1343.  EBB to George Goodin Moulton-Barrett

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 264–266.


Monday. August 1. [sic, for 31 July] 1843. [1]

My dearest George, your letter is thrice welcome though nine times long in coming! The amusing part of the thing was, that you gave yourself north-easterly airs about not hearing from me––quite wondered, Bummy said, at my silence!–! Indeed! But I pause in the midst of what I could say on that subject, since you have written at last & set all right by writing! A long letter too—I thank you again & again for it, my dear kind George!—late most lazy!

Dearest George, your account of poor Sissy is bad indeed, yet scarcely worse than I expected to receive from you; as Bummy had evidently become aware of a sudden change for the worse, by her letters of the time. Since then, they had tried a new medecine, .. & she seemed to rally a little—but the symptoms, if they relent momentarily, are gravely decided in their character,—and I do fear that, without almost a miracle, it is a lost case– May God support our poor Bummy. That she is prepared, I am glad to ascertain, however mournful the preparation may be. I suggested to her, as she has probably told you, that if she wished for either Henrietta or Arabel, she shd write to Papa,—& I cannot doubt that he wd send either of them willingly. By her silence on this point it is evident (just as I supposed it would be) that she prefers being without them– Now, George, mind you do not hazard allusions to this suggestion of mine when you write towards us– Every post hour makes me nervous & fearful of the next news from Cheltenham, for I cannot hope upon such material as has reached me lately, & must fear. It was kind & right of you to go so often to Cheltenham when you had it in your power– Bummy thought it very kind, & dear little Sissy had pleasure in seeing & hearing you–

Your Serjeant has stirred me up into a fiery wrath against him. Let the subscription be needed or not, or deserved or not, his remarks upon it were in either case most unnecessary & unjustifiable. [2] Is this the “right use” of friendship & long confidence & association … to be nearest with the spurning heel? I suppose so!– This at least is the fine moral apprehension of it attained & displayed by the author of Ion. I am very angry– He has justified now to me with an emphatic justification, all Miss Mitford’s misgivings of his truth, &, what I have sometimes called, prejudices in his disfavor.

As to the subscription, I wish too that the memory of it was blotted out from the account books of the money-givers! It is true, I admit, that the world is not so delicate & noble, as that we can stoop to pick up its halfcrowns with impunity—and in such a case, it is better to work for halfpence, though we work hard. I wish with all my soul that my poor friend had worked hard for her halfpence—& that Mr Sergt Talfourd had kept his ten pound notes. As it is, I detest the very thought of the subscription as much as he can do! if not for precisely the same reasons.

From the advertisement I perceive the ‘Cry of the children’ in the coming Blackwood, [3] & am quite frightened to look at the print of it, through the excess of my anticipation of Printers’ faults– So stupid as it was in me, not to beg from the first moment, for a proofsheet! So hurriedly as the ms. copy was transcribed! so rapidly looked over! I shall be sure to be made misunderstandable in spite of myself.

I have been writing, writing, writing, since you went,—& have almost finished a long poem, “A vision of poets,” in some six hundred lines, [4] .. besides ‘sundries.’ Moreover, I have been out in the chair,—went out last saturday, stayed out ten minutes, & except from a falling off in sleep the night after, by no means suffered from it. I shall persevere & go again in a day or two. To go back to the poetry, I mean to ask your advice some day soon, as to whether I had better knock again at Blackwood’s door, or turn my face to a distinct & absorbing purpose of separate publication. The new long poem––I do not know what to say about. There may be good points in it,—but I tremble to “give an opinion.” Only one thing is quite clear .. that it cannot be popular; and that, from its allegorical character.

Where do you think Henry is? You may guess three times & all wrong; & at last I cannot tell you, not knowing myself. The history of it is, that, from birthday luck, he has money—& that he paid his fare down to Dovor [sic] yesterday, & in the evening told Papa that he thought of paying a visit to Mrs Minto. “To Mrs Minto! What nonsense! What can you want to do at Dover?” No answer! Conversation changed, & taken up on both sides cordially. This morning before breakfast, Henry vanishes with his carpet-bag, … explaining to nobody where he is going, .. only leaving behind an undefined impression of his meaning to stay away some five days. At breakfast people waited in awe for the enquiry “Where is Henry”?—but Henry was supposed to be in bed, or not supposed at all,—for no enquiry came—and now I should be worse fidgetted than I am if it were not for a secret hope I entertain, of his not going farther than Canterbury, & returning before an actual explosion. He has left behind him the key of his carpet-bag, or rather of Mr Chapman’s [5] carpet-bag, .. which will not encourage him in an onward course: & then Papa’s voice “What nonsense”! may follow close on him, in reverberative echoes! Oh, I do wish he were back again! Not that this passion for pilgrimages does not seem to me the most innocent & even deserving of passions! I should like myself to be on the Hartz mountains, looking down on the black-bearded pinewoods even while I write!–

You know that Mary Hunter is staying with Trippy? She is spending the day here, & so is Cecilia Bazulgette; [6] & Arabel chaperones them. Emma Monro was in London yesterday & took leave of her previous to her return to Charlton– “In better spirits” Arabel calls her. [7]

Dearest George, you dont say a word of your legal successes–


‘Why so still & mute young lawyer

Why so still & mute’? [8]

And this reminds me of your question about Prior’s poem of Henry & Emma. I am ruffled to think of the thing called “Prior’s poem of Henry & Emma,” .. & if I do not write quite calmly of it you will not wonder.— No, you need not wonder indeed! For, one of the most beautiful & true of our Ballad-poems, is the antique original of the ‘Notte browne Mayde’; its author unknown, & written (I think it is supposed) in the fifteenth or early in the sixteenth century, probably in Henry the seventh’s time, .. most touching in its sentiment, most lovely even in the tune of its versification,—& most vilely prophaned & desecrated by the modernizing hand (with a ring on it) of Matt Prior in his wig!– [9]

Your tenderly attached Ba.

Address: George Goodin Moulton Barrett Esqr / Barrister at Law. / Oxford Circuit.

Publication: B-GB, pp. 107–111.

Manuscript: Pierpont Morgan Library.

1. 1 August was a Tuesday; the letter is postmarked 31 July 1843.

2. Apparently Talfourd had criticized the public subscription for Miss Mitford.

3. “The Cry of the Children” was printed in the August issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (pp. 260–262). The version printed in Poems (1844) contained some changes.

4. When published in Poems (1844) “A Vision of Poets” totalled 1,005 lines.

5. Palmer Chapman, a regular visitor to Wimpole Street, was Henrietta Moulton-Barrett’s suitor. William Surtees Cook, whom Henrietta married in 1850, in his journal entry for 5 January 1845, identified Chapman as the son of a banker in St. James’s Street. A sketch of Chapman by Alfred Moulton-Barrett, dated 21 September 1843, is in the possession of Edward R. Moulton-Barrett.

6. Sic, for Bazalgette; the family lived at 1 Pembroke Terrace.

7. Her husband had been described by EBB in letters 1175 and 1196 as terminally ill.

8. Cf. “Why so pale and wan, fond lover? / Prithee, why so pale?” (Aglaura, IV, 1, Song, by John Suckling, 1609–41).

9. Matthew Prior (1664–1721) was the author of “Henry and Emma” (Poems on Several Occasions, 1709). It was a paraphrase of “The Not-Browne Mayde” (ca. 1521), contained in Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.


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