1396. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 7, 361–364.
Oct. 9th 1843
My dearest friend, how you have disappointed me!– If your coming for a week now had indeed, been any argument against your coming in May, it might have been different; there would at least have been a difference in the logic of my regret. But you are close to London, & the expenses which would have met you here, are trifling to name or think of; and two visits for a week, one in November & another in May, cd have nothing whatever of superfluity about them. And then for Mr Benomi, just a word to him, praying him not to time his visit in the course of one particular week, could not possibly have looked unkind—and then if you can catch Mr Kenyon for one day, it wd be as possible to do so for several days. His going away is the most uncertain of uncertainties—he may go directly, or not at all, he says—nothing can be more uncertain than the order of his going. Well!—you decide against us however!– And this pitiful few hours visit is to be received as substitutional .. oh! how cross I feel!– Well—my beloved friend, it must be of course as Ben & you decide—only Ben is very foolish, considering the uncertainty of days & Mays, .. & you may tell him so with my compliments & admonitions. Well—for I must say “well” when I think “ill”– I agree at once that it is better for you to come even for one hour than for none at all, & that I shall be delighted with great delight to look at you under any possibility of circumstance. Do you decide on coming .. only for the day, & without sleeping here at all? We could give a bed next week both to yourself & K .. George being absent on circuit business. Would you grant us the night also?,—or for your comfort’s sake must it be the day only?– And consider my beloved friend, may not such a day’s work be quite too much for you—may you not be fatigued & unwell for a catastrophe to it?—you who have not been strong lately, & eschew railroads!– Oh! I am afraid to lead you into some inconvenience or suffering, by giving utterance to the hundred kinds of persuasion which suggest themselves; &, so, now I am silent & leave you, graciously, to do as you think best to do. To see you for half an hour wd be a boon to me, if it could be at any price except that of doing harm to yourself. Follow your own ways,—& I will wait on them to cry vivas.
Nay, but indeed you mistook my meaning if you fancied that I misapprehended your difficulty about the Walters’s & the nature of Araminta’s transgression as it stood in your eyes. It wd have been far better, far more becoming in every way, had he never sought that invitation—but the point on which I defended him was the mode of the failure of the invitation, .. & related entirely to your supposition of his having shuffled about the note, & pretended to having missed it when he did no such thing. It struck me, & I retain my impression, that he was as he expressed it, “unaffectedly sorry” to have missed the note,—& that there was no room at all to visit him with the particular charge of having pretended & intended to miss it. Now you understand, my dearest friend, what I mean? You must do me the justice to remember that I blamed you .. yes, quite blamed you .. for repeating yourself an invitation, which in its first fulfilment had caused you so much annoyance—I was quite sorry & vexed that you shd ask him again, when you had not done sighing from the former visit. But still it did seem to me a little hard to suspect him of the unmitigable falsehood of pretending not to receive in time an invitation which he had struggled towards through a series of most questionable attitudes—and I could not either from what I knew of him or of the evidence, fix myself in such a suspicion. Moreover my dearest friend, I never spoke to you of Mr Horne’s popularity, but of a very distinct thing, his genius. I never valued him, no, nor would I value anybody upon his or her mere popularity—and in the case of poetry, if I would accept popularity as a criterion at all, it should be ‘by contraries’,—because, as a general observation, perhaps very few poets who are worth anything, are ready fledged popular poets in any wise. Now I do think you will agree with me that there are not six men in England at this moment,––are there four? .. capable of writing verses of equal power with his .. verses capable at all of taking rank with them … accept the good with the bad. Bowing ourselves away from the royal seat of Wordsworth, Tennyson is an absolute poet, we will both admit— <…> and we find Macauley & Browning afterwards—& perhaps Heraud—and Roggerson the author of Festus—& Leigh Hunt who shd have come before. Take from these, Wordsworth & Leigh Hunt; & take also Professor Wilson, Landor, & Moore, who ‘side the gods’ of a former age: and Tennyson Macauley Browning Heraud & Roggerson (the last all but unknown) are the only men of genius who are poets at all at the present day … and they are five. Grant that Mr Horne stands only sixth, after them all,—and his place is high & distinguishable & worthy of honor. Are Simmons & Sterling capable of thinking a thought in the rank of any of these poets? I would, with my right hand thrust out at random, & my eyes blindfolded, tear any three pages from Orion, & throw down my glove in challenge that they shd contain more true poetry than all the works of Sterling & Simmons, though drynursed by Blackwood. My dearest friend!– Surely the multiplication of the aspirants to poetry in the present day, leaves the heads of the poets cognizable as few—surely the very facility of the accomplishment proves the rarity of the faculty—& the more we contemn the “would bes,” the greater shd be our reverence for the “Can bes”. Surely large portions of this poem of Orion deserve large honor—to say nothing of Cosmo & Gregory, & the fine burning unity of the Death of Marlowe. Could any but a man of genius have written them? Faults, they may have—deficiencies, their best excellencies may have—but could any except a man of genius have written them? Now you shall say ‘yea’ to me, on that head.
Before I had your letter I had an application for a head & ‘Biographical Sketch’—which made me smile—& made me glad that I had taken his part a little before the date of the compliment, lest it shd appear to you to have flattered me out of my judgment. Before I had your last letter I had the application .. & had replied to it as it behoved,—by refusing to sit for any set of publishers in the world or for the suppositious pleasure of any public, for an engravable picture. He will not be pleased with me I fear—& I shall be very sorry if he should not be pleased; because his expressing the wish at all was the proof of a kind view taken of me & of my poetry. But you see my dearest friend, I could’nt do it—& you yourself, who know so well the beggarly degree of interest taken by general readers in the writers of rhymes, will not blame me for the denial. It is right (seeing that his book cannot have a portrait on every leaf) that writers, who take rank far before me, should have their faces in place of mine—so .. gare .. I leave the road clear to them—& I have told him that I could not accept from his kindness the outward sign of a prominency which I had yet, in fact & reality, to achieve. He is in chase of Macauley’s head & shoulders—& will have yours next of course.
Must end—& I had more, so much more, to say!– Oh—never think of the autographs! I would not have you annoyed, for Shakespeare’s.
Ever your attached
Address: Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.
Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 322–325.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Benomi had been secretary to the late Bishop Baines, and Miss Mitford had apparently invited him to Three Mile Cross (see letter 1364).
2. Cf. Macbeth, III, 4, 118.
3. In letters 1357 and 1360, EBB comments on Miss Mitford’s complaints about Horne’s behaviour while at Three Mile Cross, such as his requiring three baths a day, and says, in respect of the possibility of his being invited again, “my veto is despotic upon that point—you never shall do it.”
4. Samuel Lover (1797–1868), Rory O’More (1837): “For dhrames always go by contraries, my dear.”
5. Here EBB has obliterated about half a line.
6. Festus was published anonymously in 1839, and, in letter 1272, Horne told EBB that Rogerson was the author, and she obviously accepted this, even though Horne was wrong, the author being Philip James Bailey.
7. See letter 840, note 1.
8. “Look out; beware” (OED).
9. i.e., those requested in letter 1391.