Thursday, April 5, 2012

April 5

On April 5, 1846 Miss Barrett sends her letter tucked in a parcel that includes the proofs of Browning's poem "A Soul's Tragedy". She of course praises the poem but the interesting part of the letter is her expansion on the man she sees as her "Chiappino". She does not name him in the letter but the assumption is that she refers to the Rev. George Barrett Hunter. This was the man who was not able to woo and win the reclusive Miss Barrett:

"For my part, it delights me--& must raise your reputation as a poet & thinker...must. Chiappino is highly dramatic in that first part & speaks so finely sometimes that it is a wrench to one's sympathies to find him overthrown. Do you know that, as far a the temper of the man goes, I am acquainted with a Chiappino..just such a man, in the temper, the pride & the bitterness...not in other things. When I read your manuscript I was reminded--but here in print, it seems to grow nearer & nearer. My Chiappino has tired me out at last--I have bourne more from him than women ought to bear from men, because he was unfortunate & embittered in his nature and by circumstances, & because I regarded him as a friend of many years. Yet, as I have told him, anyone, who had not such confidence in me, would think really ill of me through reading the insolent letters which he has thought fit to address to me on what he called a pure principle of adoration. At last I made up my mind (& shall keep it so) to answer no letter of the kind. Men are ignoble in some things, past the conceiving of their fellows. Again & again I have said..'Specify your charge against me'--but there is no charge. With the most reckless & dauntless inconsistency I am lifted halfway to the skies, & make a mark there for mud pellets--so that I have been excited sometimes to say quite passionately..'If I am the filth of the earth, tread on me--if I am an angel of Heaven, respect me--but I can't be both, remember.' See where your Chiappino leads you..& me! Though I shall not tell you the other name of mine. Whenever I see him now, I make Arabel stay in the room--otherwise I am afraid--he is such a violent man. A good man, though, in many respects, & quite an old friend. Some men grow incensed with the continual pricks of ill-fortune, like mad bulls: some grow tame and meek."

Miss Barrett seems to have two rather volatile men around her. Was this a form of confession? Did she want Browning to know there were other men in her life in case he found out from another source--like Kenyon? Also, to tell Browning that this man is violent surely should put Browning on alert to protect his woman. It is also interesting that after she goes into detail about what a volatile man Hunter is, she insists that he is 'a good man'. Does this not sound like her father, a bit nutty and eccentric but a good man?

She ends the letter:

"For the rest, it is certainly very likely that you may 'want all of your faculties, & more' bear with support me with graceful resignation: & who can tell whether I may not be found intolerable after all?
By the wrote 'gag'..did you not?..where the proofs say 'gadge'--I did not alter it.

Browning, in the mean time, is still thinking about what he wrote the previous day and worrying about it:

"I sent you some even more than usual hasty, foolish words,--not caring much, however--for dearest Ba shall have to forgive my shortcomings every hour in the day, it is her destiny, and I began unluckily with that stupidest of all notions,--that about the harm coming of genius &c, so I fell with my subject and we rolled in the mud together--pas vrai [right]? But there are so many other matters alluded to in your dearest (because last) letter--there are many things in which I agree with you to such a tremblingly exquisite exactness, so to speak, that I hardly dare cry out lest the charm break, imaginary oscillation prove incomplete and your soul, now directly over, pass beyond mine yet, and not stay! Do you understand, dear soul of my soul, dearest Ba? Oh, how different it might be! In this House of Life--where I go, you go--where I ascend you run before,--where I descend, it is after you. Now, one might have a piece of Ba,  but a very little of her, and make it up into a Lady and a Mistress, and find her a room to her mind perhaps when she would sit and sing, 'warble eat and dwell' like Tennyson's blackbird, and to visit her there with due honor one might wear the finest of robes, use the courtliest of ceremonies,--and then,--after a time leave her there and go, the door once shut, without much blame, to throw off  the tunic and put on Lord Compton's blouse and go whither one liked--after, to me, the most melancholy fashion in the world. How different with us! If it were not, indeed--what a mad folly would marriage be!"

A paragraph full of poetry in prose. He liked his own imagery so much he used this same theme of chasing his phantom love through a house in the poem Love in a Life published in 1855 as part of "Men and Women". An excellent example of how his mind worked, building on a notion and not quite fleshing it out here. It makes me wonder if he went back and read these letters at some point and picked up the imagery again, or had he been playing with the idea for nine years? The line about 'your soul, now directly over, pass beyond mine yet, and not stay' reminds me of a poem Browning published eleven years after her death as a prologue to Fifine at the Fair, entitled Amphibian. In this poem her soul is a butterfly floating over him as he swims, but there again he cannot quite reach her, beyond him in life and death.

No comments:

Post a Comment