367. EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 235–237.
2d Feb. 1830
My dear friend,
Papa is at the farm & I shall not see him till the evening; but as at this moment I have received your letter, I will at this moment begin to answer it. I can write what I have to say, & then I shall be ready to write what Papa has to say, with the probability of being able to send the whole by return of post. When I first began to read your account of your legal dilemma, I felt in a fright for you, for fear you should be apprehending an attack upon your folios,—a piece of premature sympathy for which I am glad to find, there was no occasion. But it is bad enough for you to be annoyed in any way by landlords’ debts & creditors’ attornies: “bad’s the best!”
With regard to the caper sauce, it is no wonder that you did not make it out! I found out my mistake after I had sent away my letter, but that would do neither of us any good. There is the effect of being anti—instead of archi—mageirical!—— I meant mint sauce, in which there is a proportion,—is there not?—both of the saccharine & the acid: but what you mean by your riddle, I do not in the least understand. In propounding it you confounded me, & unless you compound with me by an explanation, I must be sphinxed (constricta) to death with curiosity. I should have thought that considering the ba-r-ba-rity of my name, I was more likely to put you in mind of sheep, than other members of Mr Barrett’s family possibly could.
By your expression, when you tell me to send Mr Barker’s parcel “without delay” I am afraid you think I have delayed sending it too long. If there is any rudeness in the delay, I am sorry for it. It was unintentional,—for, from month to month, I have been calculating on opportunities which never came,—and Mr Barker did expressly tell me that I was to take an opportunity of returning the books,—that some acquaintance might be going to London &c &c. So I thought that it was safer & better to take him at his word. However, as you say there is no risk when a parcel is booked, booked it shall be to Mr Valpy’s. I did not read Berger thro’. I did not like the style,—& of the matter, there is more than enough: the work is heavy & elaborate—at least, so it seemed to me! & leans much more than half its weight upon authorities! I do not like a writer’s mind to be carried about like a Chinese Lady, because it cannot walk alone!——
It is very unfeeling in me to go on writing all this nonsense about mint sauce, & sheep, & Chinese ladies, when you are expecting to be executed, but—
The last sentence was in progress just after dinner, when Bro happening to come into my room, we found out between us that my chimney was on fire, roaring like Niagara. I was down stairs out of the reach of this sheet of paper in one moment as you may suppose,—and in a few more, Papa & a crowd of assistants were doing what they could in my room. The result you will be glad to hear: the fire was extinguished before it reached your books. After the fire scene, I was able to speak to Papa about your business. He does not know whether Mr Best is or is not related to the celebrated person whom you have designated so properly as the Knight of the Gauntlet; but he does know his respectability, which is unquestionable. Papa is of opinion that before taking any notice of Mr Best’s letter, you should write (not speak) to your landlord, & inform him of the communication which you received from Worcester. Unless your landlord sanctions the proposed disposal of the rent, or is made a bankrupt, you must pay it to him & to no other,—otherwise he may force you to pay it over again. On this account Papa thinks you should be very guarded, & have his answer about your paying your rent into the hands of Mr Best, in writing. It is impossible for Papa to know whether it is probable that your landlords furniture should be siezed; unless he knew more of circumstances. He advises you to learn as much as you can from your landlord himself, & to make him write everything. Your great danger seems to Papa to be, their cheating you into a double payment of the rent.
Now, having given Papa’s legal opinion, I shall give my private one as to Mr James Best being related to the Knight of the Gauntlet. I think he is his brother. The sentence which was interupted by the conflagration, was going on to say that I hoped Mrs Boyd would read the last part of this letter first,—in order that the mint sauce, sheep, & Chinese ladies, might not keep you in suspence, waiting for all the information which Papa could give you touching James Best Esqr—Attorney—Worcester!
Your ever sincere friend
Address, on integral page: Hugh Stuart Boyd Esqr / Woodland Lodge / Gt. Malvern.
Publication: EBB-HSB, pp. 97–99.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. “Bad’s the best of us” (Beaumont and Fletcher, The Bloody Brother, or Rollo, Duke of Normandy, 1639, IV, 2). Possibly this is meant as a pun on the Mr. Best mentioned below.
2. Term apparently coined by EBB, from Greek, to mean “first in art of cookery.”
3. Barbara McCarthy suggested that the riddle might have been: “Q. Why do Mr. Barrett’s family (except for Elizabeth) resemble sheep? A. Because they’re always saying ‘Ba’.” (EBB-HSB, 99n).
4. Abraham John Valpy (1787–1854), editor and printer, founder (1810) of The Classical Journal. Barker and Valpy co-edited various classical works, published under the latter’s imprint.
5. Possibly Thomas Best, who had married Eliza Cliffe’s elder sister, Mary Catherine, in 1827. In 1830 he was mayor of Worcester.
6. Underscored twice.