Correspondence

636.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 37–41.

50 Wimpole Street–

June 1 [1838][1]

Perhaps it is lucky for me that my dearest Miss Mitford’s last letter has no date, to be read in capitals now by my accusing conscience. Oh! but do not let her think that my conscience is accusing me of want of love for her—or of forgetfulness of her during one of these many days of silence! Or this speech at last, would be a double to the Statue scene in Don Giovanni,—& I should be doubly stone!——

We have been moving & settling—& I have been sometimes very unwell & sometimes better (never too unwell to write to you—no excuse is meant by that!) & the proof sheets abstracted me—who am light to abstract just now—from the ballad, & I did not like to write to you late in May without being able to tell you of having even begun it. And then the book—I waited for my book—& the printers & binders were waiting I suppose for something else; but here we all are at last, letter ballad & book, & you must welcome us gently for the love’s sake that runs through us all!——

The ballad, I ought to blush—as ladyes always do in ballads—“scarlet-red”, to send you—being quite aware that its length is sufficient to keep it separate from your tableaux, & fearing besides that this length is not its most pardonable fault.[2] Now my very dear friend, you will prove your affection for me,—just as much by sending back my ballad as by keeping it– Do remember that. It is a gift-poney not a gift-horse—& you may look it all over, & finish by overlooking it, just as much as you please, & the more to please me that you are pleased!– If you should prefer keeping it—upon the whole—it must be of course as my gift to you & not to Mr Tilt;[3] & if you send it back, why then I shall only have to beg your forgiveness for not giving you more time to engage another page. By the way, the pictured one pretty as she is, has a good deal exaggerated the ballad-receipt for making a ladye page– Do you remember?——

 

“And you must cut your gowne of green

An inch above the knee”!––[4]

She comes within the fi fa fum of the prudes, in consequence–

My good intentions of making a ballad of less than half the length of mine, are all spent in ‘pavement’ for some critical ‘Inferno’.[5] Indeed I do try to blush the ‘scarlet-red’.

And here is a book to be blushed for besides. You will see that your opinion & Mr Kenyon’s have had their due weight, & that the name is on the title-page.[6] Would that the book were as your kindness wd have wished it in other things. You will tell me your impression my beloved friend as openly as if you did not care for me—or rather as candidly as if you did!—for if we love truth, we must surely speak truly to such as we love. For the rest I fear I know too much of the truth in this case, to be disappointed in hearing the darkest of it—& I may assure you that you could only discourage me totally, by telling me of my incapacity ever to write better.

In speaking of my silence I should have told you that I had heard from Mr Kenyon of you & Dr Mitford—that you were both better. Otherwise a conspiracy of ballads & books would not have kept me silent.

Do you know that Mr Kenyon is going into Normandy—but not until July, & for no longer period than six weeks—with Mr Southey & Mr Robinson?[7] This will be very enjoyable. He is looking as well as possible—at least, was last week—for I have since been sorry to learn in a note from him that he has been state prisoner to a cold & swelled face. His account of Dr Mitford & yourself dearest Miss Mitford, was pleasant to hear; but still I do want to hear more details from you than I could hear so. Are you not advised to abstain from strong medecines—such as salts? Would not an attention to your diet prove as effectual as any? Do you ever take figs—or tamarinds?– I often feel uneasy in thinking of the system of night-watchings in union with the as bad system of submitting to strong medecines, which seems to be almost forced upon you. Do be careful of yourself, my dear friend– And be careful to tell me when you write, exactly how you are, & how Dr Mitford is. And offer to him my very kind regards, & the gladness with which I have heard of his recovery!—if indeed that do not belong exclusively to you!—— May God bless both of you!——

For my own part, I am going on very tolerably well– A cold this week threw me back a little—but it seems to be gone, & without doing as much harm as might have been feared. The lungs are said to be affected—they did not respond as satisfactorily as heretofore to the latest application of the stethescope,—but still there are good symptoms, & Dr Chambers insists upon my not having lost ground lately & is hopeful of my gaining some in a settled sunshine, such as I hope we shall have this summer. He is at once a kind & a skilful man—& my confidence in him is the greater that he has not tried to deceive me by calling things by cowardly names. Indeed he does me good, & if it pleases God, may do more still. In any case I have much to be thankful for, to God’s mercy, & I wish that I could thank Him as I ought. Do not say much about my health when you write—for it is a great pleasure to Papa to read your letters (when I will let him—when they are not ‘private’) & I would not have him fancy me worse than I am– No, nor you, dearest Miss Mitford! And the real truth is (be sure) that I am better at this time, & going on to Dr Chambers’ satisfaction.

Mr Milnes the poet, is Mr Milnes the member.[8] Mr Kenyon tells me of his having printed an additional volume of poems; but this I have not seen.[9] He was born a crowned poet!——

Do tell me of your Tableaux, whether I have anything to do with them or not.

Is Mrs Howitt a contributor?—& Mr Procter?[10]—and are your own contributions in an advanced state? Dont let me forget to say that in the case of my ballad’s being found usable, I shall be obliged by your affixing to it EBB—or E B Barrett—or Elizabeth B Barrett—just as you prefer, & as will best suit the manners of your book. I leave a blank on purpose: Would that last year’s were a blank too!—[11]

Here is the end of my paper; but one word notwithstanding in respect to book & ballad. Do not fancy that I shall care more for an unpleasant truth, because I happen to be not quite well. It is just the contrary– But indeed at anytime, my caring intensely for poetry does not mean that I care intensely for my own poems: & I am not wounded easily except through my affections. In them I never can be wounded by you—& so speak plainly!——& forgive all this egotism!——

Your grateful & affectionate

E B Barrett.

We like the house very much indeed! How I shall like it better still when I see you in it!——

The doves & my books & I have a little slip of sitting room to ourselves,—& dearest Papa in his abundant kindness surprised me in it with a whole vision of majestic heads from Brucciani’s—busts of poets & philosophers[12]—such as he knew that I would care for– You may think how it startled & affected me to look round & know that he had found time in all his bustle & vexation of house furnishing, to remember so light a thing as my pleasure!——

Wednesday. June 6.

Dearest Miss Mitford,

You will see by the date of the enclosed, that I did not mean to make so many paces into June without sending my Page to your feet—or without sending there besides the volume wearing the same livery.

I have however dared to be so troublesome to dear Mr Kenyon as to ask him to pause in his multitudinous businesses & I hope pleasantnesses, just to read over my ballad for me—& in obedience to his useful criticisms I have been doing some good to it since, which could not have been done without him. But I did not receive the ms back from him until Monday evening—& yesterday, on accomplishing my first drive out for many months, I was too exhausted to do anything but lie on the sofa with your ‘wedding slippers’ in my hands. Thank you for all the good they did me—the delight they gave me. Your Elizabeth is so lovely & serene,—that the very heart rests, upon her!—& I enjoyed the walk thro’ Belford Regis,[13] just as if nothing could tire me. Was I not walking there with you?

In great haste—(at last!! you will say)

Your ever affectionate

EBB——

My sisters saw Dr Mitford’s portrait, & were much pleased with it, at the Royal Academy yesterday![14] But dearest Miss Mitford! it vexes me so to think that the picture is there only now—too late for me!!

I trust to your kindness (let me repeat) to send back the ballad in the case of your book’s being the better for its absence.

Address, on integral page: Miss Mitford.

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 71–76.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Year provided by the publication of The Seraphim.

2. EBB’s “The Romaunt of the Page,” despite her fears about its being too long, did appear in Findens’ Tableaux of the Affections: A Series of Picturesque Illustrations of Womanly Virtues (pp. 1–5) when it was published in October 1838.

3. EBB means that Charles Tilt’s £5 payment for each contribution should be retained by Miss Mitford.

4. A slight misquotation from “Child Waters” in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765, III, 60, 41–42). The brevity of Ellen’s tunic invites criticism from prudes.

5. A reference to Dr. Johnson’s “Hell is paved with good intentions” (James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1791, I, 484).

6. The Seraphim was the first of her compositions to carry her name in full.

7. Robert Southey (1774–1843), the Poet Laureate, and Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867).

8. Richard Monckton Milnes had been elected to Parliament in 1837, as Member for Pontefract.

9. Poems of Many Years. See also letter 627, note 7.

10. Mary Howitt (née Botham, 1799–1888), a prolific writer, was best known for her children’s stories and translations of Hans Christian Andersen. She had contributed “A Story of the Indian War” to the 1838 Findens’ Tableaux, but did not write for the 1839 issue. Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall) had also contributed to the 1838 issue of Findens’ Tableaux (“The Death of the Bull”) but did not provide anything for the 1839 issue.

11. Owing to a misunderstanding, “A Romance of the Ganges” in the 1838 Findens’ Tableaux had been printed over EBB’s initials, against her father’s wishes (see letter 591).

12. EBB’s busts included those of Chaucer and Homer. Lewis Brucciani was a plaster-model maker, with premises at 5 Little Russell Street, Drury Lane.

13. Miss Mitford’s story, “Wedding Slippers,” had been printed in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine (1838, V, 366–371). It was set in Belford Regis, Miss Mitford’s fictional village, loosely based on Reading.

14. The portrait of Dr. Mitford by John Lucas (reproduced on facing page) was no. 288 in the catalogue of the 1838 Royal Academy exhibition.

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