James Martin

Julia Martin (1792–1866) & James Martin (1778–1870)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 342–343.

Julia Martin (1792–1866), longtime EBB friend and correspondent, was the daughter of the Rev. John Vignoles, of Portarlington in Ireland. In 1819 she married James Martin (1778–1870), of the prominent banking family. Their estate, Old Colwall, adjoined the Hope End estate. Their house was about three-quarters of a mile from that of the Moulton-Barretts as the crow flies, one-and-a-half miles by road. Mr. Martin said this house was “built for posterity,” and it is still standing. There was a close neighbourly relationship between the Moulton-Barretts and the Martins. During the Hope End period, EBB was of two minds about the Martins. They, like most other people of the region, failed to satisfy her yearning for intellectual companionship. She wrote in her Diary (p. 51): “They have not the key of my mind. They are superior & feeling people; and yet I can neither think nor feel aloud when they are present.” She also wrote (Diary, p. 74): “How very very odd it is, that Mrs. Martin, who, I think, likes me, & I, who, I am sure, like Mrs. Martin, should be oil & water together.” On two other occasions (Diary, pp. 57 and 120), EBB wrote that she and Mrs. Martin didn’t “amalgamate.” Despite these reservations, after the Moulton-Barretts’ 1832 removal from Hope End, a correspondence sprang up between EBB and Mrs. Martin that did not end until EBB’s death in 1861. EBB’s Diary includes frequent mention of visits back and forth, of Bro’s going shooting with Mr. Martin (pp. 142 and 166) and of Martin’s playing cricket at Hope End (p. 51). He is also mentioned (p. 75) as breakfasting at Hope End before taking Bro and Sam to the opening of the Hereford Assizes. He apparently had travelled in Africa, as EBB mentions (Diary, p. 74) his reading from “his journal in & out of Africa” during a visit by the younger Moulton-Barretts to Old Colwall. EBB was on close terms with Mr. Martin and enjoyed talking with him on various subjects, including Lord Byron ( Diary, p. 39) and “the pleasure of writing letters” (p. 139). Mr. Martin played an active and sometimes stormy role in local political and church affairs. In connection with the latter, he wrote to the Bishop of Hereford, complaining that the Rector of Colwall had not visited the parish in twenty years (SD748). This letter was not only printed in newspapers but also distributed in the area as a circular. He, Edward Moulton-Barrett, and others in the county were sharply critical of the conservative political views and activities of their neighbour Lord Somers, who strenuously opposed the idea of Parliamentary reform (see letter 51 and notes 2 and 3, and SD 278). EBB’s intensive correspondence with the Martins in the period after Hope End can perhaps be explained by the fact that she was always more at ease in writing than in face-to-face contact. In any case, she felt sufficient interest to write about 100 letters to the couple after her Hope End departure, nearly all of them to Julia, making this one of the major correspondences conducted by EBB. When the Martins travelled abroad, as they often did, EBB would write letters to keep them up-to-date on home affairs. The Martins approved of the marriage of EBB and RB, and were with the Brownings in Paris in 1852. Writing after this to Henrietta, 10–18 June 1852, EBB said of the Martins: “They are true friends whom I love.” When the Brownings were in England in 1855, Mrs. Martin invited them to visit Old Colwall, but EBB replied that she could never bear to return to Herefordshire (see Diary, p. xxiv). EBB’s letters to Mrs. Martin in the 1850’s are chatty, covering a wide variety of subjects, such as her difficulties in the completion of Aurora Leigh, Arabella’s health and charitable activities, anecdotes about the Brownings’ son, and views on politics and spiritualism. Along with Jane Hedley, EBB’s aunt, Mrs. Martin appealed to Edward Moulton-Barrett for a reconciliation between him and the three children who had married without his consent. He wrote to Mrs. Martin that he had “forgiven” them, but never said this to the children themselves. Both Martins, though considerably older than EBB, outlived her. After his wife’s death, RB acknowledged her friendship with the Martins by sending them photographs of EBB, her son, and her tomb. Julia Martin died 0n 24 December 1866, at Colwall, aged 74. James Martin died in 1870.


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