Thursday, September 13, 2012

September 13, 1845

This letter is written in response to Miss Barrett's letter of August 31, 1845. He has taken quite a while to think through his response, nearly two weeks in fact, although he has written other short notes in the meantime. If you take a look at the original letter on the Baylor website you will see that it is a very tightly written three page letter with few corrections. The handwriting gives no hint to his emotional state. He was obviously familiar with his material.

"Now, dearest, I will try and write the little I shall be able, in reply to your letter of last week—and first of all I have to entreat you, now more than ever, to help me and understand from the few words the feelings behind them—(should speak rather more easily, I think—but I dare not run the risk: and I know, after all, you will be just and kind where you can.) I have read your letter again and again. I will tell you—no, not you, but any imaginary other person, who should hear what I am going to avow; I would tell that person most sincerely there is not a particle of fatuity, shall I call it, in that avowal; cannot be, seeing that from the beginning and at this moment I never dreamed of winning your love. I can hardly write this word, so incongruous and impossible does it seem; such a change of our places does it imply—nor, next to that, though long after, would I, if I could, supplant one of any of the affections that I know to have taken root in you—that great and solemn one, for instance. I feel that if I could get myself remade, as if turned to gold, I would not even then desire to become more than the mere setting to that diamond you must always wear. The regard and esteem you now give me, in this letter, and which I press to my heart and bow my head upon, is all I can take and all too embarrassing, using all my gratitude. And yet, with that contented pride in being infinitely your debtor as it is, bound to you for ever as it is; when I read your letter with all the determination to be just to us both; I dare not so far withstand the light I am master of, as to refuse seeing that whatever is recorded as an objection to your disposing of that life of mine I would give you, has reference to some supposed good in that life which your accepting it would destroy (of which fancy I shall speak presently)—I say, wonder as I may at this, I cannot but find it there, surely there. I could no more 'bind you by words,' than you have bound me, as you say—but if I misunderstand you, one assurance to that effect will be but too intelligible to me—but, as it is, I have difficulty in imagining that while one of so many reasons, which I am not obliged to repeat to myself, but which any one easily conceives; while any one of those reasons would impose silence on me for ever (for, as I observed, I love you as you now are, and would not remove one affection that is already part of you,)—would you, being able to speak so, only say that you desire not to put 'more sadness than I was born to,' into my life?—that you 'could give me only what it were ungenerous to give'?

Have I your meaning here? In so many words, is it on my account that you bid me 'leave this subject'? I think if it were so, I would for once call my advantages round me. I am not what your generous self-forgetting appreciation would sometimes make me out—but it is not since yesterday, nor ten nor twenty years before, that I began to look into my own life, and study its end, and requirements, what would turn to its good or its loss—and I know, if one may know anything, that to make that life yours and increase it by union with yours, would render me supremely happy, as I said, and say, and feel. My whole suit to you is, in that sense, selfish—not that I am ignorant that your nature would most surely attain happiness in being conscious that it made another happy—but that best, best end of all, would, like the rest, come from yourself, be a reflection of your own gift."

He has very neatly answered her argument that her main reason for not accepting him was that she did not want to hurt him. He makes it very simple: she would make him 'supremely happy' and she would be happy because she made him happy.

"Dearest, I will end here—words, persuasion, arguments, if they were at my service I would not use them—I believe in you, altogether have faith in you—in you. I will not think of insulting by trying to reassure you on one point which certain phrases in your letter might at first glance seem to imply—you do not understand me to be living and labouring and writing (and not writing) in order to be successful in the world's sense? I even convinced the people here what was my true 'honourable position in society,' &c. &c. therefore I shall not have to inform you that I desire to be very rich, very great; but not in reading Law gratis with dear foolish old Basil Montagu, as he ever and anon bothers me to do;—much less—enough of this nonsense.

'Tell me what I have a claim to hear': I can hear it, and be as grateful as I was before and am now—your friendship is my pride and happiness. If you told me your love was bestowed elsewhere, and that it was in my power to serve you there, to serve you there would still be my pride and happiness. I look on and on over the prospect of my love, it is all onwards—and all possible forms of unkindness ... I quite laugh to think how they are behind ... cannot be encountered in the route we are travelling! I submit to you and will obey you implicitly—obey what I am able to conceive of your least desire, much more of your expressed wish. But it was necessary to make this avowal, among other reasons, for one which the world would recognize too. My whole scheme of life (with its wants, material wants at least, closely cut down) was long ago calculated—and it supposed you, the finding such an one as you, utterly impossible—because in calculating one goes upon chances, not on providence—how could I expect you? So for my own future way in the world I have always refused to care—any one who can live a couple of years and more on bread and potatoes as I did once on a time, and who prefers a blouse and a blue shirt (such as I now write in) to all manner of dress and gentlemanly appointment, and who can, if necessary, groom a horse not so badly, or at all events would rather do it all day long than succeed Mr. Fitzroy Kelly in the Solicitor-Generalship,—such an one need not very much concern himself beyond considering the lilies how they grow. But now I see you near this life, all changes—and at a word, I will do all that ought to be done, that every one used to say could be done, and let 'all my powers find sweet employ' as Dr. Watts sings, in getting whatever is to be got—not very much, surely. I would print these things, get them away, and do this now, and go to you at Pisa with the news—at Pisa where one may live for some £100 a year—while, lo, I seem to remember, I do remember, that Charles Kean offered to give me 500 of those pounds for any play that might suit him—to say nothing of Mr. Colburn saying confidentially that he wanted more than his dinner 'a novel on the subject of Napoleon'! So may one make money, if one does not live in a house in a row, and feel impelled to take the Princess's Theatre for a laudable development and exhibition of one's faculty."

After telling her that he believes in her, Browning fishes to see if her heart is taken elsewhere, and then explains why he is so ill-equipped to win her love. He has always done as he wanted in life because he never thought of actually trying to earn a living. He had no need of it because he was never going to bother with loving a woman, but that since he has met her he has resolved that he can quite easily make some money if he has to. Browning will remain sensitive on this issue their entire courtship.

"Take the sense of all this, I beseech you, dearest—all you shall say will be best—I am yours

Yes, Yours ever. God bless you for all you have been, and are, and will certainly be to me, come what He shall please! R.B.

Now it will be Miss Barrett's turn to dissect this letter. She will make him wait a few days as she thinks it over.....

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