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...

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