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.

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