Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23

We will begin with Miss Barrett today (August 23, 1846) as she reassures Browning that she took no offence at his reference to her late brother, Bro:

"But dearest—did you not understand that I understood? I know your words better than you think, you see. Were you afraid to trust me to give a chase to them in my recollection, lest I should fall blindly upon some ‘Secret Sin’ of yours? a wild boar, instead of a poor little coney belonging to the rocks of my desolation?—such as it was before you made the yellow furze grow everywhere on it? Now, it is like me for wickedness, to begin talking of your 'secret sins,' just by this opportunity– You overcome me with goodness—there’s the real truth, & the whole of it.
While I am writing, comes in Arabel with such a face!– My brothers had been talking, talking of me. Stormie suddenly touched her & said 'Is it true that there is an engagement between Mr Browning & Ba—'? she was taken unaware, but had just power to say 'You had better ask them, if you want to know– What nonsense, Storm.' 'Well!' he resumed 'I’ll ask Ba when I go up stairs'. George was by, looking as grave as if antedating his judgeship– Think how frightened I was, Robert .. expecting them up stairs every minute—for all my brothers come here on sunday, all together– But they came, & not a single word was said—not on that subject .. & I talked on every other in a sort of hurried way—I was so frightened–"

So, isn't the Barrett household an enigma? All of her brothers come to see her on Sunday at the same time and while they try to get the dirt from Arabel they do not ask her themselves. Why not? Do they not want to embarrass her? They all seem to be great teazers. Why don't they choose to teaze her on this subject? Perhaps they don't really want to know but love the gossip. Knowledge is a dangerous thing in the Barrett household.

"Yesterday Mr Boyd & I talked on it for two hours nearly, he would not let me go with his kindness– Nothing, he said, would make him gladder than our having gone, & escaped the storms. In fact, what with affection for me & disaffection in other directions, he thinks of nothing besides, I do believe– He only wishes that he had known last year, in order to exhort me properly. The very triumph of reason & righteousness, he considers the whole affair– But I told you what Mr Boyd is—dear, poor Mr Boyd! Talking such pure childishness sometimes, in such pure Attic– Yet one of the very most upright men, after all, that I ever dreamt of—one of the men born shepherds—with a crook in the hand, instead of the metaphorical 'silver spoon in the mouth'. Good, dear Mr Boyd! I am very grateful to him for his goodness to me just now– I assure you that he takes us up exactly as if we were Ossian & Macpherson, or a criticism of Porson’s, or a new chapter of Bentley on Phalaris–By the way, do you believe in Ossian? Let me be properly prepared for that question."

It is nice that she has someone to talk it over with who is supportive of her, even if he is not the most practical of men. A good two hour talk that she knows will not be repeated to an outside person must have been cathartic. She has only Browning to talk to and he is certainly not going to offer any other point of view.

"But I have a question for you of my own– Listen to me, my Famous in Counsel, & give me back words of wisdom. A long, long while ago, nearly a year since perhaps, I wrote to the Blackwoods of Edinburgh to mention my new Prometheus, & to ask if they would care to use, in their magazine, that, & verses more my own, .. whether they would care to have them at the usual magazine-terms– I had some lyrics by me, & people have constantly advised me to print in Blackwood, with the prospect of republishing in the independent form– You get at the public so, & are paid for your poems instead of paying for them– Did I tell you all this before—& about my having written the enquiry? At any rate, no reply came– I concluded that Mr Blackwood did not think it worth while to write, & eschewed the poems—& the subject passed from my thoughts till last night. Then, came a very civil note– The Authorities, receiving nothing from me, were afraid that their answer to my letter had not reached me, & therefore wrote again– They would 'like to see' my Prometheus though apprehensive of its being unfit for the magazine—but particularly desire to have all manner of lyrics, whatever I have by me– Now, what do you think? what shall I do? Would it not be well to let this door between us & Blackwood stand open– One is not in the worst company there—they pay well,—& you have the opportunity of standing face to face with the public at any moment—without hindering the solemner interviews. When we are in Italy, particularly,! Do you not see? Tell me your thoughts."

This from the more practical of the poets. Browning did not like publishing in magazines but she, seeing poetry as much as a business as an art, liked to get out there and get seen, read and paid. And that certainly could not hurt where they were headed.

"Since I began this letter I have been to the Scotch church in our neighbourhood—& it has all been in vain—I could not stay. We heard that a French minister, a M. Alphonse Monod of Montauban, was to preach at three oclock, in French—& counting on a small congregation, & Arabel (through a knowledge of the localities) encouraging me with the prospect of sitting close to the door, & retiring back into the entrance-hall when the singing began, so as to escape that excitement, .. I agreed to make the trial,—& she & I set out in a cab from the cabstand hard by .. to which we walked. But the church was filling, obviously filling, as we arrived .. & grew fuller & fuller. We went in & came out again, & I sate down on the stairs—& the people came faster & faster, & I could not keep the tears out of my eyes to begin with– One gets nervous among all those people if a straw stirs– So Arabel after due observations on every side, decided that it would be too much of a congregation for me, & that I had better go home to Flush—(Poor Flush having been left at home in a state of absolute despair.) She therefore put me into a cab & sent me to Wimpole Street, & stayed behind herself to hear M. Monod– There’s my adventure today. When I opened my door on my return, Flush threw himself upon me with a most ecstatical agony, & for full ten minutes, did not cease jumping & kissing my hands—he thought he had lost me for certain, this time. Oh! & you warn me against the danger of losing him– Indeed I take care & take thought too—those 'organized banditti' are not merely banditti 'de comedie' .. they are a dreadful reality. Did I not tell you once that they had announced to me that I should not have Flush back the next time, for less than ten guineas—? But you will let him come with us to Italy, instead—will you not, dear, dearest? in good earnest, will you not? Because, if I leave him behind, he will be hanged for my sins in this house—or I could not be sure of the reverse of it!– And even if he escaped that fate, consider how he would break his heart about me– Dogs pine to death sometimes—& if ever a dog loved a man, or a woman, Flush loves me– But you say that he shall keep the house at Pisa—and you mean it, I hope & I think?—you are in earnest?– May God bless you!– .. so, I say my prayers, though I missed the church– Tomorrow, comes my letter .. come my two letters! the happy monday! The happier tuesday, if on tuesday comes the writer of the letters! His very own Ba.

Our Miss Barrett is a nervous girl. This little experiment didn't go well, but how openly she tells Browning of her ordeal. He must have some idea of her nervous state but then again he has never had the pleasure of accompanying her on a public outing. He can have no real idea of her nervous reaction to loud noises, music, crowds and raised voices. She makes light of it in the letters but to have to deal with it I do not doubt will be an ongoing trial as they travel and until she becomes more accustomed to the real world.

Browning's letter today reaches back to respond to her letter of the previous day as well:

"This time, they brought me your letter at six o’clock yesterday evening: was I startled, or no, do you think, as I received it! But all proved right, and kind as ever, or kinder. By the post-mark, I see you did go out. Can you care in this way for my disappointments and remedy them? If I did not love you, how I would begin now! Every day shows me more to love in you, dearest, and I open my arms as wide as I can .. 'incomprehensible' Ba, as Donne would say! —Also he would say much better things, however....

Why do you suspect that you 'teaze me' when you say 'there will remain too much use for the word ‘painful’ '? Do you not know more of me by this time, my own Ba? When I have spoken of the probable happiness of our future life,—of the chances in our favour from a community of tastes and feelings,—I have really done it on your account, not mine– I very well know that there would be an exquisite, secret happiness through pain with you, or for you—but it is not for me to insist on that, with that divine diffidence in your own worth which meets me wherever I turn to approach you, and puts me so gently aside .. so I rather retire and content myself with occupying the ground you do concede .. and since you will only hear of my being happy in the obvious, ordinary way, I tell you, with perfect truth, that you, and only you, can make me thus—that only you, of all women, look in the direction that I look, and feel as I feel, and live for the ends of my life,—and beside that, see with my eyes the most natural and immediate way of reaching them, thro’ a simple life, retirement from the world here, (not from the real world)—travel, and the rest. But all the while I know .. do not you know, Ba? … that the joy’s essence is in the life with you, for the sake of you, not of the mere vulgar happiness,—and that if any of our calculations should fail, it will be a surprise, a delight, a pride to me to take the new taste you shall prescribe, or leave the old one you forbid– My life being yours, what matters the change which you effect in it?
—Here, you mean not even so much as this by your 'painful'—'Elopement'! Let them call it 'felony' or 'burglary'—so long as they don’t go to church with us, and propose my health after breakfast! Now you fancy this a gratuitous piece of impertinence, do you not, Ba? You are wrong, sweet: I speak from directest experience—having dreamed, the night before last, that we were married, and that on adjourning to the house of a friend of mine, his brother, a young fop I know slightly, made a speech, about a certain desk or dressing-case, which he ended by presenting to me in the name of the house! Whereto I replied in a strain of the most alarming fluency—(all in the dream, I need not tell you) 'and then I woke'– ....
By the way, Byron speaks of plucking oranges in his garden at Pisa .. I saw just a courtyard with a high wall—which may have been a garden .. but a gloomier one than the palace, even, warrants. They have painted the front fresh staring yellow and changed its name .. there being another Casa Lanfranchi on the other side of the Arno.
Now I will kiss you, dearest: used you to divine that, at the very beginning, I have sometimes shortened the visit in order to arrive at the time of taking your hand?
You will write to me to-night, I think– Tuesday is our day, remember. May God bless you, my very very dearest–Your RB

One of Browning's more unclouded letters. Very charming. I love that he didn't care if they called their marriage a felony or a burglary as long as he didn't have to give a speech after the wedding feast. Browning was well known for his dislike of public speaking. A quiet wedding suited them both. They both disliked the crowds and were content to be married alone in an empty church.

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