Correspondence

1671.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 9, 78–80.

[London]

August 6th 1844

Ever dearest Miss Mitford I deserve a good scold upon the face of it. As a first defence I enclose the title page “which was to be”,[1] to prove how I acted upon your advice. Well! straightway Mr Moxon reprehended me. He could not make up his mind to “New Poems”, .. he really could not!—and he did not see how “Poems” plain, wd suggest an idea of republication to people who read on the same page, “by so & so, author of the Seraphim &c.” Therefore after all, “Poems” it is; and I hope that tomorrow or the next day I shall be able to send you, my dearest friend, the two volumes. Do keep yourself in the gentlest humour in the world. Keep in the sunshine, & think of your dahlias in full bloom.

You will partly understand how I wd not write until I had seen decided this weighty subject of the title page, .. and I have had other causes for delay, .. in some supernumerary matter to do for the work. Now I must thank you over & over again for your kindness in answering like an oracle to my questioning: and certainly, let Mr Moxon say what he pleases, I am of opinion that ‘New Poems’ wd make an excellent title, comprehensive, definite, unobjectionable in every way. Your opinion has at any rate thrown out the ‘Drama of Exile,’ if it has not thrown in the ‘New Poems’:[2]—and ‘Poems’ agrees with your antipathies, whatever else it may disagree with. For the rest, I humbly doubt whether a drama in the Greek form, may not have as much right to call itself ‘drama,’ as one in the Shakespearean form. The Greeks had the name first, so please you. Lo!—the first sign of my beginning to quarrel with my critics! Indeed I am nervous– I cant help being nervous! Now that the active part is done, in which I was bold as a lion, this hard part of passive endurance seems (in prospect) ten times more overcoming.

Tell me the whole truth, my beloved friend, truly, therefore kindly! The truth is very important to me for the present & for the future. Try to put aside for a moment your affection for me, .. and judge of these poems, as if they were the work of another hand & heart than your friend’s. I am grateful to you for much already—let me be grateful for the truth .. now. We can love each other, you know, all our lives afterwards .. there will be time enough!–

Mr Kenyon has come back from Southsea & the Isle of Wight, in full bloom of kindness & good spirits. I am so glad he has come back .. & miss him so,—when he is away! This, of course! Think of such a lamp being put out in my darkness, for a whole fortnight!–

Do you think I shd send a copy of my book to Mr Merry? Does he care for poetry? Tell me. You know he has sent me his various little polemical treatises—and perhaps he might expect me to respond in verse. I have a high respect for him on certain grounds; but if he shd not care for poetry, & wd not expect any ‘presentation’ of the sort, why I wd not trouble him with it,—& so increase the great necessary expence of giving copies. Direct me what to do. I am going to send one to Wordsworth, as tribute .. and to Leigh Hunt, as gratitude—and to Landor, as unworthy return for some gifts of his.[3]

Here is Flush, rejoicing like Bacchus himself, among the grapes! eating one grape after another, with exceeding complacency, shown by swingings of the tail. “Very good grapes, indeed!” What a fancy for Flushie, to take! Just because Papa has sent me this little strip of a branch, he in his sympathy of possession must have his share!– Grapes indeed!

After all I did not see Mr Horne. He wrote to tell me that my refusal quite “affected” him, .. & that to call the disappointment “bitter” was the coldest word. I, in a fit of remorse, unsaid my refusal, & told him to come. He did not come. There was so much to do at last, that he could not—or at least did not. I have not seen him.[4] He told me that I shd hear from him from Prussia, & I have not heard since. Have you seen the second edition of the “New Spirits”? I wish I could see it! I want to know how he retorts on his reviewers & to what extent.[5] It is dangerous ground to move on,—& I did all I could to dissuade him from planting his foot on it. Unless there is a fact with which to oppose criticism, all the ohs & ahs in a man’s breath, only prove that he is struck somewhere, & that the wound hurts. I am very sorry that he shd have assumed that position before the reviewers—but the fact is, I believe, not that he wished to sell an edition by an intentional indiscretion, .. but that he suffered real & miserable vexation under the various attacks made upon him, & could give it vent in no more efficient manner. To judge by his letters, his spirits appeared to me quite depressed,—whether by the thunder of the critics, or by the cold drizzle of the individuals called “New spirits.” To think of Dickens ‘being dissatisfied.[6] Poor Mr Horne! He appeared to me far more thrown by this last adversity than he ever was by the death of his Katy. I speak so, you know, simply from the evidence of his letters.

Tell me now about Paris .. what do you think of doing? & when, of going? Here is August—and if you mean to go, you shd assuredly .... come to London. Oh—the selfish spirits of this generation! We are all thinking of ourselves from morning to night. <& You>[7] know if you dont[8] go to Paris, you will come to London for six weeks .. two months .. how long!– Am I not to muse of it, from morning to night—more especially as I have done my book, & have nothing to do but to be idle & think wickedness ..?

May God bless you, my beloved friend!– This is all written at railroad pace,—all the steam up!

Oh, but I must not forget to observe what I forgot to mention last time I wrote, when I wrote of Mrs Hemans’s memoir by Mr Chorley, & the letters in it, .. that one fervid letter there quite bore me away, .. your’s upon Rienzi,[9] .. & set me wishing for a multiplication of such,—as full of eloquence & life.

But with one, I shall be contented at present .. for the present.

Write it to your

Ever affectionate

EBB–

Publication: EBB-MRM, II, 430–432.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. We have not located the source of this quotation.

2. See letters 1665 and 1666 for previous discussions regarding titles.

3. We have been unable to find any indication that EBB ever gave a copy of her Poems (1844) to Merry. She gave Wordsworth a copy, now in the Berg Collection (Reconstruction, C91); see letter 1692 for his response. In letter 1752 she mentions that Landor had responded, and in letter 1775 she says that she had “not heard a word from Leigh Hunt.”

4. See letters 1658 and 1659.

5. The Athenæum for 27 July 1844 carried an advertisement for the second edition of A New Spirit. This edition contained 21 pages of introductory comments in which Horne responded to critics.

6. Referring to A New Spirit, Dickens wrote to Talfourd in March 1844 that he was a “disinterested objector,” except that he thought his portrait was “a leetle like the Iron Mask, without The Man in it.” See Dickens, IV, 79.

7. EBB added the ampersand later, but failed to change the “y” in “you” to lower case.

8. Underscored three times.

9. See letter 1658. EBB is referring to Mrs. Hemans’s letter of 10 November 1828 to Miss Mitford, published in the Memorials of Mrs. Hemans (1836), ed. Henry F. Chorley (I, 231–235), in which Mrs. Hemans congratulated Miss Mitford on the success of Rienzi, and to which Chorley added a footnote describing Miss Mitford’s excitement upon seeing the play performed: “I was so entirely bewildered, dizzied by the applause … the next day I was as one rising from a long fever … feeling a void, a vacuum: the hope was gone, and the triumph did not fill its place.”

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