Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21

Tuesday, May 20, 1845 has come and gone. Browning has visited Miss Barrett in her room at Wimpole Street. We have no idea what happened at that first meeting. Browning writes a short note of thanks Tuesday evening and slips it in the post the next morning. Miss Barrett receives this letter May 21, 1845:

"I trust to you for a true account of how you are—if tired, if not tired, if I did wrong in any thing,—or, if you please, right in any thing—(only, not one more word about my 'kindness,' which, to get done with, I will grant is exceptive)—but, let us so arrange matters if possible,—and why should it not be—that my great happiness, such as it will be if I see you, as this morning, from time to time, may be obtained at the cost of as little inconvenience to you as we can contrive. For an instance—just what strikes me—they all say here I speak very loud—(a trick caught from having often to talk with a deaf relative of mine). And did I stay too long?

I will tell you unhesitatingly of such 'corrigenda'—nay, I will again say, do not humiliate me—do not again,—by calling me 'kind' in that way.

I am proud and happy in your friendship—now and ever. May God bless you! R.B."

Nice, polite, friendly, accommodating. Nothing to see here. Right?

If you get the chance, look at a photo of the pages of this letter. The writing begins pretty calm and orderly and then grows larger and frayed; the ink blots and smears. Something has stirred our fellow up. What has she done to him that is making him lose control of his pen and ink?

Miss Barrett, as we will see, briefly responds on May 22, 1845.

But I don't want to miss an amusing letter from Miss Barrett dated May 21, 1846. She is describing to Browning the behavior of her 'fans' after he complained that she would not send him a copy of a sonnet written in her honor:

"Why I had a manuscript sonnet sent to me last autumn by 'person or persons unknown,'...'To EBB on her departure from England to Pisa.' Can you fancy that melodious piece of gossiping? Then a lady of the city..famous, I believe, for her haberdashery, used to address ALL her poems to me-which really was original..for she would write five or six 'poems' on an evening, & sweep them up & send them to me once a fortnight, upon faith, hope & charity, seaweed &moonshine, cornlaws & the immortality of the soul, & take me for her standing muse, properly thou'd and thee'd all through. What a good vengeance it would be upon your unjust charges, if I set you to read a volume or two of those 'poems'...which all went into the fire--so you need not be frightened.
And to-day I had a rosetree sent to me by somebody who has laid close siege to me this long while, & whom I have escaped hitherto..but who had encamped, she says, 'till July' in 16 Wimpole Street. She writes too on her card..'When are you going to Italy?'
Ah!--you who blame me (half blame me) for 'seeing women,' do not know how difficult it is to help it sometimes, without being in appearance ungrateful & almost brutal. Just because I am unwell, they teaze me more, I believe. Now that Miss Heaton..oh, I need not go back, but it was not of my choice, be sure. You being a man are different,--& perhaps you make people afraid & keep them off. They do not thrust their hands through the bars where the lion is, as they do the giraffe. Once I had this proposition--'If we mayn't come in, will you stand up at the window that we may see?' Now!--And there's the essence of at least ten MS. sonnets!-----so don't complain anymore."

Hysterical! Browning is correct; she is kind. She needs a gatekeeper. She needs Browning to 'make people afraid'. Isn't it interesting that she was quite the minor celebrity in her time and place?

But there are more problems for Browning! He has been found out:

"Oh-but I heard yesterday..& it was not a tradition of the elders this was 'vivid in the pages of contemporary history' fact one of my brothers heard it at the Flower Show & brought it home as the newest news,..that 'Mr. Browning is to be married immediately to Miss Campbell.' The tellers of the news were 'intimate friends' of your, they said, & knew it from the highest authority--
Laugh!--Why should they not talk, being women? My brother did not tell me, but he told it down stairs--and Arabel was amused, she said, at some of the faces round. At the turn of the road they lost the track of the hare. Not an observation was made by anybody."

How she loves to teaze him about his supposed girlfriends, when she seems to have a lot more suitor than he did. At least on paper!

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