Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 30, 1846

On August 30, 1846 we witness Browning blow a gasket. After putting off their meeting at Wimpole Street repeatedly due to Miss Barrett's constantly present family and visitors Browning finally arrived on August 29th only to be interrupted by the ubiquitous Mr. Kenyon. Browning is not happy:

"I wonder what I shall write to you, Ba– I could suppress my feelings here, as I do on other points, and say nothing of the hatefulness of this state of things which is prolonged so uselessly. There is the point—show me one good reason, or show of reason, why we gain anything by deferring our departure till next week instead of to-morrow, and I will bear to perform yesterday’s part for the amusement of Mr Kenyon a dozen times over without complaint. But if the cold plunge must be taken, all this shivering delay on the bank is hurtful as well as fruitless. I do understand your anxieties, dearest– I take your fears and make them mine, while I put my own natural feeling of quite another kind away from us both .. succeeding in that beyond all expectation. There is no amount of patience or suffering I would not undergo to relieve you from these apprehensions. But if, on the whole, you really determine to act as we propose in spite of them,—why, a new leaf is turned over in our journal, an old part of our adventure done with, and a new one entered upon, altogether distinct from the other: having once decided to go to Italy with me, the next thing to decide, is on the best means of going: or rather, there is just this connection between the two measures, that by the success or failure of the last, the first will have to be justified or condemned. You tell me you have decided to go—then, dearest, you will be prepared to go earlier than you promised yesterday—by the end of September at very latest. In proportion to the too probable excitement and painful circumstances of the departure, the greater amount of advantages should be secured for the departure itself. How can I take you away in even the beginning of of October? We shall be a fortnight on the journey—with the year, as everybody sees and says, a full month in advance .. cold mornings and dark evenings already– Everybody would cry out on such folly when it was found that we let the favourable weather escape, in full assurance that the autumn would come to us unattended by any one beneficial circumstance.

My own dearest, I am wholly your own, for ever, and under every determination of yours. If you find yourself unable, or unwilling to make this effort, tell me so and plainly and at once– I will not offer a word in objection: I will continue our present life, if you please, so far as may be desirable, and wait till next autumn, and the next and the next, till providence end our waiting. It is clearly not for me to pretend to instruct you in your duties to God & yourself .. enough, that I have long ago chosen to accept your decision. If, on the other hand, you make up your mind to leave England now, you will be prepared by the end of September

I should think myself the most unworthy of human beings if I could employ any arguments with the remotest show of a tendency to frighten you into a compliance with any scheme of mine– Those methods are for people in another relation to you. But you love me, and, at lowest, shall I say, wish me well—and the fact is too obvious for me to commit any indelicacy in reminding you, that in any dreadful event to our journey, of which I could accuse myself as the cause,—as of this undertaking to travel with you in the worst time of year when I could have taken the best,—in the case of your health being irretrievably shaken, for instance .. the happiest fate I should pray for would be to live and die in some corner where I might never hear a word of the English language, much less a comment in it on my own wretched imbecility, .. to disappear and be forgotten.

So that must not be, for all our sakes– My family will give me to you that we may be both of us happy .. but for such an end—no!

Dearest, do you think all this earnestness foolish and uncalled for?– That I might know you spoke yesterday in mere jest,—as yourself said, 'only to hear what I would say'? Ah but, consider, my own Ba, the way of our life, as it is, and is to be: a word, a simple word from you, is not as a word is counted in the world: the bond between us is different .. I am guided by your will, which a word shall signify to me: consider that just such a word, so spoken, even with that lightness, would make me lay my life at your feet at any minute: should we gain anything by my trying, if I could, to deaden the sense of hearing, dull the medium of communication between us; and procuring that, instead of this prompt rising of my will at the first intimation from yours; the same effect should only follow after fifty speeches, and as many protestations of complete serious desire for their success on your part, accompanied by all kinds of acts and deeds and other evidences of the same?

At all events, God knows I have said this in the deepest, truest love of you. I will say no more, praying you to forgive whatever you shall judge to need forgiveness here,—dearest Ba! I will also say, if that may help me,—and what otherwise I might not have said, that I am not too well this morning, and write with an aching head. My mother’s suffering continues too.

My friend Pritchard tells me that Brighton is not to be thought of under ordinary circumstances as a point of departure for Havre. Its one packet a week, from Shoreham, cannot get in if the wind & tide are unfavourable. There is the greatest uncertainty in consequence .. as I have heard before: while, of course, from Southampton, the departures are calculated punctually. He considers that the least troublesome plan, and the cheapest, is to go from London to Havre .. the voyage being so arranged that the river passage takes up the day and the sea-crossing the night—you reach Havre early in the morning and get to Paris by four oclock, perhaps, in the afternoon .. in time, to leave for Orleans and spend the night there, I suppose.

Do I make myself particularly remarkable for silliness when confronted by our friend as yesterday?—And the shortened visit,—and comments of everybody. Oh, Mr Hunter, methinks you should be of some use to me with those amiable peculiarities of yours, if you would just dye your hair black, take a stick in your hand, sink the clerical character you do such credit to, and have the goodness just to deliver yourself of one such epithet as that pleasant one, the next time you find me on the steps of No. 50, with Mr Kenyon somewhere higher up in the building! It is delectable work this having to do with relatives and 'freemen who have a right to beat their own negroes' and father Zeus with his paternal epistles, and peggings to the rock, and immense indignation at 'this marriage you talk of' which is to release his victim– Is Mr Kenyon Hermes? "
Here Browning is visualizing the Barrett household in a vision of the Greek myths with Papa Barretts as Zeus throwing thunderbolts at his slaves, the visiting aunts as the Chorus and Mr. Kenyon as Hermes who cautioned against defiance. As for Mr. Hunter, Browning does not take well to having been called by the epithet "New Cross Knight" and imagines Hunter sans his gray hair and clerical collar so that he could place his fist briskly to the Rev. Hunter's nose. Yes, I would say that Browning is peeved. So he contributes some Greek to the soap opera:

"Εἰσελθετω σε μηποθ' ὡς ἐγω, Διος
γνωμην φοβηθεις, θηλυγους γενησομαι,
και λιπαρησω τον μεγα συγούμενον
γυναικομιμοις ὑπτιασμασιν χερών,
λυσαι με δεσμων τωνδε
του παντος δεω.
Chorus of Aunts: ᾽ημðιν μεν ῾Ερμης ουκ ακαιρα φαινεται
λεγειν· κ.τ.λ.
[Oh! think no more
That I, fear-struck by Zeus to a woman’s mind,
Will supplicate him, loathed as he is,
With womanly upliftings of my hands,
To break these chains! Far from me be the thoughts!
Chorus. This Hermes suits his reasons to the times—
At least I think so!]

Well, bless you in any case–

Your own RB"
Miss Barrett writes today as well:
"I have just come from the vestry in Paddington chapel, & bore it very well, & saw nobody except one woman. Arabel went with me, & during the singing we escaped & stood outside the door. Now, that is over,—& the next time I shall care less. It was a rambling sermon, which I could hear distinctly through the open door, quite wanting in coherence, but with good & touching things in it, the more touching that they came from a preacher whose life is known to us .. from Mr Stratten, for whom I have the greatest respect, though he never looked into Shakespeare till he was fifty, & shut the book quickly, perhaps, afterward– He is the very ideal of his class,—&, with some of the narrow views peculiar to it, has a heart of miraculous breadth & depth,—loving further than he can see, pitying beyond what he can approve, having in him a divine Christian spirit, the ‘love of love’ in the most expansive form. How that man is beloved by his congregation, the members of his church, by his children, his friends, is wonderful to see—for everybody seems to love him from afar, as a man is loved who is of a purer nature than others– There is that reverence in the love– And yet no fear. His children have been encouraged & instructed to speak aloud before him on religion & other subjects in all freedom of conscience—he turns to his little daughter seriously 'to hear what she thinks'. The other day his eldest son, whom he had hoped to see succeed him at Paddington, determined to enter the Church of England: his wife became quite ill with grief about it, & to himself perhaps it was a trial, a disappointment. With the utmost gentleness & tenderness however, he desired him to take time for thought & act according to his conscience.– I believe for my part that there never was a holier man .. 'except those bonds' .. never a man who more resolutely trod under his feet every form of evil & selfish passion when it was once recognized, & looked to God & the truth with a directer aspiration. Once I could not help wishing to put our affairs into his hands to settle them for us—but that would be wrong—because Papa would forbid Arabel’s going to the chapel or communicating with his family, & it would be depriving her of a comfort she holds dear– Oh no– And besides, you are wise in taking the other view–"
The Rev. Stratten certainly gets a rave review from Miss Barrett.
"Think of our waiting day after day to fall into the net so, yesterday! How I was provoked & vexed—but more for you, dearest dearest, than for me—much more for you. As for me I saw you, which was joy enough, let the hours be ever so clipped of their natural proportions—& then, you know, you were obliged to go soon, whether Mr Kenyon had come or not come. After you were gone, nothing was said, & nothing asked—and it is delightful to have heard of those intended absences one upon another till far into October, which will secure us from future embarrassments. See if he means to put us to the question! Not such a thing is in his thoughts."
So Mr. Kenyon is going away. Perfect timing!
"And I said what you 'would not have believed of me'! Have you forgiven me, beloved, for saying what you would not have believed of me,—understanding that I did not mean it very seriously, though I proved to be capable of saying it? Seriously, I dont want to make unnecessary delays– It is a horrible position, however I may cover it with your roses & the thoughts of you—& far worse to myself than to you, inasmuch that what is painful to you once a week, is to me so continually– To hear the voice of my father & meet his eye, makes me shrink back—to talk to my brothers, leaves my nerves all trembling .. & even to receive the sympathy of my sisters turns into sorrow & fear, lest they should suffer through their affection for me. How I can look & sleep as well as I do, is a miracle exactly like the rest—or would be, if the love were not the deepest & strongest thing of all, & did not hold & possess me overcomingly. I feel myself to be yours notwithstanding every other influence, & being yours, cannot but be happy by you. Ah—let people talk as they please of the happiness of early youth! Mrs Jameson did, the other day, when she wished kindly to take her young niece with her to the continent, that she might enjoy what in a few years she could not so much enjoy. There is a sort of blind joy common perhaps to such times—a blind joy which blunts itself with its own leaps & bounds; peculiar to a time of comparative ignorance & inexperience of evil:—but I for my part, with all the capacity for happiness which I had from the beginning, I look back & listen to my whole life, & feel sure of what I have already told you, .. that I am happier now than I ever was before .. infinitely happier now, through you .. infinitely happier; even now in this position I have just called ‘horrible’. When I hear you say for instance, that you ‘love me perceptibly more’ … why I cannot, cannot be more happy than when I hear you say that—going to Italy seems nothing! a vulgar walk to Primrose Hill after being caught up to the third Heaven!–I think nothing of Italy now, though I shall enjoy it of course when the time comes. I think only that you love me, that you are the angel of my life,—& for the despair & desolation behind me, they serve to mark the hour of your coming,—& they are behind, as Italy is before. Never can you feel for me, Robert, as I feel for you .. it is not possible of course. I am yours in a way & degree which the tenderest of other women could not be at her will– Which you know. Why should I repeat it to you? Why, except that it is a reason to prove that we cannot, as you say, 'ever be a common wife & husband'. But I dont think I was intending to give proofs of that—no, indeed.
Tomorrow I shall hear from you. Say how your mother is, in the second letter if you do not in the first– May God bless you & keep you dearest beloved—"
A contrasting pair of letters. Browning is palpably angry and frustrated. She seems to be feeling the same frustration but seems more sanguine about it. She certainly has more personal anxiety than Browning who has nothing but total support at home. She is being deceitful to everyone she talks to everyday. The only ones she isn't hiding the truth from are Browning and Boyd. And she is certainly not a dishonest person, although she has freely acknowledged that she and her siblings freely lie to their father. But even so, she believes she is happy in the love that brings the pain and certainly is not angry.

No comments:

Post a Comment