Correspondence

3224.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 19, 158–161.

Florence.

July [ca. 12–] 15. [1853][1]

I am thankful & delighted, my dearest Miss Mitford, to have your letter & this happy happy news of you. Thank God from my heart! That you should be able to drive about argues not only convalescence but the prospect of absolute recovery– You will be as strong as ever, I dare say––and will wave a handkerchief for the glory of Louis Napoleon out of our window in Paris .. who knows? Meanwhile I should like to be in England– Ah, I would take care, this time, not to be cheated out of my excursion to Reading. I would not wait till the English climate had invalided me again. I would pull the flower before it began to droop—and going to you, should be my flower, my magnolia. Even now, to look back & remember how I missed you is very grievous. To think how, when I was ill, you used to come to London for me—and how when you were ill, I never went to Reading to you!– It jars—that thought!—— But you understand that the wrong was not in the heart or the love.

We have taken a villa at the Baths of Lucca, after a little holy fear of the company there .. but the scenery, the coolness & the convenience altogether prevails, and we have taken our villa for three months or rather more, & go to it next week with a stiff resolve of not calling nor being called upon. You remember perhaps that we were there four years ago just after the birth of our child– The mountains are wonderful in beauty, & we mean to buy our holiday by doing some work.

Yesterday evening we had the American minister at the court of Turin here,[2] and it was delightful to hear him talk about Piedmont, its progress in civilization & the comprehension of liberty, and the honesty & resolution of the King.[3] It is the only hope of Italy, that Piedmont! God prosper the hope. Besides this diplomatical Dignitary & his wife, we had two American gentlemen[4] of more than average intelligence who related wonderful things of the “spiritual manifestations,” (so called) incontestable things, inexplicable things. You will have seen Faraday’s letter.[5] I wish to reverence men of science, but they often will not let me– If I know certain facts on this subject, Faraday ought to have known them before he expressed an opinion on it. His statement does not meet the facts of the case—it is a statement which applies simply to various amateur operations without touching on the essential phenomena .. such as the moving of tables untouched by a finger. Our visitor last night, to say nothing of other witnesses, has repeatedly seen this done with his eyes—in private houses for instance, where there could be no machinery,—& he himself & his brother[6] have held by the legs of a table to prevent the motion, .. the medium sitting some yards away, .. and that table has been wrenched from their grasp & lifted into the air. My husband’s sister, who has admirable sense & excessive scepticism on all matters of the kind, was present the other day at the house of a friend of ours in Paris, where an English young lady was medium,[7] .. & where the table expressed itself intelligently by knocking with its leg, responses according to the alphabet– For instance, the age of my child was asked, & the leg knocked four times– Sarianna was “not impressed,” she says, but “being bound to speak the truth she does not think it possible that any trick could have been used”– To hear her say so was like hearing Mr Chorley say so!–[8] All her prejudices were against, & strongly. Mr Spicer’s book on the subject is flippant & a little vulgar, .. but the honesty & accuracy of it have been attested to me by Americans oftener than once. By the way[,] he speaks in it of your interesting Recollections & quotes you upon the possibility of making a ghost-story better by the telling– In reference to Washington–[9]

Mr Tennyson is going to England for a few months, .. so that our Florence party is breaking up, you see. He has printed a few copies of his poems & is likely to publish them, if he meets with encouragement in England, I suppose.[10] They are full of imagery, encompassed with poetical atmosphere, & very melodious– On the other hand there is vagueness, & too much personification– It’s the smell of a rose rather than a rose—very sweet, notwithstanding. His poems are far superior to Charles Tennyson’s,[11] bear in mind. As for the poet, we quite love him .. Robert & I do. What Swedenborg calls ‘selfhood,’ the “proprium,” is not in him.[12]

Oh yes! I confess to loving Florence & to having associated with it the idea of home. My child was born here, & here I have been very happy & well. Yet we shall not live in Florence—we are steady to our Paris plan. We must visit Rome next winter, & in the spring we shall go to Paris viâ London—you may rely on us for next summer. I think it too probable that I may not be able to bear two successive winters in the north—but in that case, it will be easy to take a flight for a few winter months into Italy, and we shall regard Paris where Robert’s father & sister are waiting for us, as our fixed place of residence– As to the distance between Paris & London, it’s a mere step now.–

We are to have war, I suppose. I would not believe it for a long while—but the Czar seems to be struck with madness, .. mad in good earnest– Under these circumstances I hope our ministry will act with decision & honesty—but I distrust Lord Aberdeen– There is evidently, or has been, a division in the Cabinet, & perhaps Lord Palmerston is not the strongest.[13] Louis Napoleon has acted excellently in this conjuncture .. with integrity & boldness—dont you think so?——

Dear Mr Kenyon has his brother & sister with him to his great joy– Robert pretended he would not give me your last letter– Little Wiedeman threw his arms round my neck (taking the play-cruelty for earnest) & exclaimed, .. “Never mind, mine darling Ba! You’ll have it.” He always calls me Ba at coaxing times. Such a darling that child is indeed! God bless you. Do write soon & tell me in detail of yourself. Our united love, but mine the closest–

Your ever most affectionate

EBB

Direct to me at Casa Tolomeo

Alla Villa

Bagni di Lucca.

Address: Miss Mitford / Swallowfield / near Reading. [Endorsed by Peter Campbell Scarlett: Franco distino.]

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 388–391.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by postmark. Considering EBB’s comments in letter 3227 regarding the Kinneys’ visits and her reference to leaving for Bagni di Lucca “next week,” it seems probable that she began this letter a few days before dating it.

2. William Burnet Kinney (1799–1880), was the U.S. minister to Piedmont from 1850 to 1853. He married Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (née Dodge, 1810–89), widow of Edmund Burke Stedman, in 1841. It was the second marriage for both. The Kinneys arrived in Florence from Turin on 15 June 1853, as indicated in a letter of that date from Mrs. Kinney to her mother Sarah Dodge (ms at Columbia).

3. Victor Emmanuel II (1820–78), one of the four principals in the making of modern Italy, had become, somewhat unwillingly, the King of Sardinia (Piedmont) on the abdication of his father Charles Albert, in 1849.

4. In letter 3227, EBB refers to the “two American gentlemen” as Hiram Powers and “Mr. Coale … an underwriter to an Insurance Company in Boston.” George B. Coale (1819–87) was an executive with the Merchant’s Mutual Marine Insurance Company, in Baltimore rather than Boston, of which he later became president. Coale’s identity is revealed in a 30 June 1869 signed letter from him to Hiram Powers: “I hardly expect you to recal my name as that of a New Churchman [i.e., a Swedenborgian] who received kind attentions from you in 1853—among the rest an introduction to Mr and Mrs Browning with whom we passed together more than one evening” (ms at Smithsonian).

5. Faraday published a letter in The Times of 30 June, describing his experiments on table-turning, a phenomenon that he believed was the result of “quasi involuntary muscular action (for the effect is with many subject to the wish or will)” rather than electricity, magnetism, or “some unrecognized physical force” (p. 8).

6. “Our visitor” refers to George Coale. We have identified one brother: William Edward Coale (1816–65), a naval surgeon.

7. Miss Kemp.

8. See letter 3216, note 17.

9. In a section on ghosts in Sights and Sounds (1853), Spicer added a footnote in which he offered “proof how easily a good ghost-story may be made a better, as exemplified in the apparition of George Washington to Professor Longfellow, related in Miss Mitford’s charming Recollections” (p. 419). For Miss Mitford’s account, see Recollections of a Literary Life (1852), I, 109–110.

10. See letter 3207, note 13.

11. i.e., Charles Turner’s; see letter 3189, note 14.

12. In The True Christian Religion, trans. John Chadwick (1988), Swedenborg states: “This is why if a person worships nature as God or in preference to God, so that his thought comes from himself and his own personality (proprium) rather than from heaven inspired by the Lord, he can easily fall into error about the Word and come to despise it” (p. 253).

13. Palmerston had become Home Secretary in December 1852 when Aberdeen formed his coalition government. He resigned soon afterwards but rejoined the cabinet within a fortnight.

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