Correspondence

835.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 5, 96–99.

[Torquay]

[late July 1841][1]

Here is a train to my last letter. In writing to you my dearest friend, I always seem to have an arriere pensèe,[2] if not two or three,—and this time it’s of the Life of poor LEL. I have read it & fancied I had told you so,[3]—& certainly agree with you in all you say of it. Yes! those dates do clash in discordant accordancy, & not to the tune of

 

‘Tis good to be off with the old love’ &c[.][4]

On the contrary old & new loves are shuffled together. And what struck me especially is, that, rejecting one man whom she seemed to love, lest the shadow of her cloud shd fall upon him, she shd marry another directly under precisely the same circumstances & without the slightest misgiving.[5] How comes that inconsistency to be? Either the compliment to Mr Maclean wears a strange aspect—as if he were not Cæsar![6]—or the generosity of the first rejection shd be called by another name– There are in fact contradictions all over the book– Too much is said—or not enough: and I think, not enough. I shd have liked to see more letters, her own letters, both to men & women. Mr Blanchard presses in his words where we want hers, & his commentaries & explanations where we want none at all. It is an interesting painful book. The fatal point was, .. she believed that great lie, that poetry is fiction—and it was fatal to her not merely as a poet but as a woman. It is a creed desecrative of the soul, & of nature, & of ‘supernal spirits[’].[7] The ruin of it, extends beyond literature.

I observed the manner————

So far I wrote yesterday, was interrupted, & now cant the least in the world remember what manner I observed! Never mind. Probably you have’nt lost much philosophy after all.

She had, poor thing, many sensible critics who exhorted her loudly. Not so much love, they said! Not so much melancholy!– Not so much partridge!—or rather, not so constantly, toujours tourterelle![8] Now that sounded sensible enough of the critics, but it was superficial advice without roots to it, & scarcely deserved being taken. They shd have said (with reverence be it spoken) “Twice as much love & melancholy, if you please,—only feel them—or wait till you do”. There is no human passion & sentiment capable of being worn out in the writing of it. Nature is very deep. The misfortune was, it was’nt nature at all, .. & the passion was pasteboard from the first. Every word which this Mr Blanchard has devised in order to sunder the identity of poet & woman, is a stroke at her fame.

Only one letter to her mother, & that of the coldest! There is a mystery somewhere. Indeed everywhere over the book, we are perplexed in the extreme.[9] Poor thing!—I wish you had been her friend!– I wish you had!– How the association wd have rescued her! Did you read the tragedy?[10] One might have guessed that her silken sentiments & dialect wd never fold into tragedy,—but I did not expect anything quite so weak. It’s all blank—except the verse!

No—she never wd have been tragic. But otherwise, she was rising into light & power & knowledge, when the death-stroke came. Some of those lyrics in Mr Blanchard’s second volume, are very beautiful—full of beauty– What “a lovely song” is that “A long while ago”!– The last cadence is in my ears now—

 

—“and I have felt them all

A long while ago!”[11]

Poor, poor, LEL!–

What you say, of the “calamities of authors” is sad with truth!–[12] But surely you shd except Walter Scott from that mourning multitude. As an author, he triumphed gloriously—from the first, to the last. The Seward coterie clapped their hands at his rising,—the Byronian school doffed their caps to him—the Lakers passed him reverently—the Cockneys (mind—I protest against the use of that word in using it!) did him honor.[13] Personally, no man mocked him. The martyrdom of genius was a name to him. He had a crown on his head, and a check in his pocket. He was the shirra[14] as well as the poet. Most happy he was in his family—most beloved & most blessed—blessed in their lives & loves. What was wanting in the destiny of this man!–

 

Surely, only that it shd last!–

Surely there was no darkness but in the closing scene,—and out of his faults arose that cloud. It was his ambition of landed proprietorship (a false pitiful thing!) which wrecked him[15]—his love of money & land!– Ld Byron with all his wrongs & his sins—& he had many of both—seems to me worth ten Walter Scotts, as a man to be loved. But you will quarrel with me for saying so!– Dont

Mr Kenyon is expected every day, I hear. He will not, however, have his “hut,” which is bought—to my pleasure.[16] What is there here, for his?– Mr Bezzi certainly–

You never wash your Flush. Well– Mine wd be clean too, without washing, I dare say—only I shd scarcely fancy so, (when he creeps up in his usual irresistible way, & lays his head down on my pillow) if it were not for the precessory soap & water.

Do tell me how you are—do! I am so anxious– Did you ever try simple water-gruel, without sugar or salt? If you have not, will you? Dearly, dearly I love you. <***>

Publication: EBB-MRM, I, 251–253.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by EBB’s comments on Blanchard’s Life of L.E.L.

2. “Afterthought.”

3. EBB’s previous comments to Miss Mitford about Blanchard’s book derived from extracts read in magazines; as letter 833 makes clear, EBB had only recently had access to the book itself.

4. Songs of England and Scotland (1835), II, 73, line 3 of “Song.”

5. See letter 820.

6. Presumably a reference to the explanation given by Suetonius of Cæsar’s divorcing Pompeia: “Cæsar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

7. Paradise Lost, VII, 573.

8. “Always the turtle-dove.”

9. Othello, V, 2, 346.

10. Miss Landon’s drama Castruccio Castracani, published in 1837 but never staged.

11. Blanchard’s Life of L.E.L. (II, 256), slightly misquoted.

12. See letter 820.

13. i.e., the Lake poets and those of the Cockney School (see letter 737, notes 18 and 19).

14. Sheriff (of Selkirk).

15. EBB refers to the expense incurred by Scott in maintaining his Abbotsford estate; in fact, his “ambition” was to pay off, from the proceeds of his writings, the debts incurred when his publishing venture with John Ballantyne went bankrupt in 1826.

16. Kenyon had been contemplating buying a house in the Torquay area.

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