Correspondence

933.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 5, 286–288.

[London]

March 30. 1842

I should like to be near you my beloved friend, to kiss both the dear hands twenty times which wrote & touched the paper of this most tender letter![1] I smiled half for pleasure & half for wonder as I read some of it, & ended all with such a heavy sigh that Crow turned round quickly to see what was the matter with me. What—do you not know—can you not guess, dearest kindest most indulgent friend, that all these words of yours must have the effect of humbling me to the ground? at your feet? At your feet! That sounds better! & I can be content with any humility which brings me nearer to you!–

I need not however say any more, or describe to you picturesquely the mountains of faults which are all mine! While I read your letter, my last one was effectually disenchanting you. And now—perhaps!– Ah! what are you thinking of me now? I am afraid to think myself.

Do not in any case cease to love me I beseech you. Do not punish me now or at any time for your own mistake—seeing that my love for you is true, actual, & has never been exaggerated even by your love to me. That you shd have so overprized everything else about me is the result of no cunning or intentional fraud of mine, but of the creativeness of your own faculty, & of the remissness of your own Imagination who takes, without a second thought, the shining of your own face in the glass for the loveableness of another’s. You who are so acute in all other things, are in no degree aware how blind you are & testa lunga[2] (as was said of me) how headlongly blind, to the true characteristics of the persons you love. Forgive me! but indeed you are! You are blind as any cupid with wings. Your love of truth remains unimpaired through your love of persons—but you do not see what truth is—the moon is in a haze. And then, when .. all at once & much against your will, it shines full upon you .. then—ah then! what will become of me for one! Yet love me I beseech you, still, & in all cases. I cannot “do” now without your love!

How unwell you are! I am beginning to be quite restless about you, lest it end in an illness—for I see plainly that you are sacrificing yourself in spirits & health. What can be done? I say that restlessly to myself again & again & have no answer. If you shd be really ill you know, you could’nt read—& then dear Dr Mitford wd reproach himself for permitting this labor which he does not think of now. If I were by, I shd certainly ask him to think of it.

Oh if there were anybody who would read & spare you! & if somebody wd read even the newspapers, it wd spare you a little! You are killing yourself with these newspapers–

Indeed I never did read or even make believe to listen to all the debates of a session—& if I seemed to listen, be sure that it wd be ‘make believe’. I like Lord John Russel[3] for a certain nobleness & simplicity of purpose, which one does not see in that narrow paltry slippery artful (without art as you say) statesman Sir Robert Peel.[4] I have the sort of dislike to that man which some people have for cats or spiders—a half-fear & half-contempt. There is more nobleness of instinct in a “schoolboy’s” oratory than you find in his,—which gives no breathing-room much less a breathing-out, for a generous sentiment. The man’s ideality is in his father’s mills[5] .. going towards manufacture—& indeed his whole mind rather revolves like a mill-wheel than advances or aspires. In regard to power, there is not a redundancy of it on either side, I readily grant to you. The country is sinking on one side like a willow tree, for the lack of power—for the want of a supporting soul. We have hands enough, & tongues rather more than enough, but of souls there is a deficit. So it appears to me. I could have wept when the whigs went out, with a very little fluttery of the eyeballs—but I go as far beyond them in my sublime ignorance as you in your knowledge, & peradventure something farther! I aspire to the republicanism of the Fortunate islands,[6] & to the distinguishing of my citizens by their heads & hearts rather than their pedigrees & landed estates. Besides—I do not believe in aristocracies, as my dearest friend does, in a manner!

What irritates me, pricks me as with a spur[7] or ‘by’r Lady’[8] with a pin—is this sly way of flagellating the Country with a rod of office loaded on one side, so that the heaviness of the striking falls altogether upon the operative & commercial classes. I am the more angry, from having been beguiled at my first glance of the measure & by Sir Robert’s august peroration rather to like this Income tax!!–[9] If anybody is wicked enough to take us in ...... why how very very wicked he must be!

You will thank me for this letter—it being almost as good as a newspaper—& quite redolent of one. If I am in luck, & you fall a little asleep instead of all, it may pass for a fragment of Col. Sipthorpe’s last speech.[10]

You make me glad with the thought of that precious drawerful of letters! I for my part, have a precious box-full[11]—which if Sir Robert Peel had an inkling of, he wd certainly tax.

But the drawerful will be published first .. & the prospect of your being at leisure to unfold its treasures to us in the spring, is a new spring-joy in hope to me! The public will leap at the collection, as I leap at every several letter. The post goes—I must be done—though with so much more to say. I expected Mr Kenyon today—but he did’nt come.

Your own

EBB–

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 381–383.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Miss Mitford’s letter (930) voicing her expectations for EBB’s future fame.

2. “Headlong”; said of EBB by her Italian master (see letter 705).

3. Lord John Russell (1792–1878), later (1861) 1st Earl Russell, was the third son of the 6th Duke of Bedford. He first entered Parliament in 1813, representing the family borough of Tavistock. He had been an ardent proponent of electoral reform, and was Home Secretary and then Colonial Secretary in Melbourne’s 1835–41 Whig administration, but with the advent of Peel’s Tory administration in August 1841 became Leader of the Opposition.

4. Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) had been Prime Minister in 1834–35, but gave way to Melbourne after being defeated on votes in the Commons six times in six weeks. He had now been returned to power after carrying a vote of “no confidence” in Melbourne’s ministry.

5. Peel’s grandfather had founded the family fortune by establishing in 1764 a calico-printing works, the business being continued by Peel’s father.

6. The Fortunate Islands, otherwise the Islands of the Blest, were imaginary islands where good souls lived in eternal bliss. The name was also applied to the Canary Islands.

7. Cf. Macbeth, I, 7, 25–26.

8. Richard III, II, 3, 4.

9. The Times of 12 March 1842 carried a report of a long speech made by Peel the previous day, when he had announced to the House of Commons an anticipated budget deficit of £4.7 million for the two years ending May 1843. After reviewing several possible solutions, he recommended the imposition, for a limited period, of an income tax of not more than 7d in the pound, levied on incomes of over £150, and a tax on leaseholds at 50% of that rate. In his “august peroration,” Peel spoke of the “increased prosperity and wealth” of the upper classes, and exhorted the Commons to put an end to “the public evil of financial embarrassment,” saying that failure to do so would engender “a reflective and retrospective condemnation.”

10. The Times of 25 February, reporting the previous day’s parliamentary business, summarized a speech of some length by Col. Charles Sibthorp (1783–1855), the Member for Lincoln, on the Controllership of the Exchequer. An ultra-Tory, his “delivery was rambling and uncouth … His speeches … too often personal and violent” (DNB).

11. EBB refers, first, to the letters to Sir William Elford which Miss Mitford had been encouraged to publish (see letter 737, note 1), and, secondly, to her own growing collection of letters from Miss Mitford.

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