Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 5

We will begin our letters today with a August 5, 1846 classic Browning offering; make of it what you will:

"If I had felt, as you pleased to feel yesterday, that it had been “only one hour” which my coming gained—I should richly deserve to find out to-day, as I do fully, what the precise value of such an hour is– But I never act so ungratefully and foolishly– You are more than ever you have been to me; yet at any time I would have gone for the moment’s sight of you,—one moment’s—and returned happy– You never doubt this because I do not waylay you in your walks and rides?– I consider your sisters, and your apprehension for them, and other reasons that make such a step objectionable– Do you remember what I said yesterday,—what I have told myself so often? It is one proof how I love you that I am jealous of any conversation with you which should be too interesting for itself, apart from the joy of your presence—it is better to sit and see you, or hear you, or only say something which, in its insignificance, shall be obviously of no account beside the main and proper delight—as at wine-feasts you get the wine and a plate of thin dry tasteless biscuits—(observe, for instance, that this noble simile was not set before you yesterday—no, my Ba!)"

He certainly has charms for the discerning woman. He would never make such a charming observation in her presence because his cleverness would distract from her presence. But then how boring for her to simply have him stare adoringly at her all day.

"And you did understand also why I left, on that mere chance of danger to you—for it was not, do not think it was only the irksomeness to myself I sought to escape—tho’ that would have been considerable– There is no unstable footing for me in the whole world except just in your house—which is not yours. I ought not to be in that one place—all I could do in any circumstances, (were a meeting to happen) would be wrong, unfortunate. The certainty of misconception would spoil everything—so much of gentleness as is included in gentlemanliness would pass for a very different quality—and the manliness which one observes there too, would look like whatever it is farthest from. This is a real avowal of weakness—because, being in the right, as I dare trust I am, so far as I can see thro’ the involvement, I ought to be able to take my stand upon it,—and so I shall be able, and easily—but not here, just here."

Okay, I am with him so far. Yes, he is in an awkward position: if confronted in Mr. Barrett's house he would be placed in the position of either lying to protect her safety since he could not protect her after he left the house or telling the truth, being sent from the house, but in an even worse position since once he has left the house he will not be permitted further entry and his letters would be stopped. Untenable.

"With Mr Kenyon, in spite of a few misgivings, I shall know what to say– I can justify myself, if not convince him.  Never fancy, dearest, that he has any 'clay' in his composition—he may show a drop of water at the heart of the else entire chrystal he is—did you ever see that pretty phænomenon—of which Claudian wrote so prettily? 'Non potuit toto mentiri corpore gemmam, sed medio latuit proditor orbe latex [But it could not imitate that stone in its entirety for at its heart lay a drop of water which betrayed its nature]' Our Druids used to make balls for divining out of such all-but-solid gems with the central weakness– I have had them in my hand. Such doubts and fears are infinitely more becoming in him, situated as he is, than their absence would be—if he said, for instance, 'oh yes,—I am used to a certain style of living, which of course I do not change for no reason at all; but who doubts that I could do so, without difficulty or regret? I shall hardly bestow any sympathy on what I am sure must be the easiest life in the world!'– One would rather hear an epicure say frankly he cannot conceive how people can end a dinner without Tokay, than ask, over his Tokay (as Sheridan’s Abbot in the Duenna) of the poor starved wistful attendant monk, 'Have’nt you the chrystal spring?' "

Okay, wait, what? I thought I would try to dissect that paragraph, but Browning is Browning and I will not attempt to demystify him. He needs mystery to be Browning. This is how you get a reputation as a metaphysician. But I am willing to keep trying, I think he might be coming back from his esoteric ramblings:

"In this case, he is directly looking to your possible undertakings,—not merely expressing his general 'remembrances that we are dust' and need gilding—and certainly if in some respects you have, as I believe, less use, fewer uses for money than ordinary women,—you also have an absolute necessity for whatever portion you do require,—such a necessity as they have not, neither. I shall never grieve over the lace handkerchiefs you cannot get—but whatever you possess already in this room of yours, or might possess on the contingency of fresh illness, you must keep,—to your life’s end: I would not take you away on any other condition. Now listen, Ba—nor think for a moment that it puts me to the least, least pain imaginable to talk on this subject, while I know you wholly, as there I am sure I do, and while you too know me, as I also am sure,—we may discuss this, as we do the better, or worse routes to Italy, in the fullest confidence of our aims and desires being absolutely identical,—so that it is but a prize for the ingenuity of either,—a prize from the common stock of our advantage,—whenever a facility is discovered or a difficulty avoided. So listen,—will you, at once, or as soon as practicable, ascertain what you certainly possess—what is quite yours, and in your sole power, to take or to let remain—what will be just as available to you in Italy as in England? I want to know, being 'your possible husband'; my notion of the perfection of money arrangements is that of a fairy purse which every day should hold so much, and there an end of trouble– Houses and lands always seem, like a vineyard to a man who wants a draught of wine for present thirst: so tell me how much will be found in the pursebecause when we are in Italy or halfway there telling will be superfluous or beyond remedy,—easy remedy at least."

Ah, the fog clears! The penniless poet wants to know what the money situation is. He took the great circle route to get to the asking. He could have saved himself about four pence in ink and paper by just asking "so tell me how much will be found in the purse" two long paragraphs ago. If this doesn't make her think twice, then nothing will. There is more to this very long letter but happily he draws a great line across the paper at this point and changes the subject:

"Since writing the above I have been down stairs—and now return to tell you, a miracle has just happened, which my father, mother & sister are at this minute engaged in admiring—I hear their voices in the garden. We have a fig-tree which I planted four years ago—this year it produced its first fruit, a small fig, “seule et unique [alone and unique]”, which is still on the tree—not another fig, ripe or unripe, living or dead, has ever been carried into the garden—yet this morning is discovered in the exact centre of the garden, and parallel with the figtree aforesaid, another indubitable seedling fig-tree,—'how begot, how nourished?' Ipse vidi [I saw it myself]what does that prognosticate, my own Siren, my soothsayer and wise lady?
And now, have you been incommoded by the storm,—and thunder, which was loud and lasting here? I thought of you with such thoughts–
And what came of my visit? Was it really your aunt—did my precipitation improve matters? Will Saturday have to fear?
Yesterday I was not in a mood to go quietly home—'for my soul kept up too much light—under my eyelids for the night, and thus I went disquieted' till at Charing Cross it struck me that going home by water (to Greenwich, at least) would be a calmative—so I went on board a steamer—close by me sate three elderly respectable men,—I could not help hearing them talk rationally about the prospects of the planters, the 'compensation there is to be in the article of Rum',—how we 'get labour', which is the main thing, and may defy, with that, Cuba, the Brazils &c. One who talked thus, was a fat genial fellow, ending every sentence in a laugh from pure goodnature—his companions somehow got to 'the Church', then, Puseyism,—then Dissent—on all which this personage had his little opinion,—when one friend happened to ask 'you think so?'– 'I do,' said the other, 'and indeed I know it–' 'How so?'– 'Because it was revealed to me in a vision'. 'A … Vision?'– 'Yes, a vision'—and so he began to describe it, quite in earnest, but with the selfsame precision and assurance, with which he had been a little before describing the effect of the lightning on an iron steamboat at Woolwich as he witnessed it. In this vision he had seen the devil cast out of himself—which he took for an earnest of God’s purposes for good to the world at large. I thought, 'we mad poets,—and this very unpoetical person!'—who had also previously been entering on the momentous question 'why I grow fatter than of old, seeing that I eat no more'–"

This is a very clever little story as he tells it. He begins by quoting or misquoting Miss Barrett's "A Vision of Poets" 'for my soul kept up too much light—under my eyelids for the night, and thus I went disquieted' and then describes a vision of a non-poet and questions who is the madder? Well, Browning certainly isn't mad. I doubt Browning would ever admit to a vision, even if he had one. One of his characters might, but he, no. This conventional man (as Browning would call him) might have a vision, but Browning the 'metaphysical' poet? No. Happily, he is wise enough to see the irony.

"Come, Ba, say, is not this too bad, too far from the line? I may talk this by you,—but write this, away from you,—oh no! Be with me then, dearest, for one moment, for many moments, in spite of the miles, while I kiss your sweetest lips, as now– Beloved!"

Well, there is a reason for all this chat from Browning. He, a conventional man who just happens to be a poet, was embarrassed to ask his lady love about the money situation. From 166 years in the future behold: see the discomfort leaping off the computer screen. Poor man. How will Miss Barrett respond to this avalanche of words?

"Dearest, you did not have my letter, I think—the letter I wrote on tuesday, yesterday. These iniquitous postpeople—who are not likely to see in a vision (like your fat prophet) the devil cast out of them for the good of the world! Indeed it is too bad–"

Clever girl.

To answer first the question—(You are wise beyond me in all things .. let me say that in a parenthesis!) I will tell you what I know– Stormie told me the other day that I had eight thousand pounds in the funds,—of which the interest comes to me quarterly, the money being in two different percents: .. (do you understand better than I do?) & from forty to forty five pounds Papa gives me every three months, the income tax being first deducted. It may be eight thousand pounds, or more or less, .. it is difficult to ask about it, but what comes to me every three months, I know certainly. Then there is the ship money .. a little under two hundred a year on an average .. which I have not used at all, (but must for the future, use) & the annual amount of which therefore, has been added to the Fund-money until this year, when I was directed to sign a paper which invested it (i.e. the annual return) in the Eastern Railroad. That investment is to yield a large percentage, I heard, & Stormie tried to persuade me to ask Papa to place everything I had, on the same railroad. Papa had said down stairs the other day that it would be best so—& I ought to remind him to do it, repeated Stormie, as it would very much increase .. increase by doubling almost .. the available income,—& without the slightest risk of any kind. But I could not take the advice under the circumstances—I could not mention such a word as money to him, giving the appearance even of trouble about my affairs, now– And he would wonder how I should take a fancy suddenly to touch such matters with the end of my finger. Then there are the ten shares in Drury Lane Theatre—out of which, comes nothing."

Okay, I got it. She gets about 160 a year from interest or dividends on the 8000 pounds. Plus 200 a year from a ship that she has interest in but that is reinvested in the railroad. Railroads are a good investment. Get all the railroads in Monopoly and you can bankrupt the board if you play long enough. Sounds good. I think she should consider selling her shares in the Drury Lane Theatre and invest that money in the railroad. Hey, my opinion on stocks is a valid as the next persons.

"You wonder how I can spend, perhaps, the quarterly forty pounds & upward that come to me? I do spend them. Yet let me hold you from being frightened, & teach you to consider how easy it is to spend money, & not upon oneself. Never in any one year of my life, even when I was well, have my expenses in dress (as I told Mr Kenyon the other day) exceeded twenty pounds– My greatest personal expense lately has been the morphine. Still the money flows out of window & door—you will understand how it flows like a stream. I have not the gift (if it is a gift) of making dykes .. in my situation, here– Elsewhere, all changes, you know– You shall not call me extravagant—you will see– If I was ‘surprised’ at what you told me of Mrs Norton, it was only because I had had other ideas of her– For my own gown cost five shillings .. the one I had on when you spoke. So she was better than I by a mere sixpence– Ah—it came into my head afterwards that my being ‘surprised’ about Mrs Norton, might argue my own extravagance. See!——"

I could spend forty pounds lickety split. But my (serious) question here is: why is she paying for her own morphine? Why doesn't the loving Papa Barrett pay for this medical necessity? I bet he pays for her food. Did he not approve of it? Or was she keeping it a secret from him? This is an interesting mystery to me. Please feel free to comment and offer your theories on this. This is a vital question of the age. Your responses will help me decide who to vote for in November.

"But the Goddess Dulness inspires me to write about it & about it, to no end– I say briefly at last, that whatever I have, is mine .. & for use in Italy, as in England. Papa has managed .. has taken a power of attorney, to manage for me kindly .. but everything is in my name—& if it were not, he could not for a moment think of interfering with an incontestable right of property. Still, I do see a difficulty at the beginning—I mean that, as I am here, I could not put my hand out for a large sum, such as would be necessary perhaps. I have had a great deal to pay & do lately—& the next quarter will not be until the middle of October– Still there would be something, but less than is necessary. We might either wait on the road till the required sum were called for & sent—or get a hundred pounds advanced by someone for a few weeks until everything was settled .. which wd be pleasanter, if possible– Poor Papa’s first act will be to abandon his management—— Ah, may God grant him to do it rather angrily than painfully–
A letter, I have written to you, like the chiming of two pennypieces! a miserable letter!– And there is much to tell you .. but nothing painful .. do not fear– The Hedleys dined here, & Mrs Hedley has been sitting with me .. keeping me from writing– Good night now it must be! When you write so of caring to be with me, my heart seems to rock with pleasure– Should’nt this letter have been written on ’Change, & is’nt it unworthy of all you are to me .. & even of all I am to you? But such things must be, after a fashion– Have I told you right, dearest? does it make any sense, altogether? You are wise in little subjects as in great ones, & I will let you make me wiser if you can. And there is no clay in dear Mr Kenyon .. but just the drop in the chrystal you tell me of—only you shall not divine by him, my Druid, or you will sit by yourself under the oak tree to the end of the day!"

Yes, I feel her discomfort in writing about the money, but not nearly as excruciating as his. She is fairly straight forward. I suspect her dropped comments about 'oh you will understand this so much better than silly ol' me' are disingenuous. This is her way of deferring to him and making him more comfortable. She understood everything she told him completely or her letter would not be as clear as it is, which is certainly clearer than his rambling wreck of a letter. And finally at the end she comments about his metaphysical wanderings. She saw them for what they were, rhetorical nonsense. Our girl is not stupid, just neurotic.

1 comment:

  1. Ba may have been hiding her morphine usage since she is paying for it. So where does this answer cast your vote?