Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22

Browning responds as he might to Miss Barrett's letter of reproach:

"I never thought I should convince you, dearest--and I was foolish to write so, since it makes you reply so: at all events, I do not habitually offend in this kind--forty-nine days out of fifty I hear my own praises from your lips; and yet keep silence--on the fiftieth I protest gently--is that too much? Then I will be quiet altogether, my Ba, and get a comfort out of the consciousness of obedience that at least. But I should like some  talking-bird to tell you the struggle there is and what I could say--Shall I idealize you into mere mist, Ba, and the the fine, fine, last of you? Well, I cannot even play with the fancy of that--so, one day, when so much is to be cleared up between us, look for a word or two on this matter also--Some savage speech about 'the hand I was to have dropped'--the whole ending with the Promethean [Thus upon scorners I retort their scorn]! Meanwhile my revenge on the hand must be to kiss it--I kiss it."

In the ending paragraph of the letter he drops a line that will lead to more chaos!

"I ought to tell you that I went to my doctor last evening--(remembering to whom I promised I would do so, if need were, or good seemed likely to follow)--and he speaks encouragingly and I have engaged to be obedient; perhaps, because he ordains no very intolerant laws. He says I am better that when he saw me last--and, as he wanted then to begin to prescribe,...there is clearly a gain of about two months comfort!"

Oh, dear. He did what she wanted him to do. And what is the result? She writes back immediately:

"Then seriously you are not well, since you went for the medical advise after all! that is the thought which is uppermost as the effect of your letter, though I ought to be grateful to you (& am!) for remembering to keep your promise, made two months ago. But how can I help thinking that you are knowing that you felt very ill before you came to consider that promise? You did feel very did you not? and I see in this letter that you are not well--I see plainly, plainly..! Have you been using the showerbath? tell me:--and tell me how you are--do not keep back anything. for the rest, you will submit to the advice, you say, & you mean to submit, I think, my own very dearest--remember that all my light comes, not only through you, but from you, let it be April light or November light...You will be careful,..will you not? these? I am not happy about you tonight. I feel as if you are worse perhaps than you say."

The editor of the letters, Kintner, notes that Miss Barrett felt she could read Browning's handwriting which was much ruffled when he was sick or upset about something. This would explain her "I see in this letter that you are not well." She is pretty adamant that he not be sick. But even so, she does have to 'teaze' the man:

"And you make a piteous case out for yourself against me, indeed...& it seems very hard to have to endure so much, 'forty-nine days out of fifty'...I did not think it was so bad with you!--And when you protest gently on the fiftieth  gently..!!--Well, the fact is that you forget perhaps what sort of gentle protestations it was, you wrote me on sunday, you who protest so gently, & never flatter! And as for having your own 'praises blown into your eyes' for forty-nine days together, I cannot confess to the iniquity of it, mistake, you mistake, as well as forget--only that I will not vex you & convict you too much now that you are not well. So we shall have peace..shall we not?..on each side. I never write extravagances..ah, but we will not write of them, even....Yet you are not well! say how you are! I come clear out of the mist to call myself
Your very own Ba"

As I note earlier, for all of the fame Miss Barrett had for being an invalid cloistered in her room, we really do hear more about Browning's many headaches and illnesses than Miss Barrett's, in these letters. And we do hear much about this showerbath that Browning seems to indulge in but Miss Barrett seems to fear. She rather accuses him of taking showerbaths! I foresee him having to defend himself against charges of being secretly ill.

No comments:

Post a Comment