Monday, March 10, 2008

Gender Issues vs. Robert Browning's attentions?

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Wednesday-Thursday Evening
[Post-mark, July 4, 1845.]

Yes—I know the first part of the 'Duchess' and have it here—and for the rest of the poem, don't mind about being very legible, or even legible in the usual sense; and remember how it is my boast to be able to read all such manuscript writing as never is read by people who don't like caviare. Now you won't mind? really I rather like blots than otherwise—being a sort of patron-saint of all manner of untidyness ... if Mr. Kenyon's reproaches (of which there's a stereotyped edition) are justified by the fact—and he has a great organ of order, and knows 'disorderly persons' at a glance, I suppose. But you won't be particular with me in the matter of transcription? that is what I want to make sure of. And even if you are not particular, I am afraid you are not well enough to be troubled by writing, and writing and the thinking that comes with it—it would be wiser to wait till you are quite well—now wouldn't it?—and my fear is that the 'almost well' means 'very little better.' And why, when there is no motive for hurrying, run any risk? Don't think that I will help you to make yourself ill. That I refuse to do even so much work as the 'little dessert-knife' in the way of murder, ... do think! So upon the whole, I expect nothing on Saturday from this distance—and if it comes unexpectedly (I mean the Duchess and not Saturday) let it be at no cost, or at the least cost possible, will you? I am delighted in the meanwhile to hear of the quantity of 'mala herba'; and hemlock does not come up from every seed you sow, though you call it by ever such bad names.

Talking of poetry, I had a newspaper 'in help of social and political progress' sent to me yesterday from America—addressed to—just my name ... poetess, London! Think of the simplicity of those wild Americans in 'calculating' that 'people in general' here in England know what a poetess is!—Well—the post office authorities, after deep meditation, I do not doubt, on all probable varieties of the chimpanzee, and a glance to the Surrey Gardens on one side, and the Zoological department of Regent's Park on the other, thought of 'Poet's Corner,' perhaps, and wrote at the top of the parcel, 'Enquire at Paternoster Row'! whereupon the Paternoster Row people wrote again, 'Go to Mr. Moxon'—and I received my newspaper.

And talking of poetesses, I had a note yesterday (again) which quite touched me ... from Mr. Hemans—Charles, the son of Felicia—written with so much feeling, that it was with difficulty I could say my perpetual 'no' to his wish about coming to see me. His mother's memory is surrounded to him, he says, 'with almost a divine lustre'—and 'as it cannot be to those who knew the writer alone and not the woman.' Do you not like to hear such things said? and is it not better than your tradition about Shelley's son? and is it not pleasant to know that that poor noble pure-hearted woman, the Vittoria Colonna of our country, should be so loved and comprehended by some ... by one at least ... of her own house? Not that, in naming Shelley, I meant for a moment to make a comparison—there is not equal ground for it. Vittoria Colonna does not walk near Dante—no. And if you promised never to tell Mrs. Jameson ... nor Miss Martineau ... I would confide to you perhaps my secret profession of faith—which is ... which is ... that let us say and do what we please and can ... there is a natural inferiority of mind in women—of the intellect ... not by any means, of the moral nature—and that the history of Art and of genius testifies to this fact openly. Oh—I would not say so to Mrs. Jameson for the world. I believe I was a coward to her altogether—for when she denounced carpet work as 'injurious to the mind,' because it led the workers into 'fatal habits of reverie,' I defended the carpet work as if I were striving pro aris et focis, (I, who am so innocent of all that knowledge!) and said not a word for the poor reveries which have frayed away so much of silken time for me ... and let her go away repeating again and again ... 'Oh, but you may do carpet work with impunity—yes! because you can be writing poems all the while.'!

Think of people making poems and rugs at once. There's complex machinery for you!

I told you that I had a sensation of cold blue steel from her eyes!—And yet I really liked and like and shall like her. She is very kind I believe—and it was my mistake—and I correct my impressions of her more and more to perfection, as you tell me who know more of her than I.

Only I should not dare, ... ever, I think ... to tell her that I believe women ... all of us in a mass ... to have minds of quicker movement, but less power and depth ... and that we are under your feet, because we can't stand upon our own. Not that we should either be quite under your feet! so you are not to be too proud, if you please—and there is certainly some amount of wrong—: but it never will be righted in the manner and to the extent contemplated by certain of our own prophetesses ... nor ought to be, I hold in intimate persuasion. One woman indeed now alive ... and only that one down all the ages of the world—seems to me to justify for a moment an opposite opinion—that wonderful woman George Sand; who has something monstrous in combination with her genius, there is no denying at moments (for she has written one book, Leila, which I could not read, though I am not easily turned back,) but whom, in her good and evil together, I regard with infinitely more admiration than all other women of genius who are or have been. Such a colossal nature in every way,—with all that breadth and scope of faculty which women want—magnanimous, and loving the truth and loving the people—and with that 'hate of hate' too, which you extol—so eloquent, and yet earnest as if she were dumb—so full of a living sense of beauty, and of noble blind instincts towards an ideal purity—and so proving a right even in her wrong. By the way, what you say of the Vidocq museum reminds me of one of the chamber of masonic trial scenes in 'Consuelo.' Could you like to see those knives?

I began with the best intentions of writing six lines—and see what is written! And all because I kept my letter back ... from a doubt about Saturday—but it has worn away, and the appointment stands good ... for me: I have nothing to say against it.

But belief in mesmerism is not the same thing as general unbelief—to do it justice—now is it? It may be super-belief as well. Not that there is not something ghastly and repelling to me in the thought of Dr. Elliotson's great bony fingers seeming to 'touch the stops' of a whole soul's harmonies—as in phreno-magnetism. And I should have liked far better than hearing and seeing that, to have heard you pour the 'cupful of Diderot's rinsings,' out,—and indeed I can fancy a little that you and how you could do it—and break the cup too afterwards!
Another sheet—and for what?

What is written already, if you read, you do so meritoriously—and it's an example of bad writing, if you want one in the poems. I am ashamed, you may see, of having written too much, (besides)—which is much worse—but one writes and writes: I do at least—for you are irreproachable. Ever yours my dear friend, as if I had not written ... or had!

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

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