Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25

May 25, 1845 brings more clean up after the disastrous attempt by Browning to declare himself. Today we hear from Miss Barrett:

"I owe you the most humble of apologies dear Mr. Browning, for having spent so much solemnity on so simple a matter, and I hasten to pay it; confessing at the same time (as why should I not?) that I am quite as much ashamed of myself as I ought to be, which is not a little. You will find it difficult to believe me perhaps when I assure you that I never made such a mistake (I mean of over-seriousness to indefinite compliments), no, never in my life before—indeed my sisters have often jested with me (in matters of which they were cognizant) on my supernatural indifference to the superlative degree in general, as if it meant nothing in grammar. I usually know well that 'boots' may be called for in this world of ours, just as you called for yours; and that to bring 'Bootes,' were the vilest of mal-à-pro-pos-ities. Also, I should have understood 'boots' where you wrote it, in the letter in question; if it had not been for the relation of two things in it—and now I perfectly seem to see how I mistook that relation; ('seem to see'; because I have not looked into the letter again since your last night's commentary, and will not—) inasmuch as I have observed before in my own mind, that a good deal of what is called obscurity in you, arises from a habit of very subtle association; so subtle, that you are probably unconscious of it, ... and the effect of which is to throw together on the same level and in the same light, things of likeness and unlikeness—till the reader grows confused as I did, and takes one for another. I may say however, in a poor justice to myself, that I wrote what I wrote so unfortunately, through reverence for you, and not at all from vanity in my own account ... although I do feel palpably while I write these words here and now, that I might as well leave them unwritten; for that no man of the world who ever lived in the world (not even you) could be expected to believe them, though said, sung, and sworn.

For the rest, it is scarcely an apposite moment for you to talk, even 'dramatically,' of my 'superiority' to you, ... unless you mean, which perhaps you do mean, my superiority in simplicity—and, verily, to some of the 'adorable ingenuousness,' sacred to the shade of Simpson, I may put in a modest claim, ... 'and have my claim allowed.' 'Pray do not mock me' I quote again from your Shakespeare to you who are a dramatic poet; ... and I will admit anything that you like, (being humble just now)—even that I did not know you. I was certainly innocent of the knowledge of the 'ice and cold water' you introduce me to, and am only just shaking my head, as Flush would, after a first wholesome plunge. Well—if I do not know you, I shall learn, I suppose, in time. I am ready to try humbly to learn—and I may perhaps—if you are not done in Sanscrit, which is too hard for me, ... notwithstanding that I had the pleasure yesterday to hear, from America, of my profound skill in 'various languages less known than Hebrew'!—a liberal paraphrase on Mr. Horne's large fancies on the like subject, and a satisfactory reputation in itself—as long as it is not necessary to deserve it. So I here enclose to you your letter back again, as you wisely desire; although you never could doubt, I hope, for a moment, of its safety with me in the completest of senses: and then, from the heights of my superior ... stultity, and other qualities of the like order, ... I venture to advise you ... however (to speak of the letter critically, and as the dramatic composition it is) it is to be admitted to be very beautiful, and well worthy of the rest of its kin in the portfolio, ... 'Lays of the Poets,' or otherwise, ... I venture to advise you to burn it at once. And then, my dear friend, I ask you (having some claim) to burn at the same time the letter I was fortunate enough to write to you on Friday, and this present one—don't send them back to me; I hate to have letters sent back—but burn them for me and never mind Mephistopheles. After which friendly turn, you will do me the one last kindness of forgetting all this exquisite nonsense, and of refraining from mentioning it, by breath or pen, to me or another. Now I trust you so far:—you will put it with the date of the battle of Waterloo—and I, with every date in chronology; seeing that I can remember none of them. And we will shuffle the cards and take patience, and begin the game again, if you please—and I shall bear in mind that you are a dramatic poet, which is not the same thing, by any means, with us of the primitive simplicities, who don't tread on cothurns nor shift the mask in the scene. And I will reverence you both as 'a poet' and as 'the poet'; because it is no false 'ambition,' but a right you have—and one which those who live longest, will see justified to the uttermost.... In the meantime I need not ask Mr. Kenyon if you have any sense, because I have no doubt that you have quite sense enough—and even if I had a doubt, I shall prefer judging for myself without interposition; which I can do, you know, as long as you like to come and see me. And you can come this week if you do like it—because our relations don't come till the end of it, it appears—not that I made a pretence 'out of kindness'—pray don't judge me so outrageously—but if you like to come ... not on Tuesday ... but on Wednesday at three o'clock, I shall be very glad to see you; and I, for one, shall have forgotten everything by that time; being quick at forgetting my own faults usually. If Wednesday does not suit you, I am not sure that I can see you this week—but it depends on circumstances. Only don't think yourself obliged to come on Wednesday. You know I began by entreating you to be open and sincere with me—and no more—I require no 'sleekening of every word.' I love the truth and can bear it—whether in word or deed—and those who have known me longest would tell you so fullest. Well!—May God bless you. We shall know each other some day perhaps—and I am Always and faithfully your friend, E.B.B."

Again, I offer the full text because it is an awfully good letter. Very tightly composed, it covers every necessary angle. She has read and analysed his letters and responds to every part calmly. She is not overly emotional, there is no pleading here. She assures him that the fault is hers, that her supposed superiority to him is disproved by the naivete she displayed in her misunderstanding. She uses the imaginative imagery of Flush shaking off a dunking to compare her shaking off Browning's ice water. She expresses a desire to understand him better, she acknowledges that she will keep his confidence while urging him to destroy the letters, she reassures him that he does not need any bona fides from Mr. Kenyon, she can suss him out herself, thank you, she reassures him that he is 'a poet' and 'the poet' and that these are noble and worthy aims, she invites him again to call and urges him  to continue to be open with her. She may be humble enough to believe that he is her superior when it comes to poetry but here be proofs that she was his superior in letter writing.

My favorite part of this letter is this: "I venture to advise you ... however (to speak of the letter critically, and as the dramatic composition it is) it is to be admitted to be very beautiful, and well worthy of the rest of its kin in the portfolio..." This makes me want to read the missing letter. But another mention must go to the nature of the letter: "You will find it difficult to believe me perhaps when I assure you that I never made such a mistake (I mean of over-seriousness to indefinite compliments), no, never in my life before..." It was a 'very beautiful' letter full of 'indefinite compliments'. Later in the year, when these two get their relationship straightened out and decide to love each other openly, she asks for the letter back. But of course he has burned it as advised.

The  only other hint of content was him laughing at her mistaking Bootes (a constellation  in Arcturus) for boots or boots for Bootes. As Pen will be famous for saying, "Who knows?"

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