August 27, 1845 Browning responds to Miss Barrett's heartbreaking letter of August 25th, in which she described the death of her brother and her reaction to it:
"On the subject of your letter—quite irrespective of the injunction in it—I
would not have dared speak; now, at least. But I may permit myself, perhaps, to
say I am most grateful, most grateful, dearest friend, for this
admission to participate, in my degree, in these feelings. There is a better
thing than being happy in your happiness; I feel, now that you teach me, it is
so. I will write no more now; though that sentence of 'what you are
expecting,—that I shall be tired of you &c.,'—though I could
blot that out of your mind for ever by a very few words now,—for you
would believe me at this moment, close on the other subject:—but I will
take no such advantage—I will wait.
I have many things (indifferent things, after those) to say; will you write,
if but a few lines, to change the associations for that purpose? Then I will
May God bless you,—in what is past and to come! I pray that from my heart,
being yours RB"
Perfect. He acknowledges the honor that she shared her deepest emotions with him. Offered no opinion and made the point that he will not take advantage of her vulnerabilities. Good man.
Miss Barrett immediately writes back, changing the subject back to her favorite subject, poetry. Browning has sent her his poem 'Saul' to read:
"But your 'Saul' is unobjectionable as far as I can see, my dear friend. He
was tormented by an evil spirit—but how, we are not told ... and the consolation
is not obliged to be definite, ... is it? A singer was sent for as a singer—and
all that you are called upon to be true to, are the general characteristics of
David the chosen, standing between his sheep and his dawning hereafter, between
innocence and holiness, and with what you speak of as the 'gracious gold locks'
besides the chrism of the prophet, on his own head—and surely you have been
happy in the tone and spirit of these lyrics ... broken as you have left them.
Where is the wrong in all this? For the right and beauty, they are more
obvious—and I cannot tell you how the poem holds me and will not let me go until
it blesses me ... and so, where are the 'sixty lines' thrown away? I do beseech
you ... you who forget nothing, ... to remember them directly, and to go on with
the rest ... as directly (be it understood) as is not injurious to your
health. The whole conception of the poem, I like ... and the execution is
exquisite up to this point—and the sight of Saul in the tent, just struck out of
the dark by that sunbeam, 'a thing to see,' ... not to say that afterwards when
he is visibly 'caught in his fangs' like the king serpent, ... the sight is
grander still. How could you doubt about this poem...."
The half finished poem, which Browning had mentioned to her in passing three months before, is about how King Saul, living in perpetual grief due to the torment of an evil spirit, is freed from torment by young David playing on his harp. The poem is a celebration of the joys of living once the old king is free from his grief. Did Miss Barrett make the connection? She makes no overt reference to recognizing an analogy.
"At the moment of writing which, I receive your note. Do you receive my
assurances from the deepest of my heart that I never did otherwise than
'believe' you ... never did nor shall do ... and that you completely
misinterpreted my words if you drew another meaning from them. Believe me
in this—will you? I could not believe you any more for anything you could
say, now or hereafter—and so do not avenge yourself on my unwary sentences by
remembering them against me for evil. I did not mean to vex you ... still less
to suspect you—indeed I did not! and moreover it was quite your fault that I did
not blot it out after it was written, whatever the meaning was. So you forgive
me (altogether) for your own sins: you must:— "
Oh yes, she believed him. That was the problem. She was anticipating that his reaction was going to be another declaration and she is batting it back even before he actually makes it.
"For my part, though I have been sorry since to have written you such a gloomy
letter, the sorrow unmakes itself in hearing you speak so kindly. Your sympathy
is precious to me, I may say. May God bless you. Write and tell me among the
'indifferent things' something not indifferent, how you are yourself, I mean ...
for I fear you are not well and thought you were not looking so yesterday.
Dearest friend, I remain yours, E.B.B. "
But of course she is grateful to Browning for not saying the whole thing was her fault just as she was grateful to her father. She may be too easy to please.