Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 15

We get a raft of letters on August 15, 1846 following the meeting of the poets in Wimpole Street the previous day. We begin with a long but interesting discussion of Miss Barrett's religious views, among other subjects:

"A bright beautiful day this is, on which you do not come—it seems as if you ought to have come on it by rights. Dearest, you did not meet Mr Kenyon yesterday after you left me? I fancied that you might, &, so, be detected in the three hours, to the fullest length of them—it seemed possible. Now I look forward to the driving instead of to you—& he has just sent to desire me to be ready at a quarter to three, & not later, as was fixed in your hearing.– And why, pray, should you be glad that I am going on this excursion? I should have liked it, if we had been living in the daylight: but with all these 'shadows, clouds & darkness', it is pleasanter to me to sit still & see nobody—& least, Mr Kenyon. Oh, that somebody would spirit him away gently, very gently, so as to do him no manner of harm, in achieving the good for me!—for both you & me. Did you say 'Do you pity me' to me?! I did not tell you yesterday that I have another new fear .. an American lady who in her time has reviewed both you & me, it seems, comes to see me .. is about to come to see me .. armed with a letter of introduction from Mr Mathews—& in a week, I may expect her perhaps. She is directed too, towards Mr Horne. Observe the double chain thrown across the road at my feet– I am entreated to show her attention & introduce her to my friends .. things out of the question as I am situated. Yet I have not boldness to say “I will not see you”– I almost must see her, I do fear. Mr Mathews ought to have felt his way a little, before throwing such a weight on me—. He is delighted with your Bells & Pomegranates (to pass from his frailties to his merits) & her review of them is sent to me, he says——only that I do not receive it."

Mr. Mathews is her American publisher with whom she seemed to have a very good working relationship. If she didn't have Browning taking up all of her time with his incessant demands for attention she would have had time to court this American lady and expand her American base. Hey, I am just sayin'. Poetry is a business and you need to put some effort into building up your clientele.

"Dearest, when I told you yesterday, after speaking of the manycoloured theologies of the house, that it was hard to answer for what I was, .. I meant that I felt unwilling, for my own part, to put on any of the liveries of the sects. The truth, as God sees it, must be something so different from these opinions about truth—these systems which fit different classes of men like their coats, & wear brown at the elbows always!– I believe in what is divine & floats at highest, in all these different theologies—& because the really Divine draws together souls, & tends so to a unity, I could pray anywhere & with all sorts of worshippers, from the Sistine chapel to Mr Fox’s, those kneeling & those standing. Wherever you go, in all religious societies, there is a little to revolt, & a good deal to bear with—but it is not otherwise in the world without,—&, within, you are especially reminded that God has to be more patient than yourself after all. Still you go quickest there, where your sympathies are least ruffled & disturbed—& I like, beyond comparison best, the simplicity of the dissenters .. the unwritten prayer, .. the sacraments administered quietly & without charlatanism! & the principle of a church, as they hold it, I hold it too, quite apart from state-necessities .. pure from the Law. Well—there is enough to dissent from among the dissenters—the Formula is rampant among them as among othersyou hear things like the buzzing of flies in proof of a corruption—& see every now & then something divine set up like a post for men of irritable minds & passions to rub themselves against, calling it a holy deedyou feel moreover bigotry & ignorance pressing on you on all sides, till you gasp for breath like one strangled—. But better this, even, than what is elsewhere—this being elsewhere too in different degrees, besides the evil of the place. Public & social prayer is right & desirable—& I would prefer as a matter of custom, to pray in one of these chapels, where the minister is simple-minded & not controversial,—certainly wd prefer it. Not exactly in the Socinian chapels, nor yet in Mr Fox’s—not by preference. The Unitarians seem to me to throw over what is most beautiful in the Christian Doctrine,—but the Formulists on the other side, stir up a dust, in which it appears excusable not to see. When the veil of the body falls, how we shall look into each other’s faces, astonished, .. after one glance at God’s!–"

She was a religious renegade in Victorian England. A dissenting Dissenter. Today she would be considered to the right of Attila the Hun.

"Have I written to you more than too much about my doxy? I was a little, little, uncomfortable in the retrospect of yesterday, lest my quick answer should have struck you as either a levity or an evasion—& have you not a right to all my thoughts of all things? For the rest, we will be married just as you like .. volo quid vis [my wish is the same as yours]:& you will see by this profession of faith that I am not likely much to care either way. There are some solemn & beautiful things in the Ch. of England Marriage-service, as I once heard it read, the only time I was present at such a ceremony—but I heard it then in the abbreviated customary form .. & not as the Puseyites (who always bring up the old lamps against a new) choose to read it, they say, in spite of custom—Archdeacon Hale with an inodorous old lamp, displeased some of the congregation from Fenton’s Hotel, I hear– But we need not go to the Puseyites at least. And after all, perhaps the best will be what is easiest– Something is sure to happen——something must surely happen to put an end to it all … before I go to Greece!–"

Well, they are agreed on the Church of England service. One would suspect that it was easier to get married in the CoE on the fly than at a more conservative church (chapel) which might insist on some sort of religious instruction that would cause an unhelpful delay.

Next we hear from Browning:

"My very, very dearest,—many, if not all, of those things for which I want the words when too close to you, become quite clear at a little distance– How simple, for instance, it is to admit—that is our case,—my own, only Ba once discovered, the circumstances of the weakness and retirement were, on the whole, favorable rather than otherwise! Had they been unfavorable .. I do not think a few obstacles would have discouraged me .. but this way has been easier—better—and now all is admitted! By themselves, the circumstances would never obtain more than the feeling properly due to them—do you think one particle of love goes with the pity and service to a whole Hospital of Incurables? So let all the attraction of that kind pass for what it is worth, and for no more. If all had been different, and I had still perceived you and loved you, then there might, perhaps,—or probably—be as different an aim for me,—for my own peculiar delight in you .. I should want to feel and be sure of your love, in your happiness .. certainly in your entire happiness then as now—but I should aspire to find it able to support itself in a life altogether different from the life in which I had first seen you—if you loved me you would need to be happy in quiet and solitude and simplicity, and privation .. then I should know you loved me, knowing how you had been happy before! But now, do you not see that my utmost pride and delight will be to think you are happy, as you were not,—in the way you were not: if you chose to come out of a whirl of balls and parties and excursions and visitings—to my side, I should love you as you sate still by me; but now, when you stand up simply, much more walk .. I will consider, if you let me, every step you take that brings you pleasure,—every smile on your mouth, and light on your eyes—as a directest obedience to me .. all the obedience you can ever pay me .. you shall say in every such act “this I do on purpose to content you!” I hope to know you have been happy .. that shall prove you loved me, at the end.

Is this not typical Browning? He has to look at everything from odd angles.  He is persistent in trying to prove to her that her invalidism is a boon to him.

"Probably you will not hear anything today from Mr Kenyon, as your sister is to be present: do you really imagine that those eyes and spectacles are less effective than the perceptions of your 'Treppy'?....
Now, dearest, you cannot return me such delectabilities so must even be content to tell me what happens today and what is said and done, and surmised—and how you are .. three times over, how you are, dearest dearest! And I will write to-morrow, and kiss you meanwhile, as now, as ever– Bless you, love–"

And so, she does provide a full report of the day that was:

"How I thank you for your letter, ever beloved—you were made, perfectly to be loved—& surely I have loved you, in the idea of you, my whole life long. Did I tell you that before, so often as I have thought it? It is that which makes me take it all as visionary good .. for when one’s Ideal comes down to one, & walks beside one suddenly, what is it possible to do but to cry out .. “a dream”?– You are the best .. best. And if you loved me only & altogether for pity, (& I think that, more than you think, the sentiment operated upon your generous chivalrous nature) & if you confessed it to me & proved it, & I knew it absolutely––what then? As long as it was love, should I accept it less gladly, do you imagine, because of the root? should I think it less a gift?—should I be less grateful, .. or more? Ah—I have my “theory of causation” about it all—but we need not dispute, & will not, on any such metaphysics. Your loving me is enough to satisfy me—and if you did it because I sate rather on a green chair than a yellow one, it would be enough still for me:—only it would not, for youbecause your motives are as worthy always as your acts.—Dearest!"

I am so pleased that she got over her incessant need to question his attachment. She is finally content just to be loved.

"So now let us talk of the great conference in Mr Kenyon’s carriage, in which, joined, himself, Arabel, Flush & I. First he said .. 'Did Browning stay much longer with you?' 'Yes—some time.' This was as we were going on our way toward some bridge, whence to look at the Birmingham train– As we came back, he said, with an epical leap 'in medias res [into the story's midst]' .. 'What an extraordinary memory our friend Browning has.' 'Very extraordinary'—said I—'& how it is raining'. I give you Arabel’s report of my reply, for I did not myself exactly remember the full happiness of it—& she assured me beside that he looked .. looked at me .. as a man may look .. And this was everything spoken of you throughout the excursion."

That was some pretty good batting by Miss Barrett. The best way to handle anything like this is to be vague. She was vague.

"But he spoke of me & observed how well I was—on which Arabel said 'Yes—she considered me quite well,—& that nothing was the matter now but sham.' Then the railroads were discussed in relation to me .. & she asked him—'Should’nt she try them a little, before she undertakes this great journey to Italy?' 'Oh' .. he replied—'she is going on no great journey–' 'Yes, she will, perhaps—Ba is inclined to be a great deal too wild, now that she is getting well, I do assure you, Mr Kenyon'.
To sit upon thorns, would express rather a 'velvet cushion' than where I was sitting, while she talked this foolishness. I have been upbraiding her since, very seriously,—& I can only hope that the words were taken for mere jest—‘du bout des levres [half-heartedly]’–"

Arabel was not being very helpful here at all. She was as big a teaze as her older sister. It's a wonder that Miss Barrett didn't discreetly stab her younger sister with a hat pin right in front of Mr. Kenyon and thus deflect attention from the prevailing subject. With Mr. Kenyon's poor eyesight it might not have been necessary to hide her actions. Younger sisters can be such instigators: smart of mouth, sharp of tongue and heedless of the feelings of their older and wiser siblings.

"Moreover Mr Kenyon is not going away on thursday—he has changed his plans: he has put off Cambridge to the ‘spring’—he meets Miss Bayley nowhere—he holds his police-station in London. 'When are you going' I asked in my despair, trying to look satisfied. He did not know—'not directly, at any rate'—‘I need not hope to get rid of him,’ he said aside perhaps–
But we saw the great roaring, grinding Thing .. a great blind mole, it looked for blackness– We got out of the carriage, to see closer—& Flush was so frightened at the roar of it, that he leapt upon the coachbox. Also it rained,—& I had ever so many raindrops on my gown & in my face even, .. which pleased me nearly as much as the railroad-sight. It is something new for me to be rained upon, you know–"

What in the world is she talking about? She has never been rained upon in rain soaked England? I am sure she exaggerates for effect. But I must admit I enjoy being rained upon as well. But I find no novelty in it as she apparently did.

"As for happiness—the words which you use so tenderly, are in my heart already, making me happy, .. I am happy by you. Also I may say solemnly, that the greatest proof of love I could give you, is to be happy because of you—& even you cannot judge & see how great a proof, that is. You have lifted my very soul up into the light of your soul, & I am not ever likely to mistake it for the common daylight. May God bless you, ever ever dearest!–I am your own—"

I feel a sonnet coming on....XXII seems appropriate:

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvëd point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think! In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovëd,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

No comments:

Post a Comment