Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 9, 1845

September 9, 1845 Miss Barrett is still hoping (and perhaps presuming) that Papa Barrett will allow her to travel to Italy for her health and writes a chatty letter to Browning discussing poetry and pet names, among other things:

"One reason against printing the tragedies now, is your not being well enough for the necessary work connected with them, ... a sure reason and strong ... nay, chiefest of all. Plainly you are unfit for work now—and even to complete the preparation of the lyrics, and take them through the press, may be too much for you, I am afraid; and if so, why you will not do it—will you?—you will wait for another year,—or at least be satisfied for this, with bringing out a number of the old size, consisting of such poems as are fairly finished and require no retouching. 'Saul' for instance, you might leave—! You will not let me hear when I am gone, of your being ill—you will take care ... will you not? Because you see ... or rather I see ... you are not looking well at all—no, you are not! and even if you do not care for that, you should and must care to consider how unavailing it will be for you to hold those golden keys of the future with a more resolute hand than your contemporaries, should you suffer yourself to be struck down before the gate ... should you lose the physical power while keeping the heart and will. Heart and will are great things, and sufficient things in your case—but after all we carry a barrow-full of clay about with us, and we must carry it a little carefully if we mean to keep to the path and not run zigzag into the border of the garden. A figure which reminds me ... and I wanted no figure to remind me ... to ask you to thank your sister for me and from me for all her kindness about the flowers. Now you will not forget? you must not. When I think of the repeated trouble she has taken week after week, and all for a stranger, I must think again that it has been very kind—and I take the liberty of saying so moreover ... as I am not thanking you. Also these flowers of yesterday, which yesterday you disdained so, look full of summer and are full of fragrance, and when they seem to say that it is not September, I am willing to be lied to just so. For I wish it were not September. I wish it were July ... or November ... two months before or after: and that this journey were thrown behind or in front ... anywhere to be out of sight. You do not know the courage it requires to hold the intention of it fast through what I feel sometimes. If it (the courage) had been prophesied to me only a year ago, the prophet would have been laughed to scorn. Well!—but I want you to see. George's letter, and how he and Mrs. Hedley, when she saw Papa's note of consent to me, give unhesitating counsel. Burn it when you have read it. It is addressed to me ... which you will doubt from the address of it perhaps ... seeing that it goes βα ... ρβαριζων [acting like a barbarian]. We are famous in this house for what are called nick-names ... though a few of us have escaped rather by a caprice than a reason: and I am never called anything else (never at all) except by the nom de paix [peace] which you find written in the letter:—proving as Mr. Kenyon says, that I am just 'half a Ba-by' ... no more nor less;—and in fact the name has that precise definition. Burn the note when you have read it.

And then I take it into my head, as you do not distinguish my sisters, you say, one from the other, to send you my own account of them in these enclosed 'sonnets' which were written a few weeks ago, and though only pretending to be 'sketches,' pretend to be like, as far as they go, and are like—my brothers thought—when I 'showed them against' a profile drawn in pencil by Alfred, on the same subjects. I was laughing and maintaining that mine should be as like as his—and he yielded the point to me. So it is mere portrait-painting—and you who are in 'high art,' must not be too scornful. Henrietta is the elder, and the one who brought you into this room first—and Arabel, who means to go with me to Pisa, has been the most with me through my illness and is the least wanted in the house here, ... and perhaps ... perhaps—is my favourite—though my heart smites me while I write that unlawful word. They are both affectionate and kind to me in all things, and good and lovable in their own beings—very unlike, for the rest; one, most caring for the Polka, ... and the other for the sermon preached at Paddington Chapel, ... that is Arabel ... so if ever you happen to know her you must try not to say before her how 'much you hate &c.' Henrietta always 'managed' everything in the house even before I was ill, ... because she liked it and I didn't, and I waived my right to the sceptre of dinner-ordering.

I have been thinking much of your 'Sordello' since you spoke of it—and even, I had thought much of it before you spoke of it yesterday; feeling that it might be thrown out into the light by your hand, and greatly justify the additional effort. It is like a noble picture with its face to the wall just now—or at least, in the shadow. And so worthy as it is of you in all ways! individual all through: you have made even the darkness of it! And such a work as it might become if you chose ... if you put your will to it! What I meant to say yesterday was not that it wanted more additional verses than the 'ten per cent' you spoke of ... though it does perhaps ... so much as that (to my mind) it wants drawing together and fortifying in the connections and associations ... which hang as loosely every here and there, as those in a dream, and confound the reader who persists in thinking himself awake.

How do you mean that I am 'lenient'? Do you not believe that I tell you what I think, and as I think it? I may think wrong, to be sure—but that is not my fault:—and so there is no use reproaching me generally, unless you can convict me definitely at the same time:—is there, now?

And I have been reading and admiring these letters of Mr. Carlyle, and receiving the greatest pleasure from them in every way. He is greatly himself always—which is the hardest thing for a man to be, perhaps. And what his appreciation of you is, it is easy to see—and what he expects from you—notwithstanding that prodigious advice of his, to write your next work in prose! Also Mrs. Carlyle's letter—thank you for letting me see it. I admire that too! It is as ingenious 'a case' against poor Keats, as could well be drawn—but nobody who knew very deeply what poetry is, could, you know, draw any case against him. A poet of the senses, he may be and is, just as she says—but then it is of the senses idealized; and no dream in a 'store-room' would ever be like the 'Eve of St. Agnes,' unless dreamed by some 'animosus infans [courageous child],' like Keats himself. Still it is all true ... isn't it?... what she observes of the want of thought as thought. He was a seer strictly speaking. And what noble oppositions—(to go back to Carlyle's letters) ... he writes to the things you were speaking of yesterday! These letters are as good as Milton's picture for convicting and putting to shame. Is not the difference between the men of our day and 'the giants which were on the earth,' less ... far less ... in the faculty ... in the gift, ... or in the general intellect, ... than in the stature of the soul itself? Our inferiority is not in what we can do, but in what we are. We should write poems like Milton if we lived them like Milton.

I write all this just to show, I suppose, that I am not industrious as you did me the honour of apprehending that I was going to be ... packing trunks perhaps ... or what else in the way of 'active usefulness.'

Say how you are—will you? And do take care, and walk and do what is good for you. I shall be able to see you twice before I go. And oh, this going! Pray for me, dearest friend. May God bless you.

There is very carefully no talk of love in this letter. And yet there is an intimacy beyond that of simple friendship. She introduces him to her pet name, which he will adopt as his personal totem in short order, by allowing him to see a private letter from her brother and introduces him to her sisters with sonnets describing themselves. And she writes of packing her trunks for Italy and speaks of seeing him only two more times before she leaves. She is expecting Papa Barrett to allow her to sail forth very soon. But September 1845 is not to be her month for travelling. However, it may end up being a significant month for other reasons. We must wait and see.

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