitely more of you to my sense than 'dearest,' 'sweetest,' all or any epithets that break down with their load of honey like bees—to say you are 'kind,' you that so entirely and unintermittingly bless me,—it will never do now, 'Ba.' All the same, one way there is to make even 'Ba' dearer,—'my Ba,' I say to myself!"

At this point in their correspondence they are so infatuated with each other they can only 'work' at trying to find ways to describe what they are feeling, and for people with a gift of words, they are struggling. It is fun to enjoy their joy, however. And there is always the temptation to steal a line or too for personal use.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March 6

Miss Barrett is in haste to write on March 6, 1846:

"Now listen! I seem to understand myself: it seems to me that every word I ever said to you on one subject, is plainly referable to a class of feelings of which you could not complain ... could not. But this is my impression; and yours is different:—you do not understand, you do not see by my light, and perhaps it is natural that you should not, as we stand on different steps of the argument. Still I, who said what I did, for you, and from an absorbing consideration of what was best for you, cannot consent, even out of anxiety for your futurity, to torment you now, to vex you by a form of speech which you persist in translating into a want of trust in you ... (I, want trust in you!!) into a need of more evidence about you from others ... (could you say so?) and even into an indisposition on my part to fulfil my engagement—no, dearest dearest, it is not right of you. And therefore, as you have these thoughts reasonably or unreasonably, I shall punish you for them at once, and 'chain' you ... (as you wish to be chained), chain you, rivet you—do you feel how the little fine chain twists round and round you? do you hear the stroke of the riveting? and you may feel that too. Now, it is done—now, you are chained—Bia has finished the work—I, Ba! (observe the anagram!) and not a word do you say, of Prometheus, though you have the conscience of it all, I dare say. Well! you must be pleased, ... as it was 'the weight of too much liberty' which offended you: and now you believe, perhaps, that I trust you, love you, and look to you over the heads of the whole living world, without any one head needing to stoop; you must, if you please, because you belong to me now and shall believe as I choose. There's a ukase for you! Cry out ... repent ... and I will loose the links, and let you go againshall it be 'My dear Miss Barrett?'

Seriously, you shall not think of me such things as you half said, if not whole said, to-day. If all men were to speak evil of you, my heart would speak of you the more good—that would be the one result with me. Do I not know you, soul to soul? should I believe that any of them could know you as I know you? Then for the rest, I am not afraid of 'toads' now, not being a child any longer. I am not inclined to mind, if you do not mind, what may be said about us by the benevolent world, nor will other reasons of a graver kind affect me otherwise than by the necessary pain. Therefore the whole rests with you—unless illness should intervene—and you will be kind and good (will you not?) and not think hard thoughts of me ever again—no. It wasn't the sense of being less than you had a right to pretend to, which made me speak what you disliked—for it is I who am 'unworthy,' and not another—not certainly that other!

I meant to write more to-night of subjects farther off us, but my sisters have come up-stairs and I must close my letter quickly."

What a playfully indignant letter. And the interesting reference to Prometheus. The letter we discussed yesterday from March 5, 1845, a year previous, is redolent of Prometheus who knows that he has sinned of his own free will and is accepting his punishment of being chained, "...he had not, however, foreseen the extent and detail of the torment, the skiey rocks, and the friendless desolation." She has chained her Prometheus of his own free will and perhaps he will repent of it.

But Browning has not received Miss Barrett's March 6 letter when he sends his March 6, 1846 letter and he is making peace as well:

"It is always I who 'torment' you—instead of taking the present and blessing you, and leaving the future to its own cares. I certainly am not apt to look curiously into what next week is to bring, much less next month or six months, but you, the having you, my own, dearest beloved, that is as different in kind as in degree from any other happiness or semblance of it that even seemed possible of realization. Then, now, the health is all to stay, or retard us—oh, be well, my Ba.....
On Monday—is it not? Who was it looked into the room just at our leave-taking?"

Who looked in on them? A touch of paranoia? What were those two poets up to? Writing poetry? I suspect that if it was Papa at the door Browning would not be writing the inquiry. He would have known at once....

Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5

March 5, 1845 Miss Barrett is still attempting to introduce herself to Browning. She is a bit concerned that he sees her as an invalid and wants to set him on the right path:

"...I am essentially better, and have been for several winters; and I feel as if it were intended for me to live and not die, and I am reconciled to the feeling. Yes! I am satisfied to 'take up' with the blind hopes again, and have them in the house with me, for all that I sit by the window. By the way, did the chorus utter scorn in the μεγ' ωφελημα. I think not. It is well to fly towards the light, even where there may be some fluttering and bruising of wings against the windowpanes, is it not?...

Which makes her think of poetry...

"There is an obscurer passage, on which I covet your thoughts, where Prometheus, after the sublime declaration that, with a full knowledge of the penalty reserved for him, he had sinned of free will and choice—goes on to say—or to seem to say—that he had not, however, foreseen the extent and detail of the torment, the skiey rocks, and the friendless desolation. See v. 275. The intention of the poet might have been to magnify to his audience the torment of the martyrdom—but the heroism of the martyr diminishes in proportion—and there appears to be a contradiction, and oversight. Or is my view wrong? Tell me. And tell me too, if Æschylus not the divinest of all the divine Greek souls? People say after Quintilian, that he is savage and rude; a sort of poetic Orson, with his locks all wild. But I will not hear it of my master! He is strong as Zeus is—and not as a boxer—and tender as Power itself, which always is tenderest."

You see where her heart lay in March 1845. Her heart was in poetry. Greek or English. And she wanted to discuss it with another poet.

"But to go back to the view of Life with the blind Hopes; you are not to think—whatever I may have written or implied—that I lean either to the philosophy or affectation which beholds the world through darkness instead of light, and speaks of it wailingly...I am not desponding by nature, and after a course of bitter mental discipline and long bodily seclusion, I come out with two learnt lessons (as I sometimes say and oftener feel),—the wisdom of cheerfulness—and the duty of social intercourse. Anguish has instructed me in joy, and solitude in society...What we call Life is a condition of the soul, and the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault. These tears in our eyes, these faintings of the flesh, will not hinder such improvement.

And I do like to hear testimonies like yours, to happiness, and I feel it to be a testimony of a higher sort than the obvious one. Still, it is obvious too that you have been spared, up to this time, the great natural afflictions, against which we are nearly all called, sooner or later, to struggle and wrestle—or your step would not be 'on the stair' quite so lightly. And so, we turn to you, dear Mr. Browning, for comfort and gentle spiriting! Remember that as you owe your unscathed joy to God, you should pay it back to His world. And I thank you for some of it already.
Also, writing as from friend to friend—as you say rightly that we are—I ought to confess that of one class of griefs (which has been called too the bitterest), I know as little as you. The cruelty of the world, and the treason of it—the unworthiness of the dearest; of these griefs I have scanty knowledge. It seems to me from my personal experience that there is kindness everywhere in different proportions, and more goodness and tenderheartedness than we read of in the moralists. People have been kind to me, even without understanding me, and pitiful to me, without approving of me:—nay, have not the very critics tamed their beardom for me, and roared delicately as sucking doves, on behalf of me? I have no harm to say of your world, though I am not of it, as you see. And I have the cream of it in your friendship, and a little more, and I do not envy much the milkers of the cows.
How kind you are!—how kindly and gently you speak to me! Some things you say are very touching, and some, surprising; and although I am aware that you unconsciously exaggerate what I can be to you, yet it is delightful to be broad awake and think of you as my friend."

She is being humble and sweet and doing a great job laying on the praise. She doesn't want him to pity her, she wants him to discuss poetry and Greek and every other topic with her. I think she will get more that she ever expected.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 4

March 4, 1846 finds Miss Barrett again attempting to explain to Browning why he shouldn't marry her. For his security. Because he will be forever stuck. What man has ever had to fight so hard to convince a woman that he wants to be stuck with her?

"Yes, but, dearest, you mistake me, or you mistake yourself. I am sure I do not over-care for forms—it is not my way to do it—and in this case ... no. Still you must see that here is a fact as well as a form, and involving a frightful quantity of social inconvenience (to use the mildest word) if too hastily entered on. I deny altogether looking for, or 'seeing' any 'security' in it for myself—it is a mere form for the heart and the happiness: illusions may pass after as before. Still the truth is that if they were to pass with you now, you stand free to act according to the wide-awakeness of your eyes, and to reform your choice ... see! whereas afterward you could not carry out such a reformation while I was alive, even if I helped you. All I could do for you would be to walk away. And you pretend not to see this broad distinction?—ah. For me I have seen just this and no more, and have felt averse to forestall, to seem to forestall even by an hour, or a word, that stringency of the legal obligation from which there is in a certain sense no redemption."

Browning had given this analogy previously:

"Is there any parallel in the notion I once heard a man deliver himself of in the street—a labourer talking with his friends about 'wishes'—and this one wished, if he might get his wish, 'to have a nine gallon cask of strong ale set running that minute and his own mouth to be tied under it'—the exquisiteness of the delight was to be in the security upon security,—the being 'tied.' Now, Ba says I shall not be 'chained' if she can help!"

To which she responds:

"Tie up your drinker under the pour of his nine gallons, and in two minutes he will moan and writhe (as you perfectly know) like a Brinvilliers under the water-torture. That he asked to be tied up, was unwise on his own principle of loving ale. And you sha'n't be 'chained' up, if you were to ask twenty times: if you have found truth or not in the water-well."

She still does not believe that he is not under some sort of delusion. In one sense she trusts that he would do the honorable thing and not simply abandon her, but in another sense she does not trust him to know his own mind and feelings. Perhaps she had seen too many unhappy married couples, tied together forever in miserable marriages.

But now, again, she tries to clarify her father, but she doesn't really because she cannot:

"You do not see aright what I meant to tell you on another subject. If he was displeased, (and it was expressed by a shadow a mere negation of pleasure) it was not with you as a visitor and my friend. You must not fancy such a thing. It was a sort of instinctive indisposition towards seeing you here—unexplained to himself, I have no doubt—of course unexplained, or he would have desired me to receive you never again, that would have been done at once and unscrupulously. But without defining his own feeling, he rather disliked seeing you here—it just touched one of his vibratory wires, brushed by and touched it—oh, we understand in this house. He is not a nice observer, but, at intervals very wide, he is subject to lightnings—call them fancies, sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Certainly it was not in the character of a 'sympathising friend' that you made him a very little cross on Monday. And yet you never were nor will be in danger of being thanked, he would not think of it. For the reserve, the apprehension—dreadful those things are, and desecrating to one's own nature—but we did not make this position, we only endure it. The root of the evil is the miserable misconception of the limits and character of parental rights—it is a mistake of the intellect rather than of the heart. Then, after using one's children as one's chattels for a time, the children drop lower and lower toward the level of the chattels, and the duties of human sympathy to them become difficult in proportion. And (it seems strange to say it, yet it is true) love, he does not conceive of at all. He has feeling, he can be moved deeply, he is capable of affection in a peculiar way, but that, he does not understand, any more than he understands Chaldee, respecting it less of course."

She obviously has tried to explain her father to herself. She understands that he has these moods and temperaments, she can read them in him, but I doubt if she truly understands them. She is simply describing the symptoms. I recently read a biography that was attempting to defend Mr. Barrett and the writer was trying to make the point that EBB was exaggerating her father's faults to Browning so that she could allow Browning to replace her father in her affections. To back up this theory he tried to demonstrate that EBB wrote pleasant things about her father to another correspondent, Miss Mitford, and that she had dedicated her published poems of 1844 to her father. This line of argumentation seems like pretty weak milk to me. Miss Mitford was not an intimate, there is no possibility that EBB would write a critical essay about her father to Miss Mitford. Also, Miss Mitford's letters were passed around. And why wouldn't EBB dedicate her book of poetry to her father? He was her world up to that point. To think that she was blind to his faults is not plausible, given how keenly aware she was of her own faults. This again is a problem I have with so many biographies of both EBB and RB. The writers are either pro or con. Why does a biographer have to make a villain? Every person makes choices in their lives, for good or ill. Why does it necessarily follow that EBB ruined RB's life? Or that RB was a social climber who used his wife for his own personal and poetical gain? Why can't they be two very interesting, complicated and talented people who just happened upon each other at a time that was convenient to them both? Could it possibly be that simple? Perhaps that doesn't sell books. But hey, who am I to criticize someone for having an opinion? I certainly have one, or didn't you notice?

To continue with today's dose, she ends the letter with a warning and some affection:

"There will be no lack of 'lying,' be sure—'pure lying' too—and nothing you can do, dearest dearest, shall hinder my being torn to pieces by most of the particularly affectionate friends I have in the world. Which I do not think of much, any more than of Italy. You will be mad, and I shall be bad ... and that will be the effect of being poets! 'Till when, where are you?'—why in the very deepest of my soul—wherever in it is the fountain head of loving! beloved, there you are!
Some day I shall ask you 'in form,'—as I care so much for forms, it seems,—what your 'faults' are, these immense multitudinous faults of yours, which I hear such talk of, and never, never, can get to see. Will you give me a catalogue raisonnée of your faults? I should like it, I think. In the meantime they seem to be faults of obscurity, that is, invisible faults, like those in the poetry which do not keep it from selling as I am so, so glad to understand."

Browning meanwhile sends a short note of encouragement equating her father to a 'spitting toad':

"Ah, sweetest, don't mind people and their lies any more than I shall; if the toad does 'take it into his toad's head to spit at you'—you will not 'drop dead,' I warrant. All the same, if one may make a circuit through a flower-bed and see the less of his toad-habits and general ugliness, so much the better—no words can express my entire indifference (far below contempt) for what can be said or done. But one thing, only one, I choose to hinder being said, if I can—the others I would not if I could—why prevent the toad's puffing himself out thrice his black bigness if it amuses him among those wet stones? We shall be in the sun.
I dare say I am unjust—hasty certainly, in the other matter—but all faults are such inasmuch as they are 'mistakes of the intellect'—toads may spit or leave it alone,—but if I ever see it right, exercising my intellect, to treat any human beings like my 'chattels'—I shall pay for that mistake one day or another, I am convinced—and I very much fear that you would soon discover what one fault of mine is, if you were to hear anyone assert such a right in my presence."

He is selling himself as a husband: His wife will not be his chattel and anyone who treats his wife as chattel will feel his wrath!