May 7, 1812-2012
Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of
How do we celebrate the birthday of Robert Browning at the Barrett Browning Blog? The same way we celebrate everyday: we talk about letters to and from Robert Browning.
Browning starts the day on May 7, 1846 with his obligatory daily letter, telling Miss Barrett:
"Have you not forgotten that birthday? Do, my Ba, forget it--my day, as I told you, is the 20th [the day they met]--my true happiest day! But I thank you all I can, dearest--All good to me comes thro' you, or for you--every wish and hope ends in you...."
But Miss Barrett remembered his birthday:
"Beloved, my thoughts go to you this morning, loving & blessing you!--May God bless you for both His worlds--not for this alone. For me, if I can ever do or be anything to you, it will be my uttermost blessing of all I ever knew, or could know, as He knows. A year ago, I thought, with a sort of mournful exultation, that I was pure of wishes. Now, they recoil back on me in a spring-tide..flow back, wave upon wave,..till I should lose breath to speak them!--and it is nothing to say that they concern another...for they are so much the more intensely mine, & of me. My God bless you, very dear! dearest."
Then she received his letter:
"So I am to forget today, I am told in the letter. Ah!--But I shall forget & remember what I please. In the meanwhile I was surprised while writing thus to you this morning..as a good deed to begin with.. by Miss Bayley's coming...She came & then Mr. Kenyon came,...and as they both went downstairs together, Mrs. Jameson came up."
Yes, so much for the recluse in the attic business. This leads to an interesting contemplation of life as an atheist:
"Miss Bayley is what is called strong-minded, & with all her feeling for art & Beauty, talks of utility like a Utilitarian of the highest, & professes to receive nothing without proof, like a reasoner of the lowest. She told me with a frankness for which I did not like her less, that she was a materialist of the strictest order, & believed in no soul & no future state. In the face of those conclusions, she said, she was calm & resigned. It is more than I could be, as I confessed. My whole nature would cry aloud against that most pitiful result of the struggle here--a wrestling only for the dust, & not for the crown. What a resistless melancholy would fall upon me if I has such thoughts!--& what a dreadful indifference. All grief, to have itself to end in!--all joy, to be based on nothingness!--all love, to feel eternal separation under & over it! Dreary & ghastly, it would be! I should not have the strength to love you, I think, if I had such a miserable creed. And for life itself,..would it be worth holding on such terms,--with our blind Ideals making mocks & mows at us wherever we turned? A game to throw up, this life would be, as not worth playing to the end!
There's a fit letter for the seventh of May!--but why was thursday the seventh, & not wednesday rather, which would have let me escape visitors? I thank God that I can look over the grave with you, past the grave,..& hope to be worthier of you there at least."
But to lighten the gloom of atheism she provides the antidote of a description of her visit with Mrs. Jameson:
"Mrs. Jameson did not have much to say, being hoarse & weak with a cold, but she told me of having met you at dinner, & found you 'very agreeable.' Also, beginning by a word about Professor Longfellow, who was married, it appears, and is tolerably merciful as a husband for a poet..('solving the problem of the possibility of such a thing,' said she!)..beginning so, she dropped into the subject of marriage generally, & was inclined to repropose Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's septennial act--..which might be a reform perhaps!.....what do you think? Have I not, altogether, been listening to improving & memorable discourse on this seventh of May? The ninth's will be more after my heart [the date of their next scheduled visit].
I like Mrs. Jameson's mind!--and I like her views on many subjects--Exclusive of the septennial marriage act, though."
Apparently the 'septennial marriage act' was a proposal by which all married people had the right to declare every seventh year whether they chose to continue in the marriage.
And so she ends the daily epistle with:
"So, good night--dearest!--I think of you behind all of these passing clouds of subjects, my poet of the Lyre & Crown!
Look down on your own Ba"
One must suppose that both of our poets are now enjoying the same constellation, looking down at the celebratory activities of all the Barrett Browning enthusiasts.
Enjoy the party!