Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11, 1846

We shall hear from Browning today who makes up for his recent meager letters with an epic (for him):


I have no words for you, my dearest,—I shall never have–

You are mine, I am yours. Now, here is one sign of what I said: that I must love you more than at first .. a little sign, and to be looked narrowly for or it escapes me, but then the increase it shows can only be little, so very little now—and as the fine French Chemical Analysts bring themselves to appreciate matter in its refined stages by millionths, so—! At first I only thought of being happy in you,—in your happiness: now I most think of you in the dark hours that must come– I shall grow old with you, and die with you—as far as I can look into the night I see the light with me: and surely with that provision of comfort one should turn with fresh joy and renewed sense of security to the sunny middle of the day,—I am in the full sunshine now,—and after, all seems cared for—is it too homely an illustration if I say the day’s visit is not crossed by uncertainties as to the return thro’ the wild country at nightfall?– Now Keats speaks of 'Beauty—that must die—and Joy whose hand is ever at his lips, bidding farewell.' [Keats' 'Ode on Meloncholy'] And who spoke of—looking up into the eyes and asking 'And how long will you love us'? [EBB's 'Cry of the Human'] —There is a Beauty that will not die, a Joy that bids no farewell, dear dearest eyes that will love forever!"

And people think his poetry is hard to understand. But essentially he is repudiating despair. He rejects the notion that beauty must die and that he must bid farewell to joy because: he will love her forever. "--and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death." She will comprehend.

"And I—am to love no longer than I can– Well, dear—and when I can no longer—you will not blame me?—you will do only as ever, kindly and justly,—hardly more: I do not pretend to say I have chosen to put my fancy to such an experiment, and consider how that is to happen, and what measures ought to be taken in the emergency—because in the 'universality of my sympathies' I certainly number a very lively one with my own heart and soul, and cannot amuse myself by such a spectacle as their supposed extinction or paralysis,—there is no doubt I should be an object for the deepest commiseration of you or any more fortunate human being:—and I hope that because such a calamity does not obtrude itself on me as a thing to be prayed against, it is no less duly implied with all the other visitations from which no humanity can be altogether exempt—just as God bids us ask for the continuance of the 'daily bread',—'battle, murder and sudden death' lie behind doubtless—I repeat, and perhaps in so doing, only give one more example of the instantaneous conversion of that indignation we bestow in another’s case, into wonderful lenity when it becomes our own, .. that I only contemplate the possibility you make me recognize, with pity, and fear .. no anger at all,—and imprecations of vengeance, for what? —Observe, I only speak of cases possible; of sudden impotency of mind,—that is possible—there are other ways of 'changing', 'ceasing to love' &c which it is safest not to think of nor believe in– A man may never leave his writing desk without seeing safe in one corner of it the folded slip which directs the disposal of his papers in the event of his reason suddenly leaving him—or he may never go out into the street without a card in his pocket to signify his address to those who may have to pick him up in an apoplectic fitbut if he once begins to fear he is growing a glass bottle, and, so, liable to be smashed,—do you see? And now, love, dear heart of my heart, my own, only Ba—see no more—see what I am, what God in his constant mercy ordinarily grants to those who have, as I, received already so much,—much, past expression! It is but .. if you will so please—at worst, forestalling the one or two years, for my sake; for you will be as sure of me one day as I can be now of myself—and why not now be sure? See, love—a year is gone by—we were in one relation when you wrote at the end of a letter 'Do not say I do not tire you' (by writing)—'I am sure I do'– A year has gone by– Did you tire me then? Now, you tell me what is told; for my sake, sweet, let the few years go by,—we are married—and my arms are round you, and my face touches yours, and I am asking you, 'Were you not to me, in that dim beginning of 1846, a joy beyond all joys, a life added to and transforming mine, the good I choose from all the possible gifts of God on this earth, for which I seem to have lived,—which accepting, I thankfully step aside and let the rest get what they can,—of what, it is very likely, they esteem more—for why should my eye be evil because God’s is good,—why should I grudge that, giving them, I do believe, infinitely less, he gives them a content in the inferior good and belief in its worth—I should have wished that further concession, that illusion as I believe it, for their sakes—but I cannot undervalue my own treasure and so scant the only tribute of mere gratitude which is in my power to pay.'– Hear this said now before the few years, and believe in it now, for then, dearest!"

What is he on about? Why does he have to add all this rigmarole? I thought one of the basic rules of writing was that you only address one idea per paragraph. He is all over the map here. About a third of the way through the paragraph he says he is going to, "....only give one more example..." So let me jump to the chase for him: 'Dear Ba, stop doubting my love and trust me fully.' See, pretty simple.
Actually, he is pretty amusing here, for all my tormenting. His analysis of the amount of the increase of his love by the millionth part is fun and his refusal to 'amuse himself' by contemplating the extinction or paralysis of his love for her and the image of him planning for the emergency thereof by leaving a note on how to handle the affair of his heart if he loses his mind. Would we call this examining an absurdity with an absurdity? Bottom line: He loved her a year ago and she didn't believe him and yet here he is a year later, as constant as a stopped clock.


"Must you see 'Pauline'? At least then let me wait a few days,—to correct the misprints which affect the sense, and to write you the history of it; what is necessary you should know before you see it."

Here is the text of an explanation Browning gave for 'Pauline'--probably not the explanation he gave Miss Barrett:

"The following Poem was written in pursuance of a foolish plan which occupied me mightily for a time, and which had for its object the enabling me to assume & realize I know not how many different characters;—meanwhile the world was never to guess that 'Brown, Smith, Jones, & Robinson' (as the spelling books have it) the respective authors of this poem, the other novel, such an opera, such a speech &c &c were no other than one and the same individual. The present abortion was the first work of the Poet of the batch, who would have been more legitimately myself than most of the others; but I surrounded him with all manner of (to my then notion) poetical accessories, and had planned quite a delightful life for him.

Only this crab remains of the shapely Tree of Life in this Fool’s paradise of mine.

So he is declaring that the poet in the poem is a character--which he was-- but much like himself. Hmmm...perhaps more like himself than he cared to admit? Thus, the total escape into characters to avoid too EMBARRASSING self exposure.
Now for a rant:

"That article I suppose to be by Heraud .. about two thirds .. and the rest,—or a little less—by that Mr Powell—whose unimaginable, impudent vulgar stupidity you get some inkling of in the 'Story from Boccaccio'—of which the words quoted were his, I am sure—as sure as that he knows not whether Boccaccio lived before or after Shakespeare, whether Florence or Rome be the more northern city,—one word of Italian in general, or letter of Boccaccio’s in particular.– When I took pity on him once on a time and helped his verses into a sort of grammar and sense, I did not think he was a buyer of other men’s verses, to be printed as his own,—thus he bought two modernizations of Chaucer .. 'Ugolino' & another story—from Leigh Hunt .. and one, 'Sir Thopas' from Horne .. and printed them as his own .. as I learned only last week: he paid me extravagant court and, seeing no harm in the mere folly of the man, I was on good terms with him—till ten months ago he grossly insulted a friend of mine who had written an article for the Review—(which is as good as his, he being a large proprietor of the delectable property, and influencing the voices of his co-mates in council)—well, he insulted my friend, who had written that article at my special solicitation, and did all he could to avoid paying the price of it– Why?– Because the poor creature had actually taken the article to the Editor as one by his friend Serjt Talfourd contributed for pure love of him, Powell-the-aforesaid,—cutting, in consequence, no inglorious figure in the eyes of Printer & Publisher!– Now I was away all this time in Italy or he would never have ventured on such a piece of childish impertinence: and my friend being a true gentleman, and quite unused to this sort of 'practice', in the American sense, held his peace and went without his 'honorarium'– But on my return, I enquired—and made him make a proper application—which Mr Powell treated with all the insolence in the world .. because, as the event showed, the having to write a cheque for 'the Author of the Article'—that author’s name not being Talfourd’s .. there was certain disgrace! Since then (ten months ago—) I have never seen him—and he accuses himself, observe, of 'sucking my plots while I drink his tea'—one as much as the other! And now why do I tell you this, all of it? Ah,—now you shall hear! Because, it has often been in my mind to ask you what you know of this Mr Powell, or ever knew: for he, (being profoundly versed in every sort of untruth, as every fresh experience shows me—and the rest of his acquaintance—) he told me long ago, 'he used to correspond with you, and that he quarrelled with you'which I supposed to mean—that he began by sending you his books—(as with me and everybody)—and that, in return for your note of acknowledgement, he had chosen to write again, and perhaps, again—is it so? Do not write one word in answer to me .. the name of such a miserable nullity, and husk of a man, ought not to have place in your letters .. and that way he would get near to me again,—near indeed this time!– So tell me, in a word—or do not tell me."

Now that was some juicy literary gossip. I love the part where rather than admitting that Seargent Talfourd did not write the article published under his name Powell makes the check out to "The Author of the Article". And Browning demonstrates a perfect roundabout when he asks her if she has ever dealt with Powell and then says don't tell him or do, but don't write. Mr. Footnote says that the unnamed friend of Browning, who wrote the review published under Talfourd's name, was Joseph Arnould.

"How I never say what I sit down to say! How saying the little makes me want to say the more! How the least of little things, once taken up as a thing to be imparted to you, seems to need explanations and commentaries,—all is of importance to me—every breath you breathe, every little fact (like this) you are to know!

I was out last night—to see the rest of Frank Talfourd’s theatricals,—and met Dickens and his set—so my evenings go away! If I do not bring the Act you must forgive me—yet I shall .. I think; the roughness matters little in this stage– Chorley says very truly that a tragedy implies as much power kept back as brought out—very true that is—I do not, on the whole, feel dissatisfied .. as was to be but expected .. with the effect of this last—the shelve of the hill, whence the end is seen, you continuing to go down to it .. so that at the very last you may pass off into a plain and so away—not come to a stop like your horse against a church wall. It is all in long speeches—the action, proper, is in them—they are no descriptions, or amplifications—but here .. in a drama of this kind, all the events, (and interest,) take place in the minds of the actors .. somewhat like Paracelsus in that respect; you know, or don’t know, that the general charge against me, of late, from the few quarters I thought it worth while to listen to, has been that of abrupt, spasmodic writing—they will find some fault with this, of course.

How you know Chorley! That is precisely the man, that willow blowing now here now there—precisely! I wish he minded the Athenæum, its silence or its eloquence, no more nor less than I—but he goes on painfully plying me with invitation after invitation, only to show me, I feel confident, that he has no part nor lot in the matter: I have two kind little notes asking me to go on Thursday & Saturday .. See the absurd position of us both; he asks more of my presence than he can want, just to show his own kind feeling, of which I do not doubt,—and I must try and accept more hospitality than suits me, only to prove my belief in that same! For myself—if I have vanity which such Journals can raise,—would the praise of them raise it, they who praised Mr Mackay’s own, own Dead Pan, quite his own, the other day (—By the way, Miss Cushman informed me the other evening that the gentleman had written a certain 'Song of the Bell' .. 'singularly like Schiller’s,—considering that Mr M. had never seen it!'– I am told he writes for the Athenæum, but don’t know—)..."

Browning is implying here that Mackay's "own, own" poem "The Death of Pan" was a rip off of Miss Barrett's "The Dead Pan" backed up by Miss Cushman's observation that Mackay had written "Song of the Bell" without having read Schiller's poem on the same subject. And the Athenæum reviewer was too dim to recognize it as such.

"...would that sort of praise be flattering, or his holding the tongue—which Forster, deep in the mysteries of the craft, corroborated my own notion about—as pure willingness to hurt, and confessed impotence and little clever spite, and enforced sense of what may be safe at the last– You shall see they will not notice .. unless a fresh publication alters the circumstances .. until some seven or eight months—as before; and then they will notice, and praise, and tell anybody who cares to enquire, 'So we noticed the work'– So do not you go expecting justice or injustice till I tell you: it amuses me to be found writing so, so anxious to prove I understand the laws of the game, when that game is only 'Thimble-rig' and for prizes of gingerbread-nuts– Prize or no prize, Mr Dilke does shift the pea, and so did from the beginning—as Charles Lamb’s pleasant sobriquet (—Mr Bilk, he would have it—) testifies– Still he behaved kindly to that poor Frances Brown—let us forget him."

Dilke had published some poems of a blind Irish poetess in the Athenæum and brought her some income and notice.

"And now, my Audience, my crown-bearer, my path-preparer—I am with you again and out of them all—there, here, in my arms, is my proved, palpable success!—my life, my poetry,—gained nothing, oh no!—but this found them, and blessed them. —On Tuesday I shall see you, dearest. I am much better,—well today—are you well—or 'scarcely to be called an invalid'? Oh, when I have you, am by you–

Bless you, dearest. And be very sure you have your wish about the length of the week—still Tuesday must come! and with it your own, happy, grateful


Browning was on a rant today. I kind of enjoyed his ventilation. I imagine that he will be relieved to be 'by' Miss Barrett so he can vent without having to write it all out.

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