Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 29, 1845

Miss Barrett wants to make it clear to Mr. Browning that she is not rolling over on the subject of what is best for him. No, indeed:

"Then first, ... first, I ask you not to misunderstand. Because we do not ... no, we do not ... agree (but disagree) as to 'what is your true good' ... but disagree, and as widely as ever indeed."

Is that clear? If she is supposed to think for him, she has to make it clear that his thinking is wrong.

"The other asking shall come in its season ... some day before I go, if I go. It only relates to a restitution—and you cannot guess it if you try ... so don't try!—and perhaps you can't grant it if you try—and I cannot guess."

Was her asking him for his letter back a test? To see if he was to be trusted to keep his word as a gentleman?

"Cabins and berths all taken in the Malta steamer for both third and twentieth of October! see what dark lanterns the stars hold out, and how I shall stay in England after all as I think! And thus we are thrown back on the old Gibraltar scheme with its shifting of steamers ... unless we take the dreary alternative of Madeira!—or Cadiz! Even suppose Madeira, ... why it were for a few months alone—and there would be no temptation to loiter as in Italy."

She is still dreaming of going to Italy under the auspices of her father. She makes only one comment regarding her father in response to Browning's well reasoned argument that she had a greater duty to herself to go to Italy for her health than she did in obeying her father when he could give no reason for his objection:

"Don't think too hardly of poor Papa. You have his wrong side ... his side of peculiar wrongness ... to you just now. When you have walked round him you will have other thoughts of him."

At this point she still has hope that her father will agree to the trip after her brother George has used his lawyerly skills to persuade him that she should go.

"Are you better, I wonder? and taking exercise and trying to be better? May God bless you! Tuesday need not be the last day if you like to take one more besides—for there is no going until the fourth or seventh, ... and the seventh is the more probable of those two. But now you have done with me until Tuesday. Ever yours, E.B.B."

She is optimistically believing that she will be going to Italy. How this proposed trip to Italy plays out in Wimpole Street will tell.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September 27, 1845

Miss Barrett had recieved Browning's letter of September 25 but did not have time to respond to it prior to his visit on September 26th. She saw him for and hour and a half in the afternoon but said nothing of the letter. Instead she wrote him a letter after he left (it was postmarked September 27 thus we see it today):

"Friday Evening.
I had your letter late last night, everyone almost, being out of the house by an accident, so that it was left in the letter-box, and if I had wished to answer it before I saw you, it had scarcely been possible.

But it will be the same thing—for you know as well as if you saw my answer, what it must be, what it cannot choose but be, on pain of sinking me so infinitely below not merely your level but my own, that the depth cannot bear a glance down. Yet, though I am not made of such clay as to admit of my taking a base advantage of certain noble extravagances, (and that I am not I thank God for your sake) I will say, I must say, that your words in this letter have done me good and made me happy, ... that I thank and bless you for them, ... and that to receive such a proof of attachment from you, not only overpowers every present evil, but seems to me a full and abundant amends for the merely personal sufferings of my whole life. When I had read that letter last night I did think so. I looked round and round for the small bitternesses which for several days had been bitter to me, and I could not find one of them. The tear-marks went away in the moisture of new, happy tears. Why, how else could I have felt? how else do you think I could? How would any woman have felt ... who could feel at all ... hearing such words said (though 'in a dream' indeed) by such a speaker?"

She is not referring to Browning's analysis of her duty to herself regarding going to Italy. She is specifically referring to Browning's saying that if he could life his dream he would immediately marry her.

"And now listen to me in turn. You have touched me more profoundly than I thought even you could have touched me—my heart was full when you came here to-day. Henceforward I am yours for everything but to do you harm—and I am yours too much, in my heart, ever to consent to do you harm in that way. If I could consent to do it, not only should I be less loyal ... but in one sense, less yours. I say this to you without drawback and reserve, because it is all I am able to say, and perhaps all I shall be able to say. However this may be, a promise goes to you in it that none, except God and your will, shall interpose between you and me, ... I mean, that if He should free me within a moderate time from the trailing chain of this weakness, I will then be to you whatever at that hour you shall choose ... whether friend or more than friend ... a friend to the last in any case. So it rests with God and with you—only in the meanwhile you are most absolutely free ... 'unentangled' (as they call it) by the breadth of a thread—and if I did not know that you considered yourself so, I would not see you any more, let the effort cost me what it might. You may force me feel: ... but you cannot force me to think contrary to my first thought ... that it were better for you to forget me at once in one relation. And if better for you, can it be bad for me? which flings me down on the stone-pavement of the logicians.

And now if I ask a boon of you, will you forget afterwards that it ever was asked? I have hesitated a great deal; but my face is down on the stone-pavement—no—I will not ask to-day—It shall be for another day—and may God bless you on this and on those that come after, my dearest friend."

So, he finally 'forced' it out of her. But she has put a big condition on it. She does not say that she will marry him. As carefully as she makes it clear that he is 'unentangled' she also makes it perfectly clear that she is free as well. She will not marry him if her health does not improve. Browning wastes no time in responding:

"Think for me, speak for me, my dearest, my own! You that are all great-heartedness and generosity, do that one more generous thing? God bless you for R.B.

What can it be you ask of me!—'a boon'—once my answer to that had been the plain one—but now ... when I have better experience of—No, now I have best experience of how you understand my interests; that at last we both know what is my true good—so ask, ask! My own, now! For there it is!—oh, do not fear I am 'entangled'—my crown is loose on my head, not nailed there—my pearl lies in my hand—I may return it to the sea, if I will!

What is it you ask of me, this first asking?"

His response will be a recurring theme with him: he wants her to be in charge of him, "Think for me, speak for me," he asks her now and late in their courtship he describes how he wants her to 'drive' and make the decisions for them both. She says she is, "yours for everything but to do you harm," and he seems quite delighted with the notion that she is "my own". The "boon" she is referring to is (will you be disappointed if I tell you now and don't make you wait for it, my little blogoleers? I am going to tell you anyway. You are warned, close your eyes if you don't want to know) the missing letter that he sent after their first meeting. She told him to burn it. She is assuming that he did not burn it. He certainly is eager to fulfill her request.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September 26, 1846

Mr. and Mrs. Browning left England on Saturday, September 19, 1846 heading for Pisa. By September 26th they have made it to Paris where Mrs. Browning writes to her sister Arabel:

"My beloved Arabel I write to you after a thousand thoughts..(for I have not heard a breath of any of you yet) but the strongest brings me still to writing to you-I believe that you at least, you & my dearest Henrietta, would rather hear from me than not hear-So without a word more of feeling..leaving all the grief & the doubt on one side,..I hurry on blindly to let you hear the whole story of me, which seems to me to run in a whole circle of years rather than days, strange it all is, & full of wonder.

After the Harve passage which was miserable thing in all ways, there was nothing for it but to rest all day at Harve- We were all three of us exhausted either by the sea of the sorrow, & Wilson & I lay down for a few hours, & had coffee & what else we could take--this, till nine oclock in the evening when the diligence set out for Rouen. Four hours by the diligence, we thought,-& then the rest, till the middle of the next day when we meant to go by the Paris railroad. In the diligence we had the coupe to ourselves..we three..& it was as comfortable & easy as any carriage I have been in for years--now five horses, now seven..all looking wild & loosely harnessed,..some of them white, some brown, some black, with the manes leaping as they galloped, & the white reins dripping down over their heads..such a fantastic scene it was in the moonlight!-& I who was a little feverish with the fatigue & the violence done to myself, in the self control of the last few days, began to see it all as in a vision & to doubt whether I was in or out of the body. They made me lie down with my feet up-Robert was dreadfully anxious about me-& after all, he was the worst, I believe, of any of us-Arrived at Rouen,-through some mistake or necessity of form, we were allowed to remain if we pleased, but were forbidden to keep any part of our luggage. The luggage was to go by railroad on to Paris directly-What was to be done? So I prevailed over all the fears, that we should continue on our route, after a rest of twenty minutes at the Rouen & the break of bread,-& you would have been startled, if in a dream you had seen me, carried in & out, as Robert in his infinite tenderness would insist on carrying me, between the lines of strange foreign faces & in the travelers' room,..back again to the coupe of the diligence which was placed on the railway,..& so we rolled on toward Paris."

The description here is priceless. The dreams and visions were perhaps aided a bit by an extra dosage of her opiate. If you look at a map of France you can see the Rouen is about 55 miles from La Harve. It would take about an hour today to drive the distance and it took them four hours in the coupe. That's not too bad although riding on a dirt track in a bouncing coach would certainly make me break out the Dramamine, so I do not begrudge Mrs. B. her laudanum. I suspect Mr. B. could have used some too. The vision of the coupe placed on the railway I am having trouble with. I tried doing a google image search for such a thing and find a coupe but not attached to a railroad car. My imagination says that the coupe was placed on a flat car, but who knows what kind of arrangement was made in 1846. Wikipedia was sadly lacking in information on this subject. If any of my Blogoleers has a graphic image or a more distinct description I would be greatly interested. I also have to wonder that the French built the railway from Paris to Rouen only. Why didn't they take it all the way to the coast? Perhaps it was the wagon master lobby that kept the rail line away from the coast. Just wondering.

"It was a night's travelling, & the daylight was at ten or eleven a.m. when we were deposited in the Messagerie Hotel, in a great noisy court--taking & not choosing that Hotel..taking it for being the nearest, & meaning to remain there, for that day & the next, on account of the necessities of the passport, which the Mayor of Harve promised faithfully to let us receive in time for an early departure-For me, I was quite satisfied with our accommodations in this hotel-but they were small & not over convenient, & the light & the noise, my two enemies, poured in upon us on all sides. Still we had good coffee, & everything was clean, & everyone courteous to the top of courtesy-& while I lay resting, Robert went to speak to Mrs. Jameson according to her address & the agreement of us both that her goodness to me deserved so passing look or sign, if we could give no more-She was not at home. He left a note..'Come & see your friend & my wife EBB-'..nearly as brief as that,--& signing it RB. Never thinking of either of us she stood for some moments, she told us afterwards, in a maze..wondering what these things could mean--In the meanwhile, it was night..or nine in the evening at least..& he was so thoroughly worn out with anxiety, agitation, fatigue, & effect of the sea voyage together with that of having scarcely eaten anything for three weeks, that he quite staggered in the room, & was feverish enough to make me talk of sending for a physician, & in default of it, to entreat him to go & lie down where he would not be disturbed..I promised to receive Mrs. Jameson myself..imagine with what terrors--She came with her stretched out, & eyes opened as wide as Flush's..'Can it be possible? is it possible? You wild, dear creature! You dear, abominable poets! Why what a menage you will make!- You should each have married a 'petit bout de prose [a little bit of prose]' to keep you reasonable. But he is a wise choosing so..& you are a wise woman, let the world say as it pleases!--& I shall dance for joy both in earth & heaven, my dear friends." All this in interrupted interjections! She was the kindest, the most cordial, the most astonished, the most out of breath with wonder!----& I could scarcely speak-looking 'frightfully ill' as she has told me since. So she would not stay..I was to rest, she said, for the first thing,..& never to think (for the second) of travelling all night in that wild way any more-also I was to prevail on Robert to go with me to her apartment at the Hotel de la Ville de Paris, in the morning, when we could talk about Italy & the rest."

I have to wonder that Browning went to fetch Mrs. Jameson at 9pm. He must have been pretty desperate. And why hadn't he eaten for three weeks? It seems he had as nervous a disposition as she did. Thank goodness for Mrs. Jameson, she seems to have saved the day. I dare say she dined out on this encounter the rest of her life, but she deserved to.

"Which was done as she said. We went to her in the morning. She received us both as the most affectionate of possible friends could..kissing Robert, embracing me..professing to be as delighted as she was astonished, praising us for our noble imprudences which were oftener successful, she said, even in this world, than the chiefest of worldly short, nothing could be more cordial & more cheering. May God bless her for all the good she did me--& does me--for we did not leave her so. She persuaded us to remove from the Messagerie to her Hotel, induced us to take the apartment above her own in the same (this same Hotel) a cheap, yet delightful suite of small rooms,..furnished with the very sufficient elegance..dining room, drawing room, two bedrooms, & a room up higher for quiet as in the midst of a wood, nearly, & in the best situation, or one of the best, in Paris-She persuaded us to settle here for a few days, in order to rest, both of us, & manage the passport business, & wait for herself,..she promising to go with us to Pisa, with us,..& help him to take care of me."

Mrs. B seems to wonder at Mrs. Jameson kissing Mr. B for she underlined this. Was this jealousy or astonishment? Their rooms seem very cozy, like a small apartment. I presume the extra bedroom was for Flush.

"You may think how grateful we are! I am! & he is, still more, perhaps..if possible,--for it lifts from him a good half of the anxiety about moving me from one place to another, which, well as I bear it all, is felt by him too much at moments. Now he is well..I thank God..& I am as in a dream,..loving & being loved better everyday..seeing near in him, all that I seemed to see from afar,...thinking with one thought, feeling with one heart,..& just able to discern that (if it were not for what I have left behind,.. with the dreadful, dreadful looking for the letters at Orleans perhaps,..) I should be the happiest of human beings..happiest through him- He loves me better he says than he ever did--& we live such a quiet yet new life, it is like riding an enchanted horse. We see Mrs. Jameson at certain hours, but keep to ourselves at others. We breakfast quietly, & spend the morning,..have bread and butter at one, (& coffee) then dine with her at the Restaurants..walking there,..ordering our own dinner at our own table in Parisian fashion, & walking home afterwards. The distance is short, being understood..& I do not at all dislike it. Mrs. Jameson & Robert talk..he pouring out rivers of wit & wisdom..(it is wonderful),-& she the agreeable, cultivated, fervid & affectionate woman I but half guessed her to be. I in the meanwhile, sit silent, & enjoy or suffer, as God lets me-Oh never, never believe that I can forget you, or love you less, my dearest dearest all of you, own Arabel, do not think so!-I never do, even while I feel that as far as and human choice can be wise & happy,..made under such circumstances..I mean, as far as I could have a right to choose at all,..I have done well, & received full compensation for the past sorrows of my life. He is perfect-far too good & tender for me-far too high & gifted- To hear him say that he is happy because of me, overwhelms me with a mixture of wonder & of shame."

What was making Mrs. B "suffer" as she sat listening to her husband and Mrs. Jameson talk? Physical discomfort or shyness and nerves? And why is she feeling shame because her husband says she makes him happy? She feels unworthy of being happy. What great sin did she commit in her life that makes her so fearful of being happy? She seems awfully superstitious for a Christian woman; she does not seem to fully embrace God's forgiveness.

"He will carry me up stairs, & make me eat too much--our chief disputations are on such points: & for the rest, we have broken no peace yet-we sit through the dusky evenings, watching the stars rise over the high Paris houses, & tell childish happy things, or making schemes for work & poetry to be achieved when we reach Pisa- This, if the good spirits & hopes take the pre-eminence."

Now that sounds very honeymoony.

"And everyone cries out that I look well-the first fatigue has passed..& the change, & the sense of the Thing Done (resuming the place of a painful resolution) & the constant love & attention of every moment..have done me good-for they touch  me, besides the pain & fear. I am quite capable of travelling..quite. And on monday, we set out again--Mrs. Jameson & Gerardine her niece, Robert & I & Wilson. We go to Chartes, because a visit to the cathedral there is necessary for a book she is completing, & we can only go by Diligence- Thence by railroad to Orleans--(oh my letters, how you frighten me at this distance!) & slowly onward to Marseilles. You shall hear again. Robert has told Mrs. Jameson to call me Ba..& I am to call her Aunt Nina which is her favorite name for relation or friend. I tell you this nonsense to let you see how we are on familiar terms-She writes little notes to us, nearly every morning, sent up stairs by Gerardine for a post, beginning.."Dear friends, how are you today, & where will you go?" You comprehend why I repeat such foolishness to you. She has taken us once to the Louvre..I, trembling for fear of meeting somebody too dear! And, by the way, I have not written to Jane- Don't tell her how long I have been here, not daring to give her a sign..although Robert & I walked up the Rue Champs Elysses only yesterday."

She had told her family to write to her at Orleans so she is hoping and dreading what she will find waiting for her in that city. Her Aunt Jane and Uncle Hedley are in Paris and she is frightened that of all the people in that city she will run into them walking down the street. I guess it could happen but here her nerves are getting the better of her. Nerves and guilt, because she has been a naughty girl and run off with a penniless poet.

"The glance of the Louvre was a mere glance--the divine Raphaels..unspeakable, those are. Mrs. Jameson on one side of me, & Robert on the other, were learned equally..& I, the ignoramus, between!-He & I have seen nothing of course, comparatively, of Paris wonders,--but we shall return here some day, & see & hear. The colouring & life everywhere are very striking,..& the magnificence of the city, as a city, infinitely beyond London-"

And what is Wilson doing all this time? Doing maid things I guess. She gets paid to be bored. In Paris. She is probably dog sitting since I doubt even Flush would be permitted in the Louvre. The French are such barbarians when it comes to dogs in public buildings.

"Mrs. Jameson spoke to Lord Normanby (the English ambassador) about the wrong done to us in our passport at Harve--for we have not yet received it--& he instantly said that he knew Mr. Browning by reputation & would be happy to give us another which should put us to no trouble whatever. It was graciously said, & quickly done- And now the mayor & his devices are to be defied-"

Apparently passports in the 19th century worked differently than they do today. My understanding is that you could go to France without a passport but you had to apply for one once you were there. You were at the mercy of French officialdom to get out of the country, for you had to have one issued to you in order the leave the country. So the mayor in La Harve did not issue the proper documents, perhaps in order to get a, shall we say 'tip', for his service. Happily Mrs. Jameson knew the correct person to save the day. Mrs. Jameson was a very handy person to have around.

"My dearest, dearest beloved all of heart goes out to you..I love you..I bless you in the name of God-Forgive me that I have caused you this pain,..oh, I beseech you-Kiss dearest Trippy for me, & say so too. My excuse is in him-If he was an another man in anything, I should have less an excuse-I wish you heard him talk of you he grieves to have offended when he would give up all (except me) to conciliate- Wishing, he was, this morning, that you or dearest Henrietta were with us here, & hoping for me, that, one day, he might have you with us, as his sister & mine-You would love him & hold me justified, if you knew him-such a pure, tender, religious spirit,..apart from secular attainments & the specific genius-He rises on me, higher and higher-"

He would give everything to conciliate--except her--yes, that would seem to defeat the purpose. But isn't it a relief that she does not report that he has been beating her. I mean, what if?

"Now this is a long letter- Write me on I beseech you--& direct to Posta Restante, Pisa.-

My God bless you-Tell dear Minny not to follow me with too hard thoughts. No woman, beloved as I have been by such a man, could have acted much otherwise in the same circumstances-Is Stormie very angry? & George?

Dear Henrietta will understand why I do not write to her today--it shall be for another day-I love her-I love you- I am your own attached Ba

Do you think, Arabel, that dearest Papa will forgive me at last?------Answer

Wilson likes everything--& we try to make her comfortable in change for her great services-Oh, that day, Arabel when I left you!---

Arabel, Henrietta, dearest ones, both of you write to me."

Mrs. B. writes in faith that her sisters will forgive and support her. But she is obviously writing for a larger audience. She has to know that her sisters will pass around the letter to other family members. There is no chance that she was going to write anything negative about her trip or her husband. If he was beating her, ignoring her or otherwise treating her badly, would she say anything? It is pretty doubtful. But I think we can be certain that her letter is a fairly accurate description of the trip based on subsequent letters and the records of others they encounter on the way, including Mrs. Jameson who wrote blow by blow letters to Lady Byron and her niece Gerardine's eventual memoirs of traveling with her 'Aunt Nina'. Mrs. B. is off on the adventure of her life...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 25, 1845

September 25, 1845 is the beginning of the end of Miss Barrett's rear-guard effort to stop the advance of Browning's love. It begins quietly enough with a chatty letter from Browning:

"I walked to town, this morning, and back again—so that when I found your note on my return, and knew what you had been enjoining me in the way of exercise, I seemed as if I knew, too, why that energetic fit had possessed me and why I succumbed to it so readily. You shall never have to intimate twice to me that such an insignificant thing, even, as the taking exercise should be done. Besides, I have many motives now for wishing to continue well. But Italy just now—Oh, no! My friends would go through Pisa, too."

This is exactly what she wanted to hear: he is not leaving her to go to Italy.

"On that subject I must not speak. And you have 'more strength to lose,' and are so well, evidently so well; that is, so much better, so sure to be still better—can it be that you will not go!

Here are your new notes on my verses. Where are my words for the thanks? But you know what I feel, and shall feel—ever feel—for these and for all. The notes would be beyond price to me if they came from some dear Phemius of a teacher—but from you!

The Theatricals 'went off' with great éclat, and the performance was really good, really clever or better. Forster's 'Kitely' was very emphatic and earnest, and grew into great interest, quite up to the poet's allotted tether, which is none of the longest. He pitched the character's key note too gravely, I thought; beginning with certainty, rather than mere suspicion, of evil. Dickens' 'Bobadil' was capital—with perhaps a little too much of the consciousness of entire cowardice ... which I don't so willingly attribute to the noble would-be pacificator of Europe, besieger of Strigonium &c.—but the end of it all was really pathetic, as it should be, for Bobadil is only too clever for the company of fools he makes wonderment for: having once the misfortune to relish their society, and to need but too pressingly their 'tobacco-money,' what can he do but suit himself to their capacities?—And D. Jerrold was very amusing and clever in his 'Country Gull'—And Mr. Leech superb in the Town Master Mathew. All were good, indeed, and were voted good, and called on, and cheered off, and praised heartily behind their backs and before the curtain. Stanfield's function had exercise solely in the touching up (very effectively) sundry 'Scenes'—painted scenes—and the dresses, which were perfect, had the advantage of Mr. Maclise's experience. And—all is told!

And now; I shall hear, you promise me, if anything occurs—with what feeling, I wait and hope, you know. If there is no best of reasons against it, Saturday, you remember, is my day—This fine weather, too! May God bless my dearest friend—Ever yours R.B."

And so a night out at the theater is summed up. Not much there. Miss Barrett in the mean time has spoken to Papa Barrett about Italy:

"I have spoken again, and the result is that we are in precisely the same position; only with bitterer feelings on one side. If I go or stay they must be bitter: words have been said that I cannot easily forget, nor remember without pain; and yet I really do almost smile in the midst of it all, to think how I was treated this morning as an undutiful daughter because I tried to put on my gloves ... for there was no worse provocation. At least he complained of the undutifulness and rebellion (!!!) of everyone in the house—and when I asked if he meant that reproach for me, the answer was that he meant it for all of us, one with another. And I could not get an answer. He would not even grant me the consolation of thinking that I sacrificed what I supposed to be good, to him. I told him that my prospects of health seemed to me to depend on taking this step, but that through my affection for him, I was ready to sacrifice those to his pleasure if he exacted it—only it was necessary to my self-satisfaction in future years, to understand definitely that the sacrifice was exacted by him and was made to him, ... and not thrown away blindly and by a misapprehension. And he would not answer that. I might do my own way, he said—he would not speak—he would not say that he was not displeased with me, nor the contrary:—I had better do what I liked:—for his part, he washed his hands of me altogether.

And so I have been very wise—witness how my eyes are swelled with annotations and reflections on all this! The best of it is that now George himself admits I can do no more in the way of speaking, ... I have no spell for charming the dragons, ... and allows me to be passive and enjoins me to be tranquil, and not 'make up my mind' to any dreadful exertion for the future. Moreover he advises me to go on with the preparations for the voyage, and promises to state the case himself at the last hour to the 'highest authority'; and judge finally whether it be possible for me to go with the necessary companionship. And it seems best to go to Malta on the 3rd of October—if at all ... from steam-packet reasons ... without excluding Pisa ... remember ... by any means.

Well!—and what do you think? Might it be desirable for me to give up the whole? Tell me. I feel aggrieved of course and wounded—and whether I go or stay that feeling must last—I cannot help it. But my spirits sink altogether at the thought of leaving England so—and then I doubt about Arabel and Stormie ... and it seems to me that I ought not to mix them up in a business of this kind where the advantage is merely personal to myself. On the other side, George holds that if I give up and stay even, there will be displeasure just the same, ... and that, when once gone, the irritation will exhaust and smooth itself away—which however does not touch my chief objection. Would it be better ... more right ... to give it up? Think for me. Even if I hold on to the last, at the last I shall be thrown off—that is my conviction. But ... shall I give up at once? Do think for me."

She has certainly left the door open for Browning to speak his mind: "...and what do you think?", "Tell me,", "Think for me," and "Do think for me."

"And I have thought that if you like to come on Friday instead of Saturday ... as there is the uncertainty about next week, ... it would divide the time more equally: but let it be as you like and according to circumstances as you see them. Perhaps you have decided to go at once with your friends—who knows? I wish I could know that you were better to-day. May God bless you Ever yours, E.B.B."

Miss Barrett is so thoroughly in love with Browning at this point that a blind man could see it (Mr. Boyd anyone?) She may or may not be denying it to herself, but she is certainly making it perfectly clear in her pleadings for him to stay with her, hidden in her appeals for him to go to Italy with his friends, her requests for him to think for her and her wish to know the state of his health. Oh yes, she is gone. It is up to Browning at this point. How will her respond to her appeal? Well, pretty quickly because here is his letter of the same day:

"You have said to me more than once that you wished I might never know certain feelings you had been forced to endure. I suppose all of us have the proper place where a blow should fall to be felt most—and I truly wish you may never feel what I have to bear in looking on, quite powerless, and silent, while you are subjected to this treatment, which I refuse to characterize—so blind is it for blindness. I think I ought to understand what a father may exact, and a child should comply with; and I respect the most ambiguous of love's caprices if they give never so slight a clue to their all-justifying source. Did I, when you signified to me the probable objections—you remember what—to myself, my own happiness,—did I once allude to, much less argue against, or refuse to acknowledge those objections? For I wholly sympathize, however it go against me, with the highest, wariest, pride and love for you, and the proper jealousy and vigilance they entail—but now, and here, the jewel is not being over guarded, but ruined, cast away. And whoever is privileged to interfere should do so in the possessor's own interest—all common sense interferes—all rationality against absolute no-reason at all. And you ask whether you ought to obey this no-reason? I will tell you: all passive obedience and implicit submission of will and intellect is by far too easy, if well considered, to be the course prescribed by God to Man in this life of probationfor they evade probation altogether, though foolish people think otherwise. Chop off your legs, you will never go astray; stifle your reason altogether and you will find it is difficult to reason ill. 'It is hard to make these sacrifices!'—not so hard as to lose the reward or incur the penalty of an Eternity to come; 'hard to effect them, then, and go through with them'—not hard, when the leg is to be cut off—that it is rather harder to keep it quiet on a stool, I know very well. The partial indulgence, the proper exercise of one's faculties, there is the difficulty and problem for solution, set by that Providence which might have made the laws of Religion as indubitable as those of vitality, and revealed the articles of belief as certainly as that condition, for instance, by which we breathe so many times in a minute to support life. But there is no reward proposed for the feat of breathing, and a great one for that of believing—consequently there must go a great deal more of voluntary effort to this latter than is implied in the getting absolutely rid of it at once, by adopting the direction of an infallible church, or private judgment of another—for all our life is some form of religion, and all our action some belief, and there is but one law, however modified, for the greater and the less. In your case I do think you are called upon to do your duty to yourself; that is, to God in the end. Your own reason should examine the whole matter in dispute by every light which can be put in requisition; and every interest that appears to be affected by your conduct should have its utmost claims considered—your father's in the first place; and that interest, not in the miserable limits of a few days' pique or whim in which it would seem to express itself; but in its whole extent ... the hereafter which all momentary passion prevents him seeing ... indeed, the present on either side which everyone else must see. And this examination made, with whatever earnestness you will, I do think and am sure that on its conclusion you should act, in confidence that a duty has been performed ... difficult, or how were it a duty? Will it not be infinitely harder to act so than to blindly adopt his pleasure, and die under it? Who can not do that?"

I see in this letter the BRILLIANT Browning that the biographers are all in love with. He appeals here to her reason and intellect, not to her emotion. He places her duty to her father in terms of her duty to herself under God. I think in this letter I begin to love Browning a little bit too.

"I fling these hasty rough words over the paper, fast as they will fall—knowing to whom I cast them, and that any sense they may contain or point to, will be caught and understood, and presented in a better light. The hard thing ... this is all I want to say ... is to act on one's own best conviction—not to abjure it and accept another will, and say 'there is my plain duty'—easy it is, whether plain or no!

How 'all changes!' When I first knew you—you know what followed. I supposed you to labour under an incurable complaint—and, of course, to be completely dependent on your father for its commonest alleviations; the moment after that inconsiderate letter, I reproached myself bitterly with the selfishness apparently involved in any proposition I might then have made—for though I have never been at all frightened of the world, nor mistrustful of my power to deal with it, and get my purpose out of it if once I thought it worth while, yet I could not but feel the consideration, of what failure would now be, paralyse all effort even in fancy."

This shows Browning to be more thoughtful than I had previously understood. He proposed to her after their first meeting and then reproached himself not because he did not love her but he realized that he had no security to offer her. If he failed himself that was one thing, but if her failed her how could he not blame himself?

"When you told me lately that 'you could never be poor'—all my solicitude was at an end—I had but myself to care about, and I told you, what I believed and believe, that I can at any time amply provide for that, and that I could cheerfully and confidently undertake the removing that obstacle. Now again the circumstances shift—and you are in what I should wonder at as the veriest slavery—and I who could free you from it, I am here scarcely daring to write ... though I know you must feel for me and forgive what forces itself from me ... what retires so mutely into my heart at your least word ... what shall not be again written or spoken, if you so will ... that I should be made happy beyond all hope of expression by. Now while I dream, let me once dream! I would marry you now and thus—I would come when you let me, and go when you bade me—I would be no more than one of your brothers—'no more'—that is, instead of getting to-morrow for Saturday, I should get Saturday as well—two hours for one—when your head ached I should be here. I deliberately choose the realization of that dream (—of sitting simply by you for an hour every day) rather than any other, excluding you, I am able to form for this world, or any world I know—And it will continue but a dream. God bless my dearest E.B.B. R.B.

You understand that I see you to-morrow, Friday, as you propose.
I am better—thank you—and will go out to-day.

You know what I am, what I would speak, and all I would do."

What will or can Miss Barrett say to this letter? He would "free her" on her terms. He makes absolutely no demands on her. He will love her "mutely" from afar or he will marry her and still make no demands on her other that to sit with her an hour a day. He admits his own vulnerability as few men would. His intellect, maturity and cunning are on full display in this practically perfect letter. We will have to wait a couple of days for Miss Barrett's response. Can Miss Barrett resist or will she finally admit and submit to the truth? Can we stand the suspense?

Monday, September 24, 2012

September 24, 1845

Miss Barrett is trying to get rid of Browning on September 24, 1845. If he goes to Italy he will be very far away from tempting her in Wimpole Street:

"I have nothing to say about Pisa, ... but a great deal (if I could say it) about you, who do what is wrong by your own confession and are ill because of it and make people uneasy—now is it right altogether? is it right to do wrong?... for it comes to that:—and is it kind to do so much wrong?... for it comes almost to that besides. Ah—you should not indeed! I seem to see quite plainly that you will be ill in a serious way, if you do not take care and take exercise; and so you must consent to be teazed a little into taking both. And if you will not take them here ... or not so effectually as in other places; why not go with your Italian friends? Have you thought of it at all? I have been thinking since yesterday that it might be best for you to go at once, now that the probability has turned quite against me. If I were going, I should ask you not to do so immediately ... but you see how unlikely it is!—although I mean still to speak my whole thoughts—I will do that ... even though for the mere purpose of self-satisfaction. George came last night—but there is an adverse star this morning, and neither of us has the opportunity necessary. Only both he and I will speak—that is certain. And Arabel had the kindness to say yesterday that if I liked to go, she would go with me at whatever hazard—which is very kind—but you know I could not—it would not be right of me. And perhaps after all we may gain the point lawfully; and if not ... at the worst ... the winter may be warm (it is better to fall into the hands of God, as the Jew said) and I may lose less strength than usual, ... having more than usual to lose ... and altogether it may not be so bad an alternative. As to being the cause of any anger against my sister, you would not advise me into such a position, I am sure—it would be untenable for one moment.

But you ... in that case, ... would it not be good for your head if you went at once? I praise myself for saying so to you—yet if it really is good for you, I don't deserve the praising at all. And how was it on Saturday—that question I did not ask yesterday—with Ben Jonson and the amateurs? I thought of you at the time—I mean, on that Saturday evening, nevertheless.

You shall hear when there is any more to say. May God bless you, dearest friend! I am ever yours, E.B.B."

Is this not the most obvious of letters? She is telling him to go but it is so obvious that she is asking him to stay. And how sad is it that grown children have to strategically choose the correct moment to speak to their father for fear of his wrath. Childhood makes slaves of us all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 17&18, 1846 Letter to George Barrett

This letter to George Barrett, is the only extant letter (that I am aware of) from Mrs. Browning to her family explaining her marriage to Robert Browning.

"Thursday & Friday

My dearest George I throw myself on your affection for me & beseech of God that it may hold under the weight -- dearest George, Go to your room & read this letter -- and I entreat you by all that we both hold dearest, to hold me still dear after the communication which it remains to me to make to yourself and to leave to you in order to be communicated to others in the way that shall seem best to your judgement. And Oh, love me George, while you are reading it. Love me -- that I may find pardon in your heart for me after it is read.

Mr. Browning has been attached to me for nearly two years - At first and for long I could not believe that he (who is what you know a little) could care for such as I, except in an illusion & a dream. I put an end (as I thought) briefly to the subject. I felt certain that a few days & a little more light on my ghastly face, would lead him to thank me for my negative, and I bade him observe that if my position had not been exceptional, I should not have received him at all. With a protest, he submitted, and months passed on so. Still he came continually & wrote, & made me feel (though observing my conditions in the form) made me feel with every breath I drew in his presence, that he loved me with no ordinary affection. But I believed that it would be a wrong to such a man, to cast on him the burden of my sickly life, & to ruin him by his own generosity - He was too good for me, I knew, but I tried to be as generous. I showed him that I was altogether bruised & broken -- that setting aside my health which, however improved, was liable to fail with every withdrawing of the sun, -- that the common advantages of youth & good spirits had gone from me & that I was an undone creature for the pleasures of life, as for its social duties.

His answer was -- not the common gallantries which come so easily to the lips of men -- but simply that he loved me -- he met argument with fact. He told me -- that with himself also, the early freshness of youth had gone by, & that throughout it he had not been able to love any woman -- that he loved now for the first time & the last. That, as to the question of my health, he had been under the impression when he first declared his attachment to me, that I was suffering from an incurable injury of the spine, which would prevent my ever standing up before his eyes. If that had been true -- he bade me tell how it should have operated in suppressing any pure attachment of a soul to a soul. For his part, he had desired under those circumstances, to attain to the right of sitting by my sofa just two hours in the day as one of my brothers might -- and he preferred, of deliberate choice, the realization of such a dream, to the highest, which should exclude me, in the world. - But he would not, he said, torment me - He would wait, if I pleased, twenty years, till we both should grow old, & then at the latest, -- too late, -- I should understand him as he understood himself now -- & should know that he loved me with an ineffaceble love. In the meanwhile, what he asked I had it in my power to give. He did not ask me to dance or to sing, -- but to help him to work and to live -- to live a useful life & to die a happy death -- that was in my power.

And this attachment, George, I have had to do with, & this man - Such a man. - Noble he is -- his intellect the least of his gifts! His love showed itself to me like a vocation. And I a mere woman, feeling as a woman must, & in circumstances which made every proof of devotion sink down to the deepest of my heart where the deep sorrow was before. Did he not come in my adversity? When I had done with life, did he not come to me. Call to mind the sorrow & the solitude, & how, in these long years, the feeling of personal vanity had died out of me, till I was grateful to all those who a little could bear with me personally. And he, such a man! Why men have talked to me before of what they called love, -- but never for any one, could I think even, of relinquishing the single life with which I was contented. I never believed that a man whom I could love (I having a need to look up high in order to love) .. could be satisfied with the loving me. And yet he did -- does. Then we have one mind on all subjects -- & the solemner they are, the nearer we seem to approach. If poets, we are together, still more we are Christians. For these nearly two years we have known each other's opinions & thoughts & feelings, weakness & strength, as few persons in the like position have had equal opportunities of doing. And knowing me perfectly he had entirely loved me -- : At last, I only could say -- "Wait until the winter - You will see that I shall be ill again - If not, I leave it to you". I believed I should be ill again certainly. But the winter came, mild and wonderful - I did not fail in health -- nor to him.

I beseech you, George, to judge me gently, looking to the peculiar circumstances, -- & above all, to acquit him wholly. I claim the whole responsibility of his omission of the usual application to my father and friends -- for he was about to do it -- anxious to do it -- & I stopped him. That blame therefore belongs to me. But I knew, & you know, that the consequences of that application would have been -- we should have been separated from that moment. He is not rich -- which wd have been an obstacle -- At any rate, I could not physically bear the encounter agitating opposition from those I tenderly loved -- & to act openly in defiance of Papa's will, would have been more impossible for me than to use the right which I believe to be mine, of taking a step so strictly personal, on my own responsibility. We both of us comprehend life in a simpler way than is generally done, and to live happily according to our conscience, we do not need to be richer than we are. I do beseech you, George, to look to the circumstances & judge me gently, & see that, having resolved to give my life to one who is in my eyes the noblest of all men & who loves me as such a man can love, -- there was no way possible to my weakness but the way adopted with this pain. The motives are altogether different from any supposable want of respect & affection where I owe them most tenderly. I beseech you to understand this -- I beseech you to lay it before my dearest Papa, that it is so - Also, to have consulted one of you, would have been ungenerous & have involved you in my blame I have therefore consulted not one of you. I here declare that everyone in the house is absolutely ignorant & innocent of all participation in this act of my own. I love you too dearly, too tenderly, to have done you such an injustice. Forgive me all of you for the act itself, for the sake of the love which came before it -- & follows after it -- for never (whether you pardon or reproach me) will an hour pass during my absence from you, in which I shall not think of you with tenderest thoughts.

It appears right to say of dear Mr. Kenyon -- to whom I ever shall be grateful, that he has not any knowledge of these circumstances - It appears right to say it, since Mr. Browning is his friend.

And I think it due to myself, to observe, that I have seen Mr. Browning only in this house & openly -- except the day of our meeting in the church of this parish in order to becoming his wife in the presence of the two necessary witnesses. We go across France, down the Seine & Rhone to Pisa for the winter, in submission to the conditions necessary for the re-establishment of my health, & shall return in the next summer. As soon as he became aware that I had the little money which is mine, he wished much that I would leave it with my sisters, & go to him penniless - But this, which I would have acceded to under ordinary circumstances, I resisted on the ground of my health -- the uncertainty of which seemed to make it a duty to me to keep from being a burden to him -- at least in a pecuniary respect.

George, dear George, read the enclosed letter for my dearest Papa, & then -- breaking gently the news of it -- give it to him to read. Also, if he would deign to read this letter addressed to you -- I should be grateful -- I wish him in justice, & beseech him in affection, to understand the whole bearings of this case. George, believe of me, that I have endeavored in all this matter to do right according to my own view of rights & righteousness - If it is not your view, bear with me & pardon me. Do you all pardon me, my beloved ones, & believe that if I could have benefitted any of you by staying here, I would have stayed. Have I not done for you what I could, always? When I could - Now I am weak. And if in this crisis I were to do otherwise that what I am about to do, there would be a victim without an expiation, & a sacrifice without an object. My spirits would have festered on in this enforced prison, & none of you all would have been the happier for what would have been bitter to me. Also, I should have wronged another. I cannot do it.

If you have any affection for me, George, dearest George, let me hear a word -- at Orleans --let me hear. I will write -- I bless you, I love you - I am Your Ba"

She is straightforward in laying out her case and her reasoning. She does not seem overly emotional. She would have made a good lawyer, using her best lawyerly skills to appeal to her lawyer brother. There is one amusing moment in an otherwise serious letter: her statement of Browning "He is not rich." No, indeed. Her statement that she, "felt certain that a few days & a little more light on my ghastly face, would lead him to thank me for my negative," could be read as a jest with many writers, but not Mrs. Browning. Our poetess of low self-esteem was most seriously serious on this score.

The main thing is that this letter is perfectly honest. There is no prevarication here. The objections she addresses here are the same objections she has argued with Browning about for the previous 19 months. The only arguments which she does not address here are the personal objections, which really have no bearing with her family.

And notice how she seeks to protect everyone but herself. She defends Browning, Kenyon and everyone in the household. Loving and noble.

September 19, 1845

Browning is pushing the envelope of love. She keeps saying please don't speak of this any more and he keeps saying 'one word more':

"But you, too, will surely want, if you think me a rational creature, my explanation—without which all that I have said and done would be pure madness, I think. It is just 'what I see' that I do see,—or rather it has proved, since I first visited you, that the reality was infinitely worse than I know it to be ... for at, and after the writing of that first letter, on my first visit, I believed—through some silly or misapprehended talk, collected at second hand too—that your complaint was of quite another nature—a spinal injury irremediable in the nature of it. Had it been so—now speak for me, for what you hope I am, and say how that should affect or neutralize what you were, what I wished to associate with myself in you? But as you now are:—then if I had married you seven years ago, and this visitation came now first, I should be 'fulfilling a pious duty,' I suppose, in enduring what could not be amended—a pattern to good people in not running away ... for where were now the use and the good and the profit and—"

He makes a very good point. If they had met and married a decade before he would be obliged to stay with her and care for her and it would be considered his duty to do so. She may come back and say that this is a moot point because in the present case she has the power to save him from this duty. But nevertheless he does win a point in the debate.

"I desire in this life (with very little fluctuation for a man and too weak a one) to live and just write out certain things which are in me, and so save my soul. I would endeavour to do this if I were forced to 'live among lions' as you once said—but I should best do this if I lived quietly with myself and with you. That you cannot dance like Cerito does not materially disarrange this plan—nor that I might (beside the perpetual incentive and sustainment and consolation) get, over and above the main reward, the incidental, particular and unexpected happiness of being allowed when not working to rather occupy myself with watching you, than with certain other pursuits I might be otherwise addicted to—this, also, does not constitute an obstacle, as I see obstacles."

What exactly does he mean by watching her? I hope he means taking care of her. Not to say that being watched is a bit creepy, but it is, kinda. Avert your eyes at intervals Mr. Browning, don't just stare with open mouth.

"But you see them—and I see you, and know my first duty and do it resolutely if not cheerfully.

As for referring again, till leave by word or letter—you will see— "

Mark the date my Blogoleers: September 19, 1845. Browning will not refer to this love thing again until given leave. Let's see how long he holds out. Let's see how long she holds out!
I am afraid they have love on the brain.

"And very likely, the tone of this letter even will be misunderstood—because I studiously cut out all vain words, protesting &c.:—No—will it?

I said, unadvisedly, that Saturday was taken from me ... but it was dark and I had not looked at the tickets: the hour of the performance is later than I thought. If to-morrow does not suit you, as I infer, let it be Saturday—at 3—and I will leave earlier, a little, and all will be quite right here. One hint will apprise me. God bless you, dearest friend. R.B.

Something else just heard, makes me reluctantly strike out SaturdayMonday then?"

Miss Barrett, of course, will have her say:

"It is not 'misunderstanding' you to know you to be the most generous and loyal of all in the world—you overwhelm me with your generosity—only while you see from above and I from below, we cannot see the same thing in the same light. Moreover, if we did, I should be more beneath you in one sense, than I am. Do me the justice of remembering this whenever you recur in thought to the subject which ends here in the words of it.

I began to write last Saturday to thank you for all the delight I had had in Shelley, though you beguiled me about the pencil-marks, which are few. Besides the translations, some of the original poems were not in my copy and were, so, quite new to me. 'Marianne's Dream' I had been anxious about to no end—I only know it now.—

On Monday at the usual hour. As to coming twice into town on Saturday, that would have been quite foolish if it had been possible. Dearest friend, I am yours, E.B.B."

Now he is trying to beguile her with Shelley. Oh yeah, the soft underbelly of Miss Barrett is the poetry. He should work some in every chance he gets.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 18, 1845

On September 18, 1845 three letters pass between Wimpole Street and New Cross as our poets argue about the conditions of their love and a tiny bit about travel. We will begin with Miss Barrett:

"But one word before we leave the subject, and then to leave it finally; but I cannot let you go on to fancy a mystery anywhere, in obstacles or the rest. You deserve at least a full frankness; and in my letter I meant to be fully frank. I even told you what was an absurdity, so absurd that I should far rather not have told you at all, only that I felt the need of telling you all: and no mystery is involved in that, except as an 'idiosyncrasy' is a mystery. But the 'insurmountable' difficulty is for you and everybody to see; and for me to feel, who have been a very byword among the talkers, for a confirmed invalid through months and years, and who, even if I were going to Pisa and had the best prospects possible to me, should yet remain liable to relapses and stand on precarious ground to the end of my life. Now that is no mystery for the trying of 'faith'; but a plain fact, which neither thinking nor speaking can make less a fact. But don't let us speak of it.

I must speak, however, (before the silence) of what you said and repeat in words for which I gratefully thank you—and which are not 'ostentatious' though unnecessary words—for, if I were in a position to accept sacrifices from you, I would not accept such a sacrifice ... amounting to a sacrifice of duty and dignity as well as of ease and satisfaction ... to an exchange of higher work for lower work ... and of the special work you are called to, for that which is work for anybody. I am not so ignorant of the right uses and destinies of what you have and are. You will leave the Solicitor-Generalships to the Fitzroy Kellys, and justify your own nature; and besides, do me the little right, (over the over-right you are always doing me) of believing that I would not bear or dare to do you so much wrong, if I were in the position to do it.

And for all the rest I thank you—believe that I thank you ... and that the feeling is not so weak as the word. That you should care at all for me has been a matter of unaffected wonder to me from the first hour until now—and I cannot help the pain I feel sometimes, in thinking that it would have been better for you if you never had known me. May God turn back the evil of me! Certainly I admit that I cannot expect you ... just at this moment, ... to say more than you say, ... and I shall try to be at ease in the consideration that you are as accessible to the 'unicorn' now as you ever could be at any former period of your life. And here I have done. I had done living, I thought, when you came and sought me out! and why? and to what end? That, I cannot help thinking now. Perhaps just that I may pray for you—which were a sufficient end. If you come on Saturday I trust you to leave this subject untouched,—as it must be indeed henceforth. I am yours, E.B.B.

No word more of Pisa—I shall not go, I think. "

She rejects all of his offers. She will not allow him to sacrifice his gift as a poet because of her poor health and she will not allow him to do lesser work than his work as a poet. She actually seems to think that just the fact of his affection for her will harm him. Happily she regains her humor in being glad that he still considers himself free to chase the unicorns. But after all that rejecting she ends with "I am yours, E.B.B" Mixed messages anyone? Browning sends a brief, almost exaperated response:

"Words!—it was written I should hate and never use them to any purpose. I will not say one word here—very well knowing neither word nor deed avails—from me.

My letter will have reassured you on the point you seem undecided about—whether I would speak &c.

I will come whenever you shall signify that I may ... whenever, acting in my best interests, you feel that it will not hurt you (weary you in any way) to see me—but I fear that on Saturday I must be otherwhere—I enclose the letter from my old foe. Which could not but melt me for all my moroseness and I can hardly go and return for my sister in time. Will you tell me?

It is dark—but I want to save the post— Ever yours R.B. "

My only comment here is "otherwhere". Why do we not use the word 'otherwhere' everyday? I hereby resolve to try and work 'otherwhere' into at least one conversation a day. Just to see how people react.

Miss Barrett responds immediately (to his note--not to his use of 'otherwhere'):

"Of course you cannot do otherwise than go with your sister—or it will be 'Every man out of his humour' perhaps—and you are not so very 'savage' after all.

On Monday then, if you do not hear—to the contrary.

Papa has been walking to and fro in this room, looking thoughtfully and talking leisurely—and every moment I have expected I confess, some word (that did not come) about Pisa. Mr. Kenyon thinks it cannot end so—and I do sometimes—and in the meantime I do confess to a little 'savageness' also—at heart! All I asked him to say the other day, was that he was not displeased with me—and he wouldn't; and for me to walk across his displeasure spread on the threshold of the door, and moreover take a sister and brother with me, and do such a thing for the sake of going to Italy and securing a personal advantage, were altogether impossible, obviously impossible! So poor Papa is quite in disgrace with me just now—if he would but care for that!

May God bless you. Amuse yourself well on Saturday. I could not see you on Thursday any way, for Mr. Kenyon is here every day ... staying in town just on account of this Pisa business, in his abundant kindness.... On Monday then. Ever yours, E.B.B. "

The idea that strikes me in this letter is that she will not defy her father and go to Italy in the face of his displeasure because she feels that she is doing it for selfish reasons. As she puts it "securing a personal advantage." She is certainly a well trained in the morality of personal sacrifice.

September 18, 1846

The three letters on September 18, 1846 are the last letters that our two poets ever sent each other. After this day there is no need. They are together every day until Mrs. Browning dies in June 1861. Mrs. Browning's first letter is very short indeed:

"Dearest, here is the paper of addresses. I cannot remember, I am so confused, half of them–

Surely you say wrong in the hour for tomorrow. Also there is the express train– Would it not be better?

Your Ba–"
She is sending the addresses for delivery of their cards. But she takes the opportunity to let him know that he got it wrong. Of course he got it wrong, he is frazzled.
"My own best Ba– How thankful I am you have seen my blunder– I took the other company’s days for the South Western’s—changed. What I shall write now is with the tables before me (of the Railway) and a transcript from today’s advertisement in the Times.
The packet will leave tomorrow evening, from the Royal Pier, Sn, at nine. We leave Nine Elms, Vauxhall, at five—to arrive at Eight. Doors closed five minutes before. I will be at Hodgsons from halfpast three to four PRECISELY when I should hope you can be ready. I shall go to Vauxhall, apprise them that luggage is coming (yours) and send mine there—so that we both shall be unincumbered—& we can take a cab or coach from H’s.
Now, my loyal blogateers know I pick on Browning quite a bit because many professional biographers characterize him as so much more brilliant than Mrs. Browning. So I like to point out all the goofy things that he writes. I think that if Mrs. Browning wasn't on the verge of a meltdown as she prepares to leave she would tweak him for this particularly silly lapse. Due to her indisposition I will teaze him on her behalf. He tells her that he will be at Hodgsons Book Seller, "from halfpast three to four precisely," at which point what? He will leave if she doesn't show up? Will he go to Italy alone? If she is late will she have to make her way to Vauxhall train station on foot, dragging Wilson and Flush behind her? Will he simply go home to New Cross and write her a letter asking what is up? He is far from precisely precise with his announcement of precision.
"Never mind your scanty preparations .. we can get every thing at Leghorn,—and the new boats carry parcels to Leghorn on the 15th of every month, remember—so can bring what you may wish to send for.
I enclose a letter to go with yours. The cards as you choose—they are here—we can write about them from Paris or elsewhere. The advertisement, as you advise. All shall be cared for.
The letter we must assume is the letter to go to Mr. Kenyon.
God bless and strengthen you, my ever dearest dearest. I will not trust myself to speak of my feelings for you—worship well belongs to such fortitudeOne struggle more:—if all the kindness on your part brought a strangely insufficient return, is it not possible that this step may produce all you can hope? Write to me one word more—depend on me—I go to town about business.
Your own, own RB"
Okay, I picked on him, but he is really very sweet. I cannot fault him in his love, respect and care for Mrs. Browning. I don't really teaze him for himself. I teaze him for the biographers who hold Mrs. Browning in contempt and treat him with respect bordering on worship. They need to stop. Then I will stop. He is a great guy. And she was a great gal. Let's look at the last letter. From Mrs. Browning:
"Friday night–
At from half past three, to four, then—Four will not, I suppose, be too late– I will not write more– I cannot—. By tomorrow at this time, I shall have you only, to love me—my beloved!–"
Okay, was that a mild teaze? "Four will not, I suppose, be too late-" Will she stand at the corner waiting for the church bell to mark the hour of four before she comes around the corner to see if he will still be there? Sorry, I am getting more and more silly.
"You only!—— As if one said God only– And we shall have Him beside, I pray of Him–
I shall send to your address at New Cross your Hanmer’s poems—& the two dear books you gave me, which I do not like to leave here & am afraid of hurting by taking them with me. Will you ask our Sister to put the parcel into a drawer, so as to keep it for us?
Your letters to me I take with me, let the ‘ounces’ cry out aloud, ever so. I tried to leave them, & I could not– That is, they would not be left: it was not my fault– I will not be scolded.
Is this my last letter to you, ever dearest? —Oh—if I loved you less .. a little, little less––
Why I should tell you that our marriage was invalid, or ought to be—& that you should by no means come for me tomorrow. It is dreadful .. dreadful .. to have to give pain here by a voluntary act—for the first time in my life–
Remind your mother & father of me affectionately & gratefully—& your sister too! Would she think it too bold of me to say our Sister, if she had heard it on the last page?
Do you pray for me tonight, Robert? Pray for me, & love me, that I may have courage, feeling both–
Your own Ba–
The boxes are safely sent. Wilson has been perfect to me– And I .. calling her 'timid,' & afraid of her timidity! I begin to think that none are so bold as the timid, when they are fairly roused."
Omni laude Wilson! Of course, all biographers point out that the last sentence could have easily been written about Mrs. Browning herself. However, I must call attention to the fact that Mrs. Browning would never have written this about herself. She never thought such a thing of herself. However, she would freely and gladly praise her maid Wilson. And so I praise Wilson as well. Wilson gave up a lot to accompany Mrs. Browning. But look at the adventures that she will gain. I think they both made the right decision. Way to go ladies. God Speed on your great adventure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 17, 1846

There were four short letters exchanged between Mr. and Mrs. Browning on September 17, 1846. Browning is trying to coordinate their leaving:

"My only sweetest, I will write just a word to catch the earlier post,—time pressing. Bless you for all you suffer .. I know it though it would be very needless to call your attention to the difficulties. I know much, if not all, and can only love and admire you,—not help, alas!

Surely these difficulties will multiply if you go to Bookham—the way will be to leave at once. The letters may easily be written during the journey .. at Orléans, for example. But now,—you propose Saturday .. nothing leaves Southampton according to to-day’s advertisement, till Tuesday .. the days seem changed to Tuesdays & Fridays– Tomorrow at 8¼ p.m & Friday the 22. 10¼. Provoking! I will go to town directly to the Railway Office and enquire particularly—getting the time-table also. Under these circumstances, we have only the choice of Dieppe (as needing the shortest diligence-journey)—or the Sunday morning Havre-packet, at 9. am—which you do not consider practicable: though it would, I think, take us the quickliest out of all the trouble. I will let you know all particulars in a note to-night .. it shall reach you to-night.

If we went from London only, the luggage could be sent here or in any case, perhaps .. as one fly will carry them with me & mine, and save possibility of delay.

I am very well, dearest dearest—my mother no worse, better, perhaps—she is out now .. our staying and getting into trouble would increase her malady.

As you leave it to me,—the name, & 'Wimpole St' will do– Jamaica,—sounds in the wrong direction, does it not? and the other place is distinctive enough.
He is talking about the newspaper announcement. Yes, Jamaica does sound odd indeed.

Take no desk .. I will take a large one: take nothing you can leave—but secure letters &c– I will take out a passport. Did you not tell me roughly at how much you estimated our expenses for the journey? Because I will take about that much, and get Rothschild’s letter of credit for Leghorn—one should avoid carrying money about with one.
"Take nothing you can leave"? Is Browning getting a bit frazzled?

All this in such haste! Bless you, my dearest dearest Ba

Your RB–

All was right in the License, & Certificate, & Register—the whole name is there, E.B.M.B.—the clergyman made the mistake in not having the two names, but all runs right to read .. the essential thing.
Mrs. Browning teazed him a bit that their marriage was not legitimate because her name was not correct on the licence. Browning felt that he better double check, just in case.
Browning writes again:
"5. ock.
My own Ba, I believe, or am sure the mistake has been mine—in the flurry I noted down the departures from Havre—instead of Southampton. You must either—be at the Vauxhall Station by (four ock)—so as to arrive in 3 hours and a half at Southn and leave by 8¼ pm—or must go by the Sunday Boat,—or wait till Tuesday– Dieppe is impossible,—being too early– You must decide—and let me know directly—tomorrow is too early—yet one .. That is, I—could manage–
Ever your own in all haste RB–"
Seems pretty clear. Catch the train at Vauxhall Station at 4pm and catch the boat at Southhampton at 8¼ pm. Right. Got it.
But then he writes again:
"7–½. Thursday.
My own Ba—forgive my mistaking! I had not enough confidence in my own correctness– The advertisement of the Tuesday & Friday Boats is of the South of England Steam Company. —The Wednesday & Saturday is that of the South Western– There must be then two companies, because on the Southampton Railway Bill it is expressly stated that there are departures for Havre on all four days– Perhaps you have seen my blunder. In that case, you can leave by 1–/2½ as you may appoint. Your RB"
Okay, well, I am not so sure now. So what does Mrs. Browning say?
"Dearest take this word, as if it were many. I am so tired—& then it shall be the right word.
Sunday & friday are impossible. On Saturday I will go to you, if you like—with half done, .. nothing done … scarcely. Will you come for me to Hodgson’s? or shall I meet you at the station? At what oclock should I set out, to be there at the hour you mention?
Also, for the boxes––we cannot carry them out of the house, you know, Wilson & I. They must be sent on friday evening to the Vauxhall station, ‘to be taken care of’. Will the people keep them carefully? Ought anyone to be spoken to beforehand? If we sent them to New Cross, they wd not reach you in time.
Hold me my beloved, with your love– It is very hard– But saturday seems the only day for us– Tell me if you think so indeed.
Your very own Ba–
The boxes must have your name on them of course. Let there be no great haste about sending out the cards– Saturday might be mentioned in the advertisement, without the date——might it not?"
Well, it looks like the only thing that is settled is that they are leaving on Saturday. More calculations tomorrow.

September 17, 1845

September 17, 1845 Browning responds to Miss Barrett's letter of the previous day. He did not delay his response in this instance. Perhaps he could feel that there was a crack in the dam:

"I do not know whether you imagine the precise effect of your letter on me—very likely you do, and write it just for that—for I conceive all from your goodness. But before I tell you what is that effect, let me say in as few words as possible what shall stop any fear—though only for a moment and on the outset—that you have been misunderstood, that the goodness outside, and round and over all, hides all or any thing. I understand you to signify to me that you see, at this present, insurmountable obstacles to that—can I speak it—entire gift, which I shall own, was, while I dared ask it, above my hopes—and wishes, even, so it seems to me ... and yet could not but be asked, so plainly was it dictated to me, by something quite out of those hopes and wishes. Will it help me to say that once in this Aladdin-cavern I knew I ought to stop for no heaps of jewel-fruit on the trees from the very beginning, but go on to the lamp, the prize, the last and best of all? Well, I understand you to pronounce that at present you believe this gift impossible—and I acquiesce entirely—I submit wholly to you; repose on you in all the faith of which I am capable. Those obstacles are solely for you to see and to declare ... had I seen them, be sure I should never have mocked you or myself by affecting to pass them over ... what were obstacles, I mean: but you do see them, I must think,—and perhaps they strike me the more from my true, honest unfeigned inability to imagine what they are,—not that I shall endeavour. After what you also apprise me of, I know and am joyfully confident that if ever they cease to be what you now consider them, you who see now for me, whom I implicitly trust in to see for me; you will then, too, see and remember me, and how I trust, and shall then be still trusting. And until you so see, and so inform me, I shall never utter a word—for that would involve the vilest of implications. I thank God—I do thank him, that in this whole matter I have been, to the utmost of my power, not unworthy of his introducing you to me, in this respect that, being no longer in the first freshness of life, and having for many years now made up my mind to the impossibility of loving any woman ... having wondered at this in the beginning, and fought not a little against it, having acquiesced in it at last, and accounted for it all to myself, and become, if anything, rather proud of it than sorry ... I say, when real love, making itself at once recognized as such, did reveal itself to me at last, I did open my heart to it with a cry—nor care for its overturning all my theory—nor mistrust its effect upon a mind set in ultimate order, so I fancied, for the few years more—nor apprehend in the least that the new element would harm what was already organized without its help. Nor have I, either, been guilty of the more pardonable folly, of treating the new feeling after the pedantic fashions and instances of the world. I have not spoken when it did not speak, because 'one' might speak, or has spoken, or should speak, and 'plead' and all that miserable work which, after all, I may well continue proud that I am not called to attempt. Here for instance, now ... 'one' should despair; but 'try again' first, and work blindly at removing those obstacles (—if I saw them, I should be silent, and only speak when a month hence, ten years hence, I could bid you look where they were)—and 'one' would do all this, not for the play-acting's sake, or to 'look the character' ... (that would be something quite different from folly ...) but from a not unreasonable anxiety lest by too sudden a silence, too complete an acceptance of your will; the earnestness and endurance and unabatedness ... the truth, in fact, of what had already been professed, should get to be questioned—But I believe that you believe me—And now that all is clear between us I will say, what you will hear, without fearing for me or yourself, that I am utterly contented ... ('grateful' I have done with ... it must go—) I accept what you give me, what those words deliver to me, as—not all I asked for ... as I said ... but as more than I ever hoped for,—all, in the best sense, that I deserve. That phrase in my letter which you objected to, and the other—may stand, too—I never attempted to declare, describe my feeling for you—one word of course stood for it all ... but having to put down some one point, so to speak, of it—you could not wonder if I took any extreme one first ... never minding all the untold portion that led up to it, made it possible and natural—it is true, 'I could not dream of that'—that I was eager to get the horrible notion away from never so flitting a visit to you, that you were thus and thus to me on condition of my proving just the same to youjust as if we had waited to acknowledge that the moon lighted us till we ascertained within these two or three hundred years that the earth happens to light the moon as well! But I felt that, and so said it:—now you have declared what I should never have presumed to hope—and I repeat to you that I, with all to be thankful for to God, am most of all thankful for this the last of his providences ... which is no doubt, the natural and inevitable feeling, could one always see clearly. Your regard for me is all success—let the rest come, or not come. In my heart's thankfulness I would ... I am sure I would promise anything that would gratify you ... but it would not do that, to agree, in words, to change my affections, put them elsewhere &c. &c. That would be pure foolish talking, and quite foreign to the practical results which you will attain in a better way from a higher motive. I will cheerfully promise you, however, to be 'bound by no words,' blind to no miracle; in sober earnest, it is not because I renounced once for all oxen and the owning and having to do with them, that I will obstinately turn away from any unicorn when such an apparition blesses me ... but meantime I shall walk at peace on our hills here nor go looking in all corners for the bright curved horn! And as for you ... if I did not dare 'to dream of that'—, now it is mine, my pride and joy prevent in no manner my taking the whole consolation of it at once, now—I will be confident that, if I obey you, I shall get no wrong for it—if, endeavouring to spare you fruitless pain, I do not eternally revert to the subject; do indeed 'quit' it just now, when no good can come of dwelling on it to you; you will never say to yourself—so I said—'the "generous impulse" has worn itself out ... time is doing his usual work—this was to be expected' &c. &c. You will be the first to say to me 'such an obstacle has ceased to exist ... or is now become one palpable to you, one you may try and overcome'—and I shall be there, and ready—ten years hence as now—if alive."

Yes, I would say that Browning was pretty excited when he wrote that paragraph. It is pretty dense writing for one paragraph but surprisingly clear for Browning. Like a good debater he restates her position. She sees obstacles the he did not see. But he accepts that she sees the obstacles and states that he is pleased at what she has offered, using the analogy of Aladdin's cave. He did not get the lamp quite yet but he is happy with the baubles that he has received. And then he explains that he never meant to love her because he had already decided that it was a lot easier just to live for himself as a penniless poet than to try and support a wife when he had no money. But he was very glad that when he did find love he was willing to accept it and throw off his carefree bachelor poet life. Then he tries to explain why he used the word 'dream', excuses it and then embraces it by saying that it was what he felt. You can see his mind on the paper working its way through his argument. Next he most creatively tells her that he will not be bound to her demand that he change his affections but he does agree that if another miracle occurs and he falls in love with someone else, or as he says, finds another unicorn, he will not turn away from it. He reiterates that he will not pester her but urges that when the obstacles he cannot see are gone that she will signal him. He will remain prepared until he dies. That pretty much covers everything in that paragraph.

"One final word on the other matters—the 'worldly matters'—I shall own I alluded to them rather ostentatiously, because—because that would be the one poor sacrifice I could make youone I would cheerfully make, but a sacrifice, and the only one: this careless 'sweet habitude of living'—this absolute independence of mine, which, if I had it not, my heart would starve and die for, I feel, and which I have fought so many good battles to preserve—for that has happened, too—this light rational life I lead, and know so well that I lead; this I could give up for nothing less than—what you know—but I would give it up, not for you merely, but for those whose disappointment might re-act on youand I should break no promise to myself—the money getting would not be for the sake of it; 'the labour not for that which is nought'—indeed the necessity of doing this, if at all, now, was one of the reasons which make me go on to that last request of all—at once; one must not be too old, they say, to begin their ways. But, in spite of all the babble, I feel sure that whenever I make up my mind to that, I can be rich enough and to spare—because along with what you have thought genius in me, is certainly talent, what the world recognizes as such; and I have tried it in various ways, just to be sure that I was a little magnanimous in never intending to use it. Thus, in more than one of the reviews and newspapers that laughed my 'Paracelsus' to scorn ten years ago—in the same column, often, of these reviews, would follow a most laudatory notice of an Elementary French book, on a new plan, which I 'did' for my old French master, and he published—'that was really an useful work'!So that when the only obstacle is only that there is so much per annum to be producible, you will tell me. After all it would be unfair in me not to confess that this was always intended to be my own single stipulation—'an objection' which I could see, certainly,—but meant to treat myself to the little luxury of removing."

This is an amazingly honest paragraph. He freely admits that his main compunction against falling in love with her was that he lead a 'light rational life', independent of all strictures and he did not want to give it up. Only for her would he give it up. And then he confesses that he has a talent, beyond his genius, in that he is capable of writing textbooks and could make a living writing them if need be. So, he concludes, if that is one of the obstacles she sees, he believes he can take care of that quite easily.

"So, now, dearest—let me once think of that, and of you as my own, my dearest—this once—dearest, I have done with words for the present. I will wait. God bless you and reward you—I kiss your hands now. This is my comfort, that if you accept my feeling as all but unexpressed now, more and more will become spoken—or understood, that is—we both live on—you will know better what it was, how much and manifold, what one little word had to give out.  God bless you—

Your R.B.

On Thursday,—you remember?
This is Tuesday Night—
I called on Saturday at the Office in St. Mary Axe—all uncertainty about the vessel's sailing again for Leghorn—it could not sail before the middle of the month—and only then if &c. But if I would leave my card &c. &c."

He ends by discussing sailings in hope that she will be sailing for Italy soon. But Miss Barrett writes the same day:

"I write one word just to say that it is all over with Pisa; which was a probable evil when I wrote last, and which I foresaw from the beginning—being a prophetess, you know. I cannot tell you now how it has all happened—only do not blame me, for I have kept my ground to the last, and only yield when Mr. Kenyon and all the world see that there is no standing. I am ashamed almost of having put so much earnestness into a personal matter—and I spoke face to face and quite firmly—so as to pass with my sisters for the 'bravest person in the house' without contestation.

Sometimes it seems to me as if it could not end so—I mean, that the responsibility of such a negative must be reconsidered ... and you see how Mr. Kenyon writes to me. Still, as the matter lies, ... no Pisa! And, as I said before, my prophetic instincts are not likely to fail, such as they have been from the beginning.

If you wish to come, it must not be until Saturday at soonest. I have a headache and am weary at heart with all this vexation—and besides there is no haste now: and when you do come, if you do, I will trust to you not to recur to one subject, which must lie where it fell ... must! I had begun to write to you on Saturday, to say how I had forgotten to give you your MSS. which were lying ready for you ... the Hood poems. Would it not be desirable that you made haste to see them through the press, and went abroad with your Roman friends at once, to try to get rid of that uneasiness in the head? Do think of it—and more than think."

She wants to send him off to Italy and put the continent of Europe between them. Her heart is broken that she may not go and she does not want to wrench it any further by seeing a man she loves once a week to no end. She is really having to fight this.

"For me, you are not to fancy me unwell. Only, not to be worn a little with the last week's turmoil, were impossible—and Mr. Kenyon said to me yesterday that he quite wondered how I could bear it at all, do anything reasonable at all, and confine my misdoings to sending letters addressed to him at Brighton, when he was at Dover! If anything changes, you shall hear from—


Mr. Kenyon returns to Dover immediately. His kindness is impotent in the case."

Is the message that Browning's kindness is impotent as well?