Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29, 1845

This letter from Miss Barrett was written immediately following the letter mailed November 28, but did not make the post until November 29th when she finally sent off the offering of her hair.

"Saturday evening

This is the mere postscript to the letter I have just sent away. By a few minutes too late, comes what I have all day been waiting for, .. & besides (now it is just too late!) now I may have a skein of silk if I please, to make that knot with, .. for want of which, two locks, meant for you, have been devoted to the infernal gods already .. fallen into a tangle & thrown into the fire .. & all the hair of my head might have followed, for I was losing my patience & temper fast, .. & the post to boot. So wisely I shut my letter, (after unwisely having driven everything to the last moment!)—& now I have silk to tie fast with .. to tie a ‘nodus’ .. ‘dignus’['a knot come worthy'] of the celestial interposition—& a new packet shall be ready to go to you directly."
I should love to see Miss Barrett lose her temper. Do you suppose, despite all her shy ways, that when really torqued she swore like a sailor and made emphatic gestures with her fingers the way the bowmen did at Agincourt?

"At last I remember to tell you that the first letter you had from me this week, was forgotten, (not by me) forgotten, & detained, so, from the post—a piece of carelessness which Wilson came to confess to me too frankly for me to grumble as I should have done otherwise.

For the staying longer, I did not mean to say you were wrong not to stay. In the first place you were keeping your father ‘in a maze’, as you said yourself—& then, even without that, I never know what o’-clock it is .. never. Mr Kenyon tells me that I must live in a dream—which I do.—time goes .. seeming to go round rather than go forward. The watch I have, broke its spring two years ago, & there, I leave it in the drawer .. & the clocks all round, strike out of hearing, or at best, when the wind brings the sound, one upon another in a confusion. So you know more of time than I do or can."
There is a major gift hint. Men, pay attention to these little hints. It helps around birthdays, anniversaries and corporately mandated gift days like Valentines and Mothers Day.

"Till monday then! I send the ‘Ricordi’ to take care of the rest .. of mine. It is a touching story—& there is an impracticable nobleness from end to end in the spirit of it. How slow (to the ear & mind) that Italian rhetoric is! a language for dreamers & declaimers. Yet Dante made it for action—& Machiavelli’s prose can walk & strike as well as float & faint.

The ring is smaller than I feared at first, & may perhaps.—

Now you will not say a word. My excuse is that you had nothing to remember me by, while I had this & this & this & this .. had much too much!

If I could be too much

Your EBB"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 28, 1845

We begin today with a letter from Browning:

"Take it, dearest,—what I am forced to think you mean—and take no more with it—for I gave all to give long ago. I am all yours—and now, mine,—give me mine to be happy with!"
Browning has included a lock of hair wrapped in paper with the inscription "Nov. 28, 1845". Miss Barrett has written on the envelope of this letter "Hair". A fairly simple transaction. So far.

"You will have received my note of yesterday. —I am glad you are satisfied with Miss Bayley, whom I, too, thank .. that is, sympathize with, .. (not wonder at, though)—for her intention .. Well, may it all be for best—here or at Pisa, you are my blessing and life.

.. How all considerate you are, you that are the kind, kind one! The post arrangement I will remember—to-day, for instance, will this reach you at 8? I shall be with you then, in thought. 'Forget you!'—what does that mean, dearest?

And I might have stayed longer and you let me go—what does that mean, also tell me? Why, I make up my mind to go, always, like a man, and praise myself as I get thro’ it—as when one plunges into the cold water—only .. ah, that too is no more a merit than any other thing I do .. there is the reward, the last and best! Or is it the 'lure'?

I would not be ashamed of my soul if it might be shown you,—it is wholly grateful, conscious of you.

But another time, do not let me wrong myself so! Say, 'one minute more'–

On Monday?– I am much better—and, having got free from an engagement for Saturday, shall stay quietly here and think the post never intending to come—for you will not let me wait longer?
Okay, now here is the beginning of one of the most extraordinary exchanges of the correspondence:

"Shall I dare write down a grievance of my heart’s and not offend you? Yes, trusting in the right of my love. You tell me, sweet, here in the letter, 'I do not look so well'—and sometimes, I 'look better' .. how do you know? When I first saw you—I saw your eyes—since then, you, it should appear, see mine—but I only know yours are there, and have to use that memory as if one carried dried flowers about when fairly inside the garden-enclosure: and while I resolve, and hesitate, and resolve again to complain of this,—(kissing your foot .. not boldly complaining, nor rudely)—while I have this on my mind, on my heart, ever since that May morning .. can it be?

—No, nothing can be wrong now—you will never call me 'kind' again, in that sense you promise! Nor think 'bitterly' of my kindness, that word!

Shall I see you on Monday?

God bless my dearest. I see her now—and here and now the eyes open, wide enough, and I will kiss them—how gratefully!

Your own RB"
He visits her at least once a week (a full 48 hours!) and she is too shy to look at him and he is too shy to place his finger under her chin and lift her full face into his sight. What a pair they make. He can only address this subject in a letter sent by the penny post across London. How ever will they make it in the world without the protection of their families?
And back comes Miss Barrett's response the same day:
It comes at eight oclock—the post says eight .. I say nearer half past eight ..: it comes—and I thank you, thank you, as I can. Do you remember the purple lock of a king on which hung the fate of a city? I do! And I need not in conscience—because this one here did not come to me by treason—‘ego et rex meus [my King and I],’ on the contrary, do fairly give & take.
She has received Browning's lock of hair.
Fun with footnotes: "Nisus, King of Megara, 'had growing on his head, amidst his locks of honoured grey, a brilliant purple lock on whose preservation rested the safety of his throne' (Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, 8–10)."
She now explains about her own gift:
"I meant at first only to send you what is in the ring .. which, by the way, will not fit you I know—(not certainly in the finger which it was meant for ..) as it would not Napoleon before you .. but can easily be altered to the right size– I meant at first to send you only what was in the ring: but your fashion is best so you shall have it both ways. Now dont say a word on monday .. nor at all. As for the ring, recollect that I am forced to feel blindfold into the outer world, & take what is nearest .. by chance, not choice .. or it might have been better—a little better—perhaps– The best of it is that it’s the colour of your blue flowers– Now you will not say a word—I trust to you."
She sent her hair in a too small ring which had BA inscribed on an oval bezel and the hair set behind glass under the bezel. I guess it would be less conspicuous that way. She also sent hair wrapped in paper as he had. BUT DO NOT MENTION IT!!!!!
It is enough that you should have said these others I think. Now is it just of you? is’nt it hard upon me? And if the charge is true, whose fault is it, pray? I have been ashamed & vexed with myself fifty times for being so like a little girl, .. for seeming to have 'affectations'; & all in vain: ‘it was stronger than I,’ as the French say. And for you to complain! As if Haroun Alraschid after cutting off a head, should complain of the want of an obeissance.!– Well!—I smile notwithstanding. Nobody could help smiling—both for my foolishness which is great I confess, though somewhat exaggerated in your statement—(because if it was quite as bad as you say, you know, I never should have seen you .. & I have!—) & also for yours .. because you take such a very preposterously wrong way for overcoming anybody’s shyness. Do you know, I have laughed .. really laughed at your letter– No—it has not been so bad. I have seen you at every visit, as well as I could with both eyes wide open—only that by a supernatural influence they wont stay open with you as they are used to do with other people .. so now I tell you. And for the rest I promise nothing at all—as how can I, when it is quite beyond my controul—& you have not improved my capabilities .. do you think you have? Why what nonsense we have come to .. we, who ought to be ‘talking Greek’!, said Mr Kenyon.!!"
Correct me my little Blogoleers--but does she not seem to be saying that she sits and talks with him with her eyes closed? And that she cannot promise to keep her eyes open when she is with him? So maybe my notion of simply lifting her chin to facilitated eye contact will not be successful after all. Well, at least she has a sense of humor about the whole thing. Hopefully this will open a whole new avenue of eye gazing for our poets. She cannot write that she loves him in her letters and she cannot maintain eye contact with him, but she can write the most beautifully raw sonnets about him--which she will not show him until they have been married four years.
"Yes—he came & talked of you, & told me how you had been speaking of .. me; & I have been thinking how I should have been proud of it a year ago, & how I could half scold you for it now– Ah yes—& Mr Kenyon told me that you had spoken exaggerations—such exaggerations! —Now should there not be some scolding .. some?
But how did you expect Mr Kenyon to ‘wonder’ at you, or be ‘vexed’ with you? That would have been strange surely. You are & always have been a chief favorite in that quarter .. appreciated, praised, loved, I think.
While I write, .. a letter from America is put into my hands; & having read it through with shame & confusion of face .. not able to help a smile though notwithstanding, .. I send it to you to show how you have made me behave!—to say nothing of my other offences to the kind people at Boston—& to a stray gentleman in Philadelphia who is to perform a pilgrimage next year, he says, .. to visit the Holy Land & your EBB. I was naughty enough to take that letter to be a circular .. for the address of various 'Europaians.' In any case .. just see how I have behaved!—& if it has not been worse than .. not opening one’s eyes! Judge. Really & gravely I am ashamed—I mean as to Mr Mathews, who has been an earnest, kind friend to me—& I do mean to behave better– I say that to prevent your scolding, you know. And think of Mr Poe, with that great Roman justice of his, (if not rather American!) dedicating a book to one & abusing one in the preface of the same. He wrote a review of me in just that spirit—the two extremes of laudation & reprehension, folded in on one another– You would have thought that it had been written by a friend & foe, each stark mad with love & hate, & writing the alternate paragraphs—a most curious production indeed."
She is mockingly upbraiding herself for not getting Mr. Mathews' book reviewed in London. And it is true that Poe dedicated his book "The Raven and other Poems" to Miss Barrett while simultaneously publishing two negative reviews of her poems. It is supposed by many that Poe, shall we say 'borrowed' rather than 'stole', Miss Barrett's rhythm to use in "The Raven" and thus felt an obligation to honor her with a nod. I do not think that she cared that he wrote negative reviews of her poems. She never does seem to complain of harsh reviews.
"And here I shall end– I have been waiting .. waiting for what does not come .. the ring .. sent to have the hair put in—but it wont come (now) until too late for the post, & you must hear from me before monday .. you ought to have heard today. It has not been my fault—I have waited. Oh these people!—who wont remember that it is possible to be out of patience!– So I send you my letter now .. & what is in the paper now .. & the rest, you shall have after monday. And you will not say a word .. not then .. not at all!– I trust you. And may God bless you–"
"If ever you care less for me—I do not say it in distrust of you .. I trust you wholly—but you are a man, & free to care less, .. & if ever you do .. why in that case you will destroy, burn, .. do all but send back .. enough is said for you to understand.
May God bless you– You are best to me .. best .. as I see .. in the world—& so, dearest aright to
Your EBB–
Finished on saturday evening. Oh—this thread of silk—and the post!! After all you must wait till tuesday. I have no silk within reach & shall miss the post. Do forgive me–"
It has been a fun letter day. All of the letters are interesting in their way, but today's were especially fun. By the standards of our modern world this all seems so very odd. Is it even possible that these people existed? If these letters where a work of fiction I might admire the beauty of the words and the sentiments expressed but I would say that the author was an out of control romantic portraying people who could never have possibly existed. And yet they did, in a era that is gone forever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27, 1845

Just a short note from Browning today:

"Thursday Mg

How are you; and Miss Bailey’s visit yesterday, and Mr K’s to-day. —(He told me he should see you this morning—and I shall pass close by, having to be in Town and near you,—but only the thought will reach you and be with you–) Tell me of all this, dearest.

How kind Mr Kenyon was last night and the day before! He neither wonders nor is much vexed, I dare believe—and I write now these few words to say so– My heart is set on next Monday, remember .. and the prize of Saturday! oh, dearest, believe for truth’s sake, that I would most frankly own to any fault, any imperfection in the beginning of my love of you,—in the pride and security of this present stage it has reached– I would gladly learn, by the full light now, what an insufficient glimmer it grew from, .. but there never has been change, only development and increased knowledge and strengthened feeling– I was made and meant to look for you and wait for you and become yours for ever. God bless you, and make me thankful!

And you will give me that? what shall 'save me from wreck'—but truly? How must I feel to you!

Yours RB"
"How must I feel to you?" No kill I? Poets.....or more precisely stated: Browning.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

November 24, 1845

Miss Barrett began two letters to Browning on Monday, November 24, 1845. I think she is right in the middle of writing her Sonnet Sequence--as I suggested on November 17th. But today we get the clearest indication yet of where she drew her inspiration.


But what unlawful things have I said about ‘kindness’? I did not mean any harm—no, indeed! And as to thinking .. as to having ever thought, that you could ‘imitate’ (can this word be ‘imitate’?) an unfelt feeling or a feeling unsupposed to be felt .. I may solemnly assure you that I never, never did so. ‘Get up’—‘imitate’!! But it was the contrary .. all the contrary! From the beginning, now did I not believe you too much? Did I not believe you even in your contradiction of yourself .. in your yes & no on the same subject, .. & take the world to be turning round backwards & myself to have been shut up here till I grew mad, .. rather than disbelieve you either way? Well! you know it as well as I can tell you, & I will not, any more. If I have been ‘wrong’, it was not so .. nor indeed then .. it is not so, though it is now, perhaps."

For someone who likes to teaze she seems to have missed that Browning was teazing her a bit.

"Therefore .. but wait!—I never gave away what you ask me to give you, to a human being, except my nearest relatives & once or twice or thrice to female friends, .. never, though reproached for it! and it is just three weeks since I said last to an asker that I was 'too great a prude for such a thing'!!—it was best to anticipate the accusation!– And, prude or not, I could not—I never could—something would not let me. And now .. what am I to do .. 'for my own sake & not yours.'? Should you have it, or not? Why I suppose .. yes. I suppose that 'for my own sense of justice & in order to show that I was wrong' (which is wrong—you wrote a wrong word there .. ‘right,’ you meant!) 'to show that I was right & am no longer so', .. I suppose you must have it, 'Oh, you', who have your way in everything!"
These two are just too cute. Browning's request for a lock of Miss Barrett's hair, of course, brought forth Sonnett XVIII:
I never gave a lock of hair away
To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully
I ring out to the full brown length and say
“Take it.” My day of youth went yesterday;
My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,
Nor plant I it from rose- or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more: it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified,—
Take it thou,—finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

"Which does not mean .. Oh, vous, qui avez toujours raison ..![Oh, you, who are always right!] far from it.

Also … which does not mean that I shall give you what you ask for, tomorrow:——because I shall not .. & one of my conditions is (with others to follow) that not a word be said tomorrow,—you understand– Some day I will send it perhaps .. as you knew I should .. ah, as you knew I should .. notwithstanding that ‘getting up’ .. that 'imitation' .. of humility!—as you knew too well I should!

Only I will not teaze you as I might perhaps; & now that your headache has begun again—the headache again! the worse than headache! See what good my wishes do!– And try to understand that if I speak of my being 'wrong' now in relation to you .. of my being right before, & wrong now, .. I mean wrong for your sake, & not for mine .. wrong in letting you come out into the desert here to me, you whose place is by the waters of Damascus. But I need not tell you over again—you know– May God bless you till tomorrow & past it for ever. Mr Kenyon brought me your note yesterday to read about the ‘order in the button-hole’——ah!——or ‘oh, you,’ may I not re-echo? It enrages me to think of Mr Forster,—publishing too as he does, at a moment, the very sweepings of Landor’s desk! Is the motive of the reticence to be looked for somewhere among the cinders?– Too bad it is– So, till tomorrow! & you shall not be ‘kind’ any more.

Your EBB.

But how, ‘a foolish comment’? Good & true rather! And I admired the writing .. worthy of the reeds of Jordan!"
This is a reference to Browning's writing in Hebrew on the letter from Landor the line from Proverbs: "...and a good report maketh the bones fat." But she is not done today:

"Monday evening.

Now you must not blame me—you must not. To make a promise is one thing, & to keep it, quite another: & the conclusion you see ‘as from a tower’. Suppose I had an oath in heaven somewhere .. near to ‘coma Berenices’,"
Fun with footnotes: "The constellation of seven stars near the tail of Leo. When Berenice’s husband went on a dangerous expedition, she pledged all the hair of her head to Venus for his safe return. The consecrated locks later disappeared from the temple of Venus; and Conon, an astronomer, announced that Jupiter had carried them off and made a constellation of them."
".. never to give what you ask for! .. would not such an oath be stronger than a mere half promise such as I sent you a few hours ago? Admit that it would—& that I am not to blame for saying now .. (listen!) that I never can nor will give you this thing;—only that I will, if you please, exchange it for another thing—you understand. I too will avoid being ‘assuming’; I will not pretend to be generous, no, nor 'kind.' It shall be pure merchandise or nothing at all."
And this brought forth yet another sonnet--Sonnet XIX
The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize;
I barter curl for curl upon that mart,
And from my poet’s forehead to my heart
Receive this lock which outweighs argosies,—
As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes
The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart
The nine white Muse-brows. For this counterpart, . . .
The bay crown’s shade, Belovëd, I surmise,
Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!
Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,
I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,
And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.
"Therefore determine!—remembering always how our ‘ars poetica,’ after Horace, recommends 'dare et petere vicissim [In our turn we grant the like]'—which is making a clatter of pedantry to take advantage of the noise … because perhaps I ought to be ashamed to say this to you, & perhaps I am! .. yet say it none the less.

And .. less lightly .. if you have right & reason on your side, may I not have a little on mine too? And shall I not care, do you think, … Think!

Then there is another reason for me, entirely mine. You have come to me as a dream comes, as the best dreams come .. dearest—& so there is need to me of 'a sign' to know the difference between dream & vision– And that is my completest reason,—my own reason—you have none like it, .. none. A ticket to know the horn-gate from the ivory, .. ought I not to have it? Therefore send it to me before I send you anything, & if possible by that Lewisham post which was the most frequent bringer of your letters until these last few came, & which reaches me at eight in the evening when all the world is at dinner & my solitude most certain. Everything is so still then, that I have heard the footsteps of a letter of yours ten doors off .. or more, perhaps! Now, beware of imagining from this which I say, that there is a strict police for my correspondence .. (it is not so—) nor that I do not like hearing from you at any & every hour .. it is so. Only I would make the smoothest & sweetest of roads for .. & you understand, & do not imagine beyond."
FYI....Per The Odyssey: True dreams issue from the gate of horn, false dreams from the gate of ivory.
More fun with footnotes: "Both Lewisham and New Cross were outside the three mile limit from the General Post Office, placing them in the “Country Delivery of London District Post.” Each had four dispatches daily, but the dispatch from Lewisham left a quarter of an hour earlier than the one from New Cross."


"Tuesday evening–
Note that Browning visited on November 25 from 3:15 to 4:30pm before the above was mailed--so she continues:

"What is written is written, .. all the above: and it is forbidden to me to write a word of what I could write down here .. forbidden for good reasons– So I am silent on conditions .. those being .. first .. that you never do such things again .. no, you must not & shall not .. I will not let it be: & secondly, that you try to hear the unspoken words, & understand how your gift will remain with me while I remain .. they need not be said—just as it need not have been so beautiful, for that. The beauty drops ‘full fathom five’ into the deep thought which covers it– So I study my Machiavelli to contrive the possibility of wearing it, without being put to the question violently by all the curiosity of all my brothers, .. the questions ‘how’ .. ‘what’ .. ‘why’ .. put round & edgeways– They are famous, some of them, for asking questions. I say to them .. 'well! how many more questions'? And now .. for me—have I said a word?—have I not been obedient? And by rights & in justice, there should have been a reproach .. if there could! Because, friendship or more than friendship, Pisa or no Pisa, it was unnecessary altogether from you to me––but I have done, & you shall not be teazed."
Apparently Browning has brought and given Miss Barrett a piece of jewelry. We do not know what it was but I think it is clear she is thrilled.

"Wednesday/ Only .. I persist in the view of the other question. This will not do for the ‘sign, .. this, which, so far from being qualified for disproving a dream, is the beautiful image of a dream in itself .. so beautiful!—& with the very shut eyelids, & the 'little folding of the hands to sleep'! You see at a glance it will not do. And so.—

Just as one might be interrupted while telling a fairy-tale, .. in the midst of the 'and sos' .. just so, I have been interrupted by the coming in of Miss Bayley, & here she has been sitting for nearly two hours, from twelve to two nearly, & I like her, do you know. Not only she talks well, which was only a thing to expect, but she seems to feel .. to have great sensibility .. & her kindness to me .. kindness of manner & words & expression, all together .. quite touched me.– I did not think of her being so loveable a person. Yet it was kind & generous, her proposition about Italy, .. (did I tell you how she made it to me through Mr Kenyon long ago .. when I was a mere stranger to her?—) the proposition to go there with me herself– It was quite a grave, earnest proposal of her’s—which was one of the reasons why I could not even wish not to see her today. Because you see, it was a tremendous degree of experimental generosity, to think of going to Italy by sea with an invalid stranger, “seule á seule [alone]".And she was wholly in earnest, wholly. Is there not good in the world after all?"
Miss Bayley is kind and 'loveable', but....but....but....she is not Browning.

"Tell me how you are, for I am not at ease about you– You were not well even yesterday, I thought. If this goes on .. but it must’nt go on—oh, it must not. May God bless us more!–

Do not fancy, in the meantime, that you stay here ‘too long’ for any observation that can be made. In the first place there is nobody to ‘observe’—everybody is out till seven, except the one or two who will not observe if I tell them not– My sisters are glad when you come, because it is a gladness of mine, .. they observe– I have a great deal of liberty, to have so many chains,—we all have, in this house .. & though the liberty has melancholy motives, it saves some daily torment, & I do not complain of it for one."
"Do not leave at 4:30 next time...stay longer....," thus ends this thought bubble.

"May God bless you! Do not forget me. Say how you are. What good can I do you with all my thoughts, when you keep unwell? See!—facts are against fancies. As when I would not have the lamp lighted yesterday because it seemed to make it later, & you proved directly that it would not make it earlier, by getting up & going away!–

Wholly & ever your EBB."
The dear girl is enthralled and writing sonnet upon sonnet.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23, 1845

Browning writes two letters today. The first to his friend Alfred Domett. Browning, Domett and Arnould were three young men who formed a small clique, calling themselves 'The Colloquials'. They ran around town together, shared each other's ideas, read each others writing and were generally trying to find themselves. Yes, I would say that all night drinking sessions were common with them. Both Arnould and Domett went into law. Domett was probably the most ambitious of the group and left England for New Zealand, ultimately became the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Browning and Domett were very close, but Domett was very critical of Browning's poetry. He was not shy of telling Browning that his poems were too obscure to ever be popular with the public. This letter to Domett, Browning's description of writing the letter and the furtherance of their friendship is a very interesting aspect of Browning's life that I will comment on later.

"New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey.

Sunday Night, Nov. 23. 1845.

Ah, dear Domett, how sad it is—here am I writing in reply to your last, some six or eight weeks after its receipt, and yet 'availing myself of the earliest opportunity,' 'not letting next post slip,' and complying with every form of good fellowship: 'Mr Earp’s line' goes in and out of its place in the newspapers, describing the truest zigzag, and his last packet’s departure was put off a month—as I doubt not you know to your cost, laden as it must always be with the good wishes, put into words, of everybody who knows you. Your kindest of notes I got, and, thro’ Arnould, a sight of his letter, and a bit of one as reported by C. Dowson—then all those capital 'Examiners'—of which more in a moment—and, last of all, I manage every now & then to waylay your Father .. and if it were not for the purely selfish pleasure I confess to receiving on my part,—I would cry aloud to you for due acknowledgment of the unequivocal delight I give him in casing his love in words—we met not long ago in Regent’s Street—he, passing alone and erect and straight on like the lion he is, on his return from a call on Alexander, (whose report on the state of the eyes was quite favorable, he said)—and we 'had it out' to heart’s content: for—tho’ your last communications were in that desponding vein, we here, who knew of that recall of Fitzroy and the appointment of Grey, saw the sun unrisen on your far side, and made sure that your position would acquire value just in consequence of and in proportion to, its present disadvantages—and that you may plainly turn the past couple of years to their legitimate profit, nor have to begin afresh this wearisome 'going on adventures' to Ceylon or any such novel ground: oh, but this distance—this undoes everything—and between what we know and what it has become worth by when you know it, what a difference! Here a day or two, does so much! Chatterton can only go without food a certain number of hours, so he ends it, while at that moment some benevolent man .. see his name in Southey, I think,—is actually started on his way to Bristol 'to inquire into the circumstances of,—and, if necessary, assist—the author.' But do you, 'dear my friend and fellow student'—bear up like the good strong man you are,—'easy of me to say!'– God bless you in any case, and whenever the whole world dies off by any chance, be sure you find your way to me, and we two will keep house in the merry grim spirit of poor Hood’s last-man-but-one & the very last—do you remember? 'All the world wide, is dead beside, and we will be brother & brother'—(and if I go on and end the couplet, 'I’ve a liking for thee in my heart. As if we had come of one mother,' ‘it is not for the rhyme’, no! but the sober reason)."
You can well see the great affection between the two men.

"I read those 'leaders' with the greatest interest and satisfaction—they evidence so clearly your available talent—over above what I knew before: but now! You know best, best & best again! But, that admitted, why not have taken that happy opportunity, the offered representativeship, and gone there and 'jawed' if but in John Lilburne’s method; who when pilloried, or carted rather, 'did justify himself to all men'—whereon they gagged him and tied his hands lest he should gesticulate and explain something by that—'yet did he protest against them by a stamping with his feet'—to the no small comfort of his stout heart, I warrant. For see—out of this 'stamping of the feet,' tho’ the hands were tied & the mouth stopped, came the very decided opinion here which has overset your foolish Governor. And to-day: the affair of Despard—the outrageous folly of that man .. but you will see our papers for yourself, no doubt. It is most sickening to read or think of."
Domett at this time was editor of the Examiner, which was calling for the recall of the governor of New Zealand. There was a great deal of bloodshed between the newly arriving whites and the native Maori's who felt their land was being taken from them. This effort succeeded and the new governor did reign over a period of relative peace. However, by the time Domett took office as Prime Minister, some years later, they were in the midst of the 2nd Maori War. The reference to 'the affair of Despard' regards an attack on a Maori fortress which was a bloody failure with a loss of 121 of the 490 soldiers involved in the assault. This action took place in July 1845 and the news was just reaching England in November. By this time also, the governor had been replaced. There was much going on in the world besides our two poets mooning over each other, much that they were well aware of, but do not seem to discuss in their letters. All love is local.

"Let me get out of it: I have not seen Dowson very lately .. but he is well, I hear: Arnould is your heartiest of lovers and wellwishers, and my admirable friend as ever, and his wife is a true piece of him– My father, mother & sister are well, and send kindest regards .. (no figure; they have just enjoined me to send them)– A glance at any side of a newspaper tells you all our book news. Herewith goes my new Bell—'wishing what I write may be read by your light'– I send, too, a Review that may interest you at odd places. I saw Pritchard yesterday, full of this New Zealand news; always hoping & believing in you."
A mention of Pritchard, Browning's sailor friend.

God bless you, dear Domett; write to me if but a line; as you could not help doing if you knew how it gratifies your ever affectionate RB"
Browning now turns his pen to Miss Barrett:
"Sunday Night.
But a word to-night, my love—for my head aches a little,—I had to write a long letter to my friend at New Zealand, and now I want to sit and think of you and get well—but I must not quite lose the word I counted on.
So, that way you will take my two days and turn them against me? Oh, you! Did I say the 'root' had been striking then, or not rather, that the seeds, whence the roots take leisure and grow, they had been planted then—and might not a good heart & hand drop acorns enough to grow up into a complete Dodona-grove,—when the very rook, say farmers, hides and forgets whole navies of ship-wood one day to be, in his summer storing-journeys? But, this shall do– I am not going to prove what may be, when here it is, to my everlasting happiness.
"The oracle of Zeus at Dodona in Epirus was revealed by the rustling of the leaves of oak trees, which the priests interpreted." Browning is referring the the 48 hours that they had been together since May. Miss Barrett had not been impressed with the time together.
"—And 'I am kind'—there again! Do I not know what you mean by that? Well it is some comfort that you make all even in some degree, and take from my faculties here what you give them, spite of my protesting, in other directions. So I could not when I first saw you admire you very much, and wish for your friendship, and be willing to give you mine, and desirous of any opportunity of serving you, benefitting you,—I could not think the finding myself in a position to feel this, just this and no more, a sufficiently fortunate event .. but I must needs get up, or imitate, or .. what is it you fancy I do? .. an utterly distinct, unnecessary, inconsequential regard for you, which should,—when it got too hard for shamming at the week’s end,—should simply spoil, in its explosion and departure, all the real and sufficing elements of an honest life-long attachment and affection! that I should do this, and think it a piece of kindness does .."
Do you sense a touch of anger here? Browning seems to take it that Miss Barrett believes that the real affection, love if we call it by it's right name, that he feels for her is gotten up or imitated or shammed. That it is somehow felt out of a kindness that he feels toward her. I wondered what Browning had said to her brother that made her say the Browning was 'kind'. He is sounding fairly exasperated. But lo, what do we find in the next paragraph?
"Now, I’ll tell you what it does deserve, and what it shall get. Give me, dearest beyond expression, what I have always dared to think I would ask you for .. one day! Give me .. wait—for your own sake, not mine who never, never dream of being worth such a gift .. but for your own sense of justice, and to say, so as my heart shall hear, that you were wrong and are no longer so, give me so much of you—all precious that you are—as may be given in a lock of your hair– I will live and die with it, and with the memory of you—this at the worst! If you give me what I beg,—shall I say next Tuesday .. when I leave you, I will not speak a word: .. If you do not, I will not think you unjust, for all my light words but I will pray you to wait and remember me one day—when the power to deserve more may be greater .. never the will. God supplies all things—may he bless you, beloved! So I can but pray, kissing your hand. RB
Now pardon me, dearest, for what is written .. what I cannot cancel, for the love’s sake that it grew from."
Oh, that manipulative devil. He tries to make her feel guilty to get what he wants. Gotta love that deep psychological work going on there, feigned exasperation and all. He draws a great line across the paper and continues in a different vein:
"The 'Chronicle' was thro’ Moxon, I believe. Landor had sent the verses to Forster at the same time as to me, yet they do not appear. I never in my life less cared about people’s praise or blame for myself, and never more for its influence on other people than now– I would stand as high as I could in the eyes of all about you—yet not, after all, at poor Chorley’s expense whom your brother, I am sure unintentionally, is rather hasty in condemning; I have told you of my own much rasher opinion and how I was ashamed and sorry when I corrected it after. C. is of a different species to your brother, differently trained, looking different ways—and for some of the peculiarities that strike at first sight, C. himself gives a good reason to the enquirer on better acquaintance. For 'vulgarity'—no! But your kind brother will alter his view, I know, on further acquaintance .. and,—woe’s me!—will find that 'assumption’s' pertest self would be troubled to exercise its quality at such a house as Mr K.’s where every symptom of a proper claim is met half way and helped onward far too readily."
It is very loyal of Browning to defend Chorley to Miss Barrett. And even turns it against himself in suggesting that her brother's assumptions about himself might well be mistaken as well. Very nobly played.
"Good night, now. Am I not yours—are you not mine? and can that make you happy too?
Bless you once more and for ever! That scrap of Landor’s being for no other eye than mine—I made the foolish comment, that there was no blotting out—made it some four or five years ago, when I could read what I only guess at now,—thro’ my idle opening the hand and letting the caught bird go—but there used to be a real satisfaction to me in writing those grand Hebrew characters—the noble language!"
This last comment is a reference to his writing in Hebrew on the envelope of Landor's older letter that he lent to Miss Barrett. It sounds like he is lamenting that he did not keep up his study of the Hebrew language.
One last note on the letter to Domett, in light of Browning's comments to Miss Barrett that he 'had' to write a letter to his old friend in New Zealand. Note that the does not mention Miss Barrett to Domett. This may well have been basic prudence, for he had no way of knowing whether Domett might drop a casual comment to another correspondent and thus it might have gotten back into the gossip of London society. But he does mention to Miss Barrett that he wrote the letter but nothing of the content. When Arnould wrote Domett to tell him that Browning had married Miss Barrett he conveyed his belief that Miss Barrett had instigated the romance and forced Browning into the marriage. How interesting is perception. Arnould and thus Domett could not fathom that Browning had fallen in love with the sickly poet of Wimpole Street. This makes Miss Barrett's own skepticism all the more believable. No one believed he fell in love with her!

After Browning was married he stopped writing to Domett and Domett stopped writing to Browning although they both continued to write to Arnould. Arnould and Domett also became the trustees of Browning's marriage settlement, but I suspect this was rather a moot point, since there was nothing to settle. It wasn't until 1871 that Domett returned to London and through Arnould the two men became acquainted again. We know from Domett's letters home to New Zealand that Browning had changed much in his eyes. Keep in mind that Domett never met EBB and when Browning reverently showed him her things as he kept them in his study (eleven years after her death) he felt Browning and his sister Sarianna spoke of her as though she had been "supernatural in excellence - talent - and modest unconsciousness." Domett perhaps thought Browning lost in a kind of dream world, no longer the clear eyed young man that he ran around town with. Keep in mind that Domett remained under the impression all those years that it was a forced or reluctant marriage on Browning's part, so to see Browning still worshipful must have seemed quite strange. But Browning had the leisure to be a romantic, Domett was a man of the law and had to be down to earth. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 22, 1845

Miss Barrett writes today, mostly about Kenyon and Landor, but all having to do with Browning:


Mr Kenyon came yesterday—& do you know when he took out those verses [Landor's verse to Browning] & spoke his preface & I understood what was to follow, I had a temptation from my familiar Devil not to say I had read them before—. I had the temptation strong & clear– For he (Mr K) told me that your sister let him see them——.

But no– My ‘vade retro [get behind me]’ prevailed, & I spoke the truth & shamed the devil & surprised Mr Kenyon besides as I could observe. Not an observation did he make till he was just going away half an hour afterwards, & then he said rather dryly .. 'And now may I ask how long ago it was when you first read those verses?—was it a fortnight ago?—' It was better I think that I should not have made a mystery of such a simple thing, .. & yet I felt half vexed with myself & with him besides– But the verses,—how he praised them! More than I thought of doing .. as verses—though there is beauty & music & all that ought to be. Do you see clearly now that the latter lines refer to the combination in you, .. the qualities over & above those held in common with Chaucer?– And I have heard this morning from two or three of the early readers of the Chronicle (I never care to see it till the evening) that the verses are there—so that my wishes have fulfilled themselves those at least—strangely, for wishes of mine .. which generally ‘go by contraries’ as the soothsayers declare of dreams. How kind of you to send me the fragment to Mr Forster! & how I like to read it. Was the Hebrew yours then .. written then, I mean .. or written now?"
Browning had sent her a letter that Landor had sent to Forster in 1836 praising Browning. Browning had written in Hebrew on the back of the envelope a quote from Proverbs: "...and a good report maketh the bones fat."

"Mr Kenyon told me that you were to dine with him on tuesday, & I took for granted, at first hearing, that you would come on wednesday perhaps to me—& afterwards I saw the possibility of the two ends being joined without much difficulty–— Still, I was not sure, before your letter came, how it might be.

That you really are better is the best news of all—thank you for telling me. It will be wise not to go out too much—‘æquam servare mentem [to keep your mind even]’ as Landor quotes,.. in this as in the rest– Perhaps that worst pain was a sort of crisis .. the sharp turn of the road about to end .. oh, I do trust it may be so.

Mr K. wrote to Landor to the effect .. that it was not because he (Mr K) held you in affection .. nor because the verses expressed critically the opinion entertained of you by all who could judge .. nor because they praised a book with which his own name was associated .. but for the abstract beauty of those verses .. for that reason he could not help naming them to Mr Landor– All of which was repeated to me yesterday."
But apparently Miss Barrett was not that impressed with Landor's poetry, only that it praised Browning. The exact opposite opinion of Kenyon.

"Also I heard of you from George, who admired you .. admired you .. as if you were a chancellor in posse[potentially], a great lawyer in esse [in fact]—& then he thought you .. what he never could think a lawyer … 'unassuming.' And you .. you are so kind!– Only that makes me think bitterly what I have thought before, but cannot write today–"
I wonder what Browning told George that made Miss Barrett think him 'so kind' and bitter at her previous thoughts. Hmmm....

"It was goodnatured of Mr Chorley to send me a copy of his book, & he sending so few—very! George who admires you, does not tolerate Mr Chorley .. (did I tell you ever?—) declares that the affectation is ‘bad’, & that there is a dash of vulgarity .. which I positively refuse to believe, & should, I fancy, though face to face with the most vainglorious of waistcoats. How can there be vulgarity even of manners, with so much mental refinement? I never cd believe in those combinations of contradictions."
Never judge a writer by his waistcoat.

" ‘An obvious matter,’ you think! as obvious, as your 'green hill' .. which I cannot see. For the rest .. my thought upon your ‘great fact’ of the 'two days,' is quite different from your’s .. for I think directly … ‘So little’–! so dreadfully little!! What shallow earth for a deep root! What can be known of me in that time?' So there, is the only good, you see, that comes from making calculations on a slip of paper! 'It is not & it cannot come to good.' I would rather look at my seventyfive letters—there is room to breathe in them. And this is my idea (ecce! [behold]) of monumental brevity .. & hic jacet [here lies] at last your EBB–"
The 'obvious matter' she refers to is Browning's observation that the time between their visits seemed longer to him despite their being more frequent. He added the hours they had been together to totalling nearly two days and she is amazed that it is so little. "What shallow earth for a deep root!" is a wonderful observation. Apparently he knew enough about her after seeing her one time to make her to object of his everlasting adoration.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 1845 EBB Letter to Miss Mitford

Let's look at what Miss Barrett is telling Miss Mitford in the midst of so much change in Miss Barrett's life:


Day by day I have had my heart almost in my pen to write to you, ever dearest Miss Mitford, & the sun sets somewhere behind the fog without my doing it. The obstacle has been the thought of the ‘list of books’ which was to be wrung from my reluctant memory—but write I must today let the memoirs be ever so un-come-at-able .. & I write. Have you seen (to make amends) a work of Balzac, ‘late St Aubin’ says the title page, called ‘L’Israelite’? It is not new of course—& I have nothing good or bad to say of it, but it is just sent to me from the library, & ‘my heart leaps up’ .. as hearts of the innocent do at the rainbow, you know. By the way ‘Paula Monti’ is nothing but ‘L’Hotel Lambert,’ which we both know. I mentioned to you .. did I not? .. ‘Paula Monti’ by Eugene Sue—& also ‘Les deux Histoires’ for which however I dun Rolandi in vain. Tell me if you have heard of any other works from these French writers—& tell me too of dear Flush & his ear: I shall be so glad to have good news of him."
She begins with books to recommend and ends with Flush's ear. This is her Flush's father. Her Flush was a gift from Miss Mitford.

Have you read Pomfret? Have you quick access to it—or would you like me to send it to you from hence? The books are lent at this moment, but they will come back & you shall have them, if you do not from Mr Lovejoy .. which is probable; & let me hear what you think of the work when you have finished the reading. I hold it to be the most successful work of imagination produced by Mr Chorley, .. only not precisely a strong book. He wants sustaining & developing power. But it is a good true & natural book—& I like the noiseless unassuming acting out of the ‘private judgement’, without any rustling of silks & stamping of cothurns. The best .. the most lifelike & complete .. character in the book is that of ‘Mr Rose’ I think. Now see if it is’nt. Neither of the heroines altogether pleases me .. but the author’s heroine, least of all—& the hero (who, by the way, has no 'judgement' whatever, for private or public uses) can please nobody. There are scenes of quiet touching pathos which you will like—& the pure, good intention is everywhere. And now see if your thoughts are of the colour of mine—let us hold them together!–

The amateur comedy was crowned with success—the theatre, crowded, & every seat, equally in boxes & gallery, went for a guinea—and Mr Forster & Dickens were admirable, the cry is on all sides. There is to be another performance .. of the Alchymist it is supposed, .. for the benefit of Miss Kelly. You know that ‘Every man in his humour’ was played this last time & the time before. Yes—& the next news is, that Boz the universal is on the threshold of an immense undertaking .. no less a one than the editing of a newspaper, a daily newspaper, to represent ultra politics at the right end .. anti-corn law interests & the like. It is said that some twentyfive thousand pounds have been subscribed to the speculation by great capitalists, & that five first rate reporters have been engaged for three years at the rate of seven guineas a week: also that the newspaper is to combine literature with politics as in the French journals.– What do you think of this? Is Dickens fit for it?"
This newspaper was launched in 1846 with Dickens as editor, however, he soon gave up editorship. Editing a newspaper is very time consuming for a man who writes.

"My next news is that Mrs Butler arrived in England some ten days ago with the intention of assisting her father in the readings by which he is making sixty guineas a week,—but was followed so closely by a letter .. from her husband, the conjecture goes,—some letter of influence .. that she changed her mind & is about to go back straight to the land of stripes (according to the scandal) & stars undramatic!"
This is a reference to Fanny Kemble the British actress (and daughter of a well known acting family) who married a very wealthy American (Georgian) slave owner, Pierce Butler (does that name seem familiar to anyone?) She divorced him in 1847 and travelled in Europe where she interacted with the Browning's. She was strongly anti-slavery after witnessing the treatment of slaves on her husband's plantations and wrote a book describing the deplorable conditions. This of course would have put her in orbit with the Browning's who were also strongly anti-slavery. The 'readings' referenced here were readings of Shakespeare. Both her father and Miss Kemble toured performing readings rather than staging the plays. Very wise if you can pull it off. Think of the profit margin. She is famously quoted as saying that Browning was the only man she knew who acted as a Christian toward his wife. This from a woman who was not treated well by her husband and whose marrage ended in divorce in an age when divorce was quite a scandal.

"Then Mrs Jameson is said to be in London after her wanderings in Germany & Italy. I have not seen her yet.

How much news (for me!) I have sent you today. Methinks I deserve a letter back again. Mr Browning has published a new ‘Bell & Pomegranate’ .. a new number, .. full of power & various & original faculty, .. on which Landor has addressed him in some beautiful verses, worthy, I think, of the praised & the praiser. Though you are an unbeliever I shall write them down for you underneath. See.

'There is delight in singing, though none hear
Beside the singer; and there is delight
In praising though the praiser sit alone
And see the praised far off him, far above.
Shakespeare is not our poet but the world’s,
Therefore on him no speech, & short for thee
Browning!– Since Chaucer was alive & hale
No man hath walked along our roads with step
So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
So varied in discourse. But warmer climes
Give brighter plumage, stronger wing: the breeze
Of Alpine heights thou playest with, borne on
Beyond Sorrento & Amalfi, where
The Siren waits thee, singing song for song.'
W.S Landor"

Miss Barrett could not resist showing off her boy to Miss Mitford who did not care for Browning. She found him too feminine, I think she called him 'feminette'. Oh dear. Was her gaydar going off or was she simply intimidated by him? He does seem to have had a rather strong personality.

"After which I say goodbye–
Your ever affectionate EBB.

I find by a glance at L’Israelite that it is just ‘Clothilde’ .. alas–"
So, our French novel lover is disappointed that the new, old Balzac sent by the library is one that she has already read. Drat!

November 21, 1845

We shall hear from Browning today with a letter to Miss Barrett and a short note to Mr. Kenyon. Let's see what he has to say to Miss Barrett:

"Friday Night.

How good and kind to send me these books! (The letter I say nothing of, according to convention: if I wrote down best & kindest'—oh, what poorest words!) I shall tell you all about 'Pomfret,' be sure. Chorley talked of it, as we walked homewards together last night,—modestly and well, and spoke of having given away two copies only .. to his mother one, and the other to—Miss Barrett, and 'she seemed interested in the life of it, entered into his purpose in it,' and I listened to it all, loving Chorley for his loveability which is considerable at other times, and saying to myself what might run better in the child’s couplet—'Not more than others I deserve, tho’ God has given me more'!–Given me the letter which expresses surprise that I should feel these blanks between the days when I see you longer and longer! So am I surprised—that I should have mentioned so obvious a matter at all,—or leave unmentioned a hundred others its correlatives which I cannot conceive you to be ignorant of, you! When I spread out my riches before me, and think what the hour and more means that you endow one with, I do .. not to say could, .. I do form resolutions, and say to myself—'If next time I am bidden stay away a fortnight I will not reply by a word beyond the grateful assent'. I do, God knows, lay up in my heart these priceless treasures,—shall I tell you? I never in my life kept a journal, a register of sights, or fancies, or feelings; in my last travel I put down on a slip of paper a few dates .. that I might remember in England, on such a day I was on Vesuvius, in Pompeii, at Shelley’s grave; all that should be kept in memory is, with me, best left to the brain’s own process: but I have from the first recorded the date, and the duration of every visit to you,—the numbers of minutes you have given me .. and I put them together till they make .. nearly two days now,—four-and-twenty-hour-long-days, that I have been by you—and I enter the room determining to get up and go sooner .. and I go away into the light street repenting that I went so soon by I don’t know how many minutes—for, love, what is it all, this love for you, but an earnest yearning to include you in myself, if that might be,—to feel you in my very heart and hold you there for ever, thro’ all chance and earthly changes.

There, I had better leave off,—the words!"
He is still managing to write coherent letters. He certainly has a supple, thinking mind. What fun he must be having hearing Chorley speak about Miss Barrett and yet not saying a word to give a clue that he knows her in an intimate way. The danger, of course, is that Chorley, or anyone else unaware of their relationship, might say something uncomplimentary about her. But all he has to do is protect her reputation. How tempting was it for him to admit the secret knowledge? No, not Browning, he is the soul of chivalry. As is his wont he draws a line across the page to signify a change in mood and subject.


"I was very glad to find myself with your brother yesterday; I like him very much and mean to get a friend in him—(to supply the loss of my friend .. Miss Barrett—which is gone, the friendship, so gone!) But I did not ask after you because I heard Moxon do it. Now of Landor’s verses: I got a note from Forster yesterday telling me that he, too, had received a copy .. so that there is no injunction to be secret. So I got a copy for dear Mr Kenyon, and, lo! what comes! I send the note to make you smile! I shall reply that I felt in duty bound to apprize you; as I did. You will observe that I go to that too facile gate of his on Tuesday, my day .. from your house directly. The worst is that I have got entangled with invitations already, and must go out again, hating it, to more than one place."
So Mr. Kenyon has received a copy of Landor's verse to Browning and offers to send a copy to Miss Barrett. But Browning has already sent a copy to Miss Barrett. Kenyon was pretty chivalrous himself in offering to send the lines to Miss Barrett so that Browning would not look too arrogant in sending them himself.

"I am very well—quite well,—yes, dearest! The pain is quite gone,—and the inconvenience, hard on its trace. You will write to me again, will you not? and be as brief as your heart lets you, to me who hoard up your words and get remote and imperfect ideas of what .. shall it be written? .. anger at you, could mean, when I see a line blotted out,—a second thoughted finger-tip rapidly put forth upon one of my gold pieces!

—I rather think if Warburton reviews me it will be in the 'Quarterly' which I know he writes for– Hanmer is a very sculpturesque passionless highminded and amiable man .. this coldness, as you see it, is part of him. I like his poems, I think, better than you—'the Sonnets,' do you know them? Not 'Frà Cipolla.' See what is here, since you will not let me have only you to look at—this is Landor’s first opinion—expressed to Forster—see the date! and last of all, see me and know me, beloved! May God bless you!"
And here is the letter that Browning sent to Kenyon letting him know that Miss Barrett already had a copy of Landor's verse:
"Friday Night.
Dear Mr Kenyon,
You understand that, like Dr Johnson, 'It is not for me to bandy compliments with my sovereign.' All the pride, and honour is with me .. it is only the love which I do not so strictly insist on keeping to myself.
Forster writes to me that he, too, has received those noble verses of Landor– I may be allowed to wear my 'order' at my button hole on gala days therefore, and where should I go, when dressed like the man whom the King delighteth to honour, if not to Miss Barrett? I sent her a copy directly; but am none the less grateful to you for your good office.
My father and I will be punctual on Tuesday: My sister returns her true thanks for your kind note. For me, I am as ever
most affectionately yours,
R Browning."
How very charming. If Kenyon was not aware of the affection that Browning felt toward this lady then Kenyon was beyond seeing, even with his wonderfully thick lenses. I think Miss Barrett is correct: he chose not to see.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 20, 1845

We have two letters today. Browning begins by sending a copy of Landor's verses to Miss Barrett. the packet apparently also includes a book by Mrs. Shelley and some verses by Mazzini:

"Thursday Mg

Here is the copy of Landor’s verses.

You know thoroughly, do you not, why I brought all those goodnatured letters, desperate praise and all? Not, not out of the least vanity in the worldnor to help myself in your sight with such testimony: would it beseem very extravagant, on the contrary, if I said that perhaps I laid them before your eyes in a real fit of compunction at not being, in my heart, thankful enough for the evident motive of the writers,—and so was determined to give them the 'last honours' if not the first, and not make them miss you because, thro’ my fault, they had missed me? Does this sound too fantastical? Because it is strictly true: the most laudatory of all, I skimmed once over with my flesh creeping—it seemed such a death-struggle, that of good nature over——well, it is fresh ingratitude of me, so here it shall end.

I am not ungrateful to you—but you must wait to know that:—I can speak less than nothing with my living lips."
Yes, it does seem a bit 'fantastical' because he obviously is proud of the praise, but the fact that his skin crawled in embarrassment is so typically English. Is not it amusing that he says he can say 'less than nothing with my living lips,' and when he writes to her he continually proclaims that he cannot put his words on paper? The tongue tied, penniless poet.

"I mean to ask your brother how you are tonight .. so quietly!

God bless you, my dearest, and reward you.

Your RB

Mrs Shelley .. with the 'Ricordi.'

Of course, Landor’s praise is altogether a different gift,—a gold vase from King Hiram: beside he has plenty of conscious rejoicing in his own riches, and is not left painfully poor by what he sends away: that is the unpleasant point with some others .. they spread you a board and want to gird up their loins and wait on you there: Landor says 'come up higher and let us sit and eat together'- Is it not that?

Now—you are not to turn on me because the first is my proper feeling to you, .. for poetry is not the thing given or taken between us—it is heart and life and myself, not mine, I give—give? That you glorify and change and, in returning then, give me!"
Does this last not seem a continuation of his letter of November 16th where he tries to clarify his love for her? He seems to be reiterating that it is not the poetry--they are equals in poetry--and Landor is above. Interesting.....I am sure she will not take offense because she will not agree that they are equal, she sees him far above herself.
So, what does she say to all this:
Thank you!—and will you, if your sister made the copy of Landor’s verses for me as well as for you, thank her from me for another kindness, .. not the second nor the third? For my own part, be sure that if I did not fall on the right subtle interpretation about the letters, at least I did not 'think it vain' of you! vain! when, supposing you really to have been overgratified by such letters, it could have proved only an excess of humility!– But .. besides the subtlety,—you meant to be kind to me, you know,—& I had a pleasure & an interest in reading them—only that .. mind!,—Sir John Hanmer’s, I was half angry with!– Now is he not cold?—and is it not easy to see why he is forced to write his own scenes five times over & over? He might have mentioned the ‘Duchess’ I think,—& he a poet! Mr Chorley speaks some things very well—but what does he mean about ‘execution,’ en revanche [in return]? but I liked his letter & his candour in the last page of it– Will Mr Warburton review you?does he mean that?– Now do let me see any other letters you receive– May I? Of course Landor’s 'dwells apart' from all: & besides the reason you give for being gratified by it, it is well that one prophet should open his mouth & prophesy & give his witness to the inspiration of another. See what he says in the letter .. 'You may stand quite alone if you will—and I think you will.' That is a noble testimony to a truth. And he discriminates—he understands & discerns—they are not words thrown out into the air. The 'profusion of imagery covering the depth of thought' is a true description. And, in the verses, he lays his finger just on your characteristics—just on those which, when you were only a poet to me, (only a poet!—does it sound irreverent? almost, I think!) which, when you were only a poet to me, I used to study, characteristic by characteristic, & turn myself round & round in despair of being ever able to approach, taking them to be so essentially & intensely masculine that like effects were unattainable, even in a lower degree, by any female hand. Did I not tell you so once before? or oftener than once? And must not these verses of Landor’s be printed somewhere—in the Examiner?—& again in the Athenæum? if in the Examiner, certainly again in the Athenæum .. it would be a matter of course. Oh those verses! how they have pleased me. It was an act worthy of him—& of you."
And he thought she would be offended.
"George has been properly 'indoctrinated,' &, we must hope, will do credit to my instructions. Just now .. just as I was writing .. he came in to say good morning & good night, (he goes to chambers earlier than I receive visitors generally) & to ask with a smile, if I had ‘a message for my friend’ .. that was you .. & so he was indoctrinated. He is good & true, honest & kind, but a little over-grave & reasonable, as I and my sisters complain continually. The great Law lime kiln dries human souls all to one colour—& he is an industrious reader among lawbooks & knows a good deal about them, I have heard from persons who can judge; but with a sacrifice of impulsiveness & liberty of spirit, which I should regret for him if he sate on the woolsack even. Oh—that law!—how I do detest it! I hate it & think ill of it– I tell George so sometimes—and he is goodnatured & only thinks to himself (a little audibly now & then) that I am a woman & talking nonsense. But the morals of it, & the philosophy of it! And the manners of it!—in which the whole host of barristers looks down on the attorneys & the rest of the world!—how long are these things to last!–"
An opinionated woman.
"Theodosia Garrow, I have seen face to face once or twice. She is very clever—very accomplished—with talents & tastes of various kinds—a musician & linguist, in most modern languages I believe—& a writer of fluent graceful melodious verses, .. you cannot say any more. At least I cannot—& though I have not seen this last poem in the Book of Beauty, I have no more trust ready for it than for its predecessors, of which Mr Landor said as much. It is the personal feeling which speaks in him I fancy—simply the personal feeling—&, that being the case, it does not spoil the discriminating appreciation on the other page of his letter. I might have the modesty to admit besides that I may be wrong & he, right, all through. But .. 'more intense than Sappho'!—more intense than intensity itself!—to think of that!– Also the word ‘poetry’ has a clear meaning to me, & all the fluency & facility & quick ear-catching of a tune which one can find in the world, do not answer to it—no."
More opinions, but hey, she should know poetry. Sort of like comparing the yodelers on American Idol to singers.
"How is the head? will you tell me? I have written all this without a word of it, & yet ever since yesterday I have been uneasy, .. I cannot help it. You see you are not better but worse. 'Since you were in Italy'—. Then is it England that disagrees with you? & is it change away from England that you want? .. require, I mean. If so–—.why what follows & ought to follow? You must not be ill indeed—that is the first necessity. Tell me how you are, exactly how you are,—& remember to walk, & not to work too much .. for my sake .. if you care for me—if it is not too bold of me to say so– I had fancied you were looking better rather than otherwise: but those sensations in the head are frightful & ought to be stopped by whatever means,—even by the worst, as they would seem to me. Well—it was bad news to hear of the increase of pain,—for the amendment was a 'passing show' I fear, & not caused even by thoughts of mine or it would have appeared before,—: while on the other side (the sunny side of the way) I heard on that same yesterday, what made me glad as good news, a whole gospel of good news, & from you too who profess to say ‘less than nothing’, .. & that was that 'the times seemed longer to you'—do you remember saying it? And it made me glad .. happy—perhaps too glad & happy—& surprised: yes, surprised!—for if you had told me (but you would not have told me) if you had let me guess .. just the contrary, .. 'that the times seemed shorter,' .. why it would have seemed to me as natural as nature—oh, believe me it would, & I could not have thought hardly of you for it in the most secret or silent of my thoughts. How am I to feel towards you, .. do you imagine, .. who have the world round you & yet make me this to you? I never can tell you how, & you never can know it without having my heart in you with all its experiences: we measure by these weights– May God bless you! & save me from being the cause to you of any harm or grief!– I choose it for my blessing instead of another. What should I be if I could fail willingly to you in the least thing? But I never will, & you know it. I will not move, nor speak, nor breathe, so as willingly & consciously to touch, with one shade of wrong, that precious deposit of 'heart & life'––which may yet be recalled.
She thinks he was looking better than previous. And how easily she is please. He mentions that it seems a long time between their visits and she is a happy little clam.
And, so, may God bless you & your EBB.
Remember to say how you are.
I send Pomfret—& Shelley is returned, & the letters, in the same parcel—but my letter goes by the post as you see. Is there contrast enough between the two rival female personages of ‘Pomfret’. I fancy not. Helena shd have been more ‘demonstrative’ than she appeared in Italy, to secure the ‘new modulation’ with Walter– But you will not think it a strong book I am sure, with all the good & pure intention of it– The best character .. most lifelike .. as conventional life goes .. seems to me 'Mr Rose' .. beyond all comparison—and the best point, the noiseless, unaffected manner in which the acting out of the 'private judgement' in Pomfret himself is made no heroic virtue but simply an integral part of the love of truth. As to Grace she is too good to be interesting, I am afraid—& people say of her more than she expresses—& as to ‘generosity,’ she could not do otherwise in the last scenes——
But I will not tell you the story after all– At the beginning of this letter I meant to write just one page,—but my generosity is like Grace’s, & could not help itself. There were the letters to write of, & the verses! and then, you know, ‘femme qui parle [the woman who speaks]' never has done. Let me hear! & I will be as brief as a monument next time for variety."
She was very chatty today. She seems happy, her gloomy side must have gone into remission after Browning's visit cheered her up.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Novermber 19, 1845

Browning sends a copy of the verse that Walter Savage Landor wrote for him to his publisher, Edward Moxon:

"Wednesday Night.

Dear Moxon,

I’ll be bound, now, people are always 'snubbing' me, like friend Harness t’other day, just because they fancy I have nobody to take my part—whereas, look here,—what has come to me this very morning! But I keep such matters to myself and so nobody is the wiser .. or rather the nobodies are not the wiser!

In earnest,—very kind & gracious this of Landor, is it not? And I am, I hope, properly proud of it—and so, knowing your own friendly sympathy, I have got a copy made for you for which you shall thank me—(you who love Chaucer, and can appreciate the felicity of the epithet 'hale' as applied to him)—when I see you in a day or two. Forster’s notice .. is not that most generous, too? Mr Harness, forsooth! If he goes and does the 'quizzing article' he hints at, I’ll be hanged if I don’t rhyme him to death like an Irish Rat!

Ever yours faithfully,

R Browning."
Do you think Browning was quite gleeful to receive the sonnet from Landor? He is wonderfully playful here, I'll be bound. We will see the last line of this poem referred to many times in the letters twixt Miss Barrett and Browning because Browning took to teasing Miss Barrett as being his Siren.
Here is the text:

To Robert Browning

There is delight in singing, tho’ none hear
Beside the singer; and there is delight
In praising, tho’ the praiser sit alone
And see the prais’d far off him, far above.
Shakspeare is not our poet, but the world’s,
Therefore on him no speech! and brief for thee,
Browning! Since Chaucer was alive and hale,
No man hath walkt along our roads with step
So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
So varied in discourse. But warmer climes
Give brighter plumage, stronger wing: the breeze
Of Alpine highths thou playest with, borne on
Beyond Sorrento and Amalfi, where
The Siren waits thee, singing song for song.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 1845

Miss Barrett responds to Browning's very strong letter of the 16th. It does seem sometimes that when Browning pulls his thoughts together and clearly states what is in his mind and heart it moves Miss Barrett to melancholy. She never seems worthy in herself. And she often finds herself struggling to make herself clearly understood, for her arguments are very precise in her mind.
"How you overcome me as always you do—& where is the answer to anything except too deep down in the heart for even the pearldivers? But understand .. what you do not quite .. that I did not mistake you as far even as you say here & even 'for a moment.' I did not write any of that letter in a 'doubt' of you—not a word .. I was simply looking back in it on my own states of feeling, .. looking back from that point of your praise to what was better .. (or I should not have looked back)—and, so, coming to tell you, by a natural association, how the completely opposite point to that of any praise was the one which struck me first & most, viz .. the no-reason of your reasoning .. acknowledged to be yours. Of course I acknowledge it to be yours, .. that high reason of no reason—I acknowledged it to be yours (did’nt I?) in acknowledging that it made an impression on me. And then, referring to the traditions of my experience such as I told them to you, I meant, so, further to acknowledge that I would rather be cared for in that unreasonable way, than for the best reason in the world. But all that was history & philosophy simply—was it not?—& not doubt of you.

The truth is .. since we really are talking truths in this world .. that I never have doubted you—ah, you know!– I felt from the beginning so sure of the nobility & integrity in you that I would have trusted you to make a path for my soul—that, you know. I felt certain that you believed of yourself every word you spoke or wrote—& you must not blame me if I thought besides sometimes (it was the extent of my thought) that you were selfdeceived as to the nature of your own feelings. If you could turn over every page of my heart like the pages of a book, you would see nothing there offensive to the least of your feelings .. not even to the outside fringes of your man’s vanity .. should you have any vanity like a man,—which I do doubt. I never wronged you in the least of things—never .. I thank God for it– But ‘selfdeceived,’ it was so easy for you to be!—see how on every side & day by day, men are .. & women too .. in this sort of feelings. ‘Selfdeceived,’ it was so possible for you to be, & while I thought it possible, could I help thinking it best for you that it should be so—& was it not right in me to persist in thinking it possible?– It was my reverence for you that made me persist!– What was I that I should think otherwise? I had been shut up here too long face to face with my own spirit, not to know myself, &, so, to have lost the common illusions of vanity. All the men I had ever known could not make your stature among them. So it was not distrust, but reverence rather. I sate by while the angel stirred the water, & I called it Marah [bitter]Do not blame me now, .. my angel!

Nor say that I 'do not lean' on you with all the weight of my 'past' .. because I do!– You cannot guess what you are to me—you cannot—it is not possible:—&, though I have said that before, I must say it again .. for it comes again to be said– It is something to me between dream & miracle, all of it—as if some dream of my earliest brightest dreaming-time had been lying through these dark years to steep in the sunshine, returning to me in a double light. Can it be, I say to myself, that you feel for me so?—can it be meant for me?—this from you?

If it is your 'right' that I should be gloomy at will with you, you exercise it, I do think—for although I cannot promise to be very sorrowful when you come, (how could that be?) yet from different motives it seems to me that I have written to you quite superfluities about my 'abomination of desolation',—yes indeed, & blamed myself afterwards. And now I must say this besides. When grief came upon grief, I never was tempted to ask ‘How have I deserved this of God,' as sufferers sometimes do: I always felt that there must be cause enough .. corruption enough, needing purification .. weakness enough, needing strengthening .. nothing of the chastisement could come to me without cause & need. But in this different hour, when joy follows joy, & God makes me happy, as you say, through you .. I cannot repress the .. 'How have I deserved this of Him'–?– I know I have not– I know I do not."
Is it not entirely human and perhaps uniquely Christian that she feels that she deserves the griefs that come to her but at the same time she does not feel worthy of happiness. I suspect that this is a reflection of her emotions and not a statement of her intellect. She knows better but because she had to cope with sadness she justified it as punishment and so cannot conceive that her corruption has faded to such an extent that she should be rewarded. Do we not all fear at times that happiness is a trick that will snatched away from us at the slightest infraction?

"Could it be that heart & life were devastated to make room for you?—if so, it was well done,—dearest!– They leave the ground fallow before the wheat–

‘Were you wrong in answering?’ Surely not .. unless it is wrong to show all this goodness .. & too much, it may be for me. When the plants droop for drought & the too copious showers fall suddenly, silver upon silver, .. they die sometimes of the reverse of their adversities– But no—that, even, shall not be a danger! And if I said ‘Do not answer,’ I did not mean that I would not have a doubt removed—(having no doubt!) but I was simply unwilling to seem to be asking for golden words .. going down the aisles with that large silken purse, as quêteuse [collection-taker]Try to understand."
Her morbid streak in certainly on display in this paragraph with the visual of the drought stricken plant dying from too much water. Happily she saw her own morbidity and pulled back from it. Ultimately she does not want to appear too needy.

"On wednesday then!—— George is invited to meet you on thursday at Mr Kenyon’s.

The Examiner speaks well, upon the whole, & with allowances. Oh, that absurdity about metaphysics apart from poetry!– ‘Can such things be’ in one of the best reviews of the day? Mr Kenyon was here on sunday & talking of the poems with real living tears in his eyes & on his cheeks– But I will tell you. Luria is to climb to the place of a great work, I see. And if I write too long letters, is it not because you spoil me, & because (being spoilt) I cannot help it?– May God bless you always!–

Your EBB–"
This exchange between the poets has been one of the clearest they have had. Not too, too many vagaries of thought. Will they be able to keep up this clarity? I would not count on it. My prediction is that Browning will revert to type soon and leave us all wondering what he is talking about.

Look at Sonnet XVI and wonder if it was a response to this exchange of letters:

And yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow
Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone. Why, conquering
May prove as lordly and complete a thing
In lifting upward, as in crushing low!
And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
Even so, Belovëd, I at last record,
Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth!