Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31

The only letter on July 31, 1846 is from Browning who has come down from his anger and is reconciled again:

"Dearest Ba, the love was, as you admit, beneath all the foolish words– I will lay your pardon to my heart with the other blessings– All this missing of instant understanding—(for it does not amount to misunderstanding)—comes of letters, and our being divided. In my anxiety about a point, I go too much on the other side from mere earnestness,—as if the written words had need to make up in force what they want in sound and promptness—and assuredly if I had received such an impression directly from your suggestion (since not a “desire”,—you dear, dear Ba!), I should have begun at once to ask and argue .. whereas, it was only to the memory of what you said, an after impression, that I wrote in answer. Well,—I will certainly “love you till Saturday,—and even after”.

Did you indeed go to the Abbey? How right to go! Every such expedition is the removal of a world of apprehensions. And why not accept Mrs Jameson’s offer now, stipulating for privacy, and go and see the Museum,—the Marbles? And the National Gallery, and whatever you would wish to see. At Pisa, Ba, the Cathedral will be ours, wholly—divinely beautiful it is—more impressive in itself than the Florence Duomo—and then the green grass round, over the pavement it hides.

And considerably more impressive than the party at Mrs Milner Gibson’s last night—whereof I made one thro’ a sudden goodnatured invitation which only came yesterday—so I went “for reasons”– Chorley was there, looking very tired as he said he was. I left very early, having accomplished my purpose.

You know you are right, and that I know you to be right about Mr Kenyon—no confidence shall I make to him, be assured—but in the case of a direct application, with all those kind apologies in case his suspicion should be wrongly excited, what should I say?—to Mr Kenyon, with his kindness and its right, mind—not to any other inquirer– Think of the facilities during the week among the Quantock Hills!– But no matter,—nothing but your own real, unmistakeable consent, divides us– I believe nothing till that comes– The Havre voyage was of course merely a fact noted—all courses, ways, routes are entirely the same to me–

Thank you, dearest. I am very much better, well, indeed—so said my doctor who came last evening to see my father whose eye is a little inflamed—so shall Ba see, but not take the trouble to say, when I rejoice in her presence to-morrow. Dearest, I love you with my whole heart and soul– May God bless you–RB"

I wonder what his 'purpose' was at Mrs. Milner Gibson's? And isn't his statement that nothing divides them except her "own real, unmistakeable consent" very pointed. Hasn't she given that already? Message surely sent, what shall be the response to that? We may not know directly since he is going to visit tomorrow.

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30

July 30, 1846 Browning begins to walk back his anger regarding Miss Barrett's suggestion that he ought to give her up and defends himself a bit against the notion that Mr. Kenyon will talk him out of the match:

"Now you are my very own best, sweetest, dearest Ba. Do you think after such a letter as mine any amount of confidence in my own intentions, or of the reasonableness of being earnest on such a subject, can avail to save me from mortal misgivings? I should not have said those words, certainly I should not—but you forgive them and me, do you not?

It was thro’ seeing the peril about Mr Kenyon just as you see it: but do not suppose I could break my promise; to every point urged after that sad irresistible fashion, my answer would be,—would in the end amount to,—“provided she consents”—and then he would return to you, put away altogether the arguments just used to me, take up in their stead the corresponding ones founded on my interests as he would profess to understand them, and the result would be that a similar answer would be obtained from you,—which he would call your “consent”– This is not what I fear now,—oh, no!—but the fancy I was frightened by, yesterday, while I wrote. Now, I seem to have my powers about me, and could get to the truth and hold by it thro’ every difficulty,—and if I, how much more you!

—Then, this is expecting the worst of Mr Kenyon,—and the best is at least as likely. In any case, one may be sure of cautions, and warnings, and a wise, good, shaking of the head—he is none of the ardent anticipators of exuberant happiness from any scheme begun and ended here below. But, after that,—why, ours is the only thoroughly rational match that ever came under my notice, and he is too clever not to see some justification in it– At all events, he will say “we shall see!”—whether he sigh or smile in the saying—and if he waits, he will see."

It is fun to watch Browning have these conversations in his head, rather like his epic poems where he takes everyone's point of view and works it out--in verse! I like his declaration that "ours is the only thoroughly rational match that ever came under my notice." Really? When was love ever rational? This from the least rational of the pair. She was the one who saw the world far more clearly in respect to how difficult living with a semi-invalid could be. 

"And we will “decide” on nothing, being sure of the one decision—I mean, that if the summer be long, and likely to lead in as fine an Autumn, and if no new obstacles arise,—September shall go as it comes, and October too, if your convenience is attained thereby in the least degree– Afterward, you will be all my own, all your days and hours and minutes––. I forgot, by the way, to reply to your question concerning Mrs J.—if there is good to you, decided or even not impossible good—of course, let her be with us if she will,—otherwise, oh let us be alone, Ba! I find, by the first map, that from Nevers the Loire proceeds S.E till the Arroux joins it, and that just below it communicates with the Canal du Centre, which runs N.E from Paray to Chagny and thence to Châlons-sur Saône. It is a round about way, but not more so than the post-road by Autun—the Canal must be there for something, & in that case, you travel from Orleans to Leghorn by water and with the least fatigue possible. I observe that steamboats leave St Katherine’s wharf every Thursday and Sunday morning at 8 o’clock for Havre, Rouen & Paris—would that way be advisable? I will ascertain the facts about Nevers & Châlons by the time we meet.

Here, I think he makes a mistake. His pique had won the day and she committed to September and then he backs off and moves into October. I understand that he wants to appear to be in total sympathy with her and make her understand that he will accommodate for her health, but he needs to maintain the pressure. She is paying attention as usual. She replies:

"Well, then,—it was’nt, after all, so extravagant of me to make the proposition about ‘four months’—? How innocent people may be treated like guilty ones, through no mistake even, of theirs!–"

See? She continues:

"But I hold to my first impression about Mr Kenyon, whatever your second ones may be. I know him entirely, & his views of life, & his terrors of responsibility .. his irresolution, his apprehensiveness. He never would ‘shake his head’ good-naturedly, .. until he could do nothing else. Just in proportion to the affection he bears each of us, would he labour to drive us apart. And by the means you describe!—— And we who can forsee & analyze those means from this distance, would not, either of us, resist the actual process!– Therefore .. do not suffer yourself, ever dearest, to be drawn into any degree of confidence there!—It would end miserably, I know .. see .. am confidently sure. Let him, on the contrary, see the thing done, before he sees it at all, & then he will see the best of it .. the good in it .. then we shall stand on the sunshiney side of his philosophy & have all the benefit of that, instead of having to endure, as we should now, the darkness of his irresolution & the weight of his over-caution. Observe of dear Mr Kenyon, that, generous & noble as he is, he fears like a mere man of the world. Moreover he might find very rational cause for fearing, in a distant view of this … ‘most rational’ of marriages!—oh, but I am wrong in my quotation!—this only rational marriage that ever was heard of!—!!—it is so, I think."

She was amused by the rational marriage idea as well. But then to the events of the day:

"Where do you guess that I was today? In Westminster Abbey!– But we were there at the wrong hour, as the service was near to begin .. & I was so frightened of the organ, that I hurried & besought my companions out of the door after a moment or two. Frightened of the organ!—yes, just exactly that—& you may laugh a little as they did. Through being so disused to music, it affects me quite absurdly– Again the other day, in the drawing room, because my cousin sang a song from the “Puritani”, of no such great melancholy, I had to go away to finish my sobbing by myself– Which is all foolish & absurd, I know—but people cannot help their nerves, & I was ready to cry today, only to think of the organ, without hearing it– I, who do not cry easily, either! and all Arabel’s jests about how I was sure of my life even if I should hear one note, .. did not reassure me in the least. We walked within the chapel .. merely within .. & looked up & looked down!– How grand—how solemn! Time itself seems turned to stone there! Then we stood where the poets are laid .. oh, it is very fine, it is better than Laureateships & pensions. Do you remember what is written in Spenser’s monument—“Here lyeth, .. in expectation of the second coming of Jesus Christ, .. Edmond Spenser, having given proof of his divine spirit in his poems—”something to that effect,—& it struck me as being earnest & beautiful, & as if the writer believed in him. We should not dare now a days, to put such words on a poet’s monument– We should say .. the author of such a book .. at most!– Michael Drayton’s inscription has crept back into the brown heart of the stone .. all but the name & a date, which somebody has renewed with black lines .. black as ink."

I love the deep feeling of the power of sound you get when an organist pulls out the stops and lets go with all of the bass. And a live orchestra when you can feel the vibration of the cello in your chest. I can see how that can be overwhelming to highly sensitive people. But her protestations that she does not cry easily?! Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. She cries all the time, she admits it! She cries when she writes letters, she cries when she reads letters. There's nothing wrong with being a crier, although it can be inconvenient, like when you are listening to a cousin sing in the drawing room. It can give the wrong impression.

Browning of course will end up in Westminster Abbey and she was correct, there was no mention Christ or the Second Coming, but no mention of his works either. This is the link to the Abbey webpage about the Browning grave which does mention that the inscription about Mrs. Browning (that you can't quite see in this photo) was added in 1906. It reads:  "His wife ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING is buried in Florence 1806-1861"

"Dearest, it will not do at all .. the going at eight oclock in the morning. I could not leave this house—it would not be possible. And then, why should we wish even, for that long passage to no end, .. Southampton or Brighton being, each of them, accessible & unobjectionable. As for the expense, it is nearly equal, by railway or sea–
For Mrs Jameson, I mentioned her because you did once, & because her being so kind reminded me of it– I thought perhaps you might like her being with us, (how should I know?) in which case–– Well—but you do not wish it, .. & indeed I do not. Therefore she shall go by herself .. dear Mrs Jameson .. I will however write to her, which I have not done yet– It is not so easy as you think, perhaps, to write at once so much & so little.
Why not tell me how you are, Robert? When you do not, I fancy that you are not well!– Say how you are, & love me till saturday—& even afterwards–
Your very own Ba–
As to forgiveness——ought I to have been angry when I was not? All I felt in that letter, was, that you loved me—and as to your pretending to think that it was ‘show & acting’ on my part, I knew you did not really, & could not:—but at any rate I was the farthest possible from being angry—& the very farthest possible, peradventure!"

There are so many things in these letters that amuse me. Her "how should I know?" is a hoot. I also like that she is so emphatic that "it will not do" leaving the house at "eight oclock in the morning". I agree with her! No, I know that she has to wait for Arabel to leave the room for the day in order for her to successfully sneak out, but it reads very diva like with the "it will not do." I'm just sayin'.

Well, it looks like they are on track for departure....unless something unforeseen comes up.....

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29

On July 29, 1846 our two poets are still feeling the lost hour from their visit the previous day. But Browning begins the letters by responding to something Miss Barrett said to him during their meeting, before they were interrupted:

"This is just the way, the only way, my ever, ever dearest, you make cares for me—it is hard to dare to settle whether the pain of the lost quarters of the hour yesterday be not balanced by the gladness and gain of this letter,—as it is hard saying whether to kiss your hand (mind, only the hand!) with shut eyes, be better than seeing you and only seeing: you cause me abundance of such troubles, dearest, best, divinest that you are! Oh, how can you, blessing me so, speak as you spoke yesterday,—for the first time! I thought you would only write such suppositions, such desires—(for it was a desire) .. and that along with you I was safe from them,—yet you are adorable amid it all—only I do feel such speaking, Ba, lightly as it fell—no, not now I feel it,—this letter is before my heart like the hand on my eyes. I feel this letter, only. How good, good, good of you to write it!"

What was it that she said to him that she had only written before? Something has bothered him.

"Yes, I did meet Mr Kenyon on the stairs—with a half opened door that discovered sundry presences—and then had I to speak of a sudden—put it to my credit on one side that I did speak and laugh,—and on the other side, that I did neither too à-propos. He most kindly (SEEING IT ALL) began asking about Forster & Moxon—and I remember some kind of stammering remark of the latter which I retailed .. to the effect that “now would be a favorable time to print a volume of poems”—this I did, to seem to have something on my mind calling for a consultation with you! Then he made that proposal about Landor and Mr Eagles .. whether I “encouraged the idea,” or no, it encouraged me, and helped me a good deal this morning,—for Eliot Warburton sent two days ago a pressing letter to invite me to go to Ireland,—I should have yachting and other delights,—and I was glad to return for an answer, that I had an engagement, “conditional on my accepting any”. As for my “excellent story on the stairs”—you alarm me! Upon my honor, I have not the least recollection of having told one, or said another word than the above mentioned: So people are congratulated on displaying this or the other bravery in battle or fire, when their own memory is left a blank of all save the confusion! Let me say here, that he amused me also with that characteristic anecdote of poor Mr Reade, on Saturday."

Well, it seems Browning was caught in the very act and had to stumble out of it. And Mr. Kenyon 'seeing it all'. My, my and oh dear.

"And—now! Now, Ba, to the subject-matter: whatever you decide on writing to Mrs Jameson will be rightly writtenit seems to me nearly immaterial (putting out of the question the confiding the whole secret, which, from its responsibility, as you feel, must not be done) whether you decline her kindness for untold reasons which two months (Ba?) will make abundantly plain,—or whether you further inform her that there is a special secret—of which she must bear the burthen, even in that mitigated form, for the same two months,—as I say, it seems immaterial—but it is most material that you should see how the ground is crumbling from beneath our feet, with its chances & opportunities—do not talk about “four months”,—till December, that is—unless you mean what must follow as a consequence. The next thing will be Mr Kenyon’s application to mehe certainly knows everything—how else, after such a speech from your sister? But his wisdom as well as his habits incline him to use the force that is in kindness, patience, gentleness: your father might have entered the room suddenly yesterday and given vent to all the passionate indignation in the world. I dare say we should have been married to-day: but I shall have the quietest, most considerate of expositions made me, (with one arm on my shoulder) of how I am sure to be about to kill you, to ruin you, your social reputation, your public estimation, destroy the peace of this member of your family, the prospects of that other,—and the end will be?––"

He doesn't care whether Mrs. Jameson is told, he only cares that it not be put off endlessly. Here he is telling her: you have two months because if we wait until December winter will be here and you cannot travel and so we will lose another year. He believes Kenyon knows and will begin to try and talk him out of it. And if Papa had come upon them, that would have been the end. But  his strongest ammunition he saves for last:

"Because I can not only die for you but live without you for you—once sure it is for you: I know what you once bade me promise—but I do not know what assurances on assurance, all on the ground of a presumed knowledge of your good above your own possible knowledge,—might not effect! I do not know!
This is thro’ you! You ought to know now that 'it would not be better for me to leave you'! That after this devotion of myself to you I cannot undo it all, and devote myself to objects so utterly insignificant that yourself do not venture to specify them—'it would be better .. people will say such things' .. I will never force you to know this, however—if your admirable senses do not instruct you, I shall never seem to, as it were, threaten you, by prophecies of what my life would probably be, disengaged from you—it should certainly not be passed where the 'people' are, nor where their 'sayings' influenced me any more—but I ask you to look into my heart, and into your own belief in what is worthy and durable and the better—and then decide!—for instance, to speak of waiting for four months will be a decision–
See, dearest—I began lightly,—I cannot end so. I know, after all, the words were divine, self-forgetting words,—after all, that you are mine, by the one tenure, of your own free gift,—that all the other words have not been mere breath, nor the love, a playful show, an acting, an error you will correct– I believe in you, or what shall I believe in? I wish I could take my life, my affections, my ambitions, all my very self, and fold over them your little hand, and leave them there—then you would see what belief is mine! But if you had not seen it, would you have uttered one word, written one line, given one kiss to me? May God bless you, Ba– RB–"

She had written of all the worldly things that had happened after he left, but all he could think of was what she had said before they were interrupted. What was it that she said that set him so on the verge, that made him so adamant that she has to make up her mind? What were these "divine, self-forgetting words" that he is fighting so hard against? What say you, Miss Barrett?

“ 'Such desires—(for it was a desire!)'
Well put into a parenthesis, that is!—ashamed & hiding itself between the brackets—.
Because, my own dearest, it was not a ‘desire’ … it was the farthest possible from being a ‘desire’ .. the word I spoke to you on tuesday .. yesterday!
And if I spoke it for the first time instead of writing it, .. what did that prove, but that I was able to speak it, & that just it was so much less earnest & painfully felt? Why it was not a proposition even—I said only 'You had better give me up!' It was only the reflection, in the still water, of what had been a proposition. 'Better' perhaps! 'Better' for you, that you shd desire to give me up & do it—my ‘idée fixe’, you know. But said with such different feelings from those which have again & again made the tears run down my cheeks while I wrote to you the vexatious letters, .. that I smile at your seeing no difference——you, blind! Which is wrong of me again. I will not smile for having vexed you .. teazed youWhich is wrong of you, though .. the being vexed for so little! Because 'you ought to know by this time' … (now I will use your reproachful words) you ought certainly to know that I am your own, & ready to go through with the matter we are upon, & willing to leave the times & the seasons in your hand– ‘Four months’ meant nothing at all– Take September, if you please. All I thought of answering to you, was, that there was no need yet of specifying the exact time– And yet .....
Ah—yes!– I feel as you feel, the risks & the difficulties which close around us– And you feel that about Mr Kenyon? Is it by an instinct that I tremble to think of him, more than to think of others? The hazel rod turns round in my hand when I stand hereAnd as you show him speaking & reasoning, .. his arm laid on your shoulder .. oh, what a vision, that is! .. before that, I cannot stand any longer!—it takes away my breath! the likelihood of it is so awful that it seems to promise to realize itself, one day!–
But you promised. I have your solemn promise, Robert! If ever you should be moved by a single one of those vain reasons, it will be an unfaithful cruelty in you– You will have trusted another, against me. You would not do it, my beloved–
For I have none in the world who will hold me to make me live in it, except only you– I have come back for you alone .. at your voice .. & because you have use for me! I have come back to live a little for you. I see you. My fault is .. not that I think too much of what people will say. I see you & hear you– ‘People’ did not make me live for them .. I am not theirs, but your’s– I deserve that you should believe in me, beloved, because my love for you is ‘Me’.
Now tell me again to ‘decide’ .. and I will tell you that the words are not ‘breath’, nor the affection ‘a show’!– Dearest beyond words!—did I deserve you telling me to ‘decide’?

Does not Miss Barrett have the gift to turn things around? The discussion changed from her offending him by telling him to give her up to her being offended that he would be persuaded by Kenyon to give her up.

Let it be September then, if you do not decide otherwise– I wd not lean to dangerous delays which are unnecessary—I wish we were at Pisa, rather!–
So try to find out if & how (certainly) we can get from Nevers to Chalons .. I could not today, with my French travelling-book, find a way, either by the chemin de fer [railway], or coche d’eau [passenger boat]–All the rest is easy & direct .. & very cheap. We must not hesitate between the French route & the sea-voyage.
Now I will tell you your good story– You said that you had only heard six words from Mr Reade but that they were characteristic– Someone was talking before him & you of the illness of Anacreon Moore. “He is very ill” said the someone. “But he is no poet” said Mr Reade.
Is’nt it a good story? Mr Kenyon called it “exquisite”—! It is what your man of science would have called “a beautiful specimen”—now is’nt it?
May God bless you, dearest, dearest!– I owe all to you, & love you wholly– I am your very own–

As always, she lands lightly. Who won the letters today? Browning started out strong, impassioned and almost angry about slights and delays, but Miss Barrett counter punches with indignation that he would side with others against her. I give the round to Browning because: it looks like September will be their month for travelling.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28

Despite the fact that Browning visited Wimpole Street on July 28, 1846, which normally precluded an exchange of letters, Miss Barrett felt the need to write a letter today. Browning, as a general rule, stayed from 3pm to 6pm and recorded the hours on the envelope of her last letter. The notation today was 3pm to 5:15pm. They had been interrupted:

"Dearest, as I lost nearly an hour of you today, I make amends to myself by beginning to write to you as if I had not seen you at all. A large sheet of paper, too, has flown into my hands—the Fates giving ample room & verge enough, my characters .. not ‘of Hell’ .. to trace as I am not going to swear at Mr Kenyon, whatever the provocation! Dear Mr Kenyon!

It appears that he talked to my sisters some time before he let himself be announced to me .. he said to them ‘I want to talk to you .. sit down by me & listen'. Then he began to tell them of Mrs Jameson, repeating what you told me, of her desire to take me to Italy, .. & of her earnestness about it– To which, he added, he had replied by every representation likely to defeat those thoughts, .. that only a relative would be a fit companion for me .. & that no person out of my family could be justified in accepting such a responsibility, .. on other grounds, .. entering on the occurrences of last year, & reasoning on from them to the possibility that if I offended by an act of disobedience, I might be ‘cast off’ as for a crime– Oh—poor Papa was not spared at all—not to Mrs Jameson, not to my sisters. Mr Kenyon said .. 'It is painful to you perhaps to hear me talk so, but it is a sore subject with me, & I cannot restrain the expression of my opinions. He 'had told Mrs Jameson everything—it was due to her to have a full knowledge, he thought .. & he had tried to set before her the impossibility she was under, of doing any good.' —Then he asked my sisters .. if I ever spoke of Italy .. if they thought I dwelt on the idea of it– 'Yes', they answered—'In their opinion, I had made up my mind to go'– 'But how? what is the practical side of the question? She cant go alone—& which of you, will go with her? You know, last year, she properly rejected the means which involved you in danger'.–– Henrietta advised that nothing should be said or done—'Ba must do everything for herself– Her friends cannot help her. She must help herself'.

'But she must not go to Italy by herself. Then, how?' 'She has determination of character,' continued Henrietta—'She will surprise everybody some day'.

'But how?—' Mr Kenyon repeated .. looking uneasy. (And how imprudent of Henrietta, to say that! I have been scolding her a little.)

The discussion ended by his instructing them to tell me of Mrs Jameson’s proposal,—'because it was only right that I should have the knowledge of her generous kindness, though for his part, he did not like to agitate me by conversing on the subject.

Yes, one thing more was said. He mentioned having had some conversation with my uncle Hedley, who was 'very angry'——& he asked if my aunt Hedley had no influence with the highest authority– My sisters answered in the negative. And this is all. He appears to have no 'plan' of his particular own."

Henrietta was absolutely correct when she said, "Ba must do everything for herself– Her friends cannot help her. She must help herself”. Browning may accommodate the move but it is entirely up to her personal initiative. If there was no Browning she could have taken her maid and left, but without Browning she lacked motivation. Didn't Dante Rossetti say, "Beauty without the beloved is like a sword through the heart." (This is a bit over dramatic. I have seen plenty of beauty without a beloved and it didn't break my heart, but it certainly makes beauty more enjoyable to share it with a like minded person. But you get the idea.)
All of this must be very comforting to Browning. Her sisters seem sure that she will go.

"What do you say, Robert, to all this? Since I am officially informed of Mrs Jameson’s goodness, I must thank her certainly—& in what words? 'How'?––as Mr Kenyon asks. Half I have felt inclined to write & thank her gratefully, & confide to her, not the secret itself but the secret of there being a secret with the weight of which I am unwilling to oppress her at this time– Could it be done, I wonder? Perhaps not– Yet how hard, how very difficult, it seems to me, to thank her worthily, & be silent wholly on my motives in rejecting her companionship! And a whole confidence now, is dangerous .. would torment her with a sense of responsibility. Think which way it should be.

Once you asked me about joining travelling-company, with Mrs Jameson. Should you like it? prefer it for any cause? .. if it could be done without involving her in trouble, of course.

Ah, dearest .. what a loss the three quarters of an hour were to me! like the loss of four quarters of a moon on a dark night! When dear Mr Kenyon came to me, he found me with my thoughts astray—following you up the street! He asked how long you had been here—. ‘Some time’, I said .. by an answer made to fit anything. The rest of my answers were not so apt!—were more like ‘cross-questions’, perhaps, than answers of the common. But he roused me a little by telling me that he wanted you to ‘make an excursion’ with Landor & himself, & that you did not 'encourage the idea' & by proceeding to tell me further, that at a dinner the other day at his house, your poetry being taken up & praised to the right measure, before that wretched Mr Reade, he wrote a letter by the morning’s post to Mr Kenyon, to express a regret that he (Mr Reade) should have found it impossible to join in the plaudits 'of a brother-bard', but that Edmund Reade could not recognize Robert Browning as a master-mind of the period, ‘for reasons,’ which were given at length. 'He (Robert Browning) had never rushed, with a passionate genius, into the production of long poems' .. (like Italy) '& long dramas' .. (like .. like … what’s the name of Mr Reade’s last?) Poor, wretched man! Mr Kenyon tore up the letter in compassion too tender toward humanity! Also he told me your excellent story on the stairs–

On the stairs! I heard the talking & the laughing, & felt ready to cry out the burden. Well—Saturday will come, as surely as you could go. May God bless you, my own! are you my own? & not rather … yes, rather, far rather, I am your own, your very own Ba–"

Browning should have stayed, he missed all the action when he left Wimpole Street.
Mrs. Jameson's kind offer of liberation will be taken up in a manner which she never expected. But isn't it interesting how many people want to help Miss Barrett escape: Kenyon, Uncle Hedley, Mrs. Jameson, etc. They don't want to liberate Arabel or Henrietta who are in the same household. What was it about Miss Barrett that made people want to save her? Her personality must have been something extraordinary.
Mr. Reade has certainly gotten on the wrong side of Miss Barrett. He has had the temerity to mess with her genius poet boyfriend. We shall hear more about Mr. Reade, the poet, in the days ahead.

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27

By July 27, 1846 Browning has received Miss Barrett's 'legal document' in which she asserts that she wishes him to retain her income throughout his life should she pre-decease him:

"That is sufficient, ever dearest; now dismiss the matter from your thoughts, as I shall—having forced myself once to admit that most dreadful of possibilities and to provide for it, I need not have compunction at dwelling on the brighter, better chances which God’s previous dispensations encourage me to expect. There may be even a claimant, instead of a recipient, of whatever either of us can bequeath—who knows? For which reason, but most of all for the stronger yourself adduce,—the contingency of your illness,—I do not ask you to “relinquish a part”—not as our arrangements now are ordered: for I have never been so foolish as to think we could live without money, if not of my obtaining, then of your possessing—and though, in certain respects I should have preferred to try the first course, .. at the beginning at least, when my faculties seemed more my own and that “end of the summer” had a less absorbing interest (as I perceive now)—yet, as that is not to be, I have only to be thankful that you are not dependent on my exertions,—which I could not be sure of,—particularly with this uncertain head of mine. I hope when we once are together, the world will not hear of us again until the very end—it would be horrible to have to come back to it and ask its help."

Several interesting items here. He has thrown the idea of a 'claimant' into the mix. It doesn't seem like that eventuality ever crossed her mind. Very prescient of him. The other item was the notion that he would have trouble working due to his headaches. He does seem to have headaches quite a bit. The symptoms as reported seem to be that if he reads or writes too much he gets a headache and the only way to get rid of these headaches is through vigorous exercise. But this is the first we have heard that his headaches bother him to the extent that he cannot work. Which begs the question why he can't dig ditches. Oh, wait, he's a poet.
Miss Barrett meanwhile responds to his letter of July 26:

"Ever dearest, your ‘Hush’ came too late—I had spoken. Do not blame me however,—for I do not blame myself– It was not very possible that I should allow your fine schemes, to lie unmolested by a breath– Nevertheless we will not carry on this discussion any farther: my simple protest is enough for the present,—& we shall have time I hope, in the future, for your nobleness to unteach itself from being too proud. At any rate, let the subject be, now!– I mentioned my ‘eldest surviving brother’ in that way in the paper, because he is put out of the question by the estates being entailed .. the Jamaica estates, I mean. And now, to have done! Unless I could make you easier—!....

And, since I began this letter, I have been out with my aunt & Henrietta, the former having visits to pay in all the noisiest streets of the town, as appeared to me. The stone pavements seemed to accumulate on all sides to run to meet us, & I was stunned & giddy, & am so tired, that I shall finish my letter in a hurry, looking to tomorrow. We were out nearly three hours– Think of travelling three hours in a ‘Diligence’ with a Clap of Thunder! It may be something like that! And as we were coming homeward .. there, was Mr Kenyon!– He shook hands through the window & declared that he was on the point of paying a visit to me, holding up as a witness, his lump of sugar for Flush .. which Flush leapt from the other side of the carriage to accept, ‘ore rotundo [rounded mouth]’. Then the next word was .. 'Did you see our friend B..' (pronounced Bee) 'on saturday?' .. 'No', said I .. saying no for yes in the confusion .. 'but I shall tomorrow'. 'He dined with me' continued Mr Kenyon– The sound of which struck me into a fit of clairvoyance & I had to unsay myself with an 'Oh yes—I did see him on saturday'– Mr Kenyon must have thought me purely stupid or foolish or something of the sort—& really I agree with him. To imagine my telling in that unsolicited way, too, both to my aunt & himself, that you were coming here tomorrow! So provoking!– Well—it cant be helped. He wont come tomorrow in any case.
And you will!– Dearest, how glad I am that you are coming!"

The best way to keep a secret is to be as honest as you can without giving up too much information. But notice how Kenyon was speaking in code in front of the 'aunt'. He knew it was a secret, an open secret!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26

Miss Barrett continues her discussion with Browning of their (but really her) financial situation and the disposal of her money after their marriage. This is a subject which seems to weigh on Browning, the penniless poet. He wants to make it clear to the world that he is not marrying Miss Barrett for her money:

"I will write the paper as you bid me. Only, in the face of all that is to come, I solemnly tell you that neither I nor mine .. certainly not I .. will consent to an act of injustice, disinheriting my last hours (whenever they shall come) of a natural satisfaction. You are noble in all things—but this will not be in your power—— I will not discuss it so as to teaze you—. Your reputation is dear to me of course .. the thoughts which men shall have of you in the least matter, I would choose to keep clean .. free from every possible taint. But it will be obvious to all, that if you pleased, you might throw out of the windows everything called mine, the moment after our marriage—interest & principal——why not? And if you abstain from this, & after your own death allow the sum which originally came from my family, to relapse there .. why it is all of pure generosity on your part—& they will understand it as I do, .. as generosity .. as more than justice. Well—let that be! It is your act, & not mine, letting it be—& I have no objection to show you what my wishes are, (mere wishes) so helping you to carry out such an act in the best way. I send you the paper therefore—to that end—& only that end– There, you must stop– I never will consent to the extravagance you propose about yourself. You shall not, if you love me, think of carrying it out. If I thought you could be so hard on me, .. do you know, I would rather throw it all up now into the hands of my sisters, & be poor with you at once—I could bear that so much better than the thoughts of leaving you to be poor. Or, would you be easier, dearest .. if a part were relinquished now? would it make you easier .. & would you promise me, so, that what is mine should be accepted as yours to the end? The worst is that if I were ill, I shd be a burden to you, & thus we might have reasons for regret. Still it shall be as pleases you best—— But I must be pleased a little too– It is fair that I should.

Certainly you exaggerate to yourself the position. What would have become of you if you had loved a real heiress instead? That would have been a misfortune– As it is, while you are plotting how to get rid of these penny pieces, everybody will be pitying you for having fixed yourself in such conditions of starvation– You, who might have married Miss Burdett Coutts!

See how I teaze you!—first promising not to teaze you! But always I am worse than I meant to be. Was’nt it your fault a little for bringing up this horrible subject?—but here is the paper—the only sort of ‘settlement’ we shall have!– Always I have said & sworn that I never, if I married, wd have a settlement—and now I thank God to be able to keep my word so This only is a settlement of the question–"

Here is the text of the document included with the letter:

"In compliance with the request of Robert Browning, who may possibly become my husband, that I would express in writing my wishes respecting the ultimate disposal of whatever property I possess at this time, whether in the funds or elsewhere, .. I here declare my wishes to be .. that he, Robert Browning, .. having, of course, as it is his right to do, first held & used the property in question for the term of his natural life, .. should bequeath the same, by an equal division, to my two sisters, or, in the case of the previous death of either or both of them, to such of my surviving brothers as most shall need it by the judgement of my eldest surviving brother.
Elizabeth Barrett Barrett.
Wimpole Street. July. 1846–"

I smile at the wording: "who may possibly become my husband". She is still leaving him on 'golden hooks'. So, Browning is to keep the income for his lifetime. I suspect that is actually a pretty unusual arrangement for the day. Browning was a very proud man. The postscript of her letter said:

"Is this what is called a document? It seems to me that I have a sort of legal genius—& that I should be on the Woolsack in the Martineau-Parliament– But it seems, too, rather bold to attach such a specification to your name—— Laugh & pardon it all!–

Browning's letter tells of his attendance at a dinner at Mr. Kenyon's home:

"Mr Longman was of the party yesterday—speaking of Haydon, he remarked on his omitting to mention in the list of his creditors, 'the House'—to which he owed about £100, being the loss consequent on publishing his 'Book'—the Lectures, I suppose: then, in a break, he said, in answer to a question from Forster, that the Book in question had gone into a second edition but—'oh, no—the author had received nothing for it!'—and lost the money, poor fellow, besides! Is not that inexplicable to all save Booksellers? Also, what would be his need for another person’s intermediation with the Longmans since he knew them so well and so long!"

By 'the house' Longman is referring to the publishing house. If you remember, Haydon had approached Miss Barrett to use her influence with Longman to have his memoirs published. She, of course, had no influence with Longman. Haydon had apparently paid Longman to publish his book of lectures and still owed them £100. Browning is wondering why Haydon approached Miss Barrett with his request when he was already doing business with Longman. He is also wondering how his book could have lost money although going into a second printing. This is similar to the question of how 'Star Wars' has never shown a profit.

Browning also has to address the financial statement as well:

"My own Ba, do not refer to what we spoke of– The next vile thing to the vilest is, being too conscious of avoiding that,—painfully, ostentatiously, protesting and debating—only it seemed absolutely necessary to say thus much at some time, and early:—now it is done with,—you understanding what I expect at your hands.

I hope there is nothing to prevent our meeting on Tuesday– Do you think I am any longer able to appreciate properly the additional gift of the day in the week? I only know that I do not see you now, my Ba—and I feel as if I were .. the words must not be written! I need all of you,—utterly dearest dearest that you are! My next day, my “Sunday” is the forlornest imaginable. I never wasted time (in the worldly sense of not working in it) as at present,—I read books and at the turning of every page go back again for shame .. the words only before the eyes, the thoughts of you before the mind."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24

Let's look at a letter from Mrs. Browning to Fanny Haworth written July 24, 1858 with an address of 2 Rue de Perry, Le Havre, Maison Versigny:

"My dearest Fanny,— ... I gave you an account of our journey to Paris, which I won't write over again, especially as you may have read some things like it. In Paris we remained a fortnight except a day, and I liked it as I always like Paris, for which I have a decided fancy. And yet I did nothing, except in one shop, and in a fiacre driving round and round, and sometimes at a restaurant, dining round and round. But Paris is so full of life—murmurs so of the fountain of intellectual youth for ever and ever—that rolling up the rue de Rivoli (much more the Boulevards) suggests a quicker beat of the fancy's heart; and I like it—I like it. The architectural beauty is wonderful. Give me Venice on water, Paris on land—each in its way is a dream city. If one had but the sun there—such a sun as one has in Italy! Or if one had no lungs here—such lungs as are in me. But no. Under actual circumstances something different from Paris must satisfy me. Also, when all's said and sighed, I love Italy—I love my Florence. I love that 'hole of a place,' as Father Prout called it latelywith all its dust, its cobwebs, its spiders even, I love it, and with somewhat of the kind of blind, stupid, respectable, obstinate love which people feel when they talk of 'beloved native lands.' I feel this for Italy, by mistake for England. Florence is my chimney-corner, where I can sulk and be happy. But you haven't come to that yet. In spite of which, you will like the Baths of Lucca, just as you like Florence, for certain advantages—for the exquisite beauty, and the sense of abstraction from the vulgarities and vexations of the age, which is the secret of the strange charm of the south, perhaps—who knows? And yet there are vulgarities and vexations even in Tuscany, if one digs for them—or doesn't dig, sometimes...."

The reference here to Charles Sumner is interesting and I highly recommend this Wiki entry on this American Senator that explains (to the extent that they can be explained) the reason for the remarkable medical treatment she describes here:

"In Paris we saw Father Prout, who was in great force and kindness, and Charles Sumner, passing through the burning torture under the hands of French surgeons, which is approved of by the brains of English surgeons. Do you remember the Jesuit's agony, in the 'Juif Errant'? Precisely that. Exposed to the living coal for seven minutes, and the burns taking six weeks to heal. Mr. Sumner refused chloroform—from some foolish heroic principle, I imagine, and suffered intensely. Of course he is not able to stir for some time after the operation, and can't read or sleep from the pain. Now, he is just 'healed,' and is allowed to travel for two months, after which he is to return and be burned again. Isn't it a true martyrdom? I ask. What is apprehended is paralysis, or at best nervous infirmity for life, from the effect of the blows (on the spine) of that savage."

Mrs. Browning was, of course, a great supporter of the abolition of slavery and had written several poems in support which were widely published and known in the United States at that time. I suspect that is how she came to be acquainted with this well know American abolitionist senator. The attack on him on the floor of the senate by a pro-slavery zealot was the reason that necessitated the treatment discussed here.

"Then, just as we arrived in Paris, dear Lady Elgin had another 'stroke,' and was all but gone. She rallied, however, with her wonderful vitality, and we left her sitting in her garden, fixed to the chair, of course, and not able to speak a word, nor even to gesticulate distinctly, but with the eloquent soul full and radiant, alive to both worlds. Robert and I sate there, talking politics and on other subjects, and there she sate and let no word drop unanswered by her bright eyes and smile. It was a beautiful sight. Robert fed her with a spoon from her soup-plate, and she signed, as well as she could, that he should kiss her forehead before he went away. She was always so fond of Robert, as women are apt to be, you know—even I, a little....See what a letter I have written. Write to me, dearest Fanny, and love me. Oh, how glad I shall be to be back among you again in my Florence!

Such a life she lead after she left Wimpole Street. She took a gamble of a lifetime and it paid off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23

On July 23, 1846 Browning agrees to the proposition that Wilson accompany them to Europe with no equivocation:

"My dearest—dearest,—you might go to Pisa without shoes,—or feet to wear them, for aught I know, since you may have wings, only folded away from me—but without your Wilson, or some one in her capacity, you .. no, I will not undertake to speak of you,—then, I, should be simply, exactly, INSANE to move a step; I would rather propose, let us live on bread and water, and sail in the hold of a merchant-ship,—THIS CANNOT be dispensed with!– It is most fortunate, most providential, that Wilson is inclined to go– I am very happy: for a new servant, with even the best dispositions, would never be able to anticipate your wants & wishes during the voyage, at the very beginning– Yet you write of this to me so, my Ba! I think I will, in policy, begin the anger at a good place. Yes, all the anger I am capable of descends on the head—(not in kisses, whatever you may fancy)–"

Well, that seems pretty well settled, I mean I think so, don't you? Then the question of the vicious attack dog, Flush:

"And so poor Flush suffered after all! Dogs that are dog-like would be at no such pains to tell you they would not see you with comfort approached by a stranger who might be—! A “muzzle”? oh, no—but suppose you have him removed next time, and perhaps the next, till the whole occurrence is out of his mind as the fly bite of last week—because, if he sees me and begins his barking and valiant snapping, and gets more and heavier vengeance down stairs, perhaps,—his transient suspicion of me, will confirm itself into absolute dislike,—hatred! Whereas, after an interval, we can renew acquaintance on a better footing. Dogs have such memories! My sister told me last week she saw in a Provincial Newspaper an anecdote of one,—a miller’s dog, that was a good fellow in the main but chose to take an especial dislike to one of his master’s customers, whom he invariably flew at and annoyed—so much so that the man declared he must carry his custom elsewhere unless the dog was parted with: this the miller was unwilling to do,—so he hit on an expedient—by some contrivance, the dog was suffered to fall into a deep well, and bark himself hoarse there in vain—no help came—till the obnoxious individual arrived, let himself down and brought up the prisoner– From which time, nothing could exceed the devotion of the dog to his rescuer,—whom he always insisted henceforth on accompanying as far as his home, for one instance of it."

Another typical Browning story, but you would think that the dog would then hate whoever threw him in the well. Hey, I'm just sayin'.

Miss Barrett, in the mean time, is awaiting her daily letter which has not arrived!

"No letter for me tonight! not a word!– Perhaps the post is sinning again– If so, I shall hear tomorrow morning, if not .. may it be anything rather than that you are more unwell than usual! anything!...
Dearest, did I annoy you .. frighten you, .. about Wilson yesterday? Did that prevent you from writing to me today——if really you did not write to me today? It yet was the merest question, .. I wished you to understand——the merest question for a yes or a no—and I shall not mind, however you may answer, be certain. I have been thinking today that it would be possible enough to leave a direction which might supply everything, & so escape inflicting the injury apprehended—yes, and as for myself, I shall manage perfectly– Observe how I pinned your coat, miraculously pricking you at the same moment. I shall do for myself & by myself, as well as possible. And therefore, judge, speak your thoughts out to the purpose & without drawback. I shall always feel to thank you for speaking the truth, even where it goes against me– But this will not go against me, however you speak it, .. understand.
And as for what my sisters think, it is nothing to the purpose. Say your ‘no’, & they never shall hear it .. I will avoid the subject from henceforth, with them .. that is all."

Oh dear, the missing letter has caused a fright. He is either angry, sick or the mail has sinned, so she covers all three possibilities.

"And take care of Mr Kenyon tomorrow. I feel afraid of Mr Kenyon. But take care of yourself most—look well that you never let me do, in the least or greatest matter, what would seem better undone hereafter– Not in the least, not in the greatest. For me if I am to be thought of, remember that you kill me, if you suffer me to injure you. That is for me.
See how I exhort people who do not write to me!. Ah no! It must be the post’s fault. You could not be very much vexed with me, I think, for a mere proposal about Wilson. And the rest of my letter was all made up of assent & agreement– You could not be vexed about Wilson—— And you shall not be ill, because I cannot bear to think of it– Which, dearest, is a good reason & irrefragable."

All this angst does not sit well with Browning who responds immediately:

Sweet, sweet, sweet Ba, look to be kissed to-morrow till it hurts you,—punished you ought to be for such a letter! When the ancients were in doubt about a man’s identity (the ancient fathers) they called him “aut Erasmus (or whoever it might be) aut—diabolus! [Either Erasmus or the devil]”—no gradation, no mean between best and worst! Or do you think Flush bit me and inoculated me with super-cynical snappishness?– Well, I do think I should not have conducted myself as you consider highly possible,—even if you had made,—let me say at once, the most preposterous of proposals, even that of going without Wilson, or her substitute,—I think and am sure I should, like a rational being, write all the faster to try and get you to reconsider the matter—convinced as I should be that your perfect good sense would, after a few minutes examination, see that I could no more take you away without such assistance than desire you to perform the passage of the Montcénis on foot. Do I not remember that you intended to be thus accompanied even when your sister was to be of the party? But the absolute necessity of what you fancy I may object to .. it is not that, I complain about—but of the strange notion, that whenever Fate shall decree that you say, or do, or think anything, from which I shall be forced to differ,—my proceedings will needs take this fashion and colour—I shall “sulk” and say nothing,—or perhaps turn aside grandly offended and meditative of noble vengeance! Oh, Ba, dearest, dearest beyond all words, come for once and always into the heart which is your own, and see how full it is of you—and, if you say, that does not prevent the head being weak and acting accordingly, I will begin exemplifying the very point I want to convince you of, by at once writing and speaking and by every imaginable means making you know, that the heart does teach the head better than such foolishness—ought to do it, and does do it!
Do you believe me, Ba, my own? Or, what nonsense!– Did you wonder at my letter when it did come? Or did it come? It was duly posted at Deptford– Moreover the “Thursday” at the top was written “Wednesday”—because all day long I was in that error—having been used to see you on Mondays, and to calculate my time by the number of days since I saw you—whence, knowing to my cost that two days had gone by since such an event, I thought what I wrote–
Now kiss me, my very own, for an end to every thing,—your doubt and my impudent making the most of it,—for I do not doubt you, sweetest, truest, best love!
To-morrow brings me to you, Ba, I trust– I will be careful to-day, never fear your
own devoted RB"

Yes, he did take impudent advantage of her nervousness but that was certainly what she deserved. She certainly loves to torment him.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 22

Oh no! Flush has bitten Browning again! July 22, 1846 Miss Barrett sums up the crisis of their meeting the previous day:

"I did not go out yesterday, & was very glad not to have a command laid on me to go out, the wind blew so full of damp & dreariness. Then it was pleasanter to lie on the sofa & think of you, which I did, till at last I actually dreamed of you, falling asleep for that purpose. As to Flush, he came up stairs with a good deal of shame in the bearing of his ears, & straight to me——no indeed! I would not speak to him——then he went up to Arabel .. ‘naughty Flush, go away’ .. and Wilson, .. who had whipped him before, ‘because it was right’, she said .. in a fit of poetical justice, .. did not give him any consolation. So he lay down on the floor at my feet looking from under his eyebrows at me—— I did not forgive him till nearly eight oclock however. And I have not yet given him your cakes. Almost I am inclined to think now that he has not a soul. To behave so to you!—— It is nearly as bad as if I had thrown the coffee cup! Wicked Flush!—— Do you imagine that I scolded Wilson when she confessed to having whipped him? I did not. It was done with her hand, & not very hardly perhaps, though ‘he cried’, she averred to me—and if people, like Flush, choose to behave like dogs savagely, they must take the consequences indeed, as dogs usually do! And you, so good & gentle to him!– Anyone but you, could have said “hasty words” at least——. I think I shall have a muzzle for him, to make him harmless while he learns to know you. Would it not be a good plan?

But nobody heard yesterday of either your visit or of Flush’s misdoings .. so Wilson was discreet, I suppose, as she usually is, by the instinct of her vocation. Of all the persons who are not in our confidence, she has the most certain knowledge of the truth. Dearest, we shall be able to have saturday. There will be no danger in it."

Ah, Wilson knows all, as all servants do. How could she not, unless she was blind and deaf, but then she would not be an ideal servant. Next she turns to thoughts of the road:

Perhaps in the days to come we shall look back on these days as covetable things—. Will you do so, because you were loved in them as a beginning, or because you were free? (Am I not as bad as Flush, to ask such questions?) I shall look back on these days gratefully & gladly, because the good in them has overcome the evil, for the first time in days of mine. Yet my position is worse than yours on some accounts—now. Henrietta has had a letter from Capt Surtees Cook who says in it, she says, .. “I hope that poor Ba will have courage to the end”. There’s a generous sympathy! Tell me that there is none in the world!–
Will you let me know how you are? Such a letter you wrote to me on sunday!– Ah!—to be anything to you ... what is the colour of ambition afterwards? When I look forwards I can see no work & no rest, but what is for you & in you—. Even Duty seems to concentrate itself into one Debt—dearest!——
Yet it will be a little otherwise perhaps!—not that ever I shall love you otherwise or less– No.
You shall see some day at Pisa what I will not show you now. Does not Solomon say that ‘there is a time to read what is written’. If he does’nt, he ought."

Surely it is not only Wilson who knows what is going on, else why would Capt. Cook express his hopes for her courage? I suspect that the comment about showing Browning 'what is written' is in reference to the sonnets, given his recent request to see what she was writing. But she holds out three years. I would love to know what her thinking was in that. My greatest theory is simply that she was shy and remained shy even after she was married, but perhaps she came to a point where she felt she had to prove her love to him. Sounds like a plot for a book.....
What does Browning have to say today?

"Will you let me write something, and forgive me? —Because it is, I know, quite unnecessary to be written, and, beside, may almost seem an interference with your own delicacy,—teaching it its duty! However, I will venture to go on, with your hand before my two eyes. Then,—you remember what we were speaking of yesterday,—house-rents and styles of living?– You will never overlook, thro’ its very obviousness, that to consult my feelings on the only point in which they are sensitive to the world, you must endeavour to live as simply and cheaply as possible, down to my own habitual simplicity and cheapness,—so that, you shall come and live with me, in a sense, rather than I with Miss Campbell! You see, Ba, if you have more money than you want, you shall save it or spend it in pictures or parrots or what you please .. you avoid all offence to me who never either saved money nor so spent it—but the large house, I should be forced to stay in,—the carriage, to enter, I suppose. And you see too, Ba, that the one point on which I desire the world to be informed concerning our future life, will be that it is ordered so. I wish they could hear we lived in one room like George Sand in “that happy year”–
No,—there I have put down an absurdity—because, I shall have to confess a weakness, at some time or other, which is hardly reconcileable to that method of being happy– Why may I not tell you now, my adored Ba, to whom I tell everything as it rises in me? Now put the hand on my eyes again—now that I have kissed it: I shall begin by begging a separate room from yours– I could never brush my hair and wash my face, I do think, before my own father: I could not, I am sure, take off my coat before you now—why should I ever? “The Kitchen” is an unknown horror to me,—I come to the dining room for whatever repast there may be,—nor willingly stay too long there,—and on the day on which poor Countess Peppa taught me how maccaroni is made,—then began a quiet revolution, (indeed a rapid one) against “tagliolini”, “fettucce”, “lasagne” etc, etc, etc.—typical, typical!
What foolishness .. spare me, my own Ba, and don’t answer one word,—do not even laugh,—for I know the exceeding, unnecessary foolishness of it!"

Was I just calling Miss Barrett shy? How wonderfully cute. He wants them to live in one room, except he doesn't? And how it pained him to write it. He is afflicted by that disease of all Englishmen: Embarrassment. I didn't think he was ever going to get it out. However, this request is not that crazy given the state of plumbing in the 19th century. There was not such a thing as a bathroom, you just used a chamber pot, otherwise known as a slop, unless you went outside to the outhouse. So having a separate room for this is not such a luxury in my mind. It actually gives them both a bit of privacy.

"Chorley has just sent me a note which I will send you because it is most graceful in its modesty—but you must not, if you please, return it to me in an envelope that ought only to hold your own writing,—and so make my heart beat at first, and my brows knit at last! (Toss it into “my room”, at Pisa!!)"

Hey, Browning made a jest!
Thus it is to be made happy and unwise! Never mind—make me happier still by telling me you are well and have been out, and where, and when, and how—the footsteps of you, Ba, should be kissed if I could follow them–
Bless you, ever dearest, dearest, as yesterday, and always you bless me– I love you with all my heart and soul,—yes, Ba!

Miss Barrett responds the same day:

"Dearest, what you say is unnecessary for you to say—it is, in everything so of course & obvious! You must have an eccentric idea of me if you can suppose for a moment such things to be necessary to say– If they had been unsaid, it would have been precisely the same, believe me, in the event–
As to the way of living––now you shall arrange that for yourself– You shall choose your own lodging, order your own dinner .. & if you choose to live on locusts & wild honey, I promise not to complain .. I shall not indeed be inclined to complain .. having no manner of ambition about carriages & large houses, even if they were within our possibilities,—which they may not be, according to Mr Surtees’s calculation or experience. The more simply we live, the better for me! So you shall arrange it for yourself, lest I should make a mistake! .. which, in that question, is a just possible thing."

She loves to teaze and torment him, but you can sense that she feels his embarrassment and lets him off easy. But then she makes a request of her own:

"One extravagance I had intended to propose to you .. but it shall be exactly as you like, and I hesitate a little as I begin to speak of it. I have thought of taking Wilson with me, .. for a year, say, if we returned then—if not, we might send her home alone .. & by that time, I should be stronger perhaps & wiser .. rather less sublimely helpless & impotent than I am now– My sisters have urged me a good deal in this matter——but if you would rather it were otherwise, be honest & say so, & let me alter my thoughts at once– There is one consideration which I submit to yours, .. that I cannot leave this house with the necessary number of shoes & pocket handkerchiefs, without help from somebody. Now whoever helps me, will suffer through me– If I left her behind she would be turned into the street before sunset. Would it be right & just of me, to permit it? Consider! I must manage a sheltering ignorance for my poor sisters, at the last, .. & for all our sakes. And in order to that, again, I must have some one else in my confidence. Whom, again, I would unwillingly single out for an absolute victim.
Wilson is attached to me, I believe—and, in all the discussions about Italy, she has professed herself willing to ‘go anywhere in the world with me’. Indeed I rather fancy that she was disappointed bitterly last year, & that it would not be a pure devotion. She is an expensive servant—she has sixteen pounds a year, .. but she has her utilities besides,—& is very amiable & easily satisfied, & would not add to the expenses, or diminish from the economies, even in the matter of room—— I would manage that for her– Then she would lighten your responsibilities .. as the Archbishop of Canterbury & company do Mr Bevan’s– Well—you have only to consider your own wishes– I shall not care many straws, if you decide this way or that way– Let it be as may seem to you wisest."

I love the fact that they are talking the practicalities of daily living, although we have known all along that Miss Barrett thinks these things through. Browning is really much more of a dreamer than she is. She had understood from the beginning how difficult it is to take care on semi-invalid such as herself. I also admire the fact that she is concerned about what will happen to Wilson if she leaves her behind. There will be no job for her in the Barrett household. She couldn't look to Mr. Kenyon to find a position for Wilson prior to their leaving without alerting him to that fact that they were leaving. Summer is progressing nicely...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

July 21

On July 21, 1845 Miss Barrett is tormenting Browning because he read her "Essay on Mind" without her permission:

"....I 'will not have the heart to blame' you—except for reading my books against my will, which was very wrong indeed. Mr. Kenyon asked me, I remember, (he had a mania of sending my copybook literature round the world to this person and that person, and I was roused at last into binding him by a vow to do so no more) I remember he asked me ... 'Is Mr. Browning to be excepted?'; to which I answered that nobody was to be excepted—and thus he was quite right in resisting to the death ... or to dinner-time ... just as you were quite wrong after dinner. Now, could a woman have been more curious? Could the very author of the book have done worse?"

Don't think this conversation is over. Her teazing is going to put Browning on the defensive. But for now she moves on to a review of his poems:

"I leave my sins and yours gladly, to get into the Hood poems which have delighted me so—and first to the St. Praxed's which is of course the finest and most powerful ... and indeed full of the power of life ... and of death. It has impressed me very much. Then the 'Angel and Child,' with all its beauty and significance!—and the 'Garden Fancies' ... some of the stanzas about the name of the flower, with such exquisite music in them, and grace of every kind—and with that beautiful and musical use of the word 'meandering,' which I never remember having seen used in relation to sound before. It does to mate with your 'simmering quiet' in Sordello, which brings the summer air into the room as sure as you read it. Then I like your burial of the pedant so much!—you have quite the damp smell of funguses and the sense of creeping things through and through it. And the 'Laboratory' is hideous as you meant to make it:—only I object a little to your tendency ... which is almost a habit, and is very observable in this poem I think, ... of making lines difficult for the reader to read ... see the opening lines of this poem. Not that music is required everywhere, nor in them certainly, but that the uncertainty of rhythm throws the reader's mind off the rail ... and interrupts his progress with you and your influence with him. Where we have not direct pleasure from rhythm, and where no peculiar impression is to be produced by the changes in it, we should be encouraged by the poet to forget it altogether; should we not? I am quite wrong perhaps—but you see how I do not conceal my wrongnesses where they mix themselves up with my sincere impressions. And how could it be that no one within my hearing ever spoke of these poems? Because it is true that I never saw one of them—never!—except the 'Tokay,' which is inferior to all; and that I was quite unaware of your having printed so much with Hood—or at all, except this 'Tokay,' and this 'Duchess'! The world is very deaf and dumb, I think—but in the end, we need not be afraid of its not learning its lesson."

As we were discussing 'knowing' people  over the last couple of days, I think this is the one area that they do know each other. They can read and analyse each other's poems as few others could. We actually see a lot more of her working at analysing his new poems than he working on hers, probably because he had a book going into the press at this time. I like her straightforward description of why his poems are not more commercially successful: he makes the reader work too hard. I cannot recall, now that I stop to think about it, an instance where he pinned down the major weaknesses of her poetry the way she does with his. By this time in 1846 they seldom discuss poetry, all is love and drama by then. So enjoy the poetry discussions where you can.

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20

Browning writes a short letter July 20, 1846 as usual continuing their ongoing conversation:

"Certainly you do know me, my own Ba, beyond all other knowledge possible to relatives,—that I know—in fact, I found myself speaking unwarily on a subject where speech is obliged to stop abruptly—the fault was mine for bringing up terms, remarks &c quite inapplicable out of this house,—where all, as you understand, have seen me so long that they do not see differences in me,—increases or diminutions; I am twice as blind, most likely, to them, after the same fashion. Still, one is slow to concede an excuse to such blindness—hence the “hasty words” I told you they charge me with uttering.

I apprehend no danger from that,—to your feeling for me: it is your own speech, my Ba, which I will take from you, and use—my own “general shortcomings” you will inevitably see and be sorry for—but there will be the more need of your love, which I shall go on asking for daily and nightly as if I never could have enough .. which is the exact fact; and also, I shall grow fitter thro’ the love to be what you would have me, so the end may be better than the beginning, let us hope.

Will you not do what you can with me who am your very own?—as you are my own too, but for a different end– I am yours to operate on, as you are my only lady to dispose of what belongs to you– Dear, dearest Ba, it is so,—will ever be so!"

He makes a valid point that just as your family cannot see the real you, you probably cannot see them either. Our poets will meet tomorrow, so no letters from 1846, but I will rummage around and see what else might be of interest.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 19

Miss Barrett has so many relatives staying at Wimpole Street (beyond her two sisters, five or six brothers, her father and innumerable servants) that Browning is having trouble dodging them when he comes to visit. Out of sight is out of mind is the watchword in the Barrett household. But all seemed to work out on the most recent visit as Miss Barrett reports July 19, 1846:

"Dearest, the leaf of yesterday was folded down quite smoothly & softly– A dinner party swept the thought of you out of people’s minds. Otherwise I was prepared to be a little afraid,—for my aunt said to Arabel, upon being dispensed with so cavalierly from this room, .. (said in the passage, Arabel told me, with a half-laugh) “Pray which of Ba’s lovers may this be?” So Arabel had to tell the name of the visitor. But the dinner party set all right, & this morning I was asked simply whether it had been an agreeable visit, & what you had written, & banalities after such a fashion. Oh, and I went out—remembering your desire .. was it not a desire, dearest, dearest? I went out, any way—but the wind blew, & I had to hold my veil against my mouth, doubled & trebled .. with as many folds, indeed, as Ajax’s shield .. to keep myself in breathing order. The wind always gives me a sort of strangling sensation, which is the effect, I suppose, of having weak lungs. So it was not a long walk, but I liked it because you seemed to be with me still,—& Arabel who walked with me, was “sure, without being told, that I had had a happy visit, just from my manner”. The wisest of interpreters, I called her, & pour cause."

This next passage has always fascinated me. I remember reading this letter when I was in college in (dare I say it?) 1986 and thinking that this is very true and I still think this is true. It is not to say that we do not love our families, but seldom are we connected on the soul level with our parents and siblings:

"Is it your opinion that the members of our own family, .. those who live with us always, .. know us best? They know us on the side we offer to them .. a bare profile .. or the head turned round to the ear—yes!—they do not, except by the merest chance, look into our eyes. They know us in a conventional way .. as far from God’s way of knowing us, as from the world’s– Mid-way, it is .. & the truest & most cordial & tender affection will not hinder this from being so partial a knowledge. Love! I love those at the present moment, .. who love me .. (& tenderly on both sides) .. but who are so far from understanding me, that I never think of speaking myself into their ears .. of trying to speak myself. It is wonderful, it is among the great mysteries of life, to observe how people can love one another in the dark, blindly .. loving without knowing. And, as a matter of general observation, if I sought to have a man or woman revealed to me in his or her innermost nature, I would not go to the family of the person in question—though I should learn there best, of course, about personal habits, & the social bearing of him or her. George Sand delighted me in one of her late works, where she says that the souls of bloodrelations seldom touch except at one or two points– Perfectly true, that is, I think—perfectly.
Remember how you used to say that I did not know you .. which was true in a measure .. yet I felt I knew you, & I did actually know you, in another larger measure. And if now you are not known to me altogether, it is my dulness which makes me unknowing——

But I know you—& I should be without excuse if ever I wronged you with a moment’s injustice—I do not think I ever could depreciate you for a moment,—that would not be possible. There are other sins against you (are they against you?) which bring their own punishment! You shall never be angry with me for those."

Think how this woman loves her father and especially her sister Arabel and how attached she is to them, but she realizes that they do not see her. I see this when I read her letters to her siblings. Her letters to Arabel are different from her letters to Henrietta and different than her letters to George. She relates to each of them on a different level, she always reaching to their level as she perceives it. But as to whether she really knows Browning, I think she is taking a huge leap of faith. She understands that he is a genius, she knows that he is a Christian, that he is a poet, but I would say at this point she does not know him. She knows that he is a sympathetic soul. She knows that she trusts him.

She ends with a Mr. Kenyon update:

"While I was writing, came Mr Kenyon. As usual he said that there was no use in his coming .. that you had taken his place, & so on. He was in high good humour, though, & spirits, & I did not mind much what he was pleased to say– More I minded, that he means “to stay in London all the summer” .. which I cant be glad of, .. though I was glad at his not persisting in going to Scotland against his own wishes. But he might like to go somewhere else—it would be a pleasure, that, in which I should sympathize—! the more shame for me!"

Browning, meanwhile, is missing his lady:

"Dearest Ba’s face of yesterday, with the smiles and perfect sweetness,—oh, the comfort it is to me thru’ this day of my especial heaviness! I don’t know when I have felt more stupid, and I seem to keep the closelier to you, Ba. Is that one of my felicities of compliment? I think if you were here I should lay my head on your bosom, my own beloved, and never raise it again. In your last letter, you speak of those who care less for you than for “a glass of claret”. There is something sublime,—at all events, astounding, in the position we occupy each of us,—I, and those less-carers,—standing in respect to each other so like England and Owhyhee—at which, they told me when I was a boy, I should be pretty sure to arrive, if I dug a hole just thro’ the earth, dropped to the centre and then, turning round, climbed straight up!
I wish, dearest, you would tell me precisely what you have written—all my affectionate pride in you rises at once when I think of your poetry, that is and that is to be– You dear, dear Ba, can you not write on my shoulder while my head lies as you permit?"

I suspect that she is writing her sonnet sequence. But I don't think she will be telling him about those poems. Isn't it interesting that she did not give him the sonnets until they had been married three years? Were they too personal to give to him? She never wanted to burden him. Did she feel that they would be a burden to him? Or was she simply too shy?
And isn't Browning getting very affectionate here? He seems quite happy that her uncles don't care for her. It is 'sublime' and 'astounding' that they stand in Owhyhee(!) and he stands with her in London. They need to get married before Browning blows a blood vessel.