Saturday, January 19, 2013

January 19, 1846

Browning rethinks his letter of the 18th, on the 19th:

"Monday Mg

Love, if you knew but how vexed I was, so very few minutes after my note left last night, how angry with the unnecessary harshness into which some of the phrases might be construed—you would forgive me, indeed– But, when all is confessed and forgiven, the fact remains—that it would be the one trial I know I should not be able to bear,—the repetition of those 'scenes'—intolerable—not to be written of, even—my mind refuses to form a clear conception of them–"
Browning would beat down Papa Barrett if he hurt Miss Barrett. Emotionally speaking, of course. Oh yeah, I think he might. Well, maybe not. But I like to think he would.


"My own loved letter is come—and the news,—of which the reassuring postscript lets the interrupted joy flow on again. Well, and I am not to be grateful for that,—nor that you do 'eat your dinner'?– Indeed you will be ingenious to prevent me! I fancy myself meeting you on 'the stairs'—stairs and passages generally, and galleries, (ah, those indeed!)—all, with their picturesque accidents, of landing-places, and spiral heights & depths, and sudden turns, and visions of half-open doors into what Quarles calls 'mollitious chambers'—and above all, landing-placesthey are my heart’s delight– I would come upon you unaware on a landing-place in my next dream! One day we may walk in the galleries round and over the inner-court of the Doges’ Palace at Venice,—and read, on tablets against the wall, how such an one was banished for an 'enormous dig (intacco) into the public treasure'—another for .. what you are not to know because his friends have got chisels and chipped away the record of it—underneath the 'giants' on their stands, and in the midst of the cortile [courtyard] the bronze fountains whence the girls draw water–"
Browning really does like this idea of wandering around passages and stairs looking for someone. There are two poems in Men and Women, published in 1855, which this passage make me think of. Love in a Life and Life in a Love both have this theme of chasing after someone.
Love in a Life
Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her,
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch's perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew,— 
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.

Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune— 
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But 'tis twilight, you see,—with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!

Life in a Love

Escape me?
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth
While the one eludes, must the other pursue. My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,---
So the chase takes up one's life ' that's all. While, look but once from your farthest bound

At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me---

But what is lasting love but a continual interest in the one you love, a constant ambition to remain in love and discover something new to love in your love?

"So you too wrote French verses?– Mine were of less lofty argument—one couplet makes me laugh now for the reason of its false quantity– I translated the Ode of Alcæus,—and the last couplet ran thus ..
Harmodius, et toi, cher Aristogĭton!
∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
Comme l’astre du jour, brillera votre nom!
[Harmodious, and you too, dear Aristogiton!
 Your names will shine like the morning star!]

The fact was, I could not bear to hurt my French Master’s feelings—who inveterately maltreated 'αι’s and οι’s' and in this instance, an 'ει'– But 'Pauline' is altogether of a different sort of precocity—you shall see it when I can muster resolution to transcribe the explanation which I know is on the fly-leaf of a copy here– Of that work, the Athenæum said <…>—now, what outrageous folly,—I care, and you care, precisely nothing about its sayings and doings—yet here I talk!"
He crossed out a few lines of what the Athenæum 'said' about Pauline. I mean why bother? And how funny that he explains to her that Pauline is a 'different sort of precocity.' Indeed! She will see soon enough.

"Now to you—Ba! When I go thro’ sweetness to sweetness, at 'Ba' I stop last of all, and lie and rest. That is the quintessence of them all,—they all take colour and flavour from that– So, dear, dear Ba, be glad as you can to see me tomorrow– God knows how I embalm every such day,—I do not believe that one of the forty is confounded with another in my memory. So, that is gained and sure for ever. And of letters, this makes my 104th and, like Donne’s Bride, 'I take / My jewels from their boxes; call / My Diamonds, Pearls and Emeralds, and make / Myself a constellation of them all!'–Bless you, my own Beloved!"
Forty visits. From May to January that makes about eight a month. That's a pretty good pace for Mr. Barrett not to have caught on at all. No wonder he gets upset when she takes off with this Browning fellow. Who does he think he is? Mister Barrett trusted her. I wonder  what he thought was going on between these two when he was away in the city. Oh dear, think of the melancholy thoughts of his ruined daughter who had to run away with her lover. The shame of this failure of a father and protector. That is my attempt at advocacy for Mr. Barrett.

"—I am much better to-day—having been not so well yesterday—whence the note to you, perhaps! I put that to your charity for construction. By the way, let the foolish and needless story about my whilome friend be of this use, that it records one of the traits in that same generous lover of me, I once mentioned, I remember—one of the points in his character which, I told you, would account, if you heard them, for my parting company with a good deal of warmth of attachment to myself."
Mr. Footnote offers no help in telling us who this friend was who was so cruel to his wife, but apparently Miss Barrett knows who he is referring to.

What a day! But you do not so much care for rain, I think. My mother is no worse, but still suffering sadly.

Ever your own, dearest—ever–RB"
Well, we are back where I began this blog a year ago. We have met again, midpoint in the proceedings.

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