Saturday, July 14, 2012

July 14

July 14, 1845 Browning responds to Miss Barrett's letter of July 12, 1845 in which she describes and explains her fear of thunder and lightning:

"Still I feared the rain would hinder you on Friday—but the thunder did not frighten me—for you: your father must pardon me for holding most firmly with Dr. Chambers—his theory is quite borne out by my own experience, for I have seen a man it were foolish to call a coward, a great fellow too, all but die away in a thunderstorm, though he had quite science enough to explain why there was no immediate danger at all—whereupon his younger brother suggested that he should just go out and treat us to a repetition of Franklin's experiment with the cloud and the kite—a well-timed proposition which sent the Explainer down with a white face into the cellar. What a grand sight your tree was—is, for I see it. My father has a print of a tree so struck—torn to ribbons, as you describe—but the rose-mark is striking and new to me. We had a good storm on our last voyage, but I went to bed at the end, as I thought—and only found there had been lightning next day by the bare poles under which we were riding: but the finest mountain fit of the kind I ever saw has an unfortunately ludicrous association. It was at Possagno, among the Euganean Hills, and I was at a poor house in the town—an old woman was before a little picture of the Virgin, and at every fresh clap she lighted, with the oddest sputtering muttering mouthful of prayer imaginable, an inch of guttery candle, which, the instant the last echo had rolled away, she as constantly blew out again for saving's sake—having, of course, to light the smoke of it, about an instant after that: the expenditure in wax at which the elements might be propitiated, you see, was a matter for curious calculation. I suppose I ought to have bought the whole taper for some four or five centesimi (100 of which make 8d. English) and so kept the countryside safe for about a century of bad weather. Leigh Hunt tells you a story he had from Byron, of kindred philosophy in a Jew who was surprised by a thunderstorm while he was dining on bacon—he tried to eat between-whiles, but the flashes were as pertinacious as he, so at last he pushed his plate away, just remarking with a compassionate shrug, 'all this fuss about a piece of pork!' By the way, what a characteristic of an Italian late evening is Summer-lightning—it hangs in broad slow sheets, dropping from cloud to cloud, so long in dropping and dying off. The 'bora,' which you only get at Trieste, brings wonderful lightning—you are in glorious June-weather, fancy, of an evening, under green shock-headed acacias, so thick and green, with the cicalas stunning you above, and all about you men, women, rich and poor, sitting standing and coming and going—and through all the laughter and screaming and singing, the loud clink of the spoons against the glasses, the way of calling for fresh 'sorbetti'—for all the world is at open-coffee-house at such an hour—when suddenly there is a stop in the sunshine, a blackness drops down, then a great white column of dust drives straight on like a wedge, and you see the acacia heads snap off, now one, then another—and all the people scream 'la bora, la bora!' and you are caught up in their whirl and landed in some interior, the man with the guitar on one side of you, and the boy with a cageful of little brown owls for sale, on the other—meanwhile, the thunder claps, claps, with such a persistence, and the rain, for a finale, falls in a mass, as if you had knocked out the whole bottom of a huge tank at once—then there is a second stop—out comes the sun—somebody clinks at his glass, all the world bursts out laughing, and prepares to pour out again,—but you, the stranger, do make the best of your way out, with no preparation at all; whereupon you infallibly put your foot (and half your leg) into a river, really that, of rainwater—that's a Bora (and that comment of yours, a justifiable pun!) Such things you get in Italy, but better, better, the best of all things you do not (I do not) get those."

Now, that was an excellent letter from Browning. No crazy, vague analogies, no rambling thoughts as he attempts to put his ideas in order, trying to find the right words. Just a nice bit of travel writing. I hope this is what he was like when he entertained in society. And a good-natured pun.

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