627.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 26–29.


Monday– [16 April 1838][1]

My beloved friend,

If I had heard of your being in such anxiety & distress, you would have known before now of my hearing of it. But since last Sunday week I have not seen Mr Kenyon, & from no other except yourself could I have heard it. Into all that you must have felt I deeply enter—& thank God that this sympathy is so much too late. May you not need it for very very long again! Indeed it is not likely that from me you may ever need it! Not that I am going to die immediately you know—but that from what you tell me of the abstraction of blood & unslackened energy afterwards, I am led to muse upon differences of constitutional strength, & to count up my own years to be some fifty five more than those of Dr Mitford. A few leeches, if applied oftener than once, reduce me almost to the last position suggested by the Sphinx’s riddle[2]—& draw from Dr Chambers (notwithstanding the advantage I receive from them otherwise) the oracular “We cannot continue them”–

But I was speaking & wished to speak, not of myself but of Dr Mitford. May God long bless you both with the blessedness of tracing much earthly happiness to each other—for if we sorrow because we love, it is no less true than we rejoice because we love—& the purest human loves are those which came first from the spring!—— Do when you write dearest Miss Mitford, mention him particularly,—& moreover your own health & spirits–

And how are the flowers?– None the better I fear for this doubling upon us of the winter. I felt as sorry to hear of the perished ones, as if I could have seen them—nay, more so—for then I should have seen you. But the bay is not dead!![3]

Now will you ‘take notice’?– I began this letter the day after receiving yours, altho’ I would not go on with it,—franks being so rare at Easter time. Do remember that it was begun the day after receiving yours. I would not have you think (oh surely you could not think so) that my sympathy did not respond quickly to every mention of—a grief of yours: & even if without it, my heart had not “leapt up”[4] to thank you for the tenderness to me myself of many of your words, my heart had been no heart but the ‘large black stone’ which wears in oriental phrase the ‘small black beetle’![5] How kind of you to say that you wd have read my poor MS for me, had I sent it to you! And indeed my not sending it involved no doubt—of even such a kindness. But I love you too well to try to tempt your love for me (an infidel shd I be, if I disbelieved it!) into misusing your time for my sake.

Thank you for the tableau[6] .. which I have kept determinedly out of my head ever since, because you did not acquaint me with the nationality which belongs to it. Will you tell me, when you write?—— I am sure that much might be made of it! If I were but as sure of the maker!——

Mr Kenyon’s book is indeed beautiful—& in all ways. I will praise ‘Pretence’ up to your highest wish of praising it, if you will take delight with me afterwards (as you certainly will) in ‘Moonlight’. For Moonlight is vivid with picture,—& the manner in which the moral glides in upon the graphical (towards the end),—sad, solemn, & chastened like one of its own rays—appears to me exceedingly beautiful. I have not seen the writer since he was so kind as to send me his work,—but I hear of his being very well & haunted with society. Through it all, I had to thank him for bestowing a thought on me, & lending me Mr Milnes’s Poems just printed for private circulation.[7] They are of the Tennyson school, to which you know (after all the harm we grave critics are obliged to say of schools) only poets can belong,—& very much delighted me. Some of them & those not a few, appear to me most exquisite.

You knew so well what I shd like, when you sent me Mr Spring Rice’s letter!!–[8] Indeed your whole packet had its share in lighting up my spirits for days afterwards.– But your “charmëd words”[9] which beguiled the stern statesmen of softer & purer thoughts than were “in their bond”[10]—what would I not give to see those?– I was obliged in my fulness of joy to let Papa into the ‘confidence’—& you must forgive me for it—because he said “This does indeed give me pleasure”–

We are no longer in Gloucester Place—nor yet in Wimpole Street. At least I & my sisters are not. The house was so unfinished, that we were obliged & glad to accept the charities of a kind friend & go to Crawford Street until the ghost of paint had been sufficiently exorcised.[11] But direct to 50 Wimpole Street—both because our stay elsewhere is very uncertain, & because our letters are brought from thence instantly.

The scratches I have sent you lately are remorseful subjects with me– These (for the most part) are made in bed: not that I am worse, but have been obliged for some time, to rest until rather late in the day. I am better—but I fear, not very much so. God’s will be done in all things. May I have wisdom & strength to rejoice that it must. Dr Chambers seems to regard the warm weather with hopefulness– In the meantime, he frowns most awfully at the snow– Nevertheless down it comes!——

Do give my kindest regards to Dr Mitford! The doves are with me here! I wd not come without them!——

My very dear friend’s most affectionate & grateful

E B Barrett

I hope Mr Chorley has recovered from indisposition– Mr Carey’s information I was thankful for. Though a fond reader of some of the Greek Fathers, I know nothing of Origen except from report.——[12]

Tuesday. [24 April 1838]

Dearest Miss Mitford, I was disappointed in the frank yesterday: & now I am glad of it, because I forgot then to tell you a story about your last letter. While the postman was in the act of delivering it, out of it fell a little packet of seeds inscribed as far as my ignorance wotteth of, Mixed Zinnias. I am sure it must have slipped into your envelope without a consciousness on your part. I once received, just by a like process, a prescription—in the letter of an invalid friend residing at Geneva!– The wonder in the present case is, that the supernumerary packet should have kept in, just long enough to admit of its falling out at our door.

I thought at first of retaining it until I had your direction—as you might have meant to send it to some other correspondent in London. But I believe the safest way is, to return it to you at once. And so here it is!——

Addressed and franked by John Somerset Pakington on integral page: 1838 / London April twenty five / Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / Reading / J.S. Pakington. / [and in EBB’s hand on two integral pages:] Miss Mitford / Three Mile Cross / near Reading.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 67–71.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Concluding date provided by the frank; date of commencement by the reference to Easter.

2. The Sphinx of Greek mythology plagued the inhabitants of Thebes by posing riddles, and then devouring those unable to solve them. The Thebans were told by an oracle that the Sphinx would kill herself if they could solve this riddle: “What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three / But the more feet it goes on, the weaker it be?” Œdipus gave the correct answer: “Man” (who goes on all fours as an infant, on two feet in his prime, and in old age requires the support of a cane).

3. Presumably a reference to the bay tree that flourished in Miss Mitford’s garden.

4. Cf. Wordsworth’s poem, “My heart leaps up when I behold” (1807).

5. A Moslem proverb tells that “On a black night on a black stone stands a black ant; but God sees him and does not forget.”

6. The illustration (reproduced facing p. 192) to accompany EBB’s contribution to the 1839 Findens’ Tableaux. It showed a girl, dressed as a page, hiding behind a tree while a knight rode by, providing the theme of “The Romaunt of the Page.”

7. Richard Monckton Milnes (1809–85), later (1863) 1st Baron Houghton, was a friend of Thackeray, Tennyson and Hallam. The volume of which EBB speaks was Memorials of a Residence on the Continent, and Historical Poems. He had earlier (1834) published Memorials of a Tour in Some Parts of Greece, Chiefly Poetical.

8. Thomas Spring Rice (1790–1866), later (1839) 1st Baron Monteagle, was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Melbourne at this time, so it is probable that his letter to Miss Mitford related in some way to her government pension.

9. Cf. Shelley, The Revolt of Islam, IV, 28, 3.

10. Cf. The Merchant of Venice, IV, 1, 262.

11. Crawford Street was in the immediate neighbourhood of Gloucester Place and Wimpole Street. Street directories and rate books for 1838 show that no. 129, the Barretts’ temporary home, was owned by a Mrs. Ann Smith. It seems probable that this was Boyd’s friend, the youngest daughter of the late Dr. Adam Clarke.

12. Origen (ca. 185–ca. 254), one of the Fathers of the Church, wrote the first textual criticism of the Bible, and many commentaries. Cary had commented to Miss Mitford that the subject of EBB’s The Seraphim had “never been touched except by one of the Fathers (Origen), and an old divine of the Church of England—a Bishop Andrews of the age of Elizabeth” (Chorley, I, 272).


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