"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:
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?