Correspondence

1022.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 6, 100–102.

[London]

Oct. 13th 1842–

and I thought yesterday the

16th & dated so!–[1]

Thank you my beloved friend for your kindest letter & the privilege about the grapes. They shall be sent tonight—and may they be of some little use & refreshment to the dear fevered lips, so that I may be glad twice over. In the meantime he is better! .. you are happier .. he has had tea with you again. Oh indeed, indeed, this was far beyond my hope to hear of—I, who have quite trembled to open every dear letter of yours as it came. You see the life must be very strong within him still—he must have an extraordinary hold upon life, to revive so, after such exhaustion from illness, & with a weight of years in addition to it. What does Mr May think?—what does he say to you? I thank God for the new gleam of light in the midst of all your darkness—& if it shd not last my dearest friend or if it shd, you will endeavour to be wisely serene & satisfied with the best if not the brightest.[2] And I think now I may send my love to him & the expression of my gladness that he is better. Do say so for me. Ah—to think of his hearing my verses! How kind!—how touching to me! May God bless you both always—& if it be possible, through each other yet a little longer.

I forgot quite in my nervousness yesterday to say a word of your Adelaide—who bears herself gracefully in the new edition you sent me of her.[3] Nothing can be more suitable. For my own part I confess in sackcloth & ashes[4] far more faults than you can lay to me—you, who always praise me more imaginatively than you blame me: & in my late conviction of having sent you bad obscure verses when you had a right to my best, I felt like a schoolgirl in a corner, with the remorse appropriate to a greater maturity in wickedness. Yes—both the lesson & the exercise are likely as you say to do me good—that is, if anything will—if I am not a leopard or an Æthiopian.[5] Even now, I am frightened out of my wits about the last verses I sent you—feeling it quite impossible to be sure that you will, or not, understand a word of them. You whose “mouth uttereth understanding”[6] must consider such a state of things quite ludicrous. And so it is in general. Only for me in particular, the melancholy truth of it, is obvious. Suppose you change the two last lines to Rogers thus—

 

Their names ascend, O poet, friend,

To charm thy spirit to the end.[7]

 

You tell me of sad coincidences indeed; and my own heart is heavy, & not alone for you. My dear old friend Dr Scully is very ill—hopelessly ill almost, they say:[8] & that last tie with Torquay breaking, it will be the last pain that fatal place can give me. A kind dear old friend! yet scarcely old,—some sixty five years, more or less, I shd suppose! His kindness to me in all my troubles of body & mind is a memory which cannot pass,—& some bitter tears has the knowledge of his present state cost me. But you have enough, without my talking sadness to you–

As to Mr Edward Kenyon’s marriage, nothing of the sort cd have astonished me so much,—since his brother’s doing the same thing wd appear to me quite ‘in the course of nature’.[9] We heard of it simply by the servant’s coming here & communicating to ours, the arrival of a letter from Mr Kenyon to desire that everything shd be prepared in Harley Place by the 15th to receive both brothers & the bride of the younger one—“a young lady” quoth the servant. And now I remember how in the only interview I ever had with Mr Edward Kenyon, when I admired him very much, he narrated to me how important his residence at Vienna was to a family there, & more especially to a certain “young lady”—defined immediately as being “about thirty years of age”. This was some four years since—or five, peradventure: & certainly she remains young enough comparatively speaking—since Mr Edward K—, if not much younger in years than his brother, is considerably older in everything else. A confirmed invalid!—quite crippled with the rheumatism already,—& with habits of bachelorship scarcely compatible with much bridal joy. It is very surprising. Nevertheless I dont shake my head the least in the world. A great deal of happiness comes in outlandish disguises: and as to ‘romantic generosity’, if the wind blows so, it cant be ‘so much the worse’.[10] I like romantic generosity,—& can believe readily in the truth of a young woman’s love at twenty one for an agreeable man of sixty—and I believe besides as you do, that a married life where the parties are in tune, is happier than any single life of independent selflove. The difficulty is for the parties to be in tune—& to my own private ear, I have not above once or twice or thrice, met with any who were quite so. And oh!—is’nt it better to live single, than to live miserable, married—with your own solitude in a social state? I think so—I am sure of it. And to look round the world & see how married people live—two in one, instead of one in two!–

Is it Mr Milner whom you speak of, or Mr Milnes?[11] Your word, entreating the pardon of your caligraphy, wd do for either: and I am hoping it may’nt be Mr Milnes because I like him better.

And who is this Miss Brereton .. is that the name?[12] You mentioned Miss Browne to me as an Irish poetess, but no other B.[13] No, oh no! Mrs Sigourney never wrote to me about her Lady’s book.[14] She only wrote once, before she left England, to say something civil & kind—and I was obliged to her because it was the first word I ever had from America & I always had a love for America—one of my ideal loves you know,—without having ever seen an American in all my life.[15] I am glad they directed to you so—Miss Mitford, Our village England! It is a practical compliment in two ways—to the truth of your pictures & the extension of your fame. Dr Darwin addressed a letter to Dr Franklin America,—& it reached him you know.

The good news seem to permit more writing today: but I am quite out of bounds.

Ever your gratefully

affectionate EBB–

Indeed your domestic new trouble is a vexatious one: & I fear the habit is harder than a first penitence may break. What a woman! Mad-drunk she must have been!–[16]

Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 44–47.

Manuscript: Folger Shakespeare Library and Wellesley College.

1. EBB has altered the date from 17 to 13 October.

2. Cf. the hymn “Brightest and Best,” by Reginald Heber (1783–1826), Bishop of Calcutta.

3. i.e., Miss Mitford’s own verses on Adelaide Kemble.

4. Cf. Esther, 4:1.

5. Cf. Jeremiah, 13:23.

6. Cf. Proverbs, 2:6.

7. Miss Mitford did not use EBB’s composition. The last two lines of the published text read: “O long, sweet Minstrel, may it be / Ere such a wreath be twined for thee!”

8. He died on 5 November.

9. Cf. James, 3:6.

10. II Henry IV, IV, 2, 86.

11. John Milner (1752–1826) was Vicar-Apostolic of the western district of England and the author of The End of Religious Controversy (1818). Boyd had attacked him in the preface to The Fathers Not Papists (see letter 486, note 2).

12. Not for the first time, EBB was having difficulty in deciphering Miss Mitford’s handwriting, a sample of which is illustrated opposite. A Mrs. Brereton published Woman’s Influence: A Novel in 1845.

13. Miss Mitford’s reference is probably to Frances Elizabeth Browne, who lived at Stranorlar in Co. Donegal. She was a frequent contributor to The Athenæum, ten of her poems being printed there in the course of 1842.

14. Mrs. Sigourney was the titular editor (1840–42) of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Ladies’ American Magazine, published by Louis Antoine Godey (1804–78).

15. In view of this comment, it is of interest to note that Ticknor claimed to have met EBB at Kenyon’s on 26 March 1838 (see Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, 1909, II, 146). He must, however, have confused her with one of her sisters, as EBB herself was not well enough to leave the house at that time.

16. In a letter to Miss Harrison, 16 October 1842, Miss Mitford tells how “the servant who, for seven years, has attended my poor, dear father, has yielded to temptation and taken to drinking,—think of this aggravation of my anxiety! Mr. May won’t let me part with her from fear of the shock to my father, so we have her to watch” (Chorley, I, 299).

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