Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12, 1845

Browning writes to Miss Barrett on October 12, 1845 in the midst of the Italian crisis in Wimpole Street:

These are bad news, dearest—all bad, except the enduring comfort of your regard; the illness of your brother is worst .. that would stay you, and is the first proper obstacle: I shall not attempt to speak and prove my feelings,—you know what even Flush is to me thro’ you: I wait in anxiety for the next account.

If after all you do not go to Pisa,—why, we must be cheerful and wise, and take courage and hope: I cannot but see with your eyes and from your place, you know,—and will let this all be one surprizing and deplorable mistake of mere love and care .. but no such another mistake ought to be suffered, if you escape the effects of this. I will not cease to believe in a better event, till the very last, however, and it is a deep satisfaction that all has been made plain and straight up to this strange and sad interposition like a bar—you have done your part, at least—with all that forethought and counsel from friends and adequate judges of the case—so, if the bar will not move, you will consider,—will you not, dearest?—where one may best encamp in the unforbidden country and wait the spring and fine weather—would it be advisable to go where Mr Kenyon suggested? or elsewhere– Oh, these vain wishes .. the will here, and no means!"
The only 'unforbidden country' is Wimpole Street.

"My life is bound up with yours—my own, first and last love. What wonder if I feared to tire you—I who,—knowing you as I do, admiring what is so admirable (let me speak), loving what must needs be loved, fain to learn what you only can teach,—proud of so much, happy in so much of you,—I, who, for all this, neither come to admire, nor feel proud, nor be taught,—but only, only to live with you and be by you—that is love—for I know the rest, as I say. I know those qualities are in you .. but at them I could get in so many ways .. I have your books, here are my letters you give me,—you would answer my questions were I in Pisa—well, and it all would amount to nothing, infinitely much as I know it is,—to nothing if I could not sit by you and see you .. I can stop at that, but not before: and it seems strange to me how little .. less than little I have laid open of my feelings, the nature of them to you– I smile to think how if all this while I had been acting with the profoundest policy in intention, so as to pledge myself to nothing I could not afterwards perform with the most perfect ease & security, I should have done not much unlike what I have done—to be sure, one word includes many or all .. but I have not said .. what I will not even now say .. you will know—in God’s time to which I trust."
This is a wonderfully loving paragraph and just what she needs right now. But notice how he says everything by saying nothing. He professes that he has said nothing of what he feels and yet he conveys a magnificent love unsaid and unshown, "one word includes many or all". The brilliant poet who cannot find the words conveys a love much more powerful than the words of the brilliant poet. He uses this gambit repeatedly in these letters. Do I use 'gambit' in a negative sense? Not necessarily if we believe he truly feels unable to put words to his feelings.

"I will answer your note now—the questions. I did go—(it may amuse you to write on)—to Moxon’s: first let me tell that when I called there the Saturday before, his brother (in his absence) informed me, replying to the question when it came naturally in turn (with a round of like inquiries)—that your poems continued to sell 'singularly well'—they would 'end in bringing a clear profit,' he said: I thought to catch him, and asked if they had done so .. 'Oh,—not at the beginning—it takes more time'—he answered. On Thursday I saw Moxon—he spoke rather encouragingly of my own prospects– I send him a sheetful tomorrow, I believe, and we are 'out' on the 1st of next month. Tennyson, by the way, has got his pension, £200 per annum—by the other way, Moxon has bought the m.s.s of Keats in the possession of Taylor the publisher, and is going to bring out a complete edition,—which is pleasant to hear."
He uses the secret nature of his friendship with Miss Barrett to test Moxon and see if they are cheating Miss Barrett. Very sly.

"After settling with Moxon I went to Mrs Carlyle’s—who told me characteristic quaintnesses of Carlyle’s father and mother over the tea she gave me. And all yesterday, you are to know, I was in a permanent mortal frightfor my uncle came in the morning to intreat me to go to Paris in the evening about some urgent business of his,—a five-minutes’ matter with his brother there,—and the affair being really urgent and material to his and the brother’s interest, and no substitute being to be thought of, I was forced to promise to go—in case a letter, which would arrive in town at noon, should not prove satisfactory: so I calculated times, and found I could be at Paris to-morrow, and back again, certainly by wednesday—and so not lose you on that day– Oh, the fear I had!—but I was sure then & now, that the 17th would not see you depart. But night came, and the last Dover train left, and I drew breath freely—this morning I find the letter was all right—so may it be with all worse apprehensions! What you fear, precisely that, never happens, as Napoleon observed and thereon grew bold. I had stipulated for an hour’s notice, if go I must—and that was to be wholly spent in writing to you—for in quiet consternation my mother cared for my carpet bag."
He was going to tear up the road to Paris and back so that he could see Miss Barrett on Wednesday before she left. The boy has is bad.

"And so, I shall hear from you to-morrow .. that is, you will write then, telling me all about your brother: as for what you say, with the kindest intentions, 'of fever-contagion' & keeping away on Wednesday on that account, it is indeed 'out of the question',—for a first reason,—which dispenses with any second,—because I disbelieve altogether in contagion from fevers, and especially from typhus fevers—as do much better-informed men than myself– I speak quite advisedly: if there should be only that reason, therefore, you will not deprive me of the happiness of seeing you next Wednesday."
No, nothing is going to stop Browning from seeing his lady. Heaven help greater London if 50 Wimpole Street was a plague house.

"I am not well—have a cold, influenza or some unpleasant thing, but am better than yesterday– My mother is much better, I think (she and my sister are resolute non-contagionists, mind you that!)

God bless you and all you love! dearest, I am your RB"
So, despite his cold he writes a bright loving letter at just the moment that Miss Barrett needs a bright loving letter.

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