Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 1845

We hear from Miss Barrett today. She has had a visitor who did not satisfy her because she was not Browning:
"All today, friday, Miss Mitford has been here! She came at two & went away at seven—and I feel as if I had been making a five-hour speech on the corn laws in Harriet Martineau’s parliament, .. so tired I am. Not that dear Miss Mitford did not talk both for me & herself, .. for that, of course she did. But I was forced to answer once every ten minutes at least—& Flush, my usual companion, does not exact so much—& so I am tired & come to rest myself on this paper– Your name was not once spoken today,—a little from my good fencing: when I saw you at the end of an alley of associations, I pushed the conversation up the next—because I was afraid of questions such as every moment I expected, with a pair of woman’s eyes behind them,—& those are worse than Mr Kenyon’s, when he puts on his spectacles. So your name was not once spoken: not thought of, I do not say—perhaps when I once lost her at Chevy Chase & found her suddenly with Isidore the queen’s hairdresser, my thoughts might have wandered off to you & your unanswered letter while she passed gradually from that to this—I am not sure of the contrary. And Isidore they say, reads Berenger, & is supposed to be the most literary person at court—& was’nt at Chevy Chase one must needs think.

One must needs write nonsense rather—for I have written it there. The sense, & the truth is, that your letter went to the bottom of my heart, & that my thoughts have turned round it ever since & through all the talking today—. Yes indeed, dreams! But what is not dreaming is this & this—this reading of these words—this proof of this regard—all this that you are to me in fact, & which you cannot guess the full meaning of, dramatic poet as you are .. cannot .. since you do not know what my life meant before you touched it, .. o my angel at the gate of the prison!– My wonder is greater than your wonders, .. I who sate here alone but yesterday, so weary of my own being that to take interest in my very poems I had to lift them up by an effort & separate them from myself & cast them out from me into the sunshine where I was not—feeling nothing of the light which fell on them even—making indeed a sort of pleasure & interest about that factitious personality associated with them .. but knowing it to be all far on the outside of me .. myself .. not seeming to touch it with the end of my finger .. & receiving it as a mockery & a bitterness when people persisted in confounding one with another. Morbid it was if you like it—perhaps very morbid—but all these heaps of letters which go into the fire one after the other, & which, because I am a woman & have written verses, it seems so amusing to the letter-writers of your sex to write & see 'what will come of it', .. some, from kind good motives I know, .. well, .. how could it all make for me even such a narrow strip of sunshine as Flush finds on the floor sometimes, & lays his nose along, with both ears out in the shadow? It was not for me .. me .. in any way! it was not within my reach– I did not seem to touch it as I said. Flush came nearer, & I was grateful to him .. yes, grateful .. for not being tired! I have felt grateful & flattered .. yes flattered .. when he has chosen rather to stay with me all day than go down stairs. Grateful too, with reason, I have been & am to my own family for not letting me see that I was a burthen. Those are facts. And now how am I to feel when you tell me what you have told me—& what you 'could would & will' do, & shall not do? .. but when you tell me ..?"
Her distrust of male letter writers stemming from letters of love from strange men. Interesting. Miss Barrett had Victorian style stalkers.
Again she returns to the idea that she does not want to burden him with looking after an invalid: Browning had said, "I could, would, will shut myself in four walls of a room with you and never leave you and be most of all then 'a lord of infinite space'..." While I read Browning's words as describing something that he looked forward to, she sees him being shut up in a room with her as a burden she will not allow. How different she sees herself from the way Browning sees her.

"Only remember that such words make you freer & freer—if you can be freer than free—just as everyone makes me happier & richer—too rich by you, to claim any debt. May God bless you always– When I wrote that letter to let you come the first time, do you know, the tears ran down my cheeks .. I could not tell why: partly it might be mere nervousness. And then, I was vexed with you for wishing to come as other people did, & vexed with myself for not being able to refuse you as I did them."
She suspected Browning of being one of her typical stalkers! He was a stalker, just not a typical one.

"When does the book come out? Not on the first, I begin to be glad.

Ever yours EBB

I trust that you go on to take exercise—& that your mother is still better. Occy’s worst symptom now is too great an appetite .. a monster-appetite indeed–"
I wonder what Occy was eating? Probably mutton.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29, 1845

Browning has received the proofs:

"Wednesday Night.

Like your kindness,—too, far too generous kindness,—all this trouble and correcting,—and it is my proper office now, by this time, to sit still and receive, by right Human, (as opposed to Divine). When you see the pamphlet’s self, you will find your own doing,—but where will you find the proofs of the best of all helping and counseling and inciting, unless in new works which shall justify the unsatisfaction, if I may not say shame, at these, these written before your time, my best love–"
Ah yes, the best is yet to come under the influence of his Lyric Love.

"Are you doing well to-day? For I feel well; have walked some eight or nine miles—and my mother is very much better .. is singularly better. You know whether you rejoiced me or no by that information about the exercise you had taken yesterday– Think what telling one that you grow stronger would mean–

'Vexatious' with you! Ah, prudence is all very right, and one ought, no doubt to say, 'of course, we shall not expect a life exempt from the usual proportion of &c. &c.' but truth is still more right, and includes the highest prudence besides, and I do believe that we shall be happy,—that is, that you will be happy: you see I dare confidently expect the end to it all .. so it has always been with me in my life of wonders; absolute wonders, with God’s hand over all .. and this last and best of all would never have begun so, and gone on so, to break off abruptly even here, in this world, for the little time.

So try, try, dearest, every method, take every measure of hastening such a consummation– Why, we shall see Italy together! I could, would, will shut myself in four walls of a room with you and never leave you and be most of all then 'a lord of infinite space'—but, to travel with you to Italy, or Greece—very vain, I know that, all such daydreaming! and ungrateful, too,—with the real sufficing happiness here of being, and knowing that you know me to be, and suffer me to tell you I am yours, ever your own God bless you, my dearest."

He struggles sometimes to get his constantly moving thoughts on paper, but when he does he can write the sweetest letters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28, 1845

Browning is in a mad rush to send the proofs for 'part two' of Dramatic Romances and Lyrics off to Miss Barrett for her review before they go back to the publisher:

"Tuesday 9. a.m.

I got this on coming home last night—have just run thro’ it this morning, and send it that time may not be lost. Faults, faults,—but I don’t know how I have got tired of this– The Tragedies will be better, at least the second–

At 3. this day! Bless you–RB"
Miss Barrett sends back 'part one' the same day:
 "I write in haste, not to lose time about the proof. You will see on the papers here my doubtfulnesses such as they are—but silence swallows up the admirations .. & there is no time. ‘Theocrite’ overtakes that wish of mine which ran on so fast—and the ‘Duchess’ grows & grows the more I look—and ‘Saul’ is noble & must have his full royalty some day. Would it not be well, by the way, to print it in the meanwhile as a fragment confessed .. sowing asterisks at the end. Because as a poem of yours it stands there & wants unity, & people cant be expected to understand the difference between incompleteness & defect, unless you make a sign. For the new poems—they are full of beauty. You throw largesses out on all sides without counting the coins: how beautiful that ‘Night & Morning’ .. & the ‘Earth’s Immortalities’ .. & the ‘Song’ too– And for your ‘Glove’, all women should be grateful,—& Ronsard, honoured, in this fresh shower of music on his old grave .. though the chivalry of the interpretation, as well as much beside, is so plainly yours, .. could only be yours perhaps. And even you are forced to let in a third person .. close to the doorway .. before you can do any good– What a noble lion you give us too, with the 'flash on his forehead',—& 'leagues in the desert already' as we look on him!– And then, with what a ‘curious felicity’ you turn the subject ‘glove’ to another use & strike De Lorge’s blow back on him with it, in the last paragraph of your story!– And the versification! And the lady’s speech—(to return!) so calm, & proud—yet a little bitter!
Am I not to thank you for all my pleasure & pride in these poems?—while you stand by & try to talk them down, perhaps–
Tell me how your mother is—tell me how you are … you who never were to be told twice about walking. Gone the way of all promises, is that promise?
Ever yours EBB"
Well, she likes the poems even as she bravely offers suggestions--to make them and Browning more manageable for the general reader. Sacrificing genius for market share? Don't be so cynical!
Yes, Ms. Neville-Sington, Mrs. Browning would have praised "The Ring and The Book", even as she found the subject of murder distasteful.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

October 27, 1845

Miss Barrett mailed two letters (that we know of) on October 27, 1845. Let's begin with the letter to her literary correspondent, Miss Mary Russell Mitford:

"I upbraid myself for not writing to you my ever dearest Miss Mitford—but I have had no heart to write .. no heart .. it is just the word!—for mine has been tossed up & down by sadder thoughts than the mere non-recovery of health could bring me. Let us leave the subject—I cannot talk of it. I should have gone infallibly, if it had not been for the apprehension of involving others with me in a series of difficulties .. which, (as to them), would have constituted my condemnation in my own eyes. As for the good to be derived, I see it as you see it—& perhaps everyone else sees the same. It is not the sight which is awry—not the power of seeing– I want only the sun—I faint here for lack of the sun: & it is proved to me that I should be in as good health as the rest of the world, if I could have the two things together, warmth & air. But this shutting up you see, which is necessary to prevent the tendency to organic disease of the lungs, shatters the nervous system—& the alternative of either evil is inevitable while I live in this climate. I feel like a bird in a cage .. inclined to dash myself against the bars of my prison—but God is good, & counter-motives have been given to me in moments of the greatest bitterness, sufficient for encouragement. So I live on—'bide my time'—only without the slightest expectation, my loved friend, of the results you speak of from the quarter you look to—no!– In fact, nothing should ever induce me to appeal again, on any personal ground whatever, to that quarter. It is from no want of frankness <.. this reticence to you!>—& you will be the first to understand the respect of my silence. So let us leave the subject for what is pleasant—for I shall see you .. shall I not? Any day, this week even, I shall be delighted to see you—any day after tomorrow, tuesday. Begin from wednesday, & go on. Only it is too bad to think of bringing you so far through the cold—but I let your kindness have its way. Only, again, I suddenly think that you may be retained by prudential motives—because one of my brothers has been ill with fever of a typhoid character (not absolutely typhus) & though now convalescent, & able to leave his bed & take soups & strengthening things, I know what a sound typhus must have in your ears. Yet the medical men have been of opinion throughout that no harm was to be apprehended for visitors at the house—& my other brothers who sate up, night after night, with the poor invalid, have been & are perfectly well—— I tell you in any case.– Judge for yourself .. & in the case of the least fear, do not come. You will find me (if you do) still off the sofa, & able to walk about—only not looking quite as flourishing as I really did in the summer—a little fagged (as must needs be) with all the heart-bruising!– And I shall struggle not to sink this winter,—& if it is a mild winter .. ah, well! all this is with God. And the wound is apart from it, .. <.. apart from the mere health,> & to be unaffected by it. May God help me! my reeds have run into me from all sides almost .. yet still I cling!–"
Her frank description of her personal situation, describing herself as a bird throwing itself against the wires of its cage, is certainly apt. She feels that she needs to get into the sun for her health and that is true, but it is more certainly true that she needed to get out of the polluted air of London. Full of thick coal stained air, London could not have been a healthy place for anyone, especially anyone with weak lungs. And she is able to 'walk about'! That is an improvement.

Every day for a week I have reproached Wilson at set of sun for forgetting to send you oysters—but what with illness in the house & change of servants, her memory has really been overburdened. You shall have them today or tomorrow.
Does Wilson have a secret store of oysters? This is certainly an interesting development.

"Balzac’s ‘Paysans’ in its one volume, (for I have seen only that one volume) is another proof of the pressure of the times towards sympathies with the people. And a new work by George Sand ‘Le meunier d’Angibault’ goes the same way, but with diminished power certainly. Her hand grows cold when she extends it from the chair. And he––why he is Balzac still in ‘Les Paysans’—but story there is none, & so no interest—& no unity, as far as that first volume indicates: & I found it rather hard reading .. despite the human character, & the scenic effects. As to ‘Le Juif’ I have done with him, & am not sorry to have done. The last volumes fall off step by step. Now is it not true that when people determine professedly to be didactic, immediately they grow dull as school-masters? it seems so to me.– V Hugo is a true poet."
She is busy reading her questionable French novels. Does her father know what really goes on at Wimpole Street when he is away in the city?

"Mr Horne is busy, it appears,—but I had a few lines from him the other day.
Well—you will write in any case–And I am ever your affectionate EBB."

She writes to her Greek scholar friend Hugh Stuart Boyd:

"My very dear friend,

It is so long since I wrote, that I must write,—I must ruffle your thoughts with a little breath from my side! Listen to me, my dear friend. That I have not written, has scarcely been my fault, .. but my misfortune rather, .. for I have been quite unstrung & overcome by agitation & anxiety, .. and thought that I should be able to tell you at last of being calmer & happier,—but it was all in vain. I do not leave England, my dear friend. It is decided that I remain on in my prison. It was my full intention to go– I considered it to be a clear duty, and I made up my mind to perform it, let the circumstances be ever so painfully like obstacles: but when the moment came, it appeared impossible for me to set out alone, and also impossible to take my brother & sister with me without involving them in difficulties & displeasure. Now what I could risk for myself, I could not risk for others—and the very kindness with which they desired me not to think of them, only made me think of them more, as was natural and just. So Italy is given up—& I fall back into the hands of God who is merciful, trusting Him with the time that shall be.

Arabel would have gone to tell you all this a fortnight since, but one of my brothers has been ill with fever which was not exactly typhus, but of the typhoid character, and we knew that you would rather not see her under the circumstances. He is very much better—(it is Octavius)—& has been out of bed today & yesterday.

Do not reproach me either for not writing or for not going, my very dear friend. I have been too heavy-hearted for words: & as to the deeds, you would not have wished me to lead others into difficulties, the extent & result of which, no one could calculate. It would not have been just of me.

And you—? how are you .. & what are you doing? May God bless you my dear dear friend!
Ever yours I am affectionately & gratefully EBB–"

Did you notice? Not a word or reference to Browning in either letter. The subject is not hinted at in any way--there is no hint of a consolation in not going or any comfort that she has a new 'friend' to keep her company in her 'cage' and 'prison'.

There was no outgoing letter to Browning but she received one instead, responding to her request that he make several 'silent promises':

"How does one make 'silent promises' .. or, rather, how does the maker of them communicate that fact to whomsoever it may concern? I know, there have been many, very many unutterable vows & promises made,—that is, thought down upon, the white slip at the top of my notes, .. such as of this note,—and not trusted to the pen,—that always comes in for the shame,—but given up, and replaced by the poor forms to which a pen is equal—and, a glad minute I should account that, in which you collected and accepted those 'promises'—because they would not be all so unworthy of me—much less you! I would receive, in virtue of them, the ascription of whatever worthiness is supposed to lie in deep, truest love, and gratitude,—

Read my silent answer there too!

All your letter is one comfort: we will be happy this winter, and after, do not fear– I am most happy, to begin, that your brother is so much better: he must be weak and susceptible of cold, remember.

It was on my lip, I do think, last visit, or the last but one, to beg you to detach those papers from the 'Athenæum's' gâchis [mess]: certainly this opportunity is most favorable, for every reason: you cannot hesitate, surely: at present those papers are lost—lost for practical purposes: do pray reply without fail to the proposers; <who would be apt to> no, no harm of these really fine fellows, who could do harm (by printing incorrect copies, and perhaps eking out the volume by supposititious matter .. ex-gr. They strengthened & lengthened a book of Dickens’, in Paris, by adding quant. suff. of Thackeray’s 'Yellowplush-Papers'.. as I discovered by a Parisian somebody praising the latter to me as Dickens’ best work!)– And who do really a good straightforward un-American thing: you will encourage 'the day of small things'—tho’ this is not small, nor likely to have small results. I shall be impatient to hear that you have decided. I like the progress of these Americans in taste, their amazing leaps, like grasshoppers up to the sun—from .. what is the 'from,' what depth, do you remember, say, ten or twelve years back?—to—Carlyle, & Tennyson, & you!– So children leave off Jack of Cornwall and go on just to Homer."
He is encouraging her to allow the Americans to re-print her essay's on the Greek Christian Poets and other contemporary poets which were originally printed in the Athenæum. Probably the best thing about these Americans is their very American custom of actually paying an artist for their work (for the most part).

"I can’t conceive why my proof does not come– I must go to-morrow and see. In the other, I have corrected all the points you noted,—to their evident improvement. Yesterday I took out 'Luria' & read it thro’, the skeleton– I shall hope to finish it soon now– It is for a purely imaginary Stage,—very simple and straightforward. Would you .. no, Act by Act, as I was about to propose that you should read it,—that process would affect the oneness I most wish to preserve.

On Tuesday—at last, I am with you– Till when be with me ever, dearest– God bless you ever. RB
Browning is a cunning fisherman. He again baits his line with a poem--casting his 'Luria' on the water and the pulling it back to see if the trout will rise to the surface. And yes she will soon be leaping out of the water reaching to eat up his Luria before it is withdrawn again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 1845

Miss Barrett has more to say on the subject of Browning's last letter:

"I wrote briefly yesterday not to make my letter longer by keeping it; & a few last words which belong to it by right, must follow after it .. must .. for I want to say that you need not indeed talk to me about squares being not round, & of you being not 'selfish'!– You know it is foolish to talk such superfluities, & not a compliment, .. I wont say to my knowledge of you & faith in you .. but to my understanding generally. Why should you say to me at all .. much less for this third or fourth time .. 'I am not selfish'?—to me who never .. when I have been deepest asleep & dreaming, .. never dreamed of attributing to you any form of such a fault? Promise not to say so again––now promise. Think how it must sound to my ears, when really & truly I have sometimes felt jealous of myself .. of my own infirmities, .. & thought that you cared for me only because your chivalry touched them with a silver sound—& that, without them, you would pass by on the other side:——why twenty times I have thought that & been vexed—ungrateful vexation! In exchange for which too frank confession, I will ask for another silent promise .. a silent promise——no, but first I will say another thing."
She asks for promise after promise from this man and he just ignores her. That reverse psychology thing worked like a charm for her.

"First I will say that you are not to fancy any .. the least, .. danger of my falling under displeasure through your visits—there is no sort of risk of it for the present—& if I ran the risk of making you uncomfortable about that, I did foolishly, & what I meant to do was different. I wish you also to understand that even if you came here everyday, my brothers & sisters would simply care to know if I liked it, & then be glad if I was glad:—the caution referred to one person alone– In relation to whom, however, there will be no 'getting over'—you might as well think to sweep off a third of the stars of Heaven with the motion of your eyelashes—this, for matter of fact & certainty .. & this, as I said before, the keeping of a general rule & from no disrespect towards individuals—: a great peculiarity in the individual of course. But … though I have been a submissive daughter, & this from no effort, but for love’s sake .. because I loved him tenderly, (& love him), .. & hoped that he loved me back again even if the proofs came untenderly sometimes—yet I have reserved for myself always that right over my own affections which is the most strictly personal of all things, & which involves principles & consequences of infinite importance & scope—even though I never thought (except perhaps when the door of life was just about to open .. before it opened) never thought it probable or possible that I should have occasion for the exercise,—from without & from within at once– I have too much need to look up. For friends, I can look any way .. round, & down even—the merest thread of a sympathy will draw me sometimes—or even the least look of kind eyes over a dyspathy—'Cela se peut facilement [that is easily possible]'–But, for another relation—it was all different—& rightly so—& so very different;––'Cela ne se peut nullement [that is not at all possible]'—as in Malherbe."
So the real danger is Papa Barrett. I have a very strong feeling that Browning was already more than aware of that. There is more telling insight into Mr. Barrett here when she writes that his proofs of love 'came untenderly sometimes'. It also appears that the entire household is fairly well united in keeping things from Mr. Barrett. A scenario normal among teenagers to this day, but more prevalent in another age when one generation depends on another for it's income and protection. A household ripe for tyrannical rule.

And now we must agree to ‘let all this be’, & set ourselves to get as much good & enjoyment from the coming winter (better spent at Pisa!) as we can .. and I begin my joy by being glad that you are not going since I am not going, & by being proud of these new green leaves in your bay which come out with the new number– And then will come the tragedies—& then, .. what beside? We shall have a happy winter after all .. I shall at least—and if Pisa had been better, London might be worse: & for me to grow pretentious & fastidious & critical about various sorts of purple .. I, who have been used to the ‘brun foncé [dark brown]’ of Madme de Sevigné, (fonçé & enfonçé [dark and deep] ..)—would be too absurd. But why does not the proof come all this time? I have kept this letter to go back with it.

I had a proposition from the New York booksellers about six weeks ago (the booksellers who printed the poems) to let them re-print those prose papers of mine in the Athenæum, with additional matter on American literature, in a volume by itself—to be published at the same time both in America & England by Wiley & Putnam in Waterloo Place—& meaning to offer liberal terms, they said. Now what shall I do? Those papers are not fit for separate publication, & I am not inclined to the responsibility of them,—& in any case, they must give as much trouble as if they were re-written, (trouble & not poetry!) before I could consent to such a thing– Well!—and if I do not .. these people are just as likely to print them without leave .. & so without correction–What do you advise? What shall I do? All this time they think me sublimely indifferent, they who pressed for an answer by return of packet .. & now it is past six .. eight weeks,—& I must say something."
She is referring to two essays on poetry and the Greek Christian poets. It is not clear why she felt they needed to be corrected for re-publication.

"Am I not 'femme qui parle [woman who speaks]' today? And let me talk on ever so, the proof wont come. May God bless you—& me as I am


And the silent promise I would have you make is this—that if ever you should leave me, it shall be (though you are not 'selfish') for your sake—& not for mine.: for your good, & not for mine. I ask it—not because I am disinterested,—but because one class of motives would be valid, & the other void—simply for that reason.

Then the ‘femme qui parle’ (looking back over the parlance) did not mean to say on the first page of this letter that she was ever for a moment vexed in her pride that she should owe anything to her adversities. It was only because adversities are accidents & not essentials. If it had been prosperities, it would have been the same thing——no, not the same thing!—but far worse.

Occy is up today & doing well."
Okay, well she asked him for this silent promise to leave her for his sake. Can she seriously think he is going to agree to this? Is she trying to prove that she is as unselfish as he is? Perhaps he should agree to this promise. It is rather a silly promise. Who leaves someone for any other reason than a selfish one? What is he going to do with this woman? I think he should leave her for demanding too many silly promises.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23, 1845

Browning has had a day to consider how best to respond to Miss Barrett's letter telling him to leave her for his own good:

"But I must answer you, and be forgiven, too, dearest– I was (to begin at the beginning) surely not startled' .. only properly aware of the deep blessing I have been enjoying this while, and not disposed to take its continuance as pure matter of course, and so treat with indifference the first shadow of a threatening intimation from without, the first hint of a possible abstraction from the quarter to which so many hopes & fears of mine have gone of late: in this case, knowing you, I was sure that if any imaginable form of displeasure could touch you without reaching me, I should not hear of it too soon—so I spoke—so you have spoken—and so now you get 'excused'? .. no .. wondered at, with all my faculty of wonder for the strange exalting way you will persist to think of me; now, once for all, I will not pass for what I make no least pretence to: I quite understand the grace of your imaginary self-denial, and fidelity to a given word, and noble constancy,—but it all happens to be none of mine, none in the least. I love you because I love you,—I see you 'once a week' because I cannot see you all day long,—I think of you all day long, because I most certainly could not think of you once an hour less, if I tried, or went to Pisa, or 'abroad' (in every sense) in order to 'be happy'.. a kind of adventure which you seem to suppose you have in some way interfered with: do, for this once, think, and never after, on the impossibility of your ever .. (you know I must talk your own language, so I shall say …) hindering any scheme of mine, stopping any supposeable advancement of mine: do you really think that before I found you, I was going about the world seeking whom I might devour,—that is, be devoured by, in the shape of a wife .. do you suppose I ever dreamed of marrying?—what would it mean for me, with my life I am hardened in,—considering the rational chances,—how the land is used to furnish its contingent of Shakespeare’s-women: or by 'success,' 'happiness' &c &c you never, never can be seeing for a moment with the world’s eyes and meaning 'getting rich' & all that? Yet, put that away, and what do you meet at every turn, if you are hunting about in the dusk to catch my good, but yourself?

I know who has got it, caught it, & means to keep it on his heart—the person most concerned—I, dearest, who cannot play the disinterested part of bidding you forget your 'protestation' .. what should I have to hold by, come what will, thro’ years, thro’ this life, if God shall so determine, if I were not sure, sure that the first moment when you can suffer me with you 'in that relation',—you will remember and act accordingly .. I will, as you know, conform my life to any imaginable rule which shall render it possible for your life to move with it and possess it, all the little it is worth–

For your friends .. whatever can be 'got over,' whatever opposition may be rational, will be easily removed, I suppose: you know when I spoke lately about the 'selfishness' I dared believe I was free from, I hardly meant the low faults of .. I shall say, a different organization to mine—which has vices in plenty, but not those: beside half a dozen scratches with a pen make one stand up an apparent angel of light, from the lawyer’s parchment; and Doctors’ Commons is one bland smile of applause– The selfishness I deprecate is one which a good many women & men, too, call 'real passion'—under the influence of which, I ought to say 'be mine, what ever happens to you'—but I know better, and you know best—and you know me, for all this letter, which is no doubt in me, I feel, but dear entire goodness and affection, of which God knows whether I am proud or not—and now you will ‘let me be,’ will not you? Let me have my way, live my life, love my love whose I am, praying God to bless her ever RB"
That was not perfectly clear, but clear enough for Miss Barrett, who simply wanted to know if he was going to Italy or no. I love the ending where he essentially tells her to leave him alone and let him love her. So she responds the same day, acting dumbfounded that he should take on so because it is all so clear to her.
" 'And be forgiven' .. yes! and be thanked besides—if I knew how to thank you worthily & as I feel .. only that I do not know it, & cannot say it. And it was not indeed 'doubt' of you (.. oh no!—) that made me write as I did write: it was rather because I felt you to be surely noblest, .. & therefore fitly dearest, … that it seemed to me detestable & intolerable to leave you on this road where the mud must splash up against you, & never cry ‘gare [look out!].’ Yet I was quite enough unhappy yesterday, & before yesterday .. I will confess today, .. to be too gratefully glad to ‘let you be’ .. to 'let you have your way'.. you who overcome always! Always, but where you tell me not to think of you so & so!—as if I could help thinking of you so, & as if I should not take the liberty of persisting to think of you just so. ‘Let me be’– ‘Let me have my way’. I am unworthy of you perhaps in everything except one thing——& that, you cannot guess. May God bless you– Ever I am yours.
The proof does not come!"
In what way is she worthy of him? I find it difficult to believe that she has found a way in which she is worthy of him.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21, 1845

Miss Barrett has something to say today, just to make things clear, regarding her warning about smelling the slaughter in the bathroom:

"Even at the risk of teazing you a little I must say a few words, that there may be no misunderstanding between us—& this, before I sleep tonight. Today & before today you surprised me by your manner of receiving my remark about your visits, for I believed I had sufficiently made clear to you long ago how certain questions were ordered in this house & how no exception was to be expected for my sake or even for yours. Surely I told you this quite plainly long ago. I only meant to say in my last letter, in the same track .. (fearing in the case of your wishing to come oftener that you might think it unkind in me not to seem to wish the same) .. that if you came too often & it was observed, difficulties & vexations wd follow as a matter of course, & it would be wise therefore to run no risk. That was the head & front of what I meant to say. The weekly one visit is a thing established & may go on as long as you please—& there is no objection to your coming twice a week now & then .. if now & then merely .. if there is no habit .. do you understand. I may be prudent in an extreme perhaps—& certainly everybody in the house is not equally prudent!—but I did shrink from running any risk with that calm & comfort of the winter as it seemed to come on– And was it more than I said about the cloak? was there any newness in it? anything to startle you? Still I do perfectly see that whether new or old, what it involves may well be unpleasant to you—& that (however old) it may be apt to recur to your mind with a new increasing unpleasantness. We have both been carried too far perhaps, by late events & impulses—but it is never too late to come back to a right place, & I for my part come back to mine, & entreat you my dearest friend, first, not to answer this, & next, to weigh & consider thoroughly 'that particular contingency' which (I tell you plainly, I who know) the tongue of men & of angels would not modify so as to render less full of vexations to you. Let Pisa prove the excellent hardness of some marbles!– Judge. From motives of selfrespect, you may well walk an opposite way .. you!. When I told you once .. or twice .. that 'no human influence should' &c &c, .. I spoke for myself, quite overlooking you—& now that I turn & see you, I am surprised that I did not see you before .. there. I ask you therefore to consider ‘that contingency’ well—not forgetting the other obvious evils, which the late decision about Pisa has aggravated beyond calculation .. for as the smoke rolls off we see the harm done by the fire. And so,—and now .. is it not advisable for you to go abroad at once .. as you always intended, you know .. now that your book is through the press? What if you go next week? I leave it to you. In any case, I entreat you not to answer thisneither let your thoughts be too hard on me for what you may call perhaps vacillation—only that I stand excused (I do not say justified) before my own moral sense. May God bless you– If you go, I shall wait to see you till your return, & have letters in the meantime—. I write all this as fast as I can to have it over. What I ask of you is, to consider along & decide advisedly .. for both our sakes. If it should be your choice not to make an end now, .. why I shall understand that by your not going .. or you may say ‘no’ in a word .. for I require no ‘protestations’ indeed—and you may trust to me––it shall be as you choose– YOU WILL CONSIDER MY HAPPINESS MOST BY CONSIDERING YOUR OWN.. & that is my last word."
Wow, she starts in telling him that he should only come once a week and ends by telling him to leave her. Or if he doesn't want to 'make an end' she will know if he doesn't go to Italy. What happened from the beginning of the paragraph to the end of the paragraph? One thing that comes to mind is that she asked him in her last letter if he was going to Italy and he did not respond to that specific inquiry.
Again she pleads with him not to respond. Good plan, that is exactly how to get him to respond.
"Wednesday morning. I did not say half I thought about the poems yesterday—& their various power & beauty will be striking & surprising to your most accustomed readers. St Praxed—Pictor Ignotus—the ride—The Duchess!– Of the new poems I like supremely the first & last, .. that 'Lost Leader' which strikes so broadly & deep .. which nobody can ever forget—& which is worth all the journalizing & pamphleteering in the world!—& then, the last ‘Thought’ which is quite to be grudged to that place of fragments .. those grand sea-sights in the long lines. Should not these fragments be severed otherwise than by numbers? The last stanza but one of the ‘Lost Mistress’ seemed obscure to me. Is it so really? The end you have put to ‘England in Italy’ gives unity to the whole .. just what the poem wanted. Also you have given some nobler lines to the middle than met me there before. The Duchess appears to me more than ever a new-minted golden coin—the rhythm of it answering to your own description.
You have right of trove to these novel effects of rhythm. Now if people do not cry out about these poems, what are we to think of the world?
May God bless you always– Send me the next proof in any case.
Your EBB."
Don't you enjoy how she feels no fear in criticising his poetry. Always her idea is to make his poems clear and marketable.
How will Browning respond to this rather sad, rather desperate letter?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20, 1845

Browning sends a brief letter with the proof sheets for his "Bells and Pomegranates":

"Monday Mg

This arrived on Saturday night–I just correct it in time for this our first post—will it do, the new matter? I can take it to-morrow—when I am to see you—if you are able to glance thro’ it by then."
You know she will stay up all night going through them if she has to. It is like throwing meat to a starving lioness.

"The 'Inscription',—how does that read?"
The book is dedicated to Mr. Kenyon.

"—(There is strange temptation, by the way, in the space they please to leave for the presumeable 'motto'—'they but remind me of mine own conception' .. but one must give no clue, of a silk’s breadth, to the 'Bower,' yet– One day!)
—Which God send you, dearest, & your RB"
The presumption here is that Browning wanted to quote a line from Miss Barrett's "The Lost Bower" as the motto of the book, but decided that it would be imprudent. I suspect no one would have noticed or thought twice about it, but knowing her nervous disposition it was probably best just to let her know he wanted to and leave it at that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19, 1846

Mrs. Browning wrote another long letter to her sister Arabel in mid-October 1846, written over a series of days, describing in vivid detail her honeymoon trip across Europe:

"...R. is more than ever I believed him to be, when the belief was at fullest before we married. I can only wonder increasingly at the fact of his selecting me out of a world of women-. Without the least affectation, it is the wonder of my life. Also, the repentance does not seem to come, nor to threaten to come. He loves me better every minute, he says, on the contrary-There is no honeymoon for us any longer,..but the stars still keep us in light. The goodness and tenderness of every moment is the 'thing to dream of & not to tell'. At Genoa (where we disembarked, slept, & spent a day), he positively refused (quite 'unreasonably,' as Mrs. Jameson agreed with me) to leave my side for the sake of the cathedral, the pictures, or any of the great sights, just because I was tired & could not go to see them. 'He would come with me too see them some future time..but, would not be the least pleasure to him if I were not there'-And so, notwithstanding all entreatied, there he sate..& Mrs. J & Gerardine went alone to see the glories of Genoa. One little walk however (it was that which tired me) he & I had together, & we wandered through close alleys of palaces looking all strange and noble, into a gorgeous church  where mass was going on....."

"...After our week in Paris we began our journey as I hope you heard from my Orleans letter, & a long time indeed we have been about it since then,..far longer than either of us had contemplated. We took the water only from Lyon to Avignon, & the rest of the way went by diligence & vetturino, in order to give Mrs. Jameson the opportunity she required to see certain cathedrals. The one at Bourges is looks as if all the sunsets of time have stained the wonderful painted windows of which the secret is lost..."

Bourges Cathedral and glass

"...By two nights we had some travelling, resting during the days after-& often I felt desperately tired but always had the strength back again-renewed like the eagle's-...One disappointment we had-for our only rainy day was the day we especially wished to keep bright..the day of the Rhone..from Lyons to Avignon-The wild, striking scenery..the fantastic rocks & ruined castles we could only see by painful glimpses though the loophole windows of the miserable cabin--wasn't it unfortunate? At Avignon however, there was consolation. We stayed there three or four days, & made a pilgrimage to Vaucluse as became poets, & my spirits rose & the enjoyment of the hour spent at the sacred fountain was complete. It stands deep & still & green against a majestic wall of rock, & then falls, boils, breaks, foams over the stones, down into the channel of the little river winding away greenly, greenly--the great, green desolate precipices guarding it out of sight-A few little cypresses, & olive trees--no other tree in sight--All desolation and grand. R. said 'Ba, are you losing your senses?'-because without a word I made my way over the boiling water to a still rock in the middle of it..but he followed me & helped me, & we both sate in the spray, till Mis. Jameson was provoked to make a sketch of us-Also, Flush proved his love of me by leaping (at the cost of wetting his feet & my gown) after me to the slippery stone, & was repulsed three times by R. (poor Flushie!) till me moaned on the dry ground to see me on such a position of danger perhaps it seemed to him..poor Flushie!..& he not suffered to share it with me..."

The Fountain at Vaucluse

"...From Avignon we took a voiturier, or rather a voiturier took us, on to Marseilles, ..sleeping in Aix, the city of the troubadours..& embarking in a French steamer, of which we were the only first class passengers-Mrs. J, Gerardine, Wilson & I had the ladies cabin to ourselves, & every comfort & cleanliness (write down that the French are not dirty,..& not delicate certainly--there was not a woman for any use---the 'garcons' did all the duty, & very pleasant, as you may think, that was) & at five o'clock on one burning, glaring afternoon we sailed from glittering, roaring Marseilles..coloured even down into it's puddles--The heat was intense...."

"...I never saw scenery of such a character,-& it was lamentable that we passed Nice & so much beside in the night, missing the glories of it. The ship was near enough shore for us to see the green blinds to the windows of the houses, & if it had not been for the roughness, we should have coasted still nearer. And the scenery..the scenery!-In one place, I counted six mountains (such mountains!) one behind another, colour behind colour, from black, or the most gorgeous purple, to that spectral white which the crowding of the olives gives. And sometimes fragments of cloud hung on the rocks, shining as if the sun himself had broken it. It was all glorious, & past speaking of. We were in Genoa by nightfall,..slept under the fresco'd roof of what had been a palace,..& as the next night closed in, returned to our steamer for the Leghorn voyage & another night....So we landed at Leghorn, looking as miserable as possible--everybody being ill but me..observe that! & poor Wilson more dead than alive--but getting to the hotel & having breakfast & feeling ourselves close to Pisa soon produced a general revival. (Mrs. Jameson had fainted, several times before we came to that.) And now this is Pisa-beautiful Pisa! A little city of great palaces, & the rolling, turbid Arno, striking it's golden path betwixt them underneath the marble bridge-All tranquil & grand-it is the very place to be tranquil in,-& I am delighted with the whole aspect of it....."

"...Well--we stay at this hotel of the Tre Donzelle till we suit ourselves with an apartment,..& since I began this letter we have had great difficulties. The prices of houses are higher than we imagined, & poor Robert has had ever so much uncongenial trouble going from house to house, & divided between his wish of putting me in a good situation, & our common fear of falling into undue expenses--He went and came, coming to insist on carrying me up stairs to see something that might be possible--At last the success came & the 'very thing'--& now I write to you from our home, lying on the sofa thereof, & perfectly contented with the solution of the problem....close to the cathedral & leaning tower, as we see every moment from the windows & in an apartment consisting of one sitting room & three excellent bedrooms, with entrance rooms or hall & with attendance & cooking & the use of silver, china, glass, linen (& the washing there of)-..all inclusive, for..what do you think?..1 pound 6 shilling and 9 pence English money, a week. Hot water a discrezione [discretion]. Is it not tolerably cheap? Moreover the house is a palazzo of the largest, & we inhabit the only let-apartments in it, & it has the grand name Collegio di Ferdinando, & a grand marble entrance, marble steps & pillars & a bust over all of Ferdinando primo. Built too by Vasari...."

Cathedral and Tower, Pisa

"You would certainly smile to see how we set about housekeeping. R. brought home white sugar in his pocket--so good he is, & so little inclined to leave all the trouble 'to the women' as nearly all men else would do! On the contrary his way is to do everything for me even to pouring out the coffee,..& our general councils with Wilson..'What is a pound? what is an ounce?'..would amuse you if you could hear them. Yesterday when dinnertime came (that was our first day 'at home' you must observe) we discovered that there was nothing to eat, ominous beginning-So we set out to the 'trattoria,' the traiteur, & dined excellently for sixteen pence, we two (8d. each),...& sent a dinner apart home to Wilson-& were well pleased enough with our own proceedings, to make an arrangement that the said traiteur should send our repasts to us everyday at two o'clock--& we are to try that plan,..going ourselves when we are inclined..-& if it answers, we shall be freed from other domestic cares than of the coffee & milk & bread. Wilson in an oracle--very useful too & very kind. She was delighted with your remembrance-Poor thing, the mosquitoes have singled her out for a special vengeance. They torment me in a measure, but she is tormented by them out of measure.....How wrong Henrietta was, in fancying me too happy to write! Too happy! I love R. enough to leave you for him, but not for that did I love any of you less than ever, & the anguish of quitting your loss was not less felt....My thoughts cling to you. Believe it, with the fullest knowledge however, otherwise, that I am absolutely happy in the one to whom I have given myself, & that he rises on my admiration, and is better & dearer to my affections every day & hour. Ought I not to be happy, with such love from such a man? And we have been together a whole month now, & he professes to love me 'infinitely more', instead of the dreadful 'less' which was to have been expected. He keeps saying that never he was so happy in his life-which is more magical that music in my ears, while I listen to him. Then such a delightful companion he is,..with what Mrs. Jameson calls 'his inexhaustible wit, & learning & good humor.' She said the other day 'My dear Browning, I have admired your genius for many years, but now I feel it to be still better to love yourself.' So I can repeat such things, you see, without the 'blushing'. And as for you, Arabel, you must love him, if you love me..for all the tenderness which one human being can give to another, he gives me every moment of my life. Love him for my sake & do not call him Mr. Browning. How you would love him for his own sake if you knew him..knew him thoroughly, that the soul & in the life!.....We are going to be busy--we are full of literary plans.....

Mrs. Browning is a letter writer for the ages. She has been freed from her cage and she is living the adventure. Could we safely say she is happy in her marriage? So far it is looking pretty secure. Her health seems to be holding up and she is seeing Europe and she has landed in Pisa in a room with a view. One thing that they have that most newly married people do not have the luxury of time. While they are being careful with money, neither has to work and so they can spend all their time together and get to know each other. That will either make of break their relationship. Sitting with Miss Barrett for two or three hours a week will now be sitting with Mrs. Browning 24 hours a day. That may be hard on anyone. Will it last? We all know that it does. So let's leave them alone for awhile and check back in later.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18, 1845

Just a short note from a rather frustrated Browning today. He just doesn't seem able to put it into words, as usual:

"I must not go on tearing these poor sheets one after the other,—the proper phrases will not come,—so let them stay, while you care for my best interests in their best, only way, and say for me what I would say if I could—dearest,—say it, as I feel it!"
Here he draws a long line across the paper and continues:
"I am thankful to hear of the continued improvement of your brother– So may it continue with him! Pulses I know very little about– I go by your own impressions which are evidently favourable.
I will make a note as you suggest, .. or, perhaps, keep it for the closing number, (the next) when it will come fitly in with two or three parting words I shall have to say. The Rabbis make Bells & Pomegranates symbolical of Pleasure and Profit, the Gay & the Grave, the Poetry & the Prose, Singing and Sermonizing– Such a mixture of effects as in the original hour (that is quarter of an hour) of confidence & creation, I meant the whole should prove at last: well, it has succeeded beyond my most adventurous wishes in one respect– 'Blessed eyes mine eyes have been, if—' if there was any sweetness in the tongue or flavour in the seeds to her. But I shall do quite other & better things, or shame on me! The proof has not yet come .. I should go, I suppose, and enquire this afternoon—and probably I will."
'Bell & Pomegranates', the yin and yang or this and that of poetry. But she likes them and that is all that matters to him in this Autumn of courtship. He again quotes 'Catarina to Camoens' back to her. Yes, that Portuguese of poems.
"I weigh all the words in your permission to come on Monday .. do not think I have not seen that contingency from the first! Let it be Tuesday—no sooner! Meanwhile you are never away—never from your place here.
God bless my dearest
Ever your RB

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 17, 1845

We hear just from Miss Barrett today after their meeting on October 16th. The last we had heard he had asked her to look at the proofs of his new book of poems. But even before she gets to the proofs, she has questions:

"Do tell me what you mean precisely by your ‘Bells & Pomegranates’ title. I have always understood it to refer to the Hebraic priestly garment—but Mr Kenyon held against me the other day that your reference was different, though he had not the remotest idea how– And yesterday I forgot to ask, for not the first time. Tell me too why you should not in the new number satisfy, by a note somewhere, the Davuses of the world who are in the majority (‘Davi sumus, non Œdipi’ [We are Davusis, not Œdipuses]) with a solution of this one Sphinx riddle. Is there a reason against it?"
Davus was a dim-witted character who could not solve the riddle of the Sphinx as Oedipus did. She teazes him about his obscurities with good humor.

"Occy continues to make progress—with a pulse at only eighty four this morning. Are you learned in the pulse that I should talk as if you were? I, who have had my lessons? He takes scarcely anything yet but water, & his head is very hot still—but the progress is quite sure, though it may be a lingering case.

Your beautiful flowers!—none the less beautiful for waiting for water yesterday– As fresh as ever, they were; & while I was putting them into the water, I thought that your visit went on all the time. Other thoughts too I had, which made me look down blindly, quite blindly, on the little blue flowers, .. while I thought what I could not have said an hour before without breaking into tears which would have run faster then. To say now that I never can forget, .. that I feel myself bound to you as one human being cannot be more bound to another .. & that you are more to me at this moment than all the rest of the world,—is only to say in new words that it would be a wrong against myself, to seem to risk your happiness & abuse your generosity. For me .. though you threw out words yesterday about the testimony of a 'third person', .. it would be monstrous to assume it to be necessary to vindicate my trust of you– I trust you implicitly—& am not too proud to owe all things to you– But now let us wait & see what this winter does or undoes—while God does His part for good, as we know– I will never fail to you from any human influence whateverthat, I have promised—but you must let it be different from the other sort of promise which it would be a wrong to make. May God bless you—you, whose fault it is, to be too generous. You are not like other men, as I could see from the beginning—no–"
It must have been quite an afternoon. No wonder she forgot to ask him what "Bell and Pomegranates" meant. It sounds like he was trying to give her a reference. Sounds like she doesn't want one.

Shall I have the proof tonight, I ask myself.

And if you like to come on monday rather than tuesday, I do not see why there should be a ‘no’ to that– Judge from your own convenience. Only we must be wise in the general practice, & abstain from too frequent meetings, for fear of difficulties—. I am Casandra you know, & smell the slaughter in the bathroom. It would make no difference in fact,—but in comfort, much.

Ever your own–"
She ends her letter on rather a blood thirsty note. She is referring to Casandra in Aeschylus's 'Agamemnon' who foretold the assassination of Agamemnon in his bath by his adulterous wife Clytemnestra. Miss Barrett loved her blood thirsty Greeks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October 15, 1845

Let us begin today with a letter from Browning:

"Thanks my dearest for the good news—of the fever’s abatement—it is good, too, that you write cheerfully, on the whole: what it is to me that you write so of me .. I shall never say that! Mr Kenyon is all kindness, and one gets to take it as not so purely natural a thing, the showing kindness to those it concerns, and belongs to,—well! On Thursday, then,—to-morrow! Did you not get a note of mine, a hurried note, which was meant for yesterday-afternoon’s delivery?

Mr Forster came yesterday & was very profuse of graciosities: he may have, or must have meant well, so we will go on again with the friendship, as the snail repairs his battered shell–"
Forster and Browning had had a falling out about one of Browning's plays that Forster was to produce and star in. So it looks like they are trying to make it up.

"My poems went duly to press on Monday night—there is not much correctable in them,—you make, or you spoil, one of these things,—that is, I do– I have adopted all your emendations, and thrown in lines and words, just a morning’s business,—but one does not write plays so. You may like some of my smaller things, which stop interstices, better than what you have seen .. I shall wonder to know: I am to receive a proof at the end of the week—will you help me & overlook it. ('Yes' .. she says .. my thanks I do not say!)"
See what he is doing? He is going to distract her with poetry. Perfect. She will jump at this.

"While writing this, the 'Times' catches my eye (it just came in)—and something from the 'Lancet' is extracted, a long article against quackery—and, as I say, this is the first & only sentence I read– 'There is scarcely a peer of the realm who is not the patron of some quack pill or potion: and the literati too, are deeply tainted. We have heard of barbarians who threw quacks & their medicines into the sea: but here in England we have Browning a prince of poets, touching the pitch which defiles and making Paracelsus the hero of a poem: Sir E. L. Bulwer writes puffs for the water doctors in a style worthy of imitation by the scribe that does the poetical for Moses & son: Miss Martineau makes a finessing servant girl her physician-general: & Richard Howitt & the Lady aforesaid stand Godfather & mother to the contemptible mesmeric vagaries of Spencer Hall.' —Even the sweet incense to me fails of its effect if Paracelsus is to figure on a level with Priessnitz, and 'Jane'!"
Well, what did he expect? He writes a poem about Paracelsus, a Swiss medical pioneer from the 16th Century, so he must be glorifying quackery. The guy wasn't much of a quack: he discovered Laudanum and medical uses for zinc. So, if no one else likes him, Miss Barrett should!

"What weather, now at last! Think for yourself and for me—could you not go out on such days?

I am quite well now—cold, over & gone: Did I tell you my Uncle arrived from Paris on Monday, as they hoped he would—so my travel would have been to great purpose!

Bless my dearest—my own! RB"
Browning was ready to fly to his Uncle in Paris on Wednesday but he was already in London on Monday. Oh, the wonders of text messaging! Browning has moved to change the subject from Italy to him. Let's see what Miss Barrett says today:
Your letter which should have reached me in the morning of yesterday, I did not receive until nearly midnight—partly through the eccentricity of our new postman whose good pleasure it is to make use of the letter box without knocking,—& partly from the confusion in the house, of illness in different ways .. the very servants being ill, .. one of them breaking a bloodvessel—for there is no new case of fever, .. & for dear Occy, he grows better slowly day by day. And, just so late last night, five letters were found in the letter box, & mine .. yours .. among them—which accounts for my beginning to answer it only now–
What am I to say but this .. that I know what you are .. & that I know also what you are to me,——& that I should accept that knowledge as more than sufficient recompence for worse vexations than these late ones. Therefore let no more be said of them: & no more need be said, .. even if they were not likely to prove their own end good, as I believe with you. You may be quite sure that I shall be well this winter, if in any way it should be possible,—& that I will not be beaten down, if the will can do anything. I admire how .. if all had happened so but a year ago, .. (yet it could not have happened quite so!) I should certainly have been beaten down—& how it is different now, .. & how it is only gratitude to you, to say that it is different nowMy cage is not worse but better since you brought the green groundsel to it—& to dash oneself against the wires of it will not open the door—. We shall see .. & God will oversee. And in the meantime you will not talk of extravagances,—& then nobody need hold up the handbecause, as I said & say, I am yours,—your own—only not to hurt you. So now let us talk of the first of november & of the poems which are to come out then, & of the poems which are to come after then—& of the new avatar of ‘Sordello’, for instance, which you taught me to look for– And let us both be busy & cheerful—& you will come & see me throughout the winter, .. if you do not decide rather on going abroad, which may be better .. better for your health’s sake?—in which case I shall have your letters,—"

She is quite content to stay in Wimpole Street in her 'cage' as long as Browning will come and hold her hand through the bars, so she is fishing here to see if he still has it in his head to go abroad himself for the winter. We know better than that, even if she seems not to.
"And here is another .. just arrived. How I thank you. Think of the Times! Still it was very well of them to recognize your principality. Oh yes—do let me see the proof– I understand too about the ‘making & spoiling.’"

She liked that fact that the Times recognized his principality as a 'prince of poets' even if they mischaracterized his poem.

I knew she would jump up and down to see the proof. He dangled a poem on the line and the fish did bite.
"Almost you forced me to smile by thinking it worth while to say that you are 'not selfish'. Did Sir Percival say so to Sir Gawaine across the Round table, in those times of chivalry to which you belong by the soul? Certainly you are not selfish!—. May God bless you–
Ever your EBB
The fever may last, they say, for a week longer, or even a fortnight—but it decreases. Yet he is hot still, & very weak. To tomorrow!–"

Well, perhaps he is a bit selfish in wanting to free her from her cage in Wimpole Street, but there is nothing very wrong in that. He wants to free her not to re-cage her in a prison of his making, he wants to free her for her own sake to choose him freely.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 14, 1845

Browning writes a short note to comfort Miss Barrett in her disappointment that she will not be going to Italy that winter:

"Tuesday Mg

Be sure, my own, dearest love, that this is for the best,—will be seen for the best in the end– It is hard to bear now—but you have to bear it; any other person could not,—and you will,—I know, knowing youwill be well this one winter if you can, and then—since I am not selfish in this love to you, my own conscience tells me,—I desire, more earnestly than I ever knew what desiring was, to be yours and with you and, as far as may be in this life & world, youand no hindrance to that, but one, gives me a moment’s care or fear,—but that one is just your little hand, as I could fancy it raised in any least interest of yours—and before that, I am, and would ever be, still silent– But now—what is to make you raise that hand? I will not speak now,—not seem to take advantage of your present feelings,—we will be rational, and all-considering, and weighing consequences, and foreseeing them—but first I will prove .. if that has to be done, why-but I begin speaking—and I should not, I know– Bless you, love!


Tomorrow I see you, without fail. I am rejoiced as you can imagine, at your brother’s improved state."
He sees now that the only way she will ever get out of the house in Wimpole Street is if he takes her. He is 'not selfish' in that he wants to get her out for her sake, not simply his. When he tells her that "we will be rational, and all-considering, and weighing consequences, and foreseeing them..." he is referring to himself and what he must do to free her. But in the mean time she must remain calm and healthy.
Miss Barrett writes today as well:
Will this note reach you at the ‘fatal hour’ .. or sooner? At any rate it is forced to ask you to take thursday for wednesday, inasmuch as Mr Kenyon in his exceeding kindness has put off his journey just for me, he says, because he saw me depressed about the decision, & wished to come & see me again tomorrow & talk the spirits up, I suppose. It is all so kind & good, that I cannot find a voice to grumble about the obligation it brings of writing thus!– And then, if you suffer from cold & influenza, it will be better for you not to come for another day, .. I think that, for comfort. Shall I hear how you are tonight, I wonder?– Dear Occy 'turned the corner' the physician said, yesterday evening, &, although a little fluctuating today, remains on the whole considerably better. They were just in time to keep the fever from turning to typhus."
I think perhaps she might have preferred Browning in her sadness to cheer her up, but she does not seem to be able to shake Mr. Kenyon.
"How fast you print your book, for it to be out on the first of november! Why it comes out suddenly like the sun. Mr Kenyon asked me if I had seen anything you were going to print,—& when I mentioned the second part of the ‘Duchess’ & described how your perfect rhymes, perfectly new, & all clashing together as by natural attraction, had put me at once to shame & admiration, he began to praise the first part of the same poem (which I had heard him do before, by the way) & extolled it as one of your most striking productions."
Reading another iteration of Miss Barrett's admiration for Browning's poetry moves me to make an aside: I just finished reading a new biography of Browning in which the author proffers the opinion that Mrs. Browning would not have liked Browning's great epic poem, "The Ring and the Book" and that he could never or would never have written it during her lifetime. Well, it may well be that he would not have written it during her lifetime because his time was taken up with her. And it might well be that she was not interested in the subject of a rather sordid murder trial. However, I believe that she would have loved the poem as a poem. She loved his work, admired his mind and understood what he was trying to do. She wanted to move toward a new poetry built on the old. I believe that she was really a far less conventional poetical thinker than he was. She wrote the epic novel poem 'Aurora Leigh' which was a huge success and Browning built on it with his multi-voiced re-telling of a Renaissance murder. Who exactly was the trailblazer in the family? Biographers get paid but they don't always get it correct.
"And so until thursday! May God bless you–
& as the heart goes, ever yours–
I am glad for Tennyson, & glad for Keats. It is well to be able to be glad about something—is it not?—about something out of ourselves. And (in myself) I shall be most glad, if I have a letter tonight– Shall I?
She was 'glad' that Tennyson got a pension but she would have been ecstatic if they had given it to Browning who needed it as much as Tennyson. And yes, she shall be 'most glad' because Browning's letter is wending it's way through the penny post.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 1846 EBB letter to her sisters

Once Mrs. Browning left Wimpole Street with her husband she began writing semi-regular letters to her sisters Arabel and Henrietta. Mrs. Browning wrote to Arabel more regularly because, to be blunt, she really liked her better, however this line of of delineation has more to do with personal interests than any kind of animosity. Apparently Henrietta was more socially active than Arabel who was perhaps the more pious homebody of the two. Also, the letters were obviously passed around from one family member to another. Arabel and Henrietta both cut out huge chunks of the letters that others might find offensive, such as references to people who Mrs. Browning spoke of in a negative fashion, descriptions of her medical conditions, including everything from her numerous miscarriages, the birth of her son to 'piles'. These letters were epic in size and full of domestic gossip. There was not a lot of discussion of literary note over the years, she did not have that connection with her sisters, although there is a wonderful exchange about the now famous Sonnet Sequence. The first letter she wrote to Arabel we have already looked at. These first letters give a glimpse of Mrs. Browning's enthusiastic and breathless rush across Europe as she traveled with her new husband, Mrs. Jameson and her teenage niece Gerardine. Because of the length of these letters I am just going to select brief snippets for the life of this blog. Today I am backing up to October 2, 1846, for the second letter home to Arabel, written from Roanne, France. Roanne is about 160 miles southeast of Orlean, France where Mrs. Browning had received her first letters from home. She was grateful that her sisters had written such supportive letters and describes the scene as she read the letters from home:

"....Robert brought in a great packet of letters..& I held them in my hands, not able to open one, & growing paler & colder every moment. He wanted to sit by me while I read them, but I would not let him-I had resolved never to let him do that, before the moment came, so, after some beseeching, I got him to go away for ten minutes, to meet the agony alone...And besides, it was right not to let him read---They were very hard letters, those from dearest Papa & dearest George-To the first I had to bow my head-I do not seem to myself to have deserved that full cup, in the intentions of this act-but he is my father & he takes his own view, of course, of what is before him to judge of. But for George, I thought it hard, I confess, that he should have written to me so with a sword....

....Now I will tell you--Robert who had been waiting at the door, I believe, in great anxiety about me, came in & found me just able to cry from the balm of your tender words--I put your two letters into his hands, & he, when he had read them, said with tears in his eyes, & kissing them between the words--'I love your sisters with a deep affection--I am inexpressibly grateful to them-It shall be the object of my life to justify the trust as they express it here.' He said it with tears in his eyes..... I suffered that day--that miserable saturday..when I had to act a part to you--how I suffered! & how I had to think to myself that if I betrayed one pang at all, I should involve you deeply in the grief which otherwise remained my own. And Arabel to see through it, notwithstanding!-I was afraid of her-she looked at me so intently, or was so dearest, dearest Arabel! Understand both of you, that if, from the apparent necessities of the instant, I consented to let the ceremony precede the departure by some few days, it was upon the condition of not seeing him again in that house & till we went away. We parted, as we met, at the door of Marylebone Church--he kissed me at the communion table, & not a word passed after. I looked like death, he has said since. You see we were afraid of a sudden removal preventing everything....There was no elopement in the case, but simply a private marriage,-& to have given the least occasion to a certain class of observation, was repugnant to both of us. And then, he was, reasonably enough, afraid lest I should be unequal to the double exertion of the church & the railway, on the same morning: and as he wished it, & had promised not to see me, I thought is was mere cavilling on my part, to make a difficulty. Wilson knew nothing till the night before...."

So much for the beautiful bride who "looked like death." I also wonder what the 'certain class of observation' which was 'repugnant' to them? Did they want to avoid the rumor that it was a marriage brought about by natal necessity? I cannot seem to comprehend what would otherwise make an elopement so repugnant. Very Victorian, no?

"...No one can judge of this act, except some one who knows thoroughly the man I have married. He rises on me hour by hour. If ever a being of a higher order lived among us without a glory round his head, in these later days, he is such a being. Papa thinks I have have sold my soul for genius..mere genius. Which I might have done when I was younger, if I had had the opportunity,..but am in no danger of doing now. For my sake, for the love of me, from an infatuation which from first to last has astonished me,..he has consented to occupy for a moment a questionable position-But those who question most, will do him justice fullest--& we must wait a little with resignation. In the meantime, what he is, & what he is to me I would fain teach you--Have faith in me to believe it. He puts out all his great faculties to give me pleasure & comfort,..charms me into thinking of him when he sees my thought wandering..forces to me to smile in spite of all of them-If you have seen him that day in Orleans-He laid me down on the bed & sate by me for hours, pouring out floods of tenderness & goodness, & promising to win back for me with God's help, the affection of such of you as were angry- And he loves me more and more-Today we have been together a fortnight, & he said to me with a deep, serious tenderness..'I kissed your feet, my Ba, before I married you--but now I would kiss the ground under your feet, I love you with so much greater love.' And this it true , I see & feel. I feel to have the power of making him happy..I feel to have it in my hands. It is strange that anyone so brilliant should love me-but true & strange it is..& it is impossible for me to doubt it any more-Perfectly happy therefore we should be, if I could look back on you all without this pang-His family have been very kind. His father considered him of age to judge, & never thought of interfering otherwise than by saying at the last moment..'Give your wife a kiss from me'..this, when they parted. His sister sent me a little travelling writing desk, with a written..'EBB, from her sister Sarianna'-Nobody was displeased at the reserved used towards them, understanding that there were reasons for it which did not detract from his affection for them & my respect."

Aha, remember when Browning told her not to bring a writing desk because he already had one? The secret wedding present from the sister-in-law. The happiest sentence in this paragraph is "I feel to have the power of making him happy." This is a huge leap for the woman who refused for months to commit to him because she was convinced that she would ruin his life.

"I told you that Mrs. Jameson was travelling with us, & that we had seen a great deal of her in Paris. She repeats, of Robert, that she never knew anyone of so affluent a mind & imagination combined with a nature & manners so sunshiney & captivating-Which she well may say..for he amuses us from morning till night,--thinks of everybody's feeling, witty & wise, (& foolish too in the right place) charms cross old women who cry out in the diligence 'mais, madame, mes jamebes! [but, madame, my legs]..talks latin to the priests, who enquire at three in the morning whether Newman & Pusey are likely 'lapsare in errorbus' [to lapse into error] (you will make out that) & forgets nothing & nobody..except is the only omission. He has won Wilson's heart I do assure you--& by the way, Wilson is excellent & active beyond what I could have expected of her. Most affectionate & devoted she has been to me throughout, & now she is not scared of the French, but has learned already to get warm water & coffee & bread & butter.....

....And I must not forget to tell you what Mrs. Jameson said the other day to me,..'Well, it is the most charming thing to see you & Mr. Browning together! If two persons were to be chosen from the ends of the earth for perfect union & fitness, there could not be a greater congruity than between you two-' Which I tell you, because I think it will please you to hear what is an honest impression of hers, though for too great a compliment to me-(The only thing she objects to, is his way of calling me 'Ba'..which I like: & which she never will talk him out of, I am confident because he likes it as well-) And for the rest, if he is brilliant & I am dull, (socially speaking) Love makes a level--which is my comfort....

...Two separate (not following, of course) nights we have passed in the diligence;-& I have had otherwise a good deal of fatigue which had done me no essential harm. I am taken such care of, so pillowed by arms & carried up & down stairs against my will, spoilt & considered in every possible way...And do you feel & know, that as for me..for my position as a is awfully happy for this world. He is too good & tender, & beyond me in all things--& we love each other with a love that grows instead of diminishing. I speak of such things rather than of the cathedral at Bourges, because is of these, I feel sure, that you desire knowledge rather...

...Flush is very gracious, & behaves perfectly--but moans & wails on the railroad, when the barbarians insist on putting him into a box...

...I meant you to have the letters on hour after I left Wimpole Street-It was very unhappy--I grieve for it. As to going to Bookham, I had thought of that once--but the wrong to you would have been greater, to have spoilt & clouded the new scene, instead of allowing it to be a resource to you--Be happy, my dearest ones- I will write, be sure-"

This last reference to wanting the family to have the letters she sent an hour after she left Wimpole Street, I have often wondered at. They left late in the afternoon and presumably posted the letters as they left. Hers sisters would have wondered where she was fairly early in the evening but perhaps thought she was visiting. I have often wondered how panicked the household was when Wilson, Flush and Ba were missing and did not return to the house that evening. Did they think she had simply gone out and run into an accident? Was she at Mr. Boyd's? We do not see that side of the household, but I imagine that there might well have been a lot of anxiety about the missing invalid. If the letters were delayed until very late in the evening or to the morning of  the next day I can see the family being very distressed and ultimately very angry. This mail error could well have added to the angry tone of the letters from Mr. Barrett and George.

But Mrs. Browning seems to be beyond happy on her trip across Europe. I have left out quite long descriptions of their walks, visits to churches and museums, focusing instead on the personal relations. I highly recommend the letters to both of her sisters; Mrs. Browning is a genius travel writer. The world has opened up to her and her happiness shows in her descriptions of her travels.