Correspondence

981.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 6, 25–28.

[London]

July 4. 1842

My ever dearest friend, the Fates are certainly rejoicing in cross stitches,[1] these are ever so many post days. For the second or third time—nay, I am sure it is the third,—I have received your letter while you were receiving mine, with a most adroit mal-appropriation of subject-matter & sentiment. Nevertheless cross or not, I never can be otherwise than in delighted goodhumour at hearing from you—particularly when you say, as in this last dear MS, that in the case of your troubles thickening beyond all bearing, you will drop me last!– It is on the strength of such a kindness that I write so soon.

Another attempt—or assumed attempt on the queen’s life! A boy—having the appearance of an errand boy,—& the pistol loaded with tobacco pipes—and a standerby snatching it out of his hands while he was preparing the gunpowder in the park! What is this strange popular mania of queen-shooting?[2] What is the motive? & what the end? In the meanwhile the despots of the earth sit safe—the Austrian emperors remain according to Mrs Trollope, “our angels”—& nobody thinks of even smoking a tobacco pipe at them, much less of shooting it.[3] It is only citizen Kings,[4] & liberal queens that their people address themselves to shooting. I am very angry—angry & sorry & ashamed. Who shot George the fourth? Not even I—says the sparrow.[5] Poor Victoria! Let the coolness be what it may, there is an undercurrent—she is a human being & a woman! and is more over conscious that of those who reproach her most, nobody has said that she has not wished to benefit her people according to her light. And the end of it all is,—she is set up for a mark to such little boys in her dominions as are pleased to play with pistols! It is worse than bad–

I hear that people go now to see the poor queen leave the palace for her drive, with a disposition to be excited, with an idea of seeing her shot at: there is a crowd at the gates every day!– Mr Hood proposes in an epigram in the last New Monthly, to change the name of Constitution Hill for Shooter’s Hill—but the subject is too grave for jesting on.[6]

By the way, were you not amused by Hood’s letter on the copyright, in the Athenæum?[7] I was; & far more so, than by those elaborate merriments which however adroit & clever,—and he is the master of his art,—do sometimes rather weary me than make me gay. Do you not confess to the same feeling? Laughter as by literature professed, seems to me like religion as by law established, rather legal than cordial. And however this may be in general, the effect of Hood’s gaieties are very particularly in my experience gravities, from one end of the Comic annual series,[8] to another.

Oh yes, yes! my beloved friend, you are very right I am sure. We do agree really & effectually when, as in so many cases, we agree to differ,—because we, so, agree to be true. If truth were not above all, my place wd be under your feet: but truth is above all,—& therefore you allow me to sit at your side with an equal opinion. That is your homage to truth even more than your indulgence to me; & I believe with you that it is better & happier for both of us as well as more right & ‘reverent’ in the German sense that it shd be so.[9]

In regard to the drama, I have been at the theatre—I have seen Shakespeare in London—but it was when I was a young child: and I admit to you willingly that in reading & taking pleasure from the written Drama, my ideas of it never enter the theatre from first to last. I have a notion,—that the theatre interprets between the dramatic poet and the unpoetic multitude,—& always where the poetry is high, desecrates it in translation. I believe in a high spiritual Drama clear of the theatre—& the higher & more spiritual, the more clear. This is my creed—my doxy—my superstition—but the most good for nothing word you please into connection with it. I am ignorant quite, dramatically—according to your view of the dramatic: & it is impossible for me to escape that ‘gentle contempt’[10] with which the better instructed look down upon the blanker mind. Let yours be as gentle as you can, my dearest dearest friend—& leave room by its side, for as much love as possible–

Thank you for the praise you “picked up” for me at Oxford, dearest Miss Mitford. It is very pleasant to me, & gained a perfume from the hands it passed through.

Yes! now I am turning my face to doing something in poetry—well aware that if ever I do anything, it must be there. To succeed in pleasing you makes my heart beat at this distance from the goal—even at the thought of the possibility of reaching it. But I must think for a subject. Mr Kenyon said some time ago, [‘]‘You ought to write a poem on a classical subject.” I told him your suggestion upon Napoleon—& he shook his head– And I shook my head on the classical subject—because I object to the want of truth: not having been “suckled in that creed outworn”.[11]

Your paragraph from Mr Robins is delightful—& to me in an especial manner from the interest with which I must read everything about your old home.[12] Ah!—how your fate reminds me of our own! We were thrust out of our paradise in Herefordshire,—Hope End, where poor Papa had built & planted & adorned—not for himself or his! It is a painful subject, amongst us, & never mentioned .. And yet now that another stroke—(to the heart this time) has fallen,—I rejoice at our removal from a place so cruelly full of memories.[13] I wd not stand there once again, not for the whole world besides.

It is thus that our adversities recoil into blessings!–[14] How many tears the adversity in question cost us! & I do not wish one of them back again in their source.

May God bless you my beloved friend! I trust your Marianne did not relapse into illness thro’ the grief you speak of. The post goes–

Your own EBB–

Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 1–3.

Manuscript: Folger Shakespeare Library and Wellesley College.

1. Lachesis, the second of the Parcæ, spun out all the events and actions of human life while her sister Clotho held the distaff; Atropos, the eldest of the three Fates, cut the thread of life.

2. On 3 July, while Queen Victoria and the King of the Belgians were proceeding by carriage along the Mall, John William Bean, aged 17, attempted to discharge a pistol loaded with gravel and some short pieces of tobacco pipe, but it misfired. Two previous attempts had been made on the Queen’s life: on 10 June 1840 by Edward Oxford, who was held to be insane, and on 30 May 1842 by John Francis.

3. In Vienna and the Austrians (1838), Mrs. Trollope made several references to the esteem in which the Austrians held their emperors, despite their autocratic rule; e.g., “Our Emperor [Francis] was more than a father to us” (I, 383).

4. An attempt had been made to assassinate Louis Philippe in 1835 (see letter 509, note 21).

5. A reference to the nursery rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” No attempts were made on the life of George IV, despite his reputation as a dissolute man and indifferent ruler.

6. Hood’s suggestion appeared in The New Monthly Magazine, July 1841, p. 394, under the heading “On a Certain Locality”: “Of public changes, good or ill, / I seldom lead the mooters, / But really Constitution Hill / Should change its name with Shooter’s!”

7. A long letter from Hood, under the heading “Copyright and Copywrong,” was printed in The Athenæum of 11 June 1842 (no. 763, pp. 524–526); it discussed past and present efforts to persuade Parliament to act in the matter of copyright. A further letter from him appeared in the issue of 18 June (no. 764, pp. 544–545).

8. Hood had started The Comic Annual in 1830; the series ran until 1842.

9. i.e., honourable.

10. We have not located the source of this quotation.

11. Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much With Us” (1807), line 10.

12. Dr. Mitford had bought, about 1802, an estate at Grasely, near Reading, on which stood a picturesque old farmhouse. This he had torn down, and in its place built Bertram House—but his profligacy caused its sale by auction in 1811. The purchaser subsequently declared the sale void because of the query regarding the validity of the title deed, whereupon Dr. Mitford went to court to enforce the sale. It seems sadly typical of his financial naïveté that, when he agreed to settle out of court in 1819, his legal costs were in excess of the purchase price of the house (Vera Watson, Mary Russell Mitford, pp. 106–108). In 1820, the family moved to more modest quarters at Three Mile cross. George Henry Robins (1778–1847), of the firm of auctioneers involved in the sale of Bertram House, “wrote his own advertisements, and, high-flown and fantastic as they were, in no instance was a purchase repudiated on the ground of misdirection” (DNB).

13. EBB means, of course, memories of her mother and Bro in particular.

14. Cf. Nehemiah, 13:2.

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