Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26

Browning is getting down to serious business in his letter of August 26, 1846:

"....I have learned all particulars about the steamer. There are only two classes of passengers .. Servants being the second. The first pay, for the voyage to Leghorn £21—the second, £14,5s all expenses included except during the stay at Genoa. No reduction 'it is feared' could be made in the case of so small a party—but by booking early, a separate cabin might be secured, at no additional expense. In the event of any obstacle, the passage paid for may be postponed till the departure of the next, or any future vessel of the company– Now, you see, these rates, though moderate, I think—(the ordinary term of the passage to Genoa is eleven days)—are yet considerably above those of the other method—by at least £20, I should say. The voyage is long, supremely tiresome, and in all respects so much less interesting than the French route, that the whole scheme can only be constructed for those to whom any other mode of travel is impossible—the one question to be asked therefore is .. are you really convinced that you need not be treated as one of these? And on further consideration, there arise not a few doubts as to whether the sea-voyage be not the more difficult of the two—the roughness is all between here & Gibraltar—and in the case of that affecting you more seriously than we hope, there would be no possibility of escaping from the ship: whereas, should you be indisposed on the other route, we can stop at once and stay for any period. Then, the “shiftings” are only three or four, and probably accompanied by no very great fatigue beyond the notion that a shifting there is– Above all, you would get the first of the sea in a little experiment, soon made and over,—so that if it proved unfavorable to you, there might be an end of the matter at once. So that after all, the cheaper journey may be the safer– But all does not rest with you quite, as I was going to say .. all my life is bound up with the success of this measure .. therefore, think and decide, my Ba!"
Well, it finally clicked with our genius poet that a sea voyage might not be the best mode of transport for an invalid whose main complaint seems to be a nervous disposition. A little slow, but he is catching on. Perhaps it was her fit of hysterics in the church.

"Would there be an advantage in Mrs Jameson accompanying us—to Orleans, at least? Would the circumstances of our marriage alter her desire, do you think? She has often wished to travel with me, also. She must suspect the truth. I doubt whether it is not, in such cases as hers’, where no responsibility is involved, whether it is not better policy, as well as the more graceful, to communicate what is sure to be discovered—so getting thanks & sympathy instead of neither. All is for you to consider."
Browning is so open, such a gentleman; he wants to tell everyone.

"And now, dearest, I will revert, in as few words as I can, to the account you gave me, a short time since, of your income. At the beginning, if there had been the necessity I supposed, I should have proposed to myself the attainment of something like such an amount, by my utmost efforts, before we could marry. We could not under the circumstances begin with less—so as to be free from horrible contingencies,—not the least of which would be the application for assistance afterward .. after we marry, nobody must hear of us. In spite of a few misgivings at first, I am not proud, or rather, am proud in the right place. I am utterly, exclusively proud of you: and though I should have gloried in working myself to death to prove it, and shall be as ready to do so at any time a necessity shall exist, yet at present I shall best serve you, I think, by the life by your side, which we contemplate. I hope and believe, that by your side I shall accomplish something to justify God’s goodness and yours: and, looking at the matter in a worldly light, I see not a few reasons for thinking that—unproductive as the kind of literature may be, which I should aim at producing, yet, by judicious management, and profiting by certain favorable circumstances,—I shall be able to realize an annual sum quite sufficient for every purpose .. at least in Italy.
I have to comment on a few things here. I cannot resist the temptation. What exactly would comprise Browning's 'utmost efforts'? He is correct that he should make financial arrangements before they set out. That is prudent. Does anyone really believe that he would have 'gloried in working myself to death to prove it'. I am not necessarily despairing that he would never do such a thing, a man who has apparently never done a day's labor in this life, but rather that he would write such a thing knowing that he never would do such a thing. I believe that people are born to do certain things. I would even venture to believe that Browning was born to be a poet and help fulfill Miss Barrett's destiny. But this sentence seems me to be either the most disingenuous thing he has ever written to her or, if he really believes this, the most self-deluding thing he has ever written. This from a man who is too proud to have his poems published in magazines (although he does not object to Miss Barrett doing the same.) Perhaps he truly believes that once he settles down with his lyric wife he will produce a great volume of poetic works. This may be, but he certainly will not be digging ditches anytime soon. Where are all of the worshipful male biographers in all of this? Too busy worshipping to notice that Browning was not quite, quite perfect. Close, but no, not perfect. And no, he will not be able to 'realize an annual sum quite sufficient for every purpose.' She came far closer to it than he did because she looked at poetry as both an art and a commodity.

"As I never calculated on such a change in my life, I had the less repugnance to my father’s generosity, that I knew that an effort at some time or other might furnish me with a few hundred pounds which would soon cover my very simple expenses. If we are poor, it is to my father’s infinite glory, who, as my mother told me last night, as we sate alone, 'conceived such a hatred to the slave-system in the West Indies', (where his mother was born, who died in his infancy,) that he relinquished every prospect,—supported himself, while there, in some other capacity, and came back, while yet a boy, to his father’s profound astonishment and rage—one proof of which was, that when he heard that his son was a suitor to her, my mother—he benevolently waited on her uncle to assure him that his niece ‘would be thrown away on a man so evidently born to be hanged’!—those were his very words. My father on his return, had the intention of devoting himself to art, for which he had many qualifications and abundant love—but the quarrel with his father,—who married again and continued to hate him till a few years before his death,—induced him to go at once and consume his life after a fashion he always detested. You may fancy, I am not ashamed of him."
In other words: his father got a job.

"I told my mother, who told him. They have never been used to interfere with, or act for me—and they trust me. If you care for any love, purely love,—you will have theirs—they give it you, whether you take it or no. You will understand, therefore, that I would not accept even the £100 we shall want: I said, 'you shall lend it me .. I will pay it back out of my first literary earnings: I take it, because I do not want to sell my copyrights, or engage myself to write a play, or any other nuisance'– Surely I can get fifty pounds next year, and the other fifty in due course!
So, dearest, we shall have plenty for the journey—and you have only to determine the when and the how.

Oh, the time! Bless you, ever dearest! I love you with all my heart and soul–RB"
I love the family dynamic. He asks his mother who asks his father. Or, as Browning puts it, "I told my mother, who told him." No wonder he never wrote personal poems. But this is all good because they are that much closer to hitting the road. Based on his pledge to pay them back from his first literary earnings, he paid their estate. I know, I am being really brutal to Browning today; I just pick on him something awful. I really do admire him, I think he was genuinly a good man and a talented writer. But he was human, which too many biographers seem to forget.
Next we get Miss Barrett's response. She objects to entirely different things in his letter than I:
" 'If I care for any love'—! 'whether I take it or no'.– Now ought I not to reproach you a little, for bearing to write such words of me, when you could not but think all the while, that I should feel a good deal in reading what you wrote beside? Will you tell me that you did not know I should be glad & grateful for tolerance even?—the least significance of the kinder feeling, affecting me beyond, perhaps, what you could know of me– I am bound to them utterly.
And if it is true, as it is true, that they have much to pardon & overlook in me, .. & among the rest, the painful position imposed on you by my miserable necessities, .. they yet never shall find me, I trust, unworthy of them & you by voluntary failures, &, least of all, by failures of dutiful affection towards themselves—'IF THEY CARE FOR ANY LOVE'.
For the rest of what you tell me, it is all the purest kindness—and you were perfectly, perfectly right in taking so, & as a loan, which we ought, I think, to return when our hands are free, without waiting for the completion of other projects– By living quietly & simply, we shall surely have enough—& more than enough– Then among other resources, is Blackwood. I calculated once that without unpleasant labour, with scarcely an effort, I could make a hundred a year by magazine-contributions—& this, without dishonor either. It does ‘fugitive poems’, observe, no harm whatever, to let them fly through a periodical before they alight on their tree to sing– Then you will send perhaps the sweepings of your desk to Blackwood, to alternate with my sendings!– Shall we do that, when we sit together on the ragged edge of earthquake chasms, in the midst of the 'sulphurous vapour.' I, afraid? No indeed– I think I should never be afraid, if you were near enough– Only that you never must go away in boats– But there is time enough for such compacts–"
This comment about Browning never going away in boats is surely a reference to the death of her brother 'Bro' when he went away in a boat and never came back.
"As to the sea voyage, that was your scheme, & not mine, from the beginning: & your account of the expenses, if below my fear, .. (although I believe that “servants” do not mean “female servants” & that the latter are subject to additional charges) yet seems to me to leave the Rhone & Soane-route as preferable as ever. And do you mark, dear dearest, that supposing me to be unfit for the short railroad passage from Rouen to Paris & from Paris to Orleans, I must be just as unfit for the journey to Southampton, which is necessary to the sea-voyage– Then .. supposing me to be unfit for the river-passage, I must be still more unfit for the seaSo dont suppose either. I am stronger than you fancy. I shall shut my eyes & think of you when there is too much noise & confusion, .. the things which try me most—and it will be easy to find a quiet room & draw down the blinds & take rest, I suppose, .. which one might in vain long for in that crowded steamer at sea– Therefore, dearest, if I am to think & decide, I have decided .. let us go through France– And let us go quick, quick, & not stop anywhere within hearing of England .. not stop at Havre, nor at Rouen, nor at Paris——that is how I decide. May God help us, & smooth the way before & behind– May your father indeed be able to love me a little, for my father will never love me again."
Miss Barrett, seen by the world as a pathetic person living in her father's attic, is really the more practical of these two poets. She sees clearly that the sea voyage is the least feasible of the alternatives. But then, she is used to making arrangements for herself and her servants. Browning does not seem to quite understand the nature of her frailties, but I dare say he soon shall.
"For you .. you will 'serve me best' & serve me only, by being happy not away from me. When I shall have none but you, if I can feel myself not too much for you,—not <your burden> something you would rather leave, .. then you will have 'served' me all you can– But this is more perhaps than you can—these things do not depend on the will of a man—that he should promise to do them– I speak simply for myself, & of what would give me a full contentment. Do not fancy that there is a doubt in the words of it– I cannot doubt now of your affection for me– Dearest, I cannotYet you make me uneasy often through this extravagance of over-estimation, .. forcing me to contract 'obligations to pay' which I look at in speechless despair–— And here is a penny.
Of Mrs Jameson, let me write tomorrow– I am benighted & must close– On friday we shall meet at last, surely; & then it will be all the happier in proportion to the vexation– Dearest, love me– I am your own–"
Well, decisions have been made on August 26, 1846. They are funded and they are going over land to Italy. Now, they just need to decide when to leave.

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