Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 1846

January 13, 1846 Browning called on Miss Barrett in her room at Wimpole Street and they were interrupted in their tete a tete by Mr. Kenyon, who often ruins their fun. Miss Barrett did not like the tone of the meeting and wrote that evening to express her displeasure:

"Tuesday Night

Ah Mr Kenyon! how he vexed me today. To keep away all the ten days before, & to come just at the wrong time after all! It was better for you .. I suppose .. I believe .. to go with him down stairs—yes, it certainly was better! it was disagreeable enough to be very wise! Yet I, being addicted to every sort of superstition turning to melancholy, did hate so breaking off in the middle of that black thread .. (do you remember what we were talking of when they opened the door?) that I was on the point of saying 'Stay one moment', which I should have repented afterwards for the best of good reasons. Oh, I should have liked to have ‘fastened off’ that black thread, & taken one stitch with a blue or a green one!"
How shocking it would have been if Mr. Browning would have stayed for one moment more! Think of the gossip that would have spread around the drawing rooms of London!

"You do not remember what we were talking of? what you, rather, were talking of? And what I remember, at least, because it is exactly the most unkind & hard thing you ever said to me .. ever dearest—so I remember it by that sign!– That you should say such a thing to me—!—think what it was, for indeed I will not write it down here—it would be worse than Mr Powell! Only the foolishness of it (I mean, the foolishness of it alone) saves it, smooths it to a degree!—the foolishness being the same as if you asked a man where he would walk when he lost his head. Why, if you had asked St Denis beforehand, he would have thought it a foolish question."
This makes me laugh because I imagine Browning walking down the street at a brisk pace, reading this letter as he walks, thinking, "What did I say? I have no memory....hmmm....we were discussing the weather and the lack of flowers and she said something about her sister and I said my sister was the same way. What was it I was saying?"

"And you!—you, who talk so finely of never, never doubting,—of being such an example in the way of believing & trusting——it appears, after all, that you have an imagination apprehensive (or comprehensive) of 'glass bottles' like other sublunary creatures, & worse than some of them– For mark, that I never went any farther than to the stone-wall-hypothesis of your forgetting me!– I always stopped there—& never climbed to the top of it over the broken-bottle fortification, to see which way you meant to walk afterwards. And you, to ask me so coolly—think what you asked me. That you should have the heart to ask such a question!"
So Browning and I are trying to piece this together. In Browning's last letter (an epic) he was discussing the impossibility of his 'ceasing to love' and 'changing' (i.e. the only possibility would be if he lost his senses) and included this odd (although not for Browning) analogy: "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 fit—but if he once begins to fear he is growing a glass bottle, and, so, liable to be smashed,—do you see?" Okay, what in the heck did he ask her that was so upsetting. I mean what would come after her ceasing to love him? An affair with another man? Suicide and Death? I am at my wits end here. But she's not, on she goes.

"And the reason—! And it could seem a reasonable matter of doubt to you whether I would go to the south for my health’s sake—— And I answered quite a common ‘no’ I believe—for you bewildered me for the moment—& I have had tears in my eyes two or three times since, just through thinking back of it all .. of your asking me such questions. Now did I not tell you when I first knew you, that I was leaning out of the window? True, that was—I was tired of living .. unaffectedly tired. All I cared to live for was to do better some of the work which, after all, was out of myself & which I had to reach across to do. But I told you. Then, last year, .. for duty’s sake I would have consented perhaps to go to Italy!—but if you really fancy that I would have struggled in the face of all that difficulty, .. or struggled, indeed, anywise, to compass such an object as thatexcept for the motive of your caring for it & me .. why you know nothing of me after all—nothing!– And now, take away the motive .. & I am where I was .. leaning out of the window again. To put it in plainer words .. (as you really require information—) I should let them do what they liked to me till I was dead—only I would’nt go to Italy .. if anybody proposed Italy out of contradiction. In the meantime I do entreat you never to talk of such a thing to me any more."
Oh my heavens! He made her cry! The cad! Okay, so this leaning out of the window thing sounds to me like she was expecting death by falling (I jest, I jest) or death anyway. So now she is saying she would have consented to go to Italy? Really? I thought she fought very hard to go last year. Now she is saying  she simply would have consented 'perhaps' to go? Is this revisionist history? Ah, no, she is saying she would not have bothered to have fought to go but for him. Okay, I've got that. She is trying to make some distinction here that I am struggling with. I am guessing here with this melodramatic thrust of "I should let them do what they liked to me till I was dead—only I would’nt go to Italy..." that she didn't care a bit about Italy without him. Perhaps he was asking her if she would go to Italy without him if anything happened to him. I go back to her comment about looking over the stone wall beyond his ceasing to love her. What she sees 'beyond the stone wall' is death. I have it!!!
She does make things difficult. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Is all this angst 'put on' as a demonsration of her affection? Perhaps.
"You know, if you were to leave me by your choice & for your happiness, it would be another thing. It would be very lawful to talk of that– & observe! I perfectly understand that you did not think of doubting me .. so to speak!– But you thought, all the same, that if such a thing happened, I should be capable of doing so & so."
If he were to leave her of his own choice would be one thing--but for him to leave her due to his death--oh dear. I guess it is easier for her to contemplate her own death than his. So, if he was asking her if she would go to Italy without him after his death I can see how that may upset her. A bit. But she is carrying on so. So the cruelest, hardest thing he ever said to her was to consider that if in the event of his death she would go to Italy for her health anyway. She says she told him 'no' but it would have been a better teaze if she said 'yes, I will find me a fancy man to take me.' But she would never do that.

"Well– I am not quarrelling– I am uneasy about your head rather– That pain in it .. what can it mean? I do beseech you to think of me just so much as will lead you to take regular exercise everyday, never missing a day,—since to walk till you are tired on tuesday & then not to walk at all until friday, is not taking exercise, nor the thing required. Ah, if you knew how dreadfully natural every sort of evil seems to my mind, you would not laugh at me for being afraid. I do beseech you .. dearest!– And then, Sir John Hanmer invited you, besides Mr Warburton .. & suppose you went to him for a very little time .. just for the change of air? or if you went to the coast somewhere. Will you consider, & do what is right, for me? I do not propose that you should go to Italy, observe, nor any great thing at which you might reasonably hesitate. And .. did you ever try smoking as a remedy? If the nerves of the head chiefly are affected it might do you good, I have been thinking– Or without the smoking, to breathe where tobacco is burnt,—that calms the nervous system in a wonderful manner, as I experienced once myself when, recovering from an illness, I could not sleep, & tried in vain all sorts of narcotics & forms of hop-pillow & inhalation, yet was tranquillized in one half hour by a pinch of tobacco being burnt in a shovel near me. Should you mind it very much? the trying, I mean?"
She is becoming Miss Bossy Boots here.  First she beats him over the head for upsetting her and then she berates him for not taking enough exercise and then she wants to send him away. She is upset. And the idea of her, with her weak chest breathing tobacco smoke is a bit unnerving.

"Wednesday/ For Pauline .. when I had named it to you I was on the point of sending for the book to the booksellers—then suddenly I thought to myself that I would wait & hear whether you very, very much would dislike my reading it. See now! Many readers have done virtuously, but I, (in this virtue I tell you of) surpassed them all!– And now, because I may, I 'must read it'—: & as there are misprints to be corrected, will you do what is necessary, or what you think is necessary, & bring me the book on monday? Do not send—bring it—! In the meanwhile I send back the review which I forgot to give to you yesterday in the confusion– Perhaps you have not read it in your house, & in any case there is no use in my keeping it—.

Shall I hear from you, I wonder? Oh my vain thoughts, that will not keep you well!– And, ever since you have known me, you have been worse—that, you confess!,—& what if it should be the crossing of my bad star? You, of the ‘Crown’ & the ‘Lyre’, to seek influences from this ‘chair of Cassiopeia’!!. I hope she will forgive me for using her name so!– I might as well have—compared her to a professorship of poetry in the university of Oxford, according to the latest election. You know, the qualification, there, is, … not to be a poet.

How vexatious, yesterday! The stars (talking of them) were out of spherical tune, .. through the damp weather, perhaps—and that scarlet sun was a sign! First Mr Chorley!—& last, dear Mr Kenyon,—who will say tiresome things without any provocation. Did you walk with him his way, or did he walk with you yours? or did you only walk down stairs together?

Write to me! Remember that it is a month to monday– Think of your very own who bids God bless you when she prays best for herself!–


Say particularly how you are—now do not omit it. And will you have Miss Martineau’s books when I can lend them to you? Just at this moment I dare not, because they are reading them here.

Let Mr Mackay have his full proprietary in his ‘Dead Pan’—which is quite a different conception of the subject, & executed in blank verse too. I have no claims against him, I am sure!–

But for the man!—— To call him a poet! A prince & potentate of Commonplaces, such as he is!– I have seen his name in the Athenæum attached to a lyric or two .. poems, correctly called fugitive,—more than usually fugitive!—but I never heard before that his hand was in the prose department."
Ever the honest judge of poems, she dismisses the liable against Mr. MacKay who wrote the poem about Pan. She sees no plagiarism in his blank verse!
I can hardly wait to see Browning's response to this over-wrought letter. For all her excitement, she does seem to be in a fairly good humor. She just doesn't like the idea of Browning being dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment