Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 6, 1845

Browning's book has been published and he sends a note with the volume to Miss Barrett:

"Just arrived! .. (mind, the silent writing overflows the page, and laughs at the black words for Mr Kenyon to read!) —But your note arrived earlier—more of that, when I write after this dreadful dispatching-business that falls on me—friend A, & B. & C—must get their copy, and word of regard, all by next post!–

Could you think that that untoward letter lived one moment after it returned to me? I burned it and cried 'serve it right'! Poor letter!—yet I should have been vexed & offended then to be told I could love you better than I did already! 'Live and learn!' Live and love you––dearest, as loves you RB."
No, he did not keep the letter. It would be interesting to see what he wrote that got her so upset. But, alas....
"You will write to reassure me about Saturday, if not for other reasons. See your corrections .. and understand that in the one or two instances in which they would seem not to be adopted, they are so, by some modification of the previous, or following line .. as in one of the Sorrento lines .. about a 'turret'—see! (Can you give me Horne’s address—I would send there)"
And so, he writes notes to his friends and mentors to accompany copies of his poems. Here is one to Mr. William Johnsin Fox, a very early mentor. Browning was also friends with Fox's daughters--perhaps his first mature lady friends.
"My dear Sir,
Last year, I had a note from you, in which with other kind expressions, you gave me your address and an invitation to call there. I went abroad soon after, and after my return, have only been waiting such an opportunity as the sending another of my pamphlets to assure you (very unnecessarily I hope) that I shall have all my old pride and pleasure in availing myself of a privilege should you still be disposed to concede it.
Ever yours very faithfully and affectionately,
R. Browning."
But of course Miss Barrett writes:
"Thursday evening
I see & know,—read & mark,—& only hope there is no harm done by my meddling .. & lose the sense of it all in the sense of beauty & power everywhere, which nobody could kill, if they took to meddling more even– And now, what will people say to this & this & this—or 'o seclum insipiens et impietum [Oh, this age! how tasteless and ill-bred it is!]'!—or rather, o ungrateful right hand which does not thank you first! I do thank you. I have been reading everything with new delight,—& at intervals remembering in inglorious complacency (for which you must try to forgive me) that Mr Forster is no longer anything like an enemy. And yet (just see what contradiction!) the British Quarterly has been abusing me so at large, that I can only take it to be the achievement of a very particular friend indeed,—of someone who positively never reviewed before & tries his new sword on me out of pure friendship. Only I suppose it is not the general rule, & that there are friends 'with a difference.' Not that you are to fancy me pained—oh no!—merely surprised. I was prepared for anything almost from the quarter in question, but scarcely for being hung ‘to the crows’ so publicly .. though within the bounds of legitimate criticisms, mind. But oh—the creatures of your sex are not always magnanimous—that is true. And to put you between me & all .. the thought of you .. in a great ecclipse of the world .. that is happy .. only, .. too happy for such as I am;—as my own heart warns me hour by hour."
I puzzled over this paragraph when I first read it. It was rather unlike her to talk about herself when she would normally be praising his poetry. On second reading I think I see what she is doing. She knows that his poems will not be well received so she let's him know that she has been picked over by the critics as well. She doesn't want him to feel that he alone in being mauled by the critics. And in the end, what does it matter because they are happy in each other.
" 'Serve me right!' I do not dare to complain. I wished for the safety of that letter so much that I finished by persuading myself of the probability of it: but ‘serve me right’ quite clearly. And yet—but no more 'and yets' about it. 'And yets' fray the silk."
Yes, the offending letter is gone. She won't order him to burn any more of his letters.
"I see how the 'turret' stands in the new reading, triumphing over the ‘tower’, & unexceptionable in every respect. Also I do hold that nobody with an ordinary understanding has the slightest pretence for attaching a charge of obscurity to this new number—there are lights enough for the critics to scan one another’s dull blank of visage by. One verse indeed in that expressive lyric of the ‘Lost Mistress,’ does still seem questionable to me, though you have changed a word since I saw it,—& still I fancy that I rather leap at the meaning than reach it—but it is my own fault probably .. I am not sure. With that one exception I am quite sure that people who shall complain of darkness are blind .. I mean, that the construction is clear & unembarrassed everywhere. Subtleties of thought which are not directly apprehensible by minds of a common range, are here as elsewhere in your writings—but if to utter things ‘hard to understand’ from that cause, be an offence, why we may begin with 'our beloved brother Paul,' you know, & go down through all the geniuses of the world, & bid them put away their inspirations. You must descend to the level of critic A or B, that he may look into your face .. Ah well!—'Let them rave'. You will live when all those are under the willows. In the meantime there is something better, as you said, even than your poetry .. as the giver is better than the gift, & the maker than the creature, & you than yours. Yes—you than yours .. (I did not mean it so when I wrote it first .. but I accept the ‘bona verba [good words-words of good omen]’,& use the phrase for the end of my letter) .. as you are better than yours, .. even when so much yours as your own EBB–"
I admire the fact that she will tell him when she sees a problem in his work. She always calls them as she sees them. Perhaps through the tint of love and hero worship.
"May I see the first act first? Let me!—— And you walk?–"
She is still wanting to see the first act of "Luria". She lusts after his poetry. The "Let me!" cry of a child wanting to look at a kaleidoscope.
"Mr Horne’s address is Hill Side, Fitzroy Park, Highgate. There is no reason against saturday so far. Mr Kenyon comes tomorrow, friday, & therefore ..!!—and if saturday shd become impracticable, I will write again."
And so the visits continue, dodging Mr. Kenyon all the way.

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