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?

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