2654.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 115–121.


Feb. 8– [1847][1]

But my dearest Miss Mitford, your scheme about Leghorn is drawn out in the clouds–[2] Now just see how impossible!– Leghorn is fifteen miles off, & though there is a railroad there is no liberty for French books to wander backwards & forwards without inspection & siezure— .. why, do remember that we are in Italy after all! Nevertheless I will tell you what we have done .. transplanted our subscription from the Italian library which was wearing us away into a misanthropy or at least despair of the wits of all southerns, into a library which has a tolerable supply of French books, & gives us the priviledge besides of having a French newspaper, the Siècle, left with us every evening. Also, this library admits (is allowed to admit on certain conditions) some books forbidden generally by the censureship, which is of the strictest—and though Balzac appears very imperfectly, I am delighted to find him at all, & shall dun the bookseller for the “Instruction Criminelle” which I hope discharges your Lucien as a “forçat[3] .. the only destiny due to him. You know I have no patience with that “femmelette” .. neither man nor woman, .. & true poet, least of all. I see by the ‘Siecle’ that Balzac’s works are coming out in a complete edition arranged by himself under the title of “Comedie Humaine,” and, with the idea, that this arrangement may be of use to you in various ways I send you a copy of it as printed at large in the French paper.[4] Observe that ‘Esther’ is separated from the series of Illusions Perdues .. I do not understand why,—& so is the “Instruction Criminelle”. It seems to me that you might publish a charming selection from the shorter tales, & that it would be well to begin so. ‘L’Absolu’ for instance!–[5] These would be more likely to prepare the way in England for the longer works & for the appreciation of the writer than such a book as Cæsar Birotteau.[6] At the same time Mr Bentley, having to contend with those cheap Belgian editions, should look to his prices, or the whole scheme will surely fail, I fear. Do tell me all you decide. I am afraid of trusting to my recollection– Bentley shd send you down the ‘Comedie Humaine’ as a whole––to look over & decide upon .. for, in that way, you will get at the order as well as other things. Tell him to let you have it. The ‘Siècle’ has for a feuilleton a new romance of Soulié’s called “Saturnin Fichet,”[7] which is really not good .. & tiresome to boot. Robert & I began by each of us reading it, but after a little while he left me alone being certain that no good could come of such a work: so, of course, ever since, I have been exclaiming & exclaiming as to the wonderful improvement & increasing beauty & glory of it, .. just to justify myself, & to make him sorry for not having persevered! The truth is however that, but for obstinacy, I should give up too. Deplorably dull, the story is, .. & there is a crowd of people each more indifferent than each, to you .. the pith of the plot being (very characteristically) that the hero has somebody exactly like him. To the reader, it’s all one in every sense … who’s who, & what’s what. Robert is a warm admirer of Balzac & has read most of his books, but certainly .. oh certainly .. he does not in a general way appreciate our French people quite with our warmth .. he takes too high a standard, I tell him, & wont listen to a story for a story’s sake. I can bear to be amused, you know, without a strong pull on my admiration. So we have great wars sometimes, & I put up Dumas’s flag or Soulié’s or Eugene Sue’s (yet he was properly possessed by the Mystères de Paris) & carry it till my arms ache. The plays & vaudevilles, he knows far more of than I do, & always maintains they are the happiest growth of the French school .. setting aside the masters, observe—for Balzac & George Sand hold all their honours: and before your letter came, he had told me about the ‘Kean’[8] & the other dramas. Then we read together the other day the “Rouge et Noir”, that powerful book of Stendhal’s (Bayle)[9] & he thought it very striking, & observed, .. what I had thought from the first & again & again, .. that it was exactly like Balzac in the raw .. in the material, .. & undevelopped conception. What a book it is really, only so full of pain & bitterness, & the gall of iniquity! The new Dumas I shall see in time, perhaps—& it is curious that Robert had just been telling me the very story, you speak of in your letter, from the Causes Celebres–[10] I never read it, .. the more shame. Dearest friend, .. all this talk of French books, & no talk about you! .. the most shame! You dont tell me enough of yourself, & I want to hear, because (besides the usual course of reasons) Mr Chorley spoke of you as if you were not as cheerful as usual—do tell me. Ah—if you fancy that I do not love you as near, through being so far, you are unjust to me as you never were before.——

For myself, the brightness round me has had a cloud on it lately by an illness of poor Wilson’s, who for ten days was confined to her bed by inflammation of the mucus membrane of the stomach, said to be the consequence of the violent seasickness in our stormy passage from Marseilles four months ago, irritated by improper remedies. She would not go to Dr Cook, till I was terrified one night while she was undressing me, by her sinking down on the sofa in a shivering fit—oh, so frightened I was!—and Robert ran out for a physician—& I could have shivered too, with the fright. But she is convalescent now, thank God—and in the meanwhile I have acquired a heap of practical philosophy & have learnt how it is possible (in certain conditions of the human frame) to comb out & twist up one’s own hair, & lace one’s very own stays, & cause hooks & eyes to meet behind one’s very own back, besides making toast & water for Wilson, .. which last miracle, it is only just to say, was considerably assisted by Robert’s counsels “not quite to set fire to the bread” while one was toasting it. He was the best & kindest all that time, as even he could be, & carried the kettle when it was too heavy for me, & helped me with heart & head—Mr Chorley could not have praised him too much, be very sure. I, who always rather appreciated him, do set down the thoughts I had, as merely unjust things .. he exceeds them all, indeed. Yes, Mr Chorley has been very kind to us—I had a kind note myself from him a few days since—& do you know, that we have a sort of hope of seeing him in Italy this year, with dearest Mr Kenyon who has the goodness to crown his goodness by a “dream” of coming to see us? We leave Pisa in April (did I tell you that) & pass through Florence towards the north of Italy .. to Venice, for instance. In the way of writing, I have not done much yet .. just finished my rough sketch of an antislavery ballad & sent it off to America, where nobody will print it, I am certain, because I could not help making it bitter.[11] If they do print it, I shall think them more boldly in earnest, than I fancy now. Tell me of Mary Howitt’s new collection of Ballads:[12]—are they good? I warmly wish that Mr Chorley may succeed with his play—but how can Miss Cushman promise a hundred nights for an untried work?[13] Mrs Butler seems to be wise neither for herself nor for others—& I do not understand a love of Art which measures itself out to the weight of so many ducats, .. any more than I can the love of love, in a man, like Mr Butler, with whom she had not an idea in common.[14] What a discovery this seems to be of the sulphuric æther![15] Why it replaces magnetism at the usefullest. By the way I am curious to hear of Harriet Martineau’s meeting with the Ægyptian magi & soothsayers—who will say soothest?—— Oh yes, do go & see my dearest sisters—they are dearest & best, & tenderest to me!—& think of me cheerfully when you see them, as still with you in heart & affection,—as unchanged except in being happy. My poor dear Papa is said to be in the highest spirits—which saves me from the possible pang. May God keep them all, dear things– So I was out in the matter of K ..! but it is your fault .. you have taught me to seek & expect every sort of extravagance in your generous affectionateness—truffles grow, they say, at the foot of the oak; & if ever I say “the swine shd not go so near,” it is because I know the reason. Not that poor K. in her penitence (if really she is penitent) shd be classed with swine! indeed no! May she & her little boy be pure & happy, both of them.[16] How is good Mr Lovejoy’s child?[17] We hear that the Howitts have “shown up” the poets, in rather an offensive way. For instance it was hard on LEL’s poor family to make the probability of her suicide so sure a thing, as the anecdote of her having shown a bottle of prussic acid to her friend, under the pressure of former circumstances, must render it–[18] Perhaps you may find the two last numbers of the Bells & Pomegranates less obscure—it seems so to me.[19] Flush has grown an absolute monarch & barks one distracted, when he wants a door opened. Robert spoils him I think. Do think of me as

your ever affectionate & grateful



La Comédie Humaine


Scenes de la Vie Privée

La maison du Chat-qui-pelote

Le bal de Sceaux

La Bourse

La Vendetta

Madme Firmiani

Une double Famille

La Paix du ménage

La Fausse Maîtresse

Etude de Femme

Albert Savarus

Mémoires de deux mariées

Une Fille d’Eve

La Femme abandonnée

La Grenadiere

Le menage


La Femme de trente ans

Le contrat de mariage


La Grande Breteche

Modeste Mignon


Un Début dans la vie


Scenes de la Vie de Province

Uranie Mirouet

Eugenie Grandet

Les Celibataires


Le Curé de Tours

Un menage de garçon

Les Parisiens en Province

L’Illustre Gaudissart

La Muse du Departement

Les Rivalités

La V[i]eille Fille

Le cabinet des Antiques

Le Lys dans la Vallée

Illusions Perdues

Les Deux Poëtes

Un Grand Homme de province à Paris

Eve et David


Scenes de la Vie Parisienne

Histoire des Treize

Ferragus, chef des Devorans

La Duchesse de Langeais

La fille aux yeux d’or

Le Pere Goriot

Le Colonel Chabert

Facino Cane

La Messe de l’Athée



Cæsar Birotteau

La Maison Nucingen

Pierre Grassou

La Princesse de Cadignan

Les Employés

Splendeurs & miseres des courtisanes

Esther Heureuse

À combien l’amour revient aux v[i]eillards

Instruction Criminelle

Un Prince de la Bohême

Esquisse d’Homme d’affaire

Gaudissart II

Les Comédiens sans le savoir


Scenes de la Vie Politique

Un Episode de la Terreur

Une tenebreuse affaire

Z. Marcas

La femme de soixante ans


Scenes de la Vie Militaire

Les Chouans

Une passion dans le Désert


Scenes de la Vie de Campagne

Le medecin de campagne

Le cure de campagne


Etudes Philosophiques

Le Peau de chagrin

Jesu Christ en Flandre

Melmoth réconcilié

Le Chef d’œuvre inconnu

La Recherche de l’Absolu

Massimila Doni


L’enfant maudit

Les Marana


Le Requisitionnaire

El Verdugo

Un Drame au bord de la mer

L’Auberge Rouge

L’Elixir de longue Vie

Maitre Cornélius

Sur Catherine de Medecis

Le Martyr Calviniste

Confidence des Ruggieri

Les Deux Réves

Les Proscrits

Louis Lambert


Philosophie du mariage.

Observe that I have copied this exactly, & that the double interlineations simply represent capital letters. Then he may have changed the names of several of the works, or he may .. nay, must .. have added new works—I miss ‘La Derniere fée’ & others, I think. There is a double name to the “Instruction criminelle” … “ou menent les mauvais chemins,”—& also to “La femme de soixante ans” … “l’envers de l’histoire contemporaine”– Both are new works of course.[20]

Have you seen “Agnes de Meranie” the new play by the author of Lucretia?[21] A witty feuilletoniste says of it, that, besides all the unities of Aristotle, it comprises, from beginning to end, unity of situation– Not bad!—is it? Madme Ancelot has just succeeded with a comedy, called “Une année à Paris”.[22] By the way, shall you go to Paris this spring?

Address, on integral page: Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 201–208.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. As indicated in letter 2642 (see note 13), Miss Mitford had evidently suggested the possibility of the Brownings obtaining French books in Leghorn.

3. “Convict” or “condemned criminal.” Lucien Chardon, or Lucien de Rubempré, first appears as a character in Illusions perdues (1837), and EBB’s lasting impression of him was that of a “femmelette,” or weakling (see letter 1794). In that letter EBB foresees his “ruin,” which is realized in Une Instruction Criminelle (1846), when Lucien commits suicide in his prison cell.

4. EBB has copied out and enclosed an advertisement from the 9 January 1847 issue of Le Siècle for a “nouvelle edition” of La Comédie Humaine in sixteen volumes. This is the only known instance in which EBB refers to the title that Balzac gave to the composite grouping of his works, published by Furne et al., from 1842 until 1846. Similar advertisements appeared in other French newspapers, for example, La Presse.

5. In letter 2219, EBB called La Recherche de l’absolu (1833–34) “Balzac’s beautiful story.”

6. Balzac’s César Birotteau was published in 1837.

7. Les Aventures de Saturnin Fichet ou la Conspiration de la Rouarie appeared as a feuilleton in Le Siècle from 16 December 1846 to 8 May 1847. Referring to this work and another historical novel written the preceding year, Les Quatres Napolitaines, Soulié’s biographer says that “in neither is there much pretense of documentation or of accurate local color” (Harold March, Frédéric Soulié: Novelist and Dramatist of the Romantic Period, 1931, p. 230).

8. Dumas’s 1836 drama was sub-titled Désordre et génie; it was one of his 67 dramatic works.

9. Stendhal was the pseudonym for Marie Henri Beyle (1783–1842), whose Le Rouge et le noir was published in 1831. EBB had recommended this book to Miss Mitford in letter 1885.

10. Crimes Célèbres (1839–40), a seven-volume series of stories about infamous criminals or victims. The preface to the English translation published by Chapman and Hall in 1843 states that “several of the histories in this collection are founded chiefly on the Causes Célèbres [1734–45] of Gayot de Pithoval.”

11. See letter 2644, note 1.

12. Ballads and Other Poems (1847). An American reviewer said that “the prominent faults in this volume will be found to be a lack of originality in the style of treating subjects in themselves interesting; a certain homeliness, occasionally observable, where elegance would have done just as well, as it will not always; and an irregularity of metre, which implies hurry or indolence, such as putting in a line a foot or two too long where it would have cost some trouble to make it shorter” (The Literary World, 13 February 1847, p. 32).

13. See letter 2642, note 8.

14. After a year of travelling in Italy, Fanny Kemble Butler had only recently returned to England where she was about to take up her career as an actress. She asked Alfred Bunn for £100 a night, and he responded with an offer of £50. Alternatively, she accepted Knowles’s offer of £40 a night in Manchester, which was the start of her tour of the provinces (The Terrific Kemble, ed. Eleanor Ransome, 1978, pp. 196–197). An account of her travels in Italy appeared in early 1847 under the title A Year of Consolation.

15. William Thomas Green Morton (1819–68), a dentist from Massachusetts, was the first person to publicly demonstrate the use of sulphuric ether as an anæsthesia on 16 October 1846; the first demonstration in England occurred on 21 December 1846 at University College Hospital in an amputation performed by Robert Liston. Cf. Casa Guidi Windows, I, 695.

16. See letter 2642, note 2.

17. EBB often asked about Patty Lovejoy (1836–56) the consumptive daughter of Reading bookseller George Lovejoy.

18. In Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847), William Howitt asserts that there is “no rational doubt that she [Letitia Landon] died by it [prussic acid], and by her own hand,” but that it was “by mistake” (II, 140).

19. Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, the seventh in the Bells and Pomegranates series, was published 6 November 1845, and the eighth, Luria, and A Soul’s Tragedy, was published in April 1846. Miss Mitford’s opinion of RB’s poetry was not favourable (see letter 2198, note 1).

20. La femme de soixante ans was a “provisional title” for L’Envers de l’histoire contemporaine (Herbert J. Hunt, Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, 1959, p. 492). The first part had been completed by this time, but the second part was not published until 1848 (Hunt, p. 409). According to Hunt, Une Instruction criminelle was finally entitled Où mènet les mauvais chemins and constituted Part III of “the Esther cycle” (p. 358). La dernière Fée, ou La nouvelle Lampe merveilleuse had been published in 1823.

21. François Ponsard (1814–67) was the author of Lucrèce (1843), a classical tragedy that had premiered at the Second Théâtre Français in April 1843 with Rachel in the title role. Agnès de Méranie was presented at the same theatre on 22 December 1846. Ponsard’s popular success was largely due to the public reaction against the romantic style of Hugo and others in the 1830’s. In Lucrèce, Ponsard returned to a closer adherence to the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action.

22. Une Année à Paris premiered at the Odeon on 15 January 1847; the author, Marguerite Louise Virginie (née Chardon, 1792–1875), was the wife of dramatist Jacques Arsène Ancelot.


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