Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 9

Browning continues the discussion of who to tell what and when on June 9, 1846:

Always remember, my Ba, that the secret is your secret and not mine .. that I keep it while you bid me, but that you may communicate it to whom you please, when you please, without waiting to apprize me: I should, I think, have preferred telling Mrs Jameson from the beginning about the mere visits .. or, I don’t know .. by one such piece of frankness you only expose yourself to fifty new .. whatever they are! For there would be so much the more talk about you,—and either the quick woman’s wit and discernment are to be eluded, or they are not,—foiled or not—and how manage without ..without those particular evasions which seem to degrade most of all?....I believe you might tell all to Mrs Jameson with perfect safety .. but, for her sake, I doubt the propriety .. for it would be to introduce her forthwith to exactly our own annoyances with respect to Mr Kenyon, Chorley &c. Once knowing, she cannot un-know. In any case, I promise my conscience to give her,—and anybody else that may have a right to it,—a full explanation at the earliest safe moment .. may that be at no great distance! My own feeling is for telling Mr Kenyon .. tho’ you would considerably startle me if you answered “well, do!”– But, of the whole world, I seem only to care for his not feeling aggrieved: oh, he will understand!—and can; because he knows the circumstances at your house.

And then a new proposal:

"Come what will, I am sure of you,—“if you live, and are well”—even this last clause I might exclude; it has often been in my thought to tell you .. only, dearest, there is always, when I plan never so dreamily & vaguely, always an understood submission the most absolute to your own desire .. but I fancied, that, in the case of any real obstacle arising so as to necessitate the “postponement,” &c.—I should have stipulated .. in the right yourself have given me .. I should have said—“we will postpone it, if you will marry me now .. merely as to the form .. but so as to enable me, if difficulties should thicken, to be by your bedside at least”: you see, what you want “to relieve” me of, is just what my life should be thrice paid down for and cheaply. How could you ever be so truly mine as so?– Even the poor service does not “part us” before “death”—“till sickness do us part!”
But there will be no sickness and all happiness, I trust in God! Dear, dear Ba, I love you wholly and forever—true as I kiss your rose, and will keep it forever. Bless you."

I think that is a very noble proposal. Don't you? What a great guy. And what will Miss Barrett think of this? I predict a general panic, but sometimes she surprises me. Maybe she will think it is a great idea and tell Browning to get the license immediately. It could happen.

Miss Barrett responds:

Practically however, see how your proposal would work. It could not work at all, unless circumstances were known—and if they were known, at the very moment of their being known you would be saved, dearest, all the trouble of coming up stairs to me, by my being thrown out of the window to you .. upon which, you might certainly pick up the pieces of me & put them into a bag & set off for Nova Zembla. That would be the event of the working of your proposition. Yet remember that I will accede to whatever you shall choose—so think for us both.

This is obviously not a serious evaluation or at the least a hyperbolic evaluation. She would not have been physically thrown out of the window. What might her father have done? He might have kicked her out of the house. He might have not permitted her to leave the house. He could have called in a lawyer and got the marriage annulled. He could have called in a medical man and had her institutionalized. That sounds almost as melodramatic as being thrown out of the window, but things like that did happened. 'Putting her away' would have been difficult given that she would have been married, but remember that Browning had no money to fight with. He may have had some influence, but influence without money is not that impressive. But even so, she was correct in her evaluation that his proposal was wonderfully noble, but not very practical. It is interesting in that she has these flights of panic and then she has very intelligent and practical evaluations of circumstances that our New Cross Knight fails to completely grasp.

Next she returns to the subject of full disclosure:

"For Mrs Jameson, I never should think of telling her ‘all’– I should not, could not, would not!—& the gods forefend that you should think of telling Mr Kenyon, any more. Now, listen. Perfectly I understand your reasons, your scruples .. what are they to be called? But I promise to take the blame of it. I will tell dear Mr Kenyon hereafter that you would have spoken, but that I would not let you—wont that do? wont it stop the pricking of the conscience? Because, you see, I know Mr Kenyon, .. & I know perfectly that either he would be unhappy himself, or he would make us so. He never could bear the sense of responsibility. Then, as he told me today, & as long ago I knew, .. he is “irresolute”, timid in deciding. Then he shrinks before the dæmon of the World—and “what may be said” is louder to him than thunder. And then again, & worst of all, he sees afar off casualty within casualty, & a marriage without lawyers, would be an abomination in his sight. Moreover, to discover ourselves to him, & not submit to his counsels, would be a real offence .. would it not? As it is, it may seem natural & excusable that we two of ourselves should poetically rush into a foolishness—but if we heard counsel, & rejected it!! Do you see? …

That is some splendid writing. I love that paragraph. I love the use of the word 'forefend', it makes me think of my mother who loved to dramatically shout "heaven forefend!" to mock my teenage scruples. I love the "Now, listen." I love the confidence of this paragraph. She knows this information, she is not scrambling to find the words for something she can't quite put her finger on. She knows Mr. Kenyon and she can explain how he will react. To her, this is not speculation, this is fact. If I were Browning I would take her advise here. And I assume that he did. My only quibble is with her ejaculation that Mrs. Jameson should not be told 'all'. She could have been told that Browning had called at least. It might even save the embarrassment of a hallway meeting one rainy afternoon. But, hey, this isn't my romance, I don't get a say. I just get to read and comment.

She ends her letter with this amusing note about one of her demanding fans, Georgiana Bennet:

"Oh! I had a letter from my particular Bennet this morning, .. & my Georgiana desires me, instantly to say why I presumed not to write to her before. I am commanded out of all further delays. ‘Did I receive her letter,’ she wonders!!!! Georgiana is imperative."

I am going to steal that line. I know several imperative people!

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