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then I do give up indeed the last chance of procuring you happiness; My own 'ought,' which you object to, shall be withdrawn—being only a pure bit of selfishness,—I felt, in missing the letter of yours, next day, that I might have drawn it down by one of mine,—if I had begged never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.

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