1095. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 6, 235–237.
[50 Wimpole Street]
Dec. 23. 1842
My ever beloved friend
I begin to write to you blindfolded with headache, & certainly I cant hope to feel my way any further than to an imperfect expression of the grateful tenderness with which I read your too grateful words. Gratitude! My dearest friend—you owe me no gratitude. Gratitude is said to be the ‘memory of the heart’ .. & you have to do with its imagination. I have done nothing to justify the least, weakest word employed by you. If I am worthy of your love, it is simply by love—and as nobody in the world who knows you can help loving you, it is quite unjust .. or at least .. recklessly prodigal, to thank anybody in the world for loving you. Why prove to me how I could do otherwise before you praise or thank me for it!– Come—set about proving it!–
Ben must not leave you—he must not. I hope earnestly, that you will not be driven to think of it. His idea about the collar is, as you say, full of sentiment, & the more touching as you dwell longer upon it. If it had been the thought of a young girl instead of a young man, we shd not wonder so. He is evidently a very singular young man .. & of a kind of singularity which is as “rich” as “rare”. Dear dear little Flush .. how you love him! And you love Ben too. He ought never to leave you– I hope he never may.
Mr Kenyon has been here this morning to say that he goes away again tomorrow to Brighton & returns on monday or tuesday—& that last wednesday he dined at Mr Harness’s & met Mr Milman & Mrs Butler & Miss Adelaide Kemble & their respective spouses, & that they all talked fireworks & catherine wheels so brilliantly & consciously that at last Adelaide Kemble sighed & said “After all, music is a mistake”. Her husband is said to be presentable—which I suppose is about as much as the husband of a genius ought to be—& tonight is her last night at the theatre. I wonder what her real feeling upon this retiring is, & will be. You wonder perhaps at me for wondering—but consider! She has attained an Art. She has given to the attainment, years—studious years! She was given to it, by the great bent of Nature. She has attained the Art—& also she has attained the popular acknowledgment of her having attained it. She has grasped the success .. the fame—& has felt the heart of the people drawn upwards towards her breath. And now, to abandon all just when she embraces all—& to be for evermore the Countess Sortaris (is that the name & spelling?) instead of Adelaide Kemble!! Do you think the sacrifice is not felt? Should you not feel it? To be honest, I think I shd!– You know my mind about the theatres—& about popular applauses of every kind,—& my indisposition to the “hum of men” universally. Still I speak of the sacrifice of a triumph in Art—we can all judge of that—& I for one, can feel that it must be painful, & that the demi-god to whom it is offered shd be something more than “presentable”.
Mr Schloss has sent the Bijou; & verily it deserves its name … & almost yours. Thank you my dearest friend for your goodness in directing him to send me one– It is very very pretty—quite the prettiest of any former season that I can remember. And as to the letter-press, your stanzas to Rogers are only too pretty for him, & graceful enough to be full of you. I admire them more than the Adelaide Kemble stanzas—holding those, believe me, in no disrespect. For the others, your alterations have quite effaced my footsteps—which is an appropriate benefit to the place. Thank you, my dearest friend.
I knew you cd be only of one opinion upon the indelicacy of that Imaginary Conversation—the real offence of which seems to me against Southey rather than Wordsworth. Can you believe it possible that Mrs Southey has written a letter with her own hand to express her personal satisfaction & gratification in relation to that Conversation?. It is actually, Mr Kenyon says, the case. She has actually written to thank Mr Landor for his gracious galvinism of the Dead-alive .. sacred we shd imagine to humanity, if not to friendship. I recoil as much from the thought of her letter as of its occasion– As much? Nay, more! She is a woman & a wife! he, only a man & friend!
Mr Southey’s other friends feel of course very differently .. that is, they are naturally hurt & affected.
Who in the world cd intimate to you the cruel accusation .. or approach to an accusation .. you allude to?! You unfeeling!– Never mind them, my beloved friend. People are, you see, rocks sometimes.
So is my head. I must end– Do not write to me when you have so many other letters to write. Do not overwrite yrself for me—I beseech you, dont!
Ever your own
1. “La reconnaissance est le souvenir du cœur” (Recueil des Définitions et Réponses … de Massieu et Clerc … dans les Séances Publiques de M. L’Abbé Sicard, 1815, p. 132).
2. Miss Mitford was presumably concerned about the propriety of his continuing to be in the house now that her father was no longer there, but Kirby did stay in her service until the end of 1843.
3. Cf. King Lear, I, 1, 57.
4. Henry Hart Milman (1791–1868), poet, dramatist and cleric, was the author of Fazio, first performed in 1818, in later productions of which Fanny Kemble (Mrs. Pierce Butler) appeared as Bianca. He also wrote, in addition to other dramatic pieces, The History of the Jews (1830) and The History of Christianity under the Empire (1840). He was appointed Canon of Westminster in 1835 and later (1849) Dean of St. Paul’s.
5. Adelaide Kemble was retiring from the stage in order to marry Edward John Sartoris.
6. Milton, “L’Allegro,” line 118.
7. Despite EBB’s repeated efforts to please Miss Mitford, her lines on Adelaide Kemble, Rogers, Herr Döbler, the King of Prussia and the Prince of Wales were not used by Miss Mitford; only EBB’s introductory stanzas and lines on the Duchess of Orléans appeared unchanged in Schloss’s English Bijou Almanac.
8. See letter 1076.