Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13, 1845

This letter was apparently begun October 11 and was written over three days as Miss Barrett awaited her father's opinion on her travelling to Italy:
"It was the merest foolishness in me to write about fevers & the rest as I did today, just as if it could do any good all the wringing of hands in the world. And there is no typhus yet .. & no danger of any sort I hope & trust!—and how weak it is that habit of spreading the cloud which is in you all around you, how weak & selfish .. & unlike what you would do .. just as you are unlike Mr Kenyon– And you are unlike him—& you were right on thursday when you said so, & I was wrong in setting up a phrase on the other side .. only what I said came by an instinct because you seemed to be giving him all the sunshine to use & carry, which should not be after all. But you are unlike him & must be .. seeing that the producers must differ from the ‘nati consumere fruges [born to consume earth's fruits]’ in the intellectual as in the material. You create & he enjoys, & the work makes you pale & the pleasure makes him ruddy, & it is so of a necessity. So differs the man of genius from the man of letters—& then dear Mr Kenyon is not even a man of letters in a full sense .. he is rather a Sybarite of letters: Do you think he ever knew what mental labour is? I fancy not. Not more than he has known what mental inspiration is! And not more than he has known what the strife of the heart is .. with all his tenderness & sensibility. He seems to me to evade pain, & where he suffers at all to do so rather negatively than positively .. if you understand what I mean by that .. rather by a want than by a blow: the secret of all being that he has a certain latetudinarianism (not indifferentism) in his life & affections, & has no capacity for concentration & intensity– Partly by temperament & partly by philosophy he contrives to keep the sunny side of the street—though never inclined to forget the blind man at the corner. Ah, dear Mr Kenyon—he is magnanimous in toleration, & excellent in sympathy—& he has the love of beauty & the reverence of geniusbut the faculty of worship he has not: he will not worship aright either your heroes or your gods .. & while you do it he only ‘tolerates’ the act in you. Once he said .. not to me .. but I heard of it,—'What, if genius should be nothing but scrofula'?—and he doubts (I very much fear) whether the world is not governed by a throw of those very same ‘loaded dice’, & no otherwise. Yet he reveres genius in the acting of it, & recognizes a God in creation—only it is but ‘so far’, & not farther. At least I think not—& I have a right to think what I please of him, holding him as I do, in such true affectionOne of the kindest & most indulgent of human beings has he been to me, & I am happy to be grateful to him."
She upbraids herself for her selfishness in being downcast and compares herself with Browning who she imagines would never sow bitter thoughts. She then compares Kenyon with Browning, much to Kenyon's disesteem, for she rather unloads on Mr. Kenyon. I can't help but think this comes from her disappointment in not being permitted Italy. Kenyon, who like herself fears confrontation, shows his sympathy that she cannot go to Italy but makes no real effort on her behalf with her father, although it is unclear that he would have had any kind of influence on that party. I enjoy her "& I have a right to think what I please of him..." Yes, she does. Miss Barrett certainly has her opinions and she does not spare herself while she is expressing them.

"Sunday – The Duke of Palmella takes the whole vessel for the 20th & therefore if I go it must be on the 17th Therefore (besides) as George must be on sessions tomorrow, he will settle the question with Papa tonight. In the meantime our poor Occy is not much better .. though a little .. & is ordered leeches on his head & is confined to his bed & attended by physician & surgeon. It is not decided typhus .. but they will not answer for its not being infectious .. & although he is quite at the top of the house .. two stories above me .. I shall not like you to come indeed. And then there will be only room for a farewell, & I who am a coward shrink from the saying of it—. No– Not being able to see you tomorrow, (Mr Kenyon is to be here tomorrow, he says) let us agree—throw away wednesday—I will write, .. you will write perhaps—& above all things you will promise to write by the ‘Star’ on monday, that the captain may give me your letter at Gibraltar. You promise? But I shall hear from you before then, & oftener than once, & you will acquiesce about wednesday & grant at once that there can be no gain, no good, in that miserable goodbye-ing. I do not want the pain of it to remember you by—I shall remember very well without it, be sure. Still it shall be as you like .. as you shall choose; & if you are disappointed about wednesday .. (if it is not vain in me to talk of disappointments) why do with wednesday as you think best .... always understanding that there’s no risk of infection …"
She has convinced herself, since writing her earlier doubts, that George will convince her father that she should go. She is trying to decide how best to leave her boy. I seriously doubt that Browning would allow her to go without coming to see her even if there was infection in the house. How sweet she is to call herself vain for thinking he could be disappointed in not getting to see her. She does not spare herself, always being self -aware.

"Monday/ All this I had written yesterday—& today it all is worse than vainDo not be angry with me—do not think it my fault––but I do not go to Italy .. it has ended as I feared. What passed between George & Papa there is no need of telling:—only the latter said that I 'might go if I pleased, but that going it would be under his heaviest displeasure.' George, in great indignation, pressed the question fully .. but all was vain .. & I am left in this position .. to go, if I please, with his displeasure over me, (which after what you have said & after what Mr Kenyon has said, & after what my own conscience & deepest moral convictions say aloud, I would unhesitatingly do at this hour!) and necessarily run the risk of exposing my sister & brother to that same displeasure .. from which risk I shrink & fall back & feel that to incur it, is impossible. Dear Mr Kenyon has been here & we have been talking—& he sees what I see .. that I am justified in going myself, but not in bringing others into difficulty. The very kindness & goodness with which they desire me (both my sisters) 'not to think of them,' naturally makes me think more of them——. And so, tell me that I am not wrong in taking up my chain again & acquiescing in this hard necessity. The bitterest fact of all is, that I had believed Papa to have loved me more than he obviously does—: but I never regret knowledge .. I mean I never would unknow anything .. even were it the taste of the apples by the Dead sea—& this must be accepted like the rest. In the meantime your letter comes … and if I could seem to be very unhappy after reading it .. why it would be ‘all pretence’ on my part, believe me. Can you care for me so much .. you? Then that is light enough to account for all the shadows, & to make them almost unregarded—the shadows of the life behind. Moreover dear Occy is somewhat better—with a pulse only at ninety: & the doctors declare that visitors may come to the house without any manner of danger. Or I should not trust to your theories—no, indeed! it was not that I expected you to be afraid, but that I was afraid—and if I am not ashamed for that, why at least I am, for being ‘lache [cowardly]’ about wednesday, when you thought of hurrying back from Paris only for it!– You could think that!– You can care for me so much!—(I come to it again!)– When I hold some words to my eyes .. such as these in this letter .. I can see nothing beyond them .. no evil, no want– There is no evil & no want– Am I wrong in the decision about Italy? Could I do otherwise? I had courage & to spare—but the question, you see, did not regard myself wholly. For the rest, the 'unforbidden country' lies within these four walls. Madeira was proposed in vain—& any part of England would be as objectionable as Italy, & not more advantageous to me than Wimpole Street. To take courage & be cheerful, as you say, is left as an alternative—& (the winter may be mild!) to fall into the hands of God rather than of man. & I shall be here for your November number."
The realization that her father did not love her did not come simply from his expression of displeasure at her going abroad for her health. This came more likely from his withdrawing his nightly prayers from her as she reported in her previous letter. What Christian man would withdraw his prayers from his child in such a way? It was simple manipulation which she seemed to recognize for the first time. Browning has brought a light and love into her life which has permitted her to see her surroundings in a new way. Browning demonstrates a love she cannot fully fathom by describing his panic at having to going to Paris and perhaps miss seeing her before she leaves the country.

"And now that you are not well, will you take care?—& not come on wednesday unless you are better?—& never again bring me wet flowers, which probably did all the harm on thursday?. I was afraid for you then, though I said nothing. May God bless you. Ever yours I am—your own."
She even has opinions about wet flowers.

"Ninety is not a high pulse .. for a fever of this kind—is it? and the heat diminishes: & his spirits are better—& we are all much easier .. have been both today & yesterday indeed."
So, she is not going to Italy. At least not yet. And she sees her father in a new light. I believe that we have reached the point where Papa Barrett begins to decrease while Mr. Browning is increasing by the day.

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