Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 1846

Let's begin with Browning's daily letter from August 31, 1846:

"Monday Morning.

Here is dearest Ba’s dearest letter, because the latest, and it is one of her very kisses incorporated & made manifest—so perfectly kind! And should this make me ashamed of perhaps an over-earnestness in what I wrote yesterday?—or not rather justify me to myself and to her—since it was on a passing fear of losing what I hold so infinitely precious, that the earnestness happened! My own Ba, you lap me over with love upon love .. there is my first and proper love, independent of any return, and there is this return for what would reward itself. Do think how I must feel at the most transient suggestion of failure, and parting, and an end to all! You cannot expect I can lie quietly and let my life of life be touched. —And ever, dearest, thro’ the life which I trust is about to be permitted us,—ever I shall remember where my treasure is, and turn as vigilantly when it is approached. Beside, I was not very well, as I told you in excuse– I am much better now. Not that, upon reconsideration, I can alter my opinion on the proper course to take. We know all the miracles wrought in our favor hitherto .. are not the chances (speaking in that foolish way) against our expecting more? To-day is fine, sunny and warm, for instance, and looks as if cold weather were a long way off—but what are these fancies and appearances when weighed against the other possibility of a sudden fall of the year? By six months more of days like this we should gain—nothing, nothing in the world, you confess—by the other misfortune, we lose every thing perhaps."
He was in a bad temper and gave vent. I cannot see where he was worried that his treasure was being approached, rather, he was angry that Kenyon had interrupted their meeting. But, he is trying to apologize in his own way, so I will cut him some slack.

"Will you have a homely illustration? There is a tree against our wall here which produced weeks ago a gigantic apple—which my mother had set her heart on showing a cousin of mine who is learned in fruits and trees. I told her, 'you had better pluck it at once—it will fall and be spoiled'– She thought the next day or two would do its cheeks good,—just the next—so there it continued to hang till this morning, when she was about to go out with my sister– I said 'now is the time—you are going to my aunt’s—let me pluck you the apple' .. 'Oh,' she said 'I have been looking at it, trying it,—it hangs so firmly, .. not this time, thank you!' So she went without it, two hours ago—and just now, I turned to the tree with a boding presentiment—there lay our glory, bruised in the dirt, a sad wreck! 'Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love!' Rather, counsel me thro’ apples! Do you see the counsel?"
So Browning thinks that Miss Barrett is ripe for the plucking. Yes, this is a very homely illustration.

"Come, let me not be so ungrateful to the letter, to what you have done for me, as only to speak of what you are disinclined to do. I am very glad you succeeded in going to the chapel, and that the result was so favorable—see how the dangers disappear when one faces them! And the account of Mr Stretton is very interesting, too—besides characteristic—do you see how? Find as great a saint as the world holds, who shall be acknowledged to be utterly disinterested, unbiassed by anything except truth and common justice,—a man of sense as well as piety—and succeed in convincing such an one of our right to do as we purpose,—and then—let him lay the matter before your father!To no other use than to exasperate him against Mr Stretton, deprive your sister of the privilege of seeing his family, and bring about a little more pain and trouble!"
Happily Browning sees that approaching Papa Barrett will be of no use. Finally.

"Let me think of something else .. of the happiness you profess to feel—which it makes me entirely happy to know—I will not try and put away the crown you give me. I just say the obvious truth, .. even what I can do to make you happy, according to my ability, has yet to be experienced by you .. if my thoughts and wishes reach you with any effect at present, they will operate freelier when the obstruction is removed .. that is only natural. I shall live for you, for every minute in your life. May God bless me with such a life, as that it may be of use to you .. yours it must be whether of use or not, for I am wholly your RB

Here comes my mother back .. she is a little better to-day. I am much better as I said– And you? Let me get the kiss I lost on Saturday! (I dined at Arnould’s yesterday with Chorley & his brother, & the Cushmans) Chorley goes tonight to Ostend)."
He ends with a sweet dedication of his life to 'every minute' of hers. But the comment in the postscript sums up his previous letter: He was hacked off because he had to leave her presence deprived of his kiss--after waiting more than a week for an audience. The poor man was frustrated beyond endurance. He wants to remove the 'obstruction' in order to 'operate freelier'. Well, patience is a virtue and he certainly has demonstrated that virtue in abundance. Now what does Miss Barrett have to say? She is responding to his letter of the previous day:
"You are better, dearest,—& so I will confess to having felt a little inclined to reproach you gently for the earlier letter, except that you were not well when you wrote it– That you should endure painfully & impatiently a position unworthy of you, is the natural consequence of the unworthiness—& I do hold that you would be justified at this moment, on the barest motives of selfrespect, in abandoning the whole ground & leaving me to Mr Kenyon & others– What I might complain of, is another thing—what I might complain of is, that I have not given you reason to doubt me or my inclination to accede to any serious wish of yours relating to the step before us– On the contrary I told you in so many words in July, that, if you really wished to go in August rather than in September, I would make no difficulty—to which you answered, remember, that october or november would do as well. Now is it fair, ever dearest, that you should turn round on me so quickly, & call in question my willingness to keep my engagement for years, if ever? Can I help it, if the circumstances around us are painful to both of us?– Did I not keep repeating, from the beginning, that they must be painful? Only you could not believe, you see, until you felt the pricksAnd when all is done, & the doing shall be the occasion of new affronts, sarcasms, every form of injustice, will you be any happier then, than you are now that you only imagine the possibility of them? I tremble to answer that question—even to myself—! As for myself, though I cannot help feeling pain & fear, in encountering what is to be encountered, & though I sometimes fear, in addition, for you, lest you should overtask your serenity in bearing your own part in it, .. yet certainly I have never wavered for a moment from the decision on which all depends– I might fill up your quotations from Prometheus, & say how no evil takes me unaware, having forseen all from the beginning—but I have not the heart for filling up quotations. I mean to say only, that I never wavered from the promise I gave freely,—& that I will keep it freely at any time you choose—that is, within a week of any time you choose."
Everything she says up to this point is quite true, she did promise to go whenever he wanted to go. Saying that Browning has every justification for abandoning her to Mr. Kenyon seems a tad manipulative, but she has felt that he should abandon from the very beginning, so there is nothing new there. In the next section she is trying to mitigate her 'light' words said in 'jest'. We do not know what she said precisely but remember what Browning said in the letter of yesterday: "I am guided by your will, which a word shall signify to me: consider that just such a word, so spoken, even with that lightness, would make me lay my life at your feet at any minute..." It was something that would make Browning want to lay down his life. Despite her very strong proclivity to teaze, this could not have been a simple teaze, this would have been more of a test cast made out of nervousness. At least she asks for forgiveness before she accuses him of unkindness:
"As to a light word … why now, dear, judge me in justice! If I had written it, there might have been more wrong in it– But I spoke it lightly to show it was light, & in the next breath I told you that it was a jest– Will you not forgive me a word so spoken, Robert? will you rather set it against me as if habitually I threw to you levities in change for earnest devotion?——you imply that of me– Or you seem to imply it—you did not mean, you could not, a thought approaching to unkindness,—but it looks like that in the letter, or did, this morning. And all the time, you pretended not to know very well, .. (dearest! ..) that what you made up your mind to wish & ask of me, I had not in my power to say ‘no’ to– Ah, you knew that you had only to make up your mind,—& to see that the thing was possible– So if September shall be possible, let it be September. I do not object nor hold back. To sail from the Thames has not the same feasibility—& listen why! All the sailing or rather steaming from London, begins early,—& I told you how out of the question it was, for me to leave this house early. I could not, without involving my sisters. Arabel sleeps in my room, on the sofa, & is seldom out of the room before nine in the morning—& for me to draw her into a ruinous confidence, or to escape without a confidence at that hour, would be equally impossible– Now see if it is my fancy, my whim!– And as for the expenses, they are as nearly equal as a shilling & two sixpences can be—the expense of the sea voyage from London to Havre, & of the land & sea voyage, through Southampton .. or Brighton– But of course what you say of Brighton, keeps us to Southampton, of those two routes. We can go to Southampton & meet the packet .. take the river-steamer to Rouen, & proceed as rapidly as your programme shows– You are not angry with me, dearest, dearest? I did not mean any harm."
She acquiesces to leaving in September, explains why she can't leave the house in the morning, changes the subject a bit and then in a fit of guilt asks him not to be angry with her. She knows she was a naughty girl. So all the fuss over their shortened visit has paid some dividend. They are getting that much closer to leaving town.
"May God bless you always– I am not angry either, understand, though I did think this morning that you were a little hard on me, just when I felt myself ready to give up the whole world for you at the holding up of a finger– And now say nothing of this– I kiss the end of the dear finger,—& when it is ready, I am ready,—I will not be reproached again– Being too much your own, very own Ba–
Tell me that you keep better– And your mother?"
She is going when he says go and she 'will not be reproached again.' She asserts her will!

August 31, 1845

Miss Barrett has received Browning's latest declaration of love and on August 31, 1845 responds:

"I did not think you were angry—I never said so. But you might reasonably have been wounded a little, if you had suspected me of blaming you for any bearing of yours towards myself; and this was the amount of my fear—or rather hope ... since I conjectured most that you were not well. And after all you did think ... do think ... that in some way or for some moment I blamed you, disbelieved you, distrusted you—or why this letter? How have I provoked this letter? Can I forgive myself for having even seemed to have provoked it? and will you believe me that if for the past's sake you sent it, it was unnecessary, and if for the future's, irrelevant?"

He loves her and she knows it and knew it but it is 'irrelevant'. You didn't think this was going to be easy did you?

"Which I say from no want of sensibility to the words of it—your words always make themselves felt—but in fulness of purpose not to suffer you to hold to words because they have been said, nor to say them as if to be holden by them. Why, if a thousand more such words were said by you to me, how could they operate upon the future or present, supposing me to choose to keep the possible modification of your feelings, as a probability, in my sight and yours? Can you help my sitting with the doors all open if I think it right? I do attest to you—while I trust you, as you must see, in word and act, and while I am confident that no human being ever stood higher or purer in the eyes of another, than you do in mine,—that you would still stand high and remain unalterably my friend, if the probability in question became a fact, as now at this moment. And this I must say, since you have said other things: and this alone, which I have said, concerns the future, I remind you earnestly."

She is still thinking that he is simply obsessed with her and will get over it. She 'believes' that he 'believes' he loves her but assures him that even if he decides that he doesn't, after all, she will still admire him. Notice she does not say she loves him nor that she does not love him. She cannot throw that into the equation at this point. She doesn't want to encourage him.

"My dearest friend—you have followed the most generous of impulses in your whole bearing to me—and I have recognised and called by its name, in my heart, each one of them. Yet I cannot help adding that, of us two, yours has not been quite the hardest part ... I mean, to a generous nature like your own, to which every sort of nobleness comes easily. Mine has been more difficult—and I have sunk under it again and again: and the sinking and the effort to recover the duty of a lost position, may have given me an appearance of vacillation and lightness, unworthy at least of you, and perhaps of both of us. Notwithstanding which appearance, it was right and just (only just) of you, to believe in me—in my truth—because I have never failed to you in it, nor been capable of such failure: the thing I have said, I have meant ... always: and in things I have not said, the silence has had a reason somewhere different perhaps from where you looked for it. And this brings me to complaining that you, who profess to believe in me, do yet obviously believe that it was only merely silence, which I required of you on one occasion—and that if I had 'known your power over yourself,' I should not have minded ... no! In other words you believe of me that I was thinking just of my own (what shall I call it for a motive base and small enough?) my own scrupulousness ... freedom from embarrassment! of myself in the least of me; in the tying of my shoestrings, say!—so much and no more! Now this is so wrong, as to make me impatient sometimes in feeling it to be your impression: I asked for silence—but also and chiefly for the putting away of ... you know very well what I asked for. And this was sincerely done, I attest to you. You wrote once to me ... oh, long before May and the day we met: that you 'had been so happy, you should be now justified to yourself in taking any step most hazardous to the happiness of your life'—but if you were justified, could I be therefore justified in abetting such a step,—the step of wasting, in a sense, your best feelings ... of emptying your water gourds into the sand? What I thought then I think now—just what any third person, knowing you, would think, I think and feel. I thought too, at first, that the feeling on your part was a mere generous impulse, likely to expand itself in a week perhaps. It affects me and has affected me, very deeply, more than I dare attempt to say, that you should persist so—and if sometimes I have felt, by a sort of instinct, that after all you would not go on to persist, and that (being a man, you know) you might mistake, a little unconsciously, the strength of your own feeling; you ought not to be surprised; when I felt it was more advantageous and happier for you that it should be so. In any case, I shall never regret my own share in the events of this summer, and your friendship will be dear to me to the last. You know I told you so—not long since. And as to what you say otherwise, you are right in thinking that I would not hold by unworthy motives in avoiding to speak what you had any claim to hear. But what could I speak that would not be unjust to you? Your life! if you gave it to me and I put my whole heart into it; what should I put but anxiety, and more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you, which it would not be ungenerous to give? Therefore we must leave this subject—and I must trust you to leave it without one word more; (too many have been said already—but I could not let your letter pass quite silently ... as if I had nothing to do but to receive all as matter of course so!) while you may well trust me to remember to my life's end, as the grateful remember; and to feel, as those do who have felt sorrow (for where these pits are dug, the water will stand), the full price of your regard. May God bless you, my dearest friend. I shall send this letter after I have seen you, and hope you may not have expected to hear sooner. Ever yours, E.B.B."

She persists in trying to talk him out of it. But Browning should take heart here because despite all her threats that she would not see him if he brought up the subject again, she is not cutting him off.
I also appreciate that she admits that this is partially her fault due to her 'vacillation and lightness'. She has encouraged him with the growing intimacy of her personal revelation. She also takes umbrage at the idea that she rejected him because she was simply embarrassed. I think she is correct but the fact that that bothers her makes me think there is a certain strain of truth. She is shy but she is also meticulous in her wording, making all of her arguments clear. She adds a post script:

"Monday, 6 p.m.—I send in disobedience to your commands, Mrs. Shelley's book—but when books accumulate and when besides, I want to let you have the American edition of my poems ... famous for all manner of blunders, you know; what is to be done but have recourse to the parcel-medium? You were in jest about being at Pisa before or as soon as we were?—oh no—that must not be indeed—we must wait a little!—even if you determine to go at all, which is a question of doubtful expediency. Do take more exercise, this week, and make war against those dreadful sensations in the head—now, will you?"

Late summer of 1845 there was a growing expectation that Miss Barrett would be sent to Europe during the winter for her health. Papa Barrett had suggested that Miss Barrett call in Dr. Chambers to ascertain whether it be advisable for her to travel to Europe. Dr. Chambers was no mere family doctor, he was physician to Queen Victoria and thus considered top of the mark for 19th century England.  Dr. Chambers examined her on August 30, 1845. She wrote to her brother George outlining the findings:

"He said, after using the stethoscope, that a very slight affection of the left lung was observed but which threatened no serious result whatever, if I did but take precautions...and he not merely advised but ENJOINED the trial of a warm climate..naming Pisa. It is the very best thing I could do, he said--& everything in the way of restoration was to be expected from it."

And here she makes the same point to Miss Mitford:

"Papa wished me to see Chambers and have his advice-and I sent for him, and was examined with that dreadful stethoscope, and received his command to go without fail to Pisa by sea. He said that is was the obvious thing to do--and that he not merely advised it but enjoined it--that there was nothing for me but warm other possible remedy....You see there is nothing for me in England during the winter, but to be shut up as I have been:--and the cold kills me and the seclusion exhausts me...and there is no possible alternative here."

But having ascertained that she should travel to a warmer clime for her health Papa Barrett is holding a delaying action and will not give his permission to go. We do not get his point of view from these letters. Perhaps he did not want her to go due to the expense, after all the cost would have to cover Miss Barrett, Arabel Barrett, a maid and one of the Barrett brothers. Perhaps he simply did not like the idea of Miss Barrett traveling out of England. If she were to become even more ill he would not be able to join them easily and handle the arrangements. Or it could be that he simply did not want her to go because he could not so easily control her while she and her siblings were on the Continent. We will never know his motivations, we can only guess.

Browning, in the midst of all this, is planning on travelling to Italy himself, hoping to meet her on the Continent. They way this proposed trip plays out will have a major affect on both of their futures.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30, 1846

On August 30, 1846 we witness Browning blow a gasket. After putting off their meeting at Wimpole Street repeatedly due to Miss Barrett's constantly present family and visitors Browning finally arrived on August 29th only to be interrupted by the ubiquitous Mr. Kenyon. Browning is not happy:

"I wonder what I shall write to you, Ba– I could suppress my feelings here, as I do on other points, and say nothing of the hatefulness of this state of things which is prolonged so uselessly. There is the point—show me one good reason, or show of reason, why we gain anything by deferring our departure till next week instead of to-morrow, and I will bear to perform yesterday’s part for the amusement of Mr Kenyon a dozen times over without complaint. But if the cold plunge must be taken, all this shivering delay on the bank is hurtful as well as fruitless. I do understand your anxieties, dearest– I take your fears and make them mine, while I put my own natural feeling of quite another kind away from us both .. succeeding in that beyond all expectation. There is no amount of patience or suffering I would not undergo to relieve you from these apprehensions. But if, on the whole, you really determine to act as we propose in spite of them,—why, a new leaf is turned over in our journal, an old part of our adventure done with, and a new one entered upon, altogether distinct from the other: having once decided to go to Italy with me, the next thing to decide, is on the best means of going: or rather, there is just this connection between the two measures, that by the success or failure of the last, the first will have to be justified or condemned. You tell me you have decided to go—then, dearest, you will be prepared to go earlier than you promised yesterday—by the end of September at very latest. In proportion to the too probable excitement and painful circumstances of the departure, the greater amount of advantages should be secured for the departure itself. How can I take you away in even the beginning of of October? We shall be a fortnight on the journey—with the year, as everybody sees and says, a full month in advance .. cold mornings and dark evenings already– Everybody would cry out on such folly when it was found that we let the favourable weather escape, in full assurance that the autumn would come to us unattended by any one beneficial circumstance.

My own dearest, I am wholly your own, for ever, and under every determination of yours. If you find yourself unable, or unwilling to make this effort, tell me so and plainly and at once– I will not offer a word in objection: I will continue our present life, if you please, so far as may be desirable, and wait till next autumn, and the next and the next, till providence end our waiting. It is clearly not for me to pretend to instruct you in your duties to God & yourself .. enough, that I have long ago chosen to accept your decision. If, on the other hand, you make up your mind to leave England now, you will be prepared by the end of September

I should think myself the most unworthy of human beings if I could employ any arguments with the remotest show of a tendency to frighten you into a compliance with any scheme of mine– Those methods are for people in another relation to you. But you love me, and, at lowest, shall I say, wish me well—and the fact is too obvious for me to commit any indelicacy in reminding you, that in any dreadful event to our journey, of which I could accuse myself as the cause,—as of this undertaking to travel with you in the worst time of year when I could have taken the best,—in the case of your health being irretrievably shaken, for instance .. the happiest fate I should pray for would be to live and die in some corner where I might never hear a word of the English language, much less a comment in it on my own wretched imbecility, .. to disappear and be forgotten.

So that must not be, for all our sakes– My family will give me to you that we may be both of us happy .. but for such an end—no!

Dearest, do you think all this earnestness foolish and uncalled for?– That I might know you spoke yesterday in mere jest,—as yourself said, 'only to hear what I would say'? Ah but, consider, my own Ba, the way of our life, as it is, and is to be: a word, a simple word from you, is not as a word is counted in the world: the bond between us is different .. I am guided by your will, which a word shall signify to me: consider that just such a word, so spoken, even with that lightness, would make me lay my life at your feet at any minute: should we gain anything by my trying, if I could, to deaden the sense of hearing, dull the medium of communication between us; and procuring that, instead of this prompt rising of my will at the first intimation from yours; the same effect should only follow after fifty speeches, and as many protestations of complete serious desire for their success on your part, accompanied by all kinds of acts and deeds and other evidences of the same?

At all events, God knows I have said this in the deepest, truest love of you. I will say no more, praying you to forgive whatever you shall judge to need forgiveness here,—dearest Ba! I will also say, if that may help me,—and what otherwise I might not have said, that I am not too well this morning, and write with an aching head. My mother’s suffering continues too.

My friend Pritchard tells me that Brighton is not to be thought of under ordinary circumstances as a point of departure for Havre. Its one packet a week, from Shoreham, cannot get in if the wind & tide are unfavourable. There is the greatest uncertainty in consequence .. as I have heard before: while, of course, from Southampton, the departures are calculated punctually. He considers that the least troublesome plan, and the cheapest, is to go from London to Havre .. the voyage being so arranged that the river passage takes up the day and the sea-crossing the night—you reach Havre early in the morning and get to Paris by four oclock, perhaps, in the afternoon .. in time, to leave for Orleans and spend the night there, I suppose.

Do I make myself particularly remarkable for silliness when confronted by our friend as yesterday?—And the shortened visit,—and comments of everybody. Oh, Mr Hunter, methinks you should be of some use to me with those amiable peculiarities of yours, if you would just dye your hair black, take a stick in your hand, sink the clerical character you do such credit to, and have the goodness just to deliver yourself of one such epithet as that pleasant one, the next time you find me on the steps of No. 50, with Mr Kenyon somewhere higher up in the building! It is delectable work this having to do with relatives and 'freemen who have a right to beat their own negroes' and father Zeus with his paternal epistles, and peggings to the rock, and immense indignation at 'this marriage you talk of' which is to release his victim– Is Mr Kenyon Hermes? "
Here Browning is visualizing the Barrett household in a vision of the Greek myths with Papa Barretts as Zeus throwing thunderbolts at his slaves, the visiting aunts as the Chorus and Mr. Kenyon as Hermes who cautioned against defiance. As for Mr. Hunter, Browning does not take well to having been called by the epithet "New Cross Knight" and imagines Hunter sans his gray hair and clerical collar so that he could place his fist briskly to the Rev. Hunter's nose. Yes, I would say that Browning is peeved. So he contributes some Greek to the soap opera:

"Εἰσελθετω σε μηποθ' ὡς ἐγω, Διος
γνωμην φοβηθεις, θηλυγους γενησομαι,
και λιπαρησω τον μεγα συγούμενον
γυναικομιμοις ὑπτιασμασιν χερών,
λυσαι με δεσμων τωνδε
του παντος δεω.
Chorus of Aunts: ᾽ημðιν μεν ῾Ερμης ουκ ακαιρα φαινεται
λεγειν· κ.τ.λ.
[Oh! think no more
That I, fear-struck by Zeus to a woman’s mind,
Will supplicate him, loathed as he is,
With womanly upliftings of my hands,
To break these chains! Far from me be the thoughts!
Chorus. This Hermes suits his reasons to the times—
At least I think so!]

Well, bless you in any case–

Your own RB"
Miss Barrett writes today as well:
"I have just come from the vestry in Paddington chapel, & bore it very well, & saw nobody except one woman. Arabel went with me, & during the singing we escaped & stood outside the door. Now, that is over,—& the next time I shall care less. It was a rambling sermon, which I could hear distinctly through the open door, quite wanting in coherence, but with good & touching things in it, the more touching that they came from a preacher whose life is known to us .. from Mr Stratten, for whom I have the greatest respect, though he never looked into Shakespeare till he was fifty, & shut the book quickly, perhaps, afterward– He is the very ideal of his class,—&, with some of the narrow views peculiar to it, has a heart of miraculous breadth & depth,—loving further than he can see, pitying beyond what he can approve, having in him a divine Christian spirit, the ‘love of love’ in the most expansive form. How that man is beloved by his congregation, the members of his church, by his children, his friends, is wonderful to see—for everybody seems to love him from afar, as a man is loved who is of a purer nature than others– There is that reverence in the love– And yet no fear. His children have been encouraged & instructed to speak aloud before him on religion & other subjects in all freedom of conscience—he turns to his little daughter seriously 'to hear what she thinks'. The other day his eldest son, whom he had hoped to see succeed him at Paddington, determined to enter the Church of England: his wife became quite ill with grief about it, & to himself perhaps it was a trial, a disappointment. With the utmost gentleness & tenderness however, he desired him to take time for thought & act according to his conscience.– I believe for my part that there never was a holier man .. 'except those bonds' .. never a man who more resolutely trod under his feet every form of evil & selfish passion when it was once recognized, & looked to God & the truth with a directer aspiration. Once I could not help wishing to put our affairs into his hands to settle them for us—but that would be wrong—because Papa would forbid Arabel’s going to the chapel or communicating with his family, & it would be depriving her of a comfort she holds dear– Oh no– And besides, you are wise in taking the other view–"
The Rev. Stratten certainly gets a rave review from Miss Barrett.
"Think of our waiting day after day to fall into the net so, yesterday! How I was provoked & vexed—but more for you, dearest dearest, than for me—much more for you. As for me I saw you, which was joy enough, let the hours be ever so clipped of their natural proportions—& then, you know, you were obliged to go soon, whether Mr Kenyon had come or not come. After you were gone, nothing was said, & nothing asked—and it is delightful to have heard of those intended absences one upon another till far into October, which will secure us from future embarrassments. See if he means to put us to the question! Not such a thing is in his thoughts."
So Mr. Kenyon is going away. Perfect timing!
"And I said what you 'would not have believed of me'! Have you forgiven me, beloved, for saying what you would not have believed of me,—understanding that I did not mean it very seriously, though I proved to be capable of saying it? Seriously, I dont want to make unnecessary delays– It is a horrible position, however I may cover it with your roses & the thoughts of you—& far worse to myself than to you, inasmuch that what is painful to you once a week, is to me so continually– To hear the voice of my father & meet his eye, makes me shrink back—to talk to my brothers, leaves my nerves all trembling .. & even to receive the sympathy of my sisters turns into sorrow & fear, lest they should suffer through their affection for me. How I can look & sleep as well as I do, is a miracle exactly like the rest—or would be, if the love were not the deepest & strongest thing of all, & did not hold & possess me overcomingly. I feel myself to be yours notwithstanding every other influence, & being yours, cannot but be happy by you. Ah—let people talk as they please of the happiness of early youth! Mrs Jameson did, the other day, when she wished kindly to take her young niece with her to the continent, that she might enjoy what in a few years she could not so much enjoy. There is a sort of blind joy common perhaps to such times—a blind joy which blunts itself with its own leaps & bounds; peculiar to a time of comparative ignorance & inexperience of evil:—but I for my part, with all the capacity for happiness which I had from the beginning, I look back & listen to my whole life, & feel sure of what I have already told you, .. that I am happier now than I ever was before .. infinitely happier now, through you .. infinitely happier; even now in this position I have just called ‘horrible’. When I hear you say for instance, that you ‘love me perceptibly more’ … why I cannot, cannot be more happy than when I hear you say that—going to Italy seems nothing! a vulgar walk to Primrose Hill after being caught up to the third Heaven!–I think nothing of Italy now, though I shall enjoy it of course when the time comes. I think only that you love me, that you are the angel of my life,—& for the despair & desolation behind me, they serve to mark the hour of your coming,—& they are behind, as Italy is before. Never can you feel for me, Robert, as I feel for you .. it is not possible of course. I am yours in a way & degree which the tenderest of other women could not be at her will– Which you know. Why should I repeat it to you? Why, except that it is a reason to prove that we cannot, as you say, 'ever be a common wife & husband'. But I dont think I was intending to give proofs of that—no, indeed.
Tomorrow I shall hear from you. Say how your mother is, in the second letter if you do not in the first– May God bless you & keep you dearest beloved—"
A contrasting pair of letters. Browning is palpably angry and frustrated. She seems to be feeling the same frustration but seems more sanguine about it. She certainly has more personal anxiety than Browning who has nothing but total support at home. She is being deceitful to everyone she talks to everyday. The only ones she isn't hiding the truth from are Browning and Boyd. And she is certainly not a dishonest person, although she has freely acknowledged that she and her siblings freely lie to their father. But even so, she believes she is happy in the love that brings the pain and certainly is not angry.

August 30, 1845

Miss Barrett is worried. She sent a letter to Browning on August 27 and by August 30 she has not heard back from him. What had she done?

I do not hear; and come to you to ask the alms of just one line, having taken it into my head that something is the matter. It is not so much exactingness on my part, as that you spoke of meaning to write as soon as you received a note of mine ... which went to you five minutes afterwards ... which is three days ago, or will be when you read this. Are you not well—or what? Though I have tried and wished to remember having written in the last note something very or even a little offensive to you, I failed in it and go back to the worse fear. For you could not be vexed with me for talking of what was 'your fault' ... 'your own fault,' viz. in having to read sentences which, but for your commands, would have been blotted out. You could not very well take that for serious blame! from me too, who have so much reason and provocation for blaming the archangel Gabriel.—No—you could not misinterpret so,—and if you could not, and if you are not displeased with me, you must be unwell, I think. I took for granted yesterday that you had gone out as before—but to-night it is different—and so I come to ask you to be kind enough to write one word for me by some post to-morrow. Now remember ... I am not asking for a letter—but for a word ... or line strictly speaking. Ever yours, dear friend, E.B.B."

She told him her greatest sorrow and sin and he responded immediately but then went silent. But it turns out that he was writing at the same time as she and their letters cross in the mail, for here is Browning's letter of the same date:

"This sweet Autumn Evening, Friday, comes all golden into the room and makes me write to you—not think of you—yet what shall I write?

It must be for another time ... after Monday, when I am to see you, you know, and hear if the headache be gone, since your note would not round to the perfection of kindness and comfort, and tell me so. God bless my dearest friend. R.B.

I am much better—well, indeed—thank you."

But then he got her letter and responded immediately. Thus ends all pretense:

"Can you understand me so, dearest friend, after all? Do you see me—when I am away, or with you—'taking offence' at words, 'being vexed' at words, or deeds of yours, even if I could not immediately trace them to their source of entire, pure kindness; as I have hitherto done in every smallest instance?

I believe in you absolutely, utterly—I believe that when you bade me, that time, be silent—that such was your bidding, and I was silent—dare I say I think you did not know at that time the power I have over myself, that I could sit and speak and listen as I have done since? Let me say now—this only once—that I loved you from my soul, and gave you my life, so much of it as you would take,—and all that is done, not to be altered now: it was, in the nature of the proceeding, wholly independent of any return on your part. I will not think on extremes you might have resorted to; as it is, the assurance of your friendship, the intimacy to which you admit me, now, make the truest, deepest joy of my life—a joy I can never think fugitive while we are in life, because I know, as to me, I could not willingly displease you,—while, as to you, your goodness and understanding will always see to the bottom of involuntary or ignorant faults—always help me to correct them. I have done now. If I thought you were like other women I have known, I should say so much!—but—(my first and last word—I believe in you!)—what you could and would give me, of your affection, you would give nobly and simply and as a giver—you would not need that I tell you—(tell you!)—what would be supreme happiness to me in the event—however distant—

I repeat ... I call on your justice to remember, on your intelligence to believe ... that this is merely a more precise stating the first subject; to put an end to any possible misunderstanding—to prevent your henceforth believing that because I do not write, from thinking too deeply of you, I am offended, vexed &c. &c. I will never recur to this, nor shall you see the least difference in my manner next Monday: it is indeed, always before me ... how I know nothing of you and yours. But I think I ought to have spoken when I did—and to speak clearly ... or more clearly what I do, as it is my pride and duty to fall back, now, on the feeling with which I have been in the meantime—Yours—God bless you—


Let me write a few words to lead into Monday—and say, you have probably received my note. I am much better—with a little headache, which is all, and fast going this morning. Of yours you say nothing—I trust you see your ... dare I say your duty in the Pisa affair, as all else must see it—shall I hear on Monday? And my 'Saul' that you are so lenient to. Bless you ever— "

I was going to say that was clear, but I must amend that to say that is clear for Browning. I love the notion that he does not write because he was thinking 'too deeply' of her. But really, this is do or die because she had told him previously that if he did persist in the way of love she would no longer see him. He must be pretty sure of himself at this point to have declared himself this openly. Now we must wait and see Miss Barrett's reaction.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28

Let's hear from Browning first on August 28, 1846:

I was beginning to dress, hours before the proper time, thro’ the confidence of seeing you now,—after the letter which came early in the morning,—when this new letter changes everything. It just strikes me, what a comfort it is that whenever such a disappointment is inevitable, your hand or voice announces it, and not anothers—no second person bids me stay away for good reasons I must take in trust, leaving me to deal with the innumerable fancies that arise: on the contrary, you contrive that with the one misfortune, twenty kindnesses shall reach me: can I be very sorry now, for instance, that you tell me why it is, and how it affects you, and how it will affect me in the end? dear Ba, if you will not believe in the immortality of love, do think the poor thought that when love shall end, gratitude will begin!

I altogether agree with you .. it is best to keep away: we can not be too cautious now at the 'end of things'– I am prepared for difficulties enough, without needing to cause them by any rashness or wilfulness of my own. I really expect, for example, that out of the various plans of these sympathizing friends and relatives some one will mature itself sufficiently to be directly proposed to you, for your acceptance or refusal, contingent on your father’s approbation; the shortness of the remaining travelling season serving to compel a speedy development. Or what if your father, who was the first to propose, or at least talk about, a voyage to Malta or elsewhere, when you took no interest in the matter comparatively,—and who perhaps chiefly found fault with last year’s scheme from its not originating with himself .. what if he should again determine on some such voyage now that you are apparently as obedient to his wishes as can be desired? Would it be strange, not to say improbable, if he tells you some fine morning that your passage is taken to Madeira, or Palermo? Because, all the attempts in the world cannot hide the truth from the mind, any more than all five fingers before the eyes keep out the sun at noonday,—you see a red thro’ them all—and your father must see your improved health and strength, and divine the opinion of everybody round him as to the simple, proper course for the complete restoration of them. Therefore be prepared, my own Ba!"
Browning is having a pipe dream in this paragraph. One would think that Miss Barrett's improved health would more likely convince her father that she did not need to go away for her health's sake because she was getting better right there in Wimpole Street.

"In any case, I trust in you wholly–

There is nothing to decide upon, with respect to Mrs Jameson– The reasons for not sharing that confidence with her are irrefragable. I only thought of you, dearest, who have to bear her all but direct enquiries: you know, I undergo nothing of the kind. Any such arrangement as that of taking her up at Orleans would be very practicable. I rejoice in your desire (by the way) of going rapidly on, stopping nowhere, till we reach our appointed place—because that spirit helps the body wonderfully—and, in this case, exactly corresponds with mine. Above all, I should hate to be seen at Paris by anybody a few days only after our adventure– Chorley will be there, and the Arnoulds,—for one party!
What could it be, you thought should make you 'sorry', in that letter of yesterday, love? What was I to 'forgive'? Certainly you are unforgiven hitherto, for the best of reasons.

And assure yourself, dearest, that I have told my family nothing that can possibly mislead them. Remember that I have the advantage of knowing those I speak to,—their tastes, and understandings, and notions of what is advantageous and what otherwise. I spoke the simple truth about your heart—of your mind they knew something already– I explained your position with respect to your father .. unfortunately, a very few plain words do that .. I mean, a few facts, such as the parish register could supply .. sufficiently to exonerate you and me.

As to my copyrights, I never meant to sell them—it would be foolish: because, since some little time, and in consequence of the establishment of the fact that my poems,—even in their present disadvantageous form, without advertisements, and unnoticed by the influential journals—do somehow manage to pay their expenses, I have had one direct offer to print a new edition,—and there are reasons for thinking, two or three booksellers, that I know, would come to terms. Smith & Elder, for instance, wrote to offer to print any poem about Italy, in any form, with any amount of advertisements, on condition of sharing profits .. taking all risk off my hands .. concluding with more than a hint that if that proposition was not favorable enough, they would try and agree to any reasonable demand.

Because Moxon is the 'slowest' of publishers, and if one of his books can only contrive to pay its expenses, you may be sure that a more enterprising brother of the craft would have sent it into a second or third edition. Yet Moxon’s slow self even, anticipates success for the next venture. Now the fact is, not having really cared about anything except not losing too much money, I have taken very little care of my concerns in that way—not calling on Moxon for months together. But all will be different now—and I shall look into matters, and turn my experience to account, such as it is."
Finally Browning is starting to look at art as commodity. Excellent. At least he is getting nibbles from a publisher who is willing to front the cost of publication rather than having to personally finance the books. Miss Barrett may make a practical man of him yet.

"Well,—I am yours, you are mine, dearest Ba! I love you, I think, perceptibly more in these latter days! Is this absence contrived on purpose to prove how foolishly I said that I loved you the more from seeing you the oftener? Ah, you reconcile all extremes, destroy the force of all logic-books, my father’s or mine—that was true, but this is also true (logical or no) that I now love you thro’ not seeing you,—loving more, as I desire more to be with you, my best, dearest wife that will be .. (I could not help writing it—why should it sound sweetlier than 'Ba'?)
Your very own RB"
Oh my, this is getting serious! What does Miss Barrett say today?
"Will you come, dearest, after all? Judge for both of us. The Hedleys go tomorrow morning & we shall not see them after tonight when they are dining here: but Mr Kenyon has not paid his visit, & may come tomorrow, or may take sunday which he is fond of doing——is it worth while to be afraid of Mr Kenyon? What do you think? I leave it to your wisdom which is the greatest. Perhaps he may not come till monday—yet he may.
Dearest, I have had all your thoughts by turns, or most of them, .. & each one has withered away without coming to bear fruit. Papa seems to have no more idea of my living beyond these four walls, than of a journey to Lapland– I confess that I thought it possible he might propose the country for the summer, or even Italy for the winter—in a 'late remorse'—but no, nothing! & there is not a probability of either now, as I see things– My brothers 'wish that something could be arranged'—a wish which I put away quietly as often as they bring it to me. And for my uncle & aunt, they have been talking to me today—& she, with her usual acuteness in such matters, observing my evasion, said, 'Ah Ba, you have arranged your plans more than you would have us believe– But you are right not to tell us– Indeed I would rather not hear. Only dont be rash, that is my only advice to you.'
I thought she had touched the truth, & wondered—but since then, from another of her words, I came to conclude that she imagined me about to accept the convoy of Henrietta & Captain Cook!—— She said in respect to them—'I only say, that your father’s consent ought to be asked, as a form of respect to him'. Which, in their case, should be, I think:—and should also in ours, but for the peculiar position of one of us– My uncle urged me to keep firm & go to Italy, and my aunt, though she wd not advise, she said, yet thought that I 'ought to go', & that to live on in this fashion in this room, was lamentable to contemplate– Both of them approved of the French route, & urged me to go to them in Paris—'And', said my uncle kindly, 'when once we have you, we shall not bear to part with you, I think'.
(Do you really imagine, by the way, that to appear in Paris for one half minute to a single soul, would be less detestable to me than to you?– I shall take care that nobody belonging to me there, shall hear of my being within a hundred miles—and why need we stay in Paris the half minute? Not, unless you pause to demand an audience of Mr Chorley at the Barriere des Etoiles.[one of the gates of Paris])"
As we shall see they do linger in Paris, but not to socialize with the Hedleys or Chorley.
"While we were talking, Papa came into the room– My aunt said, 'How well she is looking.' 'Do you think so?' he asked. 'Why, .. do not you think so? Do you pretend to say that you see no surprising difference in her?' 'Oh, I dont know', he went on to say .. 'she is mumpish, I think'. Mumpish!
'She does’nt talk' resumed he–
'Perhaps she is nervous' .. my aunt apologized. I said not one word. When birds have their eyes put out, they are apt to be mumpish."
Rather than lie to her father or give herself away she has stopped chatting with her father. He has noticed. This phrase about birds having their eyes put out is peculiar. I wonder if it is a literary reference. Anyone?
"Mumpish!– The expression proved a displeasure– Yet I am sure that I have shown as little sullenness as was possible– To be very talkative & vivacious under such circumstances as these of mine, would argue insensibility, & was certainly beyond my power.
I told her gently afterwards that she had been wrong in speaking of me at all—a wrong with a right intention,—as all her wrongings must be. She was very sorry to have done it, she said, & looked sorry.
Poor Papa!– Presently I shall be worse to him than ‘mumpish’ even. But then, I hope, he will try to forgive me, as I have forgiven him, long ago."
The exchange with her Aunt Hedley seems illustrative as well. She admonishes her aunt that she should not have spoken about her at all and she herself will not chat with her father. She wants to disappear to him. Rather difficult when you live in the same house with a man.
"My own beloved .. do you know that your letter caught me in the act of wondering whether the absence would do me harm with you, according to that memorable theory. And so, in the midst, came the solution of the doubt—you do not love me less. Nay, you love me more—ah, but if you say so, I am capable of wishing not to see you for a month added to the week! For did I not once confess to you that I loved your love as much as I loved you .. or very, very, very nearly as much?. Not precisely so much.
Confiteor tibi [I confess to thee]– But I will sing a penitential psalm low to myself, & do the act of penance by seeing you tomorrow if you choose to come,—& then you shall absolve me & give me the Benedicite [blessing], which, if you come, you cannot keep back, because it comes with you of necessity.
Not a word of your head, nor of your mother! You should come, I think, tomorrow, if only to say it. Yet let us be wise to the end– Be you wise to the end, & decide between saturday & monday. And I, for my part, promise to go to Italy, only with you—do not be afraid.
And for your poetry, I believe in it as ‘golden water’—& the ‘singing tree’ does not hide it from me with all the overdropping branches & leaves– In fact, the chief inconvenience we are likely to suffer from, in the way of income, is the having too much– Dont you think so? But in that case, we will buy an island of our own in one of those purple seas,—& inherit the sun—or perhaps the shadow, .. of Calypso’s cave.
So do not be uneasy, dearest! not even lest I should wish to spend three weeks in Paris, to show myself at the Champs Elysées & the opera, & gather a little glory after what you happily call 'our adventure'.
Our adventure, indeed! But it is you who are adventurous in the matter,—& as any Red Cross Knight of them all, whom you exceed in their chivalry proper.
Chiappino little knew how right he was, when he used to taunt me with my 'New Cross Knight'. He did. Ah!– Even if he had talked of ‘Rosie Cross,’ he would not have been so far wide. The magic ‘saute aux yeux [leaps to the eyes]’.
This is a reference to the Rev. George Barrett Hunter, Miss Barrett's angry suitor, who was trying to be snide and criticise Browning with his less than chic address in the New Cross suburb of London. But Hunter's contempt for Browning was turned into an endearment by Miss Barrett who really did see Browning as a chivalrous knight, probably because he was amazingly chivalrous, acting with a honor fast expiring even in Victorian England. A remnant of a bygone era.
"And now, will you come tomorrow I wonder, or not? The answer is in you–
And I am your own, ever & as ever!
And you thought I was dying with a desire to tell Mrs Jameson!!——I!"

Monday, August 27, 2012

August 27, 1845

August 27, 1845 Browning responds to Miss Barrett's heartbreaking letter of August 25th, in which she described the death of her brother and her reaction to it:

"On the subject of your letter—quite irrespective of the injunction in it—I would not have dared speak; now, at least. But I may permit myself, perhaps, to say I am most grateful, most grateful, dearest friend, for this admission to participate, in my degree, in these feelings. There is a better thing than being happy in your happiness; I feel, now that you teach me, it is so. I will write no more now; though that sentence of 'what you are expecting,—that I shall be tired of you &c.,'—though I could blot that out of your mind for ever by a very few words now,—for you would believe me at this moment, close on the other subject:—but I will take no such advantage—I will wait.

I have many things (indifferent things, after those) to say; will you write, if but a few lines, to change the associations for that purpose? Then I will write too.—
May God bless you,—in what is past and to come! I pray that from my heart, being yours RB"

Perfect. He acknowledges the honor that she shared her deepest emotions with him. Offered no opinion and made the point that he will not take advantage of her vulnerabilities. Good man.

Miss Barrett immediately writes back, changing the subject back to her favorite subject, poetry. Browning has sent her his poem 'Saul' to read:

"But your 'Saul' is unobjectionable as far as I can see, my dear friend. He was tormented by an evil spirit—but how, we are not told ... and the consolation is not obliged to be definite, ... is it? A singer was sent for as a singer—and all that you are called upon to be true to, are the general characteristics of David the chosen, standing between his sheep and his dawning hereafter, between innocence and holiness, and with what you speak of as the 'gracious gold locks' besides the chrism of the prophet, on his own head—and surely you have been happy in the tone and spirit of these lyrics ... broken as you have left them. Where is the wrong in all this? For the right and beauty, they are more obvious—and I cannot tell you how the poem holds me and will not let me go until it blesses me ... and so, where are the 'sixty lines' thrown away? I do beseech you ... you who forget nothing, ... to remember them directly, and to go on with the rest ... as directly (be it understood) as is not injurious to your health. The whole conception of the poem, I like ... and the execution is exquisite up to this point—and the sight of Saul in the tent, just struck out of the dark by that sunbeam, 'a thing to see,' ... not to say that afterwards when he is visibly 'caught in his fangs' like the king serpent, ... the sight is grander still. How could you doubt about this poem...."

The half finished poem, which Browning had mentioned to her in passing three months before, is about how King Saul, living in perpetual grief due to the torment of an evil spirit, is freed from torment by young David playing on his harp. The poem is a celebration of the joys of living once the old king is free from his grief. Did Miss Barrett make the connection? She makes no overt reference to recognizing an analogy.

"At the moment of writing which, I receive your note. Do you receive my assurances from the deepest of my heart that I never did otherwise than 'believe' you ... never did nor shall do ... and that you completely misinterpreted my words if you drew another meaning from them. Believe me in this—will you? I could not believe you any more for anything you could say, now or hereafter—and so do not avenge yourself on my unwary sentences by remembering them against me for evil. I did not mean to vex you ... still less to suspect you—indeed I did not! and moreover it was quite your fault that I did not blot it out after it was written, whatever the meaning was. So you forgive me (altogether) for your own sins: you must:— "

Oh yes, she believed him. That was the problem. She was anticipating that his reaction was going to be another declaration and she is batting it back even before he actually makes it.

"For my part, though I have been sorry since to have written you such a gloomy letter, the sorrow unmakes itself in hearing you speak so kindly. Your sympathy is precious to me, I may say. May God bless you. Write and tell me among the 'indifferent things' something not indifferent, how you are yourself, I mean ... for I fear you are not well and thought you were not looking so yesterday.
Dearest friend, I remain yours, E.B.B. "

But of course she is grateful to Browning for not saying the whole thing was her fault just as she was grateful to her father. She may be too easy to please.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26

Browning is getting down to serious business in his letter of August 26, 1846:

"....I have learned all particulars about the steamer. There are only two classes of passengers .. Servants being the second. The first pay, for the voyage to Leghorn £21—the second, £14,5s all expenses included except during the stay at Genoa. No reduction 'it is feared' could be made in the case of so small a party—but by booking early, a separate cabin might be secured, at no additional expense. In the event of any obstacle, the passage paid for may be postponed till the departure of the next, or any future vessel of the company– Now, you see, these rates, though moderate, I think—(the ordinary term of the passage to Genoa is eleven days)—are yet considerably above those of the other method—by at least £20, I should say. The voyage is long, supremely tiresome, and in all respects so much less interesting than the French route, that the whole scheme can only be constructed for those to whom any other mode of travel is impossible—the one question to be asked therefore is .. are you really convinced that you need not be treated as one of these? And on further consideration, there arise not a few doubts as to whether the sea-voyage be not the more difficult of the two—the roughness is all between here & Gibraltar—and in the case of that affecting you more seriously than we hope, there would be no possibility of escaping from the ship: whereas, should you be indisposed on the other route, we can stop at once and stay for any period. Then, the “shiftings” are only three or four, and probably accompanied by no very great fatigue beyond the notion that a shifting there is– Above all, you would get the first of the sea in a little experiment, soon made and over,—so that if it proved unfavorable to you, there might be an end of the matter at once. So that after all, the cheaper journey may be the safer– But all does not rest with you quite, as I was going to say .. all my life is bound up with the success of this measure .. therefore, think and decide, my Ba!"
Well, it finally clicked with our genius poet that a sea voyage might not be the best mode of transport for an invalid whose main complaint seems to be a nervous disposition. A little slow, but he is catching on. Perhaps it was her fit of hysterics in the church.

"Would there be an advantage in Mrs Jameson accompanying us—to Orleans, at least? Would the circumstances of our marriage alter her desire, do you think? She has often wished to travel with me, also. She must suspect the truth. I doubt whether it is not, in such cases as hers’, where no responsibility is involved, whether it is not better policy, as well as the more graceful, to communicate what is sure to be discovered—so getting thanks & sympathy instead of neither. All is for you to consider."
Browning is so open, such a gentleman; he wants to tell everyone.

"And now, dearest, I will revert, in as few words as I can, to the account you gave me, a short time since, of your income. At the beginning, if there had been the necessity I supposed, I should have proposed to myself the attainment of something like such an amount, by my utmost efforts, before we could marry. We could not under the circumstances begin with less—so as to be free from horrible contingencies,—not the least of which would be the application for assistance afterward .. after we marry, nobody must hear of us. In spite of a few misgivings at first, I am not proud, or rather, am proud in the right place. I am utterly, exclusively proud of you: and though I should have gloried in working myself to death to prove it, and shall be as ready to do so at any time a necessity shall exist, yet at present I shall best serve you, I think, by the life by your side, which we contemplate. I hope and believe, that by your side I shall accomplish something to justify God’s goodness and yours: and, looking at the matter in a worldly light, I see not a few reasons for thinking that—unproductive as the kind of literature may be, which I should aim at producing, yet, by judicious management, and profiting by certain favorable circumstances,—I shall be able to realize an annual sum quite sufficient for every purpose .. at least in Italy.
I have to comment on a few things here. I cannot resist the temptation. What exactly would comprise Browning's 'utmost efforts'? He is correct that he should make financial arrangements before they set out. That is prudent. Does anyone really believe that he would have 'gloried in working myself to death to prove it'. I am not necessarily despairing that he would never do such a thing, a man who has apparently never done a day's labor in this life, but rather that he would write such a thing knowing that he never would do such a thing. I believe that people are born to do certain things. I would even venture to believe that Browning was born to be a poet and help fulfill Miss Barrett's destiny. But this sentence seems me to be either the most disingenuous thing he has ever written to her or, if he really believes this, the most self-deluding thing he has ever written. This from a man who is too proud to have his poems published in magazines (although he does not object to Miss Barrett doing the same.) Perhaps he truly believes that once he settles down with his lyric wife he will produce a great volume of poetic works. This may be, but he certainly will not be digging ditches anytime soon. Where are all of the worshipful male biographers in all of this? Too busy worshipping to notice that Browning was not quite, quite perfect. Close, but no, not perfect. And no, he will not be able to 'realize an annual sum quite sufficient for every purpose.' She came far closer to it than he did because she looked at poetry as both an art and a commodity.

"As I never calculated on such a change in my life, I had the less repugnance to my father’s generosity, that I knew that an effort at some time or other might furnish me with a few hundred pounds which would soon cover my very simple expenses. If we are poor, it is to my father’s infinite glory, who, as my mother told me last night, as we sate alone, 'conceived such a hatred to the slave-system in the West Indies', (where his mother was born, who died in his infancy,) that he relinquished every prospect,—supported himself, while there, in some other capacity, and came back, while yet a boy, to his father’s profound astonishment and rage—one proof of which was, that when he heard that his son was a suitor to her, my mother—he benevolently waited on her uncle to assure him that his niece ‘would be thrown away on a man so evidently born to be hanged’!—those were his very words. My father on his return, had the intention of devoting himself to art, for which he had many qualifications and abundant love—but the quarrel with his father,—who married again and continued to hate him till a few years before his death,—induced him to go at once and consume his life after a fashion he always detested. You may fancy, I am not ashamed of him."
In other words: his father got a job.

"I told my mother, who told him. They have never been used to interfere with, or act for me—and they trust me. If you care for any love, purely love,—you will have theirs—they give it you, whether you take it or no. You will understand, therefore, that I would not accept even the £100 we shall want: I said, 'you shall lend it me .. I will pay it back out of my first literary earnings: I take it, because I do not want to sell my copyrights, or engage myself to write a play, or any other nuisance'– Surely I can get fifty pounds next year, and the other fifty in due course!
So, dearest, we shall have plenty for the journey—and you have only to determine the when and the how.

Oh, the time! Bless you, ever dearest! I love you with all my heart and soul–RB"
I love the family dynamic. He asks his mother who asks his father. Or, as Browning puts it, "I told my mother, who told him." No wonder he never wrote personal poems. But this is all good because they are that much closer to hitting the road. Based on his pledge to pay them back from his first literary earnings, he paid their estate. I know, I am being really brutal to Browning today; I just pick on him something awful. I really do admire him, I think he was genuinly a good man and a talented writer. But he was human, which too many biographers seem to forget.
Next we get Miss Barrett's response. She objects to entirely different things in his letter than I:
" 'If I care for any love'—! 'whether I take it or no'.– Now ought I not to reproach you a little, for bearing to write such words of me, when you could not but think all the while, that I should feel a good deal in reading what you wrote beside? Will you tell me that you did not know I should be glad & grateful for tolerance even?—the least significance of the kinder feeling, affecting me beyond, perhaps, what you could know of me– I am bound to them utterly.
And if it is true, as it is true, that they have much to pardon & overlook in me, .. & among the rest, the painful position imposed on you by my miserable necessities, .. they yet never shall find me, I trust, unworthy of them & you by voluntary failures, &, least of all, by failures of dutiful affection towards themselves—'IF THEY CARE FOR ANY LOVE'.
For the rest of what you tell me, it is all the purest kindness—and you were perfectly, perfectly right in taking so, & as a loan, which we ought, I think, to return when our hands are free, without waiting for the completion of other projects– By living quietly & simply, we shall surely have enough—& more than enough– Then among other resources, is Blackwood. I calculated once that without unpleasant labour, with scarcely an effort, I could make a hundred a year by magazine-contributions—& this, without dishonor either. It does ‘fugitive poems’, observe, no harm whatever, to let them fly through a periodical before they alight on their tree to sing– Then you will send perhaps the sweepings of your desk to Blackwood, to alternate with my sendings!– Shall we do that, when we sit together on the ragged edge of earthquake chasms, in the midst of the 'sulphurous vapour.' I, afraid? No indeed– I think I should never be afraid, if you were near enough– Only that you never must go away in boats– But there is time enough for such compacts–"
This comment about Browning never going away in boats is surely a reference to the death of her brother 'Bro' when he went away in a boat and never came back.
"As to the sea voyage, that was your scheme, & not mine, from the beginning: & your account of the expenses, if below my fear, .. (although I believe that “servants” do not mean “female servants” & that the latter are subject to additional charges) yet seems to me to leave the Rhone & Soane-route as preferable as ever. And do you mark, dear dearest, that supposing me to be unfit for the short railroad passage from Rouen to Paris & from Paris to Orleans, I must be just as unfit for the journey to Southampton, which is necessary to the sea-voyage– Then .. supposing me to be unfit for the river-passage, I must be still more unfit for the seaSo dont suppose either. I am stronger than you fancy. I shall shut my eyes & think of you when there is too much noise & confusion, .. the things which try me most—and it will be easy to find a quiet room & draw down the blinds & take rest, I suppose, .. which one might in vain long for in that crowded steamer at sea– Therefore, dearest, if I am to think & decide, I have decided .. let us go through France– And let us go quick, quick, & not stop anywhere within hearing of England .. not stop at Havre, nor at Rouen, nor at Paris——that is how I decide. May God help us, & smooth the way before & behind– May your father indeed be able to love me a little, for my father will never love me again."
Miss Barrett, seen by the world as a pathetic person living in her father's attic, is really the more practical of these two poets. She sees clearly that the sea voyage is the least feasible of the alternatives. But then, she is used to making arrangements for herself and her servants. Browning does not seem to quite understand the nature of her frailties, but I dare say he soon shall.
"For you .. you will 'serve me best' & serve me only, by being happy not away from me. When I shall have none but you, if I can feel myself not too much for you,—not <your burden> something you would rather leave, .. then you will have 'served' me all you can– But this is more perhaps than you can—these things do not depend on the will of a man—that he should promise to do them– I speak simply for myself, & of what would give me a full contentment. Do not fancy that there is a doubt in the words of it– I cannot doubt now of your affection for me– Dearest, I cannotYet you make me uneasy often through this extravagance of over-estimation, .. forcing me to contract 'obligations to pay' which I look at in speechless despair–— And here is a penny.
Of Mrs Jameson, let me write tomorrow– I am benighted & must close– On friday we shall meet at last, surely; & then it will be all the happier in proportion to the vexation– Dearest, love me– I am your own–"
Well, decisions have been made on August 26, 1846. They are funded and they are going over land to Italy. Now, they just need to decide when to leave.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 25

One of the most important letters of the courtship was written on August 25, 1845. This letter was the opening of Miss Barrett's hidden sorrow to Browning. Browning had called in the afternoon and Miss Barrett hastened to write to him after he left, to explain or perhaps clarify her remarks. And in doing so she revealed to him what she considered her greatest sin, a weakness, that she could not forgive herself for and that ultimately haunted her for the rest of her life. She had begun the letter earlier and addresses his inquiry from August 20th when he asked what 'I had done':

"But what have I done that you should ask what have you done? I have not brought any accusation, have I ... no, nor thought any, I am sure—and it was only the 'kindness and considerateness'—argument that was irresistible as a thing to be retorted, when your thanks came so naturally and just at the corner of an application. And then, you know, it is gravely true, seriously true, sadly true, that I am always expecting to hear or to see how tired you are at last of me!—sooner or later, you know!—But I did not mean any seriousness in that letter. No, nor did I mean ... (to pass to another question ...) to provoke you to the
Mister Hayley ... so are you....
reply complimentary. All I observed concerning yourself, was the combination—which not an idiom in chivalry could treat grammatically as a thing common to me and you, inasmuch as everyone who has known me for half a day, may know that, if there is anything peculiar in me, it lies for the most part in an extraordinary deficiency in this and this and this, ... there is no need to describe what. Only nuns of the strictest sect of the nunneries are rather wiser in some points, and have led less restricted lives than I have in others. And if it had not been for my 'carpet-work'—
Well—and do you know that I have, for the last few years, taken quite to despise book-knowledge and its effect on the mind—I mean when people live by it as most readers by profession do, ... cloistering their souls under these roofs made with heads, when they might be under the sky. Such people grow dark and narrow and low, with all their pains."

She is of course describing herself as 'dark and narrow and low' and living a life more restrictive than a cloistered nun. She very much wants to get out into the world and live a full life. But there is an abrupt change of tone as she begins writing anew:

"Friday.—I was writing you see before you came—and now I go on in haste to speak 'off my mind' some things which are on it. First ... of yourself; how can it be that you are unwell again, ... and that you should talk (now did you not?—did I not hear you say so?) of being 'weary in your soul' ... you? What should make you, dearest friend, weary in your soul; or out of spirits in any way?—Do ... tell me.... I was going to write without a pause—and almost I might, perhaps, ... even as one of the two hundred of your friends, ... almost I might say out that 'Do tell me.' Or is it (which I am inclined to think most probable) that you are tired of a same life and want change? It may happen to anyone sometimes, and is independent of your will and choice, you know—and I know, and the whole world knows: and would it not therefore be wise of you, in that case, to fold your life new again and go abroad at once? What can make you weary in your soul, is a problem to me. You are the last from whom I should have expected such a word. And you did say so, I think. I think that it was not a mistake of mine. And you, ... with a full liberty, and the world in your hand for every purpose and pleasure of it!—Or is it that, being unwell, your spirits are affected by that? But then you might be more unwell than you like to admit—. And I am teasing you with talking of it ... am I not?—and being disagreeable is only one third of the way towards being useful, it is good to remember in time.

She can't imagine why a man at, full liberty to go and come as he will and in perfect health, can be wearied of the world. She is, in her way, telling him to snap out of it. But then she comes to the heart of the issue:

"And then the next thing to write off my mind is ... that you must not, you must not, make an unjust opinion out of what I said to-day. I have been uncomfortable since, lest you should—and perhaps it would have been better if I had not said it apart from all context in that way; only that you could not long be a friend of mine without knowing and seeing what so lies on the surface. But then, ... as far as I am concerned, ... no one cares less for a 'will' than I do (and this though I never had one, ... in clear opposition to your theory which holds generally nevertheless) for a will in the common things of life. Every now and then there must of course be a crossing and vexation—but in one's mere pleasures and fantasies, one would rather be crossed and vexed a little than vex a person one loves ... and it is possible to get used to the harness and run easily in it at last; and there is a side-world to hide one's thoughts in, and 'carpet-work' to be immoral on in spite of Mrs. Jameson, ... and the word 'literature' has, with me, covered a good deal of liberty as you must see ... real liberty which is never enquired into—and it has happened throughout my life by an accident (as far as anything is accident) that my own sense of right and happiness on any important point of overt action, has never run contrariwise to the way of obedience required of me ... while in things not exactly overt, I and all of us are apt to act sometimes up to the limit of our means of acting, with shut doors and windows, and no waiting for cognisance or permission. Ah—and that last is the worst of it all perhaps! to be forced into concealments from the heart naturally nearest to us; and forced away from the natural source of counsel and strength!—and then, the disingenuousnessthe cowardicethe 'vices of slaves'!—and everyone you see ... all my brothers, ... constrained bodily into submission ... apparent submission at least ... by that worst and most dishonouring of necessities, the necessity of living, everyone of them all, except myself, being dependent in money-matters on the inflexible will ... do you see? But what you do not see, what you cannot see, is the deep tender affection behind and below all those patriarchal ideas of governing grown up children 'in the way they must go!' and there never was (under the strata) a truer affection in a father's heart ... no, nor a worthier heart in itself ... a heart loyaller and purer, and more compelling to gratitude and reverence, than his, as I see it! The evil is in the system—and he simply takes it to be his duty to rule, and to make happy according to his own views of the propriety of happiness—he takes it to be his duty to rule like the Kings of Christendom, by divine right. But he loves us through and through it—and I, for one, love him!...."

Her description of her brothers being held in 'bodily submission' does not reflect well on the personal ambition of the Barrett boys. Her father rules the roost and she has lived under it all her life and is essentially saying that because he is a relatively benevolent dictator she has not had too great a problem living in his dictatorship. Okay, she has set the stage for the revelation of her great sin and the forgiving of it by her divine father. She is referring here to the loss of her brother Edward, who she called 'Bro':

"...and when, five years ago, I lost what I loved best in the world beyond comparison and rivalship ... far better than himself [Papa Barrett] as he knew ... for everyone who knew me could not choose but know what was my first and chiefest affection ... when I lost that, ... I felt that he stood the nearest to me on the closed grave ... or by the unclosing sea ... I do not know which nor could ask. And I will tell you that not only he has been kind and patient and forbearing to me through the tedious trial of this illness (far more trying to standers by than you have an idea of perhaps) but that he was generous and forbearing in that hour of bitter trial, and never reproached me as he might have done and as my own soul has not spared—never once said to me then or since, that if it had not been for me, the crown of his house would not have fallen. He never did ... and he might have said it, and more—and I could have answered nothing. Nothing, except that I had paid my own price—and that the price I paid was greater than his loss ... his!! For see how it was; and how, 'not with my hand but heart,' I was the cause or occasion of that misery—and though not with the intention of my heart but with its weakness, yet the occasion, any way!
They sent me down you know to Torquay—Dr. Chambers saying that I could not live a winter in London. The worst—what people call the worst—was apprehended for me at that time. So I was sent down with my sister to my aunt there—and he, my brother whom I loved so, was sent too, to take us there and return. And when the time came for him to leave me, I, to whom he was the dearest of friends and brothers in one ... the only one of my family who ... well, but I cannot write of these things; and it is enough to tell you that he was above us all, better than us all, and kindest and noblest and dearest to me, beyond comparison, any comparison, as I said—and when the time came for him to leave me I, weakened by illness, could not master my spirits or drive back my tears—and my aunt kissed them away instead of reproving me as she should have done; and said that she would take care that I should not be grieved ... she! ... and so she sate down and wrote a letter to Papa to tell him that he would 'break my heart' if he persisted in calling away my brother—As if hearts were broken so! I have thought bitterly since that my heart did not break for a good deal more than that! And Papa's answer was—burnt into me, as with fire, it is—that 'under such circumstances he did not refuse to suspend his purpose, but that he considered it to be very wrong in me to exact such a thing.' So there was no separation then: and month after month passed—and sometimes I was better and sometimes worse—and the medical men continued to say that they would not answer for my life ... they! if I were agitated—and so there was no more talk of a separation. And once he held my hand, ... how I remember! and said that he 'loved me better than them all and that he would not leave me ... till I was well,' he said! how I remember that! And ten days from that day the boat had left the shore which never returned; never—and he had left me! gone! For three days we waited—and I hoped while I could—oh—that awful agony of three days! And the sun shone as it shines to-day, and there was no more wind than now; and the sea under the windows was like this paper for smoothness—and my sisters drew the curtains back that I might see for myself how smooth the sea was, and how it could hurt nobody—and other boats came back one by one.
Remember how you wrote in your 'Gismond'

What says the body when they spring
Some monstrous torture-engine’s whole
Strength on it? No more says the soul,

and you never wrote anything which lived with me more than that. It is such a dreadful truth. But you knew it for truth, I hope, by your genius, and not by such proof as mine—I, who could not speak or shed a tear, but lay for weeks and months half conscious, half unconscious, with a wandering mind, and too near to God under the crushing of His hand, to pray at all. I expiated all my weak tears before, by not being able to shed then one tear—and yet they were forbearing—and no voice said 'You have done this.'
Do not notice what I have written to you, my dearest friend. I have never said so much to a living being—I never could speak or write of it. I asked no question from the moment when my last hope went: and since then, it has been impossible for me to speak what was in me. I have borne to do it to-day and to you, but perhaps if you were to write—so do not let this be noticed between us again—do not! And besides there is no need! I do not reproach myself with such acrid thoughts as I had once—I know that I would have died ten times over for him, and that therefore though it was wrong of me to be weak, and I have suffered for it and shall learn by it I hope; remorse is not precisely the word for me—not at least in its full sense. Still you will comprehend from what I have told you how the spring of life must have seemed to break within me then; and how natural it has been for me to loathe the living on—and to lose faith (even without the loathing), to lose faith in myself ... which I have done on some points utterly. It is not from the cause of illness—no. And you will comprehend too that I have strong reasons for being grateful to the forbearance.... It would have been cruel, you think, to reproach me. Perhaps so! yet the kindness and patience of the desisting from reproach, are positive things all the same.

She loved her brother and she insisted that he stay with her and she blamed herself for what she saw as her weakness, her willfulness which kept her brother in Torquay when her father wanted him elsewhere. That is why she says near the beginning of the letter that she has no will. But it is not that she has no will, she chooses now not to use her will. This explains her constant and almost irrational denial of her affection toward Browning. If she imposed her will on him she may kill the one she loved again, so it is much better, safer, to push him away and save him from her willful and weak nature. This irrational belief in her own ability of cause the death of another through the very act of love is what Browning must overcome.

"Shall I be too late for the post, I wonder? Wilson tells me that you were followed up-stairs yesterday (I write on Saturday this latter part) by somebody whom you probably took for my father. Which is Wilson's idea—and I hope not yours. No—it was neither father nor other relative of mine, but an old friend in rather an ill temper."

The first appearance of the Rev. George Barrett Hunter, to be known under the sobriquet Chippiano, because he was always in an ill tempter. Perhaps Miss Barrett put up with him as a punishment for her sins?

"And so good-bye until Tuesday. Perhaps I shall ... not ... hear from you to-night. Don't let the tragedy or aught else do you harm—will you? and try not to be 'weary in your soul' any more—and forgive me this gloomy letter I half shrink from sending you, yet will send. May God bless you. E.B.B."

I find this letter very moving. She really released herself to this 'friend'. This was an act of trust that is almost hard to understand. She has been up to this point pushing him away, but with this letter she is pulling him into her life more closely than ever. But there is no guile here. She is not telling him this story to lure him into any kind of trap. What is her motivation in telling this story? She is trying to defend her father, trying to explain why she remains so attached to him despite his tyrannical streak. Barrett didn't blame her for the death of this eldest son. That was all he did or didn't do. He also never told her that it was not her fault and that it was simply an accident. He said nothing to her and so he was a great man. "It would have been cruel, you think, to reproach me," she writes to Browning. But the truth is that it would have been irrational to reproach her. Her convoluted reasoning seems so obviously absurd to us and yet how many of us have questionable reasoning which motivate our thoughts and actions?

This is an opening that Browning can carefully exploit if he doesn't push too hard. She has given him a glimpse of her inner life that he must slowly build on. Let's watch and see how he handles it.