Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30

June 30, 1846 begins one of those amusing disagreements between our two poets that makes these courtship letters so appealing. We begin with Miss Barrett who insists in her first paragraph:

"The gods & men call you by your name, but I never do—never dare. In case of invocation, tell me how you should be called by such as I? not to be always the “inexpressive He” which I make of you. In case of courage for invocation!"

Her contention is that she has never spoken his name aloud. They have been "engaged" since at least November 1845. This incredibly shy woman could not look at his face or say his name. Yet she continues with ttheir travel plans:

Dearest .. (which is a name too) read on the paper inside what I have been studying about Salerno since we parted yesterday. Forsyth is too severe in his deductions, perhaps, from the apothecaries, but your Naples-book will not help me to contradict him, saying neither the one thing nor the other. The word we could not read in the letter yesterday, was La Cava—& La Cava is a town on the way between Naples & Salerno, which Mrs Stark describes as “a large town with porticoes on each side of the High Street, like those at Bologna.” To which the letter adds, remember, "enchantingly beautiful, very good air & no English!" Then there is Vietri, mentioned by Forsyth, between La Cava & Salerno, & on the bay. It is as well to think of all three. Were you ever at either? Amalfi itself appears to be very habitable. Oh—and your Naples book says of Salerno, that it is illuminated by fireflies, & that the chanting of frogs covers the noises of the city. You will like the frogs, if you dont the apothecaries, & I shall like the fireflies if I dont the frogs—but I do like frogs, you know, & it was quite a mistake of yours when you once thought otherwise....
May God bless you, dear, dear!– Did I ever think I should live to thank God that I did not die five years ago?– Not that I quite, quite dare to do it yet. I must be sure first of something.
Which is not your love, my beloved—it is a something still dearer & of more consequence."

How intriguing is this last statement?

Browning is talking of travel too:

"I have looked in the map for “L....”, the place praised in the letter, and conclude it must be either Ceva, (La Ceva, between Anocera and Salerno, about four miles from the latter, and on the mountain-side, I suppose .. see a map, my Ba!)—or else Lucera, (which looks very like the word .. and which lies at about sixty miles to the N.E of Naples, in a straight line over the mountains and roadless country, but perhaps twice as far off by the main way thro’ Avellino, Ariano, Bovino and Troia—(exactly 120 Italian miles now that I count the posts)– So that there would be somewhat of a formidable journey to undertake after the sea voyage– I daresay at Ceva there is abundance of quietness, as the few who visit Salerno do not go four miles inland,—can you enquire into this?
How inexpressibly charming it is to me to have a pretext for writing thus .. about such approaches to the real event—these business-like words, and names of places! If at the end you should bring yourself to say “But you never seriously believed this would take place”—what should I answer, I wonder?
Let me think on what is real, indisputable, however .. the improvement in the health as I read it on the dear, dear cheeks yesterday: this morning is favorable again .. you will go out, will you not? Mr Kenyon sends me one of his kindest letters to ask me to dine with him next week—on Wednesday. I feel his kindness, just as you feel in the other case, & in its lesser degree, I feel it,—and then I know,—dare think I know whether he will be so sorry in the end,—loving you as he does. I will send his letter that you may understand here as elsewhere."

Miss Barrett reads and responds by the end of the day:

"Thank you for letting me see dear Mr Kenyon’s letter. He loves you, admires you, trusts you. When what is done cannot be undone, then, he will forgive you besides—that is, he will forgive both of us, & set himself to see all manner of good where now he would see evil if we asked him to look. So we will not, if you please, ask him to look, on the encouragement of ever so many more kind notes,—pleasant as they are to read, & worthy to trust to, under certain conditions. Dear Mr Kenyon—but how good he is! And I love him more (shall it be under-love?) because of his right perception & understanding of you– No one among men sets you higher than he does as a man & as a poet—even if he misses the subtle sense, sometimes.
So you dine with him .. dont you? And I shall have you on wednesday instead of thursday! yes, certainly. And on saturday, of course, next time.
In the carriage, today, I went first to Mr Kenyon’s, & as he was not at home, left a card for a footstep. Then Arabel & Flush & I proceeded on our way to Mr Boyd’s in St John Wood, & I was so nervous .. so anxious for an excuse for turning back .. that .. can you guess what Arabel said to me?– “Oh Ba,”—she said, “such a coward as you are, never will be .. married, while the world lasts”. Which made me laugh if it did not make me persevere .. for you see by it what her notion is of an heroic deed! So, there, I stood at last, at the door of poor Mr Boyd’s dark little room, & saw him sitting .. as if he had not moved these seven years .. these seven heavy, changeful years. Seeing him, my heart was too full to speak at first, but I stooped & kissed his poor bent-down forehead, which he never lifts up, his chin being quite buried in his breast. Presently we began to talk of Ossian & Cyprus wine, & I was forced, as I would not have Ossian for a god, to take a little of the Cyprus,—there was no help for me, nor alternative: so I took as little as I could, while he went on proving to me that the Adamic fall & corruption of human nature (Mr Boyd is a great theologian) were never in any single instance so disgustingly exemplified as in the literary controversy about Ossian; every man of the Highland society having a lost soul in him,—& Walter Scott ... oh, the woman who poisoned all her children the other day, is a saint to Walter Scott, .. so we need not talk of him any more. “Arabel!—how much has she taken of that wine? not half a glass”. “But Mr Boyd, you would not have me be obliged to carry her home.”
That visit being over, we went into the Park, Hyde Park, & drove close to the serpentine, & then returned. Flush would not keep his head out of the window (his favorite pleasure) all the way, because several drops of rain trickled down his ears. Flush has no idea of wetting his ears:—his nose so near, too!....

I think of you—love you. I, who am discontented with myself, .. selfcondemned as unworthy of you in all else .. am yet satisfied with the love I have for you—it seems worthy of you, as far as an abstract affection can go, without taking note of the personality loving–
Do you see the meaning through the mist? Do you accept your very own Ba?"

What are we going to do with this 'selfcondemned' woman? She is so aware and comprehending of Kenyon, Boyd and Browning yet her own self awareness is fogged in an insecurity that degrades her worth. She seems to conflate her physical inadequacies with her entire worth as a person. But the good news is that she seems to be ready to act on her own behalf. Can she change her perspective from not acting for the sake of Browning's good, to acting for the sake of Browning's good?

Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
6 March 1806 - 29 June 1861
Pen Barrett Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rome, 1860

As this is a blog about letters we will commemorate the day with a letter from Browning written to Fanny Hayworth July 20, 1861.

"My dear Friend,—I well know you feel, as you say, for her once and for me now. Isa Blagden, perfect in all kindness to me, will have told you something, perhaps, and one day I shall see you and be able to tell you myself as much as I can. The main comfort is that she suffered very little pain, none beside that ordinarily attending the simple attacks of cold and cough she was subject to, had no presentiment of the result whatever, and was consequently spared the misery of knowing she was about to leave us: she was smilingly assuring me that she was 'better,' 'quite comfortable, if I would but come to bed,' to within a few minutes of the last. I think I foreboded evil at Rome, certainly from the beginning of the week's illness, but when I reasoned about it, there was no justifying fear. She said on the last evening 'It is merely the old attack, not so severe a one as that of two years ago; there is no doubt I shall soon recover,' and we talked over plans for the summer and next year. I sent the servants away and her maid to bed, so little reason for disquietude did there seem. Through the night she slept heavily and brokenly—that was the bad sign; but then she would sit up, take her medicine, say unrepeatable things to me, and sleep again. At four o'clock there were symptoms that alarmed me; I called the maid and sent for the doctor. She smiled as I proposed to bathe her feet, 'Well, you are determined to make an exaggerated case of it!' Then came what my heart will keep till I see her again and longer—the most perfect expression of her love to me within my whole knowledge of her. Always smilingly, happily, and with a face like a girl's, and in a few minutes she died in my arms, her head on my cheek. These incidents so sustain me that I tell them to her beloved ones as their right: there was no lingering, nor acute pain, nor consciousness of separation, but God took her to Himself as you would lift a sleeping child from a dark uneasy bed into your arms and the light. Thank God! Annunziata thought, by her earnest ways with me, happy and smiling as they were, that she must have been aware of our parting's approach, but she was quite conscious, had words at command, and yet did not even speak of Peni, who was in the next room. The last word was, when I asked, 'How do you feel?' 'Beautiful.'..."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28

Browning shows some amusement at his own vacillation on June 28, 1846:

"My last letter will have answered this of yours, my dearest,—I agree in all you say: and sooner or later comes to the same thing, if to any possible increase of difficulty is brought a proportionate increase of strength to undergo it—as let us hope will be the case! So you see you have to “understand” and understand me,—I keep your faculty in constant exercise, now with seeming to wish for postponement, and now, for anticipation! And all the time do I really “grow greater” in your eyes? I might grow less, woefully,—'for reasons—for reasons'–"

In the mean time Miss Barrett is still thinking of Haydon. Here she uses the death of Haydon as an excuse for not writing to Mrs. Martin, who has written to complain for lack of letters:

"....I meant to write to you at least ten days ago; and then (believe me you will, without difficulty) the dreadful death of poor Mr. Haydon, the artist, quite upset me, and made me disinclined to write a word beyond necessary ones. I thank God that I never saw him—poor gifted Haydon—but, a year and a half ago, we had a correspondence which lasted through several months and was very pleasant while it lasted. Then it was dropped, and only a few days before the event he wrote three or four notes to me to ask me to take charge of some papers and pictures, which I acceded to as once I had done before. He was constantly in pecuniary difficulty, and in apprehension of the seizure of goods; and nothing of fear suggested itself to my mind—nothing. The shock was very great. Oh! I do not write to you to write of this. Only I would have you understand the real case, and that it is not an excuse, and that it was natural for me to be shaken a good deal. No artist is left behind with equal largeness of poetical conception! If the hand had always obeyed the soul, he would have been a genius of the first order. As it is, he lived on the slope of greatness and could not be steadfast and calm. His life was one long agony of self-assertion. Poor, poor Haydon! See how the world treats those who try too openly for its gratitude! 'Tom Thumb for ever' over the heads of the giants."

This reference to Tom Thumb, the famous midget, has to do with the fact that Tom Thumb's exhibition of his smallness and Haydon's exhibition of his art took place at the same venue and Tom Thumb was over run with patrons while Haydon had none. Haydon was apparently quite put out by this, seeing his own manufactured art far superior to Tom Thumb's more natural art. Well this happens to the best of us, as I well know. Far more people paid real money to go see "Prometheus" at the movies last weekend than read this free blog. I do not take this as an insult. And think of poor Browning. His father had to pay to publish his poems and nobody bothered to read them. Did he weep and wail? No. He found a shy poetess with an income to take care of him. (Harsh? Well, a lot of Miss Barrett's family believed this and who is to say that this isn't at least partially true? A mutual care pact with the added benefit of romance. He takes care of her and she takes care of him. They did not seem to mind.)

The final paragraph is interesting in light of what is really going on in Miss Barrett's mind. She is planning her escape into the sun, but being very coy about it:

"So you heard that I was quite well? Don't believe everything you hear. But I am really in a way to be well, if I could have such sunshine as we have been burning in lately, and a fair field of peace besides. Generally, I am able to go out every day, either walking or in the carriage—'walking' means as far as Queen Anne's Street. The wonderful winter did not cast me down, and the hot summer helps me up higher. Now, to keep in the sun is the problem to solve; and if I can do it, I shall be 'as well as anybody.' If I can't, as ill as ever. Which is the résumé of me, without a word more...."

Oh, Miss Barrett, you are making plans behind people's backs. Naughty.....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27

Miss Barrett's enjoyment of Browning sitting before the fire in June and fearing that September would be cold as well is not lost on Browning who responds in his daily letter on June 27, 1846:

"Your dear gentle laugh, as I seem to hear it, makes all well again for the moment undoubtedly:—I cannot help trusting you implicitly .. so whenever I seem able to reason a little, and set you reasoning for me, ought I not to try,—and then give up, and sink my head over you .. dearest!....But you have been perfect to me hitherto—perfect! And of course only to you is the praise .. for I have to be entirely confided in by you, seeing that you cannot keep an eye on me after I leave your room .. whereas, .. not I, but a gross, stupid fool who conceived of no liberty but that of the body, nor that the soul may be far more unfaithful, .. such an one might exult in the notion of the closed door and the excluded world of rivals."

Browning is such a goofball. I suspect he realized the it was pretty idiotic to be grateful that she didn't go out and thus couldn't be unfaithful so he made it even more idiotic with the notion that Miss Barrett's "soul may be far more unfaithful." Well, he was obliged to write a letter everyday and he had to find something to say! Meanwhile Miss Barrett seriously answers his query regarding their date of leave taking:

"I said I would answer your letter today, my beloved, but how shall I say more than I have said & you know? Do you not know, you who will not will ‘over’ me, that I cannot will against you, & that if you set yourself seriously to take september for october, & august for september, it is all at an end with me & the calendar? Still, seriously .. there is time for deciding, is there not? .. even if I grant to you which I do at once, that the road does not grow smoother for us by prolonged delays....I agree, November & perhaps October might be late—might be running a risk through lingering .. in our case; & you will believe me when I say I should be loth to run the risk of being forced to the further delay of a year—the position being scarcely tenable– Now, for September, it generally passes for a hot month—it ripens the peaches—it is the figtime in Italy. Well—nobody decides for September nevertheless. The end of August is nearer—& at any rate we can consider, & observe the signs of the heavens & earth in the meanwhile—there is so much to think of first; & the end, remember, is only too frightfully easy. Also you shall not have it on your conscience to have killed me, let ever so much snow fall in september. If the sea should be frozen over, almost we might go by the land—might we not?....I wanted to write so much more, so much—& I went out to walk first, &, on returning, met Mr Kenyon, who came up stairs with me.
Now it is too late to add a word."

She teazes him still regarding the September chill after seriously assuring him that she is for the road. She goes out for walk about and sends a short note to Mr. Boyd to cancel their scheduled meeting:

"Dearest Mr. Boyd,—Let me be clear of your reproaches for not going to you this week. The truth is that I have been so much shocked and shaken by the dreadful suicide of poor Mr. Haydon, the artist, I had not spirits for it. He was not personally my friend. I never saw him face to face. But we had corresponded, and one of his last acts was an act of trust towards me. Also I admired his genius. And all to end so! It has naturally affected me much."

It is one thing to interact with Browning and Kenyon who she loves, it is another to hold on that social mask with Boyd, who she feels merely an obligation to. Mr. Boyd will have to wait for a better day......

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26

Browning had visited Miss Barrett on June 25, 1846 and they continue their discussion via the post on June 26. Miss Barrett is thinking of the death of Haydon:

Dearest, you did me such good yesterday with seeing you & hearing you, that I slept better & am better altogether, & after a little change into the air, shall be well– and how is your head?....
I have not had the heart to look at the newspapers, but hear that Sir Robert Peel has provided liberally for the present necessities of the poor Haydons. And do you know, the more I think the more I am inclined to conclude that the money-distress was merely an additional irritation, & that the despair leading to the revolt against life, had its root in disappointed ambition. The world did not recognize his genius, & he punished the world by withdrawing the light– If he had not that thought in him, I am wrong. The cartoon business, & his being refused employment in the houses of parliament .. that was bitter: & then came his opposition with Tom Thumb & the dwarf’s triumph .. he talked bitterly of that in a letter to me of last week. He was a man, you see, who carried his whole being & sensibility on the outside of him,—nay, worse than so, since in the thoughts & opinions of the world. All the audacity & bravery & self-exaltation which drew on him so much ridicule,—were an agony in disguise—he could not live without reputation, & he wrestled for it, struggled for it, kicked for it, forgetting grace of attitude in the pang. When all was vain, he went mad & died. Poor Haydon! He measures things differently now! & Let us now be right & just in our admeasurement of what he was—for, with all his weaknesses, he was not certainly far from being a great man."

How different her reaction would have been without the steadying influence of Browning. She seems downright calm and thoughtful here. And she recognizes the difference as well:

"It is hope & help, to be able to look away from all such thoughts, to you, dearest beloved, who do not partake of the faults & feeblenesses of these lower geniuses—there is hope & help for the world in you—& if for the world, why for me indeed much more. You do not know .. ah, you do not know .. how I look up to you & trust perfectly in you. You are above all these clouds—your element is otherwise—men are not your taskmasters that you should turn to them for recompense. ‘Shall I always think the same of you,’ you asked yesterday. But I never think the same of you,—because day by day you look greater & feel dearer– Only there is a deep gulph of another question, close beside that, which suggests itself, & makes me shudder to look down.
And now, the rain is over, & I shall dine briefly, & go out in the carriage."

She is going out in the carriage. Have you any doubt that without Browning's influence she would have never left her room on such a day.

Browning has other thoughts on this day, he is working to move forward:

"I drew the table to the fire before I wrote this. Here is cool weather, grateful to those overcome by last week’s heat, I suppose!—...the coolness—(that is, piercing cold as the north wind can make)—sets me to ponder on what you said yesterday,—of considering summer as beginning next Wednesday, or thereabout, and ending by consequence with September. Our time is “at the Summer’s end”:and it does strike me that there may be but too many interpositions beside that of “my own will” .. far too many! If those equinoctial winds disturb the sea, and the cold weather adds to the difficulties of the land-journey .. then the will may interpose or stand aloof .. I cannot take you and kill you .. really, inevitably kill you!....Therefore if any September weather shall happen in September .. let us understand and wait .. another year! and another, and another."

How wonderfully ironic that Browning is sitting before the fire worrying about the weather while the invalid is in the carriage driving about London. After using the cool weather to make it clear that he will do nothing to risk her life he follows with a big 'however':

Now, have I ever, with all those askings, asked you once too often,—that is, unnecessarily—“if this should be,”—or “when this should be?” What is my “will” to do with it? Can I keep the winds away, alas? My own will has all along been annihilated before you,—with respect to you– I should never be able to say “she shall dine on fish, or fruit,”—“she shall wear silk gloves or thread gloves”—even to exercise in fancy that much “will over you” is revolting– I will this, never to be “over you” if I could!
So, you decide here as elsewhere—but do decide, Ba, my own only Ba—do think, to decide: I can know nothing here as to what is gained or lost by delay or anticipation– I only refer to the few obvious points of the advantage of our “flight not being in the winter”—and the consideration that the difficulty in another quarter will never be less nor more,—therefore is out of the question."

He is now uncommonly blunt:

"I will tell you something I meant to speak of yesterday. Mrs Jameson said Mr Kenyon had assured her, with the kindest intentions, that it was quite vain to make those offers of company to Pisa or elsewhere,—for your Father would never give his consent, and the very rationality of the plan, and probability of the utmost benefit following the adoption of it, would be the harder to forego the more they were entertained—whereupon, “having the passions of his kind he spoke some certain things”,—bitter and unavoidable. Then Mrs J. spoke too, as you may imagine; apparently from better knowledge than even I possess. Now I relate this to your common sense, my Ba—it is not hard to see that you must be silent and suffering, where no other can nor will be either—so that if a verdict needs must be pronounced on our conduct, it will be “the world’s” and not an individual’s—and for once a fair one. Mrs Jameson’s very words were .. (arising from what has been, observe,—what is irrevocably past, and not what may be)—“I feel unhappy when in her presence .. impelled to do her some service, and impeded .. Can nothing be done to rescue her from this? ought it to continue?” —So speaks .. not your lover!—who, as he told you, did long to answer “someone will attempt, at least!” But it was best, for Mrs Jameson would be blamed afterward, as Mr K might be abused, as ourselves will be vituperated, as my family must be calumniated .. BY WHOM?
Do you feel me kiss your feet while I write this?– I think you must, Ba! There is surely,—I trust, surely no impatience here, in this as in the other letter—if there is, I will endeavour to repress it .. but it will be difficult—for I love you, and am not a stock nor a stone– And as we are now,—another year!
Well, kissing the feet answers everything, declares everything—and I kiss yours, my own Ba."

How will Miss Barrett feel at reading Mrs. Jameson's sad words? But he needs to stir her to get her to commit. But again, she takes it as written:

"Ever dearest, I send you a bare line tonight, for it is late & I am very tired,—having .. while you were sitting by the fire .. been, for my part, driving to Highgate .. now think of that! Also it has done me good, I think, & I shall sleep for it tonight perhaps, though I am tired certainly....

Dearest, I will write tomorrow—. Never are you “impatient,” inconsiderate—& as for selfishness, I have been uneasy sometimes, precisely because you are so little selfish. I am not likely to mistake .. to wrench the wrong way .. any word of yours. As for mine, it was not a mere word, when I said that you should decide everything. Could I hold out for november, or october, or for september even, if you chose against?– Indeed I could not.– We—you will think– I am yours, & if you never repent that, I shall not.– I am too entirely yours–
And so goodnight—dearest beloved!– Because you have a fire in June, is the snow to fall in september, & earth & ocean to become impassible? Ah well! we shall see!– But you shall not see that I deceive you–"

I love the fact that she teazes him at the end for worrying about the weather in September. He has a fire in June so the world will freeze over in September! Alert Al Gore! Global Cooling! She is a funny girl. Ultimately she assures him that she is constant, she is not playing with him, she will go if he still wants to go.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23

June 23, 1846 began the next crisis in the courtship of Barrett and Browning. For some years Miss Barrett had been carrying on a correspondence with a number of literary and artistic personalities. Her sympathetic words drew in many frustrated artists. Many of them, especially those of the male persuasion, she had never met, and in some cases even refused the meet. Such was the case with the painter and sculptor Benjamin Haydon.  By summer 1846 he was bankrupt. To save his painting and sculpting tools from being taken by his creditors he sent them to Miss Barrett at Wimpole Street for safe keeping, along with his manuscript autobiography. He then committed suicide.
Browning, knowing of their correspondence and acquaintance wrote to break the news of the suicide to Miss Barrett:

"I was just on the point of answering your dear letter, in all the good spirits it might be expected to wake in me, when the sad news of poor Haydon’s death stopped all; much I feel it, for the light words of my own about his extravagance, as I had been told of it, but very much more on your account, who were so lately in communication with him– I earnestly hope,—I will trust—you have not been rudely apprised of this–I am happy to remember that you do not see the newspaper in the morning,—others will see it first: perhaps there may be no notice in the Chronicle at all, or on the other hand, a more circumstantial one than this in the Times which barely says—“that B R H. died suddenly at his residence—yesterday morning. He was in his usual health on the previous evening, and it is believed that his decease was hastened by pecuniary embarrassment”—and he is called “the unfortunate gentleman”—which with the rest implies the very worst, I fear. If by any chance this should be the first intimation you receive of it .. do not think me stupid nor brutal,—for I thought again and again as to the right course to take .. whether it would not be best to be silent altogether and wait and see .. but in that case I should have surprised you more by my cold letter,—such an one as I could bring myself to write,—for how were it possible to speak of pictures and indifferent matters when you perhaps have been shocked, made ill by this news? If I have done wrong, forgive me, my own best, dearest Ba– I would give the world to know how you are. The storm too, and lightning may have made you even more than ordinarily unfit to be startled and grieved– God knows and must help you! I am but your devoted


How glad I am you told me you had never seen him. And perhaps he may be after all a mere acquaintance .. anything I will fancy that is likely to relieve you of pain! Dearest dearest!"

You can feel Browning's impotence here. He wants to go to her but he does not have leave to, so he sends the letter and waits to be bidden. But she had heard the news already:

Oh yes—it has shocked me, this dreadful news of poor Mr Haydon—it chilled the blood in my veins when I heard it from Alfred, who, seeing the Times at the Great Western Terminus, wrote out the bare extract & sent it to me by the post. He just thought that the Chronicle did not mention it, .. & that I had not seen Mr Haydon .. he did not perhaps think how it would shock me–
For, this, I cannot help thinking—Could anyone .. could my own hand even—have averted what has happened?– My head & heart have ached today over the inactive hand!– But, for the moment, it was out of my power, without an application where it would have been useless—& then, I never fancied this case to be more than a piece of a continuous case .. of a habit fixed: two years ago he sent me boxes & pictures precisely so, & took them back again—poor, poor Haydon!—as he will not this time. And he said last week that Peel had sent him fifty pounds .. adding .. ‘I do not however want charity, but employment.’ Also, I have been told again & again (oh, never by you my beloved!) that to give money there, was to drop it into a hole of the ground.
But if to have dropped it so, dust to dust, would have saved a living man--what then?–
Yet of the three notes I had from him last week, the first was written so lightly, that the second came to desire me not to attribute to him a “want of feeling”. And who could think .. contemplate .. this calamity? May God have mercy on the strongest of us, for we are weak. Oh, that a man so high hearted & highly endowed .. a bold man, who has thrown down gauntlet after gauntlet in the face of the world--that such a man should go mad for a few paltry pounds! For he was mad if he killed himself!--of that I am as sure as if I knew it. If he killed himself, he was mad first.
Some day, when I have the heart to look for it, you shall see his last note. I understand now that there are touches in it of a desperate pathos--but never could he have meditated self destruction while writing that note. He said he should write six sets of lectures more .. six more volumes. He said he was painting a new background to a picture, which made him “feel as if his soul had wings”. And then he hoped his brain would not turn. And he ‘gloried’ in the naval dangers of his son at sea. And he repeated an old phrase of his, which I had heard from him often before, & which now rings hollowly to the ears of my memory .. that he could’nt & would’nt die. Strange & dreadful!
It is nearly two years since we had a correspondence of some few months--from which at last I receded, notwithstanding the individuality & spirit of his letters, & my admiration for a certain fervour & magnanimity of genius, no one could deny to him. His very faults partook of that nobleness. But for a year & a half or more perhaps, I scarcely have written or heard from him—until last week when he wrote to ask for a shelter for his boxes & pictures. If you had enquired of me the week before, I might have answered that I did not wish to renew the intercourse—yet who could help being shocked & saddened? Would it have availed, to have dropped something into that ‘hole in the ground’? Oh, to imagine that! Yet a little would have been but as nothing!– & he did not ask even for a little:—& I should have been ashamed to have offered but a little. Yet I cannot turn the thought away— .. that I did not offer.
Henry went to the house as I begged him. His son came to the door, & to a general enquiry ‘after the family’, said, that “Mr Haydon was dead & that his family were quite as well as could be expected." That horrible banality is all I know more than you know–
Yesterday at Rogers’s, Mrs Jameson led me to his picture of Napoleon at St Helena. At the moment we looked at it, his hand was scarcely cold, perhaps. Surely it was not made of the commonest clay of men,—that hand!–
I pour out my thoughts to you, dearest dearest, as if it were right rather to think of doing myself that good & relief, than of you who have to read all. But you spoil me into an excess of liberty, by your tenderness. Best in the world!– Oh—you help me to live– I am better & lighter since I have drawn near to you even on this paper—already I am better & lighter. And now I am going to dream of you .. to meet you on some mystical landing place.. in order to be quite well tomorrow. Oh—we are so selfish on this earth, that nothing grieves us very long, let it be ever so grievous, unless we are touched in ourselves .. in the apple of our eye .. in the quick of our heart .. in what you are, & where you are .. my own dearest beloved! So you need not be afraid for me! We all look to our own, as I to you; the thunderbolts may strike the tops of the cedars, &, except in the first start, none of us be moved. True it is of me—not of you perhaps—certainly you are better than I, in all things. Best in the world, you are!—no one is like you. Can you read what I have written? Do not love me less! Do you think that I cannot feel you love me, through all this distance? If you loved me less, I should know,—without a word or a sign. Because I live by your loving me!"

Hardly can Miss Barrett write a bad letter. Is it any wonder that so many people wanted to correspond with her? Even as the thoughts spill onto the paper she wants to sympathize with Browning for causing him discomfort by having to read her letter. Again she is blind to her own power.

But this episode will not end here and Browning will act as knight-errant to run interference and save Miss Barrett's reputation when society asks, "What is her relationship with the married Haydon that he would send her his property to keep!"

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22

Miss Barrett did go to see the art at the Rogers home and wrote her report to Browning June 22, 1846:

"And Mrs Jameson came alone & she & I were alone at Mr Rogers’s, & you must help me to thank her some day for her unspeakable kindness to me, though she did not leap to the height of the inspiration of managing to let us see those pictures together. Ah—if she had, it would have been too much– As it is, she gave me a great deal of pleasure in the kindest of ways .. & I let it be pleasure, by mixing it with enough thoughts of you .. (otherwise how could it be pleasure?)—& she showed the pictures, & instructed me, really taking pains & instructing me .. & telling me how Rubens painted landscapes .. as how should my ignorance guess? .. & various other unknown things. The first word as we reached the door, frightened me—for she said that perhaps we might see Mr Rogers .. which was a little beyond our covenant—but we did not see him, & I suppose the Antinous on the staircase is not at all like him. Grand it is, in its serene beauty. On a colossal scale, in white marble. For the pictures, they are full of wonder & divinity—each giving the measure of a man’s soul. And think .. sketches from the hand of Michael Angelo & Raphael! And a statuette in clay, alive with the life of Michael Angelo’s finger—the blind eyes looking .. seeing .. as if in scorn of all clay! And the union of energy & meditation in the whole attitude!—— You have seen the marble of that figure in Florence. Then, a divine Virgin & child, worn & faded to a shadow of Raphael’s genius, as Mrs Jameson explained to me—and the famous Ecce Homo of Guido .. and Rubens’ magnificent “version,” as she called it, of Andrea Mantegna’s Triumph of Julius Caesar. So triumphing to this day!– And Titian, & Tintoretto .. & what did not strike me the least, .. a portrait of Rembrandt by himself, which if his landscapes, as they say, were “dug out of nature”, looks as if it were dug out of humanity. Such a rugged, dark, deep subterraneous face, .. yet inspired—! seeming to realize that God took clay & breathed into the nostrils of it. There, are both the clay, & the divinity! And think! I saw the agreement between the bookseller & Milton for the sale of Paradise Lost! with Milton’s signature & seal!—and “Witnessed by William Greene, Mr Milton’s servant. How was it possible not to feel giddy with such sights!– Almost I could have run my head against the wall, I felt, with bewilderment—and Mrs Jameson must have been edified, I have thought since, by my intense stupidity. I saw too the first edition of Paradise Lost. The rooms are elegant, with no pretension to splendour .. which is good taste, a part of the good taste everywhere. Only, on the chimney piece of the dining room, were two small busts, beautiful busts, white with marble, .. & representing––now, whom, of gods & men, would you select for your Lares .. to help your degestion & social merriment? … Caligula & Nero in childhood.! The ‘childhood’ is horribly suggestive to me! On the sideboard, is Pope’s bust, by Roubillac—a too expressive, miserable face—drawn, with disease & bitter thoughts, & very painful, I felt, to look at. These things I liked least, in the selection & arrangement. Everything beside was admirable: & I write & write of it all as if I were not tired—but I am .. & most with the excitement & newness."

What a thrill for her to see the contract for and first edition of Paradise Lost. And for us to know that in the years to come, as Mrs. Browning, she will echo and move forward from Milton in Aurora Leigh. I am sure that Browning will be very pleased with her excursion. She is building her strength, her courage and her ambition in anticipation of the main event.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21

June 21, 1846 Miss Barrett writes to Browning about her friend, Hugh Boyd:

"I forgot to tell you that yesterday I went to Mr Boyd’s house .. not to see him, but as a preliminary step to seeing him. Arabel went to his room to tell him of my being there—we are both perhaps rather afraid of meeting after all these years of separation. Quite blind he is—& though scarcely older than Mr Kenyon, (perhaps a year or two or three) so nervous, that he has really made himself infirm, & now he refuses to walk out or even to go down stairs. A very peculiar life he has led ever since he lost his sight, which he did when he was quite a young man—and a very peculiar person he is in all possible ways. His great faculty is .. memory .. & his great passion .. Greek—to which of late he has added Ossian. Otherwise, he talks like a man of slow mind, which he is, .. & with a child’s way of looking at things, such as would make you smile—oh, he talks in the most wonderfully childish way! Poor Mr Boyd. He cares for me perhaps more than he cares for any one else .. far more than for his own only daughter,—but he is not a man of deep sensibility, &, if he heard of my death, would merely sleep a little sounder the next night. Once he said to me that whenever he felt sorry about anything, he was inclined to go to sleep. An affectionate & grateful regard .. grateful for many kindnesses .. I bear him, for my part. He says that I should wear the crown in poetry, if I would but follow Pope—but that the dreadful system of running lines one into another, ruins everything. When I talk of memory, I mean merely the mechanical faculty. The associative, which makes the other a high power, he wants. So I went to his house in St John’s Wood yesterday, & saw the little garden. Poor Mr Boyd. There, he lives, all alone—& never leaving his chair! yet cheerful still, I hear, in all that desolation. As for you & Tennyson, he never heard of you .. he never guesses at the way of modern literature .. & it is the intense compliment to me when he reads verses of mine, “notwithstanding my corrupt taste,” .. to quote his own words."

Many of her letters to Boyd are published and quite entertaining. We have looked at a few in this blog. The way to learn a language is to use it and she learned and grew in her Greek by reading Greek to this blind Greek scholar. It is easy to understand how her knowledge of the Greek surpassed his own due to the limitations of intake to a blind man and also, her personal obsession. Her description of him is interesting and complex.

For those curious about Ossian here is the link the the Wiki overview. Apparently Boyd was interested in the controversy over it's authenticity as actual translations from Scots Gaelic.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 19

I am going to cheat a bit today and give look at letters from two different days. Don't mention it to anyone and perhaps no one will notice.

Browning writes a short note  to Miss Barrett on June 19, 1845:

"When I next see you, do not let me go on and on to my confusion about matters I am more or less ignorant of, but always ignorant. I tell you plainly I only trench on them, and intrench in them, from gaucherie, pure and respectable ... I should certainly grow instructive on the prospects of hay-crops and pasture-land, if deprived of this resource. And now here is a week to wait before I shall have any occasion to relapse into Greek literature when I am thinking all the while, 'now I will just ask simply, what flattery there was,' &c. &c., which, as I had not courage to say then, I keep to myself for shame now. This I will say, then—wait and know me better, as you will one long day at the end."

Miss Barrett cannot resist to respond the following day:

"If on Greek literature or anything else it is your pleasure to cultivate a reputation for ignorance, I will respect your desire—and indeed the point of the deficiency in question being far above my sight I am not qualified either to deny or assert the existence of it; so you are free to have it all your own way."

A gentle poke and a denial of all knowledge of his ignorance. Classy. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18

Let's look at three letters today, separated by years. Miss Barrett seems stuck on sick in this first letter, but still full of earnest, but not perverse, poetic obscurity.
June 1938 Miss Barrett wrote to Miss Mitford:

"As to the ballad, dearest Miss Mitford, which you and Mr. Kenyon are indulgent enough to like, remember that he passed his criticism over it—before it went to you—and so if you did not find as many obscurities as he did in it, the reason is—his merit and not mine. But don't believe him—no!—don't believe even Mr. Kenyon—whenever he says that I am perversely obscure. Unfortunately obscure, not perversely—that is quite a wrong word. And the last time he used it to me (and then, I assure you, another word still worse was with it) I begged him to confine them for the future to his jesting moods. Because, indeed, I am not in the very least degree perverse in this fault of mine, which is my destiny rather than my choice, and comes upon me, I think, just where I would eschew it most. So little has perversity to do with its occurrence, that my fear of it makes me sometimes feel quite nervous and thought-tied in composition...."

I cannot help but contemplate what a boon some of Mr. Kenyon's criticism of obscurity would have to a young Browning.

"I have not seen Mr. Kenyon since I wrote last. All last week I was not permitted to get out of bed, and was haunted with leeches and blisters. And in the course of it, Lady Dacre was so kind as to call here, and to leave a note instead of the personal greeting which I was not able to receive. The honor she did me a year ago, in sending me her book, encouraged me to offer her my poems. I hesitated about doing so at first, lest it should appear as if my vanity were dreaming of a return; but Mr. Kenyon's opinion turned the balance. I was very sorry not to have seen Lady Dacre and have written a reply to her note expressive of this regret. But, after all, this inaudible voice (except in its cough) could have scarcely made her understand that I was obliged by her visit, had I been able to receive it.
Dr. Chambers has freed me again into the drawing-room, and I am much better or he would not have done so. There is not, however, much strength or much health, nor any near prospect of regaining either. It is well that, in proportion to our feebleness, we may feel our dependence upon God."

Does not it seem that Kenyon is more of a father to Miss Barrett than her own father? Of course, Kenyon does not have to earn a living and so has more time to nurture his young friend.

June 18, 1846 our poets are all made up and happy. Browning write a typically charming letter:

"Did you really kiss me on the two eyes, my Ba? I cannot say “perhaps at the very time I was thinking of you,”—more than “when I was breathing”—I breathe always, think of you always,—kiss you almost always. You dear, dearest Ba! Do pain me so again and again,—if you will so cure me every time! But you should not imagine that I can mistake the motive,—as if you loved me less and therefore wrote—oh, no—but there is no getting rid of these mistakings before the time: they bear their fruit and die away naturally .. the hoe never cuts up all their roots– I shall trust to hear you say one day I am past such mistaking—but—at Amalfi?

I am very glad, love, you go to Mr Rogers’ to-day—what harm can follow?....They say his pictures are well worth seeing. Tell me, make me see you seeing! I am glad, too, Mrs Jameson knows .. but her graciousness I expected, because the causes you were able to give her would really operate just in that manner: indeed they are the sole causes of the secresy we have observed. I cannot help liking Mrs Jameson more, much more since her acquaintance with you."

Miss Barrett does not go to see the paintings as scheduled, so she is hatching plans for the lovers to meet:

"But I have not been to Mr Rogers’s today, after all. I had a note from Mrs Jameson, to put off our excursion to saturday .. if I consented to saturday! but of course I would not consent to saturday—and as she intimated that another day would do as well, we shall have another day fixed, I suppose. What a good fruit it would be of the confession I made in the park, if she were to ask you to go!!! Oh, I should like that– I should like it notwithstanding the drawbacks. It would be a fair gain upon the usual times of meeting—only that I could not care quite as much for the pictures—yet, those too, I should like to see with you, rather than apart from you. And you never saw them .. you! Is there a hope of her asking you when you are at Greenwich together? Now I have got this into my head, it will not go out again—oh, you must try & enchant her properly at Greenwich & lead her into asking you. Yet, with you or without you in the body, the spirit of you & the influence of you are always close to my spirit when it discerns any beauty or feels any joy:—if I am happy on any day it is through you wholly, whether you are absent or present, dearest, & ever dearest!..."

It is a charming suggestion, but not a very wise one. Unless Mrs. Jameson was a complete idiot, which she was not, when she saw these two together she would most certainly read their vibrations. I doubt either of them would be masters at hiding their true feelings in a setting such as that. Miss Barrett is certainly getting bold. Quite a contrast with her outlook of not 'much strength or much health' in 1838.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17

June 17, 1846 Browning sends Miss Barrett one of his trademark long rambling letters, but I will spare you the tedious bits and jump to the chase:

"....My dearest Ba, you say “let us both think”—think of this, you! Do not for God’s sake introduce an element of uncertainty and restlessness and dissatisfaction into the feeling whereon my life lies .. to speak for myself, this matter is concluded, done with,—I am yours, you are mine, and not to give rise to refinements upon refinements as to what is the being most of all each other’s, which might end in your loving me best while I was turned a Turk in the East, or my .. you know the Inquisition does all for the pure love of the victim’s soul: let us have common sense—and think, in its most ordinary exercise, what would my life be worth now without you—as I,—putting on your own crown, accepting your own dearest assurance,—dare believe your life would be incomplete now without mine: so you have allowed me to believe. Then our course is plain. If you dare make the effort, we will do as we propose,—if not, not: I have nothing to do but take your hand .. there is not one difficulty in my path,—nor in yours on my account,—that is, for me....Dear, dear, dear Ba, I kiss you, kiss my heart out unto you,—best love, one love! See above what I will not think over again, look over again .. but what then? Can I be quiet when I hear the least, least motion about my treasure, and my heart that is there, with it? Then no more, I beseech you, love, never one word more of all that! Whenever I can hear such words calmly, I shall be fit for agreeing to them,—let all be, now!....And do I understand you, my Ba, when I venture this time .. because of the words and the pain I shall not hide that they did give me, .. to feel that, even beyond my kissing you, you kiss this one time your own RB"

Browning is a great guy, but he does have this tendency to want to open his brain and spill it onto the paper in a tangled mess. Miss Barrett is about the only one to have the patience to decipher his meanings.

In reply, Miss Barrett is treading lightly and speaking humbly:

"Dearest & ever dearest, try to forgive me when I fall so manifestly short of you in all things! It is the very sense of this which throws me on despairs sometimes of being other than a bane to your life—and then .. by way of a remedy .. I begin to be a torment to it directly. Forgive me. Whatever I may say I am as wholly yours as if you held me in your hand, & I would do for you any extravagance, as if it were a common thing, at a word—& what is before us is only a common thing, since I have looked to it from the beginning. Oh—I may talk when I am out of spirits—but you know, & I know best of all, that I could not withdraw myself from you, unless you said ‘Go’—could not—I have no power. Fine talking, it is of me, to talk of withdrawing myself from you! You know I could not at all do it, let ever so many special pleaders come to prove to me that you would be more prosperous & happy without me. “Then” I would say .. “let him put me away. I cant put myself away, because I am not mine but his.” Assuredly I would say just that, & no more. So do you forget that I have teazed you & pained you … pained you! .. I will try not to pain you, my own, own dearest, any more. I have grown to love you instead of the whole world; & only one thing (.. you understand what that is ..) is dreadful & intolerable to me to imagine .. But now it is done with,—& you shall teach me hereafter to make you happy instead of the contrary. So .. yes—you are kissed this time! .. upon both eyes, .. that they may not see my faults. And afterwards I will tell you a paradox .. that if I loved you a hundred times less, I should run into such offences less in exact proportion. And finally I will give you a promise .. not to teaze you for a week—which were a wonderful feat for me!—the teazer par excellence.

So Browning gets his kiss and his pain assuaged. And there is more good news about Mrs. Jameson:

Mrs Jameson came for me to drive at about six, & she & I were in Regent’s Park until nearly eight. Then she went somewhere to dinner, & I who had had tea, came home to supper!—— I like her very much—more & more, certainly—and we need not be mysterious up to the usual mark of mystery, because I told her .. told her .. what might be told—& she was gracious to the uttermost—not angry at all,—& said that “Truth was truth, & one could breathe in the atmosphere of it, & she was glad I had told her.” Of you, she said, that she admired you more than ever—yes, more than ever .. for the “manner in which as a man of honour you had kept the secret”—so you were praised, & I, not blamed .. & we shall not complain, if our end is as good as our beginning. Also we talked of your poetry & of you personally, & I was pleased, .. which proves a little what was said—and I heard how you were invited as a “celebrity” for the Countess Hahn Hahn to see you, & how you effaced yourself with ever so much gracefulness; yet not too much, to omit charming the whole room. Mrs Jameson praises you always, as nobody does better. And tomorrow .. will you be surprised to hear that tomorrow at half past four, I am to go again with her, .. to see Rogers’s pictures? Is it wrong? shall I get into a scrape? She promised laughingly that I should be incognita to the only companion she thought of taking..a Mrs Bracebridge, I think—& Mr Rogers himself is not to be visible—& she herself will mention it to nobody. It was hard to say ‘no’—yet perhaps ‘no’ would have been better. Do you think so? Mrs Bracebridge is an artist & lives or lived on Mount Hymettus!and she is not to hear my name even.
Now—goodnight, very dear!—most dear of all! I will not teaze you for a fortnight, I think. Ah—if ever I can do that again, you shall not be pained, .. you shall think that my heart & life are in you, & that, if they seem to flutter, it is that they go deeper. All I am is yours—which is different from .. all I have. ‘All I have,’ is when I may lean my head down on the shoulder–"

Miss Barrett was being very bold today, she went driving with Mrs. Jameson and she confessed to her that she was seeing Browning and she agreed to go and see some paintings. What a brazen woman! I am glad that they got all their anxieties cleared up. Too much drama is very taxing on my nerves.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14

A letter from Browning, June 14, 1846:

"May I venture to speak to dearest Ba as if I had seen her or heard from her since I wrote yesterday,—and that seeing or that hearing had brought the usual comfort and assurance,—& forgiveness when needed, but delight at all times? Do you forgive me indeed, Ba?....

As it is, I have been sufficiently punished for that foolish letter, which has lost me the last two or three days of your life and deeds, my Ba. You went to Mr Kenyon’s—may have gone elsewhere (and gathered roses I did not deserve to receive)—but I do not know, and shall not recover my loss—not ever .. because if you tell me now, you exclude something new you would say otherwise .. if you write it on Tuesday, what becomes of Tuesday’s own stock of matter for chronicling?
Well, the proper word in my mouth is—I am sorry to the heart, and will try never to offend so again: how you wrote to me, also! How you rise above yourself while I get no nearer where you were first of all,—no nearer than ever! But so it should be!—so may it ever be!"

All this grovelling kind of freaks me out, to be honest. If some guy tried this out on me I would think he was being sarcastic. Even Miss Barrett points out that he is over the top sometimes, but he is so sweet and playful, how could you not love this man?

Now a recurring theme with Browning:

I believe the fault comes from a too-sweet sense of the freedom of being true with you, telling you all, hiding nothing: Carlyle was saying in his fine way, he understood why the Romans confined acting to their slaves .. it was no employment for a free man to amuse people .. be bound to do that, and if other faculties interposed, tending to other results on an audience than amusement, be bidden suppress them accordingly .. and so, he thought, it would be one day with our amusers, writers of fun, concocters of comic pieces: I feel it delicious to be free when most bound to you, Ba,—to be able to love on in all the liberty of the implied subjection .. so I am angry to you, desponding sometimes to you, as well as joyous and hopeful—well, well, I love, at any rate,—do love you with heart and soul, my Ba,—ever shall love you, dearest above all dearness: God bless you!"

If you totally love someone you are totally free with them, which calls for total honesty. A free man, must be totally honest and true. And so, only a slave could be an actor or write amusements because he is 'free' to be less than his true self. Pretty deep. No wonder he was called the Philosopher Poet and the Metaphysical Poet. Later, after they were married, EBB wrote to her sister Arabel describing how Browning told her everything, that he could not stop himself from it, which apparently lead to some argumentation. However, who would not prefer a totally honest spouse who trusts you, loves you, enough to tell you all?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13

By June 13, 1846 it looks like Browning is back pedaling as fast as he can. He does not want Miss Barrett to back out of their engagement:

"Dearest, all dearest beyond my heart’s uttering, will you forgive me for that foolish letter, and the warmth, and—for all,—more than ever I thought to have needed to ask forgiveness for! I love you in every imaginable way. All was wrong, absurd, in that letter—do you forgive—now, while I kiss your feet, my own, own Ba?

For see why it was wrong .. my father & mother will not be pained in any degree: they will believe what I say, exactly what I say: I wrote on & on in a heat at the sudden ridiculous fancy of the matter’s taking place some fine morning, without a word of previous intimation,—'I am going away,—never mind where,—with somebody, never concern yourselves whom,—to stay, if forever, is it any business of yours to enquire?'– All which was .. what was it? a method of confirming you in your complimentary belief in my 'calmness'—or that other in my 'good practical sense'—oh, Ba, Ba, how I deserve you! I will only say, I agree in all you write—it will be clearly best, and I can obviate every untowardness here .. show that all is pure kindness and provident caution .. so easy all will be! And for the other matters, I will fear nothing–

But you do—you do understand what caused the sudden fancy .. how I thought 'not show them my pride of prides, my miraculous, altogether peerless and incomparable Ba!'– It was not flying from your counsel,—oh, no!

So, is your hand in mine, or rather mine in yours again, sweetest, best love? All will be well. Follow out your intention, as you spoke of it to me, in every point. Do not for God’s sake run the risk, or rather, encounter the certainty of hearing words which most likely have not anything like the significance to the speaker that they would convey to the hearer—and so let us go quietly away: I will care nothing about diplomatism or money-getting extraordinary—why, my own works sell and sell and are likely to sell, Moxon says—and I mean to write wondrous works, you may be sure, and sell them too,—and out of it all may easily come some fifty or sixty horrible pounds a year,—on which one lives famously in Ravenna, I dare say: think of Ravenna, Ba!—it seems the place of places, with the pines and the sea, and Dante, and no English, and all Ba–

My Ba, I see you on Monday, do I not? You let me come then, do you not? I am on fire to see you and know you love me .. not as I love you .. that can never be! I am your own RB"

Wow. His frustration at her need for secrecy caused him to vent and caused her to threaten to withdraw. Now he can't get to her (except by penny post) to assure that she remains committed. More frustration! But what a wonderful letter. He is crazy about Miss Barrett and Miss Barrett consciously or unconsciously (I lean toward unconsciously because she is unaware of her self worth) is controlling his emotional response.
He adds an interesting post script:

"I resolve, after a long pause and much irresolution, to write down as much as I shall be able, of an obvious fact .. if the saddest fate I can imagine should be reserved for me .. I should wish, you would wish me to live the days out worthily,—not end them—nor go mad in them—to prevent which, I should need distraction, the more violent the better,—and it would have to be forced on me in the only way possible—therefore, after my death, I return nothing to your family, be assured. You will not recur to this!"

Hmm..I wonder what 'violent' distraction he considers that would have to be forced on him? What kind of violent distraction could he buy for two hundred pounds a year? Browning is so wonderfully romantic, I can imagine him considering suicide and rejecting it as unmanly and unchristian.

But his panic appears to be unnecessary, Miss Barrett does not give pen to backing out. As usual she is concerned that she could cause him hardship by being ill and not having the financial means to deal with her illness:

"I wrote last night when my head was still struggling & swimming between two tides of impressions received from the excitement & fatigue of the day. Mr Kenyon (dear Mr Kenyon in his exquisite kindness!) took me to see the strange new sight (to me!) of the Great Western.. the train coming in: & we left the carriage & had chairs—& the rush of the people & the earth-thunder of the engine, almost overcame me .. not being used to such sights & sounds in this room, remember!! .. & afterwards I read & answered your letter with a whirling head. I cannot be sure how I answered it, my head whirled so. I only hope .. hope .. hope .. that it did not seem unworthily of your goodness & generosity—for that would be unworthy of my perception of them & reverence for them, besides. You do not, in particular, I do hope, misunderstand my reasons for refusing to improve what you call my “advantages,” by turning them into disadvantages for you. Really it struck me at the moment & strikes me new every time I think of it, that it would be monstrous in me to stop at such an idea long enough to examine it. To do such a thing would complete the ‘advantages’ of my alliance––if that is a desire of yours. And if I were to be ill afterwards, there would be the crown of the crown. Now ask yourself if I ought––
I cannot conceive of the possibility of a ‘calumny’ on such a pretext—there seems no room for it. You will however have it in your power hereafter without injury to either of us, to do yourself full justice in this particular,––only neither now nor hereafter shall I consent to let in sordid withering cares into your life,—God has not made it so, & it shall not be so by an act of mine.
And after all, shall we be so much .. so much too rich?....Why are you fanciful in that way? People are more likely to say that I have taken you in. The sign of the Red Dragon!—as you suggested once yourself!"

She does not mention withdrawing at all; she is more concerned with the finances of the marriage. It should be mentioned here that Miss Barrett was dependant on her daily dose of opium. It is interesting to me that she paid for this herself, her father paid her rent and bought her food, but she paid for her opium. (Did Papa Barrett not approve?) I wonder if Browning ever considered the costs involved with caring for an invalid? It would be cheap for a healthy bachelor to live in Italy, but doctors and medicines are costly. Her recognition of the 'sordid withering cares' associated with illness was an honesty that a lesser woman would have brushed under the rug in a race to grab the love Browning was offering.
I must also point out that Browning did not suggest the 'sign of the Red Dragon', Miss Barrett suggested that herself in a letter the previous year.
More practical considerations from Miss Barrett:

"I could make you laugh, if it were not too hot to laugh, with telling you how I really do not know what my ‘advantages’ are—specifically—so many, & so many. I am not ‘allowed’ to spend what I might—but the motive is of course a kind one .. there is no mistaking that. Poor Papa!– He attends just to those pecuniary interests which no one cares for, with a scrupulous attention. Nearly two hundred a year of ship shares I never touch– Then there is the interest of six thousand pounds (not less at any rate) in the funds—& I referred to the principal of that, when I said yesterday, that when we had ceased to need it, it might return to my family, since it came from them, if you chose.  But this is all air—& nothing shall be said of it now—& whatever may be said hereafter, shall come from you, & be your word rather than mine. So I beseech you, by your affection for me, to speak no more of this hateful subject, which I have entered for a moment lest you should exaggerate to yourself & mistake me for the least in the world of an heiress. As to Lord Monteagle, we can do without him, I think—and unless he would give us a house to keep, or something of that sort, at Sorrento or Ravenna, I do not exactly see what he can do for us. To make an agreement with a periodical, would be more a possibility perhaps—but it is not a necessity—there is no sort of need, in fact—& why should you be tormented “in the multitude of the thoughts within you,” utterly in vain?"

She is thinking here of practical ways they can provide for their living expenses. Care-taking an estate in a sunny clime or writing for a periodical seem much more practical than working as a diplomatic clerk in Russia. Finally she touches on involving their families in their secret:

"As to your family .. I understand your natural desire of giving your confidence at the fullest, to your father & mother, who deserve & claim it .. I understand that you should speak & listen to them, & cross no wish of theirs, & in nothing displease & pain them. But I do not understand the argument by which you involve this question with other questions .. when you say, for instance, that I “ought not to countenance the preposterousness & tyranny”. How do I seem to countenance what I revolt from? Do you mean that we ought to do what we are about, openly? It is the only meaning I can attach to your words. Well– If you choose it to be so, knowing what I have told you, let it be so. I can however, as I said yesterday, answer only for my will & mind, & not for my strength & body—and if the end should be different from the end you looked for, you will not blame me, being just, .. any more than I shall blame myself."

She doesn't threaten to withdraw today, instead she states her case, 'I concede that you know your family, but I know mine. I will tell my father if you choose, but don't say I never warned you of the consequences!' It is pretty obvious she is not going to tell her father. Okay, we get it, Papa Barrett is not to be trifled with. I have a feeling that this will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12

Miss Barrett continues the conversation with Browning from their visit the previous day on June 12, 1846. Browning has apparently invited Miss Barrett to New Cross to meet his family:

"You made the proposal to me about New Cross, yesterday, out of consideration & kindness to me! I understand it so, thanking you. For the rest, I need not, I am certain, assure you that it would be the greatest pain to me at any time, to be wanting in even the forms of respect & affection, towards your family—& that I would not, from a mere motive of shyness, hazard a fault against them—you will believe this of me. But the usual worldly form (if the world is to give the measure) would be against my paying such a visit—& under ordinary circumstances it never is paid––not so. Therefore the not paying it, is not an omission of an ordinary form of attention—that is what I mean to say. And to keep all dear to you quite safe & away from all splashing of the mud which we cannot ourselves hope to escape, is the great object,—it does seem to me. Your father & mother would be blamed (in this house, I know, if not in others) for not apprizing my father of what they knew—— As it is, there is evil enough—though there is a way of escaping that evil.

As it is. ——Now I do beseech you to consider well whether you will not have too much pain in finding that they suffer it, (after every precaution taken) .. to render all this which we are about, wise & advisable. They will suffer, to hear you spoken of as we both shall be spoken of .. be perfectly sure!– They will suffer, to have to part with you so——& the circumstances, perhaps, will not help to give them confidence in the stranger, who presumes so, to enter their family– I ask you not to answer this!—only, to think of it in time, lest you should come to think of it too late."

Oh dear, here we go again. I admit I have limited understanding of the Victorian rules of social ettiquete so I do not understand what she is saying here. Let me see if I can piece this together. She doesn't want to be lacking in the forms of respect to his parents and she is not claiming shyness as an excuse, but the 'form' says that she would not visit his parents--even under ordinary circumstances 'not so'. She says that she is not commiting a faux pas by not meeting his parents. Perhaps one of my readers can clue me in what point she is trying to make here. If she is meaning that in the case of a secret wedding, it isn't done to visit the groom's parents, that makes perfect sense, but when she says 'under ordinary circumstances it never is paid' what can she be meaning? I comprehend the rest, she wants to protect his parents from social cuts by the Barretts. However, I seriously think that improbable, the families traveled on different social paths. Besides which, Papa Barrett would believe the Brownings culpable anyway simply because they raised a cad for a son. They would have no way to prove they knew nothing of the impending nuptials. But by the same token, these two were not teenagers, the Browning's had no obligation to inform the Barrett family of anything. My opinion: this is all a moot argumentation, she is scared to meet them and trying to make some sort of social etiquette rationalization.

And what will Browning think of all this? It doesn't look like it went over well at all considering the incredulity in his response:
"When I am close to you, in your very room, I see thro’ your eyes, and feel what you feel—but after, the sight widens with the circle of outside things– I cannot fear for a moment what seemed redoubtable enough yesterday—nor do I believe that there will be two opinions anywhere in the world as to your perfect right to do as you please under the present circumstances: people are not quite so tolerant to other people’s preposterousness, and that which yourself tell me exceeds anything I ever heard of or imagined—but, dearest, on twice thinking, one surely ought not to countenance it as you propose: why should not my father & mother know? What possible harm can follow from their knowing? Why should I wound them to the very soul and for ever, by as gratuitous a piece of unkindness as if,—no,—there is no comparison will do! Because, since I was a child I never asked for the least or greatest thing within the compass of their means to give, but given it was,—nor for liberty but it was conceded, nor for confidence but it was bestowed– I dare say they would break their hearts at such an end of all!– For in any case they will take my feeling for their own with implicit trust—& if I brought them a beggar, or a famous actress even, they would believe in her because of me....As to any harm or blame that can attach itself to them,—it is too absurd to think of! What earthly control can they have over me? They live here,—I go my own way, being of age and capability. How can they interfere?
And then, blame for what, in either God’s or the devil’s name? I believe you to be the one woman in the world I am able to marry because able to love. I wish, on some accounts, I had foreseen the contingency of such an one’s crossing my path in this life—but I did not,—and on all ordinary grounds preferred being free and poor, accordingly. All is altered now...."

He then goes on at great length about getting some sort of job, a diplomatic position or a government stipend for writers.

"...let me do so, and at once, my own Ba! And do you, like the unutterably noble creature I know you, transfer your own advantages to your brothers or sisters .. making if you please a proper reservation in the case of my own exertions failing, as failure comes everywhere– So shall the one possible occasion of calumny be removed and all other charges go for the simple absurdities they will be...."

He has it in his head that if he can have an independent income none of these problems will exist. He probably has a point. If he did have a good income they could take off at any time and thumb their noses at the family Barrett. He concludes:

"So, dear, dear Ba, understand and advise me: I took up the paper with ordinary feelings .. but the absurdity and tyranny suddenly flashed upon me .. it must not be borne—indeed its only safety in this instance is in its impotency. I am not without fear of some things in this world—but the “wrath of man,” all the men living put together, I fear as I fear the fly I have just put out of the window—but I fear God—and am ready, he knows, to die this moment in taking his part against any piece of injustice & oppression– So I aspire to die!
See this long letter, and all about a truism, a plain palpable common-place matter about which you agree with me, you the dear quiet Ba of my heart, with me that make all this unnecessary fuss! See what is behind all the “’bated breath and whispered humbleness!”—but it is right, after all, to revolt against such monstrous tyranny. And I ought not, I feel, to have forgotten the feelings of my father & mother as I did: because I know as certainly as I know anything that if I could bring myself to ask them to give up everything in the world, they would do it and cheerfully.
So see, and forgive your own RB"

I must say that Browning wins the clarity war on this day, nothing obscure about that. His anger at the injustice and oppression of Papa Barrett is pretty clear. But the day is not done and I applaud the carriers of the penny post that moved these letters across London at such a speedy pace. Miss Barrett responds:

"But dearest, dearest .. when did I try to dissuade you from telling all to your father & mother? Surely I did not & could not. That you should “wound them to the very soul & for ever” .. I am so far from counselling it, .. that I would rather, I think, as was intimated in my letter of this morning, .. to have all at an end at once—rather! Certainly rather, .. when the alternative would be your certain unhappiness & remorse. A right, they have, to your entire confidence; & for me to say a word against your giving it … may God forbid! Even that you should submit your wishes to theirs in this matter, would be no excess of duty– I said so, I think, in my letter of this morning.
At the same time, I am of opinion, .. which was what I meant to put into words, .. that, in the case of their approving in the sufficient degree .. & of your resolving finally on carrying out our engagement … you should avoid committing them further than is necessary, &, so, exposing them to unpleasant remarks & reproaches from my family .. to go no farther. You think that nothing can be said– I wish I could think so. You are not to be restrained perhaps .. but you are to be advised .. & it would be a natural step for your father, to go straight to his friend Mr Kenyon– Do you see what might be done though you are ‘of age’—& for not doing which, your father might be reproached? And more, there would be to do, besides. Therefore I thought that you should avoid, as far as possible, committing him openly .. making him a party in the eyes of the world .. (as would be done by my visit to New Cross for instance)—yet I may be wrong here, .. & you, in any case, are the master, to act as you see best.
And, looking steadily at the subject, do you not see, .. now that we look closely besides, .. how mortifying to the just pride of your family, as well as to your own selfrespect, is every possible egress from these unhappy circumstances? Ah—I told you—I told you long ago! I saw that at the beginning. Giving the largest confidence to your family, you still must pain them—still–"

Well, we have Miss Barrett at her most manipulative I think, what is called today 'passive agressive'. She leaves everything up to him, he is the 'master' but at the same time, if he does not do it her way she will withdraw. Going to New Cross to meet his family in no way makes them culpable for the actions of these two adults. She has surely met with many family members of friends and acquaintances. How is it more acceptable to Papa Barrett that Browning's family knew of the planned marriage, but never met the bride. I am a bit disappointed with Miss Barrett in this episode. She was shy and nervous and even scared but she has gone out of her way to make some very weak arguments to prevent a meeting with Browning's family. However, by agreeing to his telling his family, at least, she has pulled Browning back from the edge after a real show of temper on his part. Next she addresses the financial situation:

"For the rest .. you are generous & noble as always—but, no, .. I shall refuse steadily for reasons which are plain, to put away from me God’s gifts .. given perhaps in order to this very end .. & apart from which, I should not have seen myself justified, .. even as far as now I vaguely, dimly seem .. to cast the burden of me upon you. No. I care as little for money as you do—but this thing I will not agree to, because I ought not. At the same time, you shall be at liberty to arrange that after the deaths of us two, the money should return to my family .. this, if you choose—for it shall be by your own act hereafter, that they may know you for what you are—. In the meanwhile, I should laugh to scorn all that sort of calumny .. even if I could believe it to be possible. Supposing that you sought money, you would not be quite so stupid, the world may judge for itself, as to take hundreds instead of thousands, & pence instead of guineas– To do the world justice, it is not likely to make a blunder on such a point as this.
I wish, if you can wish so, that you were the richer– I could be content to have just nothing, if we could live easily so. But as I have a little without seeking it, you must, on the other hand, try to be content, & not be too proud....
....A pension on literary grounds is the more difficult to obtain, that the fund set apart for that end, is insufficient, I believe. Then if you are to do diplomacy for it, .. how do you know that you may not be sent to Russia, or somewhere impossible for me to winter in? If you were fixed in London, .. what then? You know best what your own views are, & wishes are– I would not cross them, if you should be happier so, or so.
And do you think that because this may be done, or not done .. & because that ought not to be borne .. we can make any change .. act any more openly .. face to face, perhaps—voice to voice? Alas, no!– You said once that women were as strong as men, .. unless in the concurrence of physical force. Which is a mistake. I would rather be kicked with a foot, .. (I, for one woman! ..) than be overcome by a loud voice speaking cruel words. I would not yield before such words– I would not give you up if they were said ..: but, being a woman & a very weak one, (in more senses than the bodily, ..) they would act on me as a dagger would, .. I could not help dropping, dying before them– I say it that you may understand. Tyranny? Perhaps. Yet in that strange, stern nature, there is a capacity to love—& I love him—& I shall suffer, in causing him to suffer. May God bless you. You will scarcely make out these hurried straggling words—& scarcely do they carry out my meaning. I am for ever your Ba"

She ends up talking common sense about the monetary situation and rather redeems herself to an extent. It would rather defeat the purpose if he took a diplomatic post where she could not go. (Although I wonder they never considered India. It certainly would have been warmer than England. Perhaps it was considered too pestilent. Or not quite as romantic as Italy.) These two kids, nothing but drama, drama and more drama. How will it all end?