Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22

August 22, 1846 we will begin with Browning who responds to Miss Barrett's two letters of August 21st:

"Your first note reached me at six oclock yesterday .. did the dear living spirit inside help it along in spite of all the post’s hindrance? And this second comes duly. When you know I am most at a loss how to thank you, invariably you begin thanking me! Is that because of my own practice of saying a foolish thing and then, to cover it, asking you to kiss me? I think I will tell you now what that foolish thing was,—lest you, missing it, should go hunting and find worse, and far worse: I will just remind you, that on your enumerating your brothers and sisters, I said without a moment’s thought, 'so, 'you are seven'! .. and you know how Wordsworth applied that phrase .. and in the sudden fear of wounding dearest Ba, I took such refuge for myself, rather than her! Will you kiss me now, my own love?– And say nothing, but let it die away here, this stupidity of mine."

This explains Browning's apology of yesterday. Browning feared that his reference to the Wordsworth poem "We Are Seven" would remind Miss Barrett of her deceased brother 'Bro' whose death caused her much grief and guilt. For the uninitiated there were be a tutorial on the death of 'Bro' on the August 25th blog post. Click above for the Wiki entry on "We Are Seven".

"I hardly conceive what Mr Kenyon means .. except perhaps a sort of general exhortation to take care & I mean, if he came for the purpose of catching me only,—he ought either to know or not know, keep silence or speak, approve or condemn .. and to do neither being so easy, his own cautiousness would keep him away, I should have thought.
About your books, you speak altogether wisely: in this first visit to Italy we had better take only enough to live upon,—travelling books,—and return for the rest. And so with everything else—I shall put papers &c into a room and turn the key on them and my deaths’ heads—because when we come back (think of you and me .. why, we shall walk arm in arm; would Flush object to carry an umbrella in his mouth? And so let Lough cut us in marble, all three!)—well, when we come back, all can be done leisurely and considerately. And then, Greece, Egypt, Syria,—the Chamois-country, as Ba pleases!

Browning is all for travelling light. The reference to 'deaths' heads' here is not so very sinister as it sounds, he won't be locking up all the dead women from his murderous poems. He is referring to the skulls he kept on his desk in his room.

Ba, Lord Byron is altogether in my affection again .. I have read on to the end, and am quite sure of the great qualities which the last ten or fifteen years had partially obscuredOnly a little longer life and all would have been gloriously right again. I read this book of Moore’s too long ago: but I always retained my first feeling for Byron in many respects .. the interest in the places he had visited, in relics of him: I would at any time have gone to Finchley to see a curl of his hair or one of his gloves, I am sure—while Heaven knows that I could not get up enthusiasm enough to cross the room if at the other end of it all Wordsworth, Coleridge & Southey were condensed into the little china bottle yonder, after the Rosicrucian fashion .. they seem to 'have their reward' and want nobody’s love or faith. Just one of those trenchant opinions which I found fault with Byron for uttering,—as 'proving nothing'–But telling a weakness to Ba, is not telling it to 'the world,' as poor authors phrase it!"

Of course Browning is turning again to Byron, Byron was a lover and Browning was in love. While it is well known that Browning felt that Wordsworth had abandoned the standard, his contempt for him, Coleridge and Southey here is pretty strong.

"By the way, Chorley has written another very kind paper, in that little Journal of today, on Colombe’s Birthday—I have only glanced at it however. See his goodwill! I will bring it on Tuesday, if you please in your goodness. I was not quite so well .. (there is the bare truth ..) this morning early—but the little there was to go, has gone, and I am about to go out. My mother continues indisposed– The connection between our ailings is no fanciful one. A few weeks ago when my medical adviser was speaking about the pain and its cause .. my mother sitting by me .. he exclaimed 'Why, has anybody to reach far for a cause of whatever nervous disorder you may suffer from, when there sits your mother .. whom you so absolutely resemble .. I can trace every feature &c &c.' To which I did not answer—'And will anybody wonder that the said disorder flies away, when there sits my Ba, whom I so thoroughly adore'. Yes, there you sit, Ba! And here I kiss you, best beloved,—my very own as I am your own RB"

The really interesting part of this is not that he and his mother had similar symptoms, but that the doctor described it as a 'nervous disorder'. What caused those headaches of Browning that only strong exercise could alleviate? The biographers love to speculate on the illness of Miss Barrett but none of them speculate on Browning's headaches which kept him from working. Could it be his eyes? He supposedly had one near sighted eye and one far sighted eye. But how would strenuous exercise help a headache caused by eye strain? Perhaps by not using the reading eye? Enough of this. Let us on to Miss Barrett's letter:

"I begin to write before one this morning, with the high resolve that you shall have a letter on sunday, tomorrow at least,—it shall be put into the post so precisely at the right hour. At two I am going out in the carriage to Mr Boyd’s & other places,—& dining duties are to be performed before then, .. & before now I have had a visitor– Guess whom– Mrs Jameson. So I am on a “narrow neck of land” .. such as Wesley wrote hymns about, .. & ‘stans in pede uno [standing on one foot]' on it—can make for you but a hurried letter.
She came in with a questioning face, & after wondering to find me visible so soon, plunged into the centre of the question & asked 'what was settled .. what I was doing about Italy—'. 'Just nothing', I told her 'She found me as she left me, able to say no word–'
'But what are you going to do–'—throwing herself back in the chair with a sudden––'but oh, I must not enquire.'
I went on to say that 'in the first place my going would not take place till quite the end of September if so soon,—that I had determined to make no premature fuss,—& that, for the actual present, nothing was either to be done or said–'
'Very sudden, then, it is to be– In fact, there is only an elopement for you'—she observed laughingly——
So I was obliged to laugh–
(But, dearest, nobody will use such a word surely to the event. We shall be in such an obvious exercise of Right by Daylight– Surely nobody will use such a word–)
I talked of Mr Kenyon,—how he had been with me yesterday & brought the mountains of the Earth into my room—'which was almost too much', I said, 'for a prisoner'. 'Yes—but if you go to Italy'....
'But Mr Kenyon thinks I shall not. In his opinion, my case is desperate.'
'But I tell you that it is not– Nobody’s case is desperate when the will is not at fault. And a woman’s will when she wills thoroughly, as I hope you do, is strong enough to overcome. When I hear people say that circumstances are against them, I always retort, .. you mean that your will is not with you! I believe in the will– I have faith in it–' "

This discussion of 'the will' is interesting because Miss Barrett felt that her will could bring danger and death to others although she does not throw that fear into the discussion in this letter. Also of interest is Miss Barrett's dislike of the idea that people will think that they have 'eloped'. One must not have ones honor sullied with accusations of 'necessary elopement'.

"There, is an oracle for us, to remember for good! She goes to Paris, she says, with her niece, between the seventh & tenth of September,—& after a few days at Paris, she goes to Orleans for the cathedral’s sake—but what follows is doubtful .. Italy is doubtful– Only that my opinion is, as I told her, that if Italy is doubtful here in London, at Orleans when she gets there, it will be certain– She will not resist the attraction towards the South– She looked at me all the while she told me this .. looked into my eyes, like a Deviner." sounds like a good travel plan to me.

On monday morning she comes to see me again. It is all painful, or rather unpleasant– One should not use strong words out of place,—& there will remain too much use for this. How I teaze you now!–
Believe me, through it all, that when I think of the very worst of the future, I love you the best, & feel most certain of never hesitating. As long as you choose to have me, my beloved, I have chosen– I am yours already. & your own always–Ba"

It sounds like she is ready to go and even has their travel route worked out.

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