1476. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 8, 121–123.
Dec 31. 1843.
My dearest friend I am ashamed of myself & my carelessness. The seal is gone for ever,—vanished by the crevice through which came my cold!—but the letter is here—I make dishonorable amends for my carelessness by sending it at last. Forgive me my dearest friend–
And while you are forgiving, forgive me for what may appear to you my obstinacy—but if I were to have a consultation of physicians, & they felt the pulse of my windows, & looked into the throat of my chimney, & enquired tenderly after the draught of the door,—nothing cd be done beyond what is done already. I am living in the midst of the precautions which medical men have recommended to me,—have a thermometer to arrange my atmosphere by,—& for my dress, never change it—have two gowns a year,—a black silk one for the summer,—a black velvet one for the winter, the latter fully lined,—& wear them out with the season. I “tread on silk” in respect to prudence of every sort & kind as regards my health—and I know my symptoms by heart,—understand my pulse when it approaches fever, as certainly as yr Mr May cd do,—and am far generally from being the stiffpated selfwilled body you take me to be! For instance, if the spitting of blood were to come on badly, or if a new symptom occurred, I wd send for Dr Chambers without hesitation—I wd not risk my life or the peace of those who love me (whh is the right way to put it) indeed & indeed. But as it is,—oh my dearest friend—if you were in my situation, if you had passed through my experience & were precisely as I am now,—I am confident that you wd act as I do. It is selfcomplacent to say so, I am aware—but I believe that you wd act as I do. Has not Dr Scully said to me again & again—“It is a case in which we can do nothing”.? Again & again he has plainly said or intimated it with a sigh. If certain symptoms had occurred the other day, there are of course active means by which they might be met; and I shd have placed myself in the hands (in that case) best competent to use active means with safety & success. But to prove to you the incompetency of the medical profession to treat successfully these affections of the chest, I will mention to you confidentially that even Dr Chambers (of whose science & acuteness there can be only one opinion)—on failing to stop the bleeding in my case with the common specific of lead, recommended me to a quack medecine which had been successful, he said!.—“Do not mention my name, or it will all be in the newspapers,—but get the styptic at such a place!” Their science conjectures dimly, & is at fault quickly—and poor Dr Scully, even when he came to me every day, did not conceal from me how little he had in his power. “We want lights” he used to say honestly.
In my particular case, I do not hesitate to be of opinion that I am better—radically better,—& likely to be better yet perhaps .. I sometimes think so. But if a medical man were to feel my pulse, he wd not think well of me,—because often it is as bad a pulse as you wd find out of a hospital,—& with such a pulse to treat with, & a responsibility to sustain, he wd probably think it necessary to come frequently to see me if he came at all. And it is so really unnecessary!! Ah—if you were as I, you wd be perverse as I—as sure as the Village is not London.
For poor Miss Martineau & in other cases besides her’s, it may be absolutely necessary to see a physician—or a surgeon perhaps. We cannot judge. I have understood from somebody, that her’s was a case of internal cancer—or an affection approaching to it. She spoke you know, of “displacements.” Probably she suffers, poor thing, far more than I ever have done; but she does not appear to be so weak as I am even now—and I am strong now to what I once was, you know. Poor Miss Martineau! I do not feel with her throughout her book; but I look to the mind capable of that production at such a moment, with the most respectful & unqualified admiration. Among the points on which I disagree, is that very point of the letters, which you receive into favor– I will tell you why & how another day—but today it is late & I cant write a long letter. Learn however by the present post, that the book is not dedicated to me. Everybody has exclaimed with your exclamation, from its publisher Mr Moxon, to the most intimate friends of the author—and Mr Kenyon justly observed that the very supposition is honor enough for me. But he has ascertained that the fact is not so; that it is not dedicated to me,—and indeed, without any distinct information on the subject, there are certain passages & allusions which cd not possibly be twisted into referring to me. Oh no, my dearest friend! Neither wd the supposition have occurred to you or anybody, except by the bare coincidence of a parallel misfortune. I fit the affliction, & not the honor!—and Miss Martineau required for her dedicateè, a fitness for both.
Twenty thanks for the violets to you & Ben! forty for the letter!
I am very much better—and you? My conjecture as to the cause of the taking cold stops at the fog. We have had two very thick fogs this year,—and after one I had my ulcerated sore throat,—& after the second, my cough. Is that satisfactory to you?
May God bless you my beloved friend! I am very sorry for ‘Katy’. And Orion does not surprise me. No indeed, he does’nt.
Your always affectionate
Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 366–368.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. EBB is returning Mrs. Niven’s letter, and confirming the loss of the seal sent her by Miss Mitford (see letter 1472).
2. Cf. “The Siller Croun,” line 1 (The Poetical Works of Miss Susanna Blamire, 1842, p. 203).
3. For a physician’s diagnosis of Miss Martineau’s case, see letter 1371, note 2.
4. In Life in the Sick-Room, Miss Martineau wrote “I have adopted legal precautions against the publication of my private letters … The privacy I claim for myself, I carefully guard for others” (pp. 96–97). Miss Mitford apparently agreed with this decision, whereas EBB did not; she returned to the subject in letter 1502.
5. See SD1196.
6. Miss Walter, who was suffering from a fever, died on 16 January 1844.