When I read, after the reasons for not seeing you to-day, this—“still I leave it to you,”—believe, dearest, that I at once made the sacrifice and determined to wait till Wednesday,—as seemed best for you, and therefore for me: but at the letter’s very end, amid the sweetest, comes “Wednesday .. or must it be Thursday?”—what is that? what “must” is mine? Shall you fear, or, otherwise suffer, if we appoint Wednesday?
Oh, another year of this! yet I am not, I feel, ungrateful to the Past .. all the obstacles in the world can do nothing now,—nothing: earlier, they might have proved formidable annoyances. I have seen enough of you, Ba, for an eternity of belief in you .. and you,—as you confess, you cannot think “I shall forget”....
....this disinspiriting bequest of poor Haydon’s journal .. his “writings”—from which all the harm came, and, it should seem, is still to come to himself and everybody beside....it is part & parcel of the insanity—and to lay the business of editing the “twenty-six” (I think) volumes, with the responsibility, on you—most insane! Unless, which one would avoid supposing, the author trusted precisely to your ignorance of facts and isolation from the people able to instruct you...With an impartial prudent man, acquainted with the artists of the last thirty years, the editing might turn to profit: I do hope for an exercise of Mr Kenyon’s caution here, at all events– And then how horrible are all these posthumous revelations,—these passions of the now passionless, errors of the at length better-instructed! All falls unfitly, ungraciously– The triumphs or the despondencies, the hopes or fears, of—whom? He is so far above it all now! Even in this life,—imagine a proficient in an art or science—who, after thirty or sixty years of progressive discovery, finds that some bookseller has disinterred and is about publishing the raw first attempt at a work which he was guilty of in the outset!
This fear is a fear Browning himself truly felt for he tried, in vain, to hide his early poems from the world. He ends with a postscript:
"I am going to Talfourd’s tomorrow (to dine)—and perhaps to Chorley’s in the evening– If I can do any bidding of yours at Talfourd’s .. but that seems improbable,—with Mr Kenyon, too! But (this between our very selves) the Talfourds, or at least Mrs T., please to take one of their unimaginably stupid groundless dislikes to him."
That is an interesting piece of gossip. Miss Barrett responds:
"But I meant to “leave it to you”, not to come before wednesday but after wednesday, in case of some wednesday’s engagement coming to cross mine. “Ba’s old way” .. do you cry out! Perhaps– Only that an engagement is a possible thing always. Not meaning an engagement with Miss Campbell. I hope, hope, then, to be able to see you, dearest Robert, on wednesday. On wednesday, at last!–"
Oh dear, Miss Campbell again!
Ah—you use the right word for the other subject. If a bequest, it is indeed a “dispiriting bequest,” this of poor Haydon’s. But I hope to the last that he meant simply to point to me as the actual holder of the papers & certainly when he sent the great trunk here, it was with no intention of dying—; Mr Kenyon agreed with me to that effect– I showed him the notes which I had found & laid aside for you, & which you shall take with you on wednesday....Now I will tell you one thing which he told me in confidence, but which is at length perhaps in those papers—I tell you because you are myself, & will understand the need & obligation to silence—and I want you to understand besides how the twenty six volumes hang heavily on my thoughts--He told me in so many words that Mrs Norton had made advances towards him & that his children in sympathy towards their mother, had dashed into atoms the bust of the poetess as it stood in his painting room."
Now there is some juicy gossip! Those crazy poetesses, always making advances at men!
"If you can say anything safely for me at Mr Talfourd’s, of course I shall be glad––and Mr Kenyon will speak to Mr Forster, he said. I want to get back my letters too as soon as I can do it without disturbing anyone’s peace– What is in those letters, I cannot tell, so impulsively & foolishly, sometimes, I am apt to write,—& at that time through caring for nobody & feeling so loose to life, I threw away my thoughts without looking where they fell. Often my sisters have blamed me for writing in that wild way to strangers—& I should like to have the letters back before they shall have served to amuse two or three executors—but of this too, I spoke to Mr Kenyon."
Still it is not of me that we are called to think & I would not for the world refuse any last desire, if clearly signified, & if the power shd be with me. He was not a common man—he had in him the stuff of greatness, this poor Haydon had,—& we must consider reverently whatever rent garment he shall have left behind. Quite, in some respects, I think with you .. but your argument does appear to me to sweep out too far on one side, so that if you do not draw it back, Robert, you will efface all autobiography & confession .. tear out a page bent over by many learners—I mean when you say that because he is above (now), the passions & frailties he has recorded, we should put from us the record. True, he is above it all—true, he has done with the old Haydon,—like a man outgrowing his own childhood he will not spin this top any more. Oh, it is true– I feel it all just as you do. But, after all, a man outgrowing his childhood, may leave his top to children, & no one smile! This record is not for the angels, but for us, who are a little lower at highest. Three volumes perhaps may be taken from the twentysix full of character & interest, & not without melancholy teaching. Only some competent & sturdy hand should manage the selection,—as surely as mine is unfit for it. But where to seek discretion? delicacy?"
She is indeed a very wise, thoughtful woman. How delicately she disagrees with Browning, not in an argumentative way, but thoughtful and illustrative. The 'top' analogy is very fine.
"When I was a child I heard two married women talking. One said to the other .. “The most painful part of marriage is the first year, when the lover changes into the husband by slow degrees”. The other woman agreed, as a matter of fact is agreed to. I listened with my eyes & ears, & never forgot it .. as you observe– It seemed to me, child as I was, a dreadful thing to have a husband by such a process. Now, it seems to me more dreadful.
‘Si l’ame est immortelle
L’amour ne l’est il pas?’
[If the soul is immortal
Is not love too?]
Beautiful verses—just to prove to you that I do not remember only the disagreeable things .. only to teaze you with, like so many undeserved reproaches– And you so good, so best– Ah—but it is that which frightens me! so far best!
You were foolish to begin to love me, you know, as always I told you my beloved!—but since you would begin, .. go on to do it as long as you can .. do not leave me in the wilderness.God bless you for me!–
I am your Ba.
Think if people were to get hold of that imputation on poor Mrs Norton—think!
She is still worried about getting married. She loves him but still fears that it will fade and they will end up in a loveless, conventional marriage. There is more to Miss Barrett than her poetry. I begin to suspect that her earlier threat that she would carry a dagger on her waist and stab her lover if he cheated on her might not have been a jest.
The postscript reminder to Browning not to spread gossip about Mrs. Norton is a classic touch. If anyone spreads the gossip it will surely be Haydon's jealous children. I guess that never crossed her mind.