Saturday, October 6, 2012

October 6, 1845

Miss Barrett writes October 6, 1845 to tell Browning of the arrangements she is making to depart for Italy:

"Tuesday is given up in full council. The thing is beyond doubting of, as George says and as you thought yesterday. And then George has it in his head to beguile the Duke of Palmella out of a smaller cabin, so that I might sail from the Thames on the twentieth—and whether he succeeds or not, I humbly confess that one of the chief advantages of the new plan if not the very chief (as I see it) is just in the delay."

I wonder how George knew the Duke of Palmella? Who is the Duke of Palmella? Wikipedia knows who he is but does not know how George knew the Duke. That would be too obscure even for them.

"Your spring-song is full of beauty as you know very well—and 'that's the wise thrush,' so characteristic of you (and of the thrush too) that I was sorely tempted to ask you to write it 'twice over,' ... and not send the first copy to Mary Hunter notwithstanding my promise to her. And now when you come to print these fragments, would it not be well if you were to stoop to the vulgarism of prefixing some word of introduction, as other people do, you know, ... a title ... a name? You perplex your readers often by casting yourself on their intelligence in these things—and although it is true that readers in general are stupid and can't understand, it is still more true that they are lazy and won't understand ... and they don't catch your point of sight at first unless you think it worth while to push them by the shoulders and force them into the right place. Now these fragments ... you mean to print them with a line between ... and not one word at the top of it ... now don't you! And then people will read

Oh, to be in England

and say to themselves ... 'Why who is this? ... who's out of England?' Which is an extreme case of course; but you will see what I mean ... and often I have observed how some of the very most beautiful of your lyrics have suffered just from your disdain of the usual tactics of writers in this one respect."
How charmingly she teazes him about his obscure and mysterious poetry, giving him a little prod to make his poems more marketable. She could probably tell him anything and he would think it was brilliant, but as one of the 'stupid' readers out here I have to say that she was correct. Although simple titles would only have been a start. I would have to have absorbed every book in Browning Senior's library to keep up with Browning Junior's allusions. Forget his antic thought process.

"And you are not better, still—you are worse instead of better ... are you not? Tell me—And what can you mean about 'unimportance,' when you were worse last week ... this expiring week ... than ever before, by your own confession? And now?—And your mother?

Yes—I promise! And so, ... Elijah will be missed instead of his mantle ... which will be a losing contract after all. But it shall be as you say. May you be able to say that you are better! God bless you. Ever yours."

She is promising to allow the thoughts of Browning to keep her warm since she cannot accept his cloak for her trip to Italy. Browning is her prophet Elijah, although I fear that he got this prophesy wrong.

"Never think of the 'White Slave.' I had just taken it up. The trash of it is prodigious—far beyond Mr. Smythe. Not that I can settle upon a book just now, in all this wind, to judge of it fairly."

This review of 'White Slave' makes me curious. Prodigious trash has a strange appeal to me.
Browning is interested enough in the goings on to write back the same day:

"I should certainly think that the Duke of Palmella may be induced, and with no great difficulty, to give up a cabin under the circumstances—and then the plan becomes really objection-proof, so far as mortal plans go. But now you must think all the boldlier about whatever difficulties remain, just because they are so much the fewer. It is cold already in the mornings and evenings—cold and (this morning) foggy—I did not ask if you continue to go out from time to time.... I am sure you should,—you would so prepare yourself properly for the fatigue and change—yesterday it was very warm and fine in the afternoon, nor is this noontime so bad, if the requisite precautions are taken. And do make 'journeys across the room,' and out of it, meanwhile, and stand when possible—get all the strength ready, now that so much is to be spent. Oh, if I were by you!"

I assume by this that Browning had never seen Miss Barrett stand or walk. He has seen her at least weekly since May and apparently she did not rise to meet him. So, when she informed him in her previous letter that she walked across the room to check Shelley's date of birth, he apparently was quite astonished. Here he is encouraging her to simply stand. So that fact that he had presumably offered to marry her back in May shows a nobility that seems almost insane. I say this every so often: Miss Barrett must have been an amazing person that he would be willing to take on her care after only one meeting. What was it that he saw in that meeting?

"Thank you, thank you—I will devise titles—I quite see what you say, now you do say it. I am (this Monday morning, the prescribed day for efforts and beginnings) looking over and correcting what you read—to press they shall go, and then the plays can follow gently, and then ... 'Oh to be in Pisa. Now that E.B.B. is there!'—And I shall be there!... I am much better to-day; and my mother better—and to-morrow I shall see you—So come good things together!

Dearest—till to-morrow and ever I am yours, wholly yours—May God bless you! R.B.

You do not ask me that 'boon'—why is that?—Besides, I have my own real boons to ask too, as you will inevitably find, and I shall perhaps get heart by your example."

I told you he would make whatever changes she suggested to his poetry; love may not cure the blind but it certainly permits for some flexibility in the business of poetry. It is funny to read biographies by the Browning lovers who all disdain that fact that Browning took Miss Barrett's suggestions seriously. They are such snobs. I am no poet and no poetry critic, but her suggestions were simply to make his poems more marketable.  She agrees with him that the general public was 'stupid' but her poems certainly sold better than his. Ever so.

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