William Merry (1792–1873)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 8, 329–330.
Mr. Merry—whose seat was The Highlands, at Shinfield, near Reading—was a friend of Mary Russell Mitford. He is of interest to Browning scholars because of his two books which stirred EBB into a frenzy of religious commentary. There seems to have been a great deal of correspondence between EBB and Merry from 1840 to 1844, but few of the letters are extant. These include nos. 1420, 1435, and 1497, written by EBB in November 1843 and January 1844, and no. 1493 (incomplete), written by Merry on 7 January 1844. The first of Merry’s books to attract EBB’s attention was The Philosophy of a Happy Futurity (1839). EBB received a copy in early 1840, and reported to Miss Mitford on 20 February (letter 733) that she had written to Merry, expressing “my thoughts.” On 21 March (letter 746) she told Miss Mitford: “Mr. Merry has sent me a kind interesting letter which I am under a temptation, from a kind word, to answer. Not angry with me at all.” EBB often commented to Miss Mitford about Merry’s religious views, as in letter 1042, dated 4 November 1842: “If I do not embrace a favorite view of many besides your excellent Mr. Merry, as to the consciousness of the saints overwatching their surviving friends, it is only because I attribute to those beatified spirits, sympathies too quick & warm & tenderly human, to bear to trouble their serenity by the continual spectacle of our sorrows & infirmities.” Merry’s Predestination and Election, Considered Scripturally appeared in 1843, prompting EBB’s three lengthy extant letters to him, previously cited. She reported to Miss Mitford on 21 October 1843 (letter 1408): “Mr. Merry has had the kindness to send me his book—& a kind note,—which of course I shall reply to soon.” EBB’s dealings with Merry seem to have ended in 1844. On 6 August she asked Miss Mitford whether she should send him a copy of her Poems (1844), but the listing of presentation volumes in Reconstruction shows no evidence of her doing so. EBB’s 1845–46 correspondence with RB, in which she referred to virtually everyone whom she cared about at the time, contains no mention of William Merry.