Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30, 1845

Miss Barrett is worried. She sent a letter to Browning on August 27 and by August 30 she has not heard back from him. What had she done?

I do not hear; and come to you to ask the alms of just one line, having taken it into my head that something is the matter. It is not so much exactingness on my part, as that you spoke of meaning to write as soon as you received a note of mine ... which went to you five minutes afterwards ... which is three days ago, or will be when you read this. Are you not well—or what? Though I have tried and wished to remember having written in the last note something very or even a little offensive to you, I failed in it and go back to the worse fear. For you could not be vexed with me for talking of what was 'your fault' ... 'your own fault,' viz. in having to read sentences which, but for your commands, would have been blotted out. You could not very well take that for serious blame! from me too, who have so much reason and provocation for blaming the archangel Gabriel.—No—you could not misinterpret so,—and if you could not, and if you are not displeased with me, you must be unwell, I think. I took for granted yesterday that you had gone out as before—but to-night it is different—and so I come to ask you to be kind enough to write one word for me by some post to-morrow. Now remember ... I am not asking for a letter—but for a word ... or line strictly speaking. Ever yours, dear friend, E.B.B."

She told him her greatest sorrow and sin and he responded immediately but then went silent. But it turns out that he was writing at the same time as she and their letters cross in the mail, for here is Browning's letter of the same date:

"This sweet Autumn Evening, Friday, comes all golden into the room and makes me write to you—not think of you—yet what shall I write?

It must be for another time ... after Monday, when I am to see you, you know, and hear if the headache be gone, since your note would not round to the perfection of kindness and comfort, and tell me so. God bless my dearest friend. R.B.

I am much better—well, indeed—thank you."

But then he got her letter and responded immediately. Thus ends all pretense:

"Can you understand me so, dearest friend, after all? Do you see me—when I am away, or with you—'taking offence' at words, 'being vexed' at words, or deeds of yours, even if I could not immediately trace them to their source of entire, pure kindness; as I have hitherto done in every smallest instance?

I believe in you absolutely, utterly—I believe that when you bade me, that time, be silent—that such was your bidding, and I was silent—dare I say I think you did not know at that time the power I have over myself, that I could sit and speak and listen as I have done since? Let me say now—this only once—that I loved you from my soul, and gave you my life, so much of it as you would take,—and all that is done, not to be altered now: it was, in the nature of the proceeding, wholly independent of any return on your part. I will not think on extremes you might have resorted to; as it is, the assurance of your friendship, the intimacy to which you admit me, now, make the truest, deepest joy of my life—a joy I can never think fugitive while we are in life, because I know, as to me, I could not willingly displease you,—while, as to you, your goodness and understanding will always see to the bottom of involuntary or ignorant faults—always help me to correct them. I have done now. If I thought you were like other women I have known, I should say so much!—but—(my first and last word—I believe in you!)—what you could and would give me, of your affection, you would give nobly and simply and as a giver—you would not need that I tell you—(tell you!)—what would be supreme happiness to me in the event—however distant—

I repeat ... I call on your justice to remember, on your intelligence to believe ... that this is merely a more precise stating the first subject; to put an end to any possible misunderstanding—to prevent your henceforth believing that because I do not write, from thinking too deeply of you, I am offended, vexed &c. &c. I will never recur to this, nor shall you see the least difference in my manner next Monday: it is indeed, always before me ... how I know nothing of you and yours. But I think I ought to have spoken when I did—and to speak clearly ... or more clearly what I do, as it is my pride and duty to fall back, now, on the feeling with which I have been in the meantime—Yours—God bless you—


Let me write a few words to lead into Monday—and say, you have probably received my note. I am much better—with a little headache, which is all, and fast going this morning. Of yours you say nothing—I trust you see your ... dare I say your duty in the Pisa affair, as all else must see it—shall I hear on Monday? And my 'Saul' that you are so lenient to. Bless you ever— "

I was going to say that was clear, but I must amend that to say that is clear for Browning. I love the notion that he does not write because he was thinking 'too deeply' of her. But really, this is do or die because she had told him previously that if he did persist in the way of love she would no longer see him. He must be pretty sure of himself at this point to have declared himself this openly. Now we must wait and see Miss Barrett's reaction.

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