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.

1 comment:

  1. I like the way the Victorians loved to use Shakespearean archaisms ... it's a pity modern poets don't do the same.