Thursday, August 2, 2012

August 2

On Saturday, August 1, 1846 London was subjected to the worst storm recorded in the city since early in the 19th Century. Browning was visiting Miss Barrett in her room when the worst of the storm hit and was kept from leaving due to the ferocity of the storm. In the mean time Papa Barrett returned early from the city due to the storm. In her letter of August 2, 1846 Miss Barrett records the aftermath of the storm, a further storm:

"Ever dearest, you were wet surely? The rain came before you reached the front door; & for a moment (before I heard it shut) I hoped you might return– Dearest, how I blame myself for letting you go—for not sending for a cab in despite of you! I was frightened out of all wisdom by the idea of who was down stairs & listening perhaps, & watching—as if the cab would have made you appear more emphatically you!– And then you said 'the rain was over'—and I believed you as usual. If this is’nt a precedent of the evils of too much belief ....!!

Altogether, yesterday may pass among the ‘unsatisfactory days,’ I think—for if I was not frightened of the storm, (& indeed I was not, much!) of the state of affairs down in the provinces, I was most sorely frightened—uneasy the whole time. I seem to be with you, Robert, at this moment, more than yesterday I was .. though if I look up now, I do not see you sitting there! But when you sate there yesterday, I was looking at Papa’s face as I saw it through the floor, & now I see only yours—.

Dearest, he came into the room at about seven, before he went to dinner– I was lying on the sofa & had on a white dressing gown, to get rid of the strings .. so oppressive the air was,—for all the purifications of lightning– He looked a little as if the thunder had passed into him, & said, 'Has this been your costume since the morning, pray?' 'Oh no'—I answered—'only just now, because of the heat'. 'Well', he resumed, with a still graver aspect .. (so displeased, he looked, dearest!) 'it appears, Ba, that that man has spent the whole day with you'. To which I replied as quietly as I could, that you had several times meant to go away, but that the rain would not let you,—& there, the colloquy ended. Brief enough!—but it took my breath away .. or what was left, by the previous fear. And think how it must have been a terrible day, when the lightning of it made the least terror––

I was right too about the message– He took up the fancy that I might be ill perhaps with fear .. '& only Mr Browning in the room'!!!—which was not to be permitted. He was peremptory with Arabel, she told me."

Such a scandal in Wimpole Street! If Miss Barrett saw Mr. Browning in her DRESSING GOWN that would be the END! But no, nothing like that happened. What a terror she has of her father. And for him to be peremptory with Arabel is probably a common occurrence. Nothing new there.

"Before yesterday’s triple storms, I had a presentiment which oppressed me during two days .. a presentiment that it would all end ill, through some sudden accident or misery of some kind. What is the use of telling you this? I do not know. I will tell you besides, that it cannot .. shall not .. be, by my fault or failing– I may be broken indeed, but never bent–
If things should go smoothly, however, I want to say one word, once for all, in relation to them. Once or twice you have talked as if a change were to take place in your life through marrying,—whereas I do beg you to keep in mind that not a pebble in the path changes, nor is pushed aside because of me. If you should make me feel myself in the way, should I like it, do you think? And how could I disturb a single habit or manner of yours .. as an unmarried man, .. through being within call—I? The best of me is, that I am really very quiet & not difficult to content—having not been spoilt by an excess of prosperity even in little things. It will be prosperity in the greatest, if you seem to be happy—believe that, & leave all the rest. You will go out just as you do now .. when you choose, & as a matter of course, & without need of a word. You will be precisely as you are now in everything,—lord of the house-door-key & of your own ways! so that when I shall go to Greece, you shall not feel yourself much better off than before I went– That shall be a reserved vengeance, Robert–

Good golly, what man would not love this woman? The smartest thing Browning ever did in his life was hooking up with this woman. As a matter of fact, after a few years of marriage Browning really did go out and about as he pleased, sometimes going to two or more engagements a night while she stayed at home reading, writing or entertaining random callers. She was certainly true to her word.

"While I write, comes Mr Kenyon,—& through a special interposition of guardian-angels, he has broken his spectacles & carries them in his hand. On which, I caught at the opportunity & told him that they were the most unbecoming things in the world, & that fervently (& sincerely) I hoped never to see them mended. The next word was .. 'Did you see Browning yesterday?' 'Yes'. 'I thought so. I intended to come myself, but I thought it probable that he would be here, & so I stayed away'–"

How wonderfully rude of Miss Barrett! I guess she really, really didn't like his glasses.
"Now—I confess to you that that thought carries me a good way over to your impression– It is at least ‘suspicious’, that he who knew you were with me on saturday & tuesday, should expect to find you again on the next saturday– Oh—how uncomfortable!—the miracle of the broken spectacles not saving one from the discomfort of the position open to the bare eyes!–
He talked of you a little—asked what you were doing—praised you as usual .. for inexhaustible knowledge & general reasonableness, this time. Did I not think so? Yes—of course I thought so.
Presently he made me look aghast by just this question– 'Is there an attachment between your sister Henrietta & Capt Cook?'—(put as abruptly as I put it here.) My heart leapt up .. as Wordsworth’s to the rainbow in the sky—but there was a recoil in my leap– 'Why, Mr Kenyon!'—I said, .. 'what extraordinary questions, opening into unspeakable secrets, you do ask!'
'But I did not know that it was a secret. How was I to know? I have seen him here very often, & it is a natural enquiry which I might have put to anybody in the house touching a matter open to general observation. I thought the affair might be an arranged one by anybody’s consent.'
'But you ought to know,' I answered, 'that such things are never permitted in this house– So much for the consent. As for the matter itself you are right in your supposition—but it is a great secret,—& I entreat you not to put questions about it to anybody in or out of the house—' Something to that effect I believe I said—I was frightened .. frightened .. & not exactly for Henrietta! What did he mean? Had he too in his mind …
He touched on Mrs Jameson .. just touched. He had desired my sisters to tell me– He thought I had better write a note to thank her for her kindness. He had told her that if I had any thoughts of Italy they could be accomplished only by a sea-voyage, which was impossible to her.
I briefly expressed a sense of the kindness & said that I meant to write. On which, the subject was changed in mutual haste, as seemed to me.
Is not this the book of the chronicles ..? And you shall hear again on tuesday, if the post shd be faithful to me that morning. I might be inclined to put off our tuesday’s meeting, but Mrs Hedley remains in London for a few days after her daughter’s marriage, & 'means to see a great deal' of me—therefore wednesday, thursday, friday, .. where should we look, from tuesday? But I must consider & will write. May God bless you!—— Do say how you are after that rain. In storm & in calm, & ever & ever I am your own Ba"

Well, she certainly had an eventful couple of days. What does Browning have to say today?

"What can I tell you, ever dearest, while I am expecting all you are to tell me? I will not conjecture, nor be afraid (for you) before the time– I felt your dear hand press mine closer while the thunder sounded—so it will always be, I know, in life, in death—and when a thunder shall break, of a kind that I can fear, I will hold your hand, my Ba– Perhaps there is nothing formidable here .. indeed there can hardly be. Tell me allI got to your Hodgson’s, waited a few minutes till a cab passed, and then was properly deposited at the Haymarket– The streets, at least the roads out of Town, were flooded,—very canals. Here, at home, our skylight was broken,—and our chimneys behaved just as yours–"

Hodgson's was the book seller up the street and around the corner from Wimpole Street.
And now—shall I see you really on Tuesday after this Saturday of perils? And how will your head be,—your health in general be, you sweetest Ba? Is it the worse for the storm and the apprehension,—to say nothing of what may have followed? Oh, if but a 'sign' might be vouchsafed me—if I might go to Wimpole street presently, and merely know,—by the disposition of a blind or of a shutter, that you were better, or no worse! I ought to have contrived something of the kind yesterday—but 'presence of mind'!

....How many of these unfortunate Sundays are in store for me, I wonder—eight or nine, then the two months .. 'when constant faith and holy hope shall die,' one lost in certainty and one in the deep, deep joy of the ever present ever dearest Ba! Oh, Ba, how I love you! Your own RB"

What a difficult position Browning is in. He cannot get to her if there is a problem. If she were to be ill he probably would not be permitted in to see her and who would communicate with him of her condition? If Papa Barrett had caught them holding hands in the storm, what would have come of that? At the least he would not be permitted back in the house. At the worst the mail would be stopped. It seems to me that they are dodging bullets the longer this goes on.

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