Correspondence

3465.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 20, 299–301.

Florence.

Sept. 4 [1854][1]

Five minutes do not pass, my beloved friend, since reading this dear letter which has wrung from me tender & sorrowful tears, and answering it thus. Pray for you?——I do not wait that you should bid me. May the divine love in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ shine upon you[2] day & night, & make all our human loves strike you as cold & dull in comparison with That ineffable tenderness. As to wandering prayers I cannot believe that it is of consequence whether this poor breath of ours wanders or does not wander– If we have strength to throw ourselves upon Him for everything, for prayer as well as for the ends of prayer, it is enough, & He will prove it to be enough presently– I have been when I could not pray at all– And then, God’s face seemed so close upon me that there was no need of prayer .. any more than if I were near you, as I yearn to be, as I ought to be, there would be need for this letter– Oh—be sure that He means well by us by what we suffer—& it is when we suffer, that he often makes the meaning clearer. You know how that brilliant, witty, true poet Heine, who was an atheist (as much as a man can pretend to be) has made a public profession of a change of opinion which was pathetic to my eyes & heart the other day as I read it.[3] He has joined no church, but simply (to use his own words) has “returned home to God like the prodigal son after a long tending of the swine.”[4] It is delightful to go home to God, even after a tending of the sheep. Poor Heine has lived a sort of living death for years—quite deprived of his limbs, & suffering tortures to boot I understand. It is not because we are brought low that we must die, my dearest friend– I hope .. I do not say “hope” for you so much as for me .. & for the many who hang their hearts on your life .. I hope tha<t> you may survive all these terrible sufferings & weaknesses, I take my comfort from your letter .. from the firmness & beauty of the m∙s. .. I who know how weak hands will shudder & reel along the paper. Surely there is strength for more life in that hand. Now I stoop to kiss it in my thought. Feel my kiss on the dear hand,—dear, dear friend!–

A previous letter of yours pained me much because I seemed to have given you the painful trouble in it of describing your state, your weakness. Ah, I knew what that state was—& it was therefore, that the slip of paper which came with ‘Atherton,’ seemed to me so ominous! By the way, I shall see ‘Atherton’ before long I dare say. The ‘German library’[5] in our street is to have a “box of new books” almost directly, & in it surely must be ‘Atherton’; & you shall hear my thoughts of the book as soon as I catch sight of it. Then you have sent me the Dramas. Thank you, thank you—they will be precious. I saw the article in the Athenæum with joy & triumph, & knew Mr Chorley by the ‘Roman hand’.[6] In the ‘Illustrated News’ also, Robert (not I) read an enthusiastic notice.[7] He fell upon it at the reading room where I never go on account of my she-dom, .. women in Florence being supposed not

<…>[8]

Think of me who am far .. yet near in love & thought. Love me with that strong heart of yours– May God bless it, bless it!

I am ever your attached EBB ..

rather—Ba

I have had a sad letter from poor Haydon’s daughter.[9] She has fifty six pounds a year & can scarcely live on it in England—& enquires if she cd live in any family in Florence .. I fear to recommend her to come so far on such means. Robert’s love– May God bless you & keep you. Love me.

Address: Angleterre viâ France / Miss Mitford / Swallowfield / near Reading.

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 417–419.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by postmark.

2. Cf. Numbers 6:25.

3. Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), German poet and journalist, had been a paralytic confined to bed since 1848. EBB may have seen an article entitled “Young Germany” in the January 1854 issue of Fraser’s Magazine, which provided lengthy translated extracts from his “Afterword” in his most recent collection of poems, Romanzero (Hamburg, 1851). In describing his “change of opinion,” Heine writes: “Lying upon one’s death-bed, one becomes more and more open to conscience, and would make peace with God and the world. … I have made my peace, to the great scandal of my enlightened friends … who reproach me with this relapse into the old superstition, as they choose to denominate my return home into the bosom of God. … The convocated High Clergy of atheism has pronounced its anathema upon me. … Yes! I have, indeed, returned to God, like the prodigal son, after long tending of swine. … When you require a God, one that can assist you—for that, in the main, is the principal matter—you must accept, also, his identity and oneness, his superhumanity and his holy attributes. … The immortality of the soul, our deathlessness after death, will be then immediately conceded to us in the bargain” (Fraser’s, pp. 86–87).

4. See Luke 15:11–32.

5. Brecker’s bookshop.

6. Cf. Twelfth Night, III, 4, 28. The Athenæum of 29 July 1854 (no. 1396, pp. 931–933) devoted a little over six columns to a review of The Dramatic Works of Mary Russell Mitford, most of which consisted of extracts from her autobiographical introduction. Henry Chorley, identified as the reviewer in the marked file copy of The Athenæum now at City University (London), remarked: “Miss Mitford might have written this Preface expressly to remind us that she can write most graceful English prose—graceful alike in manner and in matter—as well as dramatic verse alike nervous and rich, bright in texture and subtle in fancy” (p. 931).

7. Miss Mitford’s Dramatic Works was reviewed in the 19 August issue of The Illustrated London News (p. 159). The reviewer commented on the previously published plays with admiration but reserved enthusiasm for the plays published for the first time, particularly Inez de Castro, an opera, and Otto of Wittelsbach. In referring to the two works, the reviewer asks: “why have such plays … been permitted to slumber in their solitariness so long, when both actors and managers are eloquent in their lamentation of the dearth of dramatic writing fit for the stage?”

8. The rest of the letter is missing except for the conclusion on the inside flap, interior, and adjacent edges of the envelope.

9. Mary Mordwinoff Haydon.

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