Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 15, 1846

Browning has had Miss Barrett's letter upbraiding him for asking a cruel question and now we get his response. Could you stand the suspense?


Dearest, dearer to my heart minute by minute, I had no wish to give you pain, God knows. No one can more readily consent to let a few years more or less of life go out of account,—be lost—but as I sate by you, you so full of the truest life, for this world as for the next,—and was struck by that possibility, all that might happen were I away, in the case of your continuing to acquiesce .. dearest, it is horrible,—I could not but speak—if in drawing you, all of you, closer to my heart, I hurt you whom I would—outlive .. yes,—I cannot speak here—forgive me, Ba.

My Ba, you are to consider now for me: your health, your strength—it is all wonderful; that is not my dream, you know—but what all see: now, steadily care for us both—take time, take counsel if you choose; but at the end tell me what you will do for your part—thinking of me as utterly devoted, soul and body, to you, living wholly in your life, seeing good and ill, only as you see,—being yours as your hand is,—or as your Flush, rather. Then I will, on my side, prepare. When I say 'take counsel'—I reserve my last right, the man’s right of first speech. I stipulate, too, and require to say my own speech in my own words or by letter .. remember! But this living without you is too tormenting now. So begin thinking: as for Spring, as for a New Year, as for a New Life.–

I went no farther than the door with Mr Kenyon—& he must see the truth; and—you heard the playful words which had a meaning all the same.

No more of this; only, think of it for me, love!"
He turned that around beautifully. She upbraided him for daring to mention what she would do if anything happened to him and he used the opportunity to drive home the point he was really trying to make: she needed to get the heck out of her father's house, whether he was with her or not. Her health was improving and she needed to get moving. Excellent parry Browning.


"One of these days I shall write a long letter—on the omitted matters, unanswered questions, in your past letters: the present joy still makes me ungrateful to the previous one,—but I remember—we are to live together one day, love!

Will you let Mr Poe’s book lie on the table on Monday, if you please, that I may read what he does say, with my own eyes? That I meant to ask, too!

How too, too kind you are—how you care for so little that affects me! I am very much better—I went out yesterday, as you found: to-day I shall walk, beside seeing Chorley. And certainly, certainly I would go away for a week if so I might escape being ill (and away from you) a fortnight—but I am not ill—and will care, as you bid me, beloved! So, you will send, and take all trouble,—and all about that crazy Review! Now, you should not!– I will consider about your goodness. I hardly know if I care to read that kind of book just now."
He is handling all of her objections beautifully. But now he has an objection. She was upset about the thought of him dying, he is upset at the thought of her reading 'Pauline'. He is really embarrased by it:

"Will you, and must you have 'Pauline'? If I could pray you to revoke that decision! For it is altogether foolish and not boylike—and I shall, I confess, hate the notion of running over it—yet commented it must be,—more than mere correction! I was unluckily precocious—but I had rather you saw real infantine efforts .. (verses at six years old,—and drawings still earlier)—than this ambiguous, feverish—. Why not wait? When you speak of the 'Bookseller'—I smile, in glorious security—having a whole bale of sheets at the house-top: he never knew my name even!—and I withdrew these after a very little time."
Miss Barrett, who examines every word of his letters, must surely see that he does not want her to read 'Pauline'. I don't know about her, but it certainly makes me want to read it! And how happy he is to note that there is no chance of her getting a copy at the bookseller. The 'glorious security' of not being a best seller! For all of you thrill seekers, you can read 'Pauline' here, and see what Browning was embarrassed about. It is actually one of Browning's easier to understand works, which may be part of what embarrasses him: it's too revealing. For those who do not have an extra hour to spare here are the first few lines:
Pauline, mine own, bend o’er me—thy soft breast
Shall pant to mine—bend o’er me—thy sweet eyes,
And loosened hair, and breathing lips, arms
Drawing me to thee—these build up a screen
To shut me in with thee, and from all fear,
So that I might unlock the sleepless brood
Of fancies from my soul, their lurking place,
Nor doubt that each would pass, ne’er to return
To one so watched, so loved, and so secured.
But what can guard thee but thy naked love?
Well, you get the idea. Pretty sexy for a mid-Victorian. I don't think he relished the idea of Miss Barrett reading about some other woman's panting breast. But hey, he obviously prefers Miss Barrett's panting breast, so she shouldn't worry. He refers to Pauline's 'calm eyes' in this poem and Miss Barrett often refers to Browning as 'calm eyed' which makes me think he eventually let her read the poem. Modesty, they name is Browning.

"And now—here is a vexation: may I be with you (for this once) next Monday, at two instead of three o’clock? Forster’s business with the new Paper obliges him, he says, to restrict his choice of days to Monday next —and give up my part of Monday—I will never for fifty Forsters .. now, sweet, mind that! Monday is no common day, but leads to a Saturday .. and if, as I ask, I get leave to call at 2—and to stay till 3½—though I then lose nearly half an hour—yet all will be comparatively well. If there is any difficulty—one word and I re-appoint our party, his and mine,—for the day the paper breaks down—not so long to wait, it strikes me!

Now, bless you, my precious Ba– I am your own. —your own RB"

And next we hear from Miss Barrett who brings forth two letters today--well, they both get postmarked the same day anyway:

"Thursday morning.

Our letters have crossed; &, mine being the longest, I have a right to expect another directly, I think. I have been calculating,—& it seems to me .. now what I am going to say may take its place among the paradoxes, .. that I gain most by the short letters. Last week the only long one came last, & I was quite contented that the ‘old friend’ should come to see you on saturday & make you send me two instead of the single one I looked for: it was a clear gain the little short note, and the letter arrived all the same. I remember when I was a child, liking to have two shillings & sixpence better than half a crown—and now it is the same with this fairy money .. which will never turn all into pebbles, or beans .. whatever the chronicles may say of precedents.

Arabel did tell Mr Kenyon (she told me) that 'Mr Browning would soon go away' .. in reply to an observation of his, that ‘he would not stay as I had company’ .. & altogether it was better:—the lamp made it look late. But you do not appear in the least remorseful for being tempted of my black devil, my familiar, to ask such questions & leave me under such an impression—‘mens conscia recti [The consciousness of right]’ too!!–"
Well, she can't be too upset by his upsetting inquiry--she is teazing him about it. She obviously hasn't received the letter you just read. I had an idea when I read her letter that it was a bit of affectation on her part.

"And Mr Kenyon will not come until next Monday perhaps– How am I? But I am too well to be asked about. Is it not a warm summer? The weather is as ‘miraculous’ as the rest, I think– It is you who are unwell & make people uneasy, .. dearest– Say how you are, & promise me to do what is right & try to be better. The walking, the changing of the air, the leaving off Luria .. do what is right, I earnestly beseech you– The other day, I heard of Tennyson being ill again, .. too ill to write a simple note to his friend Mr Venables who told George. A little more than a year ago, it would have been no worse a thing to me to hear of your being ill than to hear of his being ill!– How the world has changed since then! To me, I mean."
I like that observation that only a year before news of a Browning illness would have brought no more than an aside--if that--in a letter to a friend.

"Did I say that ever .. that 'I knew you must be tired'—? And it was not even so true as that the coming event threw its shadow before?___________

Thursday night

I have begun on another sheet– I could not write here what was in my heart—yet I send you this paper besides to show how I was writing to you this morning. In the midst of it came a female friend of mine & broke the thread—the visible thread, that is.

And now, even now, at this safe eight oclock, I could not be safe from somebody, who, in her goodnature & my illfortune, must come & sit by me—& when my letter was come … 'why would’nt I read it? What wonderful politeness on my part, she would not & could not consent to keep me from reading my letter—she would stand up by the fire rather.'

No, no, three times no. Brummel got into the carriage before the Regent, .. (didnt he?) but I persisted in not reading my letter in the presence of my friend. A notice on my punctiliousness may be put down tonight in her ‘private diary’. I kept the letter in my hand & only read it with those sapient ends of the fingers which the mesmerists make so much ado about, & which really did seem to touch a little of what was inside. Not all, however, happily for me!– Or my friend would have seen in my eyes what they did not see.

May God bless you!– Did I ever say that I had an objection to read the verses at six years old .. or see the drawings either? I am reasonable you observe!– Only, ‘Pauline’, I must have some day– Why not without the emendations? But if you insist on them, I will agree to wait a little .. if you promise at last to let me see the book which I will not show .. Some day, then! you shall not be vexed, nor hurried for the day—some day—— Am I not generous? And I, was ‘precocious’ too, & used to make rhymes over my bread & milk when I was nearly a baby .. only really it was mere echo-verse, that of mine, & had nothing of mark or of indication, such as I do not doubt that yours had. I used to write of virtue with a large ‘V,’& ‘Oh Muse’ with a harp, & things of that sort. At nine years old I wrote what I called ‘an epic’—& at ten various tragedies, French & English, which we used to act in the nursery– There was a French ‘hexameter’ tragedy on the subject of Regulus—but I cannot even smile to think of it now, there are so many grave memories .. which time has made grave .. hung around it. How I remember sitting in 'my house under the sideboard,' in the diningroom, concocting one of the soliloquies beginning

'Qui suis je? autrefois un general Romain:
Maintenant esclave de Carthage je souffre en vain.'
[What am I? In the past a Roman general brave,
 In Carthage’ hands today a vainly suffering slave.]

Poor Regulus!– Cant you conceive how fine it must have been altogether? And these were my ‘maturer works,’ you are to understand, .. and 'the moon was bright at ten oclock at night' years before. As to the gods & goddesses, I believed in them all quite seriously, & reconciled them to Christianity, which I believed in too after a fashion, as some greater philosophers have done .. & went out one day with my pinafore full of little sticks, (& a match from the housemaids cupboard) to sacrifice to the blue eyed Minerva who was my favorite goddess on the whole because she cared for Athens. As soon as I began to doubt about my goddesses, I fell into a vague sort of general scepticism, .. & though I went on saying 'the Lord’s prayer' at nights & mornings, & the 'Bless all my kind friends' afterwards, by the childish custom .. yet I ended this liturgy with a supplication which I found in ‘King’s memoirs’ & which took my fancy & met my general views exactly .. 'O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul'. Perhaps the theology of many thoughtful children is scarcely more orthodox than this: but indeed it is wonderful to myself sometimes how I came to escape, on the whole, as well as I have done, considering the commonplaces of education in which I was set, with strength & opportunity for breaking the bonds all round into liberty & license. Papa used to say .. 'Dont read Gibbon’s history—it’s not a proper book– Dont read ‘Tom Jones’—& none of the books on this side, mind'– So I was very obedient & never touched the books on that side, & only read instead, Tom Paine’s Age of Reason, & Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, & Hume’s Essays, & Werther, & Rousseau, & Mary Woolstoncraft .. books, which I was never suspected of looking towards, & which were not 'on that side' certainly, but which did as well."
Miss Barrett's idea of ‘precocious’seems quite different from Browning's. Miss Barrett writes of childhood precocity, Browning's was a more mature model. It will be a nice surprise for her. But, as I said before, he is perfectly safe with her. It does not matter what he wrote, she will praise the poetic attempts and the brilliance of his conception.

"How I am writing!– And what are the questions you did not answer? I shall remember them by the answers I suppose—but your letters always have a fulness to me & I never seem to wish for what is not in them.

But this is the end indeed."
Well, it's the end of this letter, to continue in the next--apparently after she has read his letter which her visitor kept her from:
"Thursday Night.
Ever dearest—how you can write touching things to me,—& how my whole being vibrates, as a string, to these! How have I deserved from God & you all that I thank you for? Too unworthy I am of all! Only, it was not, dearest beloved, what you feared, that was 'horrible', .. it was what you supposed, rather! It was a mistake of yours. And now we will not talk of it any more."
Well, hopefully that will be the end of that. But I doubt it. She does like to teaze.
"Friday morning–
For the rest, I will think as you desire: but I have thought a great deal, & there are certainties which I know; & I hope we both are aware that nothing can be more hopeless than our position in some relations & aspects, though you do not guess perhaps that the very approach to the subject is shut up by dangers, & that from the moment of a suspicion entering one mind, we should be able to meet never again in this room, nor to have intercourse by letter through the ordinary channel. I mean, that letters of yours, addressed to me here, would infallibly be stopped & destroyed——if not opened. Therefore it is advisable to hurry on nothing—on these grounds it is advisable. What should I do if I did not see you nor hear from you, without being able to feel that it was for your happiness? What should I do for a month even? And then, I might be thrown out of the window or its equivalent– I look back shuddering to the dreadful scenes in which poor Henrietta was involved who never offended as I have offended .. years ago which seem as present as today. She had forbidden the subject to be referred to until that consent was obtained—& at a word she gave up all—at a word. In fact she had no true attachment, as I observed to Arabel at the time: a child never submitted more meekly to a revoked holiday. Yet how she was made to suffer– Oh, the dreadful scenes!—and only because she had seemed to feel a little. I told you, I think, that there was an obliquity [perversity of thought].. an eccentricity—or something beyond .. on one class of subjects. I hear how her knees were made to ring upon the floor, now! she was carried out of the room in strong hysterics, & I, who rose up to follow her, though I was quite well at that time & suffered only by sympathy; fell flat down upon my face in a fainting-fit. Arabel thought I was dead."
Wow, pretty dramatic. I would have loved to have seen that. While the idea of falling to your knees so hard as to ring seems fairly painful, with all those petticoats perhaps it sounded worse than it was. I suppose it was the brothers who had to haul Henrietta out of the room with all her arms and legs flailing and skirt and petticoats getting in the way of the doorjamb. And Ba falling on her face, boy howdy, there was no padding there. Only cool, collected Arabel stayed upright. Browning should have married Arabel, but then, she didn't have the requisite skill at praising his poetry (no matter what) and the guaranteed income of Miss Barrett. Just sayin'.
"I have tried to forget it all—but now I must remember—& throughout our intercourse I have remembered. It is necessary to remember so much as to avoid such evils as are evitable, & for this reason I would conceal nothing from you. Do you remember besides, that there can be no faltering on my 'part', & that, if I should remain well, which is not proved yet, I will do for you what you please & as you please to have it done. But there is time for considering!"
I am not so sure about that 'as you please to have it done' part. I think she means that in her way--that she will go with him if he wants her to--but the manner of it will be as she is pleased to have it done. Browning wanted to tell Mr. Barrett, in one way or another, and she would not have it.
"Only .. as you speak of ‘counsel’, I will take courage to tell you that my sisters know—. Arabel is in most of my confidences, & being often in the room with me, taxed me with the truth long ago—she saw that I was affected from some cause—& I told her. We are as safe with both of them as possible—& they thoroughly understand that if there should be any change it would not be your fault .. I made them understand that thoroughly. From themselves I have received nothing but the most smiling words of kindness & satisfaction (—I thought I might tell you so much:) they have too much tenderness for me to fail in it now. My brothers, it is quite necessary not to draw into a dangerous responsibility– I have felt that from the beginning & shall continue to feel it—though I hear, & can observe that they are full of suspicions & conjectures, which are never unkindly expressed. I told you once that we held hands the faster in this house for the weight over our heads. But the absolute knowledge would be dangerous for my brothers: with my sisters it is different, & I could not continue to conceal from them what they had under their eyes—and then, Henrietta is in a like position– It was not wrong of me to let them know it?—no?–
Yet of what consequence is all this to the other side of the question? What, if you should give pain & disappointment where you owe such pure gratitude——. But we need not talk of these things now. Only you have more to consider than I, I imagine, while the future comes on."
Browning has nothing to consider, it seems to me. His family supports him, I am sure all his family knows he is in love and engaged to Miss Barrett, he has no job, no responsibilities and he will be gaining an income by marrying Miss Barrett. The only thing that might hurt him is his reputation if Miss Barrett should die or her family makes a fuss. But what reputation? For a penniless poet it might enhance his standing to be a renegade. So, overall, I would say that Browning has nothing much to consider at all.
"Dearest, let me have my way in one thing: let me see you on tuesday instead of on monday—on tuesday at the old hour– Be reasonable & consider– Tuesday is almost as near as the day before it; & on monday, I shall be hurried at first, lest Papa should be still in the house, (no harm, but an excuse for nervousness! & I cant quote a noble Roman as you can, to the praise of my conscience!) & you will be hurried at last, lest you should not be in time for Mr Forster. On the other hand, I will not let you be rude to the Daily News,––no, nor to the Examiner– Come on tuesday, then, instead of monday, & let us have the usual hours in a peaceable way, .. & if there is no obstacle, … that is, if Mr Kenyon or some equivalent authority should not take note of your being here on tuesday, why you can come again on the saturday afterwards .. I do not see the difficulty. Are we agreed? On tuesday, at three oclock. Consider, besides, that the monday arrangement would hurry you in every manner, & leave you fagged for the evening—no, I will not hear of it. Not, on my account, not on yours!–
Think of me on monday instead, & write before. Are not these two lawful letters? And do they not deserve an answer?
My life was ended when I knew you, & if I survive myself it is for your sake:—that resumes all my feelings & intentions in respect to you. No 'counsel' could make the difference of a grain of dust in the balance. It is so, & not otherwise. If you changed towards me, it would be better for you I believe—& I should be only where I was before. While you do not change, I look to you for my first affections & my first duty—& nothing but your bidding me, could make me look away.
In the midst of this, Mr Kenyon came, & I felt as if I could not talk to him. No—he does not 'see how it is'. He may have passing thoughts sometimes, but they do not stay long enough to produce .. even an opinion. He asked if you had been here long.
It may be wrong & ungrateful, but I do wish sometimes that the world were away .. even the good Kenyon-aspect of the world.
And so, once more .. may God bless you!
I am wholly yours–
Tuesday, remember! And say that you agree."
So all is right with the world again. (No, I could not resist.)


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