Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 1

On April 30, 1846 our poets met as usual in Miss Barrett's room in Wimpole Street and so their letters on May 1 took up where they left off the previous day. Miss Barrett begins where Browning left the room:

"...When you had gone yesterday & I had taken my coffee,..holding my book..'La Gorgone' a sea-romance by Landelle,...(which is not worth much, I think, but quite new & very marine) holding my book at one page, as if fixed..transfixed,..by a sudden eternity,...well, after all that was done with, coffee & all,..in came George, and told me that the day before he had seen Tennyson at Mr. Venebles house, or chambers rather. Mr. Venebles was unwell, & George went to see him & while he was there, came the poet. He had left London for a few days, he said, & meant to stay here for a time..'hating it perfectly' like your Donne..'seeming to detest London,' said George..'abusing everything in unmeasured words.' then he had been dining at Dicken's, & meeting various celebrities, & Dickens had asked him to go with him (Dickens) to Switzerland, where he is going, to write his new work: 'but' laughed Tennyson, 'if I went, I should be entreating him to dismiss his sentimentality, & so we should quarrel & part, & never see one another any more. It was better to decline--& I have declined."

The Barretts loved the literary gossip, but I can't help wanting to read 'La Gorgone' a sea-romance. That sounds a hoot! But as much as she liked the news of Tennyson and Dickens she liked what George told her next much more:

"When George had told his story, I enquired if Tennyson was what was called an agreeable man--happy in conversation. And the reply was...'yes--but quite inferior to Browning! He neither talks so well,' observed George with grave consideration & balancing his sentences,..'nor has so frank and open a manner. The advantages are all on Browning's side, I should say'..Now dear George is a little criticised you must know in this house for his official gravity & dignity...but he is good & kind, & high and right minded, as we all know, & I, for my part, never thought of criticising him yesterday when he said those words rather...perhaps barristerially,...had they been other words."

Browning for his part begins his letter in one of his typical, convoluted explications of his love for Miss Barrett:

"I go to you, my Ba, with a heart full of love, so it seems,--yet I come away always with a greater capacity of holding love,-for there is more and still more,--that seems too! At the beginning, I used to say (most truly) that words were all inadequate to express my feelings,-now those very feelings seem, as I see them from this present moment, just as inadequate in their time to represent what I am conscious of now. I do feel more, widelier, stranglier...how can I tell you? You must believe my only only beloved! Am I really destined to pass my life sitting by you? And you speak of your hesitation at trusting in miracles! Oh, my Ba, my heart's--well, Ba, I am so far guiltless of presumption, let come what will, that I never for one moment cease to be..tremblingly anxious, I will say,--and conscious that the good is too great for me in this world. You do not like one to write so, I know, but there is safety in it--the presumptuous walk blindfolded among pits, to a proverb--and no one shall record that of me."

But here is the interesting part:

"I never ask myself, as perhaps I should,--'Will she be happy too?'--All that seems removed from me, far above my concernment--she..you, my Ba..will make me so entirely happy, that it seems enough to know..my palm trees grow well enough without knowing the cause of the sun's heat. Then I think again, that your nature is to make happy and to bless, and itself to be satisfied with that.--So instead of fruitless speculations how to give you back your own gift, I will rather resolve to lie quietly and let your dear will have it's unrestricted way--All which I take up paper determined not to write,--for it is foolish, poor endeavour at best, but,--just this time it is written."

I can't help but think that she will like this rather selfish sounding offering. I also can't help thinking that he is correct: she is far more concerned about not harming him in any way than she is in making herself happy. Happiness to her is making him happy. So, what does she say in her second letter of the day?

"How you write to me!-Is there any word to answer to these words..which, when I have read, I shut my eyes as one bewildered, & think blindly..or do not think-some feelings are deeper than the thoughts touch. My only beloved, it is thus with me...I stand by a miracle in your love, & because I stand in it & it covers me, just for that, you cannot see me--! May God grant that you NEVER see me--for then we two shall be 'happy' as you say, & I, in the only possible manner, be very sure. Meanwhile, you do quite well not to speculate about making me happy..your instinct knows, if you do not know, that it is implied in your own happiness...or rather (not to assume a magnanimity) in my sense of your being happy, not apart from me."

And here is her rationalization of Browning's emotions:

"You have so deep and intense a nature, that it is impossible for you to love after the fashion of other men, weakly and imperfectly, & your love, which comes out like your genius, may glorify enough to make you happy perhaps. Which is my dream, my calculation rather, when I am happiest now....Suppose I should ever read in your eyes that you were not happy with me?--can I help, do you fancy, such thoughts?...Now forgive me my naughtiness, because I love you, & never loved but you,..& because I promise not to go with Miss Bailey to Italy..I promise. Ah--If you could pretend to be afraid of that, INDEED, I have a right to be afraid, without pretense at all...I who am a woman & frightened of lightning. And see the absurdity. If I did not go to Italy with you the reason would be that you did not choose--and if you did not choose, I should not choose..I would not see Italy without your eyes--could I, do you think? So, if Miss Bayley takes me to Italy with a volume of the Cyclic poets, it will be as a dead Ba clasped up between the leaves of it."

She proves Browning's point with her fear that she will see in his eyes that he is not happy with her. Browning has nothing to worry about.

Yes, these two kids have it bad for each other. They keep making up words: 'barristerially', 'widelier', 'stranglier', 'concernment' as they try to express themselves. I have a friend who assures me that spelling doesn't count in Instant Messaging and Texting. I suppose that is true in personal letters as well, but these two masters of the English language seem to be mangling it in the chase to explain things to each other--or perhaps to themselves. Happy are we that they did, it's better than TV!

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