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.

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