Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12

Let's look at a letter from July 12, 1845 and July 12. 1846. Miss Barrett was holding Browning at arms length in 1845 with talk of thunderstorms:

"You see, Jupiter Tonans was good enough to come to-day on purpose to deliver me—one evil for another! for I confess with shame and contrition, that I never wait to enquire whether it thunders to the left or the right, to be frightened most ingloriously. Isn't it a disgrace to anyone with a pretension to poetry? Dr. Chambers, a part of whose office it is, Papa says, 'to reconcile foolish women to their follies,' used to take the side of my vanity, and discourse at length on the passive obedience of some nervous systems to electrical influences; but perhaps my faint-heartedness is besides traceable to a half-reasonable terror of a great storm in Herefordshire, where great storms most do congregate, (such storms!) round the Malvern Hills, those mountains of England. We lived four miles from their roots, through all my childhood and early youth, in a Turkish house my father built himself, crowded with minarets and domes, and crowned with metal spires and crescents, to the provocation (as people used to observe) of every lightning of heaven. Once a storm of storms happened, and we all thought the house was struck—and a tree was so really, within two hundred yards of the windows while I looked out—the bark, rent from the top to the bottom ... torn into long ribbons by the dreadful fiery hands, and dashed out into the air, over the heads of other trees, or left twisted in their branches—torn into shreds in a moment, as a flower might be, by a child! Did you ever see a tree after it has been struck by lightning? The whole trunk of that tree was bare and peeled—and up that new whiteness of it, ran the finger-mark of the lightning in a bright beautiful rose-colour (none of your roses brighter or more beautiful!) the fever-sign of the certain death—though the branches themselves were for the most part untouched, and spread from the peeled trunk in their full summer foliage; and birds singing in them three hours afterwards! And, in that same storm, two young women belonging to a festive party were killed on the Malvern Hills—each sealed to death in a moment with a sign on the chest which a common seal would cover—only the sign on them was not rose-coloured as on our tree, but black as charred wood. So I get 'possessed' sometimes with the effects of these impressions, and so does one, at least, of my sisters, in a lower degree—and oh!—how amusing and instructive all this is to you! When my father came into the room to-day and found me hiding my eyes from the lightning, he was quite angry and called 'it disgraceful to anybody who had ever learnt the alphabet'—to which I answered humbly that 'I knew it was'—but if I had been impertinent, I might have added that wisdom does not come by the alphabet but in spite of it? Don't you think so in a measure?"

By July 1846 their world had changed. Our two poets are planning their escape to Italy, but still working through doubts. Here Browning is responding to an exchange that they shared during their regular meeting at Wimpole Street the previous day. The exact nature of what was said is not knowable but we can deduce from the exchange, which will continue with Miss Barrett's response tomorrow, that someone had criticized Browning to Miss Barrett and he feared that she might hesitate or back out. This has made Browning quite angry, which, of course, he regrets:

When I made you promise to refer no more to that subject....I did not engage myself to the like silence .. perhaps because I was not bidden—or, no! there is a better reason; I want to beg your pardon, dearest, for all that petulancy,—for the manner of what I said rather than the matter,—there is a rationality in it all, if I could express trulier what I feel—but the manner was foolish and wrong and unnecessary to you—so do forgive and forget it. You would understand and sympathize if you knew—not me, whom you do know in some degree,—but so much of my early life as would account for the actual horror and hatred I have of those particular doctrines of the world—and the especially foolish word about the “travelling” meant something like the not unnatural thought that if in this main, sole event for all good or all evil in my life,—if here the world plucked you from me by any of the innumerable lines it casts,—with that indirectness, too,—then, I should simply go and live the rest of my days as far out of it as I could.

The simple thing to say is, that I who know you to be above me in all great, or good feelings and therefore worship you, must be without excuse to talk inconsiderately as if I, sitting by you and speaking of the same subject, must needs feel more acutely more strongly in one respect where, indeed, it wants very little pre-eminence in heart or brain to feel entirely the truth—a simplest of truths. It would have been laughable if I had broken out on Mrs Procter’s bitterness of speech, for instance .. just as though you were the slower of us two to see the nature of it! So I do again ask your pardon, dearest Ba! You said you loved me no less yesterday than ever—how must I love you and press closer to you more and more, and desire to see nothing of the world behind you, when I hear how the world thinks, and how you think! You only, only adorable woman, only imaginable love for me! And all the hastiness and petulancy comes from that .. some one seems to come close (in every such maxim of the world’s) and say 'What is she—to so much a year? Could you be happy with her except in May fair—and there whom could you not be happy with!' "

Mrs. Proctor's criticism of Browning had come much earlier when she told Kenyon that Browning needed an occupation for eight hours a day to keep him busy. This latest criticism must have come close to this type of comment. And let's face it, he is a penniless poet. But what an apology! He ends the letter by running a long slash across the page and writing words of worshipful love:

"....May nothing overcast the perfect three hours on Tuesday,—those dear, dear spaces of dear brightness: why cannot a life be made up of these .. with the proper interposition of work, to justify God’s goodness so far as poor mortality and its endeavours can,—a week of Tuesdays—then a month—a year—a life! I most long to see you again,—always by far the most I long,—the next day—the very day after I have seen you—when it is freshest in my mind what I did not say while I might have said it,—nor ask while I might have been answered,—nor learn while you would have taught me, ... no, it is indescribable. Did I call yesterday “unsatisfactory”? Would I had it back now! Or better, I will wish you here where I write, with the trees to see and the birds to hear thro’ the open window. I see you on this old chair against the purple back .. or shall you lie on the sofa? Ba, how I love you, my own perfect, unapproachable mistress–
Let me kiss your feet—and now your hands and your eyes—and your lips now, for the full pardon’s sake, my sweetest love–"

Oh yeah, this guy has either got it bad or....I don't know. I would throw a book with that kind of dialogue on the fire. No wonder she doubted him, he seems to be living out some sort of Medieval Knights Tale. Can this be real?  *Sigh* Another time and another place.

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