"You understand, dearest beloved, all I could mean about your sister’s coming here. Both I was afraid of not being liked enough .. which was one reason, & none the less reasonable because of your being ‘infatuated’ .. (oh, that is precisely the word to use, & indeed I never falter to myself in the applying of it!)—and I felt it to be impossible for me to receive so near a relative of yours, your own only sister, as I should another & a stranger. There would be the need in me of being affectionate to your sister! how could I not? & yet, how could I? Everything is at once too near & too far—it is enough to make me tremble to think of it—it did, when Mr Kenyon made his proposition. I would rather, ten times over, receive Queen Victoria & all her court––do you understand? can you misunderstand? can you pretend to fancy, as you talked yesterday, that the reluctance came from my having ‘too many visitors,’ or from any of those common causes. Why, she is your sister—& that was the cause of the reluctance. You will not dare to turn it into a wrong against yourself."
I must confess, dear blogoleers, that I feel a great affinity with Miss Barrett. I understand her shyness. But what gives me pause here is her reasoning. Her normally well thought out argumentation escapes her here. She believes that because Browning is infatuated with her that he has over sold her to his sister; that makes sense. However, her exclamation! that she would have to be affectionate to his sister does not seem rational. Why couldn't she just be cordial and if they got on that would be wonderful and if they didn't they could just continue to be cordial. If Browning's sister did not like Miss Barrett she probably wouldn't come back. There is the possibility that his sister could attempt to talk Browning out of the infatuation, but that doesn't seem to be part of Miss Barrett's calculation. But what else is going on in Miss Barrett's brain today?
"Now I am going to ask you a question, dearest of mine, & you will consider it carefully & examine your own wishes in respect to it, before I have any answer. In fact it is not necessary to treat of the subject of it at all at this moment—we have a great deal of time before us. Still, I want to know whether, upon reflection, you see it to be wiser & better for me to go to Italy with Miss Bayley, or with any other person who may be willing to take me, (supposing I should find such a plan possible) & that you should follow with Mr Chorley or alone, .. leaving other thoughts for another year. Or if I find this scheme as far as I am concerned, impossible, shall we gain anything, do you think, on any side of the question that you can see, by remaining quietly as we are, you at New Cross, & I here, until next year’s summer or autumn? Shall we be wiser, more prudent, for any reason, or in any degree, by such a delay—?
It is the question I ask you—it is no proposal of mine, understand—nor shall I tell you my own impression about it– I have told you that I would do as you should decide, & I will do that & no other. Only on that very account it is the more necessary that you should decide well, & according to the best lights of your own judgement & reason–"
Okay, now I think I understand the reasoning here. She is trying to give him a path out. In part one of the letter she tells him that she is too nervous to meet his sister. She realizes that this might be a problem for him (I have to think that he could have talked her into it) and so gives him a way of saying: 'Well, she is a mess. I should try to find another genius poet and drop her because, for pity's sake, she is scared of my sister.'
She writes again later in the day, more chatty. She seems to have gotten over her nervous mood but does mention her inquiry:
"You will not mistake what I said to you this morning my own beloved—you will not?– My promise to you was to place the decision in your hands—& my desire is simply that you should decide according to your judgement & understanding .. I do not say, your affections, this time. Now it has struck me that you have a sort of instinct .. But no—I shall not write on that subject tonight..."
She ends her evening letter with a teazing taunt and then thinks better of it:
"But will you explain to me some day why you are sorry for Italy having been mentioned between us, & why you would rather prefer Nova Zembla? So as to kill me the faster, is it?
Your Ælian says that the oldest painters used to write under a tree, when they painted one, ‘This is a tree’. So I must do, I suddenly remember, under my jests .. I being, it would appear, as bad an artist in jesting, as they were in painting. Therefore .. see the last line of the last paragraph .. ‘This is a jest.’"
Another test of Browning's nerve. How will he respond to her gentle inquiry, her feeler into his thoughts?