1090.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 6, 225–227.


Dec. 14. 1842.

I thank God for you my beloved friend, most earnestly. This is merciful goodness in Him! This is worthy of you—worthy of you & of your beloved one who is gone. This calm, & readiness to be satisfied with the heaviest pressure of the Divine Will, .. this outward working of your inward assurance of his happiness .. this is all reasonable as well as religious, & to my mind, the most worthy tribute to the dear & venerable memory, which is in your power to pay. My heart is easier, by twenty beats, than it was yesterday, my dearest dearest friend. Many years of happiness I cannot but believe, are destined for you—years—years bright with the love of many, & the admiration & benediction of thousands: and at their close, another welcoming voice waits for you at the gate of Heaven. How little will these griefs seem to us then! Only greater, perhaps, than our joys.

It is very very good of you to think of me at this time so as to take the trouble of directing Mr Schloss to send me a Bijou. When it comes it shall be a real jewel to me—because I shall value whatever is mine in it, for the sake of what is yours. And now for the reviews! I have an ague to think of them—never, I may truly say, was half so frightened of them as now .. never. Suppose it turns out that scissors of mine have clipped off your shadow & left you related to the Schemils!!–[1]

You are probably quite right about the superfluity of the latter stanzas of Lockesly Hall,[2] altho’ I did not observe it at the moment. I always mean to buy those poems—and had it been done, I might have, as commentators say, ‘examined the text’. Now I simply trust to you & am the further, probably, from error on that account. That Lockesly Hall burns with life & passion. What is your reason for refusing to the poet, the constructive faculty? I have been thinking & do not come to a result. It appears to me that there is more evidence in these volumes for the probable possession than against,—& that such a strong tragic soul works in the last poem we have spoken of, as would soon, if it willed, supply itself with a body. The “Two Voices”! What an astonishing power of subtle thought in a silver-vibrating language! He takes a high place, by that composition, among those metaphysical poets, who have (not Cowley as Johnson dreamed) but that high prince of riddledom, the thoughtful Ld Brooke at their head.[3]

I have heard that Mr Tennyson prefers to all his other works the ‘Vision of Sin’, at the end I think of the second volume or near the end. Do look at it. The opening is full of power,—the versification wonderful, giving proof of a master’s hand .. & wrist too. Still, & notwithstanding Hazzlitt’s dogma about authors always being right in the appreciation of their works[4]—in which by the way I am tolerably sure that Mr Hazzlitt was wrong, .. I cannot rank this poem even with the poet’s highest—much less above his highest. Can you?

Mr Browning’s last ‘Bells & Pomegranates’ I sigh over.[5] There are fine things—yes, and clearly fine things. But there is much in the little (for the publication consists of only a few pages) which I, who admire him, wish away—impotent attempts at humour,—a vain jangling with rhymes .. I mean of mere rhymes .. and a fragmentary rough-edgedness about the mounting of some high thoughts. It is astonishing to me that it occurs to nobody else .. but when he rises into the Drama .. his manner of being graphic & passionate reminds me so of Mr Landor that I am absolutely startled. There are no particular imitations, but the manner strikes me as identical. It did, in that magnificent, passionate scene in Pippa Passes, which Mr Horne so justly praises.[6] Is my imagination in fault? I shd not be sorry if it were. I admire Mr Browning; & recognize him always as a true original poet whenever I consider,—& that is not seldom,—how great a thing it is to be one.

Mr Delaporte is intolerable: and since my plot seems to totter, I have sent down Crow to prop it up, & to direct the sending of the books instantly[7]—& I hope to send off a little paper to you, my beloved friend, tonight .. if it does but come in time. In the meantime she has left me none within reach, to go on writing with—&, after these ragged half sheets I must be satisfied with thinking of you.

Ah my beloved friend—you seem to me wise in your determination of not leaving Three Mile Cross for the present .. & so I will try not to be foolish & say nothing against the wisdom. The going back again wd be worse than staying—& I do fancy that you want repose, & air & stilness, which we cd not give you here unless you shut yourself into your own room or mine, .. & then the air wd be minus—for I am afraid you have a shocking rural prejudice against what we citizens call, in the innocence of our souls, air. It is hot air now! so hot that for several <***>

Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 120–123.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. In Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1813) by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838), Schlemihl sells his shadow. EBB obviously suggests that Miss Mitford, by purporting to be the author of lines written by EBB, was making an equally foolish bargain.

2. See letter 1089 for Miss Mitford’s belief that the poem would have been improved had it ended at line 98.

3. In the section devoted to Cowley in Lives of the English Poets, Johnson derided the metaphysical poets who wrote “such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables” and said that Cowley “was almost the last of that race, and undoubtedly the best.”

Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke (1554–1628), statesman and poet, composed his own epitaph: “Fulke Greville, servant to Queen Elizabeth, councillor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney. Trophæum Peccati.” His works included “A Treatie of Humane Learning,” “An Inquisition on Fame and Honour” and “A Treatie of Warres,” all published posthumously.

4. In “Whether Genius is Conscious of its Powers” (Essay XII in The Plain Speaker: Opinions on Books, Men, and Things, 1826), Hazlitt said that “no man knows so well as the author of any performance what it has cost him, and the length of time and study devoted to it” (I, 284).

5. Dramatic Lyrics.

6. i.e., the scene between Sebald and Ottima. For the text of Horne’s review, see pp. 381–388.

7. See letter 1082.


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