Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 1845

Miss Barrett has received Browning's latest declaration of love and on August 31, 1845 responds:

"I did not think you were angry—I never said so. But you might reasonably have been wounded a little, if you had suspected me of blaming you for any bearing of yours towards myself; and this was the amount of my fear—or rather hope ... since I conjectured most that you were not well. And after all you did think ... do think ... that in some way or for some moment I blamed you, disbelieved you, distrusted you—or why this letter? How have I provoked this letter? Can I forgive myself for having even seemed to have provoked it? and will you believe me that if for the past's sake you sent it, it was unnecessary, and if for the future's, irrelevant?"

He loves her and she knows it and knew it but it is 'irrelevant'. You didn't think this was going to be easy did you?

"Which I say from no want of sensibility to the words of it—your words always make themselves felt—but in fulness of purpose not to suffer you to hold to words because they have been said, nor to say them as if to be holden by them. Why, if a thousand more such words were said by you to me, how could they operate upon the future or present, supposing me to choose to keep the possible modification of your feelings, as a probability, in my sight and yours? Can you help my sitting with the doors all open if I think it right? I do attest to you—while I trust you, as you must see, in word and act, and while I am confident that no human being ever stood higher or purer in the eyes of another, than you do in mine,—that you would still stand high and remain unalterably my friend, if the probability in question became a fact, as now at this moment. And this I must say, since you have said other things: and this alone, which I have said, concerns the future, I remind you earnestly."

She is still thinking that he is simply obsessed with her and will get over it. She 'believes' that he 'believes' he loves her but assures him that even if he decides that he doesn't, after all, she will still admire him. Notice she does not say she loves him nor that she does not love him. She cannot throw that into the equation at this point. She doesn't want to encourage him.

"My dearest friend—you have followed the most generous of impulses in your whole bearing to me—and I have recognised and called by its name, in my heart, each one of them. Yet I cannot help adding that, of us two, yours has not been quite the hardest part ... I mean, to a generous nature like your own, to which every sort of nobleness comes easily. Mine has been more difficult—and I have sunk under it again and again: and the sinking and the effort to recover the duty of a lost position, may have given me an appearance of vacillation and lightness, unworthy at least of you, and perhaps of both of us. Notwithstanding which appearance, it was right and just (only just) of you, to believe in me—in my truth—because I have never failed to you in it, nor been capable of such failure: the thing I have said, I have meant ... always: and in things I have not said, the silence has had a reason somewhere different perhaps from where you looked for it. And this brings me to complaining that you, who profess to believe in me, do yet obviously believe that it was only merely silence, which I required of you on one occasion—and that if I had 'known your power over yourself,' I should not have minded ... no! In other words you believe of me that I was thinking just of my own (what shall I call it for a motive base and small enough?) my own scrupulousness ... freedom from embarrassment! of myself in the least of me; in the tying of my shoestrings, say!—so much and no more! Now this is so wrong, as to make me impatient sometimes in feeling it to be your impression: I asked for silence—but also and chiefly for the putting away of ... you know very well what I asked for. And this was sincerely done, I attest to you. You wrote once to me ... oh, long before May and the day we met: that you 'had been so happy, you should be now justified to yourself in taking any step most hazardous to the happiness of your life'—but if you were justified, could I be therefore justified in abetting such a step,—the step of wasting, in a sense, your best feelings ... of emptying your water gourds into the sand? What I thought then I think now—just what any third person, knowing you, would think, I think and feel. I thought too, at first, that the feeling on your part was a mere generous impulse, likely to expand itself in a week perhaps. It affects me and has affected me, very deeply, more than I dare attempt to say, that you should persist so—and if sometimes I have felt, by a sort of instinct, that after all you would not go on to persist, and that (being a man, you know) you might mistake, a little unconsciously, the strength of your own feeling; you ought not to be surprised; when I felt it was more advantageous and happier for you that it should be so. In any case, I shall never regret my own share in the events of this summer, and your friendship will be dear to me to the last. You know I told you so—not long since. And as to what you say otherwise, you are right in thinking that I would not hold by unworthy motives in avoiding to speak what you had any claim to hear. But what could I speak that would not be unjust to you? Your life! if you gave it to me and I put my whole heart into it; what should I put but anxiety, and more sadness than you were born to? What could I give you, which it would not be ungenerous to give? Therefore we must leave this subject—and I must trust you to leave it without one word more; (too many have been said already—but I could not let your letter pass quite silently ... as if I had nothing to do but to receive all as matter of course so!) while you may well trust me to remember to my life's end, as the grateful remember; and to feel, as those do who have felt sorrow (for where these pits are dug, the water will stand), the full price of your regard. May God bless you, my dearest friend. I shall send this letter after I have seen you, and hope you may not have expected to hear sooner. Ever yours, E.B.B."

She persists in trying to talk him out of it. But Browning should take heart here because despite all her threats that she would not see him if he brought up the subject again, she is not cutting him off.
I also appreciate that she admits that this is partially her fault due to her 'vacillation and lightness'. She has encouraged him with the growing intimacy of her personal revelation. She also takes umbrage at the idea that she rejected him because she was simply embarrassed. I think she is correct but the fact that that bothers her makes me think there is a certain strain of truth. She is shy but she is also meticulous in her wording, making all of her arguments clear. She adds a post script:

"Monday, 6 p.m.—I send in disobedience to your commands, Mrs. Shelley's book—but when books accumulate and when besides, I want to let you have the American edition of my poems ... famous for all manner of blunders, you know; what is to be done but have recourse to the parcel-medium? You were in jest about being at Pisa before or as soon as we were?—oh no—that must not be indeed—we must wait a little!—even if you determine to go at all, which is a question of doubtful expediency. Do take more exercise, this week, and make war against those dreadful sensations in the head—now, will you?"

Late summer of 1845 there was a growing expectation that Miss Barrett would be sent to Europe during the winter for her health. Papa Barrett had suggested that Miss Barrett call in Dr. Chambers to ascertain whether it be advisable for her to travel to Europe. Dr. Chambers was no mere family doctor, he was physician to Queen Victoria and thus considered top of the mark for 19th century England.  Dr. Chambers examined her on August 30, 1845. She wrote to her brother George outlining the findings:

"He said, after using the stethoscope, that a very slight affection of the left lung was observed but which threatened no serious result whatever, if I did but take precautions...and he not merely advised but ENJOINED the trial of a warm climate..naming Pisa. It is the very best thing I could do, he said--& everything in the way of restoration was to be expected from it."

And here she makes the same point to Miss Mitford:

"Papa wished me to see Chambers and have his advice-and I sent for him, and was examined with that dreadful stethoscope, and received his command to go without fail to Pisa by sea. He said that is was the obvious thing to do--and that he not merely advised it but enjoined it--that there was nothing for me but warm other possible remedy....You see there is nothing for me in England during the winter, but to be shut up as I have been:--and the cold kills me and the seclusion exhausts me...and there is no possible alternative here."

But having ascertained that she should travel to a warmer clime for her health Papa Barrett is holding a delaying action and will not give his permission to go. We do not get his point of view from these letters. Perhaps he did not want her to go due to the expense, after all the cost would have to cover Miss Barrett, Arabel Barrett, a maid and one of the Barrett brothers. Perhaps he simply did not like the idea of Miss Barrett traveling out of England. If she were to become even more ill he would not be able to join them easily and handle the arrangements. Or it could be that he simply did not want her to go because he could not so easily control her while she and her siblings were on the Continent. We will never know his motivations, we can only guess.

Browning, in the midst of all this, is planning on travelling to Italy himself, hoping to meet her on the Continent. They way this proposed trip plays out will have a major affect on both of their futures.

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