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
us—I 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.