1517. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 8, 182–185.
Feb 2 [sic, for 3]. 1844.
I am in a difficulty to know what to say to you my dearest friend. I do not certainly take your view of the question, although I see how you see it,—and, as far as I can imagine myself in your circumstances, I would not, I think, act as you contemplate acting. I would assist to the uttermost this unfortunate woman; &, when she was in a condition to occupy another situation, I wd procure one for her:– I wd do everything except retain her under my own eyes. This I would not do. This I could not do—and just in proportion to the affection I had felt for her, & the confidence I had reposed in her, I should find this painful & impossible. Nay—if she ministered to me like an angel—if her qualifications as a servant were even more complete (were it possible) than you describe them—and if I were solitary by my own hearthstone as you are, .. and helpless on my sofa as I am .. not all those circumstances in combination cd induce me to retain in my service & companionship, an individual whom I cd not trust. Now observe, my beloved friend,—of the want of chastity,—I say nothing at all. I even can conceive of the chastest of women sacrificing her reputation to the love of one man. A sin it is, .. but I do not magnify it; and I can conceive of it, as I said, apart from unchaste tendencies in the woman so sinning. But the train of deception carried on against your pure, noble, credulous generosity, is a different matter—& the more I think of the heart, which could, in the full sunshine of that generous kindness, so plot on, plot on, .. the wedding ring on the finger & the lover behind the door, .. the more I distrust such a heart, for the future as for the past. It is not an honest heart, my dearest friend,—nor worthy of your confidence: and if you cast yourself upon it, .. leaving the home you have chosen, & the tried friends which surround that home, .. you cast yourself upon a reed which broke first in your own hand, & which is more likely to pierce than to support you. This is my view. It appears to me, that, to a generous confiding person like yourself, who are at the same time a reasoning & discerning person, the constant presence of an individual who has excommunicated herself voluntarily from your faith, .. whom you cannot (wish it as you please) respect & trust .. in whose face you cannot look, feeling that it is a true face, .. will presently, if not now, be the occasion to you of irritated & melancholy feelings. I know I could not bear it—and I guess that you will not, without pain. I guess that to an expansive loving trusting nature like yours, this repulsion from without,—this thought & suggestion of a want of trustworthiness—will be intolerable before long. Therefore it is; that I venture to say so much.
At the same time, my dearest friend, I have difficulty in saying it—and I will not teaze you by struggling against your actual wishes. I feel too deeply what your grief must be, to wonder much at anything you may do under the stress of it: and it is easier to forgive than to do anything. Nay—if Ben wd marry her, I would not in that case advise you against determining him to do so by an agreement to retain them both together in your service. It is another case, when you contemplate throwing up home & friends, & going to Bath with the woman who has deceived you. That is the case, which I cry aloud against. But I will not cry too loud .. so as to annoy you my dearest friend, & interfere with any possible plan which you prefer in the fulness of your own choice.
When is her confinement to take place?
Thinking much of you lately, I have wondered to myself whether you, who have so many friends, may not have some one female friend who would reside with you, joining your incomes? Miss Trepsack (you know Trippy) & a friend of hers, have taken in a like manner, an excellent house in a good situation .. Montague Place,—both living independently, &, in a sort, separately,—dining with each other or alone, .. as if they occupied neighbouring houses instead of first & ground floors. Is there nobody in the world whom you cd bear, as an occupier of one of your sitting rooms & a bedroom, .. so as to break the idea of solitude in pieces, without spoiling the charm of the idea of independence? Anybody whom you cd bear, would be delighted to be near you … but .. oh! I feel by instinct that you wdnt like such a scheme,—& that you smile scornfully at me for a schemer.
Poor Mr Horne! Ah, then—perhaps he forced his spirits in writing to me. It is possible .. & too possible. I am very very sorry for him. And there need’nt have been any “mixed motive” after all—why shd there? Do you not believe that Orions may fall in love? I do. I am very very sorry—and I am tormenting myself with the fear of having written oftener than once,—when he was miserable about that illness,—various pertnesses to him, which ill became me,—& which I never cd have written, but in a state of unbelieving Jewship as to there being any misery at all. You know my dearest friend, he was just a week (put the two visits together) in your neighbourhood; & you had told me of a “pretty Bessie” as well as of poor poor “Katy”,—so that I quite distrusted the warmth of your imagination in these supposed love-affairs. Near the end indeed, something, you said, had sufficient weight with me to make me nervous about writing at all to him on the week succeeding the melancholy death—and then (at the end of that week) I had a sprightly note from him which threw me back into my scepticism. Ah—I am sorry to conceive of his having such suffering. I am very sorry. Did it enter into your imagination that there was any reciprocation? even of admiration? It must have been the sword-stroke of an angel of Eden to him.
Thank you for all your kindness. You are too, too kind. You are probably right about the Rosary,—but it is curious that I am under a vow to Mr Boyd to publish it,—and also the incorrectness with which the Finden copy was printed, wd seem to recommend a re-printing. I say it is curious that I am under a vow to Mr Boyd about it because it is very curious that he, who is of the Dryden-Pope school, should have adopted this ballad of “German diablerie” & a thousand faults, as an especial favorite of his, .. so much so, as to make it a point with me that I shd republish it in the new book. Oh—he thinks nothing of the ‘Page’ in comparison—nothing at all. And the ‘House of Clouds’ you know, was mere superannuation—or rather the ‘influence of disease on the intellect’! Well! but he is a kind friend to me; & as I am going to insult him by printing the ‘Clouds,’ I must print the ‘Rosary’ to put the other out of his head: not to say that I am under a promise to do it. You make excuses for me in the supposed difficulty of illustrating the frame-figures—but it is right to explain that the artist altered all his groups to my poem, instead of the poem being constructed on the groups. Whether he acted so by the other contributors I do not know; but he did so by me,—& I paid him in silent gratitude for the generosity.
God bless you my dearest friend. Let me hear—do. I long to hear the decision of this day .. Saturday. Ah—I am afraid about Ben—if there’s another love in the case!–
I have heard from Mrs S C Hall who is going to establish, or rather has been offered the editorship of a Lady’s magazine, & writes to me for contributions. I dont like the idea of Lady-magazine writing, & I shall be able to do very little & very occasionally for it. They pay liberally & regularly, according to their professions, at the rate of from fourteen to sixteen guineas a sheet, Blackwood’s size,—& every month,—and I have been wondering whether you wd “descend & aid” like a goddess as you are.
A Mr Welford from America has just left a card upon me. Did you ever hear of him? He is from New York, and a bookseller.
My thoughts are with you very very often .. when they are not in Eden. I have seen Mr Kenyon– Did I tell you?—and he is quite well again.
Your faithfully attached
Address: Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / Near Reading.
Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 380–383.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. EBB states toward the end of this letter that she wrote it on Saturday; 2 February was a Friday. The letter is postmarked 5 February 1844.
2. Cf. Isaiah, 36:6.
3. Not positively identified, but perhaps the Miss Roper to whom Miss Trepsack left £20.
4. Cf. Acts, 14:2.
5. Cf. Genesis, 3:24.
6. The version of the work printed in Poems (1844) was re-titled “The Lay of the Brown Rosary” (I, 173–201). The name of its heroine was changed from “Lenora” to “Onora” and there were considerable textual changes.
7. In letter 928, EBB reported that Boyd had said “I had inferred from the ‘House of Clouds’ that her illness had weakened her intellect!”
8. “The House of Clouds” was also revised by the addition of new verses together with other textual changes (II, 223–228).
9. See letter 1509, note 3.
10. Cf. Herbert, A Priest to the Temple (1652), ch. xxxvi.
11. See letter 1427 for Welford’s letter of introduction from Mathews. See the following letter, and letter 1579, in which EBB explains her inability to see Welford.
12. i.e., when not immersed in “A Drama of Exile.”