Correspondence

561.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 229–230.

74 Gloucester Place

Friday– [?17] [March 1837] [1]

I have read your play my dearest Miss Mitford, & so you will be obliged to read my admiration upon it, which goes as naturally to its point as your action does. Indeed the play is a noble play—& I should be delighted with it, if I had not the other kind of delight of loving its writer—and now I am strong in my prophecy (the very goats had the æstus [2] on them in certain situations—when they wandered near enough to certain exhalations) that you will have no disappointment about Otto. Mr Forrest will have no power, for all his ‘strong arm’, [3] to put it down. Its nature is to ascend—‘as the sparks fly upwards’ [4] —& it will ascend, in the very face of insolvent managers. And therefore if I were you, I wd take my comfort not from any expectation of solvencies & justices, nor even from the sympathies of such as estimate & love you, but from Otto himself. You will not suspect me of a disposition to depreciate Rienzi—but I cannot help seeing & feeling too that Otto stands on higher ground than he—& that the difference is, as between the thousands & the ten thousands of Saul & David. [5] I quite understand that the ‘action action action’ [6] of this play is ‘the chief thing’—but that does not mean that it is a mere acting play—but rather that the conception—the evolution of a noble character in the ebb & flow of circumstances—absorbs & carries with it the mind of even the reader, without suffering a diverging to the details of language & imagery. I thought—when I thought of it at all—that there seemed to be an occasional feebleness in the diction—from rather a redundancy of words—of epithets: but one wd not be inclined—even a woman wd not be inclined—to talk to a Tragic Muse about the cutting of her gigots, particularly when she was under a divine afflatus. First wd come our admiration at the glory of her countenance [7] & the passion of her attitudes,—& then our genuflexions!—— And so first my admiration to Otto—& then my genuflexions!—— And quære in an undertone, all the while—— Is Adela quite worthy of him? Wd she have been his ‘equal bride[’]? Wd she not have married Leopold—with a reluctant heart & pale face certainly—but still, married him—if Otto had not come in just then?—— [8] These are all ‘asides’ you know—not daring to be spoken aloud– But still they are impressions. And the Authoress of ‘Otto’ is not likely to teach me to expect fewer noblenesses & depths of character from my own sex!——

As to the roughnesses or irregularities in the numerical syllables, which you mentioned to me some time ago, there is nothing whatever in them that I do not like. On the contrary the versification seems to me harmonious & graceful. A great deal has been written & talked about the difference between rhythm & metre. My doxy is different. At any rate, metre is nothing nobler than the guardian of Rhythm, & if Rhythm can take care of herself, & she is often Heaven-inspired to do it, where is the objection to the act?——

Do you know that WordsworthMr Wordsworth as we must call him when we see him off Pindus [9] —is in London? And hearing it,—as I did a few days since, from Mr Kenyon—made me think so of you & of the golden hours last year!– But there will be yet some glitterings of them—& in the meanwhile to know that you are better my dear friend is worth a mine of gold dust.

May God keep you well & happy!– Do offer my regards to your father—& do you yourself remember me ever as

your affectionate

E B Barrett.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 27–29.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by EBB’s having read Miss Mitford’s play, the manuscript of which was not available when EBB wrote the previous letter.

2. “Frenzy.”

3. Cf. I Kings, 8:42.

4. Job, 5:7.

5. Cf. I Samuel, 21:11.

6. According to Plutarch’s Lives of Ten Orators, this was Demosthenes’ answer when asked to name the three most important elements of rhetoric.

7. Cf. II Corinthians, 3:7.

8. Adela, daughter of the Emperor of Swabia, had been promised to Otto, Count Palatine of Bavaria, but she is to marry Leopold of Brunswick instead (“a father’s stern command / Parts us for ever”). However, just as Adela is to marry Leopold (“Howbeit his wooing hath been brief”), Otto appears to claim her, attempting to fight Leopold. The Emperor, in trying to part them, is killed by Otto.

9. A range of mountains in Greece, between Thessaly and Epirus, associated with Apollo and the Muses.

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