Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 1846

Let's begin with Browning's daily letter from August 31, 1846:

"Monday Morning.

Here is dearest Ba’s dearest letter, because the latest, and it is one of her very kisses incorporated & made manifest—so perfectly kind! And should this make me ashamed of perhaps an over-earnestness in what I wrote yesterday?—or not rather justify me to myself and to her—since it was on a passing fear of losing what I hold so infinitely precious, that the earnestness happened! My own Ba, you lap me over with love upon love .. there is my first and proper love, independent of any return, and there is this return for what would reward itself. Do think how I must feel at the most transient suggestion of failure, and parting, and an end to all! You cannot expect I can lie quietly and let my life of life be touched. —And ever, dearest, thro’ the life which I trust is about to be permitted us,—ever I shall remember where my treasure is, and turn as vigilantly when it is approached. Beside, I was not very well, as I told you in excuse– I am much better now. Not that, upon reconsideration, I can alter my opinion on the proper course to take. We know all the miracles wrought in our favor hitherto .. are not the chances (speaking in that foolish way) against our expecting more? To-day is fine, sunny and warm, for instance, and looks as if cold weather were a long way off—but what are these fancies and appearances when weighed against the other possibility of a sudden fall of the year? By six months more of days like this we should gain—nothing, nothing in the world, you confess—by the other misfortune, we lose every thing perhaps."
He was in a bad temper and gave vent. I cannot see where he was worried that his treasure was being approached, rather, he was angry that Kenyon had interrupted their meeting. But, he is trying to apologize in his own way, so I will cut him some slack.

"Will you have a homely illustration? There is a tree against our wall here which produced weeks ago a gigantic apple—which my mother had set her heart on showing a cousin of mine who is learned in fruits and trees. I told her, 'you had better pluck it at once—it will fall and be spoiled'– She thought the next day or two would do its cheeks good,—just the next—so there it continued to hang till this morning, when she was about to go out with my sister– I said 'now is the time—you are going to my aunt’s—let me pluck you the apple' .. 'Oh,' she said 'I have been looking at it, trying it,—it hangs so firmly, .. not this time, thank you!' So she went without it, two hours ago—and just now, I turned to the tree with a boding presentiment—there lay our glory, bruised in the dirt, a sad wreck! 'Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love!' Rather, counsel me thro’ apples! Do you see the counsel?"
So Browning thinks that Miss Barrett is ripe for the plucking. Yes, this is a very homely illustration.

"Come, let me not be so ungrateful to the letter, to what you have done for me, as only to speak of what you are disinclined to do. I am very glad you succeeded in going to the chapel, and that the result was so favorable—see how the dangers disappear when one faces them! And the account of Mr Stretton is very interesting, too—besides characteristic—do you see how? Find as great a saint as the world holds, who shall be acknowledged to be utterly disinterested, unbiassed by anything except truth and common justice,—a man of sense as well as piety—and succeed in convincing such an one of our right to do as we purpose,—and then—let him lay the matter before your father!To no other use than to exasperate him against Mr Stretton, deprive your sister of the privilege of seeing his family, and bring about a little more pain and trouble!"
Happily Browning sees that approaching Papa Barrett will be of no use. Finally.

"Let me think of something else .. of the happiness you profess to feel—which it makes me entirely happy to know—I will not try and put away the crown you give me. I just say the obvious truth, .. even what I can do to make you happy, according to my ability, has yet to be experienced by you .. if my thoughts and wishes reach you with any effect at present, they will operate freelier when the obstruction is removed .. that is only natural. I shall live for you, for every minute in your life. May God bless me with such a life, as that it may be of use to you .. yours it must be whether of use or not, for I am wholly your RB

Here comes my mother back .. she is a little better to-day. I am much better as I said– And you? Let me get the kiss I lost on Saturday! (I dined at Arnould’s yesterday with Chorley & his brother, & the Cushmans) Chorley goes tonight to Ostend)."
He ends with a sweet dedication of his life to 'every minute' of hers. But the comment in the postscript sums up his previous letter: He was hacked off because he had to leave her presence deprived of his kiss--after waiting more than a week for an audience. The poor man was frustrated beyond endurance. He wants to remove the 'obstruction' in order to 'operate freelier'. Well, patience is a virtue and he certainly has demonstrated that virtue in abundance. Now what does Miss Barrett have to say? She is responding to his letter of the previous day:
"You are better, dearest,—& so I will confess to having felt a little inclined to reproach you gently for the earlier letter, except that you were not well when you wrote it– That you should endure painfully & impatiently a position unworthy of you, is the natural consequence of the unworthiness—& I do hold that you would be justified at this moment, on the barest motives of selfrespect, in abandoning the whole ground & leaving me to Mr Kenyon & others– What I might complain of, is another thing—what I might complain of is, that I have not given you reason to doubt me or my inclination to accede to any serious wish of yours relating to the step before us– On the contrary I told you in so many words in July, that, if you really wished to go in August rather than in September, I would make no difficulty—to which you answered, remember, that october or november would do as well. Now is it fair, ever dearest, that you should turn round on me so quickly, & call in question my willingness to keep my engagement for years, if ever? Can I help it, if the circumstances around us are painful to both of us?– Did I not keep repeating, from the beginning, that they must be painful? Only you could not believe, you see, until you felt the pricksAnd when all is done, & the doing shall be the occasion of new affronts, sarcasms, every form of injustice, will you be any happier then, than you are now that you only imagine the possibility of them? I tremble to answer that question—even to myself—! As for myself, though I cannot help feeling pain & fear, in encountering what is to be encountered, & though I sometimes fear, in addition, for you, lest you should overtask your serenity in bearing your own part in it, .. yet certainly I have never wavered for a moment from the decision on which all depends– I might fill up your quotations from Prometheus, & say how no evil takes me unaware, having forseen all from the beginning—but I have not the heart for filling up quotations. I mean to say only, that I never wavered from the promise I gave freely,—& that I will keep it freely at any time you choose—that is, within a week of any time you choose."
Everything she says up to this point is quite true, she did promise to go whenever he wanted to go. Saying that Browning has every justification for abandoning her to Mr. Kenyon seems a tad manipulative, but she has felt that he should abandon from the very beginning, so there is nothing new there. In the next section she is trying to mitigate her 'light' words said in 'jest'. We do not know what she said precisely but remember what Browning said in the letter of yesterday: "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..." It was something that would make Browning want to lay down his life. Despite her very strong proclivity to teaze, this could not have been a simple teaze, this would have been more of a test cast made out of nervousness. At least she asks for forgiveness before she accuses him of unkindness:
"As to a light word … why now, dear, judge me in justice! If I had written it, there might have been more wrong in it– But I spoke it lightly to show it was light, & in the next breath I told you that it was a jest– Will you not forgive me a word so spoken, Robert? will you rather set it against me as if habitually I threw to you levities in change for earnest devotion?——you imply that of me– Or you seem to imply it—you did not mean, you could not, a thought approaching to unkindness,—but it looks like that in the letter, or did, this morning. And all the time, you pretended not to know very well, .. (dearest! ..) that what you made up your mind to wish & ask of me, I had not in my power to say ‘no’ to– Ah, you knew that you had only to make up your mind,—& to see that the thing was possible– So if September shall be possible, let it be September. I do not object nor hold back. To sail from the Thames has not the same feasibility—& listen why! All the sailing or rather steaming from London, begins early,—& I told you how out of the question it was, for me to leave this house early. I could not, without involving my sisters. Arabel sleeps in my room, on the sofa, & is seldom out of the room before nine in the morning—& for me to draw her into a ruinous confidence, or to escape without a confidence at that hour, would be equally impossible– Now see if it is my fancy, my whim!– And as for the expenses, they are as nearly equal as a shilling & two sixpences can be—the expense of the sea voyage from London to Havre, & of the land & sea voyage, through Southampton .. or Brighton– But of course what you say of Brighton, keeps us to Southampton, of those two routes. We can go to Southampton & meet the packet .. take the river-steamer to Rouen, & proceed as rapidly as your programme shows– You are not angry with me, dearest, dearest? I did not mean any harm."
She acquiesces to leaving in September, explains why she can't leave the house in the morning, changes the subject a bit and then in a fit of guilt asks him not to be angry with her. She knows she was a naughty girl. So all the fuss over their shortened visit has paid some dividend. They are getting that much closer to leaving town.
"May God bless you always– I am not angry either, understand, though I did think this morning that you were a little hard on me, just when I felt myself ready to give up the whole world for you at the holding up of a finger– And now say nothing of this– I kiss the end of the dear finger,—& when it is ready, I am ready,—I will not be reproached again– Being too much your own, very own Ba–
Tell me that you keep better– And your mother?"
She is going when he says go and she 'will not be reproached again.' She asserts her will!

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