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.

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