Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14

I could not resist a love letter on Valentine's Day, although this letter from Browning is postmarked May 10, 1846. As usual he tries to muddle it up, but his meaning actually comes through pretty clear:

"I am always telling you, because always feeling, that I can express nothing of what goes from my heart to you, my Ba: but there is a certain choice I have all along exercised, of subjects on which I would try and express somewhat—while others might be let alone with less disadvantage. When we first met, it was in your thought that I loved you only for your poetry .. I think you thought that: and because one might be imagined to love that and not you,—because everybody must love it, indeed, that is worthy, and yet needs not of necessity love you,—yet might mistake, or determine to love you thro’ loving it .. for all these reasons, there was not the immediate demand on me for a full expression of my admiration for your intellectuality,—do you see?—rather, it was proper to insist as little as possible on it, and speak to the woman, Ba, simply—and so I have tried to speak,—partly, in truth, because I love her best, and love her mind by the light and warmth of her heart—reading her verses, saying 'and these are Ba’s',—not kissing her lips because they spoke the verses. But it does not follow that I have lost the sense of any delight that has its source in you, my dearest, dearest,—however I may choose to live habitually with certain others in preference. I would shut myself up with you, and die to the world, and live out fifty long,—long lives in bliss through your sole presence—but it is no less true that it will also be an ineffable pride,—something too sweet for the name of pride,—to avow myself, before anyone whose good opinion I am solicitous to retain, as so distinguished by you—it is too sweet, indeed,—so I guard against it,—for frequent allusion to it, might, .. (as I stammer, and make plain things unintelligible) .. might cause you to misconceive me, .. which would be dreadful .. for after all, Ba’s head has given the crown its worth,—though a wondrous crown it is, too!– All this means .. the avowal we were speaking of, will be a heart’s pride—above every other pride whenever you decide on making such an avowal. You will understand as you do ever your own RB"
Not that there is anything wrong with kissing a genius--but it is incidental to the genius that the kissing takes place. Just to be clear.

—On getting home I found letters and letters—the best being a summons to meet Tennyson at Moxon’s on Tuesday,—and the frightfullest .. nay, I will send it. Now, Ba, hold my hand from the distant room, tighter than ever, at about 8. o’clock on Wednesday, .. for I must go, I fear. 'Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking ..' &c &c 'ἐα, ἐα, ἀπεχε, φευ [ah, ah, refrain alas].' Then Mr Kenyon writes that his friend Commodore Jones is returned to England in bad health and that he must away to Portsmouth and see him. So I do not go on Monday. While I was away Chorley’s brother (John Chorley) called,—having been put to the trouble of a journey hither for nothing.

I have been out this morning—to church with my sister—and the sun shone almost oppressively,—but now all is black, and threatening. How I send my heart after your possible movements, my own all-beloved! Care for yourself, and for me. But a few months more,—if God shall please! May He bless you.

Ever your own RB

Hail and rain—at a quarter to four o’clock!"
Happy Valentine's Day to all the Blogoleers out there in BarrettBrowningBlogland!


  1. I've been reading some of the Browning courtship letters on my ownsome and it was delightful to find this blog and read them again with your comments. (I don't think I have the fortitude to plough through EBB's Italian letters myself, but I am sort of interested so maybe I'll just have to steel myself.) I hope you don't mind if I put my thoughts on a few different posts into one comment:

    I pick on Browning quite a bit because many professional biographers characterize him as so much more brilliant than Mrs. Browning. So I like to point out all the goofy things that he writes.

    I feel this way about RB too. Also I find his letters to be almost incomprehensible at times. However, there's a sort of insecurity or bitterness about him, which is interesting. EBB, though she claims to be more anxious, comes across as much more even-keeled. I think the incident where she teases him about getting her name wrong at their marriage and he runs down to check the Registry to make sure it was all right...sums it up.

    So too in this sequence:
    I laughed when you were accusing RB of faking his illness and being drunk! I find RB abusing Prometheus in his rage to be hilarious, and I'm still curious what that 'light word spoken in jest' was. Then EBB gently reminds him of how much more she was suffering - I really feel for her, she was such a nice person to be worrying about her family when they were so senselessly opposed to her happiness.

    "I begin to think that none are so bold as the timid, when they are fairly roused."

    She couldn't have written a more fitting last letter if she had planned it!

    "When we first met, it was in your thought that I loved you only for your poetry .. I think you thought that:"

    Oh RB, wherever would she have got that idea?

    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed my minor blog. One of the reasons that I started it was that I thought EBB was funny and so few people seem to get this. She was the master of the tease. As nervous as she was, she was totally on the ball. 'Smart as a whip' as my grandmother would put it.

      Yes, Browning is difficult to comprehend. My theory on this is that he was constantly working things out in his mind. He wrote what his mind was grappling with and so seems to be taking several different positions in the same letter. I think he did this as he spoke as well. If you read "EBB & RB Interviews and Recollections" by Martin Garrett -- which is a collection of writings by people who knew the Brownings -- you will see Browning as a talker. He talked constantly and loudly. Some people liked this constant flow of information (obscure trivia) backed by nervous energy, and some found it very annoying. I think he did that on paper as well.

      Try reading a letter or two at night and you will get into it fairly quickly. Her letters to Arabel start on day 6 (or there abouts) of the honeymoon and continue monthly for the next 15 years. You will really get a lesson in French and Italian history as well--whether you want it or not! The footnotes are great.