Correspondence

530.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 177–183.

74 Gloucester Place

July 9th 1836.

You have not my dear kind friend thought me unkind and thankless in not writing my gratitude to you the very moment I felt it, for your books [1] —and for that letter having in it what is in the books and something better & dearer (to me!) besides. I am sure you have not. I have waited a little for Mr Shepherd’s tragedy. [2] Mr Kenyon has promised to lend it to me. And then—or rather in the first place—I waited that I might not be thankful to you for the one fact of giving such a present to a person so unworthy of it, but besides for “the spirit stirring ’neath the leaves” [3] which I wanted time to invoke—for the gracefulness of the poetry, to understand which, it was necessary to give oneself time to read it—only to read it. For this I have waited. Now I may be grateful to you,—and Mr Shepherd’s tragedy shall not make me seem the contrary another moment.

My pencil has marked Emily and Fair Rosamond and Henry Talbot The bridal Eve, The Captive & The masque of the Seasons as chief favorites of mine. My pencil always does for me the prudent business which beans & pebbles did for the hero of childish romance .. marking his footsteps in the wood. [4] My pencil has marked for me many a green path in literature,—for me to tread & retread with a home, appropriating feeling .. as being not only fair but “fair to me”. [5] In these paths, these new paths—thank you dear Miss Mitford for letting me walk in them .. I enjoy the greeness & the dew & the repose,—or, to use a more defining metaphor, that gentle quiet flowing of the heart along the graceful channel made for it by the intellect, of which we scarcely know whether to say––“how beautiful”,—or “how good”. And so, I have recourse to my Greeks who when they said “how beautiful” meant “how good”.

You have done better than my Greeks in one thing. Plato sent poetry away in disgrace out of his republic. [6] You have not exiled her from the Village.

Yet life is not so tranquil a thing as you have made it either in the Village or in these poems,—with nothing harsher about it than errors subdued into humanities, and sorrows softened into pensiveness. Surely you have seen Adam, in your vision of him, coming down a stair (and his “step has music in’t”) [7] instead of falling down a precipice,—and the cherub’s sword [8] was sheathed for you in morning clouds, in your vision of that. The village is Miss Mitford’s village & not Nature’s tho she does not disown it:—something between the real and the ideal, the “loveliest village of the plain”, [9] tho’ never to be a deserted one! If ever I write parallels in the manner of Plutarch, [10] —and it would be wonderful if all the kindness & praising I am so thankful for and so unworthy of, should let me escape a load of “presumption enough for anything”,—I shall write a parallel between Miss Mitford and Crabbe! [11] But no! even if I had presumption for it, I shd not have injustice. It wd not be fair––wd it?—with friendship & gratitude of all kinds towards the one, and .....! towards the other. Not that I ever had any personal knowledge of Mr Crabbe; but it used to be and is and ever will be an impossibility to me to call him a poet. What he wrote seems to me poetry inverted. It is a dislocation of the uses & object & essentiality of poetry. It is––as if a portrait painter painted our skeletons. It is a depicturing of our fallen corrupted humanities without their noble self-abjurations and their yearnings after what is not self.– But oh! if after all I should be writing to an admirer of Crabbe! But she is a dear friend of mine, who will forgive this with graver faults and not love me less for it and them!

I remember daring to say to Sir Uvedale Price that I could not like Crabbe; and I remember—how well! his taking the “Library” from the table and reading from it a passage to which he said his own attention had been directed by Fox, [12] and which I could not choose but acknowledge to be fine poetry. But then—these obstinate people you know are so impossible to convince—I annexed to the acknowledgement a clause––that the passage in question was not written in Crabbe’s usual style. And dear Sir Uvedale who was not obstinate, admitted at once that I was right.

If all this is very wrong—do forgive it!——

And while you are forgiving me let me try to say how deeply & truly I thank you for all your affectionateness & kindness to me. I believe I am not naturally unsusceptible to affectionateness even from those for whom I might not otherwise have cared the hum of a bee. That I shd be very susceptible to yours [13] is very natural indeed. Even if—as wd have been also very natural indeed—you had past me by on the other side without a Samaritan smile, I shd have gone on caring for you as something much above a literary “abstraction”; inasmuch as—unluckily for some people—they cant have one’s admiration without taking one’s affection along with it.

Well! but this affection of mine—it is asked for & given: and how I thank you very dear Miss Mitford for yours; & how I wd pray that not on this earth alone where is the shadow & the stain, but in the stainless & shadowless eternity [14] we may be together as dear friends. For mere human friendship is such a mere spark amongst the ashes: so much like .. “I will love you for half an hour”: and I who have seen the dearest pass from me—[(]but do not write of that) cannot delight otherwise than faintly in mere human ties. How happy—even here—when those, who in the midst of this beautiful earth feel more sensitively than the very beauty, the sin & suffering & infirmity,—are able with hearts moistened & freshened by the blood & tears of Jesus, to look upwards towards that calm & blessed & perpetual place beside His pierced feet, “reserved in the Heavens” [15] for believers. Oh what an unspeakable poetry there is in Christ’s religion! But like the lovely poetry of inferior things, men look on it coldly because without understanding, & do not even cry aloud for an interpreter.

I always shall remember the pictures; & having seen them with you. Dont forget among the memorable ones, the exquisite Eloise .. Greuze’s: upon which it is so impossible to look without forgetting the beauty in the despair. [16] Yet the despair does not mar the beauty.

I have not seen Mr Kenyon for some time,—and so I am sure you will not envy me the very least this burning London sun which wd have turned us into bricks, had we been the right kind of clay for it. Perhaps after all you & we have had only one sun between us: tho’ that is as hard to imagine as the absence of the morning air in the Diorama. [17] Slant rays thro’ trees—the shadows dropping with the gleams—are so different from pelting heat upon the pavement! And then the dire necessity of having every window in the house open to the ceaseless rolling of carriages, as a precursor to breathing at all. It has been very disagreeable; and I wd have given many a night of sleep for a walk with you at the ‘witching time of’ [18] morning—five oclock! in yr pretty garden! Do you really ‘invert time’ often so? And are you not doing yourself harm by it? Slow harm—which comes after your system (& Nature’s) of gradualities? And does not Mr Mitford scold you for it? And while I am asking questions—may I send him my grateful acknowledgement & remembrance for his kind message to me & approval of my sea mew? [19] How kind you both are!

Mr Kenyon told me nearly a fortnight ago that Mrs Dupuy [20] wd be kindly glad to see me; and it was settled that I shd pay her a visit in Welbeck Street. A few days passed, during which I was waiting for my brother’s chaperoneship; and then the London sun put me into prison & I cd not “get out.” [21] Intense heat always enervates me; and it was quite an effort to me until this cooler today & yesterday, to do anything morally or physically except lie on the sofa. Yesterday I set out to Welbeck St—& Mrs Dupuy was gone!—not likely to return until the spring. I am very sorry—but I cant help it, you see, now,—even if Mr Kenyon shd scold me. Do take my part if you ever hear me scolded by anybody—even if you half think that I deserve it. I do hope that after all it may not be quite too late, & that I shall have the pleasure of seeing your friend in the spring.

It wd be wonderful if you who can see merit everywhere, shd not see & estimate Mr Kenyon’s. You speak truly of his truth! And his brilliancy of conversation is not of the kind to dazzle our sight from us. We dont hide our eyes as from a ‘London sun’—but “bless the useful light”, [22] & think more of its warmth than of its rays. It is I who am to be grateful to him.

I can read all your “coptic inscriptions”: & shd not object to the “red ink” & the “crossings crossed”. [23] Do write to me whenever you feel inclined to do something particularly good natured. You who have associated London with the whirl of societies, can scarcely guess what a desert it is to me—without its silence! a solitude without the majesty of solitude. There is not a being whom I know here, except Mr Kenyon, who ever says to me “I care for poetry”. Yet I am contented—yet I shd be more so if you wd write sometimes. I have always been used to a kind of solitude tho’ not this noisy kind,—and shd feel so disturbed if I were ever thrown out of it .. as not to tell you how much disturbed, until you have known me for five years,—lest all your kindness shd be unable to prevent you from thinking me affected.

Have you seen the review of Ion in the New Monthly Magazine for July? [24] It is in the article “Evidences of Genius for dramatic poetry”,—very favorable & resistful to the “lively critic in the Athenæum”. [25] Towards the close of the article, a great deal of admiration is laid at the feet of Mr Landor, [26] —and—which amused me very much,—an extract of the finest points of his contribution to Miss Courtenay’s album is given, with the most emphatic eulogy. Who can have written it? [27]

Of course I sent your enclosure to Mr Kenyon immediately.

May God bless you my dear friend! How is the novel?

Your affectionate & grateful

E B Barrett.

Is there no hope of your coming to London in the Autumn to correct proofsheets? When you come next, you will pass our threshold will you not, & let me introduce Papa to you? We are for a little while longer in our present house, perhaps for longer than a little while; but we shall move (not I believe from London) before we settle.

Will you tell me your mind with regard to Miss Landon’s poetry? and whether you know her personally. [28] Once more adieu dear Miss Mitford– Yet– Do you know an exquisite short poem by Barry Cornwall, “The Last Song”—beginning thus—“Must it be? Then farewell.” [29] Whenever I think of it,—it rings in my ears and heart for an hour afterwards.

Addressed and franked by Robert Biddulph on integral page: London July ten 1836 / Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / Reading / Robert Biddulph / [and by EBB near seal:] Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 5–10.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. The selections EBB mentions in the next paragraph identify one of these books as Miss Mitford’s Dramatic Scenes, Sonnets, and Other Poems (1827). Another of the books may have been The Library of Fiction; Or, Family Story-Teller (1836), containing Miss Mitford’s “Jesse Cliffe,” which EBB acknowledges in letter 534.

2. The Countess of Essex (1834), by Henry John Shepherd (1783–1855), a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn and husband of EBB’s acquaintance of Hope End days, Lady Mary Shepherd.

3. EBB apparently refers to Christopher North’s Recreations, which substitutes “leaves” for “woods” in Wordsworth’s line “Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods” (“Nutting,” 1799, line 56).

4. In the Grimm brothers’ “Hansel and Gretel.”

5. Verse 1 of Sonnet IV of George Wither’s Fair Virtue the Mistress of Philarete (p. 120 of the 1818 edition).

6. In book X of Plato’s Republic, he excludes poetry from his ideal state on the grounds that it is an imitative art.

7. Cf. “The Mariner’s Wife,” line 7, by William Julius Mickle (1735–88).

8. Cf. Byron’s Cain (1821), I, 1, 271.

9. Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village,” line 1.

10. Plutarch (ca. 46–120), in his Parallel Lives, paired biographies of 23 Romans with those of 23 Greeks.

11. George Crabbe (1754–1832), author of The Library (1781) and The Village (1783). The latter depicted the harsh effects of poverty and disease on rural communities. Some critics also made comparisons between Crabbe and Miss Mitford in their attention to detail, but agreed that she lacked his censoriousness.

12. Charles James Fox (1749–1806), a one-time member of Lord North’s administration and a critic of North’s policies in relation to the American colonies, was a friend of Uvedale Price. A wax bust portrait of Fox formed part of lot 1417 in Browning Collections (see Reconstruction, H679).

13. Underscored three times.

14. Cf. Shelley’s “Adonais,” 461–462.

15. I Peter, 1:4.

16. EBB refers to the visit she had made with Miss Mitford to the British Gallery at the time of their first meeting. Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) was one of the artists represented there.

17. In the Diorama, spectators saw changing scenes produced by optical means. EBB refers to the scenes shown in May, when she visited the Diorama with Miss Mitford, which included the interior of Florence’s Church of Santa Croce, shown in changing light from afternoon to midnight.

18. Hamlet, III, 2, 388.

19. The poem EBB had inscribed on the fly-leaf of the book she sent Miss Mitford (see letter 528).

20. Mrs. J.P. Dupuy, a friend of Miss Mitford, lived at 31 Welbeck Street, not far from the Barretts’ house.

21. The temperature in London at the beginning of July had reached 84°F, unusually high for London.

22. Pope’s Iliad, VIII, 698.

23. Miss Mitford often compounded her difficult handwriting by cross-writing, to save postage. Despite EBB’s assurance, it is apparent that she did misread the hand on occasions—witness her reference to “Marianne Skewett” in letter 593 instead of “Skerrett.”

24. The New Monthly Magazine for July 1836 (XLVII, 342–358) had called Ion a “beautiful tragedy … a subject most exquisitely chosen” and said that “the majority of its faults … proceed chiefly … from the author’s first peremptory notion that his tragedy would not be brought upon the actual stage.”

25. On p. 353, the reviewer noted that “A lively critic has inquired lately, ‘Which of our smartest dramatic poets, now-a-days, can ask “How d’ye do?” in less than three verses?’ … The falsehood of this we believe we have abundantly illustrated. … Our critic of the ‘Athenæum’ may reassure himself on this point.” The Athenæum, 28 May 1836 (no. 448, pp. 371–373), in a largely negative review, had said “to our view, the Drama is not dead, for then were there some hope of its resurrection: it is annihilated!”

26. On pp. 356–357, the reviewer wrote “The following lines are portion of an unpublished scene … called ‘The Death of Clytemnestra.’ We hold that no writer, ancient or modern, has ever made a more sudden, fearful, and tremendous plunge into the very innermost depths of tragic passion and dramatic expression, than is here … made by Mr. Landor.”

Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) was a friend of Kenyon; he was one of the guests at a dinner party attended by EBB and Miss Mitford at Kenyon’s on 28 May.

27. EBB later learned that the reviewer was John Forster (1812–76).

28. Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802–38) was a minor poet, contributing prolifically to magazines under the initials “L.E.L.” She also published a novel, Ethel Churchill (1837) and an unacted tragedy, Castruccio Castracani (1837). Miss Mitford was acquainted with her.

29. EBB told R.H. Horne in a letter dated 20 June 1844 that this poem was in her mind when she wrote her own poem, “Loved once.”

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