Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 3

Two letters today from different years and on totally different subjects. Browning wrote his required daily letter May 3, 1846 and asked a question necessitated by the secrecy of their courtship:

"I want you to remember, Ba, what I shall be nearly sure to forget when closer to you than now; tell me to-morrow. If I chance to see Mrs. Jameson in the course of the week what am I to say,--that is, what have you decided on say? Does she know that you write to me? Because there is a point of simple good taste to be preserved..I must not listen with indifference if I am told that 'her friend Miss B.' thought well of that last number. But she must know that we write, I think, I never make a secret of that, when the subject is brought forward."

The next letter is from May 3, 1857. Mr. Barrett has died and Browning writes to Mrs. Martin, the Barrett's erstwhile neighbor from their Hope End days, to let her know that Mrs. Browning is aware of the news. Mrs. Martin had made several attempts to get Barrett to reconcile with his daughter, to no avail.

"My dear Mrs. Martin,—Truest thanks for your letter. We had the intelligence from George last Thursday week, having been only prepared for the illness by a note received from Arabel the day before. Ba was sadly affected at first; miserable to see and hear. After a few days tears came to her relief. She is now very weak and prostrated, but improving in strength of body and mind: I have no fear for the result. I suppose you know, at least, the very little that we know; and how unaware poor Mr. Barrett was of his imminent death: 'he bade them,' says Arabel, 'make him comfortable for the night, but a moment before the last.' And he had dismissed her and her aunt about an hour before, with a cheerful or careless word about 'wishing them good night.' So it is all over now, all hope of better things, or a kind answer to entreaties such as I have seen Ba write in the bitterness of her heart. There must have been something in the organisation, or education, at least, that would account for and extenuate all this; but it has caused grief enough, I know; and now here is a new grief not likely to subside very soon. Not that Ba is other than reasonable and just to herself in the matter: she does not reproach herself at all; it is all mere grief, as I say, that this should have been so; and I sympathise with her there.
George wrote very affectionately to tell me; and dear, admirable Arabel sent a note the very next day to prove to Ba that there was nothing to fear on her account. Since then we have heard nothing. The funeral was to take place in Herefordshire. We had just made up our minds to go on no account to England this year. Ba felt the restraint on her too horrible to bear. I will, or she will, no doubt, write and tell you of herself; and you must write, dear Mrs. Martin, will you not?

Yes, indeed, there was something in Barrett's "organization, or education" but who can truly understand what was in his mind? If he felt that she had been deceitful to him, as a Christian he should have forgiven her. If he felt that she had lost her soul for "genius", as a Christian he should have pitied her. It is said that he told Mrs. Martin that he forgave his daughter, but apparently not as a Christian is trained to do. How sad for him and for her. She had so much love for him which he simply rejected. As for her, that she wrote to him regularly until the end is remarkable to me. Knowing her ability with words and skill in writing letters it is a wonder that he could resist reading her epistles. They both were very strong willed people. Was there something between them that we are not aware of? A puzzle we will never fully understand.

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