Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22

May 22, 1845 brings a nice follow-up letter from Miss Barrett. The meeting on the 20th seems to have gone well and she has received Browning's thank you note from the previous day:

"Indeed there was nothing wrong—how could there be? And there was everything right—as how should there not be? And as for the 'loud speaking,' I did not hear any—and, instead of being worse, I ought to be better for what was certainly (to speak it, or be silent of it,) happiness and honour to me yesterday.

Which reminds me to observe that you are so restricting our vocabulary, as to be ominous of silence in a full sense, presently. First, one word is not to be spoken—and then, another is not. And why? Why deny me the use of such words as have natural feelings belonging to them—and how can the use of such be 'humiliating' to you? If my heart were open to you, you could see nothing offensive to you in any thought there or trace of thought that has been there—but it is hard for you to understand, with all your psychology (and to be reminded of it I have just been looking at the preface of some poems by some Mr. Gurney where he speaks of 'the reflective wisdom of a Wordsworth and the profound psychological utterances of a Browning') it is hard for you to understand what my mental position is after the peculiar experience I have suffered, and what 'have I to do with thee' a sort of feeling is irrepressible from me to you, when, from the height of your brilliant happy sphere, you ask, as you did ask, for personal intercourse with me. What words but 'kindness' ... but 'gratitude'—but I will not in any case be unkind and ungrateful, and do what is displeasing to you. And let us both leave the subject with the words—because we perceive in it from different points of view; we stand on the black and white sides of the shield; and there is no coming to a conclusion.

But you will come really on Tuesday—and again, when you like and can together—and it will not be more 'inconvenient' to me to be pleased, I suppose, than it is to people in general—will it, do you think? Ah—how you misjudge! Why it must obviously and naturally be delightful to me to receive you here when you like to come, and it cannot be necessary for me to say so in set words—believe it of your friend, E.B.B."

What a nice letter. Nothing much going on there, right? Browning has paid a call, sent a pleasant thank you note, she has responded. Everything will go on as before, nothing will change. "God's in His heaven--All's right with the world." What could be more pleasant? Nothing to see here, just move along....

So, since everything seems calm in 1845, let's maneuver ahead to 1846 where Browning is in a lather about his 'fiance', Miss Campbell:

"I have a great mind to retract..I do retract altogether whatever I said the other day in explanation of Miss Heaton's story: I make no doubt, now, it was a pure dream to which my over-scrupulousness of conscience gave a local habitation and name both, thro' the favourable dimness and illusion of 'a good many years ago'--because this last charge  about 'Miss Campbell'..briefly--I never in my life saw, to my knowledge, a woman of that name--nor can there be any woman of any other name from my acquaintance with whom the merest misunderstanding in the world could possibly arise to a third person..I mean, that it must be a simple falsehood and not gossip or distortion of fact, as I supposed in the other case. I told you of the one instance where such distortion might take place,--(Miss Haworth, to avoid mistake)--This charge after the other..I will tell you of what it reminds me--in my early boyhood I had a habit of calling people 'fools,' with as little reverence as could be,..and it used to be solemnly represented to me after such offences that 'whoso calleth his brother 'fool,' is in danger &c. for 'he hath committed murder in his heart already' &c. in short,--there was no help for it,--I stood there a convicted murderer..to which I was forced to penitently to agree..Here is Miss Heaton's charge & my confession. Now, let a policeman come here presently to ask what I know about the 'Deptford Murder' or the 'Marshalsea Massacre'..and you will have my 'intimate friend's' charge..By the way, did your brother overhear this, or was it spoken to someone in his  company, or is my friend his acquaintance also? Because in either of the cases I can interfere easily. (There is a Mr. Browning--(Henry I think)--living  in, or near the Regent's Park,)--At all events, please say that I know no such person, nor ever knew,--that the whole is pure falsehood--(and I only use so mild a word because I write to you, and because on reading the letter again I see the speakers were women)--....
Well, I shall see you tomorrow; that remedies everything....All about the lady enthusiasts make me laugh...2 o'clock, the parcel arrives..thank you, best of Ba's!...."

He certainly got himself worked up over the gossip about his lady friends. Miss Barrett's teasing tone seems to have been so lost on Browning that he sees a need to provide himself a vigorous defense. Did he really expect Miss Barrett to vigorously defend his honor on this point? Wouldn't that rather draw too much attention to their relationship? My, my. We got a mild dose of the Browning temper there.

The most interesting part is the mention of "Miss Haworth", his 'friend' and correspondant Euphrasia Fanny Haworth, who he referred to in his infamously obscure poem 'Sordello' as "Eyebright". Eyebright is apparently the literal meaning of the name Euphrasia for all you folks who are into the obscure, as Browning certainly was. So that is the one case where a 'distortion might take place'? What kind of distortion could one make if they were just friends and he just happened to write about her in his poetry? Miss Barrett could make hay with this. If she had a mind to.

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