Tag Archives: Browning

15 September: Brownings XII: to be written to is the chief gladness

 

Elizabeth Barrett is writing to Robert Browning:
“But to be written to is the chief gladness of course; and with all you say of liking to have my letters (which I like to hear quite enough indeed) you cannot pretend to think that yours are not more to me, most to me! Ask my guardian-angel and hear what he says! Yours will look another way for shame of measuring joys with him! Because as I have said before, and as he says now, you are all to me, all the light, all the life; I am living for you now.
 And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me, do you think? and the meaning of life? And now, when you come and go, and write and do not write, all the hours are chequered accordingly in so many squares of white and black, as if for playing at fox and goose … only there is no fox, and I will not agree to be goose for one … that is you perhaps, for being ‘too easily’ satisfied. So my claim is that you are more to me than I can be to you.
A running joke between two people who are totally sure of each other, and will soon elope to Italy as man and wife despite Elizabeth’s father. But letters between friends – we have few excuses for not whizzing off the occasional email to arrive in Australia or Zambia almost before it’s left the keyboard. Of course they may never be collated into two volumes for public consumption; let our emails be private and let the recipient decide whether to keep them.
And letters from our Creator are there for us, via Paul, Peter, John, Jude; and really in all of the Bible. No need to get up from the computer and find a hard copy, two clicks and the Scripture is there at our fingertips in many languages.
We can answer God’s messages by going to Universalis for the daily prayer of the Church. We are spoilt children, though Elizabeth Barrett was receiving two or three posts per day in central London, compared to just one today.
Who are you going to write to today, this minute, to incite gladness? 
And let’s say thank you for human ingenuity and information technology. Which includes the pens and paper that RB and EBB enthused about occasionally!
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) From Project Gutenberg
Angel – God’s messenger – from St Mary Magdalene, Davington, Kent.

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13 February: The love of those whom we do not know.

I think we need an antidote to Virginia Woolf’s desperate feelings of superiority to others. We are put on this earth to love God and our neighbour, that is what being human is all about, whether or not we abide by the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. GKC did both. Here he writes about the young Robert Browning, but also ‘almost everyone’.

“Love of humanity is the commonest and most natural of the feelings of a fresh nature, and almost every one has felt it alight capriciously upon him when looking at a crowded park or a room full of dancers. The love of those whom we do not know is quite as eternal a sentiment as the love of those whom we do know. In our friends the richness of life is proved to us by what we have gained; in the faces in the street the richness of life is proved to us by the hint of what we have lost. And this feeling for strange faces and strange lives, when it is felt keenly by a young man, almost always expresses itself in a desire after a kind of vagabond beneficence, a desire to go through the world scattering goodness like a capricious god.”

(From “Robert Browning” by G. K. Chesterton,  via Kindle)

Photos: Amsterdam, MMB; L’Arche India; St Maurice Pilgrimage; Brocagh School, Co Leitrim 1967.

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January 26: Witness against nature, Browning I.

mile end4

Here is Elizabeth Barrett, writing to her fellow poet Robert Browning – the man who would become her husband. He lived at New Cross in South London, then – in 1846 – being developed for housing and industry complete with railways into London itself. Browning lived at the bottom of Telegraph Hill, sufficiently high to have held a signalling tower to semaphore military messages between Whitehall and the naval yards.

“So you really have hills at New Cross, and not hills by courtesy? I was at Hampstead once—and there was something attractive to me in that fragment of heath with its wild smell, thrown down … like a Sicilian rose from Proserpine’s lap when the car drove away, … into all that arid civilization, laurel-clumps and invisible visible fences,’ as you say!—and the grand, eternal smoke rising up in the distance, with its witness against nature! People grew severely in jest about cockney landscape—but is it not true that the trees and grass in the close neighbourhood of great cities must of necessity excite deeper emotion than the woods and valleys will, a hundred miles off?”

poppy.bridge

This bridge leads to one of Manchester’s green spaces, Fletcher Moss Park. In the Brownings’ time the River Mersey there was all but dead, since it was used as a waste disposal system by mills and factories. The upper photograph shows how the cemetery at Mile End has become a precious haven of nature. Even in Canterbury, the river flowing under the Franciscan chapel in this was once an open sewer. Much has changed for the better, there are trout there now, but the smoke Elizabeth Barrett marvelled at has been replaced by a less visible cloud of pollution from vehicles. A witness against Nature indeed!

greyfriarsfrom meadow

This is the first of an occasional series of reflections based on the letters between the Brownings.

(Quotation from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) Available from Project Gutenberg or Kindle.

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