Correspondence

596.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 296–299.

74 Gloucester Place.

Tuesday. [28 November 1837][1]

From the very same sad cause my dearest Miss Mitford I have delayed & wished to write to you. It always seems to me unnatural that we shd not know everything for weal or woe, about such as we much regard—and yet I could not give you a grief without some kind of comfort by its side. Perhaps after all you have heard, without me, of the severe illness of our dear friend Mr Kenyon!– At any rate the account yesterday was so satisfactory that I need not fear telling you of it. But it has been very severe—and not without danger—and indeed for many days I have been quite haunted by the thoughts of sad possibilities. We cannot afford—at least I cannot—to lose or to think of losing such as have been kind to us,—& sympathizing .. which is more than kind.

He is better, I hope satisfactorily so, now. The medical men desired his servant to say so to all enquirers yesterday. The fever had not returned. But they will not allow any nourishment beyond tea & soda water & lemonade & bread—& this discipline has lasted for ten days, & must have much exhausted him.

It is just three weeks, or was on friday, since dear Mr Kenyon was here. He came immediately on his arrival from Torquay—from whence he was recalled by the illness of a relative (& kindnesses suggested by it so naturally to him) & too suddenly, to admit of his paying you the visit he had had in contemplation. Very well & in very good spirits he seemed to be—and I was so glad to see him again, we on our parts being neither one nor the other—for my dear brother George had just ‘stood confessed’[2] with an attack of smallpox—& it was more than usually pleasant to us to hear a kind cheerful voice. These are the occasions on which “troops of friends”[3] adopt the military discipline of the Parthians!——& send their good wishes behind them!——[4]

Well!—but the kind cheerful voice came no more. The smallpox waxed & waned, but still it came no more, & we did not hear of its owner, & wondered why. On Saturday week however I had a note which crossed Papa on a visit of enquiry,—for he had just heard that Mr Kenyon was not well, & no details: and the note gave none—at least no suggestion of the violence of the illness– It was cheerfully written, just begging to be exempt from the “ignominy of being supposed to be afraid of the smallpox”. I had so little idea when I read it, of what was & wd be,—for there was a worse afterwards! But may God grant that the very worst is over now. Indeed I hope & believe it is—and in such hope & belief, have I written all this to you. I am sure you will like to hear everything. Oh! if such a shadow had fallen over the annual! But it has not, & will not!——

Thank you my very dear friend for all your kind words! A letter of yours always seems to enclose a sunbeam,—a sunbeam unhooked from the sun, but as shining as ever! and a little of the garden besides! “The fairest garden in her ..”[5] words! particularly at this hour of the year, when the freshness of nature is deposited only in the mind & its signs. But you never mention the book dearest Miss Mitford!—and here is Christmas!—and here am I too, very impatient!—& who is not?——

I had seen the Literary Gazette, & wondered why so illnatured a critic shd at all have digressed from illnature in my favor. But you know, there wd have been no use in a man with a name attacking an initial.[6] It wd have been like shooting a shadow. There wd have been no sport in it!– As to the blame—that “Miss Mitford is not at home out of her green lanes”—that hits a shadow too! When is Miss Mitford out of green lanes—out of their verdure & freshness & ‘sweet natural calm’?[7] When is she? When was she? I never saw her out of them. Their characteristics follow in her path,—whether she walks with English rustics here, or with Italian nobles there—and so the man with the name had better forswear it!——

I shall be glad both for Dash’s sake & yours when you are quietly roofed in again. My brothers were delighted with the story of him—& Sette has come to the conclusion, “I shd certainly like to see Dash”. May the pigeons never hear a gun! When I hear, of all your maladventures, I wonder at my good fortune in regard to my poor little doves who having been pulled about nursed & kissed & in a climate not natural to them (they came from Jamaica) for nearly two years, are at this present time prettier than ever.

Hearing of Miss Porter[8] is like being a child again. I remember weeping & wailing over her romances, when I had nothing besides to weep & wail for. Whatever their faults may be, they have in them an elevation & an heroism which this learned age wd do well to learn. Only they cant be learnt. Did you see Miss Pardoe? Her last book is full of talent—but not quite na<tural.>[9] At least, I thought not.

The smallpox is quite gone—& all fear of infection with it.—— But dearest Miss Mitford (to return into the next paragraph) where was it, that you & I saw Miss Porter, together? Dearest Miss Mitford!– It is a mistake of yours! I never saw her consciously, in my life–[10]

Do say some kind words, & grateful ones, from me to your father! May you both be quite well. I am not so myself– I caught a cold nearly two months ago which turned into a cough & has kept me to the house ever since & in a very weak state—and Dr Chambers[11] whom I was kindly persecuted into seeing yesterday (I have an abhorence of “medical advice”, but my sisters were obdurate) says that I must not think of stirring into the air for weeks to come. He assures me that there is no desease—only an excitability, & irritability of chest, which requires precaution. And nothing is much more disagreeable than precaution.

Have you read Ernest Maltravers? Its presence will not pass from me! It is a splendid book!– If I were to tell you a heresy of mine, into which enter two names—Walter Scott—Bulwer—I shd make you shudder at ‘Midsummer’– And this being near Christmas G__d forbear!

May God bless you my ever dear friend. Do not think anxiously of dear Mr Kenyon. I will let you hear of him soon again—& in the meanwhile you must believe that the amendment is day by day. Accept Papa’s compliments & regards.

Your affectionate

E B Barrett.

I believe that the malady is called a bilious fever, brought on in a measure by cold.

This is tuesday evening, and Papa has just come back from enquiring at Mr Kenyon’s. He is much better—and the medical men have allowed him to take some chicken broth. This is happy news!——

Addressed and franked by William Gosset on integral page: 1837 / London Novr Twentynine / Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross, nr / Reading / W Gosset / [and in EBB’s hand on reverse when folded:] Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 53–56.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by the frank.

2. Cf. Nehemiah, 9:2.

3. Macbeth, V, 3, 25.

4. A Parthian tactic was to feign flight from the enemy and then turn in the saddle to discharge arrows at the pursuer.

5. Cf. Thomas Campion’s “Cherry-Ripe,” line 1.

6. The Literary Gazette, 21 October 1837 (no. 1083, pp. 668–669), reviewing Findens’ Tableaux, said: “We cannot speak highly of the literary contents of this volume; they are of a very low order. Miss Mitford does not seem at home in such very fine society: she lacks the spirit and freshness of her own green lanes. Incomparably the best poem in the work is by an anonymous writer, with the initials E.B.B. We think we have before seen them affixed to two exquisite ballads in the ‘New Monthly’.” The reviewer then quoted “A Romance of the Ganges” in its entirety. The “man with a name” who wrote the review was John Forster. (For the full text of the review, see pp. 339–340.)

7. We have not located the source of this quotation.

8. Jane Porter (1776–1850), novelist and playwright, made her name with Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) and The Scottish Chiefs (1810).

9. Julia Pardoe (1806–62) was a prolific writer, best known for her books on travel. Her most recent publication was The City of the Sultan, and Domestic Manners of the Turks in 1836 (2 vols., 1837).

10. In a letter to Miss Jephson, 19 June 1836, Miss Mitford told of meeting Miss Porter during her visit to London in May (L’Estrange (2), III, 54). It is possible that EBB was present, but unaware of Miss Porter’s identity.

11. William Frederick Chambers (1786–1855), physician-in-ordinary to King William IV and Queen Victoria, was one of the leading doctors in London at this time. He attended EBB during the greater part of her stay in London.

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