2189. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 25–27.
[27 January 1846]
My ever dearest Miss Mitford, I want to hear how you are, & feel immodest in asking, seeing that I ought to have written to you some days ago. This weather which makes me safe from all reverses, is trying, people say, to the majority .. & you in your kindness & goodness are overactive for others & forgetful of precaution for yourself. Tell me how you are—& how your patient is. Just that system was tried upon me .. precisely that .. with the exception of the talking part of the process .. every attempt at talking aloud being followed by cough & spitting of blood with me, so that I was scolded every time I opened my lips. But the rest was tried & failed .. in fact, did me infinite harm—. My poor cousin died under it at Cheltenham. Whilst there is a difference of constitutions, & with some patients the success has been very decided. May the restoration of your friend justify it to the uttermost in the present case!–
And not a word of coming to London? Shall I not see you soon .. really? You surprised me by speaking of the bazaar as passed. I fancied it could not take place till the spring. And you wrote no story? Tell me, dear friend. Tell me too if you have seen the Daily News & if you abuse it as I do .. I who expected the laying down of broad principles, & found nothing but a wedge-face set against the falling Corn Law. Vexed & disappointed I was. Corn law is a favorite abuse just now—but there are other abuses, I fear, scarcely less stringent .. & there is a deep root under all. Mr Kenyon calls me “impracticable” .. or did before he went to Dover a few days ago .. but, impracticable or not, I see no objection to being philosophical & reasonable––do you? He was in the House during Sir Robert’s recantation, & called it “the finest thing he ever heard.” There was very evident emotion, repressed just enough .. & a predominant appearance of conviction & resolution to be true to perceived principles, which was grand of its kind & very effective. D’Israeli’s was a mere baying of the moon in comparison, with all his talent.
And now I want to ask you. Have you ever seen Madame Laffarge’s memoires? & will you read them & let me have your impression of her guilt or innocence. They have made a very painful impression on me .. very—& I cannot believe her, having read all, to be a guilty woman—I cannot. Do read them. The look into the state of French society, especially in the provinces, will repay you, if you get no better result. I would give much to know what life that wretched woman is made to lead in the correctional prison, of which there is no account. I think the pillory & the marking were remitted penalties. But an accomplished woman accustomed to the luxuries of life, brought so low, .. & the case so dreadfully doubtful!– Also these volumes will illustrate by a terrible light your great doctrine concerning the “marriage of convenience’[’] .. which I, for my part, consider legal prostitution,—just that & no more—not moral prostitution, by any means.
Have you seen Hood’s poems? Beautiful things in them, surely.
And Mr Chorley’s play? I had heard of it from others than yourself, but will not help to spread the rumour since you desire a silence.
Any news of Balzac? Have you the second volume of ‘Les Paysans’?
May God bless you, dearest friend! Be well & happy—& say if I have a chance of seeing you?
Your ever affectionate
Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 156–158.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Dated by EBB’s reference to Peel’s speech.
3. Arabella (“Cissie”) Butler, who died on 12 August 1843 at age sixteen (see letter 1357).
4. Miss Mitford was a “patroness” of the bazaar and exhibition that was held on 5 January 1846 to benefit the Reading Literary, Scientific, and Mechanics’ Institution (see letter 2122, note 3).
5. Peel’s conversion to Cobden’s views against the existing Corn Laws and in favour of free trade was completed during a series of five speeches in Parliament, the first being on 22 January 1846, doubtless the one Kenyon heard. The others were given on 27 January, 9 February, 27 March, and 15 May. Peel’s “recantation” led to a nominal reduction in the amount of duties later in 1846; a further reduction was made in 1849, and the Laws were finally abolished in 1869.
6. Cf. Julius Caesar, IV, 3, 27. In a very witty speech attacking Peel’s declaration, Disraeli compared the Prime Minister to a Turkish admiral sent against the enemy only to surrender his fleet in order to end the conflict. This speech, which was received with shouts of laughter, and Disraeli’s opposition resulted in the eventual fall of Peel’s government.
7. Mémoires de Marie Cappelle, veuve Lafarge was published in 1841; an English translation was issued by Colburn at the same time. Marie Fortunée Pouch-Lafarge (née Cappelle, 1816–52) had been found guilty, based on circumstantial evidence, of poisoning her husband shortly after their marriage in 1839. Her memoirs were written from prison to raise funds for her appeal, and they did much to encourage sympathy for her cause. Despite being pardoned and released from prison only a few months before her death in 1852, her guilt or innocence was never established for a certainty.
8. Poems by Thomas Hood was published in January 1846 and contained a few minor poems previously unpublished.
9. Doubtless the play mentioned in letter 2165, which was presumably Old Love and New Fortune.
10. See letter 2076, note 5.