Correspondence

3104.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 18, 209–210.

58. Welbeck street

Saturday. [4 September 1852] [1]

My dearest Miss Mitford, I am tied & bound beyond redemption for the next fortnight at least—therefore the hope of seeing you must be for afterwards. I dare say you think that a child can be stowed away like other goods; but I do assure you that my child, though quite capable of being amused by his aunts for a certain number of half hours, would break his little heart if I left him for a whole day while he had not Wilson. When she is here, he is contented. In her absence he is sceptical about happiness, & suspicious of complete desolation. Every now & then he says to me, ‘Will Mama’ (saying it in his pretty broken unquotable language) “go away & leave Peninni all alone?” He wont let a human being touch him– I wash & dress him, & have him to sleep with me—& Robert is the only other helper he will allow of. “There’s spoiling of a child” .. say you. But he is so good & tender & sensitive that we cant go beyond a certain line– For instance, I was quite frightened about the effect of Wilson’s leaving him. We managed to prepare him as well as we could, and when he found she was actually gone, the passion of grief I had feared was just escaped. He struggled with himself, the eyes full of tears, the lips quivering .. but there was not any screaming & crying such as made me cry last year on a like occasion. He had made up his mind.

You see I cant go to you just now, whatever temptations you hold out. Wait .. oh, we must wait. And whenever I do go to you you will see Robert at the same time—he will like to see you—and besides, he would as soon trust me to travel to Reading alone, as I trust Peninni to be alone here. I believe he thinks I should drop off my head & leave it under the seat of the rail-carriage, if he did’nt take care of it.

Mr Mon[c]kton Milnes came in this morning while we were breakfasting, with a kind proposition that we should go down to see him in Yorkshire in october [2] —but then we shall be on the right side of the Alps, I suppose, or, at nearest, in Paris. Our plans are very doubtful still.

I ought to have told you that Mr Kingsley (one of the reasons why I liked him) spoke warmly & admiringly of you. Yes, I ought to have told you that,—his praise is worth having. Of course I have heard much of Mr Harness from Mr Kenyon & you, as well as from my own husband [3]  .. but there is no use in measuring temptations .. I am a female St Anthony, & wont be overcome. The Talfourds wanted me to dine with them on monday. Robert goes alone. You dont mention Mr Chorley. Did’nt he find his way to you?

Mr Patmore told us that Tennyson was writing a poem on Arthur .. not an epic .. a collection of poems, ballad & otherwise, united by the subject, after the manner of “In Memoriam,” but in different measures. The work will be full of beauty whatever it is, I dont doubt. [4]

I am reading more Dumas. [5] He never flags. I must see Dumas when I go again to Paris, and it will be easy as we know his friend Jadin.

Did you read Mrs Norton’s last book, the novel, which seems to be so much praised? [6] Tell me what it is, in your mind.

Oh—you make me so much happier by what you say of yourself. Of all the good I have heard of Mr Harness (& how much that is!) nothing is better than that he makes you cheerful & inclined to rally. Delightful the word was about the poney-chaise! You will surely be progressively stronger now. [7] The comfort of the new house secures us [sic] from the influence of the coming winter, .. and you mean to be very prudent .. now, dont you, my very dear friend?

I will write no more, that you may have the answer to your kind proposition as soon as possible. After the fortnight!–

God bless you.

Your ever affectionate

EBB–

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 368–370 (as [11 September 1852]).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dating provided by EBB’s reference to Wilson’s fortnight away from the Brownings, a subject mentioned in several preceding letters.

2. At Milnes’s seat, Fryston Hall, Ferrybridge, near Pontefract, which he had represented in Parliament since 1837.

3. On a visit to Miss Mitford in August 1852, William Harness found his old friend in poor health and resolved to find a place nearby in order to take care of her for a time. Consequently, he “hunted up a lodging, and spent three weeks with no other purpose or employment” (Memoirs and Letters of Charles Boner, ed. R.M. Kettle, 1871, I, 236).

4. From a young age, Tennyson had contemplated a long poem based on the Arthurian legends, though perhaps it was about this time that he decided on a structure. The “collection of poems” was first realized as Idylls of the King (1859), which contained four pieces: “Enid,” “Vivien,” “Elaine,” and “Guinivere.” According to Hallam Tennyson, actual composition of the Idylls began in February 1856 with “Vivien” (see Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son, 1897, I, 414). Idylls of the King would eventually be expanded to include twelve poems, the last in the sequence being published in 1885.

5. Perhaps Olympe de Clèves, to which EBB had referred in letter 3089.

6. Stuart of Dunleath: A Story of Modern Times (1851) by Caroline Norton (née Sheridan, 1808–77). A review in The Examiner of 3 May 1851 declared that “this novel shines among the new novels of the year pre-eminent and peerless. No prose work of equal power has yet come from the pen of Mrs Norton” (p. 275).

7. Miss Mitford reported to Charles Boner in late September that Harness “never made his appearance at my cottage till two o’clock, when we drove out together. … At eight … he came to tea, and he read Shakespeare till bed time. He is by very far the finest reader I ever heard. … Under this pleasant treatment no wonder that I improved” (Memoirs and Letters, I, 237).

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