Correspondence

557.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 222–225.

74 Gloucester Place.

17th February. 1837.

You see I am absolutely writing to you dearest Miss Mitford,—altho’ I never heard that Samson or Hercules read even brief letters when they stopped to take breath. But you will forgive me for writing to answer your kind note,—notwithstanding your labours,[1]—& for not liking to be silent any more: silence in this world—where all things are turned against their right uses—being in my mind, tho’ against a proverb,[2] a sign of evil, & wearable by the ungrateful as well as the sad.

Before I read your own account I had heard of Mr Forrest & of his intended appearance in a play of yours; but nothing of the details; nothing of his electing application to the Authoress of Rienzi.[3] All the women of England shd know that, & feel honored in the knowing; & perhaps more necessarily gratified than she can be to whom many praises may bring a sound as habitual & unmarked, as loud waters do to such as live close beside them. Indeed I am very anxious to hear more of this league between intellects in the abstract; & sea[r]ch every newspaper (I, who am no reader of Mr OConnell’s speeches!) besides Magazine & Athenæum, for a footstep of Otto .. or the novel. M[ess]rs Saunders & Ottley are satisfied with the announcement of “a new work by Miss Mitford”[4]—& that does not satisfy me at all.

The opinions of Mr Forrest’s acting appear very different[.] I shall like to hear from you whether he is or is not rather melo dramatic than tragic,—& whether his physical does not obtrude itself into his intellectual. You are as you always are, very very kind in even thinking of taking me into your box on the great occasion. If I ever went into boxes now, there shd be more than thanks in answer to that thought,—but as it is .. I shall read Otto. By the way, according to tradition, once in a childish fit of illhumour, I took refuge from the cruelties of the world, in a hat box, & covered myself up in it. A good deal of the sublime of misanthropy is resolvable into such crossnesses,—& it wd be much the same whether one went into a monastery or a hat box, if the latter were equally picturesque.

I have been reading & rejoicing in your Faithful Shepherdess.[5] The general conception & plan are feeble & imperfect—do you not admit it? but the work in detail—how prodigal it is in exquisite poetry; and in those sweet lapses & undulations of sound coming & going without a reason—such as are not dreamt of in the iron philosophy of our days.[6] Who is your Fletcher’s Faithful Shepherdess: the mourner? or the wronged? I dare say you will answer the first. Only faithfulness to the dead, the absent, the inoffensive, the unchanging & defenceless, is so much easier than faithfulness to the fickle & the unjust! Death has such a pleading tongue in what is called its silence! And so my doxy inclines to be that poor Amoret shd have the crown![7] particularly after her resistence to that River God in whose voice was the bewitching music, with its promise of a home, opposed to the turbulence of life, beneath those cool & calm & tranquil waters

 

[‘]‘Which do bubble as they sing

Sweeter than a silver string”!——[8]

I[9] wd have stayed there certainly! At least I think so now—in this London, where the very thought of tranquil living water is as refreshing to me as its sight to you! Thank you for the mirage!——

And let me say ‘thank you’, besides, for your kind indulgence to poor Rosalind,[10]—& for your advice which shall not, if I can help it, be vainly given. When it came to me I was engaged a little transcendentally upon Two Seraphim; & I have had much to do in addition, without counting the influenza; but I will, some day, write on the recommended “probable or possible” subject,—& do my possible upon it. But dearest Miss Mitford is too kind a friend to be a very good prophet!–

Have you been quite well? It is almost too much to expect, considering the universal illnesses. I almost restrain my hope to the one point of neither yourself nor Dr Mitford having suffered severely. And how is Dash? My little brothers’ dog, Myrtle, (a very brown ugly myrtle, looking as if it had fallen into the sere & yellow leaf)[11]—had a most human cough for days,—& a cat died,—& my poor little Doves forgot their cooing voices, & moped close to the fire, until I half despaired for them. They have since recovered their spirits: & we—that is, the Doves & I—have been very busy in making a nest! particularly I & the cock, who travelled backwards & forwards from my knee where the materials lay, to his own cage, for a whole morning at a time. The ‘results’ as the Utilitarians say, were nothing better than a soft egg—but we, not being Utilitarians, (“O that profane name!”)[12] have found it in our good pleasure to begin again.

You will doubt whether I am ever going to end!– Do forgive all this nonsense, & remember, when you come to London

Your affectionate

E B Barrett

Mr Kenyon is in town, but I have not seen him. I was unfortunate enough to be out when he called here yesterday. Mr OConnell is very fortunate, in having your smile, in addition to the pay from Ireland!–[13] Papa & my brothers go I think to the full length of radicalism: but whenever I talk politics before them, which is not at all often, I am sure to be called Quixotic & impracticable, because I go so much beyond them into republican depths. Therefore it is not Mr O’Connell’s politics!—oh no! But an endorsed patriotism does really seem to me more monstrous than Thersites.[14]

This is worse than nonsense! is it not? Do forgive me! A brother of mine who worships at your altar,[15] never wd, if he cd see what I have written. I venture to offer my obliged remembrances to Dr Mitford!——

Address, on integral page: Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading. (This appears in EBB’s hand near the seal. The address panel is blank, having been intended for franking.)

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 23–26.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Miss Mitford’s current projects included work on her novel Atherton and on the play Otto of Wittelsbach, and she was perennially occupied in entertaining the many visitors to Three Mile Cross.

2. “Silence is golden.”

3. The Athenæum of 25 March 1837 (no. 491, p. 220) quoted from a letter, published in the New York Plain-dealer, from Edwin Forrest to his friend Legget, the editor of the paper. Forrest spoke of plans to appear in London the following February in “a new tragedy which Miss Mitford is now writing for me, under the title of Otto of Wittelsback [sic].” He expressed himself as “much pleased” with the first and last acts, and said “Miss Mitford is in high spirits, and says this play shall be a thousand times better than her Rienzi.”

4. As Miss Mitford makes clear in the following letter, this work was Country Stories, published in the summer of 1837.

5. This play (1609?) by John Fletcher (1579–1625) was a favourite of Miss Mitford, often quoted in her works.

6. Cf. Hamlet, I, 5, 167.

7. In the following letter, Miss Mitford agreed with EBB’s assumption that Amoret was the faithful shepherdess.

8. Act III, 1, 428–429, slightly misquoted. Amoret resisted the wooing of the River God by telling him “by holy oath betwixt us twain, / I am betroth’d unto a shepherd-swain.”

9. Underscored twice.

10. The female protagonist in EBB’s “The Poet’s Vow.”

11. Cf. Macbeth, V, 3, 23.

12. Jonson, Poëtaster; or, His Arraignment (1616), IV, 6, 29. This was a favourite expression, used by EBB in her Diary (p. 158) and several times in letters.

13. See letter 555, note 21. As EBB’s comment indicates, Miss Mitford admired O’Connell, whereas EBB did not.

14. The deformed and scurrilous Greek officer at the siege of Troy, who was always railing at the leaders of the army; he was slain by Achilles.

15. Charles John Moulton-Barrett.

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