Saturday, May 5, 2012

May 5

May 5, 1846 brought visitors to Miss Barrett's room at Wimpole Street. None of them Browning. So she gives Browning a blow by blow of the events of her day. She considered going to post her letter to Browning herself, but kept to her room:

"...I must keep watch in the house from two till five for Lady Margaret Cocks, an old friend of mine, who was kind to me when I was a child, in the country, & has not forgotten me since, when, two months in the year, she has been in the habit of going to London. A good, worthy person, with a certain cultivation as to languages & literature, but quite manquee on the side of the imagination..talking of the poets, as a blind woman of colours, calling Pippa Passes, 'pretty & odd.' & writing herself 'poems' in heaps of copy books which every now & then she brings to show me...'odes' to Hope & Patience & all the cardinal virtues, with the formulas of 'Begin my Muse' in the fashion ended last century. She has helped to applaud & scold me since I could walk & write verses,--& when I was so wicked as to go to dissenting chapels besides she reproached me with tears in her eyes,--but they were tears of earnest partizanship, & not of affection for me,..she does not love me after all, nor guess at my heart, and I do not love her, I feel--Woe to us! for there are good & unlovable people in the world, and we cannot help it for out lives."

Well, first off, Lady Cocks should never have called Pippa Passes 'pretty & odd'. That was a mortal error. Next, she better have a good reasoned arguments in order to question Miss Barrett's religious choices. Miss Barrett seems strong and deeply rooted in her convictions but very tolerant of other's views. It seems she expects the same courtesy. But it doesn't stop with Lady Cocks:

"In the midst of writing which, comes the Leeds Miss Heaton, who used to send me those long confidentual letters a faire fremir [to thrill], & beg me to call her Ellen & as this is the second time that she has sent up her card, in an accidental visit to London, I thought I would be good natured for once, & see her. An intelligent woman, with large black eyes & a pleasant voice, & young..manners provincial enough, for the rest, & talking as if the world were equally divided between the "Congregationalists" & the "Churchpeople." .....'And really,' she said, 'it seems to me that you have as many admirers among churchmen as among dissenters.' ! There's glory!--and I kept my countenance. Lost it though, five minutes afterwards, when she observed pathetically, that a 'friend of hers who had know Mr. Browning quite intimately, had told her he was an infidel...more's the pity, when he has such a genius.' I denied the particular information of you intimate friend, a little more warmly perhaps than was necessary,..but what was expected of me, I wonder?"

For a woman 'shut up in her father's attic' (as I have heard her described) Miss Barrett certainly seems to get a full dose of gossip. The editor of these letters (Kintner) offers some back story: "Ellen Heaton, later a close friend of the Browning's in Italy, was the confidante of Euphrasia Haworth, a woman eleven years Browning's senior, with whom he had been on good terms about 1837," although he does not believe Miss Haworth is the person being referred to here. What he doesn't note here is that Browning was a great Shelley admirer and went through what we would call a Shelley phase, where he tried to emulate his hero, taking up vegetarianism and atheism. Browning kept his admiration for Shelley, visiting the sites of his life when possible, but gave up the vegetarianism and atheism.

But it does not end there for Miss Barrett's day as she writes in the evening:

"Mrs. Jameson came today when I was engaged with Lady Margaret Cocks & I could not see her--& Mr. Kenyon came, when I could see him & was glad. I am tired with my multitude of visitors--oh, so tired!"

Indeed, that was more than enough for one day. I wonder how many other letters she wrote that day? She was certainly busy in her father's attic!

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