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,..it 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!...it 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?

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