Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7

The letter of interest today, June 7, 1861 is one of the last if not the last letter written by Mrs. Browning before her death on June 29, 1861. She is writing to Browning's sister in an attempt to explain why they were not coming to France to visit:

"I can't let Robert's disagreeable letter go alone, dearest Sarianna, though my word will be as heavy as a stone at the bottom of it. I am deeply sorry you should have had the vain hope of seeing Robert and Pen. As for me, I know my place; I am only good for a drag chain. But, dear, don't fancy it has been the fault of my will. In fact, I said almost too much at Rome to Robert, till he fancied I had set my selfwill on tossing myself up as a halfpenny, and coming down on the wrong side. Now, in fact, it was not at all (nearly) for Arabel that I wished to go, only I did really wish and do my best to go. He, on the other hand, before we left Rome, had made up his mind (helped by a stray physician of mine, whom he met in the street) that it would be a great risk to carry me north. He (Robert) always a little exaggerates the difficulties of travelling, and there's no denying that I have less strength than is usual to me even at the present time. I touched the line of vexing him, with my resistance to the decision, but he is so convinced that repose is necessary for me, and that the lions in the path will be all asleep by this time next year, that I yielded. Certainly he has a right to command me away from giving him unnecessary anxieties. What does vex me is that the dearest nonno should not see his Peni this year, and that you, dear, should be disappointed, on my account again. That's hard on us all. We came home into a cloud here. I can scarcely command voice or hand to name Cavour. That great soul, which meditated and made Italy, has gone to the Diviner country. If tears or blood could have saved him to us, he should have had mine. I feel yet as if I could scarcely comprehend the greatness of the vacancy. A hundred Garibaldis for such a man. There is a hope that certain solutions had been prepared between him and the Emperor, and that events will slide into their grooves. May God save Italy! Dear M. Milsand had pleased me so by his appreciation, but there are great difficulties. The French press, tell him, has, on the whole, done great service, except that part of it under the influence of the ultramontane and dynastic opposition parties. And as to exaggerated statements, it is hard, even here, to get at the truth (with regard to the state of the south), and many Italian liberals have had hours of anxiety and even of despondency. English friends of ours, very candid and liberal, have gone to Naples full of hope, and returned hoping nothing—yet they are wrong, unless this bitter loss makes them right—
Your loving Ba
Robert tears me away—

It is an echo of her refrain in the courtship letters wherein she feared that her health would impede Browning's progress in life. This letter also touches a bit on her not so comfortable relationship with Sarianna Browning. Miss Barrett, as we saw in 1846, was very frightened to meet Browning's sister because she felt that Miss Browning would not see what Browning saw in her. They never appeared to have a close relationship over the 15 years of the marriage, not that sisters-in-law are required to and there is certainly no evidence that they had a contentious relationship. EBB had poor health and there wasn't much she could do about it; it ruined other people's plans and she knew it.

She ends her letter discussing her obsession of the day, French and Italian politics. She yearned for the unification of Italy but it came too late for her to write a triumphal poem celebrating the occasion. Happily she did not live to be disappointed in Napoleon Trois in whom she had too much faith. There are those who say she was overcome by the death of Cavour and this emotional strain lead to her death. There is a lesson for here for us all: put not your faith politicians: they will always disappoint.

But let us lighten this melancholy letter with a piece of joyful happiness from Miss Barrett on June 7, 1846:

"When you were gone yesterday, & I had had my coffee & put on my bonnet, I went, with the intention of walking out, as far as the drawingroom, & there, failed: not even with your recommendation in my ears, beloved, could I get any further. Notwithstanding all my flatteries (meaning the flatteries of me!) I was not at best & strongest, yesterday, nor am even today, though it is nothing to mind or to mention—only I think I shall not try to walk out in this heat even today, & yesterday it seemed impossible. So I came back & lay on my own sofa, & presently began to read ‘Le Comte de Monte Cristo,’ the new book by Dumas, (observe how I waste my time—while you learn how not to fortify cities, out of Machiavelli!—) & really he amuses me with his Monte Cristo .. six volumes I am glad to see—he is the male Scheherazade certainly. Now that the hero is safe in a dungeon (of the Chateau d’If) it will be delightful to see how he will get out—somebody knocks at the wall already. Only the narrative is not always very clear to me, inasmuch as, when I read, I unconsciously interleave it with such thoughts of you as make very curious cross readings .. 'j’avais cru remarquer quelques infidelités' ['I had thought out a few infidelities.'] .. he really seems to love me—'l’homme n’est jamais qu’un homme' ['A man is never more than a man.'] .. never was any man like him—'ses traits étaient bouleversés' ['His features were distorted'] .. the calmest eyes I ever saw .. So, Dumas or Machiavelli, it is of the less consequence what I read, I suppose, while I apply so undestractedly..."

Who among us has not read a book in this fashion? What a charming description of distraction.

No comments:

Post a Comment