"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–"
DO NOT MENTION THE RING OR THE HAIR!!!
"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
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.