1215. EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 80–81.
April 19. 1843.
My very dear friend,
The earth turns round to be sure, & we turn with it—but I never anticipated the day & the hour for you to turn round & be guilty of high treason to our Greeks. I cry ‘αι αι’ as if I were a chorus, & all vainly! For you see, arguing about it will only convince you of my obstinacy, & not a bit, of Homer’s supremacy. Ossian has wrapt you in a cloud, a fog, a true Scotch mist,—you have caught cold in the critical faculty .... perhaps!—at any rate I cant see a bit more of your reasonableness than I can see of Fingal– Sic transit!—!–
My dearest Mr Boyd, you will find as few believers in the genuineness of these volumes among the most accomplished antiquarians in poetry, as in the genuineness of Chatterton’s Rowley, & of Ireland’s Shakespeare. The latter impostures boasted of disciples in the first instance, but the discipleship perished by degrees; & the place thereof, during this present 1843, knows it no more. So has it been with the belief in Macpherson’s Ossian. Of those who believed in the poems at the first sight of them, .. who kept his creed to the end? and speaking so, I speak of Macpherson’s contemporaries whom you respect–
I do not consider Walter Scott a great poet—but he was highly accomplished in matters of poetical-antiquarianism, & is certainly citable as an authority on this question.
Try not to be displeased with me– I cannot conceal from you that my astonishment is profound & unutterable at your new religion … your new faith in this Pseud-Ossian .. & your desecration, in his service, of the old Hellenic altars. And by the way, my own figure reminds me to enquire of you whether you are not sometimes struck with a want in him .. a want very grave in poetry, & very strange in antique poetry .. the want of devotional feeling & conscience of God– Observe, that all antique poets rejoice greatly & abundantly in their divine mythology .. & that if this Ossian be both antique & godless, he is an exception, a discrepancy, a monster in the history of letters & experience of humanity– As such I leave him.
Oh! how angry you will be with me– But you seemed tolerably prepared in your last letter for my being in a passion.
I enclose to you back again Miss Heard’s letter—& I will also copy out the two notices of her little book which have fallen under my observation. The first is from Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine …
“The Dryad [sic] was wrecked some days after leaving the Mauritius, in the spring of 1841. The crew & passengers, among whom were several ladies, took to the boats, & after enduring great hardships, were so fortunate as to reach Port Dauphin in Madagascar. The narrative which is written in a simple & natural manner, is like that of every shipwreck, interesting:.”
The next is from the Athenæum–
“This little narrative may pair off with the well known story of the burning of the Kent East Indiaman. In both catastrophes, the gentle but high-toned fortitude of our countrywomen is calculated to arouse our national pride. Here, one of them narrates the perils & sufferings of shipwreck as unaffectedly as she bore them heroically.”
Ever affectionately yours
Elizabeth B Barrett–
Why shd I be angry with Flush– He does not believe in Ossian!– Oh—I assure you he does’nt–
Address: H S Boyd Esqr / 21 Downshire Hill / Hampstead.
Publication: LEBB, I, 125–126 (in part).
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Underscored three times.
2. “Woe, woe.”
3. “Sic transit [gloria mundi]”; “thus passes away [the glory of the world].” Cf. Thomas à Kempis, De Imitatione Christi, bk. I, cap. iii, 6.
4. In letter 1212.
5. i.e., the description of Cuchullin’s ghost, which reminded EBB of Byron’s “You might have seen the moon shine through” (see letters 1148 and 1154).
6. Thomas Chatterton (1752–70) composed some poems purporting to be the work of one Thomas Rowley, a 15th-century Bristol monk, which some accepted as authentic. Chatterton committed suicide a few months before his eighteenth birthday. William Henry Ireland (1777–1835) commenced his audacious forgeries when he was only 17, and such luminaries as Boswell, Parr and Valpy accepted them as genuine. In 1795 he published Miscellaneous Papers … of William Shakespeare, Including the Tragedy of King Lear, and a Small Fragment of Hamlet, from the Original MSS, in the Possession of Samuel Ireland. He also produced two “lost” plays by Shakespeare, Vortigern and Rowena and King Henry II, but in 1796 admitted to the forgeries.
7. Mary Eliza Heard’s book, The Shipwreck of the Dryade, was mentioned in letter 1018. These reviews of it were copied from Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine (January 1843, p. 67) and The Athenæum (18 March 1843, p. 259).