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.

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