Friday, December 7, 2012

December 7, 1845

Following a visit to Wimpole Street on December 6th, after which Browning dined nearby at Mr. Serjeant Talfourd's home, the two poets have much to say to each other. We will begin with Browning:

"Sunday Night.

Well, I did see your brother last night .. and very wisely neither spoke nor kept silence in the proper degree, but said that 'I hoped you were well'—from the sudden feeling that I must say something of you .. not pretend indifference about you now .. and from the impossibility of saying the full of what I might,—because other people were by—and after, in the evening, when I should have remedied the first imperfect expression, I had not altogether the heart. So, you, dearest, will clear me with him if he wonders, will you not?– But it all hangs together,—speaking of you,—to you,—writing to you—all is helpless and sorrowful work by the side of what is in my soul to say and to write– Or is it not the natural consequence? if these vehicles of feeling sufficed—there would be the end!—and that my feeling for you should end!– For the rest, the headache which kept away while I sate with you, made itself amends afterward, and as it is unkind to that warm Talfourd to look blank at his hospitable endeavours, all my power of face went √† qui de droit [to one of the law]–"
Which is to say that having to be careful in his small talk with George Barrett made him nervous and gave him a headache.

"Did your brother tell you .. yes, I think .. of the portentous book, lettered II, and thick as a law-book, of congratulatory letters on the appearance of 'Ion'?—and how under the B’s in the Index came 'Miss Barrett' and, woe’s me, 'RB.'! I don’t know when I have had so ghastly a visitation: there was the utterly forgotten letter, in the as thoroughly disused handwriting, in the .. I fear .. still as completely obsolete feeling .. no, not so bad as that—but at first there was all the novelty, and social admiration at the friend .. it is surely not right to pluck all the rich soil from the roots and hold them up clean and dry as if they came so, from all you now see, which is nothing at all .. like the Chinese air-plant! Do you understand this? And surely 'Ion' is a very, very beautiful and noble conception, and finely executed,—a beautiful work—what has come after, has lowered it down by grade after grade .. it don’t stand apart on the hill, like a wonder, now it is built up to by other attempts; but the great difference is in myself .. another maker of another Ion, finding me out and behaving as Talfourd did, would not find that me,—so to be behaved to, so to be honoured—tho’ he should have all the good will! Ten years ago!

And ten years hence!"
Typical English embarrassment and typical Browning. Embarrassed about something that she has never and will never see. And it gets worse. He realizes that he has dug himself a hole and now he has to start digging himself out:

"Always understand that you do not take me as I was at the beginning .. with a crowd of loves to give to something and so get rid of their pain & burthen: I have known what that ends in—a handful of anything may be as sufficient a sample, serve your purposes and teach you its nature, as well as whole heaps—and I know what most of the pleasures of this world are—so that I can be surer of myself, and make you surer, on calm demonstrated grounds, than if I had a host of objects of admiration or ambition yet to become acquainted with: you say, 'I am a man and may change'– I answer, yes—but, while I hold my senses,—only change for the presumeable better .. not for the experienced worst–"
He praised Talfourd's 'Ion' ten years ago but does not think so much of it now and is embarrassed that he praised it as strongly as he did and makes an excuse that he has changed--then he realizes that she will assume that this is a sign that he will change his mind about her in 'ten years'. This demonstrates that he understands how her mind works--she is not looking for examples of his inconstancy--only proofs that he is, after all, just a man. But he has made the error of planting the idea in her fertile head. If it takes root it will be his own fault.
In mid dig he is interrupted:

Here is my uncle’s foot on the stair .. his knock hurried the last sentence .. here is by me!– Understand what this would have led to, how you would have been proved logically my own, best, extreme want, my life’s end—yes, dearest! Bless you ever–Your RB
Well, I don't know how logical his argument would be; it is probably for the best that he was interrupted, it might have gotten worse. Will Miss Barrett let him off with only a warning?


Let me hear how you are, & that you are better instead of worse for the exertions of last night. After you left me yesterday I considered how we might have managed it more conveniently for you, & had the lamp in, & arranged matters so as to interpose less time between the going & the dining, even if you & George did not go together, which might have been best but which I did not like quite to propose. Now, supposing that on thursday you dine in town, remember not to be unnecessarily ‘perplext in the extreme’ where to spend the time before .... five, .. shall I say, at any rate? We will have the lamp, & I can easily explain if an observation should be made … only it will not be, because our goers out here never come home until six, & the head of the house, not until seven .. as I told you. George thought it worth while going to Mr Talfourd’s yesterday, just to see the author of the ‘Paracelsus’ dance the polka … should I not tell you?"
Again she suggests that he stay longer on his visits. Methinks she must be enjoying these tete a tetes.

"I am vexed by another thing which he tells me—vexed, if amused a little by the absurdity of it. I mean that absurd affair of the 'autography'—now is’nt it absurd? and for neither you nor George to have the chivalry of tearing out that letter of mine, which was absurd too in its way, & which, knowing less of the world than I know now, I wrote as if writing for my private conscience, & privately repented writing in a day, & have gone on repenting ever since when I happened to think enough of it for repentance.! Because if Mr Serjeant Talfourd sent then his 'Ion' to me, he did it in mere goodnature, hearing by chance of me through the publisher of my ‘Prometheus’ at the moment, & of course caring no more for my ‘opinion’ than for the rest of me—and it was excessively bad taste in me to say more than the briefest word of thanks in return, even if I had been competent to say it– Ah well!—you see how it is, & that I am vexed you should have read it, .. as George says you did .. he laughing to see me so vexed. So I turn round & avenge myself by crying aloud against the editor of the ‘Autography’! Surely such a thing was never done before .. even by an author in the last stage of a mortal disease of selflove. To edit the common parlance of conventional flatteries, .. lettered in so many volumes, bound in green morocco, & laid on the drawingroom table for one’s own particular private public,—is it not a miracle of vanity .. neither more nor less?"
Isn't is wonderful that they are both so embarrassed in the same way, using the same argument: that was ten years ago and we were both so naive! What does this prove to me? They are both totally English, the most embarrassed race on the planet!

"I took the opportunity of the letter to Mr Mathews (talking of vanity … mine!) to send Landor’s verses to America .. yours—so they will be in the American papers .. I know Mr Mathews. I was speaking to him of your last number of Bells & Pomegranates, & the verses came in naturally,—just as my speaking did, for it is not the first time nor the second nor the third even that I have written to him of you, though I admire how in all those previous times I did it in pure disinterestedness, .. purely because your name belonged to my country & to her literature, .. & how I have a sort of reward at this present, in being able to write what I please without anyone’s saying 'it is a new fancy'– As for the Americans they have 'a zeal without knowledge' for poetry– There is more love for verse among them than among the English. But they suffer themselves to be led in their choice of poets by English critics of average discernment,—this is said of them by their own men of letters. Tennyson is idolized deep down in the back woods (to their honour be it said), but to understand you sufficiently, they wait for the explanations of the critics. So I wanted them to see what Landor says of you. The comfort in these questions, is, that there can be no question, except between the sooner & the later—a little sooner, & a little later: but when there is real love & zeal it becomes worth while to try to ripen the knowledge. They love Tennyson so much that the colour of his waistcoats is a sort of minor Oregon question .. & I like that—do not you?"
Isn't it fun how Miss Barrett enjoys the primitive Yanks? I suspect that the egalitarian nature of the Americans appeals to her liberal nature.

"Monday. Now I have your letter: & you will observe, without a finger post from me, how busily we have both been pre-occupied in disavowing our own letters of old on ‘Ion’– Mr Talfourd’s collection goes to prove too much, I think—& you, a little too much, when you draw inferences of no-changes, from changes like these. Oh yes—I perfectly understand that every sort of inconstancy of purpose regards a 'presumably better' thing—but I do not so well understand how any presumeable doubt is to be set to rest by that fact, .. I do not indeed. Have you seen all the birds & beasts in the world? have you seen the ‘unicorns’?!– Which is only a pebble thrown down into your smooth logic; & we need not stand by to watch the bubbles born of it. And as to the Ion-letters, I am delighted that you have anything to repent, as I have everything. Certainly it is a noble play—there is the moral sublime in it: but it is not the work of a poet, .. & if he had never written another to show what was not in him, this might have been ‘predicated’ of it as surely, I hold. Still, it is a noble work—& even if you over-praised it, (I did not read your letter, though you read mine, alas!) you, under the circumstances would have been less noble yourself not to have done so!—only, .. how I agree with you in what you say against the hanging up of these dry roots, .. the soil shaken off! Such abominable taste—now is’nt it? .. though you do not use that word."
He brought this on himself and she rebuts him beautifully! "...I do not so well understand how any presumeable doubt is to be set to rest by that fact....Have you seen the 'unicorns'?!" Boom! She made short work of that 'logical' proof.

"I thought Mr Kenyon would have come yesterday & that I might have something to tell you, of him at least.

And George never told me of the thing you found to say to him of me, & which makes me smile & would have made him wonder if he had not been suffering probably from some legal distraction at the moment, inasmuch as he knew perfectly that you had just left me. My sisters told him down stairs & he came into this room just before he set off on saturday, with a, .. 'So I am to meet Mr Browning'! But he made no observation afterwards .. none: & if he heard what you said at all, (which I doubt) he referred it probably to some enforced civility on ‘Yorick’s’ part when the ‘last chapter’ was too much with him.
Yes, the whole thing was absurd, "I hope your sister remains well since I left her side some 30 minutes ago."

"I have written about ‘Luria’ in another place—you shall have the papers when I have read through the play. How different this living poetry is from the polished rhetoric of Ion. The man & the statue are not more different. After all poetry is a distinct thing: it is here or it is not here .. it is not a matter of ‘taste’, but of sight & feeling."
How nimbly she uses the question of the quality of 'Ion' to praise the poetry and the poet she loves (though she dare not write the word.)

"As to the ‘Venice’ it gives proof (does it not?) rather of poetical sensibility than of poetical faculty? or did you expect me to say more?—of the perception of the poet, rather than of his conception. Do you think more than this? There are fine, eloquent expressions, & the tone of sentiment is good & high everywhere."
She is commenting on a poem by Browning's friend Alfred Domett. Feeling out Browning to see what toleration he will take in criticism of his friend's 'poetical faculty'?

"Do not write ‘Luria’ if your head is uneasy—& you cannot say that it is not .. can you? Or will you if you can? In any case you will do what you can .. take care of yourself & not suffer yourself to be tired either by writing or by too much going out, & take the necessary exercise .. this, you will do—I entreat you to do it.

May God bless & make you happy, as .. you will lose nothing if I say .. as I am yours–"
Fun letters today. I enjoyed those.

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