1833. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 61–63.
Feb 8– 1845–
My dearest friend & temptress ..
All the week is unrolled, day after day, & not a word from you to say when you will come! I wd not teaze you for the world (as methinks, I always make a point of saying when I am in the crisis of tormenting you!) but you are to be pleased to remember that I am a mortal being, & made of Adam’s rib (only a degree better than the raw material of Red-Clay Adam himself) & that though I can make one parenthesis after another in a manner unknown to purists, I cant bear to be tantalized by such words as .. “I must come next .... this week”, & a silence afterwards. Have a little mercy, .. do– Dont suspend me on the point of a needle over the plains of Paradise—take a stitch one way or the other– <& dont let it be a stitch in my left side.> And after all .. I wd not teaze you for the world!
Well—I want ‘an opinion’ from you too, previous to the decision. I had quite concluded in my own mind, that the fantasy about the Corn Law Bazaar was the fantasy of an individual, & that I shd hear nothing more of it—when lo! this morning, came an official invitation from the Leeds’ Ladies Committee, backed by the authority of the London General Council, signed by a secretary .. all in form & precision, .. asking me to do the poem. Of course I am pleased in one way .. I do not pretend to be otherwise than pleased. And yet I am in doubt—for it appears rather more than doubtful whether Papa will let me do it or not. My own feeling is quite for it—: but he, after smiling a little over the note, begins to mumur about its involving me with the party, and about its being far better for the farmers, to have a fixed duty. Now I, you know, am leagues before the rest of my house in essential radicalism, .. & by no means believe in the ruin of farmers being dependent on the preservation of duties on corn, or even in the desireableness of saving a farmer & landed proprietor at the expense of the great body of the population. The people ought to have free trade in corn, & they will have it, .. without duty & restriction .. whether I write a poem on the actual grievance or not. And if I did write the poem, it wd not be a mere party-poem—it wd be an exponent of the present grievance (admitted by liberals of every class)—just as the ‘Cry of the Children’ was an exponent of the Factory Grievance. The League unites so many sympathies among men who differ otherwise, that I do not at all see how I implicate myself with a political party in doing this deed .. if I did it.– I wd rather not narrow the sphere of my poetry by wearing a party badge either in politics or religion—& I perfectly see the undesireableness of that. But to refuse to give or rather to refuse to attempt to give, a voice to a great public suffering, when I am asked to do it .. & when I recognize the existence of the suffering .. should this be refused?– Oh—I wd not vex Papa for the world—& I see that he is not, so far, much inclined to give a joyous sanction. And what do you think he said .. “Miss Mitford wd not do it, if she were asked.” ‘Yes’—I said, ‘she would—I have reason to know she wd’ ‘No–’ he said—‘if it came to the point, she never wd implicate herself with that party. You had better think it well over before you write them an answer’! I did not like to repeat particularly what you had said,—because, that I shd have had talk with you on a subject I never mentioned to him or anybody, might have struck him as strange—while the fact was, that I believed (after the first doubt I confided to you) in no fact but a fantasy on the part of an enthusiastic woman, .. & that, as a fantasy I answered it, & then dismissed it from my mind. The actual invitation coming, quite astounded me, .. & has given me courage even to wish to do the thing. And now do write to me directly, & let me be able to tell Papa that you wd consent, in my position,—(if really you would!) & that an association with the people in order to the removal of an admitted grievance, is not the same thing as an implication with a party, & the wearing of a badge. His whiggery as opposed to my liberalism at full length, makes a difference, of course, in the mode of viewing the question—but then, it seems to me that, even on the ground of whiggery, a good deal may be said on the side of Consent. See how Lord Morpeth has attended these great meetings—& other whigs of an approaching calibre.
Well! I wish you were here to talk it over.
The ‘Diable’ is too diabolical to be borne—but as clever as the very devil himself.
May God bless you, my dearest friend!– I want you to write directly– I hope you received certain oysters despatched to you yesterday.
I am always your
Sending for ‘Un homme serieux’ yesterday for the ninety ninth time of asking, they sent me a new & unheard of (by me) work of Ch. de Bernard, published last year & called ‘Le beau pere’. I give you notice of it. It is in two volumes.
Address: Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.
Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 72–74.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Cf. Genesis 2:21 and Job 33:6. Red-clay or red-earth is known for its impurities.
2. The allusion seems to suggest the debates by scholars and theologians in the Middle Ages about how many angels could dance on the point of a needle (see letter 1900).
3. EBB has interpolated this bracketed portion as an afterthought.
4. See letters 1826 and 1832.
5. In letter 1349, speaking of “The Cry of the Children,” EBB told Horne that it “owes its utterance to your exciting causations—” since it was inspired by Horne’s work with a Royal Commission investigating child labour in mines and factories, and the Commission’s subsequent report.
6. See letter 1295, note 1.
7. See letter 1830, note 14.
8. See letter 1810, note 5.
9. Bernard’s Un Beau-Père was published in three volumes in 1845.