Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 8

July 8, 1846 brings big news in the Haydon affair. Browning has attended a dinner the night before during which Miss Barrett and Haydon were the subject of discussion. He writes to report in a letter marked PRIVATE:

"My own Ba, I received your note on my return from Talfourd’s last night: I am anxious to get the first post for this, so can only use the bare words,—if those. After dinner, Forster put a question to our Host about the amount of the Subscription; and in a minute the paper-bequest was introduced: Talfd had received a letter from Miss Mitford, enclosing one from you (or a copy of one .. I did not hear)—whereat he pronounced so emphatically upon H’s conduct in making you,—“who could never have known the nature of the transaction nor the very serious consequences it involved”—the depositary of his pictures &c on such occasions, .. the words, “H. it seems, has been in the habit of using Miss B’s house &c” (or to that effect) had so offensive an implication,—that I felt obliged to say simply, you had never seen Haydon and were altogether amazed and distressed at his desire,—and that, for the other matter, what he chose to send, you could not, I supposed, bring yourself to refuse admittance to the house. I gave no particular account of my own means of knowledge, nor spoke further than to remove the impression from the minds of the people present that you must have “known” Haydon, as they call “knowing”—and Forster, for one, expressed surprize at it. I ventured to repeat what I mentioned to you—“that it seemed likely you were selected for the Editorship precisely on account of your isolation from the world”–

Browning was forced to defend her honor before a room full of people who were suspecting the worst! What a moment in the annals of chivalry!

Soon after, Forster went away—and, up stairs, I got Talfourd alone and just told him that I was in the habit of corresponding with you, that you had made me acquainted with a few of the circumstances, and that you had at once thought of him, Talfourd, as the proper source of instruction on the subject– Talfourd’s reply amounted to this,—(in the fewest words possible)– The will &c is of course an absurdity. The papers are the undoubted property of the creditors .. any attempt to publish them would subject you to an action at law. They were given prospectively to you exactly for the reason I suggested: they having been in the first instance offered to Talfourd. Haydon knew that T. would never print them in their offensive integrity, and hoped that you would—being quite of the average astuteness in worldly matters when his own vanity and selfishness were not concerned. They might, these papers, be published with advantage to Mrs Haydon at some future time if the creditors permit—or without their permitting, if woven into a substantially new frame work,—as some “Haydon & his Times,” or the like.. but there is nothing to call for such a step at present, even in that view of advantage to the family .. the subscription and other assistances being sufficient for their necessities. Therefore the course T. would recommend you to adopt is to let the deposit (if you have one .. for he did not know, and I said nothing)—lie untouched—not giving them up to anybody, any creditor, to Mrs H’s prejudice.

Now, can you do better than as Forster advises? Talfourd goes on circuit To-morrowhe said, “I can hear, or arrange anything with Miss B’s Brother”--so that, if there should be no time, you can write by him, and entrust explanations &c. But would it not be best to get done with this matter directly—to write a brief note in the course of to-day, mentioning the facts, and requesting advice? In order to leave you the time to do this,—should the post presently bring me a letter allowing me to see you at three .. unless the allowance is very free, very irresistible .. I will rather take tomorrow .. a piece of self denial I fear I should not so readily bring myself to exhibit, were I not really obliged to pass your house to-day,—so that even Ba will understand!

Miss Mitford’s note appears to have been none of the wisest—indeed a phrase or two, I heard, were purely foolish: H. was said to have practised “Ion’s” principle!

Miss Mitford does seem to have a habit of writing foolish letters!

T. has known Haydon most intimately and for a long time: he does not believe H was mad– Of a mad vanity, of course. His last paper .. “Haydon’s thoughts” .. was a dissertation on the respective merits of Napoleon and Wellington—how wrong Haydon felt he had been, to prefer the former .. and the why and the wherefore .. all this wretched stuff, in a room theatrically arranged,—here his pictures, there .. God forgive us all, fools or wise by comparison! The debts are said to be £3000 .. he having been an Insolvent debtor .. how long before? His landlord, a poor man, is creditor for £1200.

Here I will end, and wait: this is written in all haste .. and is so altogether no proper letter of mine that I shall put the necessary “Private” at the top of it. My letter shall go presently, if I do not go, to my own Ba–


Should you write to your Brother .. will he need reminding that Talfourd is only to know we correspond,—not that we are personally acquainted? Had you not better mention this in any case?

God bless you, dearest,—what a letter from me to you—to Ba! Time, Time!"

What a tightrope Browning has walked in defending his lady from the gossip of men while at the same time keeping not just the nature of their relationship secret but that they ever even met a secret. This was really an opportunity for Browning to shine in her eyes, not that he didn't already, and he certainly has done admirably so far. How will it play out? This will probably take some time to play out.

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