Correspondence

228.  Mary Moulton-Barrett to EBB

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 235–239.

School Room: with a wretched pen &

no time to mend it:—Feby 28th [1826] [1]

My own dearest:

The news ran like lightning last night thro’ the nursery to me, that a brown, paper parcel was come for Papa from Worcr which “felt very much like books,” but in all my anxiety, I was obliged to labor thro’ the duties of the toilette for dinner, (not very mighty to be sure) & then while Lane, with his usual grace, stood at right angles with napkin in his hand, & the boiled leg of mutton & mince veal, nearly smoked their last, was I doomed to find patience as I could, till Papa entered, with the welcome words, “there is your poem”! [2] No joy could be greater, save from seeing the beloved Authoress herself, & vain the temptations of our “rich repast,” till I had peeped into those peices which had not yet delighted our eyes—nor did Papa, taste any thing, till he had found the paper cutter, so that between every two or three mouthfuls, we had “Riga’s” dying strain, or a “dream,” or something which made us feel too much to do the usual justice to Mrs Treherns cookery, [3] & soon Seppy bounced in, to say he wanted “Ba’s pome, for Arabel & them in the Drawing room”: When I retired to the literary party, Arabel, who had read the fugitive peices & some of the Essay to the listening circle, told me she thought the former beautiful, but that she did not understand a word of the former; [4] which is more honesty than all its readers will observe, & Henry who was indulging in turning “clean” over head & heels, after his intellectual treat, declared he thought “every word of it, was very nice indeed.” After these learned critics had betaken themselves to bed, Papa & I, each with a precious little vol: in our hands, drew close to the fire, & conned over every word from the pretty neat title page, to that word of five letters, which none of its readers will reach without regret. [5] As I know how much, “More dear than all the world beside” is, indeed the approbation of

 

“The best Mæcenas of your strain”. [6]

I wish my beloved Ba, that I could tell you all he said in commendation, of this wond’rous little book; The preface he says is equal to any thing he ever read, & would do honor to any man, whatever his pretensions– With the notes too he is particularly delighted & dwells much on f: Book 2d h:do b:do e: Book 1, & f:do– e.b:1. he thinks preeminent in elegance, & in moral: [7] On a first reading, he selected “the prayer” as his favorite, but on becoming better aquainted with the mystery of Fame, & highly poetic beauty of “The Dream,” he owns, that he cannot decide which to prefer amongst the novelties– There is a tone in “the prayer” which so instantly found its way to my heart, that none of the high claims of its competitors, can ever dislodge it– Next with me, comes “the Dream,” [“]Fame” I certainly do not like so well, but I believe one does not become immediately acquainted with it; surely, of all mundane things, justly deserved literary fame, is the most lasting, as your own note e. book 1: declares, & tho’ I much admire the humility of the last musical stanza, I think there is more of melancholy in it, than the subject justifies– & it must be acknowledged, that throughout the vol: you leave no corner, wherein poor Earthly Vanity can comfort herself, from the generally denounced close to her career: Nothing certainly can be more true, yet nothing less acceptable, to many of your readers– What is become of the line about Judge Jeffries, [8] & tell us the whole sense of “Pan was not”[.] [9] The song, is a little gem, & some of the stanzas very striking in “The Past” but none of these can vie, both to my taste & feelings, with the beautiful lines to Bro, & to Papa, which I rejoiced to welcome, leading the fugitives– it is a powerful recommendation of the Author, to hearts of sensibility, & a just tribute to her beloved Father!—— Whether it be that the time elapsed since we saw the essay, gives it the additional charm of novelty, or that it comes in a more imposing form from the press, it is certainly true that it has gained amazingly upon us: There are some delightful passages in the 1st book, that beginning “Thou thing of light![”] for its severity, & for effect, Niagara & the Avon; & the sweet lines to Campbell; [10] but from the 2d book, it seems impossible to make a selection: I had indeed, no just idea of its merits: its interesting variety, extensive allusions, & harmony of numbers– you have done well, to close with what cannot fail to charm all ears awake to poetry, or hearts alive to affecte & generous feeling in the passage beginning “I love my own dear land”—to the end– Papa is enchanted with it:– [11] Beloved Ba! ought I, to have assumed the critics frown, & told you of faults & failings? in truth if such there are, they are far beyond my ken, & did I look into this little vol: with any other, than a Mothers eyes, I should read it with delight; how then, with my heart filled as it is, with the dearest, tenderest, & most affecting associations, can I speak or think of it, but with the most unqualified praise! There never was any circumstance, in the existence of your dearest Father or my own, that could afford us the same gratified feelings, as this strong evidence that our beloved child, has so well applied, & cultivated the talents with which she is gifted: Oh! long may they be thus devoted to great & good purposes, that she may continue to bestow happiness & thankfulness on those who love her, & be enabled to give a good account of them at the last!– A word must be said for Mr Duncan, who has got it up, elegantly & neatly: it is singularly correct, as one seldom sees a book, without the necessity for an erata: we wish the paper had been thicker, & think you very humble & moderate in your charges; [12] but it is a comfort to think that all purchasers, have good reason to be contented with these bargains: it is impossible to be otherwise than sanguine as to its success, tho’ time must be necessary to make it known, & it is thrown naturally, into many channels, North, South, & West– I hope Dr Batty, & Miss Clarke [13] cannot fail of seeing it—they will both appreciate it. What will be most exposed to censure, is the bold freedom of contempt, for those “brittle” things, monarchs: but you do not mind that, & on the Greek cause, you will gain many warm adherents– By the bye, I have never said a word of the spirited & pathetic stanzas of Demetrius: [14] & Rigas last song: Papa cannot get over, the circumstance of the latter, tho’ he much likes the poetry: What papers is it advertized in? I hope the London booksellers have copies: would that we could get it reviewed, I shall try if James [15] has any means– Papa pleases himself with thinking how much dearest Granny must be gratified, as must all those, who love you in any proportion, as she does: dear kind T, is the most munificent patroness we have yet heard of– [16] We have only two copies as yet– Col: Money heard of the poem for the first time today, & with clergy Hill, [17] left Papa in haste to see if Mrs Thackway [18] had any copies left– Dearest Hentta letter to Papa & dear Trepsacks to Arabel are just arrived, & have afforded infinite satisfaction to us all– Hentta’s has been on its way since Thursday I think—& one of mine to you must have been longer, but it is no wonder in Sam’s perplexity of business: he is very kind to be so plagued by our letters– [19] Mathews has been here today, looking perfectly recovered from his accident– They are all going on well– Hannah has left her excellent place, & taken one in Manchester to be near her parents, which is rather a pity– Emma has served her time at a Mantua Makers, & thinks of setting up for herself; The children are all at the national school: he says the distress at Manchester is not nearly so great as represented: The manufactories act more from caution than necessity—but that there are many robberies committed. [20] I was out till six o’clock this lovely (first) Spring Eveng! Arabel sends a thousand thanks to dear T. for her letter which delights her so much—tell her I will write to her soon which I am shocked not to have done, but—my two encroaching correspondents, leave me so little to say—— I am glad my sweet Addles had a quadrille– her lawn will soon be gay in lillies, & [her] cottage looks well– Seppy says he means to make her garden “twite booful”– May God bless, my loved children & Granny & Trippy–

Ever their most fondly attached

MB–

Papa sends Granny a kiss, & loads from the Junrs—all well —

Give my love to the Blaydes: [21] & remember me to Miss Clarke—

Addressed and franked by EBB’s uncle on integral page: London March three 1826 / Miss Barrett / Mrs Moulton’s / Paragon / Hastings. / S M Barrett.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: British Library.

1. Year provided by frank.

2. Advance copies of An Essay on Mind, published 25 March 1826.

3. “The Dream” and “Riga’s Last Song” appeared on pp. 139–145. The cook was probably the wife of John Treherne.

4. Mary Moulton-Barrett apparently meant to use “former” and “latter” in this sentence, but instead used “former” twice. The first is the one probably intended as such, because at that spot she first wrote “latter,” then crossed it out.

5. “Finis,” p. 152.

6. The first of the miscellaneous poems is “To My Father on his Birth-day” (pp. 109–111), where she writes (lines 38–44):

Thought only how to win thy smile—

My proudest fame—my dearest pride—

More dear than all the world beside!

And now, perchance, I seek the tone

For magic that is more its own;

But still my Father’s looks remain

The best Mæcenas of my strain;”

See letter 192 for the original version of the poem.

7. EBB wrote elaborate notes for An Essay on Mind (which is in two books), and gave alphabetical call-outs. Mary Moulton-Barrett indicates the father’s preference for notes f, h and b from book 2; e and f from book 1. Note e appears on page 91, and refers to line 229: “That hail ‘th’ eternal city’ in their pride.” It reads as follows: “‘Imperium sine fine dedi,’ says Virgil’s Jupiter. How little did the writer of those four words dream of their surviving the Glory, whose eternity they were intended to predict! Horace too, in the most exulting of his odes, boldly proclaims that his fame will live as long as ‘Capitolium Scandet cum tacitâ virgine Pontifex.’ Yes! his fame will live!—but where now is the Pontifex, and the silent vestal? where now is the Capitol? Such passages are, to my mind, pre-eminently more affecting than all the ruins in the world!”

The first of the Latin passages quoted by EBB (“I gave them empire without end”) is taken from the Æneid (I, 279). The second (“So long as the Pontifex climbs the Capitol with the silent Vestal”) is from Horace’s Odes (III, 30, 8–9).

8. Perhaps Mary Moulton-Barrett read hurriedly, and overlooked line 113: “Let Jeffrey’s praise, our willing pen, engage.” As a letter from John Ramsey makes clear (SD565), this reference was to Francis Jeffrey, Lord Jeffrey (1773–1850), critic and sometime editor of The Edinburgh Review.

9. The final three lines of “The Dream” (p. 145) are:

“For a God came to die, bringing down peace—

‘Pan was not;’ and the darkness that did wreathe

The earth, past from the soul—Life came by death!”

10. The passage beginning “Thou thing of light!” starts in Bk. I, line 19; that relating to Niagara and the Avon is Bk. I, 46–54, and the reference to Campbell appears in Bk. I, 78ff.

11. Bk. II, pp. 80–88.

12. The book was priced at five shillings.

13. Reference to “Dr. Batty’s beautiful drawings” in a letter from Mary Moulton-Barrett to Henrietta (SD550) identifies Robert Batty (1762–1849), a well-known amateur artist, who spent his last years in Hastings. Miss Clarke has not been identified.

14. The stanzas on pp. 126–128 are prefaced by the explanation “Occasioned by a passage in Mr. Emerson’s Journal, which states, that on the mention of Lord Byron’s name, Captain Demetrius, an old Roumeliot, burst into tears.”

15. James Graham-Clarke.

16. This reference to Miss Trepsack as a “most munificent patroness” suggests that it was she, rather than EBB’s father, who helped defray the costs of printing An Essay on Mind.

17. Probably the Rev. Charles Hill from Bromesberrow, a village about 5 miles S.S.E. of Hope End.

18. Mrs. Thackway was one of two booksellers on High Street in Ledbury.

19. i.e., for franking.

20. Cutbacks in the output of weaving mills, owing to increased competition from foreign mills, had resulted in extensive unemployment and unrest. The Times of 26 January 1826 reprinted an article from The Manchester Mercury, which spoke of a “deep and general feeling of depression amongst commercial men … In the woollen branches we hear the most appalling accounts of the dismissal of work-people … In the silk-trade there is a most serious degree of stagnation and distress … and in the cotton-trade the state of things is daily becoming more serious.”

21. Hugh Blaydes (1777–1829) and family. They were from the North of England (seats in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire), in Hastings for his health. Miss Trepsack wrote to Henrietta 25 December 1826: “The Blaydes enquire constantly after you all, they have been very attentive, coming frequently to see us” (SD572).

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