Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2

On March 2, 1846 Miss Barrett and Browning are deep in a discussion of a 'security' that supposedly Miss Barrett has requested of Browning. She is sounding very defensive today:

"And for myself, it was my compromise with my own scruples, that you should not be 'chained' to me, not in the merest metaphor, that you should not seem to be bound, in honour or otherwise, so that if you stayed with me it should be your free choice to stay, not the consequence of a choice so many months before. That was my compromise with my scruples, and not my doubt of your affection—and least of all, was it an intention of trifling with you sooner or later that made me wish to suspend all decisions as long as possible. I have decided (for me) to let it be as you shall please—now I told you that before. Either we will live on as we are, until an obstacle arises,—for indeed I do not look for a 'security' where you suppose, and the very appearance of it there, is what most rebuts me—or I will be yours in the obvious way, to go out of England the next half-hour if possible."

Oh, dear. These two can't get it right on paper or in person, for this conversation seems to be a continuation of a discussion they had when they met. But worse is to come in the person of Mr. Barrett, the visiting Papa:

"Dearest, it was plain to see yesterday evening when he came into this room for a moment at seven o'clock, before going to his own to dress for dinner ... plain to see, that he was not altogether pleased at finding you here in the morning. There was no pretext for objecting gravely—but it was plain that he was not pleased. Do not let this make you uncomfortable, he will forget all about it, and I was not scolded, do you understand. It was more manner, but my sisters thought as I did of the significance:—and it was enough to prove to me (if I had not known) what a desperate game we should be playing if we depended on a yielding nerve there."

Is she trying a different tack to warn Browning off? She can't get him to entertain the idea that he is only infatuated with her and that the feeling will fade. Perhaps she will scare him off with the visage of the wrathful Mr. Barrett? It's possible, even if the suggestion is not conscious on her part.

But then she changes the subject to the sketches Browning has left that were created by his father, Browning Sr., who was apparently quite a good sketch artist.

"How clever these sketches are. The expression produced by such apparently inadequate means is quite striking; and I have been making my brothers admire them, and they 'wonder you don't think of employing them in an illustrated edition of your works.' Which might be, really!"

And she returns to the subject of her worldly ignorance:

"If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, it will not be with Mrs. Jameson—no. If ever I should be there, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long! There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, ... yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity ... feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you. But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, ... in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, ... it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this ... the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!"

This ignorance, I believe, is one of the great motivating factors in her leaving her father's house and going off with Browning. She wanted more knowledge. The kind of knowledge you can only get in the world, a sensuous world full or art, music and a different type of society. And Browning offered this opportunity in every way. But she hasn't made the leap yet. She is struggling still. Despite all of her words to the contrary, she still doesn't quite trust Browning and probably herself. She has to work it all out in her head and probably her heart first.

But Browning does not respond to this letter right away. He sends her a note that he got the letter:

"Dearest, I have been kept in town and just return in time to say why you have no note ... to-morrow I will write ... so much there is to say on the subject of this letter I find."

Good technique, let her stew for a bit. Then another mild note arrives that does not address her letter, either. He just let's her know that he loves her. He doesn't want to keep the line too tight in case it snaps:

"One or two words, if no more, I must write to dearest Ba, the night would go down in double blackness if I had neither written nor been written to...I determine never again to 'analyse,' nor let you analyse if the sweet mouth can be anyway stopped: the love shall be one and indivisible—and the Loves we used to know from
One another huddled lie ...
Close beside Her tenderly—

(which is surely the next line). Now am I not anxious to know what your father said? And if anybody else said or wondered ... how should I know? Of all fighting—the warfare with shadows—what a work is there. But tell me,—and, with you for me—Bless me dearest ever, as the face above mine blesses me—"

So, it is all sweetness and love...he only alludes to the problem of Papa Barrett...what shall come next?


  1. Next installment to have the story continued. Not too had to catch the next installment since I'm behind.

  2. I meant...not to hard to catch the next installment....