Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 1845

Browning recorded his 34th meeting with Miss Barrett on the back of the envelope she mailed him on December 9, 1845 thusly: "+ Thursday. Dec. 11. / 3–4¾. p.m. "
This meeting led to some complications regarding a contingency plan. Browning had apparently suggested giving Mr. Barrett a letter explaining their situation in case they were ever discovered.


And now, my heart’s love, I am waiting to hear from you,—my heart is full of you: when I try to remember what I said yesterday, that thought, of what fills my heart,—only that makes me bear with the memory .. I know that even such imperfect, poorest of words must have come from thence if not bearing up to you all that is there—and I know you are ever above me to receive, and help, and forgive, and wait for the one day which I will never say to myself cannot come, when I shall speak what I feel—more of it—or some of it—for now nothing is spoken."
If Miss Barrett has a recurring theme of inadequacy Browning's theme is inarticulacy. (Is that a word? It must be, it passed muster with spellcheck.) He says his words are "imperfect, poorest" to convey his true feelings and next he will proceed to break your heart with breathtaking word images. He is like Scotty on Star Trek telling Captain Kirk that he will need 20 minutes to recharge the engines and then does it in 15: it makes him look like an engineering genius.

"My all-beloved–

Ah, you opposed very rightly, I dare say, the writing that paper I spoke of! The process should be so much simpler! I most earnestly EXPECT of you, my love, that in the event of any such necessity as was then alluded to, you accept at once in my name any conditions possible for a human will to submit to—there is no imaginable condition to which you allow me to accede that I will not joyfully bend all my faculties to comply with. —And you know this—but so, also, do you know more .. and yet 'I may tire of you'—'may forget you'.


I will write again, having the long, long week to wait! 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–

I will write and pray it from you into a promise .. and your promises I live upon.

May God bless you!

your RB."
I have no acerbic comment to make about Browning's letter. When he gets it right, he gets it right.
Miss Barrett very much has their meeting on her mind today:
Do not blame me in your thoughts for what I said yesterday or wrote a day before, or think perhaps on the dark side of some other days when I cannot help it .. always when I cannot help it—you could not blame me if you saw the full motives as I feel them. If it is distrust, it is not of you, dearest of all!—but of myself rather:—it is not doubt of you, but for you. From the beginning I have been subject to the too reasonable fear which rises as my spirits fall, that your happiness might suffer in the end through your having known me:—it is for you, I fear, whenever I fear:—and if you were less to me, .. should I fear do you think?—if you were to me only what I am to myself for instance, .. if your happiness were only as precious as my own in my own eyes, .. should I fear, do you think, then? Think, & do not blame me.
To tell you to 'forget me when forgetting seemed happiest for you', .. (was it not that, I said?) proved more affection than might go in smoother words .. I could prove the truth of that out of my heart.
And for the rest, you need not fear any fear of mine—my fear will not cross a wish of yours, be sure! Neither does it prevent your being all to me .. all!—more than I used to take for all when I looked round the world, .. almost more than I took for all in my earliest dreams. You stand in between me & not merely the living who stood closest, but between me & the closer graves, .. & I reproach myself for this sometimes, &, so, ask you not to blame me for a different thing.
As to unfavorable influences, .. I can speak of them quietly, having forseen them from the first, .. & it is true, I have been thinking since yesterday, that I might be prevented from receiving you here, & should, if all were known: but with that act, the adverse power would end. It is not my fault if I have to choose between two affections,—only my pain: & I have not to choose between two duties, I feel, .. since I am yours, while I am of any worth to you at all. For the plan of the sealed letter it would correct no evil,—ah, you do not see, you do not understand. The danger does not come from the side to which a reason may go. Only one person holds the thunder—& I shall be thundered at; I shall not be reasoned with—it is impossible. I could tell you some dreary chronicles made for laughing & crying over; & you know that if I once thought I might be loved enough to be spared above others, I cannot think so now. In the meanwhile we need not for the present be afraid– Let there be ever so many suspectors, there will be no informers.– I suspect the suspectors, but the informers are out of the world I am very sure:—and then, the one person, by a curious anomaly, never draws an inference of this order, until the bare blade of it is thrust palpably into his hand, point outwards. So it has been in other cases than ours—& so it is, at this moment in the house, with others than ourselves."
She is describing her father, of course, and her sister Henrietta who had an understanding with her cousin Surtees Cook. Henrietta and Surtees' problem was money. They neither had money to set up an independent household. They did marry in 1850 after Cook approached Mr. Barrett who told him that he would not give his blessing to such a marriage. Henrietta was disowned and cut out of the Barrett will, just as EBB was. Such was the 'thunder' of Papa Barrett. He would not tolerate his children getting married.
"I have your letter to stop me—. If I had my whole life in my hands with your letter, could I thank you for it, I wonder, at all worthily?– I cannot believe that I could. Yet in life & in death I shall be grateful to you.–
But for the paper—no– Now, observe, that it would seem like a prepared apology for something wrong. And besides, .. the apology could be nothing but the offence in another form .. unless you said it was all a mistake .. (will you, again?) .. that it was all a mistake & you were only calling for your boots!—— Well, if you said that, it would be worth writing,—but anything less would be something worse than nothing, & would not save me .. which you were thinking of, I know,—would not save me the least of the stripes– For ‘conditions’––now I will tell you what I said once in a jest ..
'If a prince of Eldorado should come, with a pedigree of lineal descent from some signory in the moon in one hand, & a ticket of good-behaviour from the nearest Independent chapel, in the other' ....
'Why even then,' said my sister Arabel, 'it would not do.' And she was right, & we all agreed that she was right. It is an obliquity of the will—& one laughs at it till the turn comes for crying. Poor Henrietta has suffered silently, with that softest of possible natures, which hers is indeed,—beginning with implicit obedience, & ending with something as unlike it as possible: but, you see, where money is wanted, & where the dependance is total … see! And when once, in the case of the one dearest to me, .. when just at the last he was involved in the same grief, & I attempted to make over my advantages to him; (it could be no sacrifice, you know .. I did not want the money, & could buy nothing with it so good as his happiness, ..) why then, my hands were siezed & tied—& then & there, in the midst of the trouble, .. came the end of all!– I tell you all this, just to make you understand a little. Did I not tell you before? But there is no danger at present—& why ruffle this present with disquieting thoughts? why not leave that future to itself? For me, I sit in the track of the avalanche quite calmly .. so calmly as to surprise myself at intervals—& yet I know the reason of the calmness well."
She is referring to her brother 'Bro' who apparently was in love with a 'Monti Garden'. Mr. Footnote provides this quote from a letter Henrietta wrote to their brother Sam, September 14, 1839: "As October approaches, Bro’s spirits rise—you know perhaps, what happiness is likely to befall him then—that the Gardens are coming back then, & Monti will be here to ride with him. I hope you look forward with satisfaction to her being your sister—for I really think it is very likely to be—if poor Bro only had a sufficiency to maintain a wife!”
"For Mr Kenyon .. dear Mr Kenyon .. he will speak the softest of words, if any .. only he will think privately that you are foolish & that I am ungenerous—but I will not say so any more now, so as to teaze you.
There is another thing, of more consequence than his thoughts, which is often in my mind to ask you of—but there will be time for such questions—let us leave the winter to its own peace. If I should be ill again you will be reasonable & we both must submit to God’s necessity. Not, you know, that I have the least intention of being ill, if I can help it—& in the case of a tolerably mild winter, or with all this strength to use, there are probabilities for me—& then I have sunshine from you, which is better than Pisa’s.
And what more would you say? Do I not hear & understand!– It seems to me that I do both,—or why all this wonder & gratitude? If the devotion of the remainder of my life could prove that I hear,—would it be proof enough? Proof enough perhaps—but not gift enough.
May God bless you always–"
For all her apparent negativity and doubt she apparently had plenty of reason for it. If she goes with Browning there will be no coming back to Papa Barrett. She owes it to both of them to be sure that she is able and the he is aware of all the difficulties that go along with the act and what follows that act. I know I have said this before, but she is the realist in this relationship and he is the romantic. He seems to see no difficulties ahead.
"I have put some of the hair into a little locket which was given to me when I was a child by my favorite uncle, Papa’s only brother, who used to tell me that he loved me better than my own father did, & was jealous when I was not glad. It is through him in part, that I am richer than my sisters—through him & his mother—& a great grief it was & trial, when he died, a few years ago in Jamaica, proving by his last act that I was unforgotten. And now I remember how he once said to me .. 'Do you beware of ever loving!– If you do, you will not do it half: it will be for life & death.'
So I put the hair into his locket ..which I wear habitually, .. & which never had hair before .. the natural use of it being for perfume:—& this is the best perfume for all hours, besides the completing of a prophecy.
Your EBB"
Her uncle really does seem to be a prophet. He was the founder of the feast, you could say, for his verbal prophesy would have come to a bitter end without the gift of a small income for Miss Barrett. And for those who say that everything happens for a reason: if Bro had lived and Miss Barrett had made over her legacy to him she could never have afforded to marry the penniless poet. However, if that suggestion was made to Miss Barrett she most surely would have rejected it.

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