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.

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