"You dearest, best Ba, I will say at the beginning of the letter, and not at the end, this time, that I am very much better—my head clear from pain, if a little uncertain– I was in the garden when your letter came. The worst is, that I am really forced to go & dine out to-day—but I shall take all imaginable care and get away early .. and be ready to go & see you at a minute’s notice, should a note signify your permission to-morrow .. if Mr Kenyon’s visit is over, for instance. I have to attribute this effect to that abstinent system of yours. Depend on it, I shall be well and continue well now–"
What 'abstinent system' is he referring to? No wine? No shower-bath? No visits? No Ba?
"Dear Ba, I wrote under the notion (as I said) that poor Flush was safe by your side; and only took that occasion to point at what I must still consider the wrongness of the whole system of giving way to, instead of opposing, such proceedings. I think it lamentable weakness .. though I can quite understand and allow for it in you,—but weakness it essentially is, as you know perfectly. For see, you first put the matter in the gentlest possible light .. 'who would give much time and trouble to the castigation of such a fellow as that!' you ask: and immediately after, for another purpose, you very rightly rank this crime with that other enormous one, of the Spanish Banditti—nay, you confess that, in this very case, any such injury to Flush as you dread, would give you inexpressible grief—is the threatening this outrage then so little a matter? Am I to think it a less matter if the same miscreant should strike you in the street, because you would probably suffer less than by this that he has done? There is the inevitable inconsistency of wrong reasoning in all this—say, as I told you on another subject,—'I determine to resist no injury whatever, to be at the disposal of any villain in the world, trusting to God for protection here or recompense hereafter'—or take my course; which is the easier,—and in the long run, however strangely it may seem, the more profitable, no one can doubt—but I take the harder—in all but this responsibility—which, without any cant, would be intolerable to me. Look at this 'society' with its 'four thousand a year'—which unless its members are perfect fools they will go on to double & treble: would this have existed if a proper stand had been made at the beginning? The first silly man, woman or child who consented to pay five shillings, beyond the mere expense of keeping the dog, (on the supposition of its having been found, not stolen,) is responsible for all the harm: what could the thief do but go and steal another, and ask double for its ransom?"
Did he just call Miss Barrett 'silly'?
"And see—dogstealers so encouraged are the lowest of the vile—can neither write nor read, perhaps,—one of the fraternity possesses this knowledge however and aims higher accordingly: instead of stealing your dog, he determines to steal your character: if a guinea (at the beginning) ransoms the one, ten pounds shall ransom the other: accordingly Mr Barnard Gregory takes pen in hand and writes to some timid man, in the first instance, that unless he receives that sum, his character will be blasted. The timid man takes your advice .. says that the 'love of an abstract principle' must not run him into 'cruel hazards' 'for the sake of a few guineas'—so he pays them—who would bother himself with such vermin as Gregory?– So Gregory receives his pay for his five minutes’ penmanship—takes down a directory, and writes five hundred such letters. Serjt. Talfourd told me, counting them on his fingers, 'such and such' (naming them) 'cut their throats after robbing their families, employers &c—such fled the country—such went mad .. that was the commonest event'–– At last, even so poor a creature as the Duke of Brunswick, with his detestable character and painted face,—even he plucks up courage and turns on Gregory, grown by this time into a really formidable monster by these amiable victims to the other principle of easy virtue,—and the event is that this execrable 'Abhorson’s' trade is utterly destroyed—that form of atrocious persecution exists no longer. I am in no danger of being told, at next post delivery, that having been 'tracked up Vere St down Bond St &c' into Wimpole St .. my character and yours will be the 'subject of an article in the next Satirist unless ..' "
This rant against giving in to blackmail refers to the actor Barnard Gregory who blackmailed may people over a period of years, most famously the Duke of Brunswick who lead a public mob against the blackmailer as he performed in Hamlet. I bet that was a great night out at the theater.
"To all of which you have a great answer—'what should I do if you were to be the victim?'– That my note yesterday, the second one, told you. I sacrifice myself .. all that belongs to me—but there are some interests which I belong to– I have no right, no more than inclination, in such a case, to think of myself if your safety is concerned, and as I could cut off a limb to save my head, so my head should fall most willingly to redeem yours. I would pay every farthing I had in the world, and shoot with my own hand the receiver of it after a chase of fifty years—esteeming that to be a very worthy recompense for the trouble. But why write all this string of truisms about the plainest thing in the world? All reformers are met at the outset by such dissuasion from their efforts 'Better suffer the grievance and get off as cheaply as you can. You, Mahomet,—what if the Caaba be only a black stone? You need only bow your head as the others, and make any inward remark you like on the blindness of the people: You, Hampden, have you really so little wit as to contest payment of a paltry 20s at such risk?' "
Here Browning is referring to a Muslim who doubts the Caaba was given by Gabriel to Abraham and Hampden who was imprisoned after refusing to pay a 20 shilling fee. In other words, we must take a stand on the small things or the small things become big things. Yes, he is on a rant. And he continues, reaching into literature:
"Ah, but here all the fuss is just about stealing a dog—two or three words, and the matter becomes simply ludicrous—very easily got rid of! One cannot take vengeance on the 'great man' with his cigar & room of pictures, and burlesque dignities of mediation! Just so, when Robert was inclined to be sorry for the fate of Bertha’s sister, one can fancy what a relief and change would be operated in his feelings, if a goodnatured friend send him a version of his mighty crime in Lord Rochester’s funny account of 'forsaken damsels' .. with the motto 'Women have died ere now & worms have eaten them—but not for love'—or 'At lover’s perjuries, Jove laughs.' Why, Robert is a 'lady-killer' like D’Orsay! Well, enough of sermonizing for the present: it is impossible for me to differ with you and treat that as a light matter— .. or, what on earth would have been so little to wonder at, as that, loving Flush, you should determine to save him at any price?"
The 'Robert' he is referring to is the character from Miss Barrett's poem "Bertha in the Lane". The narrator of the poem dies of a broken heart after Robert rejects her for her sister Bertha. (Horrible thought! Will Browning forsake Miss Barrett for Arabel or Henrietta? Forsooth!)
If 'Chiappino' were to assure you, in terms that you could not disbelieve, that in the event of your marrying me he would destroy himself,—would you answer, as I should, 'Do so, and take the consequences,'—and think no more about the matter? I should absolutely leave it, as not my concern but God’s—nor should blame myself any more than if the poor man, being uncertain what to do, had said 'if a man first passes the window—yes—if a woman—no'—and I, a total stranger, had passed– One word more—in all this, I labour against the execrable policy of the world’s husbands, fathers, brothers, and domineerers in general: I am about to marry you .. 'how wise, then, to encourage such a temper in you! such was that divine Griselda’s—a word rules the gentle nature– 'Do this, or' ....
My own Ba, if I thought you could fear me, I think I should have the courage to give you up to-morrow!
He even drags the Reverend George Barrett Hunter into the fray. Yes, Browning is in full analogy mode today. 'Griselda' was the long suffering wife, constantly tested by her husband, in 'The Decameron'. And then he worries that he is being too domineering. Too late now. But not to worry, Miss Barrett will argue with him if she sees fit.
"Because to-day, I am altogether yours, and you are my very own—and to-morrow never comes, they say. Bless you, my best, dearest Ba—and if you think I deserve it, you shall test the excellence of those slippers on my cheek, (and not the flannelled side, neither,) the next happy time I see you .. which will be soon, soon, I trust! who am more than ever your own RB"
Of course Miss Barrett responds the same day:
"You best! Was ever any in the world, in any possible world, so perfectly good & dear to another as you are to me!– Ah!—if you could know how I feel to you, when you write such words as came to me this morning—Dearest! It ends in that, all I can say. And yet I must say besides that the idea of ‘crossness’, of hardness, never came to me, for one moment, from the previous letter– I just shook my head & thought how you would not act it out, if you had a Flush—. Upon which I could not follow out my argument to myself, through thinking that you were ill.
You are better now, Robert, & you promise to take care of the dinner, where you should not go if I were near you– I should be 'afraid of you' far too much to let you, indeed! Such a wrong thing that dinner is .. as wrong as any dogstealer in his way .. drawing you out just when you ought to be at home & quiet, if not 'abstinent'. When did I ever tell you to be abstinent, pray? You are too much so, it seems to me, in general—: and to pass the whole of that day without eating!– How unwell you must have been, dearest! How I long to see you & ascertain that you look tolerably well! How very, very happy I should be, to be able to look at you tomorrow. But no, no! Mr Kenyon does not come, & we must be wise, I suppose, & wait till the ground is clear of him, which will not be till monday. Probably he will visit me on sunday—but the chance of saturday is like the hat on a pole in gardens, set there to frighten away the birds– Still they may sing on the other side of the wall, not to be too far from the cherries & the hope of them. Monday surely will be a clear day– Unless Mr Kenyon shall put off his journey just to despite us—who shall say?
I have not Flush yet. I am to have him tomorrow morning–
And for the Flush-argument, dear dearest, I hold that your theory is entirely good & undeniable. I agree with you throughout it, praising Mahomet, praising Hampden, & classing the Taylors, Gregorys & Spanish banditti all together. Also I hope I should try, at least, to resist with you their various iniquities—&, for instance, I do not think that any Gregory in the world, would draw a shilling from me, by a threat against my character– I should dare that, oh, I am confident I should—the indignation would be far the stronger, where I myself only was involved. And even in the imaginary Chiappino-case, the selfish & dastardly threat would fall from me like a child’s arrow from steel. I believe so–"
Notice how she marks that the Rev. George Barrett Hunter analogy is 'imaginary'.
"But Flush, poor Flush, Flush who has loved me so faithfully,—have I a right to sacrifice him in his innocence, for the sake of any Mr Taylor’s guilt in the world? Does not Flush’s condition assimilate to my own among the banditti?—for you agree that you would not, after all, leave me to the banditti—& I, exactly on the same ground, will not leave Flush. It seems to me that you & I are at one upon the whole question,—only that I am your Flush, & he is mine. You, if you were ‘consistent’ .. dearest! .. would not redeem me on any account– You do ever so much harm by it, observe—you produce catastrophe on catastrophe, just for the sake of my two ears without earrings!– Oh, I entirely agree with your principle– Evil should be resisted that it may fly from you–
But Flush is not to be sacrificed—nor even is Ba, it appears– So our two weaknesses may pardon one another—yours & mine! "
She wins the argument again by pointing out the inconsistency in his argument.
"Some dog, shut up in a mews somewhere behind this house, has been yelling & moaning today & yesterday– How he has made me think of my poor poor Flush, I cannot tell you—'Think of Flush' he seemed to say.
Yes!– A blow in the street! I wish somebody would propose such a thing to me, in exchange! I would have thanked Mr Taylor himself for striking me down in the street, if the stroke had been offered as an alternative for the loss of Flush– You may think it absurd—but when my dinner is brought to me, I feel as if I could not (scarcely) touch it—the thought of poor Flush’s golden eyes is too strong in me–
Not a word of your mother– She is better, I trust! And you .. may God keep you better, beloved!– To be parted from you so long, teaches me the necessity of your presence– I am your very, very own–
I was out today—driving along the Hampstead Road. What weather!"
Given how much she loves Flush, imagine her capacity for love of her father, her brothers, her sisters and Browning.