1333.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 252–254.


Saturday. [22] July– 1843– [1]

Now might I be inspired by the genius of quarrelling into writing a controversy for a letter! But I resist the demon, & he flies from me!– [2] Only to be sure my beloved friend, people might wonder (as surely as I might quarrel) how … not how I came to love you––because that could never by any combination of oppositions become wonderful to anybody—but how you came to love me. For you see how we differ! There is scarcely a sentence in your letter to which I could not find a nay!! And I am afraid the differences go farther down than you appear aware of yourself. It is not that we differ only by one of us caring for the ideal & the other for the actual,—but that what you appear to call the ideal, is the very actual with me .. as perhaps it will be with you, upon reconsideration. What! Is it not true that the soul is as actually, as your best seedling geranium? that our hold upon the spiritual world, & the prophesy of a spiritual futurity within us, are as actually, as any impression coming to us by the senses? Is not God an actual existence?–

I do not like controvertial divinity thrown into a novel as a vehicle, any better than you do; and if you mean only that, by deprecating tract-novels, I will go with you. But that you shd determinately exclude from representations of humanity one side of its aspect & the largest & highest proportions of its bearings—that you shd praise Scott for being defective in the chief poetry of human nature .. comes with a great clash against my gravest opinions. I will not however argue the point, which is rather for reflection! Only, if you are right, the Greek poets were very wrong, & the Germans are still more so .. Oh, this pen!

Just see how we differ for the curiosity of it. I like Ennui, the Absentee [3] —calling them defective on my own principles, & “limited.” I can read Mr James,—but not with a very passionate attention, .. on your principles. I hate & detest Lever [4] —cannot read him even for your sake—&, without any affectation, seem to shrink away in body & soul from the gross “material life,” to use the expressive term of La jeune France, which he represents. Oh! that drunken rollicking reckless breaking in pieces of the sacred uses of life!– And is there no controlling principle but a “sense of honour,”—the thing which makes red the duellist’s hands, & permits the sensualizing of God’s breath in the nostrils of a man!?

Mr Kenyon said once to Mrs Jameson—(he told me this story himself—!), “Life is a jest.” “Oh,” she answered, “do not say so! life is a serious thing.” “And what,”—he retorted excellently well,—“what can be more serious, more melancholy, than the idea of life being a jest.”

Now my dislike to Mr Lever is founded on the fact that he believes life to be a jest, and it’s being so, another jest! His talent, his power, I do not for a moment deny. Are you not carried away by your sympathy with energy & power? At any rate, not even for your sake, my dearest friend, can I cease detesting & loathing this uproarious Irishman. I have tried to like him—& could not succeed even so far as tolerating him.

In regard to the Home, I am surprised at your judgment of it– And you are surprised at mine!– [5]

Cut the Athenæum of today for Flush’s sake (my Flush, I mean) & try to read some very light cobwebby verses I have written on him. [6] If you dont like them, I shall agree with you—and that will put an end to our quarrels.

Mr Borrow is a very original & characteristic writer– I was delighted with his book [7] —only he who appeared to you to want “spunk”, seemed to me to be a Dare-all. Want physical courage! Mr Borrow!– Well—but the Bible society committee was not satisfied with him. They call him wild I believe & wanting in gravity: and they suspect him of being inventive. I honor the Bible Society,—but I admire Mr Borrow, & like him all the better for putting off the conventional demureness of a pattern missionary, & daring to be a man ‘in spirit & in truth.’ [8]

All these words have I driven before me like a flock of sheep in a hurry & a dust. Forgive me a hundred rashnesses of thought & illegibilities of pen.

You are not well!– Dearest dearest friend—you walk enough, & drive enough I hope? and lie down on the sofa instead of sitting on a chair, when you pause from exercise? Tell me how you are. The Statira is expected in the docks on the tenth of August,––having been detained by the bad crops in Jamaica, four months after her time—and I shall hope soon to beg you to try some more of my cocoa.

May God bless you always.

Most affectionately yours


Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 272–274.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Day provided by the publication of “To Flush, My Dog.”

2. Cf. James, 4:7.

3. Ennui: or, Memoirs of the Earl of Glenthorn was included in Maria Edgeworth’s Tales of Fashionable Life (1809). The Absentee appeared in Tales of Fashionable Life (2nd series, 1812).

4. Charles James Lever (1806–72) was the author of the popular novels Harry Lorrequer (1839), Charles O’Malley (1841) and Jack Hinton the Guardsman (1843).

5. EBB had praised Mrs. Howitt’s translation in letter 1258.

6. “To Flush, My Dog” appeared in The Athenæum of 22 July 1843 (no. 821, pp. 670–671). The version printed in Poems (1844) contained some changes.

7. EBB had urged Miss Mitford to read The Bible in Spain in letter 1132.

8. John, 4:23.


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