Wednesday, March 12, 2008

but one word before the silence

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Evening.[Post-mark, September 18, 1845.]

ut one word before we leave the subject, and then to leave it finally; but I cannot let you go on to fancy a mystery anywhere, in obstacles or the rest. You deserve at least a full frankness; and in my letter I meant to be fully frank. I even told you what was an absurdity, so absurd that I should far rather not have told you at all, only that I felt the need of telling you all: and no mystery is involved in that, except as an 'idiosyncrasy' is a mystery. But the 'insurmountable' difficulty is for you and everybody to see; and for me to feel, who have been a very byword among the talkers, for a confirmed invalid through months and years, and who, even if I were going to Pisa and had the best prospects possible to me, should yet remain liable to relapses and stand on precarious ground to the end of my life. Now that is no mystery for the trying of 'faith'; but a plain fact, which neither thinking nor speaking can make less a fact. But don't let us speak of it.

I must speak, however, (before the silence) of what you said and repeat in words for which I gratefully thank you—and which are not 'ostentatious' though unnecessary words—for, if I were in a position to accept sacrifices from you, I would not accept such a sacrifice ... amounting to a sacrifice of duty and dignity as well as of ease and satisfaction ... to an exchange of higher work for lower work ... and of the special work you are called to, for that which is work for anybody. I am not so ignorant of the right uses and destinies of what you have and are. You will leave the Solicitor-Generalships to the Fitzroy Kellys, and justify your own nature; and besides, do me the little right, (over the over-right you are always doing me) of believing that I would not bear or dare to do you so much wrong, if I were in the position to do it.

And for all the rest I thank you—believe that I thank you ... and that the feeling is not so weak as the word. That you should care at all for me has been a matter of unaffected wonder to me from the first hour until now—and I cannot help the pain I feel sometimes, in thinking that it would have been better for you if you never had known me. May God turn back the evil of me! Certainly I admit that I cannot expect you ... just at this moment, ... to say more than you say, ... and I shall try to be at ease in the consideration that you are as accessible to the 'unicorn' now as you ever could be at any former period of your life. And here I have done. I had done living, I thought, when you came and sought me out! and why? and to what end? That, I cannot help thinking now. Perhaps just that I may pray for you—which were a sufficient end. If you come on Saturday I trust you to leave this subject untouched,—as it must be indeed henceforth.

I am yours,
No word more of Pisa—I shall not go, I think.

-from The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett and Robert Browning 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

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