Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 12

May 12, 1846 Browning has recieved the laburnum blossom Miss Barrett sent in her letter of the 11th. Let's just say he likes it:

"...Ba, if..I was going to say, if you meant to make me most exquisitely happy..and you did surely mean it..well, you succeeded, as you know! And I see you on the grass, and am with you as you properly acknowledge. And by this letter's presence & testimony, I may judge you to be not much worse,--not it so? Oh, it was good inspiration that led you thro' the half-opened gate and under the laburnum, and, better still, that made you see us 'one day walking by the trees together'--when all I shall say is,--I hope, in spite of that felicity to remember and feel this, as vividly as now--"

He then returns to his ongoing analogy as Miss Barrett as a siren:

"Ba, there are three siren isles, you know: I shall infallibly get into the farthest of them, a full thirty yards from you and the tower, so as to need being written to..for the cicale [cicadas] make such a noise that you will not be able to call to me--which is as well, for you may..that is, I might, break my neck by a sudden leap on the needles of the I remember the boatman told me."

Browning's silly mood is answered by Miss Barrett's silly mood:

"When you began to speak of the islands, the three islands, I thought you were going to propose that you should live in one, & Flush in one, & I in the third: & almost it was so,..only that you took, besides, the 'farthest' for yourself!--Observe!--always I write nonsense, when you write me a letter which moves me like this, dearest, my own!"

But the meat of Miss Barrett's letter is her visit with Mrs. Jameson, who will have such a huge part in their escape across the continent later in the year, but who at this point has no idea of their doing anything but corresponding:

"I think her quite a lovable person now-I like her more and more. How she talked of you today, and called you the most charming companion in the world, setting you too on your throne as 'poet of the age.' Wouldn't it have been an 'effect' in the midst of it all, if I had burst out crying? And what with being flurried, frightened, & a little nervous from not sleeping well last night, I assure you it was quite possible--but happily on every account, I escaped that 'dramatic situation.' I wish, no, I can't wish that she wouldn't talk of you as she does whenever she comes here--And then, to make it better, she told me how you had recited 'in a voice & manner as good as singing,' my 'Catarina.' how are such things to be borne, do you think, when people are not made of marble? But I took a long breath, & held my breath, & held my mask on with both hands."

Kintner, if I remember correctly, says that Browning referred to Miss Barrett's poem 'Catarina to Camoens' 76 times in the courtship letters. Yeah, I think he liked that one. And of course this is the origin of the title to her sonnet sequence 'Sonnets From the Portuguese'. When the sonnets were published 'Catarina to Camoens' was republished to appear just ahead of the sequence. I would have loved to have heard Browning's rendition. It's probably for the best that Miss Barrett was not present because that would have been the end of all secrets. As it was, how Mrs. Jameson didn't suss out the truth of the relationship between our poets probably has more to do with Miss Barrett's well cultivated reputation as an invalid than for any other reason. I am sure Miss Barrett blushed red at the mention of his name. Guilt does that to a lady.

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