528.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 175–177.

74 Gloucester Place

June 8th 1836.

It was very kind in my dear friend (I am writing so to Miss Mitford!) to suffer a thought of me to come between her and her dreams on the friday night when she must have been weary, if for nothing else except pleasure. How am I to thank her enough? Only by loving her—and that is done already.

Indeed it does seem to me like a vision—and what a bright one!—if Guido [1] had painted it, he cd not have made its “singing robes” [2] too gorgeous—that I shd know you and be allowed to love you and write to you & think of you as my friend. I have had visions before of Miss Mitford. I am a female Alnaschar [3] for visions, & have broken more wares than wd stock the whole market of Bagdad—and have called idealities realities all my life long. I have had visions of Miss Mitford before now,—but in them I saw her in the Village, [4] loving everybody—not in London loving me.

Thank you for your kind sayings about my verses,—& for telling me that you had named me as a ‘household word’ [5] to your father—and for letting me see the garden, in your words about it. You used it as a “painter’s pallette”—did you not? You wd be quite right, even if in a paroxysm of the [‘]‘enthusiastic vanity” you liked it better than Chiswick [6] & said so. At least I, for my own pleasure’s sake, am like a bird; & wd choose the broad sky for my flight & the high mountains for my prospect .. and for a home, a nest just large enough to hold me. It always seems to me that littleness in the thing possessed is a kind of test of our really possessing it: and that by a law of our nature the grasses we can walk over, the flowers we can almost hold in our hand, and the “one little ewe lamb’[’] we ourselves feed, are more our very own than “the flowers of an hundred parterres[”], or “the flocks upon a thousand hills”. [7] Or else, why when Adam had the whole earth to himself, did he call only one nook his own. Now he did—did he not?—you are sure that he did. And might not Lady Mary Shepherd talk some deep philosophy on the whys & the wherefores?

She was kind to me during our short intercourse years ago—but I may confess to you in the midst of the grateful remembrance of the kindness, how she used to––frighten me more than any woman I ever knew. There used to be fear for me even in the pure intellect of her eye. She has uncommon powers of mind & conversation; and if to the energy & force of a man’s mind, she joined its clearness & comprehensiveness, she wd be a more distinguished woman than she is. And dear Miss Shepherd spoke kindly of me! I know more of her than of her mother, &—not only therefore—she interests me more—but I thought she had forgotten all about me long ago. She has talent, & used to have deep sensibility. I believe I never exchanged thoughts with a human being whom I was so near loving without actually doing so—or with one, whom I wd more gladly see cast at soul’s length from the defiling dust & emptying emptiness of this London––from the physical metaphysics of its worldly creed. You will let me scold it, will you not dear Miss Mitford—without shaking your head. And indeed you cannot shake your head while all the flowers of your garden are taking my part: and Dash [8] too—who if he comes to London is “sure to be stolen”.! Yet you must come to London for the sake of those who are prisoners in it—and to do it justice, I do like it better than I used to like it. Wherever it is possible to think & feel, it is possible to enjoy: & it is possible for attaching associations to take root—even on these flagged ways.

Is not the book [9] likely to bring you, in the course of its publication, here again? I hope it may. But dont tell Mr Mitford [10] that I hope so, for fear he shd hate me.

There is another volume [11] of mine going with this letter to teaze you: and Mr Kenyon will [12] have me to write my contribution to Miss Courtenay’s album, [13] on the fly leaf of it—which, if he had not told me to do it, I shd think almost as wrong, as making that contribution at all. But he is a difficult person to say no to: and has been besides so very, surprisingly kind to me, that every ‘no’ of mine wd sound to me like a separate ingratitude. Yet do not think that the ‘yes’ was said, when he invited me to know you, because the ‘no’ was hard to say. Believe me, I have not the sackcloth of that recollection to put on. It was the party that I did not like the name of.

Dear Miss Mitford—whenever you are at leisure & inclined to write letters, do remember how much pleasure any words of yours must give to

your grateful & affectionate

E B Barrett.

Address, on integral page: Miss Mitford.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 2–4.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Guido da Reni (1575–1642), an artist admired by both EBB and Miss Mitford, mentioned in their poetry.

2. Milton’s “The Reason of Church Government, Urged Against Prelacy,” II, Introduction.

3. In The Arabian Nights, the barber’s fifth brother, who invests his inheritance in a basket of glassware and dreams of becoming a merchant prince and marrying the Grand Vizier’s daughter. While dreaming, he overturns the basket, thus destroying the only means of realizing the dream.

4. Miss Mitford’s Our Village, her most popular work. It began as brief sketches of rural life in The Lady’s Magazine in 1819, later expanded into a series of volumes published between 1824 and 1832.

5. Henry V, IV, 3, 52.

6. The Duke of Devonshire’s gardens at Chiswick, visited by EBB and Miss Mitford during the latter’s recent visit to London.

7. Cf. II Samuel, 12:3, Jeremiah, 52:23 and Psalms, 50:10.

8. Miss Mitford’s favourite spaniel. He was the subject of paintings by Edmund Havell and Edwin Landseer.

9. Miss Mitford had announced plans to write a novel, but she did not complete it until 1854, when it finally appeared as the title work in Atherton, and Other Tales.

10. Miss Mitford’s father, Dr. George Mitford (1760–1842).

11. Probably An Essay on Mind (see Reconstruction, C29).

12. Underscored three times.

13. “The Sea-Mew.” The album presumably belonged to Louisa Bithia Courtenay (1812–1904), the daughter of Kenyon’s friend Philip Courtenay. The poem was later included in The Seraphim, and Other Poems (p. 293), where it was dedicated to Mary Hunter.


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