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.

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