Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 1845

Browning sends the last letter of the year to Miss Barrett:

"Wednesday. Dec. 31. 1845.

I have been properly punished for so much treachery as went to that re-urging the prayer that you would begin writing, when all the time (—after the first of those words had been spoken which bade me write—) I was full of purpose to send my own note last evening,—one which should do its best to thank you:—but see, the punishment! At home I found a note from Mr Horne—on the point of setting out for Ireland, too unwell to manage to come over to me,—anxious, so he said, to see me before leaving London, and with only Tuesday or to-day to allow the opportunity of it, if I should choose to go and find him out: so I considered all things and determined to go—but not till so late, did I determine, on Tuesday, that there was barely time to get to Highgate .. wherefore no letter reached you to beg pardon .. and now this underserved —beyond the usual undeservedness,—this last-day-of-the-year’s gift—do you think or not think my gratitude weighs on me? When I lay this with the others, and remember what you have done for me—I do bless you—so as I cannot but believe must reach the all-beloved head all my hopes and fancies and cares fly straight to. Dearest, whatever change the new year brings with it, we are together—I can give you no more of myself—indeed, you give me now—(back again if you choose, but changed and renewed by your possession—) the powers that seemed most properly mine: I could only mean that, by the expressions to which you refer—only could mean that you were my crown and palm branch, now and forever, and so, that it was a very indifferent matter to me if the world took notice of that fact or no–—Yes, dearest, that is the meaning of the prophecy—which I was stupidly blind not to have read and taken comfort from long ago– You are the veritable Siren—and you 'wait me', and will sing 'song for song'– And this is my first song, my true song—this love I bear you– I look into my heart and then let it go forth under that name—love—I am more than mistrustful of many other feelings in me: they are not earnest enough,—so far, not true enough—but this is all the flower of my life which you call forth and which lies at your feet."

At her mention of Landor's verses (see her previous letter) he suddenly reinterprets them: Miss Barrett is the true Siren. This theme of her Siren-ism will continue in these letters, despite her initial protest. After all, Sirens brought doom to men. Although she was certain that she was going to bring doom to Browning.

"Now let me say it––what you are to remember:—that if I had the slightest doubt, or fear, I would utter it to you on the instant—secure in the incontested stability of the main fact, even though the heights at the verge in the distance should tremble and prove vapour—and there would be a deep consolation in your forgiveness—indeed, yes,—but I tell you, on solemn consideration, it does seem to me that,—once take away the broad & general words that admit in their nature of any freight they can be charged with,—put aside love, and devotion, and trust—and then I seem to have said nothing of my feeling to you—nothing whatever: <Indeed I so far conform myself to your pleasure, as I understand it, as never to try, even, to express>. "
The bracketed sentence was lightly crossed out by Browning--who perhaps wanted it to be read after all. There is more to expression than speech or writing.

"I will not write more now—on this subject—believe you are my blessing and infinite reward beyond possible desert in intention,—my life has been crowned by you, as I said. May God bless you ever—thro’ you I shall be blessed. May I kiss your cheek and pray this, my own, all-beloved?

I must add a word or two of other things: I am very well now, quite well—am walking and about to walk. Horne—or rather his friends—reside in the very lane Keats loved so much—Millfield Lane: Hunt lent me once the little copy of the first Poems dedicated to him—and on the title-page was recorded in Hunt’s delicate charactery that 'Keats met him with this, the presentation-copy, or whatever was the odious name,—in M. Lane—called Poets’ Lane by the gods– Keats came running, holding it up in his hand'– Coleridge had an affection for the place, and Shelley 'knew' it—and I can testify it is green and silent, with pleasant openings on the grounds and ponds, thro’ the old trees that line it– But the hills here are far more open and wild and hill-like,—not with the eternal clump of evergreens and thatched summer house .. to say nothing of the 'invisible railing' miserably visible every where."

That is just the sort of literary gossip Miss Barrett eats up. He is referring to James Leigh Hunt--most refer to him as Leigh Hunt--in case anyone wonders.

"You very well know what a vision it is you give me—when you speak of standing up by the table to care for my flowers .. (which I will never be ashamed of again, by the way—I will say for the future,—'here are my best'—in this as in other things) .. Now, do you remember, that once I bade you not surprize me out of my good-behaviour by standing to meet me unawares as visions do, some day—but now—omne ignotum [the unknown]? No, dearest!"

Sounds like he is getting a hankering to "express" himself to the standing Miss Barrett. Think of the scandal!

"Ought I to say there will be two days more? till Saturday—and if one word comes, one line—think!

I am wholly yours—yours, beloved! RB"

Browning's New Years Eve letter is far more decorous than his hung over Christmas letter. Let's hope he does not attempt a letter on the 1st.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 30, 1845

Miss Barrett sends forth a letter from Wimpole Street following Browning's visit of the 29th:


When you are gone I find your flowers; & you never spoke of nor showed them to me—so instead of yesterday I thank you today—thank you. Count among the miracles, that your flowers live with me—I accept that for an omen, dear—dearest! Flowers in general, all the flowers, die of despair when they come into the same atmosphere .. used to do it so constantly & observably that it made me melancholy & I left off for the most part having them here. Now, you see, how they put up with the close room, & condescend to me & the dust!—it is true & no fancy! To be sure they know that I care for them & that I stand up by the table myself to change their water & cut their stalks freshly at intervals .. that may make a difference perhaps. Only the great reason must be that they are yours, & that you teach them to bear with me patiently."

The last of the Sonnet Sequence refers to the flowers:

Belovëd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through,
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!—take them,
as I used to do
Thy flowers,
and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

"Do not pretend even, to misunderstand what I meant to say yesterday of dear Mr Kenyon. His blame would fall as my blame of myself has fallen: he would say .. will say .. 'it is ungenerous of her to let such a risk be run! I thought she would have been more generous.' There, is Mr Kenyon’s opinion as I forsee it! Not that it would be spoken, you know! he is too kind. And then, he said to me last summer, somewhere à propos to the flies or butterflies, that he had 'long ceased to wonder at any extreme of foolishness produced by—love'He will of course think you very very foolish, but not ungenerously foolish like other people——

Never mind. I do not mind indeed. I mean, that, having said to myself worse than the worst perhaps of what can be said against me by any who regard me at all, & feeling it put to silence by the fact that you do feel so & so for me,—feeling that fact to be an answer to all, .. I cannot mind much, in comparison, the railing at second remove.– There will be a nine days railing of it & no more!—and if on the ninth day, you should not exactly wish never to have known me, the better reason will be demonstrated to stand with us. On this one point the wise man cannot judge for the fool his neighbour. If you do love me, the inference is that you would be happier with than without me—& whether you do, you know better than another: so I think of you & not of them .. always of you! When I talked of being afraid of dear Mr Kenyon, I just meant that he makes me nervous with his all-scrutinizing spectacles, put on for ‘great occasions,’ & his questions which seem to belong to the spectacles, they go together so!—and then I have no presence of mind, as you may see without the spectacles. My only way of hiding (when people set themselves to look for me) would be the old child’s way of getting behind the window curtains or under the sofa:—& even that might not be effectual if I had recourse to it now– Do you think it would? Two or three times I have fancied that Mr Kenyon suspected something—but if he ever did, his only reproof was a reduplicated praise of you—he praises you always & in relation to every sort of subject."

This is the first time that she seems to not question their relationship. Always she is pushing him away but here she seems to be comforting Browning. This does not negate her reservations that he would be better off without her holding her back, but rather an observation that she does not care what anyone will think except Browning.

"What a misomonsism you fell into yesterday, you who have so much great work to do which no one else can do except just yourself!—& you, too, who have courage & knowledge, & must know that every work, with the principle of life in it, will live, let it be trampled ever so under the heel of a faithless & unbelieving generation—yes, that it will live like one of your toads, for a thousand years in the heart of a rock. All men can teach at second or third hand, as you said .. by prompting the foremost rows .. by tradition & translation:—all, except poets, who must preach their own doctrine & sing their own song, to be the means of any wisdom or any music, & therefore have stricter duties thrust upon them, & may not lounge in the στοα [portico] like the conversation-teachers. So much I have to say to you, till we are in the Siren’s island, … & I, jealous of the Siren!–

'The Siren waits thee singing song for song,'

says Mr Landor. A prophecy which refuses to class you with the ‘mute fishes,’ precisely as I do.

And are you not my ‘good’—all my good now—my only good ever? The Italians would say it better without saying more."

Yes, I do believe that Miss Barrett is working at cheering up Browning today. He must have been down in the dumps when he came to visit yesterday. She is setting him on his charger and sending him out to teach the world with his poetry. 

"I had a letter from Miss Martineau this morning who accounts for her long silence by the supposition, .. put lately to an end by scarcely credible information from Mr Moxon, she says .. that I was out of England,—gone to the South from the 20th of September. She calls herself the strongest of women, & talks of 'walking fifteen miles one day & writing fifteen pp. another day without fatigue'—also of mesmerizing & of being infinitely happy except in the continued alienation of two of her family who cannot forgive her for getting well by such unlawful means. And she is to write again to tell me of Wordsworth, & promises to send me her new work in the meanwhile—all very kind.

So here is my letter to you which you asked for so 'against the principles of universal justice.' Yes, very unjust—very unfair it was—only, you make me do just as you like in everything. Now confess to your own conscience that even if I had not a lawful claim of a debt against you, I might come to ask charity with another sort of claim, oh 'son of humanity.' Think how much more need of a letter I have than you can have, .. & that if you have a giant’s power, ‘tis tyrannous to use it like a giant’Who would take tribute from the desert? How I grumble. Do let me have a letter directly! remember that no other light comes to my windows, & that I wait 'as those who watch for the morning'—'lux mea [my light]!'

May God bless you—and mind to say how you are exactly, and dont neglect the walking, pray do not!

Your own–

She doesn't grumble much at all in this letter, building up her man and ending with a mild teaze. She's a sweet girl.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 27, 1845

Miss Barrett responds to Mr. Browning's Christmas Day letter, such as it was, as briefly as she can today before moving on to a more comfortable subject--poetry:


Yes indeed, I have 'observed that way in' you, & not once, & not twice, & not twenty times, but oftener than any, .. & almost every time .. do you know, .. with an uncomfortable feeling from the reflection that that is the way for making all sorts of mistakes dependent on & issuing in exaggeration. It is the very way!—the highway–"
Yes, we all notice that Browning takes one bit of a subject, pins it to his mat, and dissects it until it is tortured. As he does in life he does in poetry. And she makes a light and obvious observation that such dissections magnify and exaggerate faults.

"For what you say in the letter here otherwise, I do not deny the truth .. as partial truth:—I was speaking generally quite. Admit that I am not apt to be extravagant in my ‘esprit de sexe’: the Martineau doctrine of intellectual equality &c, I gave them up, you remember, like a woman—most disgracefully, as Mrs Jameson would tell me. But we are not on that ground now—we are on ground worth holding a brief for!—& when women fail here .. it is not so much our fault. Which was all I meant to say from the beginning."
I do not necessarily agree with her that women are the intellectual inferior of men, but suspect that she threw that in to soften her rhetoric. At that time especially, women were not given the educational opportunities of men. However, I do agree with her in the point she was trying to make about women in their relation with men: Women were and are held to a different and higher standard than men in affairs of the heart. Men can be permitted changes of heart, shall we say, at any stage of a relationship and any change might actually be blamed on the woman, whereas a woman must always be constant and is given very little leeway, except in cases of extreme provocation. Less so today where almost anything goes for both parties, although women are still often blamed, and often blame themselves when men behave badly. Browning does not see this weakness in men because he is a gentleman and so he expects honourable behavior in all men. Miss Barrett wins this argument, but not with a knock out--strictly on points. She does not even bother to scold or teaze him too harshly. She probably realizes he was drunk or 'out of sorts' when he wrote his letter.
So, she turns to his poetry, where she points out that he gets it right:

"It reminds me of the exquisite analysis in your Luria, this third act, of the worth of a woman’s sympathy,—indeed of the exquisite double-analysis of unlearned & learned sympathies. Nothing could be better, I think, than this, .....

'To the motive the endeavour, the heart’s self
Your quick sense looks; you crown & call aright
The soul of the purpose ere ’tis shaped as act
Takes flesh i’ the world, & clothes itself a king—'

except the characterizing of the ‘learned praise,’ which comes afterwards in its fine subtle truth. What would those critics do to you, to what degree undo you, who would deprive you of the exercise of the discriminative faculty of the metaphysicians? As if a poet could be great without it! They might as well recommend a watchmaker to deal only in faces, in dials, & not to meddle with the wheels inside! You should tell Mr Forster so–"
The implicit message here is: Browning is better reflected in his poetry than his letter of December 25th. Yes, she has a very light touch.

And speaking of ‘Luria,’ which grows on me the more I read, .. how fine he is when the doubt breaks on him—I mean, where he begins .. ‘why then, all is very well’. It is most affecting, I think, all that process of doubt—& that reference to the friends at home (which at once proves him a stranger, & intimates, by just a stroke, that he will not look home for comfort out of the new foreign treason) is managed by you with singular dramatic dexterity ....

‘so slight, so slight
And yet it tells you they are dead & gone’!–
And then, the direct approach ..

‘You now, so kind here, all you Florentines,
What is it in your eyes?––'

Do you not feel it to be success, .. ‘you now’? I do, from my low ground as reader. The whole breaking round him of the cloud, & the manner in which he stands, facing it, .. I admire it all thoroughly. Braccio’s vindication of Florence strikes me as almost too poetically subtle for the man—but nobody could have the heart to wish a line of it away—that would be too much for critical virtue!–

I had your letter yesterday morning early. The postoffice people were so resolved on keeping their Christmas, that they would not let me keep mine– No post all day, after that general post before noon, which never brings me anything worth the breaking of a seal.

Am I to see you on monday? If there should be the least, least crossing of that day, .. anything to do, anything to see, anything to listen to—remember how tuesday stands close by, & that another monday comes on the following week. Now I need not say that every time, & you will please to remember it—Eccellenza!–

May God bless you–

Your EBB–

From the New Monthly Magazine, 'The admirers of Robert Browning’s poetry, & they are now very numerous, will be glad to hear of the issue by Mr Moxon of a seventh series of the renowned Bells & delicious Pomegranates, under the title of Dramatic Romances & Lyrics.' "
How lightly she disposes of his rotten letter and turns him around to his higher--and she would probably say truer self. He writes today as well, quite briefly:
"Saturday 4.p.m.
I was forced to leave off abruptly on Christmas morning—and now I have but a few minutes before our inexorable post leaves: I hoped to return from Town earlier. But I can say something—and Monday will make amends. 'Forever' and forever I do love you, dearest—love you with my whole heart—in life, in death–
Yes,—I did go to Mr Kenyon’s—who had a little to forgive in my slack justice to his good dinner—but was for the rest, his own kind self—and I went, also, to Moxon’s—who said something about my number’s going off 'rather heavily'—so let it!"
Still too hung over to enjoy his dinner at Kenyon's.
"—Too good, too, too indulgent you are, my own Ba, to 'acts' first or last; but all the same, I am glad and encouraged. Let me get done with these, and better things will follow–
Now, bless you, ever my sweetest—I have you ever in my thoughts– And on Monday, remember, I am to see you–
Your own RB"
Hopefully he will be sobered up by Monday. Men.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Decmber 25, 1845

Browning sends a letter on Christmas Day:

"25th Dec.

My dear Christmas gift of a letter! I will write back a few lines—(all I can, having to go out now)—just that I may forever .. certainly during our mortal 'forever'—mix my love for you, and, as you suffer me to say, your love for me .. dearest! .. these shall be mixed with the other loves of the day and live therein,—as I write, and trust, and know— forever! While I live I will remember what was my feeling in reading, and in writing, and in stopping from either .. as I have just done .. to kiss you and bless you with my whole heart– Yes, yes, bless you, my own!

All is right, all of your letter .. admirably right and just in the defence of the women I seemed to speak against; and only seemed—because that is a way of mine which you must have observed,—that foolish concentrating of thought and feeling, for a moment, on some one little spot of a character or anything else indeed, and, in the attempt to do justice and develop whatever may seem ordinarily to be overlooked in it,—that over vehement insisting on, and giving an undue prominence to, the same—which has the effect of taking away from the importance of the rest of the related objects which, in truth, are not considered at all .. or they would also rise proportionally when subjected to the same (.. that is, correspondingly magnified and dilated ..) light and concentrated feeling; so, you remember, the old divine, preaching on 'small sins,' in his zeal to expose the tendencies & consequences usually made little account of, was led to maintain the said small sins to be 'greater than great ones.' But then .. if you look on the world altogether, and accept the small natures, in their usual proportion, with the greater .. things do not look quite so bad; because, the conduct which is atrocious in those higher cases, of proposal and acceptance, may be no more than the claims of the occasion justify—(wait and hear!)—in certain other cases where the thing sought for and granted is avowedly less by a million degrees; it shall all be traffic, exchange-"
I have to stop him right here. Yes, I did notice that he did have this "foolish concentrating of thought and feeling" and so did everyone else and that is why no one likes his poetry. Just sayin'. But I had to pause here in mid-sentence to ask: What kind of Christmas letter is this? Has he been in the egg-nog? Out all night with the boys? He is just crazy out of control here. But let us go on or we may never make it to New Years.
"(counting spiritual gifts as only coin, for our purpose)—but surely the formalities and policies and decencies all vary with the nature of the thing trafficked for—a man makes up his mind during half his life to acquire a Pitt-diamond or a Pilgrim-pearl—and gets witnesses and testimony and so forth—but, surely, when I pass a shop where oranges are ticketed up seven for six pence I offend no law by sparing all words and putting down the piece with a certain authoritative ring on the counter: If instead of diamonds you want—(being a king or queen)—provinces with live men on them .. there is so much more diplomacy required,—new interests are appealed to .. high motives supposed, at all events—whereas, when, in Naples, a man asks leave to black your shoe in the dusty street 'purely for the honor of serving your Excellency' you laugh and would be sorry to find yourself without a 'grano' or two—(six of which, about, make a farthing)– Now, do you not see? Where so little is to be got, why offer much more? If a man knows that .. but I am teaching you! All I mean is, that, in Benedick’s phrase, 'the world must go on'– He who honestly wants his wife to sit at the head of his table and carve .. that is be his help-meat (not 'help mete for him')—he shall assuredly find a girl of his degree who wants the table to sit at,—and some dear friend to mortify, who would be glad of such a piece of fortune—and if that man offers that woman a bunch of orange-flowers and a sonnet, instead of a buck-horn-handled sabre-shaped knife, sheathed in an 'Every Lady Her Own Market-Woman, Being a Table of' &c &c then, I say, he is——.

Bless you, dearest—the clock strikes—and time is none .. but .. bless you!

Your own RB"
Well, Merry Christmas to you Mr. Browning. I am not at all sure that he himself knew where he was going with this. Thank heaven the clock struck. Essentially: men act the way they do to get the woman they want. From this I gather that if a man acts like a pig he will get a pig. But that is not true. A man will act like a gentleman to get a lady and be masking his true pig nature. And as for him 'teaching' Miss Barrett. No. He was lecturing but he was not teaching. Letter grade F. Now go sleep it off Mr. Browning and try again when you have sobered up.

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21, 1845

Both our poets were busy writing today; letters, not poetry. Let's hear from Browning first:

"Sunday Night.

Now, 'ought' you to be 'sorry you sent that letter,' which made, & makes me so happy—so happy—can you bring yourself to turn round and tell one you have so blessed with your bounty that there was a mistake, and you meant only half that largess? If you are not sensible that you do make me most happy by such letters, and do not warm in the reflection of your own rays, then I do give up indeed the last chance of procuring you happiness; My own 'ought,' which you object to, shall be withdrawn—being only a pure bit of selfishness,—I felt, in missing the letter of yours, next day, that I might have drawn it down by one of mine,—if I had begged never so gently, the gold would have fallen—there was my omitted duty to myself which you properly blame– I should stand silently and wait and be sure of the ever-remembering goodness.

Let me count my gold now—and rub off any speck that stays the full shining. First—that thought .. I told you,—I pray you, pray you, sweet—never that again—or what leads, never so remotely or indirectly to it! On your own fancied ground—the fulfilment would be of necessity fraught with every woe that can fall in this life. I am yours for ever—if you are not here, with me—what then? Say, you take all of yourself away but—just enough to live on,—then, that defeats every kind purpose .. as if you cut away all the ground from my feet but so much as serves for bare standing room .. why still, I stand there—and is it the better that I have no broader space, when off that you cannot force me? I have your memory, the knowledge of you, the idea of you printed into my heart and brain,—on that, I can live my life—but it is for you, the dear, utterly generous creature I know you, to give me more and more beyond mere life—to extend life and deepen it—as you do, and will do. Oh, how I love you when I think of the entire truthfulness of your generosity to me—how, meaning, and willing to give, you gave nobly! Do you think I have not seen in this world how women who do love will manage to confer that gift on occasion? And shall I allow myself to fancy how much alloy such pure gold as your love would have rendered endurable?– Yet it came, virgin ore, to complete my fortune! And what but this makes me confident and happy? Can I take a lesson by your fancies, and begin frightening myself with saying .. 'but if she saw all the world—the worthier, better men there .. those who would' &c &c? No, I think of the great, dear gift that it was,—how I 'won' nothing (the hateful word, and French thought)—did nothing by my own arts or cleverness in the matter .. so what pretence have the more artful or more clever for—but I cannot write out this folly– I am yours for ever, with the utmost sense of gratitude—to say I would give you my life joyfully is little .. I would, I hope, do that for two or three other people—but I am not conscious of any imaginable point in which I would not implicitly devote my whole self to you—be disposed of by you as for the best. There! It is not to be spoken of—let me live it into proof, beloved!"

He has the same misgivings about his worthiness as she does about her own, but he accepts the possibility of failure in the face of the known quantity of the love he feels. He makes a good point: she may find later that he is not her ideal as he may find with her. The unspoken point being: why throw it all away without even trying when the great and good may well out weigh the bad. "Let me live it into proof."

"And for 'disappointment and a burthen' .. now—let us get quite away from ourselves, and not see one of the filaments, but only the cords of love with the world’s horny eye– Have we such jarring tastes, then? Does your inordinate attachment to gay life interfere with my deep passion for society? 'Have they common sympathy in each other’s pursuits'—always asks Mrs Tomkins! Well, here was I when you knew me, fixed in my way of life, meaning with God’s help to write what may be written and so die at peace with myself so far– Can you help me or no? Do you not help me so much that, if you saw the more likely peril for poor human nature, you would say, 'He will be jealous of all the help coming from me—none from him to me!'—and that would be a consequence of the help, all-too-great for hope of return, with any one less possessed than I with the exquisiteness of being transcended and the blest one."
Ah, "the exquisiteness of being transcended..." He was meant for her. Imagine these words having meaning for anyone else on earth.

"But—'here comes the Silah and the voice is hushed'–I will speak of other things: when we are together one day—the days I believe in– I mean to set about that reconsidering 'Sordello'—it has always been rather on my mind—but yesterday I was reading the 'Purgatorio' and the first speech of the group of which Sordello makes one, struck me with a new significance, as well describing the man and his purpose and fate in my own poem—see,—one of the burthened, contorted souls tell Virgil & Dante,

Noi fummo già tutti per forza morti,
E peccatori infin’ all’ ultim’ ora:
Quivilume del ciel ne fece accorti;
Si chè, pentendo e perdonando, fora
Di vita uscimmo a Dio pacificati
Che del disio di se veder n’accora.

Which is just my Sordello’s story .. could I 'do' it off hand, I wonder.

And sinners were we to the extreme hour;
Then, light from heaven fell, making us aware,
So that, repenting us and pardoned, out
Of life we passed to God, at peace with Him
Who fills the heart with yearning Him to see–

There were many singular incidents attending my work on that subject—thus, quite at the end, I found out there was printed and not published, a little historical tract by a Count V—something, called 'Sordello'—with the motto “Post fata resurgam [I shall rise again]'! 'I hope he prophecied'– The main of this—biographical notices—is extracted by Muratori—(I think). Last year when I set foot in Naples I found after a few minutes that at some theatre, that night, the opera was to be 'one act of Sordello'—and I never looked twice, nor expended a couple of carlines on the libretto!"
He is being haunted by 'Sordello' and yet he never does re attend 'Sordello'. Life intervened.

"I wanted to tell you, in my last letter, that when I spoke of people’s tempers you have no concern with 'people.' I do not glance obliquely at your temper—either to discover it, or praise it, or adapt myself to it– I speak of the relation one sees in other cases—how one opposes passionate foolish people, but hates cold clever people who take quite care enough of themselves: I myself am born supremely passionate—so I was born with light yellow hair—all changes; that is the passion changes its direction and, taking a channel large enough, looks calmer, perhaps, than it should—and all my sympathies go with quiet strength of course—but I know what the other kind is. As for the breakages of chairs, and the appreciation of Parisian meubles,—manibus, pedibusque descendo in tuam sententiam, Ba, mî ocelle! [I acquiese completely to your opinion, Ba, my little eye.]  ('What was E.B.C?' why, the first letter after, and not E.B.B, my own B! There was no latent meaning in the C—but I had no inclination to go on to D, or E, for instance!) And so, love, Tuesday is to be our day—one day more—and then!. And meanwhile 'care' for me! a good word for you—but my care, what is that! One day I aspire to care, though! I shall not go away at any dear Mr K.’s coming! They call me down-stairs to supper—and my fire is out, and you keep me from feeling cold and yet ask if I am well? Yes, well—yes, happy—and your own ever– I must bid God bless you—dearest! RB"
Browning sees himself as passionate. I would never have guessed that. He only appears calm because his passion in spread in a wide channel. Wonderful. And to prove his passion he boldly asserts that he, "shall not go away at any dear Mr. K's. coming!" No, of course he won't. (How many times does he do that? I have lost count.)
Miss Barrett now provides a letter the length of a novella (well, I do exaggerate a bit):
"Sunday night.
But did I ‘dispute’? Surely not. Surely I believe in you & in ‘mysteries.’ Surely I prefer the no-reason to ever so much rationalism .. (rationalism & infidelity go together they say!). All which I may do, & be afraid sometimes notwithstanding—& when you overpraise me (not overlove) I must be frightened as I told you.
It is with me as with the theologians. I believe in you & can be happy & safe so: but when my ‘personal merits’ come into question in any way, even the least, .. why then the position grows untenable:—it is no more ‘of grace’."
Hmm..Browning as a Christ like figure..and she is only worthy via grace...perhaps mildly blasphemous, but as a simple analogy quite apt.
"Do I teaze you? as I teaze myself sometimes? But do not wrong me in turn! Do not keep repeating that ‘after long years’ I shall know you—know you!—as if I did not without the years. If you are forced to refer me to those long years, I must deserve the thistles besides. The thistles are the corollary."
She has already had the thistles, let her jump to the chase.
"For it is obvious .. manifest .. that I cannot doubt of you—that I may doubt of myself, of happiness, of the whole world, .. but of you .. not: it is obvious that if I could doubt of you & act so I should be a very idiot, or worse indeed. And you .. you think I doubt of you whenever I make an interjection!—now do you not? And is it reasonable?– Of you, I mean?
Monday/ For my part, you must admit it to be too possible that you may be, as I say, ‘disappointed’ in me—it is too possible. And if it does no good to say so, even now perhaps .. if it is mere weakness to say so & simply torments you, why do you be magnanimous & forgive that .. let it pass as a weakness & forgive it so. Often I think painful things which I do not tell you & ........
While I write, your letter comes. Kindest of you it was, to write me such a letter, when I expected scarcely the shadow of one!—this makes up for the other letter which I expected unreasonably & which you ‘ought not’ to have written, as was proved afterwards– And now why should I go on with that sentence? What had I to say of 'painful things,' I wonder? All the painful things seem gone .. vanished—I forget what I had to say– Only do you still think of this, dearest beloved,—that I sit here in the dark but for you, & that the light you bring me (from my fault!—from the nature of my darkness!) is not a settled light as when you open the shutters in the morning, but a light made by candles which burn some of them longer & some shorter, & some brighter & briefer, both at once, being ‘double-wicks’, & that there is an intermission for a moment now & then between the dropping of the old light into the socket & the lighting of the new– Every letter of yours is a new light which burns so many hours .. & then!– I am morbid, you see—or call it by what name you like .. too wise or too foolish. 'If the light of the body is darkness, how great is that darkness.' Yet even when I grow too wise, I admit always that while you love me it is an answer to all. And I am never so much too foolish as to wish to be worthier for my own sake—only for yours!—not for my own sake, since I am content to owe all things to you."
She may be morbid, but she certainly knows herself. Her analogy of the light that comes and goes is perfect.
"And it could be so much to you to lose me!,—& you say so,—& then think it needful to tell me not to think the other thought.!! As if that were possible! Do you remember what you said once of the flowers .. that you ‘felt a respect for them when they had passed out of your hands’? and must it not be so with my life, which if you choose to have it, must be respected too? Much more with my life!– Also, see that I, who had my warmest affections on the other side of the grave, feel that it is otherwise with me now—quite otherwise. I did not like it at first to be so much otherwise. And I could not have had any such thought through a weariness of life or any of my old motives, but simply to escape the ‘risk’ I told you of. Should I have said to you instead of it .. 'Love me for ever'?—— Well then, .. I do–"
"Love me forever" is the (ironic) refrain from Browning's just published poem "Earth's Immortalities". But she said it! Kind of. She used the word 'love'. It is a quote and she is laughing at him, but she essentially said she loved him. She is progressing.
"As to my ‘helping’ you, my help is in your fancy,—& if you go on with the fancy, I perfectly understand that it will be as good as deeds. We have sympathy too—we walk one way—oh, I do not forget the advantages. Only Mrs Tomkins’s ideas of happiness are below my ambition for you——

So often as I have said, (it reminds me) that in this situation I should be more exacting than any other woman—so often I have said it!—& so different everything is from what I thought it would be! Because if I am exacting it is for you & not for me—it is altogether for you—you understand that, dearest of all .. it is for you wholly. It never crosses my thought, in a lightning even, the question whether I may be happy so & so—I. It is the other question which comes always—too often for peace.
People used to say to me, 'You expect too much—you are too romantic'– And my answer always was that 'I could not expect too much when I expected nothing at all' .. which was the truth—for I never thought (& how often I have said that!) I never thought that anyone whom I could love, would stoop to love me .. the two things seemed clearly incompatible to my understanding.
And now when it comes in a miracle, you wonder at me for looking twice, thrice, four times, to see if it comes through ivory or horn– You wonder that it should seem to me at first all illusion—illusion for you, .. illusion for me as a consequence. But how natural–.
It is true of me .. very true .. that I have not a high appreciation of what passes in the world (& not merely the Tomkins-world!) under the name of love, & that a distrust of the thing had grown to be a habit of mind with me when I knew you first. It has appeared to me, through all the seclusion of my life & the narrow experience it admitted of, that in nothing, men .. & women too!, .. were so apt to mistake their own feelings, as in this one thing. Putting falseness quite on one side, .. quite out of sight & consideration, .. an honest mistaking of feeling appears wonderfully common—& no mistake has such frightful results—none can. Selflove & generosity, a mistake may come from either—from pity, from admiration, from any blind impulse——oh, when I look at the histories of my own female friends .. to go no step further!– And if it is true of the women, what must the other side be? To see the marriages which are made everyday! worse than solitudes & more desolate! In the case of the two happiest I ever knew, one of the husbands said in confidence to a brother of mine—not much in confidence or I should not have heard it, but in a sort of smoking frankness, .. that he had 'ruined his prospects by marrying,'—& the other said to myself at the very moment of professing an extraordinary happiness, … 'But I should have done as well if I had not married her.'
Then for the falseness——the first time I ever, in my own experience, heard that word which rhymes to glove & comes as easily off & on, (on some hands!) .. it was from a man of whose attentions to another woman I was at that time her confidante. I was bound so to silence for her sake, that I could not even speak the scorn that was in me—and in fact my uppermost feeling was a sort of horror .. a terror—for I was very young then, & the world did, at the moment, look ghastly!"

Not many happy endings does she have to report. Perhaps she needs to get out more.
The falseness & the calculations!—why how can you who are just, blame women .. when you must know what the 'system' of men is towards them,—& of men not ungenerous otherwise? Why are women to be blamed if they act as if they had to do with swindlers?—is it not the mere instinct of preservation which makes them do it? Men make women what they are. And your ‘honorable men’, the most loyal of them, .. (for instance) .. is it not a rule with them (unless when taken unaware through a want of selfgovernment) to force a woman (trying all means) to force a woman to stand committed in her affections .. (they with their feet lifted all the time to trample on her for want of delicacy—) before they risk the pin-prick to their own personal pitiful vanities? Oh—to see how these things are set about by men! to see how a man carefully holding up on each side the skirts of an embroidered vanity to keep it quite safe from the wet, will contrive to tell you in so many words that he … might love you if the sun shone! And women are to be blamed!– Why there are, to be sure, cold & heartless, light & changeable, ungenerous & calculating women in the world!—that is sure. But for the most part, they are only what they are made—& far better than the nature of the making .. of that I am confident. The loyal make the loyal, the disloyal the disloyal. And I give no more discredit to those women you speak of, than I myself can take any credit in this thing—I– Because who could be disloyal with you .. with whatever corrupt inclination? You, who are the noblest of all? If you judge me so, .. it is my privilege rather than my merit .. as I feel of myself."

She went on a little rant there didn't she? She makes good points however, the books were cooked in favor of the men. Their peccadillo's could be forgiven, overlook and even found amusing, but for a woman to step out of the social norms of the time was dangerous indeed.
"Wednesday/ All but the last few lines of all this was written before I saw you yesterday, ever dearest—& since, I have been reading your third act which is perfectly noble & worthy of you both in the conception & expression, & carries the reader on triumphantly .. to speak for one reader. It seems to me too that the language is freer—there is less inversion & more breadth of rhythm. It just strikes me so for the first impression: At any rate the interest grows & grows. You have a secret about Domizia, I guess—which will not be told till the last perhaps. And that poor, noble Luria, who will be equal to the leap .. as it is easy to see. It is full, altogether, of magnanimities:—noble,—& nobly put. I will go on with my notes, or those, you shall have at once .. I mean together .. presently. And dont hurry & chafe yourself for the fourth act—now that you are better! To be ill again—think what that would be!– Luria will be great now whatever you do—or whatever you do not. Will he not?
And never, never for a moment (I quite forgot to tell you) did I fancy that you were talking at me in the temper-observations—never. It was the most unprovoked egotism, all that I told you of my temper,—for certainly I never suspected you of asking questions so. I was simply amused a little by what you said, & thought to myself (if you will know my thoughts on that serious subject) that you had probably lived among very goodtempered persons, to hold such an opinion about the innocuousness of illtemper. It was all I thought, indeed. Now to fancy that I was capable of suspecting you of such a maneuvre!—— Why you would have asked me directly,—if you had wished ‘curiously to enquire.’ "

I don't think he would have asked her directly. They are both rather shy in the asking and telling department.
"An excellent solemn chiming, the passage from Dante makes with your Sordello—and the Sordello deserves the labour which it needs, to make it appear the great work it is. I think that the principle of association is too subtly in movement throughout it—so that while you are going straightforward you go at the same time round & round, until the progress involved in the motion is lost sight of by the lookers on. Or did I tell you that before?
You have heard, I suppose, how Dickens’s ‘Cricket’ sells by nineteen thousand copies at a time, though he takes Michael Angelo to be ‘a humbug’ .. or for 'though' read 'because'. Tell me of Mr Kenyon’s dinner. And Moxon?
Is not this an infinite letter? I shall hear from you I hope .. I ask you to let me hear soon. I write all sorts of things to you, rightly & wrongly perhaps—when wrongly, forgive it. I think of you always– May God bless you. 'Love me for ever,' as
Your Ba"

I think she got her wish.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 20, 1845

Let's begin with Miss Barrett's response to Browning's letter of the 19th--she had teazed him about not writing to her but now takes it back with a truism understood by all purveyors of teaze: if she had meant it she would not have written it.


I have your letter now, & now I am sorry I sent mine. If I wrote that you had 'forgotten to write,' I did not mean it,—not a word! If I had meant it I should not have written it. But it would have been better for every reason to have waited just a little longer before writing at all. A besetting sin of mine is an impatience which makes people laugh when it does not entangle their silks, pull their knots tighter, & tear their books in cutting them open.

How right you are about Mr Lowell!– He has a refined fancy & is graceful for an American critic, but the truth is, otherwise, that he knows nothing of English poetry or the next thing to nothing, & has merely had a dream of the early dramatists. The amount of his reading in that direction is an article in the Retrospective Review which contains extracts,—& he re-extracts the extracts, re-quotes the quotations, &, ‘a pede Herculem [from the foot of Hercules],’ from the foot infers the man, or rather from the sandal-string of the foot, infers & judges the soul of the manit is comparative anatomy under the most speculative conditions. How a writer of his talents & pretentions could make up his mind to make up a book on such slight substratum, is a curious proof of the state of literature in America. Do you not think so? Why a lecturer on the English Dramatists for a 'Young Ladies’ Academy' here in England, might take it to be necessary to have better information than he could gather from an odd volume of an old review! And then, Mr Lowell’s naïveté in showing his authority, .. as if the Elizabethan poets lay mouldering in inaccessible manuscript somewhere below the lowest deep of Shakespeare’s grave, .. is curious beyond the rest!– Altogether, the fact is an epigram on the surface-literature of America. As you say, their books do not suit us:—Mrs Markham might as well send her compendium of the History of France to M. Thiers– If they knew more, they could not give parseley crowns to their own native poets, when there is greater merit among the rabbits. Mrs Sigourney has just sent me, .. just this morning .. her 'Scenes in my native land'—&, peeping between the uncut leaves, I read of the poet Hillhouse, of 'sublime spirit & Miltonic energy,' standing in 'the temple of Fame' as if it were built on purpose for him!– I suppose he is like most of the American poets .. who are shadows of the true .. as flat as a shadow, as colourless as a shadow, as lifeless & as transitory. Mr Lowell himself is, in his verse-books, poetical, if not a poet—& certainly this little book we are talking of, is graceful enough in some ways—you would call it a pretty book—would you not? Two or three letters I have had from him .. all very kind!—& that reminds me, alas! of some ineffable ingratitude on my own part! When one’s conscience grows too heavy, there is nothing for it but to throw it away!——"
Miss Barrett is hard on the Americans today. I do not take exception to her comments, what do I know? But methinks her comments are true today of any and all: people do not study things to know, they read extracts of extracts and assume 'knowledge'. You can tell this from reading almost any biography of the Browning's. My advise: go to the primary material and read, don't rely on the biographies-or just rely on them as a starting place.

"Do you remember how I tried to tell you what he said of you, & how you would not let me?

Mr Mathews said of him .. having met him once in society, .. that he was the concentration of conceit in appearance & manner. But since then, they seem to be on better terms.

Where is the meaning, pray, of EBC?—your meaning, I mean.?

My true initials are EBMB—my long name, as opposed to my short one, being … Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett!—there’s a full length to take away one’s breath!– Christian name .. Elizabeth Barrett:—surname, Moulton Barrett. So long it is, that to make it portable, I fell into the habit of doubling it up & packing it closely, .. & of forgetting that I was a Moulton, altogether. One might as well write the alphabet as all four initials. Yet our family-name is Moulton Barrett, & my brothers reproach me sometimes for sacrificing the governorship of an old town in Norfolk with a little honorable verdigris from the Heralds’ Office– As if I cared for the Retrospective Review! Nevertheless it is true that I would give ten towns in Norfolk (if I had them) to own some purer lineage than that of the blood of the slave!– Cursed we are from generation to generation!– I seem to hear the ‘Commination service’.

May God bless you always, always!—beyond the always of this world!——

Your EBB—

Mr Dickens’s ‘Cricket’ sings repetitions, &, with considerable beauty, is extravagant– It does not appear to me by any means one of his most successful productions, though quite free from what was reproached as bitterness & one-sidedness, last year.


You do not say how you are—not a word!– And you are wrong in saying that you 'ought to have written'—as if 'ought' could be in place so! You neveroughtto write to me, you know! or rather .. if you ever think you ought, you ought not! Which is a speaking of mysteries on my part!"
I took it upon myself to look at the original letter as filmed on the Baylor website and it seems to me that Miss Barrett had rather shaky penmanship today. The letter itself seems fine as far as content goes, certainly it does not contain her usual morbidity. Hmmm...perhaps she was simply not feeling well or was in need of her laudanum.
Browning writes responding to her letter of December 18 wherein she had written that she would rather die now than disappoint him later:
I do not, nor will not think, dearest, of ever 'making you happy'– I can imagine no way of working to that end, which does not go straight to my own truest, only true happiness: yet in every such effort there is implied some distinction, some supererogatory grace, or why speak of it at all? You it is, are my happiness, and all that ever can be: you—dearest!
But never, if you would not .. what you will not do, I know .. never revert to that frightful wish—'Disappoint me?' 'I speak what I know and testify what I have seen'—you shall say 'mystery' again & again—I do not dispute that—but do not you dispute, neither, that mysteries are: but it is simply because I do most justice to the mystical part of what I feel for you, because I consent to lay most stress on that fact of facts that I love you, beyond admiration, and respect, and esteem and affection, evenand do not adduce any reason which stops short of accounting for that, whatever else it would account for .. because I do this, in pure logical justice—you are able to turn and wonder (.. if you do .. now) what causes it all! My love, only wait, only believe in me—and it cannot be but I shall, little by little, become known to youafter long years perhaps, but still one day. I would say this now—but I will write more to-morrow– God bless my sweetest—ever, love, I am your RB
But my letter came last night, did it not?
<Another thing [this is scratched out]> no, tomorrow—for time presses, and, in all cases, Tuesday—remember!"
Wonderful strategy that he did not berate her for saying that she would rather die than disappoint, he just refers to it as 'frightful'; he simply reiterates that he loves her and allows for miracles. And she was worried about teazing him about not writing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 1945

Browning writes to Miss Barrett today:

"Friday Morning.

I ought to have written yesterday—so to-day when I need a letter and get none, there is my own fault besides, and the less consolation– A letter from you would light up this sad day: shall I fancy how, if a letter lay there, where I look,—rain might fall and winds blow while I listened to you, long after the words had been laid to heart? But here you are—in your place—with me who am your own—your own—and so the rhyme joins on,

—She shall speak to me in places lone
With a low and holy tone.
Ay! when I have lit my lamp at night
She shall be present with my sprite:
And I will say, whate’er it be,
Every word she telleth me!

Now, is that taken from your book? No—but from my book, which holds my verses as I write them; and as I open it, I read that–"
Browning quotes one of Miss Barrett's poems, 'The Past', which he had written in his own writing portfolio. "They appear inside the cover of his embossed writing portfolio, enclosed within an intricately sketched boxed border and framed by Hebrew, Latin, and Italian inscriptions (leading some to assume that the lines were by RB himself and to publish them under his name). On the facing page of the portfolio appears a printed copy— with the first line in ornate script— of  'How do I love thee,' signed 'E.B. Browning. Above the quotation thus framed appears a Hebrew inscription, 'The possession eternal.' Below it RB wrote a Latin inscription from Virgil’s Aeneid (4.83): 'absens absentum auditque videtque' ('absent [she] both hears and sees [him] absent'). Beneath the Latin inscription in turn, in large, ornate, framed script, appears the Italian phrase, 'ALLA GIORNATA,' which literally means 'to the day,' but is used idiomatically in a commemorative sense (as in 'Here’s to the day we met' or 'to the day we will meet again'), and also to imply that one must live by the day or accept life as it comes. On the same cover of RB’s writing portfolio (though turned upside down) appears an allegorical sketch, evidently of the 'figure of the locust, with the face of a man and the crown upon its head,' from Revelation 9.7." This extended quote is from

"And speaking of verse—somebody gave me a few days ago that Mr Lowell’s book you once mentioned to me: anyone who 'admires' you shall have my sympathy at once—even though he do change the laughing wine-mark into a 'stain' in that perfectly beautiful triplet—nor am I to be indifferent to his good word for myself (—tho’ not very happily connected with the criticism on the epithet in that 'Yorkshire Tragedy' (which has better things, by the way)—seeing that 'white boy,' in old language, meant just 'good boy,' a general epithet—as Johnson notices in the life of Dryden—whom the schoolmaster Busby was used to class with his 'white boys' .. this is hypercriticism, however)– But these American books should not be reprinted here—one asks, what and where is the class to which they address themselves? for, no doubt, we have our congregations of ignoramuses that enjoy the profoundest ignorance imaginable on the subjects treated of—but these are evidently not the audience Mr Lowell reckons on, .. rather,—if one may trust the manner of his setting to work,—he would propound his doctrine to the class always to be found, of spirits instructed up to a certain height and there resting—vines that run up a prop and there tangle and grow to a knot—which want supplying with fresh poles; so the provident man brings his bundle into the grounds, and sticks them in laterally or a-top of the others, as the case requires, and all the old stocks go on growing again—but here, with us, whoever wanted Chaucer, or Chapman, or Ford, got him long ago—what else have Lamb, & Coleridge, & Hazlitt & Hunt and so on to the end of their generation .. what else been doing this many a year? What one passage of all these, cited with the very air of a Columbus, but has been known to all who know anything of poetry this many, many a year? The others, who don’t know anything, are the stocks that have got to shoot, not climb higher—compost, they want in the first place! Ford’s & Crashaw’s rival nightingales—why they have been dissertated on by Wordsworth & Coleridge—then by Lamb & Hazlitt—then worked to death by Hunt, who printed them entire and quoted them to pieces again, in every periodical he was ever engaged upon—and yet after all, here 'Philip'—'must read' (out of a roll of dropping papers with yellow ink tracings, so old!) something at which 'John' claps his hands and says 'Really—that these ancients should own so much wit' &c! The passage no longer looks its fresh self after this veritable passage from hand to hand: as when, in old dances, the belle began the figure with her own partner, and by him was transferred to the next, and so to the next—they ever beginning with all the old alacrity and spirit,—but she bearing a still-accumulating weight of tokens of galantry, and none the better for every fresh pushing and shoving and pulling and hauling—till, at the bottom of the room …

To which Mr Lowell might say, that—No, I will say the true thing against myself .. and it is, that—when I turn from what is in my mind and determine to write about anybody’s book to avoid writing that I love & love & love again my own, dearest love—because of the cuckoo-song of it,—then, I shall be in no better humour with that book than with Mr Lowell’s!"
Ok, stop right there. I feel a sonnet coming on:
Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem a “cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belovëd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!” Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

"(But I have a new thing to say or sing—you never before heard me love and bless and send my heart after .. 'Ba'—did you?) Ba .. and that is you! I tried (—more than wanted—) to call you that, on Wednesday! I have a flower here—rather, a star, a mimosa, which must be turned and turned, the side to the light changing in a little time to the leafy side, where all the fans lean and spread .. so I turn your name to me, that side I have not last seen: you cannot tell how I feel glad that you will not part with the name—Barrett—seeing you have two of the same—and must always, moreover, remain my EBB!

Dearest 'E.B.C'—no, no! and so it will never be!"
Stop again, I feel another sonnet coming on:
Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips plied,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God—call God!—so let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

"Have you seen Mr Kenyon? I did not write .. knowing that such a procedure would draw the kind sure letter in return, with the invitation &c, as if I had asked for it! I had perhaps better call on him some morning very early–

Bless you, my own sweetest. You will write to me, I know in my heart! Ever may God bless you!

For an idle woman she is certainly busy writing sonnet after sonnet. We often and often hear the word 'muse' used but surely this is a true example of a man as a muse. Browning brought forth the inspiration for the sonnets, Miss Barrett had the talent.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 18, 1845

Miss Barrett writes a lovely teazing letter to Mr. Browning on this Thursday after their visit the previous day:

"Thursday evening.

Dearest you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either– I simply understand that you are my happiness, & that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?– That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier.

Talking of happiness, .. shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry & I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter .. now .. before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better & dearer & more to be considered than I, I do not choose it. I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps, (who can say?) if I should prove the burden of your life.
For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others .. as with the extravagance yesterday!—& seriously, .. too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past, .. I am frightened .. I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing & displeasing you? I ask the question, & find no answer–

It is a poor answer, to say that I can do one thing well .. that I have one capacity largely. On points of the general affections, I have in thought applied to myself the words of Mdme de Stael .. not fretfully, I hope .. not complainingly, I am sure .. (I can thank God for most affectionate friends!) not complainingly, yet mournfully & in profound conviction .. those words .. ‘jamais je n’ai pas éte aimée comme j’aime’ [I have never been loved as I have loved]. The capacity of loving is the largest of my powers I think– I thought so before knowing you & one form of feeling. And although any woman might love you .. every woman, .. with understanding enough to discern you by.—(oh, do not fancy that I am unduly ‘magnifying mine office’) yet I persist in persuading myself that .........! Because I have the capacity, as I said!—and besides I owe more to you than others could, it seems to me!—let me boast of it. To many, you might be better than all things while one of all things:—to me you are instead of all!—to many, a crowning happiness.—to me, the happiness itself. From out of the deep dark pits men see the stars more gloriously—and de profundis amavi [Out of the depths have I loved]. .....

It is a very poor answer—! Almost as poor an answer as yours could be if I were to ask you to teach me to please you always——or rather, how not to displease you, disappoint you, vex you——what if all those things were in my fate?"
She is morbid and a bit perverse but finally she admits that her love for Browning is profound. For the first time she uses the word 'love' in connection to him; today she does not simply 'care' for him.. She has a large capacity to love and she finally boasts in a self deprecating way: She can offer him nothing but the capacity to love him. She would rather die than hurt or disappoint him but does not chose to do so so as to not hurt him. Her convoluted reasoning is not unreasonable: what is worse than disappointing someone that you love and respect. Who among us doesn't at some point in their lives feel like a phony?
But she turns from her introspection to teazing:

"And .. (to begin! ..) I am disappointed tonight. I expected a letter which does not come—& I had felt so sure of having a letter tonight .. unreasonably sure perhaps, which means doubly sure.

Friday. Remember you have had two notes of mine, & that it is certainly not my turn to write, though I am writing.

Scarcely you had gone on wednesday when Mr Kenyon came. It seemed best to me, you know, that you should go .. I had the presentiment of his footsteps—&, so near they were, that if you had looked up the street in leaving the door, you must have seen him! Of course I told him of your having been here & also at his house, whereupon he enquired eagerly if you meant to dine with him, seeming disappointed by my negative. 'Now I had told him,' he said .. & murmured on to himself loud enough for me to hear, that 'it would have been a peculiar pleasure &c'– The reason I have not seen him lately is the eternal ‘business,’ just as you thought, & he means to come 'oftener now'—so that nothing is wrong as I half thought.

As your letter does not come it is a good opportunity for asking what sort of ill humour, or (to be more correct) bad temper, you most particularly admire?—sulkiness? .. the divine gift of sitting aloof in a cloud like any god for three weeks together perhaps—? pettishness .. which will get you up a storm about a crooked pin or a straight one either? Obstinacy .. which is an agreeable form of temper I can assure you, & describes itself?– Or the good open passion which lies on the floor & kicks, like one of my cousins?– Certainly I prefer the last, & should I think, prefer it, (as an evil) even if it were not the born weakness of my own nature—though I humbly confess (to you, who seem to think differently of these things) that never since I was a child, have I upset all the chairs & tables & thrown the books about the room in a fury—I am afraid I do not even ‘kick’ .. like my cousin, now. Those demonstrations were all done by the 'light of other days' .. not a very full light, I used to be accustomed to think:—but you .. you think otherwise .. you take a fury to be the opposite of ‘indifference’ .. as if there could be no such thing as self-controul!. Now for my part, I do believe that the worst tempered persons in the world, are less so through sensibility than selfishness—they spare nobody’s heart, on the ground of being themselves pricked by a straw. Now see if it is’nt so– What, after all, is a good temper but generosity in trifles—& what without it, is the happiness of life?—we have only to look round us. I saw a woman, once, burst into tears, because her husband cut the bread & butter too thick. I saw that with my own eyes. Was it sensibility, I wonder!– They were at least real tears & ran down her cheeks. 'You always do it.'! she said."
I wonder what got them on the subject of 'ill humours'. We know Browning has a bad temper and Miss Barrett holds it all in and shuts down. They will be a good pair. Hopefully she will calm him down and he will draw her out.

"Why how you must sympathize with the heroes & heroines of the French romances .. (do you sympathize with them very much? …) when at the slightest provocation, they break up the tables & chairs, (a degree beyond the deeds of my childhood!—I only used to upset them) break up the tables & chairs & chiffoniers, & dash the china to atoms. The men do the furniture, & the women the porcelain:—& pray observe that they always set about this as a matter of course! When they have broken everything in the room, they sink down quite (& very naturally) abattus [beaten down]! I remember a particular case of a hero of Frederic Soulie’s who, in the course of an 'emotion,' takes up a chair unconsciously, & breaks it into very small pieces, & then proceeds with his soliloquy. Well!– The clearest idea this excites in me, is of the low condition in Paris, of moral government & of upholstery. Because .. just consider for yourself, .. how you would succeed in breaking to pieces even a three-legged stool if it were properly put together as stools are in England, .. just yourself, .. without a hammer & a screw!—— You might work at it 'comme quatre [as hard as possible', & find it hard to finish, I imagine. And then .. as a demonstration, … a child of six years old might demonstrate just so (in his sphere) & be whipped accordingly."
She obviously has never shopped at Rooms to Go (or as I am fond of calling it: Rooms to Glue). Just sayin'.

"How I go on writing!—& you, who do not write at all!—two extremes, one set against the other.

But I must say, though in ever such an ill temper (which you know is just the time to select for writing a panegyric upon good temper) that I am glad you do not despise my own right name too much, because I never was called Elizabeth by any one who loved me at all, & I accept the omen– So little it seems my name that if a voice said suddenly ‘Elizabeth,’ I should as soon turn round as my sisters would .. no sooner. Only, my own right name has been complained of for want of euphony .. Ba .. now & then it has—& Mr Boyd makes a compromise & calls me Elibet .. because nothing could induce him to desecrate his organs accustomed to Attic harmonies, with a Ba– So I am glad, & accept the omen.

But I give you no credit for not thinking that I may forget you .. I!– As if you did not see the difference! Why, I could not even forget to write to you, observe!——

Whenever you write, say, how you are. Were you wet on wednesday?

Your own .."
What a wonderful letter. She begins with a bit of morbid, but loving, self examination and ends with an elegy on the joys of bad humor. I have a feeling that the visit of Wednesday was a success and the feeling has carried over into the next day.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 16, 1845

Just a short note of warning from Miss Barrett today:

"Tuesday evening.

Henrietta had a note from Mr Kenyon to the effect that he was 'coming to see Ba' today if in any way he found it possible. Now he has not come—and the inference is that he will come tomorrow—in which case you will be convicted of not wishing to be with him perhaps– So .. would it not be advisable for you to call at his door for a moment—& before you come here? Think of it. You know it would not do to vex him—would it?

Your EBB–"
No, no, no, must not vex Mr. Kenyon. Nor make him suspicious....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 15, 1845

Let us begin with Browning on December 15:

"Monday Morning.

Every word you write goes to my heart and lives there: let us live so, and die so, if God will. I trust many years hence to begin telling you what I feel now;—that the beam of the light will have reached you!—meantime it is here. Let me kiss your forehead, my sweetest, dearest.


Wednesday I am waiting for—how waiting for!

After all, it seems probable that there was no intentional mischief in that jeweller’s management of the ring—the divided gold must have been exposed to fire,—heated thoroughly, perhaps,—and what became of the contents then! Well, all is safe now, and I go to work again of course—my next act is just done,—that is, being done—but, what I did not foresee, I cannot bring it, copied, by Wednesday, as my sister went this morning on a visit for the week–"
Browning is referring to the loss of Miss Barrett's hair where it sat in the bezel of the ring that Browning took to the jeweler to have re sized. He seems to be absolving the jeweler of taking the hair: apparently the hair was destroyed when the metal was heated thru. Miss Barrett will just have to give up another curl to the cause of love.

"On the matters, the others, I will not think, as you bid me,—if I can help, at least. But your kind, gentle, good sisters!—and the provoking sorrow of the right meaning at bottom of the wrong doing—wrong to itself and its plain purpose—and meanwhile, the real tragedy and sacrifice of a life!"
Browning is alluding to Henrietta's sacrifice of her life with Captain Cook to the 'no marriage' edict of their father. He is very kindly rationalizing that her father's intentions are right despite the outcome being wrong. I wonder if he really believes that Mr. Barrett's meaning is 'right'. I have trouble understanding what Mr. Barrett's 'meaning' is in his opposition to his children's marrying so I cannot offer an opinion. Perhaps Mr. Barrett knew something that I do not know. But I doubt it.

"If you should see Mr Kenyon, and can find if he will be disengaged on Wednesday evening .. I shall be glad to go in that case.

But I have been writing, as I say, and will leave off this, for the better communing with you: don’t imagine I am unwell,—I feel quite well—but a little tired, and the thought of you waits in such readiness! So, may God bless you, beloved! I am all your own RB"
Miss Barrett writes later the same day:
Mr Kenyon has not come—he does not come so often I think. Did he know from you that you were to see me last thursday? if he did it might be as well .. do you not think? .. to go to him next week—. Will it not seem frequent, otherwise? But if you did not tell him of thursday distinctly, (I did not––remember!) he might take the wednesday’s visit to be the substitute for rather than the successor of thursday’s:—and in that case, why not write a word to him yourself to propose dining with him as he suggested? He really wishes to see you—of that, I am sure. But you will know what is best to do—& he may come here tomorrow perhaps, & ask a whole set of questions about you, .. so my right hand may forget its cunning for any good it does. Only dont send messages by me .. please!."
How happy I am with your letter tonight.
When I had sent away my last letter I began to remember .. & could not help smiling to do so, .. that I had totally forgotten the great subject of my 'fame,' & the oath you administered about it … totally!!– Now how do you read that omen? If I forget myself, who is to remember me, do you think? .. except you.? which brings me where I would stay. Yes!—'yours' it must be—but you, it had better be!– But, to leave the vain superstitions, let me go on to assure you that I did mean to answer that part of your former letter, & do mean to behave well & be obedient. Your wish would be enough, even if there could be likelihood without it of my doing nothing ever again. Oh, certainly I have been idle—it comes of lotos-eating .. &, besides, of sitting too long in the sun. Yet ‘idle’ may not be the word—: silent I have been, through too many thoughts to speak .. just that! As to writing letters & reading manuscripts’ filling all my time, why I must lack ‘vital energy’ indeed .. you do not mean seriously to fancy such a thing of me!– For the rest …"
She is responding to Browning's comment in his letter of December 12th: "And one of the things I must say, will be, that with my love, I cannot lose my pride in you—that nothing but that love, could balance that pride—and that, blessing the love so divinely, you must minister to the pride as well, yes, my own—I shall follow your fame,—and, better than fame, the good you do—in the world—and, if you please, it shall all be mine—as your hand, as your eyes–"
But she is being coy when she says that she has not been idle but silent. We can see that she has been busy working on the Sonnet Sequence and we will see evidence of the connection even in this letter.
"Tell me—— Is it your opinion that when the apostle Paul saw the unspeakable things,—being snatched up into the third Heavens 'whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell,' … is it your opinion that, all the week after, he worked particularly hard at the tent-making? For my part, I doubt it."
A simple, beautiful analogy. Browning should take a lesson.
"I would not speak profanely or extravagantly—it is not the best way to thank God. But to say only that I was in the desert & that I am among the palm-trees, is to say nothing … because it is easy to understand how, after walking straight on .. on .. furlong after furlong .. dreary day after dreary day, .. one may come to the end of the sand & within sight of the fountain:—there is nothing miraculous in that, you know!–
Yet even in that case, .. to doubt whether it may not all be mirage, would be the natural first thought .. the recurring dream-fear!. now would it not? And you can reproach me for my thoughts, .. as if they were unnatural!—!!"
Try the palm in Sonnet XXIX:
I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud
About thee, as wild vines, about a tree,
Put out broad leaves, and soon there’s nought to see
Except the straggling green which hides the wood.
Yet, O my palm-tree, be it understood
I will not have my thoughts instead of thee
Who art dearer, better! Rather, instantly
Renew thy presence; as a strong tree should,
Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare,
And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee,
Drop heavily down,—burst, shattered everywhere!

Because, in this deep joy to see and hear thee
And breathe within thy shadow a new air,
I do not think of thee—I am too near thee.
"Never mind about the third act––the advantage is that you will not ‘tire’ yourself perhaps the next week. What gladness it is that you should really seem better—& how much better that is than even ‘Luria’!–
Mrs Jameson came today—but I will tell you.
May God bless you now & always–
Your EBB–"