338.7. Edmund Henry Barker to EBB
This late entry would have appeared in The Brownings’ Correspondence, vol. 2.
June 3, 1829.
My dear Madam,
I have now before me your two Letters, for which accept my best thanks. I should have answered them immediately; but at this time I am a little overrun with proofsheets, & I have to keep the press supplied with copy for four distinct books,—to-wit the Parriana Vol. 2, a book on Latin Ellipses, & two books of English extracts being reprints from American books, of which one is called the First-Class Book, the other the National Reader, & both containing some very beautiful passages in prose & verse by English & American writers. I hope to have the pleasure of presenting all of them to you ere long. In the Parriana you will find an immense quantity of literary anecdote, (inartificially put together by my crassa Minerva!) & not a little criticism. Get your critical tomahawk ready, & to me you may always speak freely about my writings: 656 pages are printed off, & I should think that there will be 720 altogether. Yea, & if you are well satisfied with this volume, I will get up a third for you. You will see a long discussion about Ossian, in which I have thrown out myself some good hints, & have collected into one focus many scattered rays of information. If you happen to recollect any notices of Ossian less likely to fall under my eye, I shall be thankful for them as soon as possible: if too late for the coach, they may be in time for the basket! What cannot come into the text, may be put into an Appendix. Dr Nathan Drake & Mr Wordsworth have each sent to me Letters, which will be in the Appendix. I have animadverted strongly on what Wordsworth has written about Ossian.
As you were so well pleased with Lord Grenville’s versions of the lines translated from the Arabic, I may as well ask, (though probably the question is unnecessary,) whether you are acquainted with Sir Wm Jones’s version—‘On parent knees’ etc. If not, command my services to send it to you. In the mean time I send to you some lines by myself, which with a Greek Epigram gained the gold-medal for me, when I was at Cambridge-University. They were very highly praised at the time, & they secured the prize in spite of the Greek, which were defective:—
Jam jam siste procax peder, sciure,
Conatusque tuos; domo licebit
Nunquam exire levi volubilique:
Quid te sic sequeris fugisque semper?
Incassum furis; ah! labor premit te
Caecus, Sisyphius, trahisque vitam
Aerumnosam, operose, nil agendo.
E. H. Barker
Coll. Trin. Schol.
Doddridge’s Epigram about the Epicure is perhaps the sublimest in the English language: knowest thou it not? If you will remind, I will send one to you from Peter Heylin’s Life; but I have mislaid the book for the present.
You are perhaps by this time in possn of Dr Jebb’s Sermons. He is labouring under the effects of paralysis; he is obliged to write with his left hand, (which he does in the most calligraphic manner;) he is forbidden thought and composition, everything calculated to agitate, excite, inflame. Hence he will perhaps be unable to reply to any Letter, which you may write to him in acknowledgment of his kindness; & hence you can, if you please, send any message, long or short, through me. He is a fit man to be a Bishop; for he hath Xtian piety, a Xtian spirit, & is full of gentleness towards all men, with a love of literature, & a good share of learning.
I have two folios of Gregory’s Works, neatly bound in vellum, of which you may have a long loan, if you like, & I will lend to you also the French translations from Chrysostom by Auger, which I mentioned, as well as the books on Xtian Eloquence, in which Chrysostom is quoted for examples of oratory. I am sorry that you had the trouble of copying the passage from Dr Kidd’s book, as Mr Boyd had 3 years ago given to me the Catholic Faith, which contains it. I agree with you in thinking it very fine, & I shall insert it in the First Class Book.
In respect to the extracts from Mr Irving, it is impossible to deny the simple grandeur of conception & expression; & as to mere style, I have never any difficulty in dealing with Mr Irving, any more than an Epic poet has in making his hero contemporary with characters of an anterior age: by a pleasant anachronism I make him to have lived in the time of Queen Elizabeth, his long arms & his lank form are of the olden time, picturesque enough for an artist! I would merely comment on one or two passages “Withdraw your hand from the most sweet & blooming spot of the earth, which smileth by the force of sweating toil like the garden of Eden, & whither in a few years would it run?” I answer that the spot, having no legs, could not run at all! We may say that‘a garden runs to weeds’ without any incongruity of metaphor, because in the word garden there is nothing presented to the mind immediately to give it a fixedness, but spot is immoveable, (as you find on your gown!) The following passage is very sublime: “And heaven & hell be mingled together, & chaos return again, & there be no God, nor spirit, but warfare & confusion, inexplicable disorder, & wild uproar, most wasteful ruins & infinite desolation.” Great minds alone know how to multiply words so that though nothing be added to the idea, yet much is added to the effect on the reader’s mind. I have, I think, in the book on Junius, given an example from Burke, towards the end: hunt it up; for I have no book at hand, & you will profit by these remarks. I can give another example in Burke’s description of Howard: read it with my idea in view; if you have it not at hand, I will transcribe it;—I believe that I did not insert it in the Cicero.
From your mention of the pipe I infer that you would have tolerated Dr Parr’s pipe in your drawing-room, without piping & whining about it as many ladies did. Does your father puff out smoke on one side, & wisdom on the other? Barrow, & I believe Bentley were great smokers. Dean Aldrich was a tremendous fumist: a wager was laid that he would be found smoking if you called on him ever so early in the day or rather morning. The wager could not be decided without a call. The Dean was told the nature of the mission by the caller, who had betted that he would be found smoking. ‘Sir,’ said the Dean, ‘you have lost your wager,—I am only lighting my pipe!’
I am glad that I did praise your love of order & method; you had deserved it from me, & as you have a character for it to maintain, you must not lose that character. I love order & method in women. It is very desirable for reading men to be so far orderly & methodical as to be able at once to lay their hands on any book or paper in their room. For it is a serious matter to lose two or three hours in finding a lost sheep (vellum.) If you are conscious of any defect in the arrangement of your room, pray, dear Madam, conquer it for your own sake, & consider what vexation of spirit will be avoided, as well as saving of time will be gained by it, & you know, (for I will read you a lecture,) that when a room is once put in order, it is an easy matter to keep it in order. Whatever books you disturb during the day, restore them to their places in the evening: this is a plain rule, & the practice of it will cost little trouble: if you are ever inclined to rebel against this order command, quiet your spirit by saying Αὐτὸς ἔφα.
I have sought out the books for you, & have taken a list of them. You may keep them for two or three months or even longer, if you like. Peradventure some friend, going to London, will drop the parcel, directed to me at Mr A. J. Valpy’s Red Lion Court, Fleet Street: it will reach me without expense & after no great delay. If you want to keep your room clear of incumbrances, send back the first half, when you have done with them, & if you want to disembogue your mind of the topics, suggested by the perusal, write to me as you read on, or keep a long sheet, & fill it by degrees. I shall have more books for you, when you have done with these. You must read Bp. Sprat’s Hist. of the Royal Society: this I will lend to you: he was the finest writer in the time of Charles, & his style is so perfect, that but for the date & the name you could not tell that the Hist. was not just now first published by a living Cicero. There you have combined elegance & strength, sweetness & majesty. It is fine old plate, massy & splendid & rich & never out of fashion.
Nevertheless I shall be glad to hear what you have to say about Dugald Stewart v. Sir Uvedale Price: no matter, whether you write much,—the more the better. “Mr Neville’s account of his theatrical friends at Geneva has all the charm & grace of that astonishing meteor at Ferney, but more simplicity of nature, & his three portrait-characters, (the subjects are Mr Price of Foxley, the father to the late Mr Windham, & the Rev. Mr Williamson,) are standard compositions, not surpassed by those of Lord Clarendon:—‘Windham, tall, thin, & narrow-chested, would vie with Price, in every feat of strength & agility, & so far he succeeded that he was known through London by the name of Boxing Windham, whilst few knew that ‘his quiet friend, Mr Price, who was eminent as a pugilist, could box at all.’” Geo. Hardinge’s Biogr. Mem. of Dr Sneyd Davies p. 26. “I have an obliging Letter from the celebrated Mr Uvedale Price, author of the Essay on the Picturesque, as accomplished a person as any of this age.” P. 239.
Bp. Jebb, Jan. 27, 1829:—“I have long prized your friend, Mr H. S. Boyd, of whom I regret to hear that he is blind. He certainly had a good taste in storing his mind with St. Chrysostom, & he now reaps the fruits of it. If you happen to look into my volume of Sermons, p. 338. n. 2. you will meet a defence of Mr Boyd, & of the Fathers, which I trust you will not disapprove.”
In speaking of annihilating all works but Cicero, if I were allowed to have the choice of preserving only one author from an Alexandrian conflagration, you do not, I perceive, quite understand my object. I think it a great matter to rescue Cicero, not only as the father & sole surviving representative of Roman oratory, not only as the pure standard of Latinity, but because his style is the most perfect style to be found in any language, & his writings contain a vast portion of Greek learning & eloquence. All things considered, I should choose wisely in rescuing Cicero from destruction & certainly not on mere personal considerations. You would perhaps choose Homer: why? because you like him best. But then you would be selfish, & not regard the public interest as I do.
Mr Boyd hath momentary feelings of irritability I know from a Letter of his, in which he was peevish with a friend of ours for speaking plainly, & he even retorted, which is a proof positive.
Remind me to send to you a sublime passage from an Indian book, about the cosmogony. What think you of Sir Wm Jones’s Hymn to Narayena, or some such body? That is the sublime & beautiful combined.
Dear Madam, I am a veracious philosopher, when I tell to you that human nature, even in the midst of heroic self-devotion to the cause of virtue or humanity, that human nature in its noblest generosity hath something of selfishness intermixed:—self love is the foundation of virtue. ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ is scripturally & morally philosophicaly true. By this principle, then, we are to try the conduct of Arria;—this proves Pliny right, & Jortin wrong. Lord Nelson’s exclamation of victory or Westminster Abbey is a case in point. The very mention of ‘Westminster Abbey’ the splendid pageant of a public funeral, & the monumental record shews that the glory of the achievement was present to his mind—that feeling of the glory was something extrinsic to the patriotism, i.e. personal to himself, i.e. selfish in a sufficient degree to establish my point—yet I give to him full credit for the accompanying co-existent feeling of patriotism, that he was sacrificing his life for the benefit of his country. The truth is that our feelings are complex on such occasions, even when we seem to have one whole & sole prevalent, predominant, absorbing, overwhelming, simple, unadulterated, pure & holy feeling. The mind oscillates a little,—the thoughts of home, of wife or child rush into the mind of a person intent on self-devotion to some great cause,—he faulters in his speech, he wavers in his resolution, the broken sentences, escaping from him in the presence of attendants, or muttered in soliloquies, shew the struggle within, the heart & the head contend with each other, acquired sentiment & natural feeling pull him in different & opposite directions, magnoque irarum fluctuat aestu. The struggle is long or short, apparent or concealed, according to the temperament of the person struggling. At length the fortitude triumphs,—the deed is resolved on,—the time of action is looked for with anxiety,—it comes,—he marches to his certain death with Catonic firmness, & in the midst of action there are alternations in his mind, but they are so moderate that he represses them, & controls them, & conquers them & leads the unphilosophical bystanders to suppose that he never hesitated for one moment,—that all his feelings were wholly intent on the cause, that no patriotism could ascend higher,—no philanthropy could be more unearthly, more pure, or more divine. Hast thou not noticed the struggle in Medea’s mind before she destroys her children? Does not every great poet, who has natural feelings, describe these struggles of the mind? What do you read in Shakespeare? Is not a murderer’s arm arrested for a while by the associations, which crowd into his mind, & do they not prove that even when man is actuated by one of the most powerful impulses of his nature, the desire of revenge,—he hath not a simple, but a complex feeling, the simple feeling being for a time overpowered, & in fact the selfish principle yielding for the moment to a virtuous feeling. The Human mind on these occasions may be compared to the oak, whose trunk is firm, while its branches wave with the wind—let them wave, the trunk shall not be moved, let them beat round it, it is heart of oak, & no impression can be made—the oak smileth at the storm.
June 5. As you are disposed to be saucy about Porson & Parr. I must quote for your benefit, & in confirmation of the story about Maximus Tyrius, the following passage:—“Be it also remembered that David Ruhnkenius, when pressed by a friend to apply himself sedulously to sacred criticism, very modestly replied that he had not as yet proceeded farther in that route than to Demosthenes;—& that Richard Porson, whose table was seldom without a copy of Wetstein, had examined only three passages critically.” The Rev. T. Kidd’s Tracts & Miscellaneous Criticisms of R. Porson Esqr. 1815. p. Lii.
I will not lengthen my Letter further than to express that I am, my dear Madam,
Ever your friend & servant,
E. H. Barker
P.S. You will always bear in mind that I am obliged to write in haste without any time for premeditation, & therefore I may often write vaguely, & sometimes not quite logically. Excuse this very hasty scrawl.
Can you get Mr Williams’s pamphlet conveyed to Foxley? I send it open that you may get a peep at it.
Address, on integral page: Miss Barrett / Hope-End / Ledbury.
Publication: None traced.
Manuscript: Armstrong Browning Library.