Friday, August 3, 2012

August 3

August 3, 1846 Browning considers Miss Barrett's avowal that she will not alter his bachelor life by marrying him:

"How you have mistaken my words, whatever they may have been, about the 'change' to be expected in my life! I have, most sincerely I tell you, no one habit nor manner to change or persevere in,—if you once accept the general constitution of me as accordant to yours in a sufficient degree,—my incompleteness with your completeness, dearest, —there is no further difficulty. I want to be a Poet—to read books which make wise in their various ways, to see just so much of nature and the ways of men as seems necessary—and having done this already in some degree, I can easily and cheerfully afford to go without any or all of it for the future, if called upon,—and so live on, and 'use up,' my past acquisitions such as they are. I will go to Pisa and learn,—or stay here and learn in another way—putting, as I always have done, my whole pride, if that is the proper name, in the being able to work with the least possible materials. There is my scheme of life without you, before you existed for me; prosecuted hitherto with every sort of weakness, but always kept in view and believed in: now then, please to introduce Ba, and say what is the habit she changes? But do not try to say what divinest confirmation she brings to 'whatever is good and holy and true' in this scheme, because even She cannot say that! All the liberty and forbearance .. most graceful, most characteristic of you, sweet! But why should I play with you, at taking what I mean to give again?—or rather, what it would be a horror to have to keep—why make fantastic stipulations only to have the glory of not abiding by them? If I may speak of my own desires for a moment unconnected with your happiness,—of what I want for myself, purely,—what I mean by marrying you,—it is, that I may be with you forever– I cannot have enough of you in any other relation: why then should I pretend to make reservations and say 'Yes, you shall deprive me of yourself (of your sympathy, of your knowledge, and good wishes, and counsel) on such and such occasions?'– But I feel your entire goodness, dear angel of my life,—ever more I feel it, tho’ all seems felt and recorded.

A typically charming rebuttal.

"....After this, it seems very natural to remark that the Havre packets leave now at nine instead of eight oclock on Thursdays & Sundays—while the departures from Southampton,—are on Tuesdays & Fridays. My presentiment is that suddenly you will be removed to Devonshire or Sussex or— In which case, our difficulties will multiply considerably—be prepared for such events!
And for to-morrow—only think of yourself, lest you should forget my interests: pray write to-night, if but two or three words. If I am allowed to call, I will bring Mrs Butler’s book in a cover, and, if I find a note from you, leave that, as an excuse for the knock. Will you contrive that a note shall be ready—in case of your Aunt’s presence &c. If it saves you from a danger, let me stay away—until the letters stop, I can bear absence till the two months end—any such journey as I apprehend would be most annoying, deplorable indeed.
Would you not, if the worst came,—what would you do?

Good grief, that is an open question. What is the worst?
He adds a postscript:

Mrs Procter wants me to go to her on Thursday—is there anything to get out of that arrangement? .. probably not—but wish!

Do reconsider, Ba,—had I better stay away to-morrow? You cannot misunderstand me,—I only think of you—any man’s anger to me is Flush’s barking, without the respectability of motive,—but, once the door shut on me, if he took to biting you!– Think for us both! Is there any possibility of a suspicious sudden return because of the facilities of the day?– Or of the servant being desired to mention my visits—or to “deny you”, as unwell &c? All my soul revolts at the notion of a scene in your presence—my own tied tongue, and a system of patience I can well resolve upon, but not be sure of, as experience makes sure.

In other words he might tell Papa Barrett a thing or two. Browning does have a temper, we must admit, although one must wonder how he would stand up to Mr. Barrett's temper, in his own home. No, that would not be prudent. He might better stay away if he thinks he might not be able to control his temper. So, what does Miss Barrett say in response?

"Two precious letters to make amends for yesterday! & in return only just two or three words to say .. ‘yes, come.’ And I meant to have proposed to you something like what you suggest when you talk of the book & the note. If the ground is not clear at three, & Papa (above all) still in the house, you shall have a note, instead of admittance, .. & you will understand by the sign that it is wise for us not to meet. My hope & expectation are, however, that no obstacle will occur—that he will be in the city, & she at Fenton’s Hotel, engaged in some office of consolation beside her sister– I seriously exhorted her to remain there the rest of the day to wipe away the tears of the bride’s mother .. as an appendix to the breakfast:—oh, & seriously I thought she ought to stay,—as well as seriously wishing it. And thus, altogether, we shall probably have open ground where it is desirable. If not, the note!–
For the rest, dearest, do not exaggerate to yourself my report of what passed on saturday. It was an unpleasant impression, & that is all, .. & nothing, I believe, has been thought of it since. Once before, remember, your apparition made an unpleasant impression, which was perfectly transitory then as now. Now as then, do not suffer such things to vex you beyond their due import. There will be no coming back, no directions to servants, nothing of the sort– Only it would not do to deepen saturday’s impression with tomorrow’s—we must be prudent a little."

They were prudent. According to Browning's note on the envelope of this letter he stayed from 3pm to 4 1/4pm.

"And you see me, my prophet, sent to Sussex or Devonshire, in a flash of lightning? That is your presentiment, do you say? Well! Sussex is possible, Kent is not impossible– This house, .. vox populi clamat [the people cry out],—wants cleaning, painting, papering—the inhabitants thereof, too, cry aloud for fresh air. Nevertheless, summer after summer, there have been the same reasons for going, & nobody goes. We shall see–"

She returns to the subject of his continued freedom when they marry:

"So, till tomorrow! Dear, dearest! you are always best—to justify the dearest, I suppose! I remember your having said before some of this .. which, never could I forget, having once heard. But think how Alfred the king divided his days—& how Solomon the king would tell you of “a time” for sitting with me. ‘Bid me .. not .. discourse’ however—we shall both know what is right presently—& I in the meanwhile perfectly do know that I could not consent to your shutting yourself up for my sake—no, indeed!
Shall I fail to you? Could I? Could it be needful for me to say “I will not fail”. Your own, I am."

She is batting .500 with this letter. She is certainly correct that she will allow him his freedom when they are married and that he will eventually claim it as her health begins to keep her in more and more. But she is wrong to doubt that the Barrett's will be leaving Wimpole Street to give it a good scrubbing. Browning was once again prescient about matters Barrett.

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