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 ├ęclat, 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?

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