Monday, August 6, 2012

August 6

After all the embarrassment of discussing money yesterday our poets send a pair of chatty letters on August 6, 1846. Browning begins by dismissing the subject:

"No, dearest,—the post brought me no letter till early this morning, a few hours before the second arrival: so, in case of any unexpected stoppage in our visit-affairs, if the post can have been to blame, always be sure it is; if I do not arrive at any time when I ought to arrive, having been sent for—there is the great instance and possibility, which you are to remember! However at present, post naufragia tutus sum [I am safe after the shipwreck] with my two treasures.

"Thank you, dearest, for all that kind care of answering. Will you now let me lay it all quietly up in my head to mature, before I .. really think upon it, much more, speak of it? If one can do both once for all, what a blessing! But a little leaven of uncertainty and apprehension, just enough to be tasted bitterly in the whole lump of our life,—that cannot be too diligently guarded against while there is time."

Thus, his curiosity about 'the purse' has been satisfied.

"Well, love, your excursion to Kensington was a real good, well purchased by my early going—and I am glad the great event stood before all eyes and mouths– I seem to notice that you do not leave the house quite so often as, say, a month ago; and that you are not the better for it. Of course you cannot go out in storm and rain. Will you do what is best for my Ba, you who say you love me,—that is, love her?"

Was that a note of criticism from the charming New Cross Knight? Things are progressing.

"Don’t I sympathize with Horne, and see with his eyes, and want with his senses! But why can he not want after the two months, I ask selfishly—seeing, or fancying I see, this inconvenience .. that, as his report will probably be the latest to the world, it would be advisable for you to look as well as possible,—would it not?– It would not do for him to tell people 'All I can say is, that a few weeks only before it happened, she appeared to me thus & thus'—while, on the other hand, if you receive him in the drawing room,—there are difficulties too."

If she meets Horne before they leave town Browning wants her to look as well as possible and wants her to meet him in the drawing room. What does all that mean? Does Browning object to her meeting men in her bedroom? '...I sympathize with Horne....and want with his senses!' Is that jealousy masked as 'this inconvenience'?

"You never told me how yesterday’s thunder affected you—nor how your general health is—yet I will answer you that I am very well to-day—about to go to Mrs Procter’s, alas—it is good that this letter cannot reach you before eight or nine o’clock– I should fail to deny myself the moment’s glance at the window—if you could be prayed to stand there! But it is past praying for now– I told you that I have excused myself to Mrs Jameson on the ground of some kind of uncertainty that rules the next fortnight’s engagements– Who shall say what a fortnight may not bring forth? I shall not mind Mr Kenyon being of the party to-night, should it be so ordered .. for, if he asks me, I can say with dignity—“No,—I did not call to-day,—meaning to call on Saturday, perhaps”– “Well, there is some forbearance,” he will think! However, he will not be present, I prophesy, and Chorley will .. or no, perhaps, Rachel’s Jeanne d’Arc may tempt him. —Important to Ba, very! Almost as much as to me—so at once to the really, truly, exclusively important thing, by comparison– Love me ever, dearest dearest, as I must ever love you,—and take my heart, as if it were a better offering– Also write to me and tell me that Saturday is safe .. will it be safe? Your aunt may perhaps leave you soon—and one observation of hers would be enough to ruin us—consider and decide!

Since these words were written, my mother, who was out, entered the room to confirm a horrible paragraph in the paper– You know our light momentary annoyance at the storm on Saturday,—it is over for us. The next day, Mr Chandler, the cultivator of camellias at Wandsworth, died of grief at the loss from the damage to his conservatories and flowers—which new calamity added to the other, deprived his eldest son, and partner, of his senses .. 'he was found to be raving mad on Monday' are the words of the 'Times'. My mother’s informant called theirs 'the most amiable of families'–"

This story sounds quite sinister. Perhaps the son killed the father through an over application of a self made camellia pesticide solution and the same solution brought on a lack of coherence in the son. Why was it that people were always going 'mad' in the 19th century? Dangerous self made chemical solutions. Everyone knows that.

"How strange—and a few weeks ago I read, in the same paper, a letter from Constantinople—wherein the writer mentioned that he had seen (I think, that morning) Pacha somebody, whose malpractices had just drawn down on him the Sultan’s vengeance, and who had been left with barely his life,—having lost his immense treasures, palaces and gardens &c along with his dignity,—the writer saw this old man selling slices of melon on a bridge in the city,—and on stopping in wonderment to praise such constancy, the Turk asked him with at least equal astonishment, whether it was not fitter to praise Allah who had lent him such wealth for forty years, than to repine that he judged right to recall it now? Could we but practise it, as we reason on it! May God continue me that blessing I have all unworthily received .. but not, I trust, insensibly received!...."

It may be of interest to note that his story so fascinated Browning that he wrote a poem called "The Melon-Seller" based on this story in 1884. See the parallel then: He had a great treasure in Mrs. Browning for 15 years and must he not praise God that he had her at all rather than be angry that she was gone?

As usual Miss Barrett reads and responds to every word he has written:

"I told you nothing yesterday,—but the interruption left me no time, & the house was half asleep before I had done writing what I was able to write. Otherwise I wanted to tell you that Mrs Jameson had been here .. that she came yesterday, & without having received my note. So I was thrown from my resources– I was obliged to thank her with my voice .. so much weaker than my hand. If you knew how frightened I was! The thunder, the morning before, (which I did not hear, holding your hand!) shook me less, upon the whole. I thanked her at least .. I could do that. And then I said it was in vain .. impossible ..
'Mr Kenyon threw cold water on the whole scheme. But you!– Have you given up going to Italy.'?
I said 'no, that I had not certainly'—! I said 'I felt deeply how her great kindness demanded every sort of frankness & openness from me towards her,—and yet, that at that moment, I could not be frank—there were reasons which prevented it—. Would she promise not to renew the subject to Mr Kenyon? not to repeat to him what I said? & to wait until the whole should be explained to herself?—'
She promised. She was kind beyond imagination—at least, far beyond expectation. She looked at me a little curiously, but asked no more questions until she rose to go away—— And then——
'But you will go?' 'Perhaps—if something unforseen does not happen—' 'And you will let me know, when you can,—when everything is settled?' 'Yes'. 'And you think you shall go?' 'Yes'– 'And with efficient companionship?' 'Yes'– 'And happily & quietly?–' 'Ye .....' I could not say the full 'yes' to that!– If it had been utterable, the idea of ‘quiet’ would have been something peculiar. She loosened her grasp of her catechumen, therefore—nothing was to be done with me. I forgot however to tell you that in the earlier part of the discussion she spoke of having half given up her plan of going herself– In her infinite goodness she said, 'she seemed to want an object, & it was in the merest selfishness, she had proposed taking me as an object'—. 'And if you go even without me, would it not be possible, to meet you on the road?– I shall go to Paris in any case. If you go, how do you go?'
'Perhaps across France—by the rivers.'
'Precisely. That is as it should be. Mr Kenyon talked of a long sea-voyage—'
Now I have recited the whole dialogue to you, I think, except where my gratitude grew rhetorical, as well it might. She is the kindest, most affectionate woman in the world!—& you shall let me love her for you & for me."

She seems to object to being a mere 'object' for motivating Mrs. Jameson to go to Europe. I could draw parallels, but I will not, as she did not. I think she saw them herself and rather than writing them out she simply touched on it. No need to stir Browning up with her suspisions.
"As for me, my own dearest, you are fanciful when you say that I do not go out so much, nor look so well. Now I will just tell you- Henrietta cried out in loud astonishment at me today, desiring Trippy to look at my face, when we were all standing together in this room— 'Look at Ba, Trippy!– Did you ever see anyone looking so much better! it really is wonderful, the difference within these few weeks!' That’s Henrietta’s opinion!– She quite startled me with crying out .. as if suddenly she had missed my head!– And you!–
Then I have been out in the carriage today, first to Charing Cross, & then to Mr Boyd’s in St John’s Wood– I am as well at this moment as any one in the world. I have not had one symptom of illness throughout the summer—perfectly well, I am. At the same time, being strong is different,—& sometimes for a day or two together, when I do not feel the strongest, it is right to be quiet & not to walk up & down stairs– So as I ‘love Ba’, (quite enough, I assure you!) I am quiet– There’s the only meaning of not going out every day! But the health is perfectly unaffected, I do assure you,—so keep yourself from every vexing thought of me, so far at least– Are you getting frightened for me, my beloved? Do not be frightened, I would not deceive you by an exaggeration, for the sake even of your temporary satisfaction—you may trust what I say."

Her confidence is growing to the extent that she is comforting Browning.
"For the thunder .. if you thought of me during it, as you say, .. why it did me just so much good. Think of me, dearest, in the thunder & out of the thunder,—the longest peal’s worth of your thought would not content me now, because you have made me too covetous.
As to Mr Horne, you write Sordelloisms of him—& you shall tell me your real meaning in a new edition on saturday—— Might your meaning be that I look worse in this room than in the drawing room? Have you an objection to this room as a room?—I rub my eyes & look for a little more light—(but cant be more impertinent!—can I?)"

Ha! She could not figure out what he was talking about either.
"So, till Saturday!– Yes, Saturday! Tomorrow there is a clearance of aunts—one going at nine in the morning, & one at five in the afternoon: & uncles & cousins do not stay behind. You are glad, I think—& I, not sorry–
How striking your two stories are!– Wonderful it is to me, when mere worldly reverses affect men so—I cannot comprehend it—I stand musing there. But the sublime sentiment of the melon-seller applies to the griefs I can understand—& we may most of us (called Christians) go to him for his teaching.
May God bless you for me! Your Ba–
(I want to say one word more & so leave the subject– Stormie told me this morning, in answer to an enquiry of mine, that certainly I did not receive the whole interest of the fund-money, .. could not .. making ever so much allowance for the income-tax. And now, upon consideration, I seem to see that I cannot have done so– The Ship-shares are in the ‘David Lyon’, a vessel in the West Indian trade, in which Papa also has shares. Stormie said ‘There must be three hundred a year of interest from the fund-money—even at the low rate of interest paid there.’ Now it would be the easiest thing in the world (as I saw even in today’s newspaper) to have money advanced upon this——only there is a risk of its being known perhaps, which neither of us would at all like–) Burn this."

Yeah, well, he wasn't going to burn anything that she wrote. So cross that off your 'to do' list. All her speculation about her income, I am afraid to report, was a bit of optimistic. I don't think her income was enough to keep them. They ended up getting a stipend from Kenyon of 100 pounds a year after the birth of Pen, in 1849. If you read the correspondence with her sister Arabel it is clear that they are often stuck in their wanderings as they wait for her ship to come in or for Kenyon's quarterly payment to arrive. The 'penniless poet' remained a 'just getting by poet' for many a year, despite his wife's vast (ahem) income.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think as many people went mad as they claim. Maybe they had hysterics which makes them appear mad. Of course the pesticides could contribute to it. Purely speculation.