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.

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