Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29

On July 29, 1846 our two poets are still feeling the lost hour from their visit the previous day. But Browning begins the letters by responding to something Miss Barrett said to him during their meeting, before they were interrupted:

"This is just the way, the only way, my ever, ever dearest, you make cares for me—it is hard to dare to settle whether the pain of the lost quarters of the hour yesterday be not balanced by the gladness and gain of this letter,—as it is hard saying whether to kiss your hand (mind, only the hand!) with shut eyes, be better than seeing you and only seeing: you cause me abundance of such troubles, dearest, best, divinest that you are! Oh, how can you, blessing me so, speak as you spoke yesterday,—for the first time! I thought you would only write such suppositions, such desires—(for it was a desire) .. and that along with you I was safe from them,—yet you are adorable amid it all—only I do feel such speaking, Ba, lightly as it fell—no, not now I feel it,—this letter is before my heart like the hand on my eyes. I feel this letter, only. How good, good, good of you to write it!"

What was it that she said to him that she had only written before? Something has bothered him.

"Yes, I did meet Mr Kenyon on the stairs—with a half opened door that discovered sundry presences—and then had I to speak of a sudden—put it to my credit on one side that I did speak and laugh,—and on the other side, that I did neither too à-propos. He most kindly (SEEING IT ALL) began asking about Forster & Moxon—and I remember some kind of stammering remark of the latter which I retailed .. to the effect that “now would be a favorable time to print a volume of poems”—this I did, to seem to have something on my mind calling for a consultation with you! Then he made that proposal about Landor and Mr Eagles .. whether I “encouraged the idea,” or no, it encouraged me, and helped me a good deal this morning,—for Eliot Warburton sent two days ago a pressing letter to invite me to go to Ireland,—I should have yachting and other delights,—and I was glad to return for an answer, that I had an engagement, “conditional on my accepting any”. As for my “excellent story on the stairs”—you alarm me! Upon my honor, I have not the least recollection of having told one, or said another word than the above mentioned: So people are congratulated on displaying this or the other bravery in battle or fire, when their own memory is left a blank of all save the confusion! Let me say here, that he amused me also with that characteristic anecdote of poor Mr Reade, on Saturday."

Well, it seems Browning was caught in the very act and had to stumble out of it. And Mr. Kenyon 'seeing it all'. My, my and oh dear.

"And—now! Now, Ba, to the subject-matter: whatever you decide on writing to Mrs Jameson will be rightly writtenit seems to me nearly immaterial (putting out of the question the confiding the whole secret, which, from its responsibility, as you feel, must not be done) whether you decline her kindness for untold reasons which two months (Ba?) will make abundantly plain,—or whether you further inform her that there is a special secret—of which she must bear the burthen, even in that mitigated form, for the same two months,—as I say, it seems immaterial—but it is most material that you should see how the ground is crumbling from beneath our feet, with its chances & opportunities—do not talk about “four months”,—till December, that is—unless you mean what must follow as a consequence. The next thing will be Mr Kenyon’s application to mehe certainly knows everything—how else, after such a speech from your sister? But his wisdom as well as his habits incline him to use the force that is in kindness, patience, gentleness: your father might have entered the room suddenly yesterday and given vent to all the passionate indignation in the world. I dare say we should have been married to-day: but I shall have the quietest, most considerate of expositions made me, (with one arm on my shoulder) of how I am sure to be about to kill you, to ruin you, your social reputation, your public estimation, destroy the peace of this member of your family, the prospects of that other,—and the end will be?––"

He doesn't care whether Mrs. Jameson is told, he only cares that it not be put off endlessly. Here he is telling her: you have two months because if we wait until December winter will be here and you cannot travel and so we will lose another year. He believes Kenyon knows and will begin to try and talk him out of it. And if Papa had come upon them, that would have been the end. But  his strongest ammunition he saves for last:

"Because I can not only die for you but live without you for you—once sure it is for you: I know what you once bade me promise—but I do not know what assurances on assurance, all on the ground of a presumed knowledge of your good above your own possible knowledge,—might not effect! I do not know!
This is thro’ you! You ought to know now that 'it would not be better for me to leave you'! That after this devotion of myself to you I cannot undo it all, and devote myself to objects so utterly insignificant that yourself do not venture to specify them—'it would be better .. people will say such things' .. I will never force you to know this, however—if your admirable senses do not instruct you, I shall never seem to, as it were, threaten you, by prophecies of what my life would probably be, disengaged from you—it should certainly not be passed where the 'people' are, nor where their 'sayings' influenced me any more—but I ask you to look into my heart, and into your own belief in what is worthy and durable and the better—and then decide!—for instance, to speak of waiting for four months will be a decision–
See, dearest—I began lightly,—I cannot end so. I know, after all, the words were divine, self-forgetting words,—after all, that you are mine, by the one tenure, of your own free gift,—that all the other words have not been mere breath, nor the love, a playful show, an acting, an error you will correct– I believe in you, or what shall I believe in? I wish I could take my life, my affections, my ambitions, all my very self, and fold over them your little hand, and leave them there—then you would see what belief is mine! But if you had not seen it, would you have uttered one word, written one line, given one kiss to me? May God bless you, Ba– RB–"

She had written of all the worldly things that had happened after he left, but all he could think of was what she had said before they were interrupted. What was it that she said that set him so on the verge, that made him so adamant that she has to make up her mind? What were these "divine, self-forgetting words" that he is fighting so hard against? What say you, Miss Barrett?

“ 'Such desires—(for it was a desire!)'
Well put into a parenthesis, that is!—ashamed & hiding itself between the brackets—.
Because, my own dearest, it was not a ‘desire’ … it was the farthest possible from being a ‘desire’ .. the word I spoke to you on tuesday .. yesterday!
And if I spoke it for the first time instead of writing it, .. what did that prove, but that I was able to speak it, & that just it was so much less earnest & painfully felt? Why it was not a proposition even—I said only 'You had better give me up!' It was only the reflection, in the still water, of what had been a proposition. 'Better' perhaps! 'Better' for you, that you shd desire to give me up & do it—my ‘idée fixe’, you know. But said with such different feelings from those which have again & again made the tears run down my cheeks while I wrote to you the vexatious letters, .. that I smile at your seeing no difference——you, blind! Which is wrong of me again. I will not smile for having vexed you .. teazed youWhich is wrong of you, though .. the being vexed for so little! Because 'you ought to know by this time' … (now I will use your reproachful words) you ought certainly to know that I am your own, & ready to go through with the matter we are upon, & willing to leave the times & the seasons in your hand– ‘Four months’ meant nothing at all– Take September, if you please. All I thought of answering to you, was, that there was no need yet of specifying the exact time– And yet .....
Ah—yes!– I feel as you feel, the risks & the difficulties which close around us– And you feel that about Mr Kenyon? Is it by an instinct that I tremble to think of him, more than to think of others? The hazel rod turns round in my hand when I stand hereAnd as you show him speaking & reasoning, .. his arm laid on your shoulder .. oh, what a vision, that is! .. before that, I cannot stand any longer!—it takes away my breath! the likelihood of it is so awful that it seems to promise to realize itself, one day!–
But you promised. I have your solemn promise, Robert! If ever you should be moved by a single one of those vain reasons, it will be an unfaithful cruelty in you– You will have trusted another, against me. You would not do it, my beloved–
For I have none in the world who will hold me to make me live in it, except only you– I have come back for you alone .. at your voice .. & because you have use for me! I have come back to live a little for you. I see you. My fault is .. not that I think too much of what people will say. I see you & hear you– ‘People’ did not make me live for them .. I am not theirs, but your’s– I deserve that you should believe in me, beloved, because my love for you is ‘Me’.
Now tell me again to ‘decide’ .. and I will tell you that the words are not ‘breath’, nor the affection ‘a show’!– Dearest beyond words!—did I deserve you telling me to ‘decide’?

Does not Miss Barrett have the gift to turn things around? The discussion changed from her offending him by telling him to give her up to her being offended that he would be persuaded by Kenyon to give her up.

Let it be September then, if you do not decide otherwise– I wd not lean to dangerous delays which are unnecessary—I wish we were at Pisa, rather!–
So try to find out if & how (certainly) we can get from Nevers to Chalons .. I could not today, with my French travelling-book, find a way, either by the chemin de fer [railway], or coche d’eau [passenger boat]–All the rest is easy & direct .. & very cheap. We must not hesitate between the French route & the sea-voyage.
Now I will tell you your good story– You said that you had only heard six words from Mr Reade but that they were characteristic– Someone was talking before him & you of the illness of Anacreon Moore. “He is very ill” said the someone. “But he is no poet” said Mr Reade.
Is’nt it a good story? Mr Kenyon called it “exquisite”—! It is what your man of science would have called “a beautiful specimen”—now is’nt it?
May God bless you, dearest, dearest!– I owe all to you, & love you wholly– I am your very own–

As always, she lands lightly. Who won the letters today? Browning started out strong, impassioned and almost angry about slights and delays, but Miss Barrett counter punches with indignation that he would side with others against her. I give the round to Browning because: it looks like September will be their month for travelling.

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