If it were possible that you could do me harm in the way of work, (but it is’nt) it would be possible, not through writing letters & reading manuscripts, but because of a reason to be drawn from your own great line
'What man is strong until he stands alone?'
What man .. what woman? For have I not felt twenty times the desolate advantage of being insulated here & of not minding anybody when I made my poems?—of living a little like a disembodied spirit, & caring less for suppositious criticism than for the black fly buzzing in the pane?– That made me what dear Mr Kenyon calls ‘insolent’,—untimid, & unconventional in my degree,—& not so much by strength, you see, as by separation– You touch your greater ends by mere strength,—breaking with your own hands the hampering threads which, in your position, wd have hampered me."
She has grasped a line from Browning's Colombe's Birthday --which has been used in the book she is reading, Pomfret (see below and her letter to Chorley on November 8th)--and is comparing it to her own life experience. She believes that her poetry was made bolder, not because of strength, but because of what she sees as her 'separation'. Perhaps her lack of timidity in her poetry came from a type of disregard for her own (social) safety. What did she have to lose? But isn't this a type of strength? She is perhaps misinterpreting herself because she sees Browning as giving her a strength she felt she lacked. This could really be seen as feeling of security rather than a sense of strength. She sees Browning's strength as pure power, a male power that she would like to possess in her poetry.
"Still .. when all is changed for me now, & different, it is not possible, .. for all the changing, .. nor for all your line & my speculation, .. that I should not be better & stronger for being within your influences & sympathies, in this way of writing as in other ways– We shall see—you will see. Yet I have been idle lately I confess,—leaning half out of some turret-window of the castle of Indolence & watching the new sunrise—as why not?– Do I mean to be idle always? no!—and am I not an industrious worker on the average of days? Indeed yes! Also I have been less idle than you think perhaps, even this last year, though the results seem so like trifling: and I shall set about the prose papers for the New York people, & the something rather better besides we may hope .. may I not hope, if you wish it? Only there is no ‘crown’ for me, be sure, except what grows from this letter & such letters .. this sense of being anything to One! there is no room for another crown. Have I a great head like Goethe’s that there should be room?—& mine is bent down already by the unused weight—& as to bearing it, .. 'will it do,—tell me, .. to treat that as a light effort, an easy matter?' "
Yes, she is stronger and more secure with Browning's support and certainly she has been less idle--for certainly she has begun the Sonnet Sequence. And of course she demures from Browning wanting her to place a crown on her own head as she crown's him. It is too much for the humble Miss Barrett. She seems melancholy at his praise.
"Now let me remember to tell you that the line of yours I have just quoted, & which has been present with me since you wrote it, Mr Chorley has quoted too in his new novel of 'Pomfret.' You were right in your identifying of servant & waistcoat—& Wilson waited only till you had gone on saturday, to give me a parcel & note, .. the novel itself in fact, which Mr Chorley had the kindness to send me ‘some days or weeks,’ said the note, ‘previous to the publication.’ Very goodnatured of him certainly! and the book seems to me his best work in point of sustainment & vigour, & I am in process of being interested in it. Not that he is a maker, even for this prose. A feeler .. an observer .. a thinker even, in a certain sphere—but a maker .. no, as it seems to me .. and if I were he, I would rather herd with the essayists than the novelists where he is too good to take inferior rank & not strong enough to ‘go up higher’. Only it would be more right in me to be grateful than to talk so—now wd’nt it?"
Such an opinionated woman! My, my.
"And here is Mr Kenyon’s letter back again—a kind good letter .. a letter I have liked to read, (so it was kind & good in you to let me!)—and he was with me today & praising the ride to Ghent, & praising the Duchess, & praising you altogether as I liked to hear him. The Ghent-ride was ‘very fine’—& the
‘Into the midnight they galloped abreast’
drew us out into the night as witnesses. And then, the ‘Duchess’ .. the conception of it was noble, & the vehicle, rhythm & all, most characteristic & individual .. though some of the rhymes .. oh, some of the rhymes did not find grace in his ears .. but the incantation-scene, ‘just trenching on the supernatural,’ that was taken to be ‘wonderful’, .. 'showing extraordinary power, .. as indeed other things did, .. works of a highly original writer & of such various faculty!'– Am I not tired of writing your praises as he said them? So I shall tell you, instead of any more, that I went down to the drawing room yesterday (because it was warm enough) by an act of supererogatory virtue for which you may praise me in turn. What weather it is! & how the year seems to have forgotten itself into April.
But after all, how have I answered your letter? & how are such letters to be answered? Do we answer the sun when he shines? May God bless you .. it is my answer—with one word besides .. that I am wholly & ever your
On thursday as far as I know yet—& you shall hear if there shd be an obstacle. Will you walk? If you will not, you know, you must be forgetting me a little– Will you remember me too in the act of the play?—but above all things in taking the right exercise, & in not over-working the head.!– And this for no serpent’s reason."
She began the letter in a rather reflective mood and then tried to snap herself out of it. I think she realized that her response to his beautiful letter was a bit moody and excuses herself a bit with--"how can I answer such a letter?...it is too much for me." She is almost Browning-like in her inability to put her thoughts into words. Tomorrow will be better.