Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30

May 30, 1846 the play continues with Miss Barrett teazing Browning about his humility:

I have your letter .. you who cannot write!– The contrariety is a part of the ‘miracle’. After all it seems to me that you can write for yourself pretty well—rather too well I used to think from the beginning. But if you persist in the proposition about my doing it for you, leaving room for your signature … shall it be this way?–
Show me how to get rid of you.
Now is’nt it I who am .. not ‘balancing my jewel’ .. over the gulph .. but actually tossing it up in the air out of sheer levity of joyousness?– Only it is not perhaps such dangerous play as it looks: there may be a little string perhaps, tying it to my finger. Which, if it is not imprudence in act, is impudence in fact, you see!–
Dearest, I committed a felony for your sake today—so never doubt that I love you. We went to the Botanical Gardens, where it is unlawful to gather flowers, & I was determined to gather this for you, & the gardeners were here & there .. they seemed everywhere .. but I stooped down & gathered it– Is it felony, or burglary on green leaves—or what is the name of the crime?—would the people give me up to the police I wonder? Transie de peur [paralysed with fear], I was, .. listening to Arabel’s declaration that all gathering of flowers in those gardens is highly improper,—and I made her finish her discourse, standing between me & the gardeners .. to prove that I was the better for it....."

She stole a pansy for her boy. She seems to be a natural thief using the body of an innocent to block her crime. Compare with the letter to Mr. Boyd from 1840 when she fainted when moved from bed to sofa. What a difference Browning has made to her, she is now committing horticultural felonies!

"Can you love me so? do you?—will you always?– And is any of that love ‘lost’, do you think, .. as the saying is? Indeed it is not. I put golden basins all round (the reverse shape of lachrymatories) to catch every drop as it falls, .. so that when we two shall meet together in the new world, I may look in your face (as I cannot at this moment) & say ‘None of the love was lost, though all of it was undeserved’."

No, she still can't quite believe it. What does Browning have to say?

"Oh, yes, do 'show me how to get rid of you', my best Ba,—for so I shall have the virtuous delight of deciding to keep you, instead of being wholly kept by you; it is all out of my head, now, how I used to live when I was my own; and if you can, by one more witchery, give me back that feeling for once .. Ba, I have no heart to write more nonsense, when I can take your dearest self into my arms; yet I shall never quite lie quiet and happy, I do think .. I shall be always wishing you would be angry, and cruel, and unjust, for a moment,—for my love overflows the bounds, needs to prove itself—all which is foolish, I know....I mean, that after the blow struck, the natural vibration must follow and continue its proper period—and that my love for what I have received from you already must last to my life’s end—cannot end sooner! 'Shall I continue to love you!' "

All this love stuff is very nice, but it does get rather cloying. I, like Browning, am looking forward to some drama or at least some good natured teazing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29

Let's take a look at an interesting letter from Miss Barrett to her Greek scholar friend Hugh Boyd from May 29, 1840. Miss Barrett is in Torquay for her health and she sends a charming letter in response to a greeting from Boyd sent from his new home in Hampstead:

"Yes indeed; you do treat me very shabbily. I agree with you in thinking so. To think that so many hills and woods should interpose between us—that I should be lying here, fast bound by a spell, a sleeping beauty in a forest, and that you, who used to be such a doughty knight, should not take the trouble of cutting through even a hazel tree with your good sword, to find out what had become of me. Now do tell me, the hazel tree being down at last, whether you mean to live at Hampstead, whether you have taken a house there and have carried your books there, and wear Hampstead grasshoppers in your bonnet (as they did at Athens) to prove yourself of the soil.
All this nonsense will make you think I am better, and indeed I am pretty well just now—quite, however, confined to the bed—except when lifted from it to the sofa baby-wise while they make it; even then apt to faint. Bad symptoms too do not leave me; and I am obliged to be blistered every few days—but I am free from any attack just now, and am a good deal less feverish than I am occasionally. There has been a consultation between an Exeter physician and my own, and they agree exactly, both hoping that with care I shall pass the winter, and rally in the spring, both hoping that I may be able to go about again with some comfort and independence, although I never can be fit again for anything like exertion...."

A charming letter with an interesting look at her state of health in 1840, before the death of her brother Edward in August. From a modern point of view, the idea that she was so weak that she fainted when she was lift from her bed and yet was bleed every few days seems appalling. But such are the glimpses of another time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28

We start May 28, 1846 with a letter from Miss Barrett. Browning had paid his visit the day before and the conversation continues in the letters:

"What I meant to say yesterday was simply, that, I, knowing that, should be ‘bad’ if I could fail practically to myself & you. I have known from the beginning the whole painful side of what is before me, also .. I should have no excuse therefore for any weakness in any fear. Should I not be ‘bad’ then, & more unworthy of you than even according to my own account, if the obstacle came from me? It never can. Remember to be sure of it. A change of feeling indeed would be a different thing, & we think exactly alike on the fit consequences of it. Which change is however absolutely impossible in my position & to me, ‘for reasons .. for reasons’ .... you guess at some of them, some are spoken, & others cannot be. In one word for all, life seems to come to me only through you .. I am your very own Ba"

Browning responds:

There is a long four-days more of waiting– I feel more and more and ever more how, wanting you, my life wants all it can have. Dear Ba, never wonder that I fancy at times such an event’s occurrence as you tell me I need not fear. I shall always fear,—never can I hold you sufficiently fast, I shall think. So, if my jewel must be taken from me, let some eagle stoop down for it suddenly, baffling all human precaution, as I look on my treasure on a tower’s top miles and miles inland,—don’t let me have to remember, tho’ but in a minute of life afterwards, that I let it drop into the sea thro’ foolishly balancing it in my open hand over the water.There is one of Ba’s “myths,” excepting all Ba’s felicitousness of application and glory of invention,—but then it has all my own love and worship of Ba’s self, all I care to be distinguished by.

They seemed to have settled into a bit of a recitative, between crises, just enjoying their love, contriving to assure each other. Their only worries seem to be when their letters and visits will occur.

"Dearest dearest, I thought I had lost my letter tonight, for not a sound came like a postman’s knock .. I thought I had lost my letter, talking of losing jewels. I waited & waited, & at last broke silence to Arabel with, ‘when will the post come?’ ‘Not tonight,’ said she—“it is nearly ten”. On which I exclaimed so pitifully & with such a desperate sense of loss, ‘You mean to say that I shall have no letter tonight'?.. that after she had laughed a very little, she went downstairs to search the letterbox & brought me what I wanted.
And you think it possible that I should give up my letters & their golden fountain?—I!,—while I live & have understanding!– I cant fancy what manner of eagles you believe in. If in real live eagles, .. why it is as probable as any other thing of the sort, that I (or you) should be snatched away by an eagle … the eagle who used to live, for instance, at the Colisæum of Regent’s Park. And when I ride away upon an eagle, I may take a wrong counsel perhaps that hour from other birds of the air: … but till then, I am yours to have & to hold, .. unless, as you say, you open your hand wide & cry with a distinct voice, ‘Go’. It shall be your doing & not mine, if we two are to part—or God’s own doing, through illness & death. And the way to avert danger is to avoid observation & discussion, as much as we can—& we have not been frightened much yet, .. now have we?– As for wednesday, there is time to think. But how can you leave your sister? You cannot. So unless you derange your ‘myth’ altogether, & find a trysting place for us, .. each mounted on an eagle, .. in Nephelococcygia [cloud cuckoo land], we had better be satisfied, it seems to me, with monday & saturday....
Do you not see that I am bound to you hand & foot? Why do you not see what God sees?–
But it is late, & the rest must be for tomorrow. The sender of the rosetree, sent today a great heliotrope—so, presently, you will have to seek me in a wood.

A pleasant trio of letters after all the pain and stultification of May 1845.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27

Yesterday, May 26, 1845 Browning tried to have the last word but there was no way that was going to happen. On May 27 Miss Barrett finds that she must change their play date due to visitors:

"You will think me the most changeable of all the changeable; but indeed it is not my fault that I cannot, as I wished, receive you on Wednesday. There was a letter this morning; and our friends not only come to London but come to this house on Tuesday (to-morrow) to pass two or three days, until they settle in an hotel for the rest of the season. Therefore you see, it is doubtful whether the two days may not be three, and the three days four; but if they go away in time, and if Saturday should suit you, I will let you know by a word; and you can answer by a yea or nay. While they are in the house, I must give them what time I can—and indeed, it is something to dread altogether.
I send you the note I had begun before receiving yours of last night, and also a fragment from Mrs. Hedley's herein enclosed, a full and complete certificate, ... that you may know ... quite know, ... what the real and only reason of the obstacle to Wednesday is. On Saturday perhaps, or on Monday more certainly, there is likely to be no opposition, ... at least not on the 'côté gauche[left side]' (my side!) to our meeting—but I will let you know more.
For the rest, we have both been a little unlucky, there's no denying, in overcoming the embarrassments of a first acquaintance—but suffer me to say as one other last word, (and quite, quite the last this time!) in case there should have been anything approaching, however remotely, to a distrustful or unkind tone in what I wrote on Sunday, (and I have a sort of consciousness that in the process of my self-scorning I was not in the most sabbatical of moods perhaps—) that I do recall and abjure it, and from my heart entreat your pardon for it, and profess, notwithstanding it, neither to 'choose' nor 'to be able' to think otherwise of you than I have done, ... as of one most generous and most loyal; for that if I chose, I could not; and that if I could, I should not choose...."

Of course this will not be the last word. These ongoing 'one last words' will become a charm between them. Browning's first poem publicly dedicated to his wife was published at the end of 'Men and Women' as "One Word More to E.B.B. London, September, 1855". (And a lovely poem it is too, go here and read it again if you haven't read it in awhile. If you are scared of Browning please know that this is one of his easier poems. You can do it!)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26

We are still dealing with the aftermath of the missing letter on May 26, 1845. Browning insists that he has to have the last word. Don't believe that he will get it, but he is going to try:
"Nay—I must have last word—as all people in the wrong desire to have—and then, no more of the subject. You said I had given you great pain—so long as I stop that, think anything of me you choose or can! But before your former letter came, I saw the pre-ordained uselessness of mine. Speaking is to some end, (apart from foolish self-relief, which, after all, I can do without)—and where there is no end—you see! or, to finish characteristically—since the offering to cut off one's right-hand to save anybody a headache, is in vile taste, even for our melodramas, seeing that it was never yet believed in on the stage or off it,—how much worse to really make the ugly chop, and afterwards come sheepishly in, one's arm in a black sling, and find that the delectable gift had changed aching to nausea! There! And now, 'exit, prompt-side, nearest door, Luria'—and enter R.B.—next Wednesday,—as boldly as he suspects most people do just after they have been soundly frightened!

I shall be most happy to see you on the day and at the hour you mention."

Can Browning ever not be Browning? What is this nonsense about "offering to cut off one's right-hand to save anybody a headache, is in vile taste...." ? Notice how he prefaces it with "to finish characteristically,"--at least he is self aware! Nausea indeed. Thank goodness our dear Miss Barrett appreciates the absurd. What a silly man.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25

May 25, 1845 brings more clean up after the disastrous attempt by Browning to declare himself. Today we hear from Miss Barrett:

"I owe you the most humble of apologies dear Mr. Browning, for having spent so much solemnity on so simple a matter, and I hasten to pay it; confessing at the same time (as why should I not?) that I am quite as much ashamed of myself as I ought to be, which is not a little. You will find it difficult to believe me perhaps when I assure you that I never made such a mistake (I mean of over-seriousness to indefinite compliments), no, never in my life before—indeed my sisters have often jested with me (in matters of which they were cognizant) on my supernatural indifference to the superlative degree in general, as if it meant nothing in grammar. I usually know well that 'boots' may be called for in this world of ours, just as you called for yours; and that to bring 'Bootes,' were the vilest of mal-à-pro-pos-ities. Also, I should have understood 'boots' where you wrote it, in the letter in question; if it had not been for the relation of two things in it—and now I perfectly seem to see how I mistook that relation; ('seem to see'; because I have not looked into the letter again since your last night's commentary, and will not—) inasmuch as I have observed before in my own mind, that a good deal of what is called obscurity in you, arises from a habit of very subtle association; so subtle, that you are probably unconscious of it, ... and the effect of which is to throw together on the same level and in the same light, things of likeness and unlikeness—till the reader grows confused as I did, and takes one for another. I may say however, in a poor justice to myself, that I wrote what I wrote so unfortunately, through reverence for you, and not at all from vanity in my own account ... although I do feel palpably while I write these words here and now, that I might as well leave them unwritten; for that no man of the world who ever lived in the world (not even you) could be expected to believe them, though said, sung, and sworn.

For the rest, it is scarcely an apposite moment for you to talk, even 'dramatically,' of my 'superiority' to you, ... unless you mean, which perhaps you do mean, my superiority in simplicity—and, verily, to some of the 'adorable ingenuousness,' sacred to the shade of Simpson, I may put in a modest claim, ... 'and have my claim allowed.' 'Pray do not mock me' I quote again from your Shakespeare to you who are a dramatic poet; ... and I will admit anything that you like, (being humble just now)—even that I did not know you. I was certainly innocent of the knowledge of the 'ice and cold water' you introduce me to, and am only just shaking my head, as Flush would, after a first wholesome plunge. Well—if I do not know you, I shall learn, I suppose, in time. I am ready to try humbly to learn—and I may perhaps—if you are not done in Sanscrit, which is too hard for me, ... notwithstanding that I had the pleasure yesterday to hear, from America, of my profound skill in 'various languages less known than Hebrew'!—a liberal paraphrase on Mr. Horne's large fancies on the like subject, and a satisfactory reputation in itself—as long as it is not necessary to deserve it. So I here enclose to you your letter back again, as you wisely desire; although you never could doubt, I hope, for a moment, of its safety with me in the completest of senses: and then, from the heights of my superior ... stultity, and other qualities of the like order, ... I venture to advise you ... however (to speak of the letter critically, and as the dramatic composition it is) it is to be admitted to be very beautiful, and well worthy of the rest of its kin in the portfolio, ... 'Lays of the Poets,' or otherwise, ... I venture to advise you to burn it at once. And then, my dear friend, I ask you (having some claim) to burn at the same time the letter I was fortunate enough to write to you on Friday, and this present one—don't send them back to me; I hate to have letters sent back—but burn them for me and never mind Mephistopheles. After which friendly turn, you will do me the one last kindness of forgetting all this exquisite nonsense, and of refraining from mentioning it, by breath or pen, to me or another. Now I trust you so far:—you will put it with the date of the battle of Waterloo—and I, with every date in chronology; seeing that I can remember none of them. And we will shuffle the cards and take patience, and begin the game again, if you please—and I shall bear in mind that you are a dramatic poet, which is not the same thing, by any means, with us of the primitive simplicities, who don't tread on cothurns nor shift the mask in the scene. And I will reverence you both as 'a poet' and as 'the poet'; because it is no false 'ambition,' but a right you have—and one which those who live longest, will see justified to the uttermost.... In the meantime I need not ask Mr. Kenyon if you have any sense, because I have no doubt that you have quite sense enough—and even if I had a doubt, I shall prefer judging for myself without interposition; which I can do, you know, as long as you like to come and see me. And you can come this week if you do like it—because our relations don't come till the end of it, it appears—not that I made a pretence 'out of kindness'—pray don't judge me so outrageously—but if you like to come ... not on Tuesday ... but on Wednesday at three o'clock, I shall be very glad to see you; and I, for one, shall have forgotten everything by that time; being quick at forgetting my own faults usually. If Wednesday does not suit you, I am not sure that I can see you this week—but it depends on circumstances. Only don't think yourself obliged to come on Wednesday. You know I began by entreating you to be open and sincere with me—and no more—I require no 'sleekening of every word.' I love the truth and can bear it—whether in word or deed—and those who have known me longest would tell you so fullest. Well!—May God bless you. We shall know each other some day perhaps—and I am Always and faithfully your friend, E.B.B."

Again, I offer the full text because it is an awfully good letter. Very tightly composed, it covers every necessary angle. She has read and analysed his letters and responds to every part calmly. She is not overly emotional, there is no pleading here. She assures him that the fault is hers, that her supposed superiority to him is disproved by the naivete she displayed in her misunderstanding. She uses the imaginative imagery of Flush shaking off a dunking to compare her shaking off Browning's ice water. She expresses a desire to understand him better, she acknowledges that she will keep his confidence while urging him to destroy the letters, she reassures him that he does not need any bona fides from Mr. Kenyon, she can suss him out herself, thank you, she reassures him that he is 'a poet' and 'the poet' and that these are noble and worthy aims, she invites him again to call and urges him  to continue to be open with her. She may be humble enough to believe that he is her superior when it comes to poetry but here be proofs that she was his superior in letter writing.

My favorite part of this letter is this: "I venture to advise you ... however (to speak of the letter critically, and as the dramatic composition it is) it is to be admitted to be very beautiful, and well worthy of the rest of its kin in the portfolio..." This makes me want to read the missing letter. But another mention must go to the nature of the letter: "You will find it difficult to believe me perhaps when I assure you that I never made such a mistake (I mean of over-seriousness to indefinite compliments), no, never in my life before..." It was a 'very beautiful' letter full of 'indefinite compliments'. Later in the year, when these two get their relationship straightened out and decide to love each other openly, she asks for the letter back. But of course he has burned it as advised.

The  only other hint of content was him laughing at her mistaking Bootes (a constellation  in Arcturus) for boots or boots for Bootes. As Pen will be famous for saying, "Who knows?"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24

May 24, 1845 brought forth one letter each from our poets. What went before we will never entirely know. What we do know is that Miss Barrett saw Browning for the first time in her room at Wimpole Street on May 20, 1845. Based on the initial letters of thanks from Browning and counter-thanks from Miss Barrett everything seemed to have been pleasant and unremarkable. Neither of the initial reactions seems out of the ordinary when compared to previous letters. And yet, there is a missing letter. Based on the letter that follows and many subsequent letters that refer back to it, there was a letter sent by Browning to Miss Barrett which rocked her world. This is her response to the missing letter:

"I intended to write to you last night and this morning, and could not,—you do not know what pain you give me in speaking so wildly. And if I disobey you, my dear friend, in speaking, (I for my part) of your wild speaking, I do it, not to displease you, but to be in my own eyes, and before God, a little more worthy, or less unworthy, of a generosity from which I recoil by instinct and at the first glance, yet conclusively; and because my silence would be the most disloyal of all means of expression, in reference to it. Listen to me then in this. You have said some intemperate things ... fancies,—which you will not say over again, nor unsay, but forget at once, and for ever, having said at all; and which (so) will die out between you and me alone, like a misprint between you and the printer. And this you will do for my sake who am your friend (and you have none truer)—and this I ask, because it is a condition necessary to our future liberty of intercourse. You remember—surely you do—that I am in the most exceptional of positions; and that, just because of it, I am able to receive you as I did on Tuesday; and that, for me to listen to 'unconscious exaggerations,' is as unbecoming to the humilities of my position, as unpropitious (which is of more consequence) to the prosperities of yours. Now, if there should be one word of answer attempted to this; or of reference; I must not ... I will not see you again—and you will justify me later in your heart. So for my sake you will not say it—I think you will not—and spare me the sadness of having to break through an intercourse just as it is promising pleasure to me; to me who have so many sadnesses and so few pleasures. You will!—and I need not be uneasy—and I shall owe you that tranquillity, as one gift of many. For, that I have much to receive from you in all the free gifts of thinking, teaching, master-spirits, ... that, I know!—it is my own praise that I appreciate you, as none can more. Your influence and help in poetry will be full of good and gladness to me—for with many to love me in this house, there is no one to judge me ... now. Your friendship and sympathy will be dear and precious to me all my life, if you indeed leave them with me so long or so little. Your mistakes in me ... which I cannot mistake (—and which have humbled me by too much honouring—) I put away gently, and with grateful tears in my eyes; because all that hail will beat down and spoil crowns, as well as 'blossoms.'

If I put off next Tuesday to the week after—I mean your visit,—shall you care much? For the relations I named to you, are to be in London next week; and I am to see one of my aunts whom I love, and have not met since my great affliction—and it will all seem to come over again, and I shall be out of spirits and nerves. On Tuesday week you can bring a tomahawk and do the criticism, and I shall try to have my courage ready for it—Oh, you will do me so much good—and Mr. Kenyon calls me 'docile' sometimes I assure you; when he wants to flatter me out of being obstinate—and in good earnest, I believe I shall do everything you tell me. The 'Prometheus' is done—but the monodrama is where it was—and the novel, not at all. But I think of some half promises half given, about something I read for 'Saul'—and the 'Flight of the Duchess'—where is she?

You are not displeased with me? no, that would be hail and lightning together—I do not write as I might, of some words of yours—but you know that I am not a stone, even if silent like one. And if in the unsilence, I have said one word to vex you, pity me for having had to say it—and for the rest, may God bless you far beyond the reach of vexation from my words or my deeds! Your friend in grateful regard, E.B.B."

One line that stands out to me, "..for me to listen to 'unconscious exaggerations,' is as unbecoming to the humilities of my position, as unpropitious (which is of more consequence) to the prosperities of yours." To the end of the courtship this is a reoccurring theme: that she will harm his life and prospects. She then escapes from the agony of the first paragraph into her second paragraph about the poetry just as she escaped from all of her life, into her poetry. And of course she never says that she does not love him. She makes it clear that she does when she asks, "You are not displeased with me?" It is almost as though she is pleased that he does have this affection for her but she just doesn't want him to say it out loud, 'you may love me, please do love me, but don't mention it because nothing can come of it and have 'pity' on be because it is too painful to have to discuss; let's talk about poetry instead.'

So how will Browning respond? Well, he responds immediately, the speed at which this letter was written must have bent his nib. This long paragraph of a letter seems to be a rambling emptying of his cluttered mind as he tries to work out the correct thing to say as he goes along:

"Don't you remember I told you, once on a time that you 'knew nothing of me'? whereat you demurred—but I meant what I said, and knew it was so. To be grand in a simile, for every poor speck of a Vesuvius or a Stromboli in my microcosm there are huge layers of ice and pits of black cold water—and I make the most of my two or three fire-eyes, because I know by experience, alas, how these tend to extinction—and the ice grows and grows—still this last is true part of me, most characteristic part, best part perhaps, and I disown nothing—only,—when you talked of 'knowing me'! Still, I am utterly unused, of these late years particularly, to dream of communicating anything about that to another person (all my writings are purely dramatic as I am always anxious to say) that when I make never so little an attempt, no wonder if I bungle notably—'language,' too is an organ that never studded this heavy heavy head of mine. Will you not think me very brutal if I tell you I could almost smile at your misapprehension of what I meant to write?—Yet I will tell you, because it will undo the bad effect of my thoughtlessness, and at the same time exemplify the point I have all along been honestly earnest to set you right upon ... my real inferiority to you; just that and no more. I wrote to you, in an unwise moment, on the spur of being again 'thanked,' and, unwisely writing just as if thinking to myself, said what must have looked absurd enough as seen apart from the horrible counterbalancing never-to-be-written rest of me—by the side of which, could it be written and put before you, my note would sink to its proper and relative place, and become a mere 'thank you' for your good opinion—which I assure you is far too generous—for I really believe you to be my superior in many respects, and feel uncomfortable till you see that, too—since I hope for your sympathy and assistance, and 'frankness is everything in such a case.' I do assure you, that had you read my note, only having 'known' so much of me as is implied in having inspected, for instance, the contents, merely, of that fatal and often-referred-to 'portfolio' there (Dii meliora piis!), you would see in it, (the note not the portfolio) the blandest utterance ever mild gentleman gave birth to. But I forgot that one may make too much noise in a silent place by playing the few notes on the 'ear-piercing fife' which in Othello's regimental band might have been thumped into decent subordination by his 'spirit-stirring drum'—to say nothing of gong and ophicleide. Will you forgive me, on promise to remember for the future, and be more considerate? Not that you must too much despise me, neither; nor, of all things, apprehend I am attitudinizing à la Byron, and giving you to understand unutterable somethings, longings for Lethe and all that—far from it! I never committed murders, and sleep the soundest of sleeps—but 'the heart is desperately wicked,' that is true, and though I dare not say 'I know' mine, yet I have had signal opportunities, I who began life from the beginning, and can forget nothing (but names, and the date of the battle of Waterloo), and have known good and wicked men and women, gentle and simple, shaking hands with Edmund Kean and Father Mathew, you and—Ottima! Then, I had a certain faculty of self-consciousness, years and years ago, at which John Mill wondered, and which ought to be improved by this time, if constant use helps at all—and, meaning, on the whole, to be a Poet, if not the Poet ... for I am vain and ambitious some nights,—I do myself justice, and dare call things by their names to myself, and say boldly, this I love, this I hate, this I would do, this I would not do, under all kinds of circumstances,—and talking (thinking) in this style to myself, and beginning, however tremblingly, in spite of conviction, to write in this style for myself—on the top of the desk which contains my 'Songs of the Poets—no. i M.P.', I wrote,—what you now forgive, I know! Because I am, from my heart, sorry that by a foolish fit of inconsideration I should have given pain for a minute to you, towards whom, on every account, I would rather soften and 'sleeken every word as to a bird' ... (and, not such a bird as my black self that go screeching about the world for 'dead horse'—corvus (picus)—mirandola!) I, too, who have been at such pains to acquire the reputation I enjoy in the world,—(ask Mr. Kenyon,) and who dine, and wine, and dance and enhance the company's pleasure till they make me ill and I keep house, as of late: Mr. Kenyon, (for I only quote where you may verify if you please) he says my common sense strikes him, and its contrast with my muddy metaphysical poetry! And so it shall strike you—for though I am glad that, since you did misunderstand me, you said so, and have given me an opportunity of doing by another way what I wished to do in that,—yet, if you had not alluded to my writing, as I meant you should not, you would have certainly understood something of its drift when you found me next Tuesday precisely the same quiet (no, for I feel I speak too loudly, in spite of your kind disclaimer, but—) the same mild man-about-town you were gracious to, the other morning—for, indeed, my own way of worldly life is marked out long ago, as precisely as yours can be, and I am set going with a hand, winker-wise, on each side of my head, and a directing finger before my eyes, to say nothing of an instinctive dread I have that a certain whip-lash is vibrating somewhere in the neighbourhood in playful readiness! So 'I hope here be proofs,' Dogberry's satisfaction that, first, I am but a very poor creature compared to you and entitled by my wants to look up to you,—all I meant to say from the first of the first—and that, next, I shall be too much punished if, for this piece of mere inconsideration, you deprive me, more or less, or sooner or later, of the pleasure of seeing you,—a little over boisterous gratitude for which, perhaps, caused all the mischief! The reasons you give for deferring my visits next week are too cogent for me to dispute—that is too true—and, being now and henceforward 'on my good behaviour,' I will at once cheerfully submit to them, if needs must—but should your mere kindness and forethought, as I half suspect, have induced you to take such a step, you will now smile with me, at this new and very unnecessary addition to the 'fears of me' I have got so triumphantly over in your case! Wise man, was I not, to clench my first favourable impression so adroitly ... like a recent Cambridge worthy, my sister heard of; who, being on his theological (or rather, scripture-historical) examination, was asked by the Tutor, who wished to let him off easily, 'who was the first King of Israel?'—'Saul' answered the trembling youth. 'Good!' nodded approvingly the Tutor. 'Otherwise called Paul,' subjoined the youth in his elation! Now I have begged pardon, and blushingly assured you that was only a slip of the tongue, and that I did really mean all the while, (Paul or no Paul), the veritable son of Kish, he that owned the asses, and found listening to the harp the best of all things for an evil spirit! Pray write me a line to say, 'Oh ... if that's all!' and remember me for good (which is very compatible with a moment's stupidity) and let me not for one fault, (and that the only one that shall be), lose any pleasure ... for your friendship I am sure I have not lost—God bless you, my dear friend!

R. Browning.

And by the way, will it not be better, as co-operating with you more effectually in your kind promise to forget the 'printer's error' in my blotted proof, to send me back that same 'proof,' if you have not inflicted proper and summary justice on it? When Mephistopheles last came to see us in this world outside here, he counselled sundry of us 'never to write a letter,—and never to burn one'—do you know that? But I never mind what I am told! Seriously, I am ashamed.... I shall next ask a servant for my boots in the 'high fantastical' style of my own 'Luria.' "

Normally in this blog I try to edit the letters to make them a bit more user friendly for the modern reader. But in this case, I thought the effect of the whole was too wonderful to lose. Browning starts the letter almost defiantly with an air of 'you silly woman, you completely misunderstood my fire and ice' and then he tries to explain that he wrote the letter in a dramatic persona as though he was writing or thinking to himself. He backs down a bit and apologizes for his thoughtlessness and then he laughs at her misapprehension at what he wrote. He is all over the map trying to explain that letter. The best line he got off was, "But I forgot that one may make too much noise in a silent place by playing the few notes on the 'ear-piercing fife'...," however he muffed it with too detailed an explanation of it's origin in his mind. Calling his original letter 'over boisterous gratitude' seems the most suitable explanation which he finally arrives at late, after running the gamut of every other explanation he can think of. I think based on Miss Barrett's letter of the morning that he has nothing to fear. The visits will continue, if a bit less boisterously.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22

May 22, 1845 brings a nice follow-up letter from Miss Barrett. The meeting on the 20th seems to have gone well and she has received Browning's thank you note from the previous day:

"Indeed there was nothing wrong—how could there be? And there was everything right—as how should there not be? And as for the 'loud speaking,' I did not hear any—and, instead of being worse, I ought to be better for what was certainly (to speak it, or be silent of it,) happiness and honour to me yesterday.

Which reminds me to observe that you are so restricting our vocabulary, as to be ominous of silence in a full sense, presently. First, one word is not to be spoken—and then, another is not. And why? Why deny me the use of such words as have natural feelings belonging to them—and how can the use of such be 'humiliating' to you? If my heart were open to you, you could see nothing offensive to you in any thought there or trace of thought that has been there—but it is hard for you to understand, with all your psychology (and to be reminded of it I have just been looking at the preface of some poems by some Mr. Gurney where he speaks of 'the reflective wisdom of a Wordsworth and the profound psychological utterances of a Browning') it is hard for you to understand what my mental position is after the peculiar experience I have suffered, and what 'have I to do with thee' a sort of feeling is irrepressible from me to you, when, from the height of your brilliant happy sphere, you ask, as you did ask, for personal intercourse with me. What words but 'kindness' ... but 'gratitude'—but I will not in any case be unkind and ungrateful, and do what is displeasing to you. And let us both leave the subject with the words—because we perceive in it from different points of view; we stand on the black and white sides of the shield; and there is no coming to a conclusion.

But you will come really on Tuesday—and again, when you like and can together—and it will not be more 'inconvenient' to me to be pleased, I suppose, than it is to people in general—will it, do you think? Ah—how you misjudge! Why it must obviously and naturally be delightful to me to receive you here when you like to come, and it cannot be necessary for me to say so in set words—believe it of your friend, E.B.B."

What a nice letter. Nothing much going on there, right? Browning has paid a call, sent a pleasant thank you note, she has responded. Everything will go on as before, nothing will change. "God's in His heaven--All's right with the world." What could be more pleasant? Nothing to see here, just move along....

So, since everything seems calm in 1845, let's maneuver ahead to 1846 where Browning is in a lather about his 'fiance', Miss Campbell:

"I have a great mind to retract..I do retract altogether whatever I said the other day in explanation of Miss Heaton's story: I make no doubt, now, it was a pure dream to which my over-scrupulousness of conscience gave a local habitation and name both, thro' the favourable dimness and illusion of 'a good many years ago'--because this last charge  about 'Miss Campbell'..briefly--I never in my life saw, to my knowledge, a woman of that name--nor can there be any woman of any other name from my acquaintance with whom the merest misunderstanding in the world could possibly arise to a third person..I mean, that it must be a simple falsehood and not gossip or distortion of fact, as I supposed in the other case. I told you of the one instance where such distortion might take place,--(Miss Haworth, to avoid mistake)--This charge after the other..I will tell you of what it reminds me--in my early boyhood I had a habit of calling people 'fools,' with as little reverence as could be,..and it used to be solemnly represented to me after such offences that 'whoso calleth his brother 'fool,' is in danger &c. for 'he hath committed murder in his heart already' &c. in short,--there was no help for it,--I stood there a convicted which I was forced to penitently to agree..Here is Miss Heaton's charge & my confession. Now, let a policeman come here presently to ask what I know about the 'Deptford Murder' or the 'Marshalsea Massacre'..and you will have my 'intimate friend's' charge..By the way, did your brother overhear this, or was it spoken to someone in his  company, or is my friend his acquaintance also? Because in either of the cases I can interfere easily. (There is a Mr. Browning--(Henry I think)--living  in, or near the Regent's Park,)--At all events, please say that I know no such person, nor ever knew,--that the whole is pure falsehood--(and I only use so mild a word because I write to you, and because on reading the letter again I see the speakers were women)--....
Well, I shall see you tomorrow; that remedies everything....All about the lady enthusiasts make me laugh...2 o'clock, the parcel arrives..thank you, best of Ba's!...."

He certainly got himself worked up over the gossip about his lady friends. Miss Barrett's teasing tone seems to have been so lost on Browning that he sees a need to provide himself a vigorous defense. Did he really expect Miss Barrett to vigorously defend his honor on this point? Wouldn't that rather draw too much attention to their relationship? My, my. We got a mild dose of the Browning temper there.

The most interesting part is the mention of "Miss Haworth", his 'friend' and correspondant Euphrasia Fanny Haworth, who he referred to in his infamously obscure poem 'Sordello' as "Eyebright". Eyebright is apparently the literal meaning of the name Euphrasia for all you folks who are into the obscure, as Browning certainly was. So that is the one case where a 'distortion might take place'? What kind of distortion could one make if they were just friends and he just happened to write about her in his poetry? Miss Barrett could make hay with this. If she had a mind to.

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21

Tuesday, May 20, 1845 has come and gone. Browning has visited Miss Barrett in her room at Wimpole Street. We have no idea what happened at that first meeting. Browning writes a short note of thanks Tuesday evening and slips it in the post the next morning. Miss Barrett receives this letter May 21, 1845:

"I trust to you for a true account of how you are—if tired, if not tired, if I did wrong in any thing,—or, if you please, right in any thing—(only, not one more word about my 'kindness,' which, to get done with, I will grant is exceptive)—but, let us so arrange matters if possible,—and why should it not be—that my great happiness, such as it will be if I see you, as this morning, from time to time, may be obtained at the cost of as little inconvenience to you as we can contrive. For an instance—just what strikes me—they all say here I speak very loud—(a trick caught from having often to talk with a deaf relative of mine). And did I stay too long?

I will tell you unhesitatingly of such 'corrigenda'—nay, I will again say, do not humiliate me—do not again,—by calling me 'kind' in that way.

I am proud and happy in your friendship—now and ever. May God bless you! R.B."

Nice, polite, friendly, accommodating. Nothing to see here. Right?

If you get the chance, look at a photo of the pages of this letter. The writing begins pretty calm and orderly and then grows larger and frayed; the ink blots and smears. Something has stirred our fellow up. What has she done to him that is making him lose control of his pen and ink?

Miss Barrett, as we will see, briefly responds on May 22, 1845.

But I don't want to miss an amusing letter from Miss Barrett dated May 21, 1846. She is describing to Browning the behavior of her 'fans' after he complained that she would not send him a copy of a sonnet written in her honor:

"Why I had a manuscript sonnet sent to me last autumn by 'person or persons unknown,'...'To EBB on her departure from England to Pisa.' Can you fancy that melodious piece of gossiping? Then a lady of the city..famous, I believe, for her haberdashery, used to address ALL her poems to me-which really was original..for she would write five or six 'poems' on an evening, & sweep them up & send them to me once a fortnight, upon faith, hope & charity, seaweed &moonshine, cornlaws & the immortality of the soul, & take me for her standing muse, properly thou'd and thee'd all through. What a good vengeance it would be upon your unjust charges, if I set you to read a volume or two of those 'poems'...which all went into the fire--so you need not be frightened.
And to-day I had a rosetree sent to me by somebody who has laid close siege to me this long while, & whom I have escaped hitherto..but who had encamped, she says, 'till July' in 16 Wimpole Street. She writes too on her card..'When are you going to Italy?'
Ah!--you who blame me (half blame me) for 'seeing women,' do not know how difficult it is to help it sometimes, without being in appearance ungrateful & almost brutal. Just because I am unwell, they teaze me more, I believe. Now that Miss Heaton..oh, I need not go back, but it was not of my choice, be sure. You being a man are different,--& perhaps you make people afraid & keep them off. They do not thrust their hands through the bars where the lion is, as they do the giraffe. Once I had this proposition--'If we mayn't come in, will you stand up at the window that we may see?' Now!--And there's the essence of at least ten MS. sonnets!-----so don't complain anymore."

Hysterical! Browning is correct; she is kind. She needs a gatekeeper. She needs Browning to 'make people afraid'. Isn't it interesting that she was quite the minor celebrity in her time and place?

But there are more problems for Browning! He has been found out:

"Oh-but I heard yesterday..& it was not a tradition of the elders this was 'vivid in the pages of contemporary history' fact one of my brothers heard it at the Flower Show & brought it home as the newest news,..that 'Mr. Browning is to be married immediately to Miss Campbell.' The tellers of the news were 'intimate friends' of your, they said, & knew it from the highest authority--
Laugh!--Why should they not talk, being women? My brother did not tell me, but he told it down stairs--and Arabel was amused, she said, at some of the faces round. At the turn of the road they lost the track of the hare. Not an observation was made by anybody."

How she loves to teaze him about his supposed girlfriends, when she seems to have a lot more suitor than he did. At least on paper!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May 20

May 20, 1846 marks the first anniversary of the momentous meeting between our two poets but they have done with speech making for the most part and are back to business as usual. Browning begins by making just a short, humble speech:

"My Ba, I can just kneel down to you and be kissed,--I cannot do more, nor speak, nor thank you--and I seem to have no more chance of getting new love to give you--, all is given,--so I have said before, and must keep saying now--all of me is your very own."

Next he explains that he and his sister ended up not going to the flower show due to the weather and that he is going to see Mr. Kenyon, who was then going to go see Miss Barrett, and he had to explain why he decided not to accompany Mr. Kenyon to see Miss Barrett after their meeting:

"...that, on second thought, I determined to forego..because it jeopardizes my Saturday, which will be worth so many, many such visits,--does it not? There is no precedent in our golden year for three visits taking place in a single week--not even in that end of October when all the doubt was about the I remember!
I shall be more with you than if in the presence of people before whom I may not say 'Miss Barrett' with impunity while professing to talk of Miss..I forgot who! But 'more with you' I who am always with you! Always with you in spirit, always yearning to be with you in the body,--always, when with you, praying as for the happiest of fortunes, that I may remain with you forever. So may it be, prays you own, own R."

Here he is remembering the time he was at a dinner party telling a story to a group and accidental said "Miss mean...." Oh dear. She talks in her sleep and he dreams when he is awake. How are these guys going to keep this secret? She responds:

"Was it wrong of me that never did I once think of the possibility of your coming here with Mr. Kenyon? Never once had I the thought of it. If I had, I should have put it away by saying aloud 'Don't come;' because as you say, it would have prevented saturday's coming, the coming today would,..& also, as you do not say, it would have been infinitely hard for me to meet you & Mr. Kenyon in one battalion. Oh no, no! The gods forefend that you should come in that way! It was bad enough as it was, to day, when, while he sate here his ten minutes (first showing me a sonnet from America, which began 'Daughters of Grecian Genius!') he turned those horrible spectacles full on me & asked, 'Does Mrs. Jameson know that Mr. Browning come here?' 'No,' said I,--suddenly abashed, though I had borne the sonnet like a hero. 'Well, then ! I advise you to give directions to he servants that when she or anyone asks for you, they should not say Mr. Browning is with you,--as they said the other day to Miss Bayley who told me of it.' Now wasn't that pleasant to hear? I thanked him for his advice, & felt as uncomfortable as was well possible--& am, at this moment, a little in doubt how he was thinking while he spoke. Perhaps after the fashion of my sisters, when they cry out 'Such a state of things never was heard of before!'....
Such a day, today!--it was finer last year I remember ! & tuesday, instead of wednesday !...Dearest, how are you? Never now will you condescend to say how you are. Which is not to be allowed in this second year of our reign. I am very well. Yesterday I heard some delightful matrimonial details of an 'establishment' in Regent's Park, quite like an old pastoral in the quickness of the repartee. 'I hate you'--'I abhor you'--'I never liked you'--'I always detested you.' A cup & saucer thrown bodily, here, by the lady!--On which the gentleman upsets her, chair & all, flat on the floor. The witness, who is a friend of mine, gets frightened & begins to cry. She was invited to the house to be god mother the their child, & now she is pressed to stay longer to witness the articles of separation.
Oh, I suppose such things are common enough!--But what is remarkable here, is the fact that neither party is a poet, by the remotest courtesy."

What an absolute hoot. First the servants are telling random callers who is in the house and then a tragic tale of love gone wrong. Definitely a red letter day for Miss Barrett. Just imagine if Browning had come with Mr. Kenyon, that truly would have been a comedy of errors. The cat, most surely, would have been out of the bag.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 19

On May 19, 1846 our poets were on the eve of the anniversary commemorating their first meeting. They had to plan ahead so that the posts got across London by the 20th. They had their regularly scheduled meeting the previous day and as usual continue the verbal in the written. They will not meet on the 20th this year because Browning is to accompany his sister to a flower show. We will begin with Miss Barrett who writes in the morning:

"...There is only one thing I can do as I ought, & it is to love you: & the more I live, not 'the less' but the more I am able to love you--believe it of me. And for the less,..we never will return to that foolish subject,..but for the 'less' you spoke of when you said 'you do not love me less?'...why I thought at the moment & feel now, that it would be too late, as I am, ever, upon any possible ground, to love you less--If you loved me less..even!--or (to leave that) if you were to come to me and say that you had murdered a man-----why I may imagine such things, you know,--but I can not imagine the possibility of my loving you less, as a consequence of your failing so!--I am yours in the deepest of my affections:---not unreasonably, certainly, as I see you & know you--but if it were to turn unreasonable..I mean, if you took away the appearance of reasonableness..still I should be yours in the deepest of my is too late for a difference there.

...How I shall think of you tomorrow! And if it should be fine, I may drive in the park near the gardens..take my sisters to the gate of the gardens, & feel that you are inside! That will be something, if it is feasible. And if it is fine or not, and if I go out or not, I shall remember our first day, the only day of my life which God blessed visibly to me, the only day undimmed with a great compensation-day, which is was worth while being born for!

She is almost Browning-like in her struggle to get her thoughts on paper. Her musing that she could imagine Browning murdering someone made me think of their great argument about duelling. She seems to have struggled with the idea that she could love someone who has done great evil. It appears that she has reconciled with the idea of this great love, which loves the sinner the more as they struggle to do right. She is careful to say that she does not see him in this 'unreasonable' mode of 'failing' to do right, but she is taking a leap of faith with this man. He himself has told her that she does not know him, that Kenyon does not know him and after their argument about duelling, which he backed down from, she obviously has had some doubts about his position on moral issues. This is not a shallow woman who has simply fallen into love on a whim. She has deep moral convictions which she is working through every day of this courtship.

Browning, who is usually the one who struggles to get his ideas across, works to keep it simple today:

"With this day expires the first year since you have been yourself to me--putting aside the anticipations, and prognostications, and even assurances from all reasons short of absolute sight and hearing,--excluding the five or six months of these, there remains a year of this intimacy: you accuse me of talking extravagantly sometimes. I will be quiet here,--is the tone too subdued if I say such a life--made up of such years--I would deliberately take rather than any other imaginable one in which fame and worldly prosperity and the love of the whole human race should combine, excluding 'that of yours--to which I hearken'--only wishing the rest were there for a moment that you might see and know that I did turn from them to you. My dearest, inexpressibly dearest. How can I thank you? I feel sure you need not have been so kind to me, so perfectly kind and good,--I should have remained your own, gratefully, entirely your own, thro' the bare permission to love you, or even without it,--seeing that I never dreamed of stipulating at the beginning for 'a return,' and 'reward,'--but I also believe, joyfully, that no course but the course you have taken could have raised me above my very self, as I feel on looking back,--I began by loving you in comparison with all the world,--now I love you, my Ba, in the face of your past self, as I remember it.....All words are foolish--but I kiss your feet and offer you my heart and soul, dearest, dearest Ba."

No, the tone is not too subdued, to turn from "the love of the whole human race" to only Miss Barrett. It's wonderfully extravagant that he would reject all of the world for her. Imagine how our sensitive Miss Barrett will struggle with these words.

Miss Barrett writes again in the evening after receiving Browning's letter:

"Do you remember how, when poor Abou Hassan, in the Arabian story, awakens from sleep in the Sultan's chamber, to the sound of instruments of music, & is presently complimented by the grand vizier on the royal wisdom displayed throughout his you remember? Because just as he listened, do I listen, when you talk to me about 'the course I have taken'...I, who have just had the wit to sit still in my chair with my eyes half shut, & dream...dream!--Ah, whether I am asleep or awake, what do I know..even know?--As to the 'course I have taken,' it has been somewhere among the stars..or under the trees of the Hesperides, at lowest."

Ah, but the truth is that while it has been Browning who has pressed the suit it is she who has made the decisions to let him succeed. It has all been totally up to her. Her course was decided when she chose to allow him to visit her and she chose to to reject her father's authority over her personal decisions. So, while she may feel that she did nothing, she did all. She may have simply sate in her chair but all the thinking was the doing. At any time she could have rejected Browning, for any reason, and he would have had no course but to have accepted her decision. It is also probable that Browning may well have been attracted by her resistance, her shyness and her lack of guile. But she does not see this. Or she simply sees this as part of a miracle:

"Why how can I write to you such foolishness? Rather I should be serious, grave, & keep away from myths & images, & speak the truth plainly. And speaking the truth plainly, I, when I look back, dearest beloved, see that you have done for me everything, instead of my doing anything for you--that you have lifted me...Can I speak?--Heavens!--how I had different thoughts of you & of myself & of the world & of life, last year at this hour! The spirits who look backward over the grave, cannot feel much otherwise from my feeling as I look back. As to your thanking me, that is monstrous, it seems to me. It is the action of your own heart alone, which has appeared to do you any good. For myself, if I do not spoil your life, it is the nearest to deserving thanks that I can come. Think what I was when you saw me first...laid there on the sofa as an object of merest compassion! & of a sadder spirit than even the face showed!..& then think of all your generosity & persistence in goodness. Think of it!--shall I ever cease? Not while the heart beats which beats for you."

Next she touches on the 'missing' letter. After their first meeting Browning wrote a declaration of love which she rejected with the threat that if her persisted she would not see him again. She sent it back and told him to burn it. He did. Now she refers back to that time:

"And now as the year has rounded itself to 'the perfect round,' I will speak of that first letter, about which so many words were,..just to say, this time that I am glad now, yes, glad, we were to have a miracle, have it so, a born-miracle from the beginning. I feel glad, now, that nothing was between the knowing & the loving..& that the beloved eyes were never cold discerners & analyzers of me at any time. I am glad & grateful to you, my own altogether dearest!--Yet the letter was read in pain & agitation, & you have scarely guessed how much. I could not sleep night after night,--could not, & my fear was at nights, lest the feverishness should make me talk deliriously & tell the secret aloud. Judge if the deeps of my heart were not shaken. From the first you had that power over me, not withstanding those convictions which I also had & which you know."

This paragraph is fascinating. Her more formal letter of this morning seems cold compared to this open and raw confession of her inner most thoughts. Looking back she feels that the spontaneousness of his passion after their first meeting proves the love. She is repeating her belief that his loving her for no reason ('I love you because I love you') was a more valid reason for love than to sit and gaze on her, analyze her and decide that he loved her because of her shoes.

"For it was not the character of the letter apart from you, which shook me,--I could prove that to you--I received & answered very calmly, with most absolute calmness, a letter of the kind last summer..knowing in respect to the writer of it, (just as I thought of you), that a moment's enthusiasm had carried him a good way past his discretion. I am sure that he was perfectly satisfied with my way of answering his I was myself. But I could not escape so from you. You were stronger than I, from the beginning, & I felt the mastery in you by the first word & first look.
Dearest & most generous. No man was ever like you, I know! May God keep me from laying a blot on one day of yours!--on one hour!--& rather blot out mine!
For my life, it is yours, as this year has been yours. But how can it make you happy, such a thing as my life? There, I wonder still. It never made me happy, without you!"

This reference to a letter that she has written to reject another suitor is wonderful. I wonder who this suitor can be? Surely not the Rev. George Barrett Hunter! He would not so simply accept a letter of rejection. I wonder if Browning is curious after she has teazed him about his supposed girlfriend who rejected him due to his religious beliefs. How many suitors can this invalid poet have?

But again she ends her letter on a note of self rejection. She sees nothing worthy in herself, she is so beaten down with her own self-doubts. This woman, who has decided that she will love a man even if he chose to kill another human being, an act that she rejects as immoral and illogical, cannot understand how this same man can see anything worthy of love in a woman with such high moral feeling and God-like love. Her Christian ethic has failed her in this instance for she has failed to understand that Browning could love her, as she loves Browning and as God loves them both, with all her faults and failings. She has failed to comprehend this gift of love, but she does not reject it. God's gift was Browning's  'persistence' and 'mastery' which has won her over and she accepts the gift which God offered her to take; she had the faith to gave the final fiat, but not the insight to understand it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 17

May 17, 1845 brought a letter from Browning wherein he pokes the pin on the writhing Miss Barrett, taunting her about her mistrust of him. Smart fellow that he is, he recognizes that he found the right combination of words to force her to let him enter her physical world and here he plays it out:

"My friend is not 'mistrustful' of me, no, because she don't fear I shall make mainprize of the stray cloaks and umbrellas down-stairs, or turn an article for Colburn's on her sayings and doings up-stairs,—but spite of that, she does mistrust ... so mistrust my common sense,—nay, uncommon and dramatic-poet's sense, if I am put on asserting it!—all which pieces of mistrust I could detect, and catch struggling, and pin to death in a moment, and put a label in, with name, genus and species, just like a horrible entomologist; only I won't, because the first visit of the Northwind will carry the whole tribe into the Red Sea—and those horns and tails and scalewings are best forgotten altogether. And now will I say a cutting thing and have done. Have I trusted my friend so,—or said even to myself, much less to her, she is even as—'Mr. Simpson' who desireth the honour of the acquaintance of Mr. B. whose admirable works have long been his, Simpson's, especial solace in private—and who accordingly is led to that personage by a mutual friend—Simpson blushing as only adorable ingenuousness can, and twisting the brim of his hat like a sailor giving evidence. Whereupon Mr. B. beginneth by remarking that the rooms are growing hot—or that he supposes Mr. S. has not heard if there will be another adjournment of the House to-night—whereupon Mr. S. looketh up all at once, brusheth the brim smooth again with his sleeve, and takes to his assurance once more, in something of a huff, and after staying his five minutes out for decency's sake, noddeth familiarly an adieu, and spinning round on his heel ejaculateth mentally—'Well, I did expect to see something different from that little yellow commonplace man ... and, now I come to think, there was some precious trash in that book of his'—Have I said 'so will Miss Barrett ejaculate?' "

As the kids say when a well placed verbal thrust has been delivered, "Boom!" He had fun delivering that particular 'cut'. I loveth all his 'eth's as he tells his Tudor tale. He has pinned his quarry so now he ends the letter leniently, as he should:

"Dear Miss Barrett, I thank you for the leave you give me, and for the infinite kindness of the way of giving it. I will call at 2 on Tuesday—not sooner, that you may have time to write should any adverse circumstances happen ... not that they need inconvenience you, because ... what I want particularly to tell you for now and hereafter—do not mind my coming in the least, but—should you be unwell, for instance,—just send or leave word, and I will come again, and again, and again—my time is of no importance, and I have acquaintances thick in the vicinity.

Now if I do not seem grateful enough to you, am I so much to blame? You see it is high time you saw me, for I have clearly written myself out!"

I like the prick about how his time is of 'no importance', and then he ends as light as a feather. Alright Miss Barrett, what have you for us today?

"I shall be ready on Tuesday I hope, but I hate and protest against your horrible 'entomology.' Beginning to explain, would thrust me lower and lower down the circles of some sort of an 'Inferno'; only with my dying breath I would maintain that I never could, consciously or unconsciously, mean to distrust you; or, the least in the world, to Simpsonize you. What I said, ... it was you that put it into my head to say it—for certainly, in my usual disinclination to receive visitors, such a feeling does not enter. There, now! There, I am a whole 'giro' lower! Now, you will say perhaps that I distrust you, and nobody else! So it is best to be silent, and bear all the 'cutting things' with resignation! that is certain.

Still I must really say, under this dreadful incubus-charge of Simpsonism, ... that you, who know everything, or at least make awful guesses at everything in one's feelings and motives, and profess to be able to pin them down in a book of classified inscriptions, ... should have been able to understand better, or misunderstand less, in a matter like this—Yes! I think so. I think you should have made out the case in some such way as it was in nature—viz. that you had lashed yourself up to an exorbitant wishing to see me, ... (you who could see, any day, people who are a hundredfold and to all social purposes, my superiors!) because I was unfortunate enough to be shut up in a room and silly enough to make a fuss about opening the door; and that I grew suddenly abashed by the consciousness of this. How different from a distrust of you! how different!

Ah—if, after this day, you ever see any interpretable sign of distrustfulness in me, you may be 'cutting' again, and I will not cry out. In the meantime here is a fact for your 'entomology.' I have not so much distrust, as will make a doubt, as will make a curiosity for next Tuesday. Not the simplest modification of curiosity enters into the state of feeling with which I wait for Tuesday:—and if you are angry to hear me say so, ... why, you are more unjust than ever.

(Let it be three instead of two—if the hour be as convenient to yourself.)

Before you come, try to forgive me for my 'infinite kindness' in the manner of consenting to see you. Is it 'the cruellest cut of all' when you talk of infinite kindness, yet attribute such villainy to me? Well! but we are friends till Tuesday—and after perhaps.

This letter is a perfect example of Miss Barrett's wonderful sense of humor. This is one of the main reasons that I started this blog, I find her letters to be so amusing and I think people miss that when all they know of her is the Sonnet Sequence.
The visual she creates of her spiral journey down into hell as she attempts to defend herself of the charge of 'Simpsonism' is wonderful along with her accusation that he will charge her with mistrusting him, and only him, to make himself more aggrieved. Her use of the word 'incubus' is great fun. Then she taunts him right back, calling him out as a 'know it all'. She sifts through his words to find ammunition to fire back at him: wanting an explanation of how she can be so 'kind' when she is such a villain!

She throws in her own appraisal of the situation which perhaps was the truth of it: Browning was a bit obsessed with the idea of seeing her out of simple curiosity and perhaps as a kindness to an invalid. The fact that she made a big deal out of it made him more and more curious. He had been fed a lot of information about her by the admiring Mr. Kenyon and her letters to Browning were very affectionate, she never missed an opportunity to praise him. And so, this is the last letter before the meeting on May 20th. Oh, my friends, the sparkeths are going to flyeth. So enjoy your days of rest in 1845. We must wait a few days for 1845 to catch up. Join me again on May 19 in 1846.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16

We have letters from two separate years to look at today. May 16, 1845 Miss Barrett is trying to defend herself from Browning's accusation that she is mistrustful of him and that is why she will not allow him to visit her. He has been gently applying pressure for months and it looks like he found the right combination of words to push her to consent:

"But how 'mistrustfulness'? And how 'that way?' What have I said or done, I, who am not apt to be mistrustful of anybody and should be a miraculous monster if I began with you! What can I have said, I say to myself again and again.

One thing, at any rate, I have done, 'that way' or this way! I have made what is vulgarly called a 'piece of work' about little; or seemed to make it. Forgive me. I am shy by nature:—and by position and experience, ... by having had my nerves shaken to excess, and by leading a life of such seclusion, ... by these things together and by others besides, I have appeared shy and ungrateful to you. Only not mistrustful. You could not mean to judge me so. Mistrustful people do not write as I write, surely! for wasn't it a Richelieu or Mazarin (or who?) who said that with five lines from anyone's hand, he could take off his head for a corollary? I think so.

Well!—but this is to prove that I am not mistrustful, and to say, that if you care to come to see me you can come; and that it is my gain (as I feel it to be) and not yours, whenever you do come. You will not talk of having come afterwards I know, because although I am 'fast bound' to see one or two persons this summer (besides yourself, whom I receive of choice and willingly) I cannot admit visitors in a general way—and putting the question of health quite aside, it would be unbecoming to lie here on the sofa and make a company-show of an infirmity, and hold a beggar's hat for sympathy. I should blame it in another woman—and the sense of it has had its weight with me sometimes."

She makes a good point about the openness of her letters. A penniless poet could certainly have made a profit by them if he had such an inclination, although there has been nothing in the letters to this point that could have ruined her socially other than her bluntly stated opinions of other writers.

"And if I write all this egotism, ... it is for shame; and because I feel ashamed of having made a fuss about what is not worth it; and because you are extravagant in caring so for a permission, which will be nothing to you afterwards. Not that I am not touched by your caring so at all! I am deeply touched now; and presently, ... I shall understand. Come then. There will be truth and simplicity for you in any case; and a friend. And do not answer this—I do not write it as a fly trap for compliments. Your spider would scorn me for it too much. Also, ... as to the how and when. You are not well now, and it cannot be good for you to do anything but be quiet and keep away that dreadful musical note in the head. I entreat you not to think of coming until that is all put to silence satisfactorily. When it is done, ... you must choose whether you would like best to come with Mr. Kenyon or to come alone—and if you would come alone, you must just tell me on what day, and I will see you on any day unless there should be an unforeseen obstacle, ... any day after two, or before six. And my sister will bring you up-stairs to me; and we will talk; or you will talk; and you will try to be indulgent, and like me as well as you can. If, on the other hand, you would rather come with Mr. Kenyon, you must wait, I imagine, till June,—because he goes away on Monday and is not likely immediately to return—no, on Saturday, to-morrow."

Ha! If she thinks Browning is going to wait until June she is living in a cloud. It is interesting that it was her being ashamed and embarrassed, embarrassed by her shyness, that made her finally give in. He calls her 'kind' a lot in his letters and she invariably denies this, but I think she was kind (kind to other people, rather hard on herself) as much as she hated the epithet.

Now, to jump ahead a year, May 16, 1846 brought Browning's response to the gossip from the long winded Miss Heaton that Browning had been engaged to another woman who had broken it off due to religious scruples but who was now married to another man:

"Then, dearest-dearest, do take Mrs. Jameson's advice-do take care of the results of this fatigue: why should you see any woman that pleases to ask to come? I am certain that some of the men you have refused to admit, would be more considerate--and Miss Heaton must be a kind of fool into the bargain with her inconsiderateness..tho' that is the folly's very self. As for her 'Yorkshire Tragedy,' I hold myself rather aggrieved by it-they used to get up better stories of Lord Byron--,and even I told you, anticipatingly, that I caused that first wife of mine to drown and hang herself..whereas, now, it turns out she did neither, but bade me do both..nay, was not my wife after all! I hope she told Miss Heaton the story in the presence of the husband who had no irreligious scruples. But enough of this pure nonsense...."

So, he took the humor path with a touch of faux high dudgeon and no denial. Well played, young Browning. In the mean time Miss Barrett seems to have forgotten the old girlfriend and writes a late night letter so that he will have something to hold him over the long Sunday. She is considering art:

"Mrs. Jameson..talked..her opinion of the present-age--'That the present age did not, could not, ought not, to express itself by Art,..though the next age would.' She is surprisingly wrong, it appears to me. There is no predominant character in the age, she says, to be so expressed!--there is no unity, to bear expression.
But art is surely, if art is anything, is the expression, not of the characteristics of the age except accidentally..essentially it is the expression of Humanity in the individual being--& unless we are men no longer, I cannot conceive how such an argument as hers can be upheld for a moment. Also it is exasperating to hear such things.
Then I do not believe, for one, that genius in the arts, is a mere reflection of the character of the times. Genius precedes surely, initiates. It is genius which gives an Age its character and imposes its own colour.....But I shall not write any more...."

This belief in the individuality of genius is a recurring theme for EBB. Later, she touches on this same idea when she argues against Socialism, seeing it as a destroyer of the individual genius who must have freedom to follow their particular path of development and must not be regimented by the needs of the state.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15

There were three letters on May 15, 1846. Miss Barrett begins with a followup on their meeting the previous day:

"The treader on you footsteps was Miss Bailey, who left a card & 'would come another day.' She must have seen you...One of these days, 'scirocco' will be 'loose'--we may as well be prepared for it. To keep it off as long as possible is all that can be. But when it comes it will not uproot my palmtrees, I think, though it should throw flat the olives.

Papa brought me some flowers yesterday when he came home..& they went a little to my heart as I took them. I put them into glasses near yours, & they look faded this morning nevertheless, while your roses, for all your cruelty to them, are luxuriant in beauty as if they had just finished steeping themselves in garden-dew. I look gravely from one set of flowers to the other--I cannot draw a glad omen--I wish he had not given me these. Dearest, there seems little kindness in teazing you with such thoughts..but they come & I write them: and let them come ever so sadly, I do not for a moment doubt, hesitate. One may falter, where one does not fail. And for the rest, is my fault, and not my sorrow rather, that we act so? It is by choice that we act so? If he had let me I should have loved him out of a heart altogether open to him--It is not my fault that he would not let me. Now it is too late--I am not his nor my own, any more-"

Miss Barrett seems resolute but a bit melancholy. Browning refers to their meeting the previous day as well:

"...Did you not think me intolerable yesterday with my yawning and other signs of fatigue you noticed? Well now--I do think a little is said by all that: might one not like or even love..just short of true love,--so long as the spirits were buoyant and the mind cheerful,--and when the contrary befell, some change might appear, surely!.."

But the real excitement comes in the third letter of the day, from Miss Barrett, written in the evening:

"Not even do you yawn in vain then, O you!--And this, then is what Cicero called 'oscitans sapientis [yawning wisdom]? The argument of the yawn ought in fact, to be conclusive--! But, dearest, if it was intolerable to see you yawn yesterday, still less supportable was it to-day when I had all the yawning to myself, & proved nothing by it. Tired I am beyond your conceiving of..tired!--You saw how I broke off in my letter to you this morning. Well--that was Miss Heaton, who came yesterday & left the packet you saw, & came again today & sate here exactly three hours. Now imagine that! Three hours of incessant talking!--At the end I was blanched, as everyone could see, & Mrs. Jameson who came afterwards for five minutes & was too unwell herself to stay, seriously exhorted me not to exert myself too much lest I should pay the penalty. And I had not been down stairs even--only been ground down in the talking-mill. Arabel told her too, before she came up-stairs, that I was expecting a friend--"Oh"..said she to me, "I shall go away directly anyone comes." And again presently.."Pray tell me when I ought to go away"!--(As if I could say Go. She deserved it, but I couldn't!) And then.."How good of you to let me sit here & talk!" So good of me , when I was wishing her..only at Leeds in the High Street, between a dissenter & a churchman--anywhere but opposite to my eyes! is awful how some women can talk! Happily she leaves London tomorrow morning, & will not be here again till next year, if then."

Now here comes the dreadfully dramatic part:

"She talked biography too...ah, I did not mean to tell you-but it is better to tell you at once and have done..only she desired me not to mention it..only she little knew what she was doing!--You will not mention it. She told me that 'her informant about Mr. Browning,..was a lady to whom he had been engaged..that there had bee a very strong attachment on both sides, but that everything was broken off by her on the ground of religious differences--that it happened years ago & that the lady was married.' At first I exclaimed imprudently enough (but how could it be otherwise?) that it could not be true--but I caught at the bridal in a minute or two & let her have it her way. Do not answer this--it is nonsense, I know--but it helped to tire me with the rest. Wasn't it a delightful day for me? At the end of three hours she threw her arms around me & kissed me some half dozen times & wished me 'goodbye' till next year. Wilson found me standing in the middle of the room, looking as she said, 'like a ghost.' And no wonder! The 'vile' wind out of doors has nothing to do with it."

Oh, dear. As much as she avows that it is 'nonsense' it wasn't the three hours of incessant talking that turned her into a virtual ghost. The thought of the 'New Cross Knight' having been engaged to another woman has obviously caught her off guard. Remember her talk of understanding jealousy but not understanding love and the visual she created of carrying a dagger around with her to stab her errant lover. Perhaps Miss Heaton should be glad that Miss Barrett was not armed, she might have taken it out on the messenger!

She tells Browning not to mention it twice, but how can he not address it? This is the hard part for him: make a jest of it or address it seriously. We haven't had this much drama in the letters since the dueling argument. Good gracious! What if he admits that it is true? Will Miss Barrett stand by her poet?

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14

May 14, 1843 brings a wonderful letter from Miss Barrett to Mr. Hugh Boyd, her Greek scholar friend, who objected to her description of some lines of verse he had penned as 'octosyllabic'. Miss Barrett corrects the record:

"My very dear Friend,—I hear with wonder from Arabel of your repudiation of my word 'octosyllabic' for the two lines in your controversial poem. Certainly, if you count the syllables on your fingers, there are ten syllables in each line: of that I am perfectly aware; but the lines are none the less belonging to the species of versification called octosyllabic. Do you not observe, my dearest Mr. Boyd, that the final accent and rhyme fall on the eighth syllable instead of the tenth, and that that single circumstance determines the class of verse—that they are in fact octosyllabic verses with triple rhymes?

Hatching succession apostolical,
With other falsehoods diabolical.

Pope has double rhymes in his heroic verses, but how does he manage them? Why, he admits eleven syllables, throwing the final accent and rhyme on the tenth, thus:

Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow,
The rest is nought but leather and prunella.

Again, if there is a double rhyme to an octosyllabic verse, there are always nine syllables in that verse, the final accent and rhyme falling on the eighth syllable, thus:

Compound for sins that we're inclined to,
By damning those we have no mind to.

Again, if there is a triple rhyme to an octosyllabic verse (precisely the present case) there must always be ten syllables in that verse, the final accent and rhyme falling on the eighth syllable; thus from 'Hudibras' again:

Then in their robes the penitentials
Are straight presented with credentials.
Remember how in arms and politics,
We still have worsted all your holy tricks.

You will admit that these last couplets are precisely of the same structure as yours, and certainly they are octosyllabics, and made use of by Butler in an octosyllabic poem, whereas yours, to be rendered of the heroic structure, should run thus:

Hatching at ease succession apostolical,
With many other falsehoods diabolical.

I have written a good deal about an oversight on your part of little consequence; but as you charged me with a mistake made in cold blood and under corrupt influences from Lake-mists, why I was determined to make the matter clear to you. And as to the influences, if I were guilty of this mistake, or of a thousand mistakes, Wordsworth would not be guilty in me. I think of him now, exactly as I thought of him during the first years of my friendship for you, only with an equal admiration. He was a great poet to me always, and always, while I have a soul for poetry, will be so; yet I said, and say in an under-voice, but steadfastly, that Coleridge was the grander genius. There is scarcely anything newer in my estimation of Wordsworth than in the colour of my eyes!
Perhaps I was wrong in saying 'a pun.' But I thought I apprehended a double sense in your application of the term 'Apostolical succession' to Oxford's 'breeding' and 'hatching,' words which imply succession in a way unecclesiastical.
After all which quarrelling, I am delighted to have to talk of your coming nearer to me—within reach—almost within my reach. Now if I am able to go in a carriage at all this summer, it will be hard but that I manage to get across the park and serenade you in Greek under your window.
Your ever affectionate

Well, I don't know about you, but I certainly learned something. To use the modern parlance, she schooled Mr. Boyd on the true nature of his own clever rhymes. And her defense against the Lake-mist influences of Wordsworth was charming, ending well for Coleridge! I appreciate the fact that she stood up for herself and didn't back down or simply drop the matter. Woman liberated.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 13

May 13, 1845 is leading into our poets' first meeting on May 20. They have been corresponding since January 10, 1845 when Browning sent the first letter. He has been fishing about for his invitation to visit her and she has been putting it off due to the weather and her health. Today, it looks like he has hit upon a strategy that will bear fruit:

" 'If you ask me, I must ask myself'—that is, when I am to see you—I will never ask you! You do not know what I shall estimate that permission at,—nor do I, quite—but you do—do not you? know so much of me as to make my 'asking' worse than a form—I do not 'ask' you to write to me—not directly ask, at least.

I will tell you—I ask you not to see me so long as you are unwell, or mistrustful of—

No, no, that is being too grand! Do see me when you can, and let me not be only writing myself yours, R.B."

'Mistrustful' is the key to opening the door at 50 Wimpole Street. He immediately withdraws the word, but it is in the ether between them. He has tried all manner of words and flattery to push the door open but accusing Miss Barrett of unkindness via being mistrustful will bring the effect he has been searching for. What will be her response to this thrust? Will she attempt to parry or will she meet the challenge head on?