1360.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 291–294.


August 26th 1843.

My ever dearest friend––ah! I feared—and my fears have proved themselves!

You were not pleased with my letter [1] —or at least you were so far displeased with it as to draw from it the inference that I could be unjust to you.

Dearest friend, where was my temptation to be unjust to you? Did you suppose for one moment that my degree of regard for you & another person [2] could be in any comparative proportion, .. & that judging between both of you, my leaning could be to any other than yourself? If you did … why it is not I, who is ‘unjust’.

Believe me .. to be brief about it––that in saying what I did, in struggling to obliterate from the sand these broad offensive footsteps of a person whom you received into your house, at least as much, perhaps, as my friend as on any other grounds, .. I obeyed a natural impulse of defending rather than offending—I wished to soften you, not to blame you. That he was wrong in overstaying the limit, & abusing the courtesy, I never attempted to deny—do me justice & admit it. I only suggested to you that a man .. unaccustomed, as you represented him, to social forms—might have been enchanted away by your kind words, into really thinking he was pleasing both you and himself by spending a week or ten days with you—& that, considering the force of the spells, the rest of the world might hold him excused. Now distinguish my dearest friend––I do not deny the fault .. I only find out a softer reason for it than the possession of an exclusive selfishness & intolerant self-will. What Papa said of him was, .. “he is not pushing”.: and the reference was to no particular conversation, but to his conduct in regard to us generally .. to his not pushing on the social intercourse, the handle of which he held. He has scarcely returned Papa’s visits—would not come up stairs to see my sisters, although I asked him to do so—even preferred putting his letters into the postoffice close by, to bringing them to the door!—signs of reserve & shyness!– I tell you these things not as opposition facts, but as a key to the interpretation of other facts.

With respect to manners, I never knew that Mr Serjt Talfourd marvelled at his manners! I always understood it was the costume. [3] In the like way, I was not aware that Mr Chorley had any personal acquaintance at all with him—I thought the sin lay in the book!—— [4] Not a word of their depreciation had I ever heard; <but it> fell from Mr Reade’s testimony to yours .. from proclivity to declivity—!–

Dearest friend, I beseech you not to think me aggrieved by your candour. Vexed I surely was—but in no wise by your candour. Vexed I surely was,—& miserably disenchanted—and yet that he is a true & generous man & a kind friend, I believe as heartily as ever. He shall be to me for the future, as much as possible, a bare abstraction of Orion. The guitar consoles me in no wise. And how shall I console myself for being an indirect cause of bringing annoyance upon you my dear, dear friend?——you, who are worth us both together?– As to your plan of receiving him next year .. of ever, ever, ever, receiving him again, .. my veto is despotic upon that point—you never shall do it. [5] No, no! You have tried; and it wd not do. So far from my not understanding the taxation exercised by a visitor upon you, I understand it most sensitively. You are essentially more social than I,—and the thing you shrink from, is overcoming to me in the very fancy of it. A visitor to you under your circumstances, shd be omnipotently charming, or the sooner gone the better. And then, I suspect, I suspect, that instead of sitting still & leaving people to walk in & out & find amusement for themselves, you shake your wand round & round in eternal hospitable circles, from morning to night .. I suspect it. Why not try the passive plan? … but not with him. I excommunicate him from your threshold for evermore!–

I feared you were displeased with me, yet I did not write!—was that kind? No! not kind—but necessary! I have been unwell, my dearest Miss Mitford, exceedingly unwell .. probably from an imprudent exertion made on a hot day: and the consequence was, that I lost my strength, & grew to have two romantic dark caves for eyes & white cheeks underneath—looking “horrible” as Papa said with very definite expression. Now, however, I have recovered again—& am able to write as usual—& shall be out again in my chair in a few days if I am not worse.

George was out of doors when I could first ask him your question about the Gray’s Inn Square address today; [6] but he will do his best, I am certain, to ascertain it for you. Your kindness & goodness are past praising .. luckily not past loving. May God bless you! & take care of you!– The poor miserable girl! [7] Cannot the father be forced by law .. or at least, by the fear of exposure, … to do .. his duty, I was going to say .. but it’s a profanation of terms, loathsome to the lips!–

Write to me & love me! that is, write to me as if you loved me, my dearest friend! Ah! forgive me!

I am so tired with writing.

A second most kind letter have I had from Miss Martineau. I did not know that there was so much fragrance of nature in her!

Flush & I are flattered that we have helped to distinguish a brother of the house [8] —but after all, we are all honored together for the sake of one more honorable. Look in Blackwood for this month & find me out. [9] Frederica Bremer’s last novel (that is, Mary Howitt’s last translation) [‘]The President’s Daughters’, [10] —is very inferior, I think, to either of the first works.

May God bless you!– I love you indeed & ever.

We are going to send you some offerings from the west .. & only wait for the unpacking & landing.

Flush has an eccentricity just now, of choosing to lie upon my head, which is by no means convenient. Never was such a fancy! Round & round he climbs & coaxes & creeps .. and at last he is sure to top me, with his silky ears flapping about mine. Presently, down he tumbles, & almost breaks his neck & mine. Naughty perverse Flush!–

Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 286–289.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Letter 1357.

2. i.e., Horne.

3. Horne was known for eccentricities of manner and dress.

4. Horne’s Exposition of the False Medium (1833) contained dismissive comments about various literary figures of the day. See letter 829, in which EBB referred to it as a “dreadful black book,” and to Chorley’s “silent gravity” about it.

5. Despite the aggravations caused during Horne’s visit, Miss Mitford did invite him to stay again (see, for example, Chorley, I, 218–219).

6. Letter 1364 indicates that Miss Mitford had asked for help in locating a Mr. Illingsworth.

7. Lucy, apparently Illingsworth’s daughter, mentioned further in letter 1364.

8. See letter 1369.

9. “The Cry of the Children” in the August issue.

10. The President’s Daughters (1843) was Mrs. Howitt’s translation of Fredrika Bremer’s 1834 novel, Presidentens Döttrar.


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