Monday, August 13, 2012

August 13

A letter from Browning on August 13, 1846 quotes Miss Barrett's poetry back to her:

"Dearest Ba, I love you wholly and forever—how shall the charm ever break?
My two letters! I think we must institute solemn days whereon such letters are to be read years hence .. when I shall ask you,—(all being known, many weaknesses you do not choose to see now, and perhaps some strength and constancy you cannot be sure of—(for the charm may break, you think)) .. “if you stood there” .. at Wimpole St, in the room .. would you whisper “Love, I love you, as before?”. Oh, how fortunately, fortunately the next verse comes with its sweetest reassurance!"

He is quoting "Catarina to Camoens" as he does many other times in these letters:

But all changes. At this vesper,
Cold the sun shines down the door.
If you stood there, would you whisper
"Love, I love you," as before,--
Death pervading
Now, and shading
Eyes you sang of, that yestreen,
As the sweetest ever seen?

"When I have chosen to consider the circumstances of the altered life I am about to lead with you (.. 'chosen', because you have often suggested drawbacks, harms to my interest &c which I have really been forced to take up and try to think over seriously, lest I should be unawares found treating what had undoubtedly come from you, with disrespect,)—I never, after all the considering in my power, was yet able to fancy even the possibility of their existence– I will not revert to them now—nor to the few real inconveniences which I did apprehend at the beginning but which never occurred to you: at present I take you, and with you as much happiness as I seem fit to bear in this world,—the one shadow being the fear of its continuance– Or if there is one thing I shall regret .. it is just that which I should as truly lose if I married any Miss Campbell of them all—rather, then should really lose, what now is only modified,—transferred partly and the rest retainable– There was always a great delight to me in this prolonged relation of childhood almost .. nay altogether—with all here. My father & I have not one taste in common, one artistic taste .. in pictures, he goes, 'souls away', to Brauwer, Ostade, Teniers .. he would turn from the Sistine Altar piece to these,—in music, he desiderates a tune 'that has a story connected with it,' whether Charles II’s favorite dance of 'Brose and butter' or .. no matter,—what I mean is, that the sympathy has not been an intellectual one– I hope if you want to please me especially, Ba, you will always remember I have been accustomed, by pure choice, to have another will lead mine in the little daily matters of life. If there are two walks to take (to put the thing at simplest) you must say, 'This one' and not 'either' .. because though they were before indifferently to be chosen,—after that speech, one is altogether better than the other, to me if not to you. When you have a real preference which I can discern, you will be good enough to say nothing about it, my own Ba! Now, do you not see how, with this feeling, which God knows I profess to be mine without the least affectation,—how much my happiness would be disturbed by allying myself with a woman to whose intellect, as well as goodness, I could not look up?– In an obedience to whose desires, therefore, I should not be justified in indulging? It is pleasanter to lie back on the cushions inside the carriage and let another drive—but if you suspect he cannot drive?"

He makes a very charming point, not particularly complimentary to himself. He would rather have a wife of superior intellect and goodness so he can be lazy and not have to make decisions himself. It would be pleasanter to relax and let her do the driving. This is pure sophistry, but charming nevertheless.

"Nothing new at Mr Kenyon’s yesterday. I arrived late—to a small party—Thackeray & Procter—pleasant as usual. I took an opportunity of mentioning that I had come straight from home– Did you really look from the window, dearest? I was carried the other way, by the New Road .. but I thought of you till you may have felt it!
And indeed you are 'out' again as to my notions of your notions, you dearest Ba! I knew well enough that by 'calmness' you did not mean absence of passion– I spoke only of the foolish popular notion.
Tomorrow there would seem to be no impediment whatever—and I trust to be with you, beloved—but before, I can kiss you as now,—loving you as ever—ever–Your own RB"

Did you notice that in the previous paragraph he went to great lengths to praise her intelligence and goodness to make the point that he wants his wife to do the driving while he relaxes and then he ends with the comment that he knew she wasn't saying that his 'calm' eyes showed that the lights were on and no one was there? His previous argument might suggest something of the like. But let's not make fun of Browning's round about reasoning today. All of his brilliant male biographers might be reading and get the wrong idea.

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