Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28

Despite the fact that Browning visited Wimpole Street on July 28, 1846, which normally precluded an exchange of letters, Miss Barrett felt the need to write a letter today. Browning, as a general rule, stayed from 3pm to 6pm and recorded the hours on the envelope of her last letter. The notation today was 3pm to 5:15pm. They had been interrupted:

"Dearest, as I lost nearly an hour of you today, I make amends to myself by beginning to write to you as if I had not seen you at all. A large sheet of paper, too, has flown into my hands—the Fates giving ample room & verge enough, my characters .. not ‘of Hell’ .. to trace as I am not going to swear at Mr Kenyon, whatever the provocation! Dear Mr Kenyon!

It appears that he talked to my sisters some time before he let himself be announced to me .. he said to them ‘I want to talk to you .. sit down by me & listen'. Then he began to tell them of Mrs Jameson, repeating what you told me, of her desire to take me to Italy, .. & of her earnestness about it– To which, he added, he had replied by every representation likely to defeat those thoughts, .. that only a relative would be a fit companion for me .. & that no person out of my family could be justified in accepting such a responsibility, .. on other grounds, .. entering on the occurrences of last year, & reasoning on from them to the possibility that if I offended by an act of disobedience, I might be ‘cast off’ as for a crime– Oh—poor Papa was not spared at all—not to Mrs Jameson, not to my sisters. Mr Kenyon said .. 'It is painful to you perhaps to hear me talk so, but it is a sore subject with me, & I cannot restrain the expression of my opinions. He 'had told Mrs Jameson everything—it was due to her to have a full knowledge, he thought .. & he had tried to set before her the impossibility she was under, of doing any good.' —Then he asked my sisters .. if I ever spoke of Italy .. if they thought I dwelt on the idea of it– 'Yes', they answered—'In their opinion, I had made up my mind to go'– 'But how? what is the practical side of the question? She cant go alone—& which of you, will go with her? You know, last year, she properly rejected the means which involved you in danger'.–– Henrietta advised that nothing should be said or done—'Ba must do everything for herself– Her friends cannot help her. She must help herself'.

'But she must not go to Italy by herself. Then, how?' 'She has determination of character,' continued Henrietta—'She will surprise everybody some day'.

'But how?—' Mr Kenyon repeated .. looking uneasy. (And how imprudent of Henrietta, to say that! I have been scolding her a little.)

The discussion ended by his instructing them to tell me of Mrs Jameson’s proposal,—'because it was only right that I should have the knowledge of her generous kindness, though for his part, he did not like to agitate me by conversing on the subject.

Yes, one thing more was said. He mentioned having had some conversation with my uncle Hedley, who was 'very angry'——& he asked if my aunt Hedley had no influence with the highest authority– My sisters answered in the negative. And this is all. He appears to have no 'plan' of his particular own."

Henrietta was absolutely correct when she said, "Ba must do everything for herself– Her friends cannot help her. She must help herself”. Browning may accommodate the move but it is entirely up to her personal initiative. If there was no Browning she could have taken her maid and left, but without Browning she lacked motivation. Didn't Dante Rossetti say, "Beauty without the beloved is like a sword through the heart." (This is a bit over dramatic. I have seen plenty of beauty without a beloved and it didn't break my heart, but it certainly makes beauty more enjoyable to share it with a like minded person. But you get the idea.)
All of this must be very comforting to Browning. Her sisters seem sure that she will go.

"What do you say, Robert, to all this? Since I am officially informed of Mrs Jameson’s goodness, I must thank her certainly—& in what words? 'How'?––as Mr Kenyon asks. Half I have felt inclined to write & thank her gratefully, & confide to her, not the secret itself but the secret of there being a secret with the weight of which I am unwilling to oppress her at this time– Could it be done, I wonder? Perhaps not– Yet how hard, how very difficult, it seems to me, to thank her worthily, & be silent wholly on my motives in rejecting her companionship! And a whole confidence now, is dangerous .. would torment her with a sense of responsibility. Think which way it should be.

Once you asked me about joining travelling-company, with Mrs Jameson. Should you like it? prefer it for any cause? .. if it could be done without involving her in trouble, of course.

Ah, dearest .. what a loss the three quarters of an hour were to me! like the loss of four quarters of a moon on a dark night! When dear Mr Kenyon came to me, he found me with my thoughts astray—following you up the street! He asked how long you had been here—. ‘Some time’, I said .. by an answer made to fit anything. The rest of my answers were not so apt!—were more like ‘cross-questions’, perhaps, than answers of the common. But he roused me a little by telling me that he wanted you to ‘make an excursion’ with Landor & himself, & that you did not 'encourage the idea' & by proceeding to tell me further, that at a dinner the other day at his house, your poetry being taken up & praised to the right measure, before that wretched Mr Reade, he wrote a letter by the morning’s post to Mr Kenyon, to express a regret that he (Mr Reade) should have found it impossible to join in the plaudits 'of a brother-bard', but that Edmund Reade could not recognize Robert Browning as a master-mind of the period, ‘for reasons,’ which were given at length. 'He (Robert Browning) had never rushed, with a passionate genius, into the production of long poems' .. (like Italy) '& long dramas' .. (like .. like … what’s the name of Mr Reade’s last?) Poor, wretched man! Mr Kenyon tore up the letter in compassion too tender toward humanity! Also he told me your excellent story on the stairs–

On the stairs! I heard the talking & the laughing, & felt ready to cry out the burden. Well—Saturday will come, as surely as you could go. May God bless you, my own! are you my own? & not rather … yes, rather, far rather, I am your own, your very own Ba–"

Browning should have stayed, he missed all the action when he left Wimpole Street.
Mrs. Jameson's kind offer of liberation will be taken up in a manner which she never expected. But isn't it interesting how many people want to help Miss Barrett escape: Kenyon, Uncle Hedley, Mrs. Jameson, etc. They don't want to liberate Arabel or Henrietta who are in the same household. What was it about Miss Barrett that made people want to save her? Her personality must have been something extraordinary.
Mr. Reade has certainly gotten on the wrong side of Miss Barrett. He has had the temerity to mess with her genius poet boyfriend. We shall hear more about Mr. Reade, the poet, in the days ahead.


  1. You tease! On days to come my eye. Make me come back to hear the next installment!

  2. I do not tease. Like Miss Barrett, I teaze.