1383. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 334–337.
Sept. 20. 1843.
My beloved friend I am glad that you are better, & do trust that you will take care for the future & not act upon impulse in confiding yourself, to the elements modified draughtwise. This hot weather is the means sometimes of our being tempted to our perdition– We cannot resist a breath & a shadow,—not if we have to pay double in pain afterwards for a transient relief. When I was free, I used to stand bare headed in the rain, plunge myself headlong into a bath of a long wet grass, .. nay, I have taken off my stockings & bathed my feet with dew——‘therefore’ you will moralize, [‘]‘I am not free now!”
My dearest friend, my brothers laughed heartily at Ben’s specific for taming Catiline. Verily, they say, Master Ben must come & apply it himself, if it is to do any good here. Think of taming a tiger by biting gently at his front paw! Perhaps Van Amburgh might attempt it. Other people would consider the possibility of said tiger’s snapping off their head, in an impromptu retort.
I am blamed however on all sides for my misrepresentations to you of the great Cuban. The fact is said to be that Resolute is Catiline’s heroic spouse (altho’ of sons & daughters they have none) and that Flush being of an aspiring nature, lifted up his eyes with extraordinary audacity where he ought to have cast them down, & offered attentions to the lady. It was flirting with the ‘wife of Cæsar’ in the presence of Cæsar,—and Cæsar cd do no less for the sake of his honor (goes the tale) than worry the offender. For the rest, Catiline’s friends will have it that he is generous, & not ungentle,—and that “if Flush behaves properly” he is not likely to do either him or anybody else, the least harm in the world. As to turning the popular wrath against Catiline, neither you nor Ben wd do it!– My brothers stand up for him, Catiline, and declare that he is not cruel-hearted, or easily provoked. Well, I hope the next dog stolen away out of this house under the patronage of the “Fancy,” may be the Cuban rather than my Flushie .. that’s all!
My dearest Miss Mitford, the police could do nothing for us, .. they seemed quite perplexed & agaze,—having no notion on which side to look. It wd have been satisfactory to have paid the police; whereas to render, by your own act, the wicked speculation of those villainous men effectual, & encourage them, by your own hand, into a repetition of the evil you had suffered from, is vexatious & repugnant to you,—when you have breath enough from fright, to think the whole business over, from one end to another. “But the dog is not worth the money,” objected Henry to the king of the Fancy—“you cd not sell him anywhere for five pounds. He is completely untrained—a mere lap dog—& too large for a lap dog.” —“Nothing to do with it, Sir! Mrs Chichester’s little black dog (next door to you) is not worth ten shillings—but she paid me five pounds down before she recovered it.” It is not dogs upon which they trade, but feelings. Wretched men!–
And tell me– Did your friend accept that generous proposition, & find his dog or not find it? Tell me.
If ever you hear of any person in distress like mine, tell me of it, that I may send you Taylor’s address,—because I do believe whatever else may be said about him, that, in him, lie the most sure & direct means of recovering a dog. Should I lose Flush again, I wd send instantly to Taylor, & be satisfied with paying the money down rather than the tears. Taylor holds the reins in his hands of the whole government. A gentleman, a Mr Fin … Mr ... oh! I forget his name––who lives in Devonshire Place, .. lost the same dog three successive times, it being each time brought back to him by Taylor. At last he lost his patience too … “Is it not too bad,” he cried, “that I shd be obliged by your villainy (for I am perfectly aware that you are at the root of the evil) to pay in this manner for my own dog?– And now, I suppose, I am to lose it for the fourth time?” With unmoved serenity Mr Taylor suggested that that was by no means necessary,—and that, upon a certain additional sum being placed in his hands, he cd even answer for the dog’s not being stolen [“]for the fourth time.” Upon which, the gentleman’s indignation falling into his feet, he sprang up to kick his courteous guest either down the stairs or out of the window—a design which Mr Taylor anticipated, by vanishing of himself .. by “effacing himself’[’] as the French say.
Bishop is a gunmaker in Bond Street, & nobody can breathe aloud any suspicion against him. On the contrary he is said to be ‘a highly respectable man’, & keeps a petition against dogstealers in general, for signature. Nevertheless I have my thoughts.
How kind, how very kind of you my dearest friend, to think of me in reference to that new little puppy of your Flush’s! But no, notwithstanding Ben’s kind philosophy & your kind generosity, I am sure I could not have borne to see my Flushie replaced, more especially by a dog in any respect like him. Oh no, no!– That, I never cd have borne!—but I should have been, as I am, most grateful to you for your goodness,—the very cream of goodness, & never turning sour in sun or storm!
And now to speak of what is close to my heart. What do you mean by Chapel Street? Do you mean that you really will not come to us, my dearest friend?—and why not? what are your reasons? Would that we cd take you all three in! but because we cannot take you all three, may we not, one or two? Answer me quick—do!– As to the Zoological gardens, they are always open,—the whole year around. The Diorama, Arabel thinks, is closed already, & in any case must be, before November. Indeed I am a little vexed with Mr Chorley—although I cant blame him for doing just what I myself shd do, if I were he—! But, you see, had you agreed to come to town while my brothers were away, you & yours wd have had Cameleopard room in our Zoologicals,—and in November or late in October, you will only have lion’s room. Yet we must take what we can .. that is, if you will let us take what we can. Who lives in Chapel Street? Do answer all this.
There! I am forced to go out in my chair which cannot wait a minute.
Adieu my dearest Miss Mitford!
Ever & ever your
I am glad about Araminta—yet I tremble. It is true that you are very impulsive—& perhaps that if you were not, you wd not be loved so.
More last words! because they came to tell me that I could’nt go out in the chair, instead of the other thing .. which leaves me consolable—: but now I must tell you that I am scarcely satisfied with the manner in which you & Ben reason high of “physical imperfections” in relation to my Flushie. Be sure that if he is not a wrestler, a boxer, a biter, a physical-force dog, it is simply from the perfection, & not the imperfection of his nature. It is simply, that he is something greater than all this,—namely a hero after the fashion of Mr Carlyle. Must the physical be imperfect because the intellectual is preponderant? Surely not. My Flush is a dog of peculiar habits & education. He is incapable of fighting another dog for a bone—he scorns dog & bone. I beg you to weigh these observations.
As for Catiline, your Flush might run away from him just as my Greeks did from the <***>
Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 309–312.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Cæsar’s wife must be above suspicion (Plutarch, Life of Julius Cæsar, X, 8–9).
2. Mr. and Mrs. J.H.R. Chichester lived at 49 Wimpole Street.
3. S’effacer has the sense of evading one’s opponent.
4. See letter 1380, note 2.
5. Miss Mitford was apparently contemplating a visit to London and intended to stay with the friend who had accommodated her during her 1841 visit. As previously noted (letter 865, note 3), we were unable to identify her prospective hostess.
6. See letter 530, note 17.
7. A camelopard, or giraffe, obviously occupied more space than a lion. Letter 1386 indicates that Miss Mitford would be accompanied by her maid and Ben Kirby.
8. See note 5 above.
9. Namely, a moral and intellectual hero, as depicted by Carlyle in Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841).