2941.  EBB to Julia Martin

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 17, 101–103.

26 Devonshire Street.

saturday [23 August 1851] [1]

My dearest Mrs Martin, Day by day, & hour by hour almost, I have wanted to thank you again & again for your remedy (which I did not use by the bye, being much better) & to answer your enquiry about me (which really I could not deliver over to Arabel to answer)—but the baby did not go to the country with Wilson, & I have been “devoted” since she went away,—‘une ame perdue,’ [2] with not an instant out of the four & twenty hours to call my own. It appeared, at the last, that Wilson would have a drawback to her enjoyments in having the child, and I did not choose that—she had only a fortnight, you see, after five years, to be with her family. So I took her place with him—it was necessary—for he was in a state of deplorable grief when he missed her, & has refused ever since to allow any human being except me, to do a single thing for him. I hold him in my arms at night, dress & wash him in the morning, walk out with him, & am not allowed either to read or write above three minutes at a time. He has learnt to say in English “no more”, & I am bound to be obedient. Perhaps I may make out five minutes just to write this, for he is playing in the passage with a child of the house—but even so much is doubtful. He has made very good friends with a girl here, and Arabel has sent her maid, ever so often, to tempt him away for half an hour, so as to give me breathing-time, but he wont be tempted: he has it in his head that the world is in a conspiracy against him to take ‘Mama’ away after having taken “Lily”, [3] & he is bound to resist it.

After all, the place of nursery maid is more suitable to me than that of poetess (or even poet’s wife) in this obstreperous London. I was nearly killed the first weeks, what with the climate & what with the kindness (and what with the want of kindness) and looked wretchedly, whether Reynolds Peyton saw it or not, & coughed day & night, till Robert took fright & actually fixed a day for taking me forthwith back to Paris. I had to give up a breakfast at Rogers’s, & shut myself up in two rooms for a week, & refuse, like Wiedeman, to be tempted out anywhere, but, after that, I grew better, & the wind changed, & now the cough, though not gone, is quieted, & I look a different person & have ceased to grow thin. But a racketting life will never do for me, nor an English atmosphere, I am much afraid. The lungs seem to labour in this heavy air—oh, it is so unlike the air of the continent .. I say nothing of Florence .. but even of Paris, .. where I do wish to be able to live, on account of the nearness to this dear detestable England.

Now let me tell you of Wimpole Street. Henry has been very kind in coming not infrequently,—he has a kind, good heart. Occy, too, I have seen three or four times—Alfred & Sette, once. My dearest Arabel is of course here once, if not twice, a day, & for hours at a time, bringing me great joy always .. and Henrietta’s dear kindness in coming to London on purpose to see me, for a week, has left a perfume in my life– Both those beloved sisters have been, as ever, perfect to me. Arabel is vexed just now, & so am I—my brothers having fixed with Papa to go out of town directly, & she caring more to stay where I am. She declares that if she is forced to go, she will come back directly & pay a visit incognita to Miss Tripsack who has agreed to receive her—but this is all painful, & I think we had better get back to Paris as fast as we can. George wrote a line to Arabel, to say that “as Ba never answered his last letter”, he could not go to see her if he returned to Wimpole Street—it was’nt his fault but Ba’s .. he could not go,—& should therefore pass from the circuit into Wales. On reading this, I was resolved that no point of pedantry should on my part be alleged as a point of disunion,—so I wrote a few words to him, explaining for the nine hundred & ninety ninth time, what my reason was for not answering his letter .. simply that it ignored the existence of my husband. I added that I always had loved him, & did so still, & that only the want of love on his part interposed between us. To which, the answer came, that Robert had pertinaciously declined the friendship of my family .. that he had taken no notice, for instance, of an affectionate message of Storm’s, and had never replied to a letter of Henry’s. Absolute mistatements I can assure you on my honour. Storm never sent “an affectionate message” to Robert—but there were one or two words which we interpreted (being always inclined to interpret for the best) into a sort of kind allusion, and to which I wrote myself as kind a reply from Robert as could be shaped—whereas Henry’s letter to Robert was answered instantly by his own hand, as Henry will himself testify. Well– I was going to make a statement of these facts to George—not that fighting with shadows & pretexts will avail anything, .. but to make the case unmistakeably clear to his conscience & mine. But Robert said “I will write”—and he sate down & wrote a most kind letter, beginning “my dear George”. Arabel who saw it, called it “a most generous letter”– It was at once kind & generous & true. This letter was sent but returned to us, as the “barrister at law” was no longer on circuit, & left no address. Arabel keeps it unopened, so as to let George see it, whenever she can find out where he is. Probably he went away that no letter might attack his ‘pretext’. I let you see the exact state of the case that you may understand it.

I have not written to Papa since our arrival, through my fear of involving Arabel: but as soon as they go to the country, I shall hopelessly write– He is very well & in good spirits, thank God.

We have spent two days at New Cross with my husband’s father & sister, & she has been here constantly. Most affectionate they are to me—and the babe is taken into adoration by Mr Browning.

But here he is upon me again! Indeed I have had wonderful luck in having been able to write all this—and now, God bless both of you my dearest friends. Oh– I do feel to my heart, all your kindness in wishing to have us with you—and indeed Robert would like to see Herefordshire—but <***>

Publication: LEBB, II, 17–19 (in part).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by EBB’s reference to Wilson’s absence. In letter 2936, EBB writes: “Next week we send Wilson to see her mother near Sheffield … she returns ten days or a fortnight after.” Assuming that Wilson’s “fortnight” began about 13 August and given EBB’s remarks on the passing of time, we place this letter on the second Saturday of Wilson’s visit to Sheffield.

2. “A lost soul.”

3. i.e., Wilson.


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