Friday, January 20, 2006

Letters of the Brownings

Robert to Elizabeth, April 10, 1846

[On making up from a disagreement. Elizabeth had taken issue with an opinion of Robert's on duelling. At first he defended himself. She feared her disagreements with him would make him not love her anymore. But then he surrendered, admitting she was right, and then reassuring her that he was not about to stop loving her.]

My election is made or God made it for me,--and is irrevocable. I am wholly yours. I see you have yet to understand what that implies,--but you will one day. . . . What are you given me for but to make me better--and, in that, happier? If you could save my soul, 'so as by fire,' would your dear love shrink from that? But in the matter we really refer to . . . Oh, Ba, did I not pray you at the beginning to tell me the instand you detected anything to be altered by human effort? to give me that chance of becoming more like you and worthier of you? and here where you think me gravely in the wrong, -- one or two repetitions of such conduct of yours, such 'disagreeable letters,' and I must 'leave off' . . .

Can you, now, by this time tell me or yourself that you could believe me happy with any other woman that ever breathed? I tell you, without affectation, that I lay the whole blame to myself . . . that I feel that if I had spoken my love out sufficiently, all this doubt could never have been possible. . . .

May God bless you, dearest -- and show you the truth in me, the one truth which I dare hope compensates for much that is to be forgiven: when I told you at the beginning I was not worthy, was infinitely lower &c, you seemed incredulous! well now, you see! I, that you would persist in hoping better things of, held such opinions as those -- and so I am set far on towards right -- is not all well, love? And now go on, when I give next occasion, and tell me more, and let me alter more, and thank you, if I can, more, -- but not, not love you more, you, Ba, whom I love wholly, -- with all my faculties, all my being. May God bless you, again -- it all ends there -- !

Elizabeth's answer, April 13, 1846

I will not speak much of the letter, as you desire that I should not. . . . Let me say only then, ever dearest, dearest, that I never felt towards you as I felt when I had read that letter . . never loved you so entirely! . . that it went to my heart, and stayed there, and seemed to mix with the blood of it . . . believe this of me, dear dearest beloved! For the rest, there is no need for me to put aside carefully the assumption of being didactic to you . . of being better than you, so as to teach you! . . . ah, you are so fond of dressing me up in pontifical garments ('for fun,' as the children say!) -- but because they are too large for me, they drop off always of themselves, . . they do not require my pulling them off: these extravagances get righted of their own accord. After all, too, you, . . with that praeternatural submissiveness of yours, . . you know your power upon the whole, and understand, in the midst of the obeisances, that you can do very much what you please, with your High Priest. . . .

And now, do you see. It was just natural that when we differed for the first time I should fall into low spirits. In the night, at dream-time, when instead of dreams 'deep thought falleth upon man,' suddenly I have been sad even to tears, do you know, to think of that: and whenever I am not glad, the old fears and misgivings come back -- no, you do not understand . . you cannot, perhaps! But dear, dearest, never think of yourself that you have expressed 'insufficiently' your feelings for me. Insufficiently! No words but just your own, between heaven and earth, could have persuaded me that such a one as you could love me! and the tongue of angels could not speak better words for that purpose, than just yours. Also, I know that you love me . . I do know it, my only dearest, and recognize it in the gratitude of my soul: -- and it is through my want of familiarity with any happiness -- through the want of use in carrying these weights of flowers, that I drop them again and again out of weak hands. Besides the truth is, that I am not worthy of you -- and if you were to see it just as I see it, why there would be an end . . there, . . I sometimes think reasonably.

* * *

As promised, I copied out some of their letters. I feel a little funny reading someone else's love letters, but I don't suppose they'd mind, being (I think and hope) in Heaven. These are beautiful letters. They are an amazing couple. I'm afraid they'll lure me away from my plans to write my senior thesis on the Arthurian legends, and draw me into a thesis about them. But however much I enjoy their story and their words, I don't think I'll give in.

Lovers' quarrels are supposed to be common things, but the Brownings' version is quite different from what you'd think. They each give their opinions on the subject, and find, much to their dismay, that they differ. They answer each other's arguments. Then they suddenly realize that their love for each other is so much more important than the subject of debate, and they drop the disagreement and just go back to complimenting each other (which is what they spend most of their letters doing). If all couples quarrelled like that, divorce lawyers would be out of business.

*Note on the text: most of the ellipses are not mine, but theirs. I didn't distinguish mine from theirs. The italics and dashes and spellings, &c, are all theirs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how nice. thanks for posting these. and just in time for B16's encyclical. i am always looking for model saints who were married and passionate erotic lovers. here is a good couple. i was a bit dissapointed to learn that jacques and raissa maritain were a chaste marriage, not because i disrespect their very special vocation, but because i wanted a good role model. alas, i am still young. then there's elizabeth anscombe and peter geach