Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21

Let's look at letters from 1845 and 1846 today. A lot is going on in both years. Browning sent a long letter (for him) August 21, 1845. Be warned, it is classic Browning:

"I feel at home, this blue early morning, now that I sit down to write (or, speak, as I try and fancy) to you, after a whole day with those 'other friends'—dear good souls, whom I should be so glad to serve, and to whom service must go by way of last will and testament, if a few more hours of 'social joy,' 'kindly intercourse,' &c., fall to my portion. My friend the Countess began proceedings (when I first saw her, not yesterday) by asking 'if I had got as much money as I expected by any works published of late?'—to which I answered, of course, 'exactly as much'è grazioso [you are most gracious]! (All the same, if you were to ask her, or the like of her, 'how much the stone-work of the Coliseum would fetch, properly burned down to lime?'—she would shudder from head to foot and call you 'barbaro' with good Trojan heart.) Now you suppose—(watch my rhetorical figure here)—you suppose I am going to congratulate myself on being so much for the better, en pays de connaissance [in a familiar way], with my 'other friend,' E.B.B., number 2—or 200, why not?—whereas I mean to 'fulmine over Greece,' since thunder frightens you, for all the laurels,—and to have reason for your taking my own part and lot to yourself—I do, will, must, and will, again, wonder at you and admire you, and so on to the climax. It is a fixed, immovable thing: so fixed that I can well forego talking about it. But if to talk you once begin, 'the King shall enjoy (or receive quietly) his own again'—I wear no bright weapon out of that Panoply ... or Panoplite, as I think you call Nonnus, nor ever, like Leigh Hunt's 'Johnny, ever blythe and bonny, went singing Nonny, nonny' and see to-morrow, what a vengeance I will take for your 'mere suspicion in that kind'!"

Well, I guess that is clear? He wants her to know that she is his one and only is my best guess, but what brought that on is unclear.

"But to the serious matter ... nay, I said yesterday, I believe—keep off that Burgess—he is stark staring mad—mad, do you know? The last time I met him he told me he had recovered I forget how many of the lost books of Thucydides—found them imbedded in Suidas (I think), and had disengaged them from his Greek, without loss of a letter, 'by an instinct he, Burgess, had'—(I spell his name wrongly to help the proper hiss at the end). Then, once on a time, he found in the 'Christus Patiens,' an odd dozen of lines, clearly dropped out of the 'Prometheus,' and proving that Æschylus was aware of the invention of gunpowder. He wanted to help Dr. Leonhard Schmitz in his 'Museum'—and scared him, as Schmitz told me. What business has he, Burges, with English verse—and what on earth, or under it, has Miss Thomson to do with him. If she must displease one of two, why is Mr. B. not to be thanked and 'sent to feed,' as the French say prettily? At all events, do pray see what he has presumed to alter ... you can alter at sufficient warrant, profit by suggestion, I should think! But it is all Miss Thomson's shame and fault: because she is quite in her propriety, saying to such intermeddlers, gently for the sake of their poor weak heads, 'very good, I dare say, very desirable emendations, only the work is not mine, you know, but my friend's, and you must no more alter it without her leave, than alter this sketch, this illustration, because you think you could mend Ariadne's face or figure,—Fecit Tizianus, scripsit E.B.B.[made by Titian, signed by E.B.B.]' Dear friend, you will tell Miss Thomson to stop further proceedings, will you not? There! only, do mind what I say? ...."

Well, I guess Mr. Burges got his from Browning. He really does sound like a nut. It is a good thing she mentioned this 'editing' to Browning. She was going to laugh it off.

There are three letters exchanged on August 21,1846. Our poets had their scheduled meeting in Wimpole Street on August 20 and Miss Barrett writes to acknowledge that no harm was done:

"Dearest this is to be a brief letter, though my heart shall find room in whatever goes to you. Yesterday cost us nothing—no observation was made: we were in all security notwithstanding the forbodings on either side. May they find such an end in circumstances of still more consequence. Dearest, your flowers are beautiful beyond their beauty of yesterday which I praised—they think themselves still in the garden,—we have done them no sort of wrong. What a luring thought you leave with me in the flowers! How I look at them as a sign of you, left behind—your footstep in the ground! It has been so from the beginning– And yet sometimes you try to prove that you are not always good—you!–
If you are not good, it is because you are best– I will admit so much–
Oh, to look back! It is so wonderful to me to look back on my life & my old philosophy of life, made of the necessities of sorrow & the resolution to attain to something better than a perpetual moaning & complaint,—to that state of neutralized emotion to which I did attainthat serenity which meant the failure of hope! Can I look back to such things, & not thank you next to God? For you, who had the power, to stoop to having the will,—is it not worthy of thanks? So I thank you & love you & shall always, however it may be hereafter– I could not feel otherwise to you, I think, than by my feeling at this moment–"

It is amazing to me how self aware she is of so many things (not all, of course). All she knew was that she wanted to neutralize the strong negative emotions to reach a bland serenity in life. How many of us see that as a goal or would acknowledge that their goal is simply to not be perpetually miserable. In her case this goal was probably not so much for herself but to be achieved so as not to be miserable to the people around her.

"How Papa has startled me– He came in while I was writing .. (I shut the writing case as he walked over the floor—) & then, after the usual talk of the weather, & how the nights 'were growing cold', … he said suddenly .. looking to the table––'What a beautiful colour those little blue flowers have—' Calling them just so, .. 'little blue flowers'. I could scarcely answer I was so frightened—but he observed nothing & turned & left the room with his favorite enquiry 'pour rire [in jest],' as to whether he 'could do anything for me in the city'–
Do anything for me in the city!!– Well—do you do something for me, by thinking of me & loving me, Robert– Dear you are, never to be tired of me, with so much reason for it as I know. May God bless you, very dear!—& ever dearest! I am your own too entirely to need to say so."

Hmmm...the night were growing cold. Winter is coming to Wimpole Street. A change is coming. And what does Browning have to say after their weekly meeting?

"I think,—now that the week is over with its opportunities,—and now that no selfish complaining can take advantage of your goodness,—that I will ask you how I feel, do you suppose, without my proper quantity of 'morphine'? May I call you my morphine?"

Is Browning being provocative? Is he attempting to teaze her off her heavy dosage?

"And speaking of 'proper quantities'—there were some remarks of yours which I altogether acquiesced in, yesterday, about a humiliating dependence in money-matters,—tho’ I should be the first to except myself from feeling quite with the world there– I have told you, indeed,—but my case is not everybody’s– I hate being master, and alone, and absolute disposer in points where real love will save me the trouble .. because there are infinitely more and greater points where the solitary action and will, with their responsibility cannot be avoided. I suppose that is Goethe’s meaning when he says every man has liberty enough —political liberty & social: so that when they let him write 'Faust' after his own fashion, he does not mind how they dispose of his money, or even limit his own footsteps– Ah,—but there are the good thousands all round who don’t want to write Fausts, and only have money to spend and walks to take, and how do they like such an arrangement?– Moreover, I should be perhaps more refractory than anybody, if what I cheerfully agree to, as happening to take my fancy, were forced on me, as the only reasonable course. All men ought to be independent, whatever Carlyle may say. And so, too, I like being alone, myself—but I should be sorry to see the ordinary friends I have, live alone. Do you understand all this, Ba? Will you make me say it, in your mind, intelligibly? and then will you say still more of your own till the true thing is completely said? And, after all, will you kiss me? …

Here we have more classic Browning. Is it embarrassment that will not permit him to simply say what he means straight out? He seems to be trying to make some point about the liberty or freedom that money gives people. Men may be happy to be free enough to write a book (and that he would be happy enough with that) but there are other freedoms that money can buy (but that limit his freedom in other ways) and he accepts that necessity for her sake. I think that is what he is trying to say--but I may be totally wrong--because he is Browning--and I am not. And, then like he has said something naughty he asks her to forgive him.

".. As I asked you yesterday .. because of a most foolish, thoughtless allusion,—which I only trust you never noticed .. do not you allude to it, not even to forgive me, dearest dearest. I would rather be unforgiven than pain you afresh to do it .. but perhaps you did not notice my silly expression after all .. I wished your dear hands before my eyes, I know! Still, you would know it was only thoughtlessness–"

This will be explained and forgiven in a forthcoming letter.

"All this sad morning the blackness has been quite enough to justify our fire .. we have had one these two or three days– But now the sun comes out—and I will hope you follow him,—after Mr Kenyon’s visit?– That is to be, I think!
I never write anything bearable, even for me, on these days when no letter from you leads me on phrase by phrase .. I am thrown too completely on the general feelings. 'Do you love Ba?—then tell her that'! Yes, indeed! It is easier to leave all the love untold, having to speak for the moment of Finchley only! Finchley,—the cottage,—Ba entering it. Flush following her .. now I come to something I wanted to say! In the paper, this morning, is a paragraph about the bold villainy of dog-stealers .. there is an “organized society” of these fellows, and they seize and convey away everybody’s Flushes, “if such one ever were,” as Iago rhymes of his perfect wife. So friend Flush must go his highways only, and keep out of alleys and dark corners: beside, in Pisa, he must guard the house. In earnest, I warn you, Ba!

This warning about dog-nappers is quite apt. Be prepared of action on that front in the not too distant future as well. And one last letter today:

"Can I be as good for you as morphine is for me, I wonder .. even at the cost of being as bad also? Cant you leave me off, without risking your life,—nor go on with me, without running the hazards of all poison—? Ah—It will not do, so– The figure exceeds me, let it be ever so fatal– I may not be your morphine, even if I shall be your Ba!—you see!
You are my prophet though, in a few things. For instance, Mr Kenyon came today, & sate here I really believe two hours, talking of poor Papa .. (oh! not of us, my prophet!) & at length, of the Pyrenees & of Switzerland, & of the characteristics of mountain scenery .. full of interest it all was, & I thought (while he talked) that when you & I had done with the crocodiles, we might look for a chamois or two– If I 'drive', I shall drive that way, I think still .. that is, ever since four oclock, I have thought. Mr Kenyon said .. 'you had a visitor yesterday'! 'Yes' said I—'Mr Browning came.' 'You mean that he actually did come, through that pouring rain!– Well—he told me he was coming; but when I saw the rain, I imagined it to be out of the question–' Just observe his subtlety– Imagining that you did not come yesterday he concluded of course that you would come—today,—& straightway hurried here himself!!—— Moreover he seems to me to have resolved on never again leaving London!– Because Mr Eagles goes to the seaside instead of to the Quantock hills, Mr Kenyon has written to Landor a proposition toward a general renouncement of the adventure– Quite cross I felt, to hear of it! And it does’nt unruffle me to be told, even that he goes to Richmond on tuesday & sleeps there & spends the wednesday– Nothing can unruffle me– So tiresome it is! Then I am provoked a little by the news he brought me of 'Miss Martineau’s leaving the Lakes for a month or two'—seeing that if she leaves the Lakes, it is for London—there are nets on all sides of us. I am under a promise to see her, & I shrink both from herself & her consequences– Now, is it not tiresome? Those are coming—and these are not going away. The hunters are upon us .. & where we run, we run into the nets."

And the nights are getting cold. Sounds like they better decamp.

"Dearest, I have been considering one thing, & do you consider whether, if we do achieve this peculiar madness of going to Italy, we should take any books, & what they should be. A few books of the small editions would be desirable perhaps—& then it were well for us to arrange it so that we should not take duplicates, & that the possession of the duodecimo should ‘have the preference’ .. do you understand? Also, this arrangement being made, & the time approaching, I had better perhaps send you my part of the books, so as to save the difficulty of taking more packets than absolutely were necessary, from this house– It will be very difficult to remove things without exciting observation—and my sisters must not observe. The consequences would be frightful if they were suspected of knowing,—&, poor things, I could not drive them into acting a part——
My own beloved, when my courage seems to bend & break, I turn to you & look at you .. as men see visions ..! It is enough, always. Did you ever give me pain by a purpose of yours? do you not rather keep me from all pain?—do we blame the wind that breathes gently, because a reed or a weed trembles in it? I could not feel much pain while sitting near you, I think—unless you suffered a little, .. or looked as if you did not love me. And that was not at least yesterday
May God bless you dearest, ever dearest–
I am your own–
Say how your mother is—& how you are– Dont neglect this–"

The tone of this letter sounds like serious business. She is wanting to send her books to him for shipment. She's not going to send her books away unless she is serious about going. She is also getting tired of having to maintain the secret. Yes, I would say things are progressing on the let's get out of town front very nicely. And the concluding admonition of "Dont neglect this" is very wifely.

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