1780.  EBB to James Martin

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 9, 264–267.


Dec. 10th 1844.

I have been thinking of you my dear Mr Martin, more & more, the colder it has been, & had made up my mind to write today, let me feel as dull as I might. So, the vane only turns to you instead of to dearest Mrs Martin, in consequence of your letter—your letter makes that difference. I should have written to Dover in any case.

And how kind of you to let me hear from you! How glad I was to see your writing—and to have such a good account of yourself from yourself! Indeed it has pleased me in every way .. both as good news, & goodnature! and this, all the more, because it seems to me almost supernatural when people are as well as usual in such weather as this. Not that there is much wrong with myself:—I am not grumbling, be pleased to understand– Still, what a sudden frost, & prodigal east wind have come upon us! The very sun shines like a razor. And although your fancy shines too, as I am delighted to see & read, (your letter did amuse me so!) I hope that Mrs Martin does her jailoring well enough to prevent you from exposing yourself in the open air “according to your traditions,” while the present cold weather continues. As to the thermometer, I will not pretend to watch one for you out of doors. The melancholy truth is, that, until this morning, when the thermometer in my room is at sixty, it has fluctuated from fiftyseven to fiftynine, & could not be persuaded by a fire night & day, to a higher mark. This, for four days. Perhaps you think it not so cold after all!– Do you? Well! but I never knew it so with my thermometer in London before. When the fire goes out at night by an accident; the temperature may be found at 58 or 59 in the morning,—but to stand so low in the face of a fire, argues a peculiar coldness, as far as my experience here goes. I do not care for being very warm. Sixty satisfies me—which is not being exacting. Nor amusing either, you will reasonably say. I am writing a strange sort of dulness in the shape of a letter—for to talk of frost & cold, is a still worse subject of conversation, than the famous “place et le beau temps.”[1]

My moral however is, that, if you are tolerably warm at Dover, you are to consider yourself warned off our premises until there is a change for the better of wind & weather. It will be delightful to see you both, & I applaud the ‘animus’ which brings your thoughts this way. Still, let us see you in your best state! Do not risk anything. Indiscretions cost too dear at this hour of the winter! And there, is a text for dear Mrs Martin to preach you a sermon on!–

You are to know that Miss Martineau’s mesmeric experience is only peculiar as being Harriet Martineau’s—otherwise it exhibits the mere commonplaces of the agency. You laugh, I see. I wish I could laugh too. I mean, I seriously wish that I could disbelieve in the reality of the power, which is in every way most repulsive to me. Mr Kenyon was saying two days ago, that some chief Mesmerizer had asked him to “allow a young woman to travel with him.” Which means, that he & she being tête à tête, & she in the mesmeric trance, if he passes in silent thought, without a word or gesture, over any part of the globe, she, through her sealed eyelids, will see the same in vision & describe it audibly. When Mr Kenyon exclaimed at this singular proposition, the rejoinder was, .. “Will you try it? You shall have satisfactory evidence of the possibility of it, any morning you please.” And he is going to try it,—various of his friends having testified to him that they had had experiences of the same class.

And then a new idea has been suggested by Dr Ashburner,[2] .. & Mr Crosse .. (the insect-maker—Do you remember?)—that the magnetic fluid (so called) consists of electricity—and Mr Crosse’s electric batteries produced a comatose state on a mesmeric subject the other day. I have not science enough, even to repeat the contents of a letter of Mr Crosse’s, which Mr Kenyon read to me lately,—but it appeared to be very curious. Dr Ashburner is the great magnetiser,—next to Elliotson,[3]—& Dr Southey, the poet’s brother, & his intimate friend, began to reproach him bitterly for his quackeries, at an accidental meeting. “My dear friend! You are ruining yourself with this mesmerism. If you are right or wrong in believing it (and my opinion is that you are wrong) you ought not to profess publicly that you believe it.” Dr Ashburner answered—“As I have not twelve children, I may speak the truth—and I will speak it.”

Mrs Martin is surprised at me & others on account of our ‘horror’. Surely it is a natural feeling, & she wd herself be liable to it if she were more credulous. The agency seems to me like the shaking of the floodgates placed by the Divine Creator between the unprepared soul & the unseen world. Then,—the subjection of the will & vital powers of one individual to those of another, .. to the extent of the apparent solution of the very identity, .. is abhorrent from me. And then, (as to the expediency of the matter,—& to prove how far believers may be carried) there is even now a religious sect at Cheltenham, of persons who call themselves advocates of the “third revelation,” & profess to receive their system of theology entirely from patients in the sleep–![4]

In the meantime poor Miss Martineau, as the consequence of her desire to speak the truth as she apprehends it, is overwhelmed with atrocious insults from all quarters. For my own part I wd rather fall into the hands of God than of man, & suffer as she did in the body, instead of being the mark of these cruel observations. But she has singular strength of mind, & calmly continues her testimony–

Miss Mitford writes to me .. “Be sure it is all true. I see it every day in my Jane”——her maid who is mesmerized for deafness, but not I believe, with much success curatively. As a remedy, the success has been far greater in the Martineau case than in others. With Miss Mitford’s maid, the sleep is however, produced,—& the girl professed, at the third séance, to be able to see behind her.

I am glad I have so much interesting matter to look forward to in the Eldon memoirs, as Pincher’s biography.[5] I am only in the first volume. Are English chancellors really made of such stuff? I could’nt have thought it. Pincher will help to reconcile me to the Law lords perhaps.

And, to turn from tory legislators, I am vainglorious in announcing to you that the Anti-cornlaw League has taken up my poems on the top of its pikes, as antithetic to ‘War & Monopoly.’[6] Have I not had a sonnet from Gutter Lane? And has not the journal, called the ‘League,’ reviewed me into the third Heaven,[7] high up .. above the pure æther of the Five Points?.[8] Yes, indeed. Of course I should be a (Magna) Chartist[9] for evermore, even without the previous predilection.

And what do you & Mrs Martin say about OConnell? Did you read last saturday’s Examiner?[10] Tell her that I welcomed her kind letter heartily, & that this is an answer to both of you. My best love to her always. May God bless you, dear Mr Martin! Probably I have written your patience to an end. If Papa or anybody were in the room, I shd have a remembrance for you– I remain, myself,

affectionately yours


Address: James Martin Esqr / Dover.

Publication: LEBB, I, 219–221 (in part).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. “Place and good weather.” We have not located the source of this quotation.

2. John Ashburner was a member of the Royal Irish Academy; his Notes and Studies in the Philosophy of Animal Magnetism and Spiritualism was published in 1867.

3. Andrew Crosse (1784–1855), a friend of John Kenyon, stirred up controversy in 1837 with his experiments on electro-crystallization. Dr. John Elliotson (1791–1868) was the founder of the Phrenological Society.

4. We are unable to clarify this reference to a religious sect at Cheltenham.

5. The Public and Private Life of Lord Chancellor Eldon, with Selections from His Correspondence (1844) by Horace Twiss. Pincher was Eldon’s favourite dog; an account of his theft and recovery appears in volume 3 (pp. 269–273). It is likely that EBB was reading the copy that her brother Alfred had won the previous month in a private raffle (Surtees Cook’s journal, ms at ABL).

6. EBB refers to a remark from the review of her Poems (1844) in The League for 7 December 1844 (pp. 171–172). For the text, see pp. 378–380.

7. Cf. II Corinthians 12:2.

8. The reference is to a comment from the review in The League which stated that her poetry was “in strains that bear the sure marks of predestination to immortality,” perhaps alluding to the doctrine of Predestination of the Elect, one of the five principal doctrines of Calvinism.

9. Chartists advocated further Parliamentary reform, such as equal constituencies, abolition of the property-ownership requirement for standing membership, and payment of M.P.’s.

10. The lead article in The Examiner for Saturday, 7 December 1844, was entitled “Mr. O’Connell and the ‘Examiner’.”


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