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.

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