Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2

2 July 1846 Browning continues the discussion of whether Miss Barrett had ever spoken the name 'Robert' to Browning:

"Dear, you might as well imagine you had never given me any other of the gifts, as that you did not call me, as I tell you: you spoke quickly, interrupting me, and, for the name, “I can hear it, ’twixt my spirit and the earth-noise intervene”: do you think I forget one gift in another, even a greater? I should still taste the first freshness of the vinegar, (or whatever was the charm of it)—tho’ Cleopatra had gone on dissolving pearl after pearl in it: I love you for these gifts to me now—hereafter, it seems almost as if I must love you even better, should you choose to continue them to me in spite of complete knowledge: I feel this as often as I think of it, which is not seldom."

He accepts her gift of his name as the compliment she meant. Very charming, as to be expected from the great poet. He looks ahead to their future with a typical Browning anecdote:

"But of your dear self now—the going out will soon and effectually cure the nervousness, we may be sure. I am most happy, love, to hear of the walking and increased strength. So you used to like riding on a donkey? Then you shall have a mule, un bel mulo, and I will be your muleteer, walk by your side—and you will think the moment you see him of the wicked shoeing of cats with walnut-shells, for they make a mule’s shoes turn up, for all the world like large shells,—those on his forefeet at least."

Never heard of shoeing a cat with walnut shells. Every generation has their own version of torture, I suppose. Miss Barrett responds, of course, with her typical good humor:

"....In the meanwhile,—quite you make me laugh by your positiveness about the name-calling. Well—if ever I did such a thing, it was in a moment of unconsciousness all the more surprising, that, even to my own soul, in the lowest spirit-whisper, I have not been in the habit of saying ‘Robert’, speaking of you. You have only been The One. No word ever stood for you– The Idea admitted of no representative—the words fell down before it & were silent. Still such very positive people must be right of course—they always are. At any rate it is only one illusion more—and some day I expect to hear you say & swear that you saw me fly out of one window & fly in at another. So much for your Cleopatra’s Roman pearls, oh my famous in council!—& appreciator of sour vinegar!"

And she continues with her look at their future plans, all based on the off chance that Browning will discover the truth about her after a time:

"Miss Mitford wrung a promise from me--that “if I were well enough & in England next summer, I would go to see her”. So remember. Isn’t it a promise for two?

Only we shall be mule-riding in those days--unless I shall have tired you--Shall you be tired of me in one winter, I wonder? My programme is, to let you try me for one winter, & if you are tired (as I shall know without any confession on your side) why then I shall set the mule on a canter & leave you in La Cava, & go & live in Greece somewhere all alone, taking enough with me for bread & salt. Is it a jest, do you think? Indeed it is not. It is very grave earnest, be sure. I believe that I never could quarrel with you,—but the same cause would absolutely hinder my living with you if you did not love me. We could not lead the abominable lives of ‘married people’ all round—you know we could not I at least know that I could not, & just because I love you so entirely. Then, you know, you could come to England by yourself .. and .. “Where’s Ba”?—— “Oh, she’s somewhere in the world, I suppose– How can I tell?” And then Mrs Jameson would shake her head, & observe that the problem was solved exactly as she expected .. & that artistical natures smelt of sulphur & brimstone, without any exceptions.

Am I laughing? am I crying? who can tell. But I am not teazing, .. Robert! .. because, my Robert, if gravely I distrusted your affection, I could not use such light-sounding words on the whole—now could I? It is only the supposition of a possible future .. just possible .. (as the end of human affections passes for a possible thing) .. which made me say what I would do in such a case.

But I am yours—your own: and it is impossible, in my belief, that I can ever fail to you so as to be less yours, on this side the grave or across it. So, I think of impossibilities .. whatever I may, of possibilities!"

As light as she sounds I suspect that she is serious. The faux quote she attributes to Browning is a hoot, "How can I tell?" She has apparently seen so many unhappy marriages that she doubts that any marriage can be happy. The same prevails in the 21st century, but how much worse in the 19th century when any kind of escape was expensive both monetarily and socially. It is doubtful, however, that if she did determine that Browning no longer loved her that she would care what society thought, her personal disappointment would be too great.

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