Sunday, December 9, 2012

December 9, 1845

The embarrassment over the congratulatory letters to Talfourd continues on December 9th with some painful self admission by Browning about his literary failures:

"Tuesday Mg

Well then, I am no longer sorry that I did not read either of your letters .. for there were two in the collection: I did not read one word of them—and hear why: when your brother & I took the book between us in wonderment at the notion—we turned to the index, in large text-hand, and stopped at 'Miss B.'—and he, indeed read them, or some of them, but holding the volume at a distance which defied my shortsighted eye— all I saw was the faint small charactery—and, do you know .. I neither trusted myself to ask a nearer look .. nor a second look .. as if I were studying unduly what I had just said was most unfairly exposed to view!—so I was silent, and lost you (in that)—then, and forever, I promise you, now that you speak of vexation it would give you. All I know of the notes is, that one is addressed to Talfourd in the third person—and when I had run thro’ my own .. not far off .. (BA-BR)—I was sick of the book altogether– You are generous to me—but, to say the truth, I might have remembered the most justifying circumstance in my case .. which was, that my own 'Paracelsus,' printed a few months before, had been as dead a failure as 'Ion' a brilliant success—for, until just before .. ah, really I forget!—but I know that until Forster’s notice in the 'Examiner' appeared, every journal that thought worth while to allude to the poem at all, treated it with entire contempt .. beginning, I think, with the 'Athenæum' which then made haste to say, a few days after its publication, 'that it was not without talent but spoiled by obscurity and only an imitation of—Shelley!'—something to this effect, in a criticism of about three lines among their 'Library Table' notices: and that first taste was a most flattering sample of what the 'craft' had in store for me—since my publisher and I had fairly to laugh at his 'Book'—(quite of another kind than the Serjeant’s—) in which he was used to paste extracts from newspapers & the like—seeing that, out of a long string of notices, one vied with its predecessor in disgust at my 'rubbish,' as their word went: but Forster’s notice altered a good deal—which I have to recollect for his good. Still, the contrast between myself and Talfourd was so utter,—you remember the world’s-wonder 'Ion' made,—that I was determined not to pass for the envious piece of neglected merit I really was not—and so!–"
This is a novel idea: keep a scrapbook of all of your bad reviews and invite friends to your home and leave it on the coffee table to permit them to read from the book. Certainly less vain than allowing them to read the letters of praise and more fun as well.
Happily he turns to another subject: Miss Barrett's efforts to educate the Americans on Browning's brilliance.

"But, dearest, why should you leave your own especial sphere of doing me good for another than yours? Does the sun rake and hoe about the garden as well as shine steadily over it? Why must you, who give me heart and power, as nothing else did or could, to do well—concern yourself with what might be done by any good, kind ministrant only fit for such offices? Not that I feel, even, more bound to you for them—they have their weight, I know .. but what weight beside the divine gift of yourself? Do not, dear, dearest, care for making me known: you know me!—and they know so little, after all your endeavour, who are ignorant of what you are to me—if you .. well, but that will follow, .. if I do greater things one day—what shall they serve for, what range themselves under, of right?–

Mr Mathews sent me two copies of his poems—and, I believe, a newspaper, 'when time was', about the 'Blot in the ’Scutcheon'—and also, thro’ Moxon:—(I believe it was Mr M.)—a proposition for reprinting—to which I assented, of course—and there was an end to the matter.

And might I have stayed till five?—dearest, I will never ask for more than you give—but I feel every single sand of the gold showers .. spite of what I say above! I have an invitation for Thursday which I had no intention of remembering (it admitted of such liberty)—but now .."

Here Browning has written something and then marked it out so that no one can read it.

"(Something I will say!)

'Polka,' forsooth!—one lady whose head could not, and another whose feet could not, dance! —But I talked a little to your brother whom I like more and more: it comforts me that he is yours.

So, Thursday,—thank you from the heart! I am well, and about to go out. This week I have done nothing to 'Luria'—is it that my ring is gone? There surely is something to forgive in me—for that shameful business—or I should not feel as I do in the matter: but you did forgive me–"

He has sent his ring with her hair to be re sized. He cannot write poetry without it. Makes sense. Must have the ring to write the book!

"God bless my own, only love—ever–Yours wholly RB

N.B. An antiquarian friend of mine in old days picked up a non-descript wonder of a coin .. I just remember he described it as Rhomboid in shape—cut, I fancy, out of church-plate in troubled times. What did my friend do but get ready a box, lined with velvet, and properly compartmented, to have always about him, so that the next such coin he picked up, say in Cheapside, he might at once transfer to a place of safety .. his waistcoat pocket being no happy receptacle for the same. I saw the box—and encouraged the man to keep a vigilant eye.

Parallel. R.B. having found an unicorn ......

Do you forgive these strips of paper? I could not wait to send for more—having exhausted my stock."
Browning's unicorn is in a box in her father's house in Wimpole Street.
Next we hear from Miss Barrett:
"Tuesday evening.
It was right of you to write .. (now see what jangling comes of not using the fit words .. I said ‘right,’ not to say ‘kind’)—right of you to write to me today—and I had begun to be disappointed already because the post seemed to be past, when suddenly the knock brought the letter which deserves all this praising. If not ‘kind’ .. then kindest .. will that do better? Perhaps.
Mr Kenyon was here today & asked when you were coming again—& I, I answered at random .. 'at the end of the week—thursday or friday'—which did not prevent another question about ‘what we were consulting about.’ He said that he 'must have you,' & had written to beg you to go to his door on days when you came here,—only murmuring something besides of neither thursday nor friday being disengaged days with him. Oh, my disingenuousness!– Then he talked again of ‘Saul’– A true impression the poem has made on him!– He reads it every night, he says, when he comes home & just before he goes to sleep, to put his dreams into order, & observed very aptly, I thought, that it reminded him of Homer’s shield of Achilles, thrown into lyrical whirl & life. Quite ill he took it of me the ‘not expecting him to like it so much’ & retorted on me with most undeserved severity (as I felt it), that I 'never understood anybody to have any sensibility except myself'– Was’nt it severe, to come from dear Mr Kenyon? But he had caught some sort of evil spirit from your Saul perhaps; though admiring the poem enough to have a good spirit instead– And do you remember of the said poem, that it is there only as a first part, & that the next parts must certainly follow & complete what will be a great lyrical work—now remember– And forget ‘Luria’ .. if you are better forgetting. And forget me, .. when you are happier forgetting. I say that too.
So your idea of an unicorn is .. one horn broken off. And you, a poet!—one horn broken off—or hid in the black-thorn hedge!–"

This woman is maddening. She drags herself down (most intelligent men would rather have a unicorn with a broken horn than a braying donkey) and then builds him up, comforting him on his bad reviews:
"Such a mistake, as our enlightened public, on their part, made, when they magnified the divinity of the brazen chariot, just under the thunder-cloud! I dont remember the Athenæum, but can well believe that it said what you say. The Athenæum admires only what gods, men & columns reject. It applauds nothing but mediocrity——mark it, as a general rule! The good, they see—the great escapes them. Dare to breathe a breath above the close, flat conventions of literature, & you are 'put down' & instructed how to be like other people– By the way, see by the very last number, that you never think to write ‘peoples’, on pain of writing what is obsolete—& these the teachers of the public! If the public does not learn, where is the marvel of it? An imitation of Shelley’s—when if Paracelsus was anything it was the expression of a new mind, as all might see—as I saw, let me be proud to remember, & I was not overdazzled by Ion–"

Her words here about The Athenæum are true today. The greatest of men and women are seldom recognized for their greatness. The 'great men' of today are hidden from the public view due to the stifling mediocrity of all media.
"Ah, indeed if I could ‘rake & hoe’, .. or even pick up weeds along the walk, .. which is the work of the most helpless children, .. if I could do any of this, there would be some good of me: but as for ‘shining’ .. shining! .. when there is not so much light in me as to do ‘carpet work’ by, why let anyone in the world except you, tell me to shine, & it will just be a mockery! But you have studied astronomy with your favorite snails, who are apt to take a dark-lanthorn for the sun, & so.–
And so, you come on thursday, & I only hope that Mrs Jameson will not come too, (the carpet work makes me think of her,—&, not having come yet, she may come on thursday by a fatal cross-stitch!) for I do not hear from her, & my precautions are 'watched out.' May God bless you always.
Your own––
But no—I did not forgive. Where was the fault to be forgiven, except in me, for not being right in my meaning?–"

What are we going to do with Miss Barrett? How can we build her up so that she can see her own worth? Ah, well, we shall have to leave it to Browning. But then, if she was aware of her own worth would she still be mesmerized by Browning?

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