2671.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 182–185.


April 31– [sic, for 30] [1847] [1]

Have you thought me vanished from the world, my dearest friend, that I have yet made no sign in recognition of your last welcome letter? I hope so, rather than any thought of neglect or forgetfulness, .. which must always be amiss, remember, when attributed to me by you. The truth is very different indeed. Your letter found me unwell, & at the brink of a crisis from the effects of which I scarcely have recovered at this moment though we came to Florence nine days ago and I hope in two more days to be able to get into the galleries & see a little of the wonders of our beautiful city here. So ill I have been,—not from the old causes nor in the old way—(my chest indeed has made itself forgotten lately, the air of Italy agrees so well with its requirements) but from a new cause, & in a way you will guess when I tell you that I had treated myself improperly for a condition of which I was unaware & brought on a premature conclusion as might, I suppose, be expected. Then, as it was of five months date, of course the trial to the constitution was great; and the exhaustion has been very great, though I bore it all with more vigour than anyone wd have thought possible in me, & rallied more quickly. Still it is nearly six weeks since the event, and the strength has not all come back yet—and Tantalus & I may lie together in a myth, I on a sofa, as thirsty as he,—within a stone’s throw of the Venus & the Raphaels. [2] Having been very headstrong in the beginning (refusing to give ear to my husband’s entreaties about seeing a physician in that good time which would have saved everything) I determined to make up for it by obedience & submission at last; & Dr Cook let me travel to Florence on condition of resting absolutely, afterward—so I rest, & resist all temptations of the devil & Michael Angelo. It is but fair to poor dearest Robert, whom I frightened out of his wits nearly, & quite overcame in his spirits—& who has been lavishing on me for these six weeks, even an excess of the ordinary overflowings of the deepest & tenderest nature in man– He has nursed me, comforted me, loved me—the words fail me, (as he never did) when I try to describe what he has been & is to me. If marriage was a little oftener what I have found it, how different the world would be, & how much happier, women! Well!—but I must hasten to tell you that we were in haste to leave Pisa for Florence because Mrs Jameson gave us tryst at the latter place, two days after our arrival. She was to come last saturday—but on friday night when Robert & I had just finished coffee, & he was at the piano playing to me, as I lay prostate on the sofa, Shakespeare’s favorite air which the antiquaries turned up, a voice at the door said “Upon my word! here’s domestic harmony!” & in walked Mrs Jameson & her niece, that moment arrived from Rome. They had come a day sooner, to keep Shakespeare’s birthday with us (friday was Shakespeare’s birthday) & with a bottle of wine from Arezzo to drink deathless memories withal—and we had a merry supper accordingly & welcomed our guests gladly, &, as our guests, they remained in this house for a full week, till seven oclock in the morning of this present writing, when it is friday again & we have lost them. For now they are gone towards Paris, towards England, through Ravenna & Venice & Milan—to remain a month at Paris, & return to London to publish the book which has been growing & growing with gradual accumulations of Art & criticism. A pleasant week we have had, & now Robert & I are alone again with many grateful memories of the agreeableness & affectionateness of dear, kind, generous Mrs Jameson, whom you must try to like better, seeing that indeed & indeed she deserves it. For Gerardine she is a sweet creature, & full of the sort of accomplishment which gives grace to countenance & manner—I love them both & so does Robert—and Mrs Jameson stands high with us when we count our friends. She has been kind & true. For Pisa, we confess that never was deeper dulness & nowhere a completer system of cheating .., that we were cheated in house & board, as perfectly as Italians can cheat .. “Pisani traditori” [3] says the proverb: but we were happy, happy, happy at Pisa & grew quite pathetic on having to leave it. And I never went to the top of the Leaning Tower, & left most of the churches unseen .. because so much was put off to the last & at last I was ill—it was very provoking. Here I have just had a moment’s vision of this beautiful Florence as in entering it we passed the bridges & glanced up & <down the> dear yellow Arno, shot between the double range of marble pala<ces. We> are settled in an excellent apartment, & mean to be well & strong, <if> God will let us, & enjoy everything to the heart of it. In the meanwhile I will pray you to write to me & tell me that you have lost your rheumatism (do tell me that) & are in good spirits! Tell me all you choose to tell me—for no little detail, though it only relate to your shoestrings, will find me indifferent. At Pisa, Robert read to me while I was ill, & partly by being read to & partly by reading I got through a good deal of amusing French book-work, & among the rest, two volumes of Bernard’s new [“]Gentilhomme Campagnard.” [4] Rather dull I thought it, but clever of course—dull for Bernard. Then we read “Le Speronare” by Dumas—a delightful book of travels. [5] Even Robert who took your view of the trial [6] & swore he never would read a book of Dumas’ again, was charmed with the Speronare (being beguiled into a glance at a page of it,) [7] admiring the vividness & vivacity, & the bonhommie besides the grace of style. But Robert & I had <tre>mendous combats about the trial—and I am not tired .. I will take up your gauntlet in turn .. I dont see things as you & he do, about poor Dumas, and I will confess to you, dearest Miss Mitford, that I read with a certain admiration & sympathy of a man’s brains being actually torn out & pulled for & tugged for & struggled for by a pack of newspaper hounds. There was something to me almost grand in that charge of having written only twelve volumes in three months—only forty eight volumes in eight months—of having folded his arms & written only forty eight volumes besides translating Shakespeare! [8] —almost sublime in those attending certificates of medical advisers & friends, “Vous allez crever mon cher ami” [9] —if you dont take breath a little on the coast of Africa or at some royal marriage. [10] Nay, I forgive him that folding of the drapery, about his marquisates, it is so French & Dumastic. He wanted to prove that as he could write a multitude of books, so he could double his identity. The “moi, Alexandre Dumas, Marquis de P_____” [11]  .... well, I for my part, could only laugh outright & forgive him with all my heart. I am certain he only meant to produce an effect .. a sensation, .. just as in the ‘Reine Margot’ [12] & elsewhere, a thousand times & in a thousand places. As to the challenge he put forward the Marquisate there not improperly to catch the sword. He had been insulted by an ‘aristocrat’ who called him a man & an individual & an author in the most contemptuous way possible—to which he answered “Marquisate to Marquisate, come & fight me”. [13] If he was to send a challenge at all, I dont object to this form of it, nor believe that he meant anywise to be ashamed of the people & his old republicanism. He threw aside “his cloth”—that was all. Oh, I take Dumas’ part. People in Paris are jealous of him & deny (perjuring themselves) that ever he was in a “speronare”. [14] He is a wonder in his way .. not the best nor the highest way certainly .. but still wonderful, & worth what he requires .. a good clapping of hands from the galleries– So I clap.—

OConnell arrived in Rome as Mrs Jameson left it, & was supposed to be dying slowly. Cobden she saw & was pleased with—but he could only try to be delighted with the Sistine paintings—being eminently true & simple. Think of my eating & sleeping in this Florence & not having seen a thing yet! It is shameful. May God bless you. Write to me & speak of yourself to

your ever affecte


Do take care of yourself dearest friend—do– George Sand has just gone to Rouen, to marry her daughter. [15] I have delightful letters from my dearest sisters—& all are well at home. One of my brothers is gone to Jamaica. [16] Did I tell you?

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

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 209–213.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by EBB’s reference to writing on the day of Mrs. Jameson’s departure, 30 April, despite EBB’s date of “April 31.” Year provided by postmark.

2. The Brownings were temporarily living in an apartment at 4222 (now 6) Via delle Belle Donne, near the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and only a short distance from the Uffizi Palace. EBB’s allusion to Tantalus refers to her inability to enjoy the temptations of artistic Florence around her as a result of her recent miscarriage; see letter 2663.

3. See note 4 in the preceding letter.

4. Charles de Bernard’s Le Gentilhomme campagnard was published in six volumes in 1847.

5. Le Speronare (1842) chronicles Dumas’ travels in Italy and Sicily.

6. In early 1847, Dumas was tried for violation of contract by La Presse, La Constitutionnel, and several other periodicals for not providing feuilletons he had agreed to write. The judgement eventually went against him, but it was greatly reduced from what the prosecution had hoped to receive.

7. Parenthetical passage is interpolated above the line.

8. During the trial Dumas gave detailed accounts of his literary output in his own defence. Dumas and Paul Meurice had collaborated on a revised version of Hamlet, which was first performed at the Theatre of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in September 1846.

9. “You are going to work yourself to death, my dear friend.” Dumas also used this as part of his defence.

10. In 1846 the Minister of Public Instruction had asked Dumas to visit Algiers, and to write an account of his journey as a means of promoting colonization. When the Duc de Montpensier heard of this, he suggested that Dumas travel via Spain and attend his wedding which took place on 12 October 1846. Dumas witnessed the marriage contract between the Duc and the Infanta. Two volumes resulted from these travels: De Paris à Cadix (1848) and La Véloce (1851), the latter from the name of the government vessel in which Dumas made his Algerian journey.

11. Dumas was the grandson of the Marquis de la Pailleterie. In pleading on his own behalf, Dumas pointed out to the court that he had been invited to the royal wedding, and that he had received the Grand Cordon of Charles III, not as a man of letters, but as Alexandre Dumas Davy, Marquis de la Pailleterie. At least one newspaper account added parenthetically that this declaration was made while the speaker pounded his chest (La Presse, 30 January 1847), and that this was met with outbursts of laughter in the courtroom.

12. La Reine Margot (1845) is an historical romance dealing with the reigns of Charles IX and Henri III. It was reworked as a drama and presented at the opening of the Théâtre Historique in September 1846. The performance lasted from three o’clock in the evening until three o’clock the following morning. Several reports state that at 3:00 a.m. there were more people outside the theatre than inside.

13. Perhaps EBB is referring to Dumas’s declaration that the trial was a kind of duel of honour (La Presse, 30 January 1847).

14. A small sailing vessel that can be rowed if necessary.

15. George Sand’s daughter, Solange Dudevant (1828–99), married Jean Baptiste Auguste Clésinger on 19 May 1847 in the chapel at Nohant, George Sand’s country estate. The couple met only a few months before the rather hurried marriage between the great woman’s daughter and the disreputable sculptor took place.

16. Charles John (Stormie) had gone out to manage the family’s estates earlier in 1847.


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