1446. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 8, 64–68.
Monday. [27–28] Nov– 1843–
My dearest friend I am only pretending to write to you– I doubt whether I shall manage it in reality. Think of me in the midst of my Bastille of precautions, being taken with a sore throat .. not my usual sore throat which comes & goes with an east wind & is nothing but a symptomatic irritability in the air-vessels,—but a sore throat from cold, with ulceration extending to the tongue. I keep it as quietly in the background from Papa as I can,—for he is given to talk of quinsy & medical men; &, if I once fell into the hands of the latter, I never shd fall out again. Also I am better today—it is going off I think. Still the indisposition “to do anything useful in the ’varsel world” is extraordinary—& it even extends towards doing anything pleasant. Oh—I shall be much better tomorrow I am sure. And in the meantime here I am, to try to write to you.
Flushie’s arithmetic is less complex than you & Ben imagine. I hold up a piece of cake, & say one, two, three; and after ‘three’, & not sooner, he takes it. It is amusing to see him stir his little head at ‘two,’ & then correct himself—and still more amusing to observe how, at every unqualified success, he turns round & looks at Arabel for applause.
Are you aware of the existence of a M. Leonard who has a theory upon the rationality & faculty of improvement in animals, & has educated two dogs which he carries about with him. The Athenæum did him two years ago the honor of a notice, & an acknowledgement, that they did, on such & such a day, abase their editorial capacity unto the examination of these educated dogs & were very nearly satisfied of there being no shadow of a ‘trick’ in them. The Athenæum proposed several hard words, which the dogs spelt, and one or two sums, I believe, which they calculated,—& finished these graver studies with a game at dominos, which was won by the dogs. Whether they talked any dog-latin, I do not know—but if they did, it was’nt a bit more wonderful than the rest.
Now I am jealous of Mr Leonard’s dogs—& I cant help it. Therefore, you see, I begin arithmetic with Flushie,—and am trying to teach him his letters, .. with a .. “Kiss A, Flush—and now kiss B.” I am afraid nevertheless that he has no very pronounced love for literature & that there is a possibility of my failing to inspire it. Quite by the way, .. my brothers laughed the tears into their eyes the other evening to hear my lecture, & were of opinion that if anybody else heard it, it might be used as straightforward evidence, <against not Flushie but me,> of a ‘non-compos-mentis’ case. So perhaps I had better say no more about it.
Talking of evidence, you have made a strong case for our friend—and certainly you cd not bestow him more prosperously than on your friend. I like much your picture of Katy—and that is a pretty name—and I do not see that he can do better altogether, than try his chances. But did she seem to like him?– There is the question. And then, are you sure of his feeling for her? He seemed to you to vibrate at first, you know, between Bessie & Katy; & the acquaintance has been very short—and I do not believe of him that he would lend himself to a lucrative marriage simply as such—that, I do not believe. Allowing for all drawbacks .. of bald heads & ringlets & deficiency in conventional manners, .. there is a certain “residuum”, as Coleridge would say, which is excellent in him, & worthy of high consideration. I was thinking of what you said the other day of The Death of Marlowe—that it was “coarse.” Yes, coarse in the subject!—but is it not treated with a distinguishable delicacy,—so that the coarseness produces a refining impression,—in a degree, which I have always considered a certain sign of genius—? What a clear flame rises from that hard dull & ugly material! And, to do him justice, I have observed in his Napoleon, & in other works, a delicacy of treating questionable subjects: and it made one of my reasons for setting him down as a gentleman as steadily & undoubtingly as I used to do to you.
If you are right in your impression (I mean as to his impression) it accounts for the desire for the letter of introduction to Mrs C.,—and for the hypothetical rabbit shooting,—& for a great deal besides which is, otherwise, matter of mystery though of history.
By the way, do you know if his new work is to include artists, properly so called—musicians & painters?
As to magnetism .. (oh, I am so glad you applaud my wisdom!––it’s so easy to be clever & so difficult to be wise!) as to magnetism, you & I agree practically in intending to have nothing to do with it. I, however, am clearly the most believing of the two—clearly. And I must answer your question about the ‘surgical operations’ hastily, as I can answer it affirmatively, & want you to believe as much as I do. Yes! surgical operations have again & again, I am told, been performed during the magnetic sleep. Also, you are wrong in your suggestion about the believing philosophers believing less than they profess to believe; and from Mr Kenyon’s accounts to me, one or two of them wd confess their faith only between closed doors & in a whisper. Nothing can be more unsatisfactory to cause-and-effect men, than to have to admit evidence, where they cannot use ratiocination. Dr Ferguson the queen’s physician, with whom Henrietta & one of my brothers dined in company a week or two ago, told her himself that he had even written against it in the Quarterly Review, & that Sir James Clark also professed to reject it,—whereas they both believed it,—could not help believing it, & had (either one or both of them) been witnesses of the amputation of the limb of a patient during magnetic sleep of perfect unconsciousness. But, he said, they thought it their duty to put the phenomena aside as far & as long as they could, because they saw dangers in the power, whatever it was (& he did’nt pretend to say what it was) greater than any advantages connected with it. I repeat—I do not admire!
Mrs Minto’s cook suffered dreadfully from a carious tooth; and upon her being thrown into the trance, this tooth was extracted without her knowledge. An ulcer had formed in the gum, & the tooth was so strongly rooted, that the dentist had to pull hard twice. She never stirred,—and afterwards assured everybody that she knew nothing at all about the extraction, until she woke up from her mysterious insensibility,—& the spectators congratulated her on the completion of the operation!– This, we heard from the Mintos themselves; and I had two versions to ‘collate’, because their man servant gave a full & identical account of it to Crow. Well—but I am so glad that for once in my life I have been wise & done what you yourself wd have done. I congratulate myself upon it!
Ah, but I am so sorry, so sorry, that you are not well—! Do take care, & keep in the warmth– And how warm it is, notwithstanding the damp! I cannot bear a fire today. May God bless you!–
Ever your attached
Your Flush is a darling Flush. And how pleasant it is to be loved even by a dog. Even by a dog—! now I write nonsense. It should by rights be––‘even by a man’.
Did you see an affecting account in yesterday’s paper, of Mr Wrench the comedian’s dog? Mr Wrench died last friday after a ten days confinement, during which the faithful creature never left him. When the man died the dog uttered piteous cries, & fell into convulsions for two hours; & he remains in a state scarcely admissive of much hope for life. There is love for you—‘even by a dog!’
You amuse me with the chronicle of Mrs Dupuy’s manner of publishing effectually. After all I fear she will not make a success of it– I mean, as it is .. & without any reference to the literary assistance of the damning “young friends.” I wish I were rich enough to buy it—but not, I confess, from any interest which I cd take in the work apart from the artist. To throw on a drawingroom table among the annuals, to suggest fancy balls to such bright eyes as may shine there, will make a good destiny for it—but then the sphere of that destiny must be as contracted as high, & is sure not to be enlarged by a country bookseller. And what do you mean by giving scraps .. you .. to Mr Lovejoy?– Now cd I ask a hundred questions, & am afraid.
To take a long breath of courage .. the first & second of the three volumes, are ready made,—are they not? for Mr Colburn’s hands?– And will the third have anything to do with a certain novel—long ago begun? And is the plan of publishing certain letters, abandoned? There! That’s such a very long breath, that I sigh afterwards. And this is certain—that if I had to give up your letters, I shd sigh heavier still—only I have no objection to other people’s giving them up.
Did Mr Horne ask from you the dates of your publications?
Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 348–352.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Inclusive dating based on the newspaper article about Benjamin Wrench.
2. Cf. Romeo and Juliet, II, 4, 206.
3. No such account is indexed in The Athenæum for the period 1841–43.
4. EBB printed these two letters in large capitals.
5. “Not of sound mind” (Cicero, Epistularum ad Atticum, bk. IX, cap. 6, 4). Bracketed portion of the sentence is inserted above the line.
6. See letter 1432.
7. Unidentified; possibly either Mrs. Cox or Mrs. Cockburn, both friends of Miss Mitford.
8. The Quarterly Review of April 1838 contained an unsigned article on the pros and cons of animal magnetism (pp. 273–301). Robert Ferguson (1799–1865), Professor of Obstetrics at King’s College, London, was appointed Physician-Accoucheur to the Queen in 1840 and was present at the births of all the Royal children. James Clark (1788–1870), the Duchess of Kent’s doctor, was appointed Physician-in-Ordinary on Victoria’s accession, but suffered criticism for his conduct in the case of Lady Flora Hastings (see letter 702, note 12).
9. This story appeared in The Morning Chronicle of 27 November. Benjamin Wrench (1778–1843) made the first of many appearances on the London stage in 1809, after successes in Edinburgh and Bath.
10. Cf. Shakespeare and Fletcher’s collaboration, The Two Noble Kinsmen, II, 2, 234. EBB refers to Mrs. Dupuy’s book on ladies’ costumes (see letter 1266, note 9).
11. George Lovejoy’s library at 117 London Street, Reading, was considered to rival Mudie’s in London (see Vera Watson’s Mary Russell Mitford, , p. 279). It is not clear what “scraps” Miss Mitford had given him.
12. There had been talk of printing the letters written by Miss Mitford during her visit to Bath and Bristol, but nothing came of it, although excerpts were used in her Recollections of a Literary Life (1852).
13. As Miss Mitford had already been characterized by Chorley in The Authors of England (1838), Horne made only passing references to her in A New Spirit (I, 188; II, 19 and 136).