Correspondence

668.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 98–100.

3. Beacon Terrace

Wednesday. [10 October 1838][1]

Ever dearest Miss Mitford,

I wanted to write to you very very soon in reply to your last welcome note. I wanted to say to you very soon some words which it suggested. But I have been exceedingly unwell—confined to my bed nearly a week by a sudden return of bad symptoms & so weak since as scarcely to bear without fainting even the passive fatigue of being carried from this bed to the sofa down stairs, by all the gentleness of my brother’s love for me. The prevalency of the east wind & sudden coldness of weather connected with it, are considered the causes of the attack– I was not suffered to write—& have only by mainforce written two post[s]cripts to two of Henrietta’s many letters to London,—which I insisted upon doing because I knew that my writing & my living were ideas very closely associated in Wimpole Street. But you—I hope my beloved friend that another silence simply made you a little cross with me—& not uneasy. It is a disagreeable kind of hope—& I indulge in it (on the principle of a rustic friend of Papa’s who always used to respond to his enquiry by––(“Why Sir, I enjoys very bad health indeed”) because almost anything is better than making you anxious, at a time too when you may be anxious enough without me. Henrietta proposed writing to you– I would not let her do it just to sadden you—& the physician here being very sure of my being better again, I dared making you think “she is not worth a thought” rather than the worse risk. The pulse is quiet now, & I can sleep—indeed the attack itself has quite passed away– And as to the weakness it is passing. From two days to two days I can perceive an increase of strength—and if it pleases God,—He has been so merciful!—in two or three weeks more I may be as strong as I was previous to the last pulling down.

My sister & brother & I removed to our present residence just in time—the very day before this illness. Since it, I could not have removed—and the difference between the Braddons & Beacon Terrace is all the difference between the coldest situation in Torquay & the warmest[2]—& my body was so ungrateful as to require another sun besides that of kind looks & words.

Here, we are immediately upon the lovely bay—a few paces dividing our door from its waves—& nothing but the “sweet south”[3] & congenial west wind can reach us—and they must first soften their footsteps upon the waters. Behind us—so close as to darken the back windows—rises an abrupt rock crowned with the slant woods of Beacon hill! and thus though the North & East wind blow their fiercest, we are in an awful silence & only guess at their doings.

The wind has changed now—and the gulf between autumn & winter or at least between the summer-part & winter-part of autumn is surely passed, & therefore no longer to be feared.

One thing I fear– Indeed I do—and so I will speak to you at once about it. In the first place my very dearest Miss Mitford, names that are worth gold & names that are worth nought cant be weighed in the same balance. Therefore the exclusive dedication of your name to the Tableaux could be no example to the nameless unless they were also modesty-less!– And then again there is a distinction between the office of an Editor & a contributor. I understand these two differences far too well to fancy even, that you meant a word in reference to me of what you said respecting your own resolve. But still when I had finished your note, I did fancy that you would—for some reason & perhaps for the simple one that you loved me—have preferred my having not written for Mr Hervey’s annual.[4] Now this might just have been a fancy of mine––I am given to be tormented by such. But it has helped to make me restless, more restless than usual, in wishing to write to you.

I need not tell you my beloved & kindest friend that if the very shadow of a like fancy had crossed my mind before, my no shd have been said civilly to Mr Hervey. He wrote two letters—which in consequence of the difficulty he had had in finding my address reached me the same day,—to ask me, (not given you know to write for annuals) to send something to him for his. His request was made so very courteously & the making it seemed to have given him so much trouble, that I wrote down for him some stanzas, before floating about in my head, & sent them just for goodnature’s sake––thinking no more of it, than if I had sent such to magazine or journal. Now if by a straw’s breadth you had rather that I had not sent them, I shall most assuredly wish all the annuals—always excepting the great one—with Mr Hervey’s ancestors! Not that I regard them—the ancestors––with much malice!

Do let me hear from you when you can write––whenever you can. I have so few pleasures!—and a few words from you bring many!– A true one to me was, that Dr Mitford liked the cream. He shall have some more. How is he? How are you? Do go on caring for me!——

Did Papa send you the last Sunbeam?[5] I hope so. They are “friendly beams” indeed,—& everybody who happens to see them, will be sure to think that we made them up among us in Wimpole Street. The editor wrote to me before I left London, begging to have the Prometheus & Seraphim sent to him for reviewing purposes– He had seen extracts from the latter & intended an ‘important essay upon my genius’.[6] We had a good deal of laughing about it—and little did I anticipate being made such a “Sun’s Darling” of!——[7]

Nothing yet of dear Mr Kenyon. I know nobody here––but the people seem very kind– Mr & Mrs Bezzi[8] have ceased to live here, & are I believe on the continent.

May God bless you! Do you write now—& what?—or are you resting from the Tableaux? Was Mr Chorley well or tolerably well, when you heard from him?——

Your always affectionate & grateful

E B Barrett.

Is anything decided about Martha?[9]

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 100–103 (as [7 November 1838]).

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by the onset of EBB’s relapse immediately after the move to Beacon Terrace on 1 October.

2. “The Braddons,” the Hedleys’ house, was on a hill overlooking Torquay, and thus was much more exposed than EBB’s new quarters on the shore.

3. Twelfth Night, I, 1, 5. The usual reading is “sweet sound,” although there had been much controversy over “sound” versus “south.” Pope used the latter, and EBB follows his reading.

4. See letter 664, in which EBB asked Miss Mitford about Hervey.

5. EBB presumably refers to the most recent issue, that of 6 October.

6. The “important essay” appeared in five numbers of The Sunbeam (see letter 666, note 7).

7. The Sun’s Darling was the title of a play, published in 1656, by John Ford and Thomas Dekker.

8. Giovanni Aubrey Bezzi (1795–1879), an Italian, had fled to England because of his association with the Silvio Pellico plot and the Carbonari, a secret political organization. He was a friend of Kenyon, and was to be instrumental in the rediscovery in 1846 of a portrait of Dante, hidden for 200 years beneath whitewash in the Bargello in Florence (see L’Estrange (2), III, 126). EBB referred to him as being “very musical” and so popular that “he draws everybody after him like Orpheus” (letter to Miss Mitford of 23 September 1841).

9. i.e., about her marrying and leaving Miss Mitford’s service.

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