Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16, 1846

The discussion about the wedding announcement and travel arrangements continue with Browning on September 16, 1846:


Ever dearest, you are right about the date .. so it shall be—and so the advertisement shall run, save & except the avowal of 'Paracelsus' .. I avow you, and to add another title of honor would succeed no better than in Dalhousie’s case who was 'God of War and Lieutenant-general to the Earl of Mar'- I wanted the description &c of your Father. What a strange mistake I made—(but as for invalidation, oh no!)—I save your every word and then apply them thus! (In to-day’s Times is a notice without a date .. not looking at all singular. It is far better)"
I don't think he is all that proud of 'Paracelsus'. But even so, he should look to marketing! The 'stange mistake', of course, is the confusing of her Christian name for her family name. And he finally resolves on no date for the announcement.

"It is absolutely for yourself to decide on the day and the mode—if for no other reason, because I am quite ready, and shall have no kind of difficulty,—while you have every kind– Make the arrangements that promise most comfort to yourself– Observe the Packets and alter the route if necessary. There is one from Brighton to Dieppe every day, for instance .. but then the getting to Rouen! The Havre-boat leaves Southampton, Wednesdays & Saturdays—and Portsmouth, Mondays & Thursdays. The Boat from London, Thursdays & Sundays at 9. a.m. I do not know where 'Bookham' is—you must decide .. I am sure you will be anxious to get away."
He isn't being very helpful here. He needs to make firm proposals and then allow for her to make adjustments.

"The business of the letters will grow less difficult once begun—see if it will not! and in these four or five days whole epics might be written, much more, letters– Have you arranged all with Wilson? Take, of course, the simplest possible wardrobe &c—so as to reduce our luggage to the very narrowest compass. The expense—(beside the common sense of a little luggage)—is considerable—every ounce being paid for. Let us treat our journey as a mere journey—we can return for what else we want, or get it sent, or procure it abroad– I shall take just a portmanteau and carpet bag. I think the fewer books we take the better,—they take up room—and the wise way always seemed to me to read in rooms at home, and open one’s eyes and see abroad– A critic somewhere mentioned that as my characteristic—were two other poets he named placed in novel circumstances .. in a great wood, for instance, Mr Trench would begin opening books to see how woods were treated of .. the other man would set to writing poetry forthwith, from his old stock of associations, on the new impulse—and RB. would sit still and learn how to write after! A pretty compliment, I thought that! .. But seriously, there must be a great library at Pisa .. (with that University!) and abroad they are delighted to facilitate such matters .. I have read in a chamber of the Doges’ palace at Venice, painted all over by Tintoretto, walls & ceiling—& at Rome there is a library with a learned priest always kept ready 'to solve any doubt that may arise'! Murray’s Book you have, I think? Any guide-books &c."
Browning's belief that there are plenty of books to be had in Europe is correct as far as it goes but one common theme that runs through Mrs. Browning's letters for the next 15 years is her struggle to get books in Italy. English language books have to be delivered by friends or at great expense as do her beloved French novels. But also something that Browning never considered: these great Italian libraries and reading rooms would not allow women to enter. She actually describes Browning sneaking her into reading rooms early in the morning before the general male population should arrive to object.

"Be sure, dearest, I will do my utmost to conciliate your father: sometimes I could not but speak impatiently to you of him .. that was while you were in his direct power—now there is no need of a word in any case .. I shall be silent if the worst imaginable happens; and if any thing better,—most grateful. You do not need to remind me he is your father .. I shall be proud to say, mine too. Then, he said that of you—for which I love him—love the full prompt justice of that ascription of 'perfect purity'it is another voice responding to mine, confirming mine."
How sweet that pride in her 'perfect purity'. Do men value perfect purity in a wife in the 21st Century? I am sure it would not be politically correct to say it out loud. But perhaps it is better to askew the requirement than the practice of rejecting a bride for the lack thereof; or killing her as is the custom in some barbaric cultures. There is redemption for all. And again, there are more aspects to 'perfect purity' than might be obvious to the lower order of men and women.

"Goodbye, dearest dearest,—I continue quite well .. I thank God, as you do, and see his hand in it. My poor mother suffers greatly, but is no worse .. rather, better I hope. They (all here) will leave town for some quiet place at the beginning of October for some three weeks at least– Dear, kind souls they are.

Kiss me as I kiss you, dearest Ba,—I can bring you no flowers but I pluck this bud and send it with all affectionate devotion. Your own RB–
Browning's family is leaving town. The Barretts are leaving. Mr. Kenyon is leaving. Everything is working for the best as both families will be away from the city and there will be very little opportunity for a chance meeting, a confrontation, an insult and a duel. Hey, I am just imagining the worst. That is what I do as a blogger of serious and grave intent. And now a word from Mrs. Browning:
"Dearest, the general departure from this house takes place on monday—& the house at Little Bookham is six miles from the nearest railroad & a mile & a half from Leatherhead where a coach runs. Now you are to judge– Certainly if I go with you on Saturday I shall not have half the letters written—you, who talk so largely of epic poems, have not the least imagination of my state of mind & spirits– I began to write a letter to Papa this morning, & could do nothing but cry, & looked so pale thereupon, that everybody wondered what could be the matter. Oh—quite well I am now, & I only speak of myself in that way to show you how the inspiration is by no means sufficient for epic poems. Still, I may certainly write the necessary letters, .. & do the others on the road .. could I, do you think? I would rather have waited—indeed rather—only it may be difficult to leave Bookham .. yet possibleso tell me what you would have me do."
I hope Browning starts getting firm here about leaving on Saturday. Not knowing the terrain in Little (as opposed to Medium or Big) Bookham, it would be desirable to not test its parameters. And while her general anxiety seems to be strong, her mind seems as sharp as ever.
"Wilson & I have a light box & a carpet bag between us—& I will be docile about the books, dearest– Do you take a desk? Had I better not, I wonder?
Then for box & carpet bag–– Remember that we cannot take them out of the house with us– We must send them the evening before, Friday evening, if we went on saturday—and where? Have you a friend anywhere, to whose house they might be sent, or could they go direct to the railroad office—& what office? In that case they should have your name on them, should they not?"
I am amazed that she and her maid are leaving home forever and only take with them "one light box & a carpet bag between us". How is this possible? I dare to guess that the light box represents a trunk, however, even so, think of the dresses of the period. Multiple petticoats and huge skirts. And dealing with long hair took a lot of equipment as well. And then all of the accoutrement that go into simple daily living: soap, brushes, combs, pins, cologne, nail care, etc. And then there is feminine hygiene. And coats, sweaters, shawls, shoes and nightwear. This one box and bag equation seems crazy to me. Browning has the same number of cases! My conclusion: Mrs. Browning owned two dresses. She wore one and aired out the other, rotating them on a daily basis. If I could travel back in time I think that is one of the things I would want to do: go through Mrs. Browning's box and bag, because when you factor in her books and papers you have to wonder: where did it all go?
And again, despite her anxiety she is still supremely practical, thinking through how she can get her worldly goods out of the house in good order prior to the actual event. She was not a weak vessel, she had a mind and she used it.
"Now think for me, ever dearest—& tell me what you do not tell me .. that, you continue better. Oh no—you are ill again—or you would not wait to be told to tell me. And the dear, dear little bud!– I shall keep it to the end of my life, if you love me so long, .. or not, Sir! I thank you, dearest.
Your mother!– I am very, very sorry. Would it be better & kinder to wait on her account?—tell me that too–
Yes, they are perfectly kind– We must love them well:—& I shall, I am sure.
Mr Kenyon sends the ‘Faun’, which is Landor’s Faun, & desires me to send it to you when I have done with it– As if I could read a word!– He directs me to write to him to Taunton, Somersetshire. May God bless you, beloved.
No more tonight from your very own Ba
Are not passengers allowed to carry a specific proportion of luggage? What do you mean then, by paying for every ounce? As to Dieppe, the diligence wd be more fatiguing than the river, &, without strong reasons, one wd prefer of course the Havre plan. Still I am not afraid of either. Think.
You might put in the newspaper .. of Wimpole Street & Jamaica, or .. & Cinnamon Hill, Jamaica. That is right & I thought of it at first—only stopped .. seeming to wish to have as little about poor Papa as possible. Do as you think best now."
Accordingly the notice of the marriage was printed in the Times on September 21, 1846 thusly:
“[Married:] On Saturday, at St. Marylebone Church by the Rev. Thomas Woods Goldhawk, M.A., Robert Browning, jun., Esq., of New-cross, Hatcham, to Elizabeth Barrett, eldest daughter of Edward Moulton Barrett, Esq., of Wimpole-street.”
The identical announcement was in The Morning Chronicle but The Daily News and The Sun recorded the date of the marriage as 19 September for a reason not apparent. Perhaps that is the date they received the notice.

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