"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."