Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6, 1846

We shall have two letters from Browning today because he sends a note with The Review:

"Tuesday Mg

I this minute receive the Review—a poor business, truly! Is there a reason for a man’s wits dwindling the moment he gets into a critical High-place to hold forth?– I have only glanced over the article however. Well, one day I am to write of you, dearest, and it must come to something rather better than that!

I am forced to send now what is to be sent at all. Bless you, dearest. I am trusting to hear from you–

Your own

And I find by a note from a fairer friend and favourer of mine that in the 'New Quarterly' 'Mr Browning' figures pleasantly as 'one without any sympathy for a human being!'– Then, for newts and efts, at all events!"
Oh dear, so much for the 'romance' of being reviewed together--when you both are poorly reviewed. I suppose that could make you happy victims.
Next comes the proper letter, which is long indeed for Browning. Expect some convoluted reasoning ahead, prepare yourselves.
"Tuesday Night.
But, my sweet, there is safer going in letters than in visits, do you not see? In the letter, one may go to the utmost limit of one’s supposed tether without danger—there is the distance so palpably between the most audacious step there, and the next .. which is no where, seeing it is not in the letter: quite otherwise in personal intercourse, where any indication of turning to a certain path, even, might possibly be checked not for its own fault but lest, the path once reached and proceeded in, some other forbidden turning might come into sight, we will say: in the letter, all ended there, just there .. and you may think of that, and forgive,—at all events, may avoid speaking irrevocable words—and when, as to me, those words are intensely true, doom-words—think, dearest! Because, as I told you once, what most characterizes my feeling for you is the perfect respect in it, the full belief .. (I shall get presently to poor Robert’s very avowal of 'owing you all esteem'!)– It is on that I build, and am secure—for how should I know, of myself, how to serve you and be properly yours if it all was to be learnt by my own interpreting, and what you professed to dislike you were to be considered as wishing for, and what liking, as it seemed, you were loathing at your heart, and if so many 'noes' made a 'yes', and 'one refusal no rebuff' and all that horrible bestiality which stout gentlemen turn up the whites of their eyes to, when they rise after dinner and, pressing the right hand to the left side say, 'The toast be dear woman!' Now, love, with this feeling in me from the beginning,—I do believe,—now, when I am utterly blest in this gift of your love and least able to imagine what I should do without it,—I cannot but believe, I say, that had you given me once a 'refusal'—clearly derived from your own feelings, and quite apart from any fancied consideration for my interests,—had this come upon me, whether slowly but inevitably in the course of events, or suddenly as precipitated by any step of mine,—I should, believing you, have never again renewed directly or indirectly such solicitation,I should have begun to count how many other ways were yet open to serve you and devote myself to you .. but from the outside, now, and not in your livery! Now, if I should have acted thus under any circumstances, how could I but redouble my endeavours at precaution after my own foolish … you know, and forgave long since, and I, too, am forgiven in my own eyes, for the cause, tho’ not the manner—but could I do other than keep 'farther from you' than in the letters, dearest? For your own part in that matter, seeing it with all the light you have since given me (and then, not inadequately by my own light) I could, I do kiss your feet, kiss every letter in your name, bless you with my whole heart and soul if I could pour them out, from me, before you, to stay and be yours,—when I think on your motives and pure perfect generosity– It was the plainness of that which determined me to wait and be patient and grateful and your own for ever in any shape or capacity you might please to acceptDo you think that because I am so rich now, I could not have been most rich, too, then—in what would seem little only to me, only with this great happiness? I should have been proud beyond measure & happy past all desert, to call and be allowed to see you simply, speak with you and be spoken to—what am I more than others? Don’t think this mock-humility—it is notyou take me in your mantle, and we shine together, but I know my part in it! All this is written breathlessly on a sudden fancy that you might .. if not now, at some future time, .. give other than this, the true reason, for that discrepancy you see, that nearness in the letters, that early farness in the visits! And, love, all love is but a passionate drawing closer– I would be one with you, dearest,—let my soul press close to you, as my lips, dear life of my life."
He just turned on the lawn mower at the beginning and then after a warm up lit the afterburners with that one. I was not with him at the beginning of the paragraph when he implied there was greater danger of speaking irrevocable words than in writing irrevocable words. It seems to me that if you misspeak you can judge the listener's response and apologize and adjust more quickly than with a letter. With a letter you cannot see the reaction unless the reader chooses to let you see. And the response may be a lie, masking their true feelings. However, once you get beyond this seeming inconsistency his reasoning makes a certain amount of sense. He essentially was frightened after his first flubbed visit and subsequent letter that if he made too sudden a move with her that he would scare her off, so he played the perfect gentleman until he could work it all out through the letters. But what a lovely paragraph with all his talk of pouring out his heart and soul to her so that they could stay with her, and the longing he had just to be with her, see her and hear her voice. Men.
"Wednesday/ You are entirely right about those poems of Horne’s. I spoke only of the effect of the first glance, and it is a principle with me to begin by welcoming any strangeness, intention of originality in men—the other way of safe copying precedents being so safe! So I began by praising all that was at all questionable in the form .. reserving the ground-work for after consideration. The Elf-story turns out a pure mistake, I think—and a common mistake, too. Fairy Stories, the good ones, were written for men & women, and, being true, pleased also children—now, people set about writing for children and miss them and the others, too,—with that detestable irreverence and plain mocking all the time at the very wonder they profess to want to excite– All obvious bending down to the lower capacity,—determining not to be the great complete man one is, by half,—any patronizing minute to be spent in the nursery over the books and work and healthful play, of a visitor who will presently bid good bye and betake himself to the Beefsteak Club– Keep us from all that!– The Sailor-language is good in its way,—but as wrongly used in Art as real clay & mud would be, if one plastered them on the foreground of a landscape in order to attain to so much truth .. at all events—the true thing to endeavour is the making a golden colour which shall do every good in the power of the dirty brown– Well, then, what a veering weathercock am I, to write so and now, so! Not altogether,—for first it was but the stranger’s welcome I gave, the right of every newcomer who must stand or fall by his behavior once admitted within the door—and then—when I know what Horne thinks of—you, dearest,—how he knew you first, and from the soul admired you,—and how little he thinks of my good fortune .. I could not begin by giving you a bad impression of anything he sends—he has such very few rewards for a great deal of hard excellent enduring work, and none, no reward, I do think, would he less willingly forego than your praise & sympathy– But your own opinion once expressed—truth remains the truth—so, at least, I excuse myself .. and quite as much for what I say now as for what was said then! King John is very fine and full of purpose: The Noble Heart—sadly faint and uncharacteristic. The chief incident, too, turns on that poor conventional fallacy about what constitutes a proper wrong to resist—a piece of morality, after a different standard, is introduced to complete another fashioned morality—a segment of a circle of larger dimensions is fitted into a smaller one—now, you may have your own standard of morality in this matter of resistance to wrong, how and when if at all—and you may quite understand and sympathize with quite different standards innumerable of other people,—but go from one to the other abruptly, you cannot, I think– 'Bear patiently all injuries—revenge in no case'—that is plain. 'Take what you conceive to be God’s part, do his evident work, stand up for good & destroy evil, and coöperate with this whole scheme here'—that is plain, too,—but, call Otto’s conduct no wrong, or being one, not such as should be avenged—and then, call the remark of a stranger that one is a 'recreant',—just what needs the slight punishment of instant death to the remarker—and .. where is the way? What is clear?"
So, once he finds that it is okay with Miss Barrett to criticise Horne's poetry he takes it apart, not for it's rhythm and rhyme but for its lack of proper motivation and morality. That is typical Browning, always examining people's motives. To Browning's credit, he did touch on this objection to the fairy story in his letter to Horne, but gently, gently. And how genuinely he seems to sympathize with Horne for all his hard work with Miss Barrett, and how meager his reward. Horne did not even get a visit to Wimpole Street, poor sad lonely man.
"—not my letter! which goes on and on—'dear letters'—sweetest? because they cost all the precious labour of making out? Well, I shall see you to-morrow, I trust—bless you, my own. I have not half said what was to say even in the letter I thought to write, and which proves only what you see! But at a thought I fly off with you, 'at a cock crow from the Grange'– Ever your own RB"
He is quoting Lady Geraldine's Courtship to her. You know he has her ballads memorized. He can't help himself.
"Last night, I received a copy of the New Quarterly—now here is popular praise, a sprig of it! Instead of the attack I supposed it to be, from my foolish friend’s account—the notice is outrageously eulogistical, a stupidly extravagant laudation from first to last—and in three other articles, as my sister finds by diligent fishing, they introduce my name with the same felicitous praise—(except one instance, though, in a good article by Chorley I am certain)—and with me—I don’t know how many poetical crétins are praised as noticeably—and, in the turning of a page, somebody is abused in the richest style of scavengering—only Carlyle! And I love him enough not to envy him nor wish to change places, and giving him mine, mount into his–
All which, let me forget in the thoughts of to-morrow! Bless you, my Ba."
So Browning, who is so used to bad reviews, gets several good mentions and finds it "stupidly extravagant laudation". My oh my, he should simply write his own reviews.

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