555.  EBB to Julia Martin

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 216–221.


[Postmark: 23 January 1837]

My dearest Mrs Martin,

I am standing in Henrietta’s place, she says—but not, I say, to answer your letter to her yesterday, but your letter to me, some weeks ago—which I meant to answer much more immediately if the ignis fatuus [1] of a house—(you see to what a miserable fatuity I am reduced, of applying your pure country metaphors to our brick pollutions!)—had not been gliding just before us, & I had not much wished to be able to tell you of our settlement. As it is however, I must write, & shall keep a solemn silence on the solemn subject of our shifting plans.

In the first place, receive my loitering thanks for your interesting letter, which I was so glad to receive & so gladder to read,—if that would be English. Your praise of my “contentedness” was scarcely as well deserved as your letter was—because I love you. Perhaps my contentedness arises a good deal out of merely this, which many people might, truly or not, call discontentedness,—that is, out of seeing, instead of “good in everything”, the evil of all things,—& raising, in consequence of such perception, a lower standard of possible happiness. For my own part, I do confess to you that I have not what is called a “well-regulated mind”—& my didactic treatise on ‘self-examination’, ought in fairness to begin by some such confession. My very first emotion will overturn my very firmest philosophy,—& I am subject to multitudinous ones, coming from all opposite points of the compass, till I grow ashamed of my own nature—& yet grateful to the shame, from its producing the conviction, that these weak & oversetting emotions can only be calmed by the supreme Emotion of religious impression & consolation.

No! I was not at all disappointed in Wordsworth—altho’ perhaps I should not have singled him from the multitude as a great man. There is a reserve even in his countenance—which does not lighten as Landor’s does, whom I saw the same evening. [2] His eyes have more meekness than brilliancy,—& in his slow, even, articulation there is rather the solemnity & calmness of truth itself, than the animation & energy of those who seek for it. As to my being quite at my ease when I spoke to him—why how cd you ask such a question? I trembled both in my soul & my body!—— But he was very kind, & sate near me & talked to me as long as he was in the room—& recited a translation by Cary, of a sonnet of Dante’s [3] —and altogether, it was quite a dream! Landor too—Walter Savage Landor .. in whose hands the ashes of antiquity burn again—gave me two Greek epigrams he had lately written .. & talked brilliantly & prominently until Bro (he & I went together) abused him for ambitious singularity & affectation. But it was very interesting– And dear Miss Mitford too!—& Mr Raymond a great Hebraist, & the ancient author of “A cure for a heartache!” [4] I never walked in the skies before; & perhaps never shall again, when so many stars are out!– I shall at least see dear Miss Mitford, who wrote to me not long ago to say that she wd soon be in London with Otto her new tragedy,—which was written at Mr Forrest’s own request, [5] —he in the most flattering manner having applied to her a stranger, as the authoress of Rienzi, [6] for a dramatic work worthy of his acting—after rejecting many plays offered to him, & among them Mr Knowles’s. She says that her play will be quite opposed, in its execution, to Ion—as unlike it “as a ruined castle overhanging the Rhine, to a Græcian temple”. And I do not doubt that it will be full of ability: altho’ my own opinion is that she stands higher as the authoress of “our village”, than of “Rienzi”, & writes prose better than poetry, & transcends rather in Dutch minuteness and high finishing, than in Italian ideality & passion. I think besides that Mr Forrest’s rejection of any play of Sheridan Knowles, must refer rather to its unfitness for the development of his own personal talent, than to its abstract demerit—whatever transatlantic tastes he may bring with him. The published title of the last play, is “The Daughter”—not “The Wreckers”, [7] —altho’ I believe it was acted as the last. I am very anxious to read Otto!—not to see it. I am not going to see it—notwithstanding an offered temptation to sit in the authoresse’s own box. With regard to Ion, I think it is a beautiful work—but beautiful, rather morally than intellectually. Is this right or not?– Its moral tone is very noble—& sends a grand & touching harmony into the midst of the full discord of this utilitarian age. As dramatic poetry, it seems to me to want, not beauty, but power passion & condensation. This is my doxy about Ion. Its author made me very proud by sending it to me, [8] —altho’ we do not know him personally! I have heard that he is a most amiable man (who else cd have written Ion?) but that he was a little elevated by his popularity last year!

Ought I not to be ashamed of writing into this second page without saying a word of the approaching event in which we all feel an interest? I mean, the marriage. We had heard of it, in a letter from Charlotte Peyton to Arabel; & were very glad to have the news confirmed “from authority”. I do not know Mr Robert Martin at all; but he is your nephew—and I do not know perhaps as much as I ought to know of Marianne Biddulph—but she has much sweetness of countenance—& a smile which brings acquaintanceship with it! I hope they may be very happy! This will be lighting up again all your gaieties—& prevent you from thinking of the rose des Alpes, for some time at least. It is a pleasant thought over which we London prisoners may brood, that you cant very well “get out” of your fields without passing thro’ us!——

I have read Coombs Phrenology, but not the ‘constitution of Man’. [9] The Phrenology is very clever, & amusing; but I do not think it logical or satisfactory. I forget whether “slowness of the pulse” is mentioned in it as a symptom of the poetical æstus. [10] I am afraid if it be a symptom, I dare not take my place even in the “forlorn hope of poets,” [11] in this age so forlorn as to its poetry; for my pulse is in a continual flutter & my feet not half cold enough for a pedestal—so I must make my honors over to poor Papa straightway. He has been shivering & shuddering thro’ the cold weather,—& partaking our influenza in the warmer. I am very sorry that you shd have been a sufferer too. It seems to have been a universal pestilence, even down in Devonshire, where dear Bummy & the whole colony have had their share of ‘groans.’ And one of my doves shook its pretty head & ruffled its feathers & shut its eyes, & became subject to pap & nursing & other infirmities for two or three days, until I was in great consternation for the result. But it is well again—cooing as usual: & so indeed we all are. But indeed I cant write a sentence more without saying some of the evil it deserves of the utilitarianisms of this corrupt age—among some of the chief of which .. are steel pens!—— [12]

I am so glad that you liked my Romaunt, & so resigned that you did not understand some of my Poet’s Vow—& so obliged that you shd care to go on reading what I write! They vouchsafed to publish in the first number of the new series of the New Monthly, a little poem of mine called the ‘Island’, but so incorrectly that I was glad at the additional oblivion of my signature. [13] If you see it, pray alter the last senseless line of the first page into “Leaf sounds with water, in your ear”: and put “amreeta” instead of “amneeta” on the 2d page; & strike out “of” in the line which names Æschylus! There are other blunders, <but> these are intolerable—& cast me out of my “contentment” for some time. I have begged for <proof> sheets in future; & as none have come for the ensuing month, I suppose I shall have nothing in the next number. They have a lyrical dramatic poem of mine “The two Seraphim” which, whenever it appears, [14] I shall like to have your opinion of.—— As to the incomprehensible line in the ‘Poet’s vow’ of which you asked me the meaning, “One making one in strong compass”, [15] —I meant to express how the Oneness of God “in whom are all things,” [16] produces a oneness or sympathy (sympathy being the tendency of many to become one) in all things. Do you understand? or is the explanation to be explained? The unity of God preserves a unity in men—that is, a perpetual sympathy between man & man—which sympathy we must be subject to, if not in our joys, yet in our griefs. I believe the subject itself involves the necessity of some mysticism—but I must make no excuses. I am afraid that my very Seraphim will not be thought to stand in a very clear light, even “at Heavens gate”. [17] But this is ‘much asay about nothing’.

Poor Arabella Gosset’s baby is very ill,—& there is much fear for it! It will be a great blow upon her if this child is taken, & upon Mr Gosset too, who loves it dearly. Miss Steers has been staying with them. The Butlers talk of coming to London in the Spring, as a fixed plan,—but no plan of dear Bummy’s I grieve to say is fixed. Her thought is, to remain at Torquay for the summer, & to have little Arlette & Cissy [18] & their governess with her there. The bishop of Exeter [19] is staying & preaching at Torquay. Do you not envy them all for making part of his congregation? I am sure I [20] do as much. I envy you your before-breakfast activity. I am never a complete man without my breakfast—it seems to be some integral part of my soul. You “read all OConnell’s speeches!” I [20] never read any of them—unless they take me by surprise. I keep my devotion for unpaid patriots! [21] —but Miss Mitford is another devotee of Mr OConnell.

Bro has met Mr Grey [22] twice at Mr Ormus Biddulphs, & was much pleased with him. He must be an interesting person. The last occasion was when they all met for what I call the very foolish purpose of inhaling laughing gass. As each became a patient, the rest of the company held him tight—& so frustrated Mr Domville’s strong inclination, which he afterwards confessed, of leaping upon the chimney piece. Mr Grey was wise, & stood by, a mere spectator—or a holder. I scolded Bro well for it–

Dearest Mrs Martin, what can make you think that from any reason, I regretted Mrs Barker’s removal from Ledbury? Indeed I do full justice to your kindness & your judgment; & I think with comfort that our poor infirm friend is beside kind familiar faces & not far from you. I hope Mathews has given her money, when she wanted it; for to my knowledge, Papa gave him ten pounds on his Mathews’s [23] last journey to London,—for this purpose. Minny & I send a joint letter by the post of today to Mrs Barker. So speak of her whenever you write: & write, dearest Mrs Martin, do, sometimes, when better employments do not intervene. And mention Mr Martin—& give him in the meantime my kind regards, & beg him to unlearn his habit of making false accusations. Henrietta’s best love. I am sure she means to write soon: but I wd not be cheated today. George has removed from the special pleaders, to a conveyancer’s Mr Hodson’s (I dont know if I spell the name right) where he will remain for another year. The accounts from Henry were satisfactory, but not late. I commend this letter to your patience in its abundance! This is a black day for pens!

Dearest Mrs Martin’s


E B Barrett.

Thank you for the ‘Ba’ in Henrietta’s letter! If you knew how many people whom I have known only within this year or two, whether I like them or not, say ‘Ba Ba’ quite naturally & pastorally, you wd not come to me with the detestable Miss B!——

We are very sorry to hear of Mr Commeline’s illness. When you see Miss Commeline give my love to her & all of them.

Address, on integral page: Mrs Martin / Colwall / Ledbury.

Publication: LEBB, I, 46–50 (in part).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. “Foolish fire” (i.e., will-o’-the-wisp).

2. Wordsworth and Landor were both guests at Kenyon’s dinner party, attended by EBB and Miss Mitford on 28 May 1836.

3. Henry Francis Cary (1772–1844) had published translations of Dante in 1805 and 1812; he had also translated Aristophanes and Pindar.

4. A Cure for Heart-Ache (1797) was a comedy by Thomas Morton (1764?–1838).

5. See letter 557.

6. Miss Mitford’s Rienzi had been presented at Drury Lane in October 1828, and was given 34 performances.

7. The Athenæum, 3 December 1836 (no. 475, pp. 855–857), in its review spoke of “Mr. Sheridan Knowles’s new play, in five acts, called in the bills ‘The Wrecker’s Daughter,’ and in the printed copy ‘The Daughter,’ was acted for the first time on Tuesday last.”

8. See letter 523.

9. Elements of Phrenology (1824) and The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects (1828), by George Combe (1788–1858).

10. “Frenzy.”

11. Cf. Byron’s Don Juan, VIII, 73, 3.

12. An examination of the manuscript makes it evident that EBB changed pens several times.

13. Printed in The New Monthly Magazine, January 1837 (XLIX, pp. 22–25). The errors EBB points out in the following sentence were corrected when the poem was reprinted in The Seraphim.

14. This poem was not accepted by The New Monthly Magazine.

15. This line occurs in the last verse of “The Poet’s Vow” in The New Monthly Magazine, October 1836 (XLVIII, pp. 209–218). When reprinted in The Seraphim, EBB changed “in” to “with.”

16. Cf. I Corinthians, 8:6.

17. Plate 77 in Jerusalem (1804) by William Blake (1757–1827).

18. The daughters of EBB’s late aunt, Charlotte Butler.

19. Henry Phillpotts (1778–1869), elected Bishop of Exeter in 1830, was best known for his controversy with Charles Butler (1750–1832) on the subject of Roman Catholicism, expressed in a series of letters.

20. Underscored twice.

21. Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), champion of the Irish Catholics, had abandoned the legal profession to devote himself to politics, whereupon the Irish Catholics had voted him an annual tribute which reached, in some years, as much as £16,000. EBB reverts to this subject in letter 557; her comments make clear that she was far from sharing Miss Mitford’s admiration of O’Connell.

22. As there is evidence (see SD355) that there was some social connection between the Barretts and the family of Earl Grey, the former Prime Minister, it is quite possible that this reference is to one of his ten sons.

23. EBB added “Mathews’s” above the line.


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